Remembering Jim Howe – Ottawa’s Running Doctor
Every October, at the Jim Howe Memorial Cross Country Races, hundreds of runners race through the grass, mud and fallen leaves on the trails surrounding the Gloucester Hornet’s Nest.
They are the conditions Jim Howe loved.
“The wetter and colder and snowier, the better it was,” said Peter Howe, the eldest son of Dr. James “Jim” Howe.
Whether it was on the slippery paths of the Rideau Canal in mid-January or at a muddy cross country race in the fall, Jim was an every day (often twice a day) runner.
Equally recognizable in a white physicians coat or running shoes, Jim was well-known by those in the local running community and around Ottawa, thanks to his general practice in the Glebe that he ran for 37 years.
But despite being a doctor, there was a time when Jim wasn’t following the same advice he gave to his patients.
“At one point, he was a big guy,” Peter said. “One day I think he overheard a nurse refer to him as the big doctor and that made him want to change things.”
That’s when Jim picked up the running habit, which Peter said eventually became his way of managing stress.
“Every problem was solved to the extent it could be while he was on the road,” he said. “And his answers were always better after they were ‘run on.’”
Starting with early morning runs before work, it wasn’t long before Jim graduated to running at local road races.
“He was a fixture, that’s for sure,” said Joe Du Vall, Run Ottawa’s Event Manager and a long-time runner in Ottawa. “It was a much smaller community back then and you’d see a lot of the same faces at all the races in the area.”
Jim was there in the early 1970s when the National Capital Runners Association was founded, even buying the first finish line banner for the organization.
As running became a bigger and bigger part of his life, Jim found ways to integrate it with his medical practice. He helped establish the Carleton University Sports Medicine Clinic in 1972 and also conducted high-risk post-coronary fitness testing at the university.
Running also took him on a few unexpected adventures.
His obituary in the Ottawa Citizen told the story of one of his daily runs when he noticed police chasing a robbery suspect. He tripped the man up, slowing him down enough for police to arrive and make the arrest.
Then he continued his run.
Now, almost 20 years after passing away in a car accident, Jim’s name continues to inspire people to get running.
“He was a huge advocate for exercise to his patients,” Peter said. “I think he’d be thrilled to know that people are getting outside and running because of him.”
Never run a cross-country race? Find out why cross-country running is loved by so many runners.