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A free meal led to a life of running

Robert Moore leading the pack at an Ontario Masters Athletics race at the Toronto Track & Field Centre, York University.  In third place is the legendary Ed Whitlock, a long-time friend of Bob Moore’s, who died in March 2017. Photo by Doug "Shaggy" Smith.

Robert Moore leading the pack at an Ontario Masters Athletics race at the Toronto Track & Field Centre, York University. In third place is the legendary Ed Whitlock, a long-time friend of Bob Moore’s, who died in March 2017. Photo by Doug “Shaggy” Smith.

Have you spotted a runner in Leaside wearing a bright yellow singlet, often with a briefcase or a bag of groceries in his hand?

It’s been a familiar sighting on our local streets and trails for more than four decades. This is Robert Moore of Sutherland Dr., once one of Canada’s top distance runners and still racing competitively at age 77.

Moore was born in England in 1940 and grew up near the village of Huddersfield in Yorkshire. “Our hill farm was a 3K walk from my school and there was always work to be done on the farm – so as a boy I had no time for games.”

Only when he went away to university – to Leeds, where he earned a doctorate in biochemistry – did Moore begin running seriously. “I saw an ad on campus offering a free meal in exchange for writing down bib numbers and times at the finish line of cross-country races. Eventually I started training too and within a year I was on the first team.”

He also joined the local track club, the Longwood Harriers. “Cross-country running then was a working class sport – on Sunday you had the day off, guys would meet at the local pub and run to the next town.” Running is also a social sport, Moore believes. “What turns an average runner into a great runner is the peer group – we worked harder for the team; we wanted to be the best. It mattered to us!”

A page from Robert Moore’s training and racing log book from 1969-70 showing race result, distance, track type, pulse, weight, blood pressure, as well as an ongoing comparison with competitors Jerome Drayton, whose 1975 marathon record remains unbroken, and Bruce Kidd, the athlete and academic who is currently Principal of University of Toronto Scarborough.”. Photo by Allan Williams.

A page from Robert Moore’s training and racing log book from 1969-70 showing race result, distance, track type, pulse, weight, blood pressure, as well as an ongoing comparison with competitors Jerome Drayton, whose 1975 marathon record remains unbroken, and Bruce Kidd, the athlete and academic who is currently Principal of University of Toronto Scarborough.”. Photo by Allan Williams. (Click to see full sized image)

After finishing his doctorate Moore came to Canada in 1967 to continue his research at Sunnybrook Hospital, where he worked until 2000. He met Jane McVicar, a speech pathologist, in 1970. “To be honest, I was set up,” says Moore. “Friends made sure we were seated together at a dinner. Our first date was in February 1971 and we married in September.”

Bob and Jane bought the North Leaside home where they still live for $55,000 in 1972. Daughters Fiona and Bronwen followed in 1975 and ’77.

On his first full day in Canada Moore joined the Toronto Olympic Club, but for the next year he was troubled by a persistent foot injury. “Tait McPhedran [the well-known Toronto orthopaedic surgeon] told me, ‘Your running career is over.’”

But Moore worked hard to recover and applied to run in the 1969 Boston Marathon. Because he had no recent competitive times to show, he had to start near the back of the pack. Despite this, Moore finished fifth. Moore placed seventh at Boston three times and second at Hamilton’s Around the Bay race a remarkable six times, though he never won it. He also competed for Canada at the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, Scotland.

“In his prime, Bob was one of the best distance runners in the world, says Toronto Olympic Club president Larry Longo. “Top-10 finishes at the Boston Marathon, and sub four-minute miles are huge achievements.”

“Almost as amazing,” adds Longo, “is the fact that he has stats on every race he’s been in.” Moore meticulously recorded race data, plus blood pressure, weight and weather, by hand in his racing log books.

“Bob’s world-class,” agrees Leasider Dave Christiani, head coach of the Central Toronto Athletic Club. “And he remains an elite athlete today.”

OMA president Doug “Shaggy” Smith emphasizes all that Moore has given back to his sport over the years in certifying courses, officiating, and mentoring others. “He helped found the Metro Toronto Road Runners Association. Until very recently he would mark courses himself carrying the flags, markers and rope with him from his nearby home.”

There’s even a hill named for him, says Smith. “In the 4K loop in Sunnybrook Park that Bob originally laid out 30 years ago, the big hill leading up to the playing fields is now known as the Bob Moore Hill.”

Moore has so far run more than 1,760 races, from the mile to the marathon. And he’s not finished yet. He competed in 31 races in 2016 and has a full schedule planned for this year, too. “I’m doing what I like,” says Moore. “I run for me.”