AMHERST - Running a half marathon is a tough task but running a half marathon once a week for 52-weeks in a row could be punishing.
"I was never a runner before," said Amherst's Rick McKenney, who finished running his 52nd half marathon (21.2 km) last Saturday.
"I played major junior hockey and I played university hockey and we were always into wind sprints and biking and going up stairs and all that stuff," said the 52-year-old. "But running was not on my list of things I had to do. It was just something that happened."
McKenney took up running a little over two years ago but the half-marathons kicked into gear after he joined the Amherst Striders running club.
"It's hard to run and nobody wants to do it, but when you run with a group and you don't worry about time, and you're running for fun, it's easy," he said. "We all need help to get into shape, and if you're by yourself you will beat yourself up psychologically."
Much of McKenny's time is spent at work where he is a dentist or at home with his family, so he runs early in the morning, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:30 a.m. and he does his half marathons early on Saturday.
McKenney says the secret to the success of the Striders is ‘looping.'
"When you start to run, all the people you're with keep looping back so, even if your're running slow, you're with people all the time," said McKenney. "As a beginner, you say I don't want to do this anymore but the Striders help them out."
He usually runs with at least four other Striders members who join him in the mornings.
"I call it the cattle syndrome. It's like when the cattle follow each other," said McKenney with a laugh. "You end up doing Striders math. You say you're going to run 10 km and you end up doing 15 km."
Because McKenney played hockey for much of his life he has bad knees.
"I separated my knees when I was 15-year-old but when I run slow and easy it's not too bad," said McKenney
McKenney also coaches the Chandler Classics basketball team at E.B. Chandler Junior High School.
"When I coach basketball I get more hurt showing them how to shoot a jump shot than I do from running 21 km. It's not about being superman it just about running slow and consistent."
He ran his first half marathon in October of 2012, and on Feb 17, 2013 he ran the first of his 52 marathons, finishing his 52nd half marathon last Saturday.
McKenney usually runs the half marathon in under two hours.
"When we go to races they do Atlantic Chip Time, and we finish our half marathons usually under two hours, which is a good pace for people my age," he said. "I ran a recent winter run in 1:57, and did the Bluenose (in Halifax) in 1:42, which is OK but that's not what I'm about.
"When people ask me what my pace is and I tell them it depends on what I feel like," he added. "I need to listen to my body. Because of my bad knees, if I run too fast, I can't go over 10 km."
McKenney's wife, Rachna Minocha, and kids, Risha, Rohin and Rajan, have taken up running as well.
Last year they all ran the tri-city race in Saint John, Fredericton and Moncton.
"It wasn't planned but all of a sudden we're going with our three kids and they're doing a five km run, then they did eight km and now they're doing 10 km no problem," said McKenney. "It's healthy for the family and it helps balance off the bad habits. I figure if I run 21 km on the weekend then I can have a beer or two."
McKenney says he will continue to run half marathons.
"I'll do half marathons every weekend until my body tells me not to."
This Saturday he is participating in the Amherst Valentine Run which, because of logistics, doesn't have a half marathon.
The race features three distances, five and 10 and 20 kilometres, with all proceeds going towards the new West Highlands enhanced gym, and towards walking, running and biking trail development in the town of Amherst.
"Out of the 130 people who have signed up so far, there's only 20 people doing the 20 km," said Mckenney.
The run starts and finishes on Hickman Street near the Immanuel United Church and West Highlands Elementary School.
The 20 km run starts at 9 a.m., and the five and 10 kilometre runs start at 9:30 a.m.
The route is Anson Avenue and Amherst Industrial Park.
The course is open to traffic, so drivers are asked to drive cautiously. Volunteers will be placed at intersections for safety.
All runners will receive a finisher's medal, a long sleeve Valentine tech shirt, Atlantic Chip Timing, hot soup and sandwiches, and refreshments from the Immanuel United Church.
Minocha-McKenney Dental and the Amherst Striders Running Club sponsor the run.
For more information call Minocha/McKenney Dental at 667-9777.