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A top Canadian soldier talks running

Former Canadian Armed Forces Chief of Defence Staff - General Walt Natynczyk talks about running.

Runners are all around us – sometimes disguised in uniform.

I served for a short period in uniform, polishing the boots, saluting and getting a couple of stripes on my shoulder. I have always run but got to see some entering the military learn about running. I recently had the honour of asking Canada’s former top soldier about his running.

The scene of soldiers hitting in the road in formation for a run as the sun begins to emerge and creep over the horizon does not only happen in the movies. Regardless of age or what position they hold, those that serve in the Canadian Forces (CF) must maintain a level of fitness throughout their careers. Running is what many members choose as a means to stay in shape.

Maintaining fitness also does not just apply to those at the pointy end of the stick but also to those like retired Chief of Defence Staff Walt Natynczyk who leads.

Retired Chief of Defence Staff, Walt Natynczyk (right) running alongside Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence  (left)gets in stride at the start of the Army Run in Ottawa. Photo courtesy of the Department of National Defence.
Retired Chief of Defence Staff, Walt Natynczyk (right) running alongside Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence (left)gets in stride at the start of the Army Run in Ottawa. Photo courtesy of the Department of National Defence.

Growing up in Winnipeg, Manitoba with his two sisters, Walt worked as a paperboy and a hamburger flipper before signing up with the Canadian Army in 1975. He seemed to gravitate to the military world from early on and spent five years with the Royal Canadian Air Cadets before joining up. He says in his early years he was more interest in football and baseball but was introduced to running in the military. He also says that the period when he really became a runner was on deployment. “I found running to be my de-stressing time and also my quality thinking time. The more serious the thought, the faster I became. Even today before a major speech or presentation I will go for a good run. I come away from the run with my thoughts and how I want to proceed.”

Walt’s competence and leadership ability were noted throughout his career that included serving in Germany, Cyprus, Bosnia and Iraq. Running was part of those years. Moving up the ranks he was promoted to Chief of the Defence Staff in 2008. After 4 years as the head of the CF and having spent 37 years serving to protect Canadians, he retired from the military this past fall.

Do you enjoy running and was there any place you ran, any event or run/race that sticks out in your mind?

“The run that sticks out in my mind is when I carried the Olympic torch in Esquimalt (BC) with a group of Navy runners. I’m not sure why, but I was given the 1-kilometre stretch that was straight uphill. I remember that there was a truck full of reporters just ahead of me with cameras and I had to try and look like I wasn’t too tired!”

Any general thoughts about running, fitness of Canadians or anything he would like to say to readers (Canadian runners)?

“I guess I would say that I wish I had started running a lot earlier. I think that running and physical fitness should be introduced to young people, people would be healthier, not just physically but mentally. I think that CF members are very fortunate as it is a lifestyle that insists on being physically fit and ready to be deployed at any time. Running and being active brings physical benefits and I wish every Canadian could have this experience.”

While in Ottawa Walt ran the Army Run 5k that supports programs for soldiers and their families almost every year since 2009 and in 2012 ran 31:49 at age 54. Answering questions just after his change of command ceremony the General said that he was looking forward to running more as opposed to sneaking in 5 a.m. runs before work, “I look forward to running more and getting in better shape and will definitely continue to run.”

General Natynczyk holds a Degree from Royal Roads Military College and Coll├Ęge militaire royal, enjoys running and sailing and he and his wife Leslie have three children, Margaret, William and John, who serve in the Navy, Air Force and Army respectively.

Run on Sir.

Do you have a running story to tell?


See you on the roads or in the blogopshere.

*This piece was originally intended to accompany the article in Canadian Running magazine spring issue about the Canadian military running community (go take a look) but did not make it in.