At first glance, Kenneth Bonner appears to be a normal, older gentleman. That is, until he walks across the room with an effortless ease of movement – a grace that implies an atypical level of strength and fitness for a man of 70.
Bonner’s clear eyes and dimpled smile complete the impression, as they’re alive with a spirited love of life that sets him apart from the lassitude ordinarily associated with a septuagenarian.
“The way I see it, so long as I keep moving, they can’t bury me,” Bonner said with a grin.
Movement is something that defines the life of this remarkable Oak Bay resident. He is one of only two people to have run all 33 Victoria Marathons. He’s run a few other marathons as well, 142 more, to be exact, including the race in Boston (twice) and the Jungfrau Marathon, a Swiss event in the shadow of the Eiger Mountain that involves a steep course that reaches an elevation of 2,205 metres and is enough to crush the athletic aspirations of people half Bonner’s age. “The Jungfrau was a challenge. We came around a bend in the road and there was this little track leading straight up. People looked like miners climbing single file on all fours. It went straight up and I said, ‘no, that can’t be the route,’” recalled Bonner. “But it was.”
He smiled as he recounted his first attempt at running a marathon. “It was in Sooke in 1961,” said Bonner. “I ran in hushpuppies with the toes cut out. I did it because I wondered if I could. I’ve always looked at challenges that way, I wonder if – and then I do it.”
It’s that curiosity that first led Bonner to try the sport of marathon cycling, or randonneuring. “I wondered if,” he said.
Randonneur involves non-stop rides of 200 to 1,600 kilometres along a predetermined course with checkpoints along the way. The objective is to finish within a set time limit, the goal is not to race, but to finish. Bonner has ridden in more of those events than he can count since he completed his first 200-km event in 1986.
He now holds numerous course records, including one set during his 1,200 km. Rocky Mountain ride, an event he completed when he was 65 years old. He did that ride in 50 hours and 34 minutes, breaking a record established eight years earlier by a 42-year-old member of the Austrian military.
Some of his more memorable rides are world famous. He’s completed the 1,200-km Paris-Brest-Paris event five times, the 1,400-km London-Edinburgh-London event twice and courses of at least 1,200-km each in Colorado, Kansas and between Boston and Montreal (return).
During that time he’s been chased by dogs, met a host of fascinating fellow competitors, suffered both hypothermia and hyperthermia, and generally loved every minute of his rides.
Perhaps Bonner’s most incredible ride to date happened after his 70th birthday, and wasn’t a part of any organized event.
“There’s something about the turning of another decade that made me wonder if,” he said.
Bonner decided that he would mark this milestone by cycling nonstop, an hour for every year of his life. “I wondered if I could do 70 hours with my butt on the saddle,” he laughed. “It took me three tries.”
On his third attempt he finally achieved his dream by riding his 202-km Vancouver Island training course eight times in a little more than 71 hours. During that time he endured freezing temperatures, rain, sun and wind.
“There’s a life lesson in that,” said Bonner. “If you want to accomplish something, you have to say to yourself, ‘I’m going to do it’, and you’ll probably manage it in the end.”
Bonner still rides about 200 km a day to stay fit and is looking forward to his next events.
“Riding gives me a lot of time to think,” he said. “I’m trying to figure out what I’ll do for my 80th birthday.”
More information on the sport of randonneuring can be found at randonneurs.bc.ca.