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Hockey Night in Canada headliner running to conquer COVID-19

After running every day for close to a year, Chris Johnston has plans for a solo marathon to raise funds for Conquer COVID-19

As the headliner for Hockey Night in Canada, Chris Johnston’s life was busy — before COVID-19 he worked a lot and the nature of his job had him constantly on the road, but when the pandemic hit last March, everything stopped. After several weeks with no work to do, he began to feel listless and lost in a way he had never experienced. Johnston turned to running to help improve his mental and emotional health, and he hasn’t missed a single day since. April 29 will mark one year of his run streak, and on that day he has committed to running a marathon, all while raising funds for the charitable organization Conquer COVID-19.

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Johnston isn’t new to running by any means. Between 2008 and 2013 he was a very avid runner, completing four marathons and at least three dozen half-marathons during that time. He also ran the Around the Bay a few times and completed several other races throughout those years.

“Basically I was constantly running and entering a lot of races,” he says. “It was a social thing for me and I loved it.”

By 2014, his career had started to take off and he was traveling a lot — up until the pandemic he was gone at least 120 days per year. This made it difficult to maintain a consistent running routine, and after completing the Chicago Marathon in 2015, he drifted away from the sport. He began running again in the spring of 2020 while the country was in lockdown, but he says the first kilometres were pretty rough.

“As I was working through that period where I felt a little bit lost I just recognized that there was opportunity as well in a difficult time,” Johnston explains, noting that the big one was that, with his work demands significantly reduced, he had more time to dedicate to running and everything that entails (like sleeping and recovering properly).

At that point, he decided that he would try to run every day, whatever distance he could do. He wasn’t going to worry about his pace, but simply wanted to commit to doing it so that regardless of how he was feeling that day, he knew he had at least accomplished something. He didn’t originally have any number of days in mind, but after running just over 300 kilometres in May, momentum took over and he continued. Now, he typically runs 10K every day, with one longer run each week.

As he works toward his goal of running a marathon on April 29, he’s supporting Conquer COVID-19, a charitable organization dedicated to providing the necessary supplies to our frontline workers and protecting some of our most vulnerable populations. Initially, the organization was formed to address the PPE shortage for frontline healthcare workers, and now they have partnered with the organizations LTC Frontline Food, which provides hot meals to workers in long term care facilities, and Call Auntie, which connects Indigenous Peoples in Toronto with safe health information and resources.

“What I really admired about them is that they didn’t wait for anyone to say it was OK or until they had the perfect plan,” he explains. “They just started coming up with solutions.”

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Johnston did some volunteering with them during the initial lockdown, and he figured he could put his kilometres to good use by raising money to support the organization with these new partnerships and initiatives, which are now focussing on helping the most vulnerable people in our communities.

“I’m just trying to put some of the energy that I’ve built through this year and directing it in the right direction, sharing my story, and encouraging people to think about who they can help.”

Johnston never planned on doing another full marathon again, but after 313 days and 3,362 kilometres, he decided he wanted to do something challenging to mark a full year of running. He knew that if he added a charitable component and spoke about his intentions publicly, it would hold him accountable to his commitment. It won’t be his fastest marathon, but he says “it’s about doing what I can from where I stand today.” Of course, the real question is, will he take a day off after his marathon?

“No chance,” he laughs. “I’m definitely running day 366 — this has built so much positive momentum in my life that I won’t let it go easily.”

If you’d like to support Johnston in his efforts and make a donation to Conquer COVID-19, you can do so by heading to the nonprofit website. If you’re interested in staying up to date with his progress, follow him on Twitter @reporterchris.

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