TORONTO – Sometimes my trips are so quick that the biggest challenge for a run is finding the time. Toronto proved especially tight. We arrived at our downtown hotel here at 9:45 p.m. We were leaving the next day at 11:30 a.m. – less than 14 hours in all.
When we arrived, I still had several hours of writing to do, so I wasn’t going out. The next morning, meetings started at 7 a.m. and continued until departure. I went to bed at 1:30 a.m., and set the alarm for 5 a.m.
If I wanted to run in Toronto, that was my slot. The only reason I did it: What’s the difference of sleeping an hour longer? I still would be tired. And I wouldn’t see a slice of Toronto.
I was out of the hotel at 5:15 a.m. and adopted my usual strategy when I don’t know a city: Out and back, run on one road and then retrace my steps. I couldn’t get lost.
I headed east on Front Street. Construction crews were on almost every block in the first few minutes; they wore hard hats and orange safety vests and some drove little fork lifts. The streets, though, were mostly empty, and I remembered why I liked running in cities before dawn – the quiet and the absence of cars.
These early morning hours of peace in a city are a rare treat, experienced mostly, I guess, by people who work overnight shifts, or those who stay for last call, or runners or walkers with insomnia or an exercise addiction.
At this hour, Toronto was a small town with skyscrapers. I felt calm (if groggy) as I passed a shoe shop, restaurants, a pet shop, and the Hockey Hall of Fame (a Beaux-Arts styled building). Even a local coffee shop hadn’t opened. Nearly all cities are runnable at 5 a.m., but an hour later some aren’t, and by 7 a.m., most are difficult because of traffic.
About a mile into my run, I saw a sign for the waterfront, and changed my plan, turning right off Front. The road went under the Gardiner Expressway and then dead-ended at Lake Ontario.
But right in front of me was an odd-looking area: an expanse of white sand, umbrellas and Adirondack-like chairs – a beach, but one that didn’t seem to have access to the water.
I saw a sign: Sugar Beach was its name, established in 2010 as a waterfront urban public space for relaxation (and not for swimming). I ran on the white sand and sat down on one of the chairs. I had Sugar Beach to myself. I resisted the opportunity to take off my running shoes and wiggle my toes in the sand, but did close my eyes. I thought of myself on some distant white-sand beach in the Caribbean. It was a very pleasing thought, and I could feel sleep coming. So I wrested myself out of the chair, bid farewell to Sugar Beach, ran a bit more on the waterfront, took some turns, found Front Street, evaded an attack black squirrel that seemed for a second would bite my leg, and arrived at my hotel. Six o’clock sharp. Blood flowing. Better to have run than slept.