I showed up to a Saturday morning run with CRIT (Chinese Runners in Toronto) and couldn’t believe the size of this club that I’d never heard of. There were about 50 runners gathered together on Toronto’s Martin Goodman Trail on a beautiful Saturday morning at 7 a.m. Some members had driven in from the east end, some from the west and some commuted an hour from Markham–everyone seemed thrilled to be there. The CRIT Saturday run is around an hour long, however far that gets you. They start together and finish a little more spread out. After the run everyone chats, drinks some water and continues on with their weekend plans.
With upwards of 500 members, CRIT is one of the largest running clubs in the GTA. Their mandate is simple–teach new runners about the sport, and help experienced runners reach their goals. This group has runners from every kind of background, and it shows when you arrive to their Saturday morning workout. They’ve got Jack Lee, who they refer to as the “100-marathon prince” for the more than 100 marathons he’s run, and Mr. Wang, the 62-year-old who only started running seven years ago but has already completed a 3:14 marathon.
Fan Yang is the vice president of CRIT and one of the longest-standing members. He’s fresh off his first full Ironman at Mont Tremblant three weeks ago, and is proud of his finish. In 2006 Yang immigrated from Beijing to Toronto. He’d never been to Canada, and was making the move in search of a more balanced life. Once he arrived, in an effort to forge personal connections with his coworkers, he began partying more than usual and letting his health slide. He decided he needed a change, and took up running for the first time. (Yang had been active in China but he’d never run before moving to Canada.) “I started running 1K at a time, that’s all I would do.” he says.
After several years of running, but never racing, a group of friends convinced Yang to try the Sporting Life 10K. In 2014, Yang did the longest run of his life, and his first-ever race. Shortly after this, CRIT began forming. “When we started the group, we invited a few very serious runners who knew about the sport to join, and I learned from them. I learned how to run and see the data and what my pace was. They taught me how to prepare for different races and how to train properly. I had no idea what a gel was before this group.” The group was officially formed in 2015, starting with 15 members. They now have more than 500.
Yang explains that a lot of people immigrate to Canada from China in hopes of finding a more balanced life. “My personality suits the lifestyle in Toronto. China has more pressure–in Canada, after work you relax. It’s very different.” Running helped Yang feel at home. “This country has completely exceeded my expectations. It’s much slower paced than China, which means I have time for my own life. The air quality is also so much better in Canada. I like to relax during my runs and think about my life and how it’s going.”
Yang still works in IT, just like he did in China, but nearly everything else about his life has changed, including his approach to exercise. “I did my first full Ironman in August. I love running because of the training. The longer the distance, the more I need to train. Every year I push more and more–it’s my nature to want more.”
The mandate of CRIT is to get people like Yang active through running. “We want to get people running and keep them running for many years. It’s so easy to get hurt and discouraged when people first start out, but we want to help our runners avoid that.” CRIT is committed to getting as many people running as possible, which can be seen through the multiple locations (from Oakville to Markham to Whitby) and lunchtime runs downtown. They want to make training easy and accessible for their members. They’re also aware of the growing interest in trail running, so they’ve started a trail section.
The club is also committed to giving back to the running community. They supply a number of pacers for major Toronto races like the Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon. Lee, the 100-Marathon Prince, is one of their members who often paces. He’s currently training for the Marine Corps Marathon, where he will pace a group of his teammates.
GuoXiang Wang is 62 years old and ran his personal best of 3:14 this year. He only started running seven years ago and has made huge progress. His motto is, “Hard in training, relaxed in the race.” Wang says that running has made his life more fulfilled and he likes the competitive aspect of the sport. He jokes that at home in China he was never able to be in the top three in his age group because races are so competitive, but in Canada it happens all the time. “I like racing in Canada because I’m always top-three. I’m also on race posters often. I was on the Ottawa Race Weekend website and the 2018 STWM registration page.”
CRIT meets on weekdays at Queen’s Park for their lunch run and on Saturdays at various locations around the GTA for their long run. They have 12 locations around Toronto, and recently became a registered non-for-profit. Despite the group being so large, the group is obviously tightly knit–the common thread is their commitment to helping build runners in their home of Toronto.