The Parkdale neighbourhood in Toronto is a special place with a storied past. Located west of downtown, it began as an independent settlement eventually morphing into an elite residential suburb and resort for the rich before drastically changing into a working-class neighbourhood. Today it’s a diverse, mixed-income place with newcomers, artists and small businesses. Fondly known as Little Tibet, Parkdale has seen some gentrification in recent years but the area maintains a strong housing rights base and the majority of people there are renters.
The neighbourhood also happens to be the birthplace of the Parkdale Roadrunners (PDRR), a running crew started by Mike Krupica and Steven Artemiw in 2010. The two friends wanted to bring people together, run and celebrate community. Since then the crew has expanded, connected with runners around the world and shaped running culture.
For their 10-year anniversary, we spoke to four runners about PDRR, the neighbourhood, what running looks like then and now. (Interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.)
What did running look like for you 10 years ago?
Lisa Oikawa: Ten years ago “running” as I know it now wasn’t even on my radar. Running was using a treadmill at the gym at Queen’s University and when it was nice out, getting out to run by the water in Kingston.
Kortnee Borden: Ten years ago I was making the transition from someone that occasionally ran to [being a regular] runner. In the fall of 2010, I completed my first two half marathons and made the decision to sign up for my first full and to run outside through the winter. I didn’t track any of my runs or follow any plan. My runs were mostly solo or with my wife Tereza. The concept of running with a group held no appeal at all. The thought of competition within a group plus a lack of groups that I could identify with were the main reason [I resisted] joining any. When I think back on 2010, it really was a turning point year for my love of running.
Jen Beltijar: My running journey didn’t start until 2010, when life was much simpler. Back then I was living in Markham and wasn’t very active; the only sport I enjoyed [was] snowboarding. During the summer, I had free time on my hands and started running because all I needed were running shoes. Armed with a run-walk program, I gradually built up to a 5K. It was tough running solo and keeping motivated. It took awhile to get enough confidence to do my first race in 2012. I’ll never forget feeling those pre-race jitters, being with other runners, and running through the closed streets of Toronto.
Matt Geofroy: Ten years ago, I was running solo in the suburbs while training for my first half marathon. I had little idea of pace or distance and would just go with my phone attached to my arm. Shortly after I saw PDRR on the Bridgerunners Instagram account, I reached out and eventually built up the courage to join a run. I stayed in the city after work one Tuesday and that night changed my life. Something about the energy and the group felt right. After that I was regular; I’d stay in the city after work to run with PDRR or drive in from Oshawa regularly. It didn’t take long for some of the crew to become close friends, and now I consider many of them family. Growing up I was often one of a few POCs and never fully felt comfortable being me. PDRR changed that; it was something I didn’t even know I needed.
Needless to say, this year has been different with races and group runs being cancelled. What does running look like now in these strange COVID-19 times?
Geofroy: Running is so different now. I still run regularly but most of my kilometres are done solo. I still talk about running regularly with PDRR friends and continue to be motivated by what I see online but I miss the energy and love I felt on Tuesdays.
Oikawa: Right now, running has been the thing that has kept me grounded. Being cooped up in a condo, especially when the weather was terrible, running was an excuse to get outside. I haven’t been to a gym or a spin class since March. For the last 6+ years, I had been a three-runs-a-week kind of person, and when other types of workouts were limited, I turned to running and weights in the condo. For the majority of the last seven months, I’ve had a great accountability buddy that I meet Monday to Friday for lunchtime runs. She doesn’t allow me to back out even if I want to.
Beltijar: After moving downtown with my husband, running became ingrained in our lives. We both ran a variety of races and eventually joined PDRR. I began helping out with route support as a way to pay it forward–I know how much it meant to me to have support and encouragement when I was starting out. Running with a crew has not only built my confidence and endurance but also introduced me to some amazing people.
The social aspect of the Tuesday and Saturday runs were definitely highlights in pre-Covid times. I’ve also found that the sense of community goes beyond that of running. This was even more apparent with the birth of my son in 2019. It just so happened that a few other PDRR women had babies too. Mat leave can feel especially isolating at times. I’m very thankful that I had a support group from the beginning and that we’ve been able to form bonds with each other and our kids.
During Covid, I’ve had to cut down the number of runs to about 1-2 times a week. There are a lot more considerations such as route planning to take less busy streets. These days, it’s not as much about distance and speed. It’s more about being appreciative that I’m able to run and have an outlet to relieve stress especially during times like the lockdown. I miss crew runs and people. Whatever the new normal after all of this is, I know that running will bring us together again. I can’t wait for the day that we can give each other high fives again.
Borden: Like most other aspects of my life, running has provided a whole new perspective in the COVID-19 era. Last year was all about getting faster and chasing a sub-3 hour marathon. This year was supposed to be about pushing the distance—my goal race was a 100 miler in the fall but COVID-19 changed all that. Now my runs are not about pace or distance. It’s all about mental health, the ability to get outside and (momentarily) take my mind off of things. Things have reverted back to 10 years ago with the majority of my runs being solo. I long for the days when we can truly hang as a crew and run together. I miss Sunday long runs with my squad and the hangouts afterwards. Through all of this, it has made me more aware of just how important running is; regardless of the time or distance, it’s the movement, the simple task of moving my feet, that holds so much weight in my life.
In 10 years we’ve had a number of events, races, parties, cheer squads, outings and more. What’s your favourite PDRR memory?
Beltijar: My most memorable running memory was the Scotiabank Half Marathon in 2017. Throughout much of my training, Parkdale runs were a big part of the experience and no doubt strengthened my confidence to sign up for my first half marathon. I can’t tell you enough how much it meant to me knowing that the Cheer Squad was there at kilometre 19. It was an amazing feeling seeing familiar faces, with confetti everywhere and the loudest cheers.
Geofroy: Without a doubt, my favourite is the PDRR 4 HRPR Relay Race, [a fundraiser] event we organized in 2015 to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House Toronto. My wife and I spent some time there after our daughter Harper was born prematurely. They took care of us, and when we wanted to give back, PDRR didn’t hesitate to step up. I still remember seeing all the people who showed up to run and contribute and feeling overwhelmed by all the love and support. It was a beautiful day that our family will never forget.
Oikawa: There are so many! One that stands out is the PDRR Cheer Squad at the Scotiabank Waterfront Toronto Marathon in 2019. It was incredible and something I experienced for the first time. Previously I had only run the race, and cheering for others was a way to give back to the running community. Seeing people for a brief moment as they ran by and giving them a little encouragement when they needed it most is something I’ll never forget. It reminded me of the first time I saw the infamous Cheer Squad at the Toronto Nike Women’s 15k and at the Chicago Marathon in 2015; both events inspired me to join PDRR in the first place.
Borden: There are too many memories but some that stick out are representing PDRR at the 2014 Longest Day Ekiden Relay hosted by the Black Lungs. I was fairly new to the crew and honoured to be asked to race. There was also the “Bridge the Gap” weekend [in conjunction with the 2015 Toronto Waterfront Marathon where PDRR hosted runners from 30 crews from 15 cities in 8 countries.] The party was next level and the Cheer Squad was phenomenal. In my opinion this was the moment that put “crew culture” on the radar in Toronto.
Participating in the Speed Project [a non-stop 550km ultra relay stretching from Los Angeles to Las Vegas] in 2015 is another one. The bonds I formed with the team in that RV over 48 hours of running through the desert will never be broken. This was a tipping point where it went from good friends that I occasionally ran with to them being my running family. It also opened my eyes to what could be done outside of the context of a formal race and how limiting chasing an individual time can be.
The Parkdale Proms [yearly parties to celebrate the end of the racing season] were full of good memories. Seeing everyone in the crew dressed up (not in Dry Fit!) and working up a sweat on the dance floor is always a wonderful thing. There were also the Friday Night Track sessions (at the École secondaire track aka Le Track) The vibe was always great. The workouts were hard but the yoga and beers afterwards made it all worth the effort.
The Pescado De Moctezuma Relay (a 350km race) in Mexico is another lasting memory. This was the last (out-of-town, pre-COVID) hurrah before shit hit the fan. Twenty-four hours in a van with my dearest friends traveling across one of my favourite countries to run a relay. It’s only been seven months, and I’m already nostalgic for this moment.
Do you have a favourite place in Parkdale?
Geofroy: The bench in front of the old Mascot [previously a meetup spot for PDRR] or the alleyway behind Community 54 (RIP, also a former meeting place). Also, [our friend] Jenny’s old place at Dunn and Queen St. or co-founder Mike Krupica’s apartment. They are two of my favourite people in the world who have always welcomed me and my family into their homes.
Beltijar: This might come off nerdy but I would say the Parkdale Library. I visit frequently for reading materials, and it serves as a safe community hub where people can meet and also have access to key resources like computers.
Capital Espresso is definitely a go-to for its coffee and pastries. It was also the central meeting spot for our crew [pre-COVID] and has been a part of so many memories over the years.
Oikawa: The Skyline Diner. Their breakfast poutine is one of my favourite breakfast foods in the city!