Eric Li rings the PB bell at the 2022 Saskatchewan Marathon after running 42.2km in 4:00:29.
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How a health crisis sparked a love affair with running

Eric Li’s one regret about running is that he didn’t start sooner.

Li, now 49, started running in his early 40s because he was worried about his health. At the time, he was often lethargic and coughed a lot.

“I was just thinking of any exercise to keep my body healthy,” Li recalled. He looked online for inspiration and decided running seemed like a good fit for his busy life as a working father of two young boys.

Eric Li, left, with sons Bertin and Angus at Bushy Park parkrun in London, England in February 2020.
Eric Li, left, with sons Bertin and Angus at Bushy Park parkrun in London, England in February 2020.

“With running basically you just need the shoe and you can run anywhere,” he says.

So, early the next morning, Li laced up a pair of running shoes, got outside and ran a kilometre around his Lawson Heights neighbourhood. He ran again the next day, then the next, gradually getting farther and farther.

“I feel very, very good,” he says. “Every day I feel energetic and I improve a lot in efficiency in my work as well.”

Eric Li, right, with his sons at the Mendel parkrun on June 17, 2023. Li's boys will often join their dad at parkrun if they aren't signed up for other sports activities.
Eric Li, right, with his sons at the Mendel parkrun on June 17, 2023. Li’s boys will often join their dad at parkrun if they aren’t signed up for other sports activities.

Li had hoped running would improve his physical health — and it did — but what made him fall in love with the sport was the huge mental boost he got from it.

In 2018, just two years after starting to run, he set a goal of running every morning — a five-year streak he’s continued to this day. “I just wanted to give myself no excuse,” Li explains.

Over the past seven years, Li has run nine marathons with a personal best time of just over four hours and has become a familiar face at the Mendel Riverbank parkrun, which meets every Saturday morning. He’s also learned running is not as easy as it first seemed. “If you want to do it properly, you need to do a lot of research, to see how other people do it,” he says. Through online searching and with the help of physiotherapists, he’s worked on improving his running form and regularly incorporates core strength exercises into his days.

Eric Li, right, with Chris Duffhy and Kea Archibold on a cold Mendel Riverbank parkrun on January 18, 2020.
Eric Li, right, with Chris Duffhy and Kea Archibold on a cold Mendel Riverbank parkrun on January 18, 2020.

It’s a remarkable lifestyle for someone who was largely sedentary for more than four decades. Li grew up in China before moving to Saskatoon for school and says physical activity was not part of his childhood or modelled as something to strive for.

“There’s a lot of homework in China,” he says. “So every day I just didn’t get time to do sports or anything.”

Li’s boys, on the other hand, love being active. They play soccer and occasionally join their dad at the Mendel Riverbank parkrun. On a recent holiday, the three ran together at Bushy parkrun in London, England, where the parkrun movement began.

Eric Li celebrates after completing the 2022 Queen City Marathon.
Eric Li celebrates after completing the 2022 Queen City Marathon.

“My running is a very good example,” Li says. “It doesn’t matter if it’s -40C, raining or snowing. Every morning, I just go outside to run. And this gives a good example for my boys. They say ‘OK, my dad is doing this every day. I should do the same thing.'”

Li, for his part, says he finds role models at the Mendel Riverbank parkrun.

“A lot of people, they are much older than me, they are in their 70s or 80s,” Li says. “You think at that age it would be very difficult to run. But no, they are very healthy and energetic … They inspire me.”

Eric Li competes in his third marathon in Changsha, China on October 21, 2018.
Eric Li competes in his third marathon in Changsha, China on October 21, 2018.

Li has every intention of running into his 80s as well and plans to get there listening to his body, as he has carefully done since he first laced up his running shoes seven years ago.

“If my body doesn’t feel happy, I just slow down,” he says. “I don’t want to injure myself because I want to keep running every day.”