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(November 29, 2001, Gazette)

The long road to Heartbreak Hill

Michael Coyne offers some suggestions about self-portraiture to visual arts student Baden Cunning during a third-year painting class.Photo by Pamela Gill

Michael Coyne offers some suggestions about self-portraiture to visual arts student Baden Cunning during a third-year painting class.

Things you are likely to find in visual arts professor Michael Coyne’s office: tubes of paint, art books, brushes, running shoes.

Running shoes? Not the typical implement of choice for a visual artist at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College. But Mr. Coyne is not into shoe painting (if there is such a thing) — he is a marathon runner.

He said he never intended to run competitively in marathons. It wasn’t until 1997 that he laced up seriously. In fact, he still insists the main reason he runs is to give himself “time to think.”

“I started running to keep fit — I had no intention or ambition to race,” said Mr. Coyne, who came to Grenfell College in 1986 as the head of visual arts and took on the task of developing the visual arts program, which subsequently began in 1988.

Initially he began competing in small races like the seven-kilometre Corner Brook Fun Run, and quickly realized he’d found something he was really good at.

“The Fun Run in Corner Brook seemed relatively easy; I came in third, so I decided to train for a marathon,” he said.

Michael Coyne at the Boston Marathon
Michael Coyne at the Boston Marathon

Many kilometres later, he ran in the annual Ottawa marathon and qualified for the 2001 Boston Marathon.

Mr. Coyne points to the Boston Marathon as the high point in his running career since he took it up seriously in 1997.

“It was both an honour and an incredible thrill to be part of the world’s oldest and most storied marathon,” he said. “Since I had run two half-marathons in 1:34, and ran my qualifying marathon in Ottawa in 3:26, I had originally set 3:20 as my goal. So I was not completely satisfied with my time of 3:50. But, all things considered, I was quite happy with the outcome.”

“All things considered” refers to a foot injury he suffered in March while on sabbatical in Florida. To allow the injury to heal, Mr. Coyne had done only two 20-minute runs in the five weeks leading up to the Marathon. The rest of his training was done in the pool.

“I wasn’t sure whether the foot would cause problems during the race so I was quite cautious and ran conservatively,” he said. “The pool running is good for cardiovascular maintenance, but will not work for tempo runs, intervals and hill training, at least not for me. The lack of road training in these areas affected my performance a fair bit. The Boston course has a lot of hills. You really need some solid hill training going into the race, especially when you hit the Newton Hills, the last of which is aptly named Heartbreak Hill.”

Of course, his sabbatical was about more than running and training — he actually produced a whopping 24 paintings titled The Florida Series. A landscape painter for 20 years, Mr. Coyne said these paintings are a departure from his usual creations. They can be viewed at A solo exhibition is being planned for February or March.

This term, he’s been busy teaching first-year two-dimensional design and third-year painting, but still aims to train regularly five days a week, mostly outdoors when the weather allows it.

Most recently he ran at the Valley Harvest Marathon in Kentville, Nova Scotia, on Thanksgiving Weekend and qualified for the Boston Marathon for 2002 and 2003 with a time of 3:28:15.

“It is addicting,” said Mr. Coyne. “The endorphins are like a drug. And it allows you to stay fit, and keeps you from becoming old and decrepit before your time. Running is a good stress reliever and it teaches you self-discipline.”