On Friday a man will spend most of the day running lap after lap after lap around the track at Handsworth Secondary.
In all, Handsworth track and field coach Ryne Melcher will complete 250 laps, spending likely around 12 hours running 100 kilometres in a constant loop. Why would he do this? He lost a bet.
“It was either going to end with a day of misery for me on the track, or a summer filled with free frappucinos and lattes.”
Sorry coach, looks like misery wins the day. But for Melcher and the Handsworth track team, it’s a happy story, except perhaps for the odd blister.
The bet was the latest marker in a remarkable resurgence for the cross-country running and track and field programs at Handsworth. Five years ago Melcher, a former competitive distance runner who has competed for Canada multiple times at world championship events, was working at Kintec North Vancouver, a local haven for runners. There he got talking to a parent from Handsworth who informed him that the North Vancouver school, a track powerhouse in years gone by, didn’t have much of a running program at all anymore. Melcher heeded the call, and soon he was head coach of a small group of track and field athletes. The year before only a handful of athletes competed for Handsworth. Melcher was adamant, however, that he wasn’t there just to babysit a few kids.
“If I’m going to do it I’m not just going to go to meets and sit there and watch the guys,” he said. “It’s like, let’s see if we can get some people and do some practices and do it proper.”
The next year the team grew, and then grew some more the next year. By last year Handsworth was fully back on the map, and the Royals ended up winning the North Shore track and field banner for the first time in many years.
That led to the start of this year’s track season, and an interesting wager made following some lackadaisical performances from the Royals early in the campaign.
“This year we had a lot of returning people, and I don’t know if it was just a little too lazy or casual through our exhibition season – we had one of those team meetings where we said we can’t just expect them to hand us another banner. Just like last year we have to work hard on it.”
Melcher was known for making small wagers with his team during training sessions – beat last week’s time on your fourth set, and we can skip the fifth – but he decided to go for something bigger.
The bet: if the Royals could win the North Shore banner again AND beat their overall team point total from last season, Melcher would run 100 kilometres on the Handsworth track. If the team didn’t hit both of those markers, each athlete would treat him to a tasty coffee shop creation. He was serious too.
“I would have gladly taken the 60-odd lattes. Fair is fair.”
At the end of the North Shore meet, the announcement came: first place, Handsworth. But the Royals weren’t quite ready to celebrate until they heard the point total. Last year it was 676. This year … 719. That’s when the Royals went wild.
“They all started chanting 100k! 100k!” said Melcher, adding that he actually thought that the odds were in his favour coming into the event.
“Looking at the math, all things being honest, I probably gave them about a 25 per cent chance to win the bet and me a 75 per cent chance,” he said. “They just kind of rallied as a team, a lot of people went above and beyond what their qualifying distance or time was.”
Now all that’s left is 250 laps, a slog Melcher plans to start at 6 a.m. and wrap up some 12 hours later. It’s a school day Friday, so he’s encouraging Handsworth students and athletes to check in on him from time to time.
“They can just look out the windows of their class and heckle,” he said. “If they have a spare or lunch break they can either watch or join in for a few laps.”
Handsworth has also invited groups from nearby schools and track clubs, friends and neighbours to come by in the afternoon to watch Melcher finish his feat. The event has taken on extra significance recently, as the North Shore track and field community is lobbying hard for a new track to be built on the North Shore. The loop at Handsworth will be torn up during the upcoming rebuild of the school, and so far there has been no decision on whether or not a new track will be built in its place.
“We should be building more recreational spaces and encouraging people to go out and be fit and active, rather than taking those resources away,” said Melcher. “This is an important playground in the community. It’s not just the Handsworth team that uses it for track practices and meets. It’s all the North Shore, it’s all the elementary schools, it’s all the neighbours that just want to go to a safe place to get some laps in.”
Melcher will be leading the way on Friday, lap after lap after lap.
“At least it’s going to be flat,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll get some encouragement as I drag my sorry carcass to the end.”