My First 2015 Registration Done…


… and it is an exciting one!!!

I have had four major cities in which I want to run a half marathon.  Two have already been crossed off my list: New York City and Vancouver.  You can read about my race experiences in those cities here and here.  Both were cities I had never been to before and both proved well worth the visit.

This summer I managed to get to a city that wasn’t on my list, but that I also thoroughly enjoyed and that was Philadelphia.  Click here for details about that race.  I have also run in Toronto and Hamilton, but I admit I don’t count either as real “trips away”.  I grew up outside of Toronto, so it is a city I am fairly familiar with.  As for Hamilton, well it is Hamilton… no offence to Hamiltonians and really, I did love my race experience there.

So the two cities left on my list at this moment (and trust me, I could easily expand the list in seconds), are actually 2 cities I have been to before, albeit a long time ago.  One is London, England and the other is Prague in the Czech Republic.  Today’s race registration was for… Prague!!!  In March of 2015, if all goes to plan, I will be running the streets of one of Europe’s most gorgeous cities.

Prague is a city near and dear to my heart.  For about 5 months it was my home when I taught high school English right off Wenceslas Square in the heart of the city.  I spent more hours than I can count wandering its cobbled and paved streets enjoying the beauty of a city left relatively undamaged by war.  Of course years of communism had made its mark, but by the time I went there to teach it was a country entering the western world.  I had actually first visited the city two year before while backpacking through Europe.  In those two years between visits it was remarkable to see how many changes had occurred since the fall of communism, I can only imagine the changes in the last two decades.  If you want to know exactly how long it has been since I have been to Prague, let’s just say that it was still part of Czechoslovakia when I arrived there to teach!

It has been a dream of mine to return to Prague with my family, to have them see the city I chose to live in for a short period of my life.  I won’t pretend living there was perfect.  There were many times I was lonely and missing home.  I never did learn to speak the language well, but I do remember times when I realized that some simple thoughts would come to me in Czech before English.  I certainly wasn’t saving money.  At that point I think I was being paid the equivalent of a couple of dollars a day.  At the end of my stay the rules were you could not leave the country with Czech currency, so what little I saved was spent or given away.  But it was all such an adventure and to this day I still have dreams that take place in the old parts of the city.  I can’t wait to return.

I’ll finish this with a couple of pictures of what I consider to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe:

Charles bridge - Prague - Czech Republic

My Second Sub 2 Hour Half Marathon

Thanksgiving Sunday is probably my favourite day of the year.  For seven years I have participated in some manner in the Fall Colours Race.  My first couple of years I Nordic walked the half marathon.  At that time I had no desire to become a runner, much less run 21.1 km.  For another couple of years I ran with Evan as he started doing the 3k distance.  In 2012 and 2013 I ran the 10k, using the course to train for my first half marathon and then my first full marathon.  This year I ran the half marathon, my eleventh to date.  And what a great run it was.

First of all, somehow almost every year this race gets perfect weather.  It is a largely rural route held at the time of year when we often hit the peak of the fall colours.  This year’s race started in single digits under blue skies and finished around 13 or 14 degrees.  That is my kind of running weather.  But, in case you get lulled into thinking this could be perfect a run, they throw in a bit of hill work.  Depending on your definition of hills, one could easily argue there is actually quite a bit of hill work to be conquered.  Check out my elevation map:


As you can see the first half of this course is an uphill battle.  And while the ‘back” portion of the run clearly gives you a chance to run downhill, there are still lots of “rollers”, small ups and downs that take a toll.  And don’t even get me started on the final hill just after the 20k mark, that one is just cruel.

Because of the elevation of this course I anticipated finishing between 2:03 and 2:05.  Anything quicker would be a bonus.  But I ended up feeling really good throughout the first half.  The hills weren’t easy by any means but I did find myself maintaining my pace, sometimes even passing a few people.  In fact, I felt really good until 19k when I decided to take a walk break due to a bit of light headedness.  And I will be honest, I walked that final hill – quickly mind you – to make sure I had enough in me for a strong finish.  Final time: 1:58:58!  I had not even imagined completing the course in under 2 hours!  In fact, while I was running I couldn’t even remember what pace I would need for a sub 2 hour race.  I only used my watch to make sure I wasn’t going too fast to complete the course comfortably.  My time put me in 4th position in my age group and the 33rd woman out of 139. I am more than pleased with these results.  I now firmly believe that I am a sub 2 hour half marathoner and that I will achieve more final times that start with 1:5x.  Perhaps the part I am most proud of though is my 10k split.  Despite all of those hills, I hit 10k at a little under 56 minutes.  Not that long ago that was my goal time at flat 10k races.  Now it is my split time running up hills.  That is progress I am proud of.

But before this sounds like nothing but bragging (really it is just pride!) I will admit that around the 20k mark I thought about making this my last half of the season.  I have been planning to run one more, the one that so far I have found to be the hardest half marathon course I have done.  The one where my best time is 2:06.  There is a part of me that is thinking of skipping it, despite it being one of my main goals for the year. On Sunday I was tired at 20k; yes I know that that is normal.  I was happy to be done at 21 (21.26 to be accurate), also normal.  All of that made me think that maybe I should just make it my half finale for 2014.  It is always nice to end on a positive race.  We shall see.  Regardless I do have one more race, a 10k, to complete in a week.

The boys also had great runs, with Evan finishing on the podium for males overall and for males 13 and under.  Luke wasn’t too far behind.  I think all of us agree though that the best part of this day is coming home, happy with our runs and enjoying a massive Thanksgiving dinner thanks to my mum.  This year we also had friends who I met through a running blog ( join us for dinner as they were visiting for the race. Between all of us we had covered four distances at Fall Colours.  It was so much fun to hear about everyone’s experiences and successes.  Honestly, I can’t think of a better way to spend a day.




The End of a Perfect Day

A beautiful fall day, a sub 2 hour half marathon – with hills, hills and more hills – and a turkey dinner with family and friends. Is it any wonder that this is my favourite holiday?  Of course the best part is I don’t have to make any of the dinner, my mum takes care of that. And yes, in my book that is even better than finishing the race in 1:58:58!

The Fall Running Season So Far


I love the trails in fall!

I love the trails in fall!

My summer/fall running has been so different this year compared to last.  This time last year I was focused – obsessed? – with training for my first marathon.  Everything was about the marathon; what I ate, my distance, my pace, my rest days.  It was exciting, terrifying, difficult, exhilarating and exhausting.  In all, it was quite an experience.

But when it comes down to it, I like this fall better.  I have gone completely in the opposite direction.  I have not followed a training program since last spring.  I just run.  I do a lot of slow runs and a lot of short runs.  I found myself getting a little bored with long runs, so I just didn’t do them unless I felt like them.  I haven’t done any speed work, and my hill work has just depended on what path I choose to follow.  I have spent more time on trails.  Grant it they are trails that true trail runners would laugh at, but they are different from the sidewalks and roads I am used to.  For variety I have thrown in orienteering and swimming.  I am not particularly good at either of them but they both put a smile on my face.  I have run with friends and I have run with people who have become friends through my 5k running clinic.  I have started running with a friend and colleague as she starts to build herself up to her first half marathon next year.  I have reconnected with a former colleague through running and we meet for casual runs on trails.

Despite all of this running relaxation, I had my best half marathon and 10k times this summer.  In my last 10k race I had my fastest 5k.  Admittedly I am running a bit slower now, but not as much as I would have thought.  Probably the main thing I am aware of is that I feel the longer or faster runs more now than I did a few months ago.  Let’s just say I am a little stiffer after my runs these days.  I’m o.k with that though, largely because I am having fun.  I am just not feeling as competitive as I did last year.  I do want to feel competitive again, just not right now.

Friday, after a few days of running with new(ish) runners, I did manage to get back out for a long run and found myself enjoying it despite the distance.  It was a relaxed, slow paced 18 km with a mixture of trails and roads and a couple of hills thrown in.  I was slow but steady and had enough energy to pick up the pace for the last three km.  It was a nice way to end the week.

Today I participated in my second orienteering event.  Actually, it became my third try as well since after completing the novice course (which I completely screwed up a few times) I decided to try the intermediate course as well.  Because you know, if you have a tough time on a beginner’s course, you might as well try something harder, right?  I made more mistakes than I can count, but with my compass and map I was able to find all of my controls and make it back to the finish line in a reasonable time of 1:18.  I of course was nowhere near as fast as the boys.  I like the advice someone gave me before the intermediate course.  She suggested I just take it easy since I knew the kids would beat me anyway – so true!  I did my best to run when I could but there were lots of stops to try to figure out just where I was, and there was some bushwhacking in attempts to take short cuts, most of which probably did not actually save any time.  It is kind of funny to finish an event and find my pace showing a number that would normally make me want to cry.

Next up, the Fall Colours Half Marathon next Sunday.  I’m thinking it might not be pretty (there is a lot of hill work on that course), but hopefully it will be fun.


A Different Kind of Running Event

This morning I tried my first orienteering event and had a blast.  Until last spring I had no idea that this city had a very active orienteering club called Orienteering Ottawa ( They hold numerous events throughout the year in both Ontario and Quebec.  The boys joined their “Kids Running Free” program in the spring, quickly learning the basics of map reading. Essentially orienteering is like a giant treasure hunt in the woods so they were both quickly hooked.  This fall when we signed them up again, we also registered them for the “Intro to Competition” session.  This means they are orienteering twice a week, once at practice and once at an organized event on the weekend.  I decided I should learn a little bit about what they are doing, so I joined the basics class for adults.

Today’s event (number three for the boys) was on a beautiful property in Quebec used for cross country skiing.  You have a choice of a novice course (what I did), intermediate, short advanced or long advanced.  At the novice level most of the controls are located along the trail and a compass is not really necessary.  But if you try advanced be prepared to do some serious off-trail work to find your controls.  There were runners coming in with mud up to their knees from the more difficult courses.  Once you register you receive a map and you can rent a finger SI chip – yep, this is the great outdoors with a little technology thrown in.  You simply have to  put your finger stick into the control and it will record the time you arrived.

I admit I went into this event a little worried I would get completely lost.  I can’t say navigational skills are a strength of mine.  As it turned out I didn’t get lost exactly, I just couldn’t find all of the 16 controls with ease.  In fact, it was the final control that had me running in circles, not to mention running down a very, very steep hill only to realize I was way off and had to go back up.  I just kept reminding myself that hill training is a good thing!

In the end, regardless of my errors, I had a great time.  The trails were gorgeous and the course was great fun.  Orienteering is also the perfect family activity.  And much like a road race event, there is something for everyone.  Some people walk, others bring toddlers and small children and others are very competitive.  You can make this sport suit your needs.

A few other things I learned today:

  • Running on trails is tough, particularly when the evening before you ran 12k , also on trails
  • You actually have to pay attention when orienteering.  I am used to running on auto pilot.  Luckily today the controls were fairly close together which helped me keep my focus, but I know at some point I will daydream myself right past an important turn.
  • I run much, much slower on trails.   This was apparent in last night’s run too.
  • I need to do more hill work.
  • When you sweat during a road race your constant movement at least provides a bit of a breeze to dry some of said sweat.  When you have to keep stopping to read a map, it is quite remarkable just how much sweat can drip down into your eyes.
  • My kids are better at this sport than me, but this isn’t really a surprise.  They are also better trail runners than me, again not a surprise.  Luke was within view for a while, then he was gone!  Needless to say he placed ahead of me.
  • Evan is more competitive than I thought and I can learn from his perseverance.  When he was upset about his novice course, he begged to try the intermediate course and ended up placing second! (Thanks Coach Jennie for the compass lesson beforehand!)
  • I will one day get lost or at the very least disoriented during an event.  But just like a bad run, it doesn’t matter.  I do hope, however, that I won’t get so lost that they have to send someone out after me!

Right now I see orienteering as a perfect sport to combine with my running.  For ages I have been saying I should do more trail running, this will give me incentive to do so.  The work out on the trails uses different muscles and I’m sure will make me a stronger runner.  I think the mental aspect will provide both a challenge and a change, helping to keep my motivation going.  At the moment I am quite happy sticking to the novice courses.  The advanced, and even the intermediate, look a little too tricky for me.  But once upon I time I swore I would never run more than 10 km and would certainly never try a half marathon or full marathon.  Two marathons, one 30k race and 10 half marathons later… here I am :)

Army Run 2014

In the past five days I have run a half marathon, run two times with my clinic group, practiced swimming twice, gone to an orienteering class, run with my students for the Terry Fox Run, worked, met with five sets of parents for half hour interviews and had a dentist appointment.  This all translates to no blog post as of yet.  It also means I am just too tired tonight to write a major recap.

So short version is this.  My run was reasonable, not my best but probably not my worst.  Actually, it was my second fastest time, coming in at 2:02 something.  But this is one of those cases where the numbers are a little deceiving.  It is certainly a time I can be happy with, but I ran a positive split and was more tired and sore than I would normally be.  The lack of long run training came back to bite me!

I ran a solid 16k (though at 11k a painful side stitch forced me to walk) but by 17k my muscles were feeling tight and tired.  At that moment I made the call to just relax, take a nice walk and run to the finish line comfortably – or as comfortably as possible in the pouring rain on achy legs.  The nice thing about achieving my sub 2 hour half marathon last June is that it has actually taken the pressure off.  Now I know that I have it in me, I am not obsessed with beating two hours.  To be less than 3 minutes past the two hour mark, with little long run training and a slow finish just proves to me again that I can do it.

Once again, a great race was put on by organizers, and lots of cheers to the volunteers and spectators who braved what turned into a cold rain to be there for all of us running.  Also, congratulations to the 6 runners from my running clinics who took part in the 5k race – many of them running a race for the first time!  Most importantly, thanks to those who this race was really about – the men and women of the Canadian Military.


What Happens If…

…there is a lightning storm in the middle of a race?


I have done many, many races now.  Somehow I have had pretty good luck when it comes to weather.  I remember one small race that was delayed slightly by passing storms.  I also remember one Ottawa Race Weekend that looked a little iffy as some black clouds and a bit of lightning followed a path along the Ottawa River but managed to avoid downtown.

Here is the description of tomorrow from Environment Canada:

“Showers. Risk of thunderstorms in the morning and early in the afternoon. Amount 30 to 40 mm.”  

Lovely.  Combine that with the Weather Network, which is predicting the “Feels Like” temperature to hit 29 degrees Celsius and things are not looking so great for tomorrow’s Army Run.  It has made me wonder though, what happens if in the middle of a race the weather gets nasty?  I know if it happens at the beginning they will delay or cancel.  But you are over in another province, half way through 21 km and they have to shut things down for safety, where do you go?  Do buses pick you up?  Do you hope you are near a public building in which you can seek shelter?  Do you rely on strangers to welcome you into their home?  I had never thought about this scenario.  What a nightmare that would be for race organizers and participants.  I’m sure that right know there are some organizers who are watching the weather forecast carefully, praying for changes.

A final question, do you think weather websites notice a huge increase in hits on big race weekends?  I have checked 3 weather websites more times than I can count today.  It is an obsession I can’t stop, even though I know they only update a few times a day.  Somehow I think if I check often enough it will change for the better.  Here’s hoping!