I Love Winter Running

There is no hidden sarcasm in the title of this post. Give me time, I’m sure at some point I will write about the difficulties winter presents to all of us who choose to run.

But for now… today was the first real snowfall of the season. If you listened carefully I’m sure you would have been able to hear the rhythmic sound of all of the treadmills starting up for the season.  But if you insist on climbing aboard the “dreadmill”, how will you ever enjoy this:


Yes, you have to slow down, pick up your feet, watch where you place them, but when you do you get to experience runs like no others.  It was nothing short of gorgeous today running in the woods.  It was exhilarating, calming, tranquil and energizing all at once.  How is that even possible?

My advice to all; remember the treadmill isn’t our only winter option.  I know I am lucky, I am able to fit in runs in daylight hours several times a week.  It makes it easier to get out there.  But I encourage every runner to get outside whenever possible this winter, let it offer what only the cold and snow can.  You can love it too.

My Favourite Running Year So Far

It is only November, there isn’t even snow on the ground yet, but I am already thinking of next year’s running goals.  Why so early?  I think because this year I’m not feeling burned out. Last year at this time it hadn’t been long since my first marathon, followed by another half marathon. Truth be told I was more than ready for a break. This year, however, despite completing the most races I have ever done in a year, I am feeling rested and excited to run.

Here is the math for the 2014 race season:

17 races

1 marathon

1 30k race

4 half marathons

1 10 miler

1 8.5 miler

5 10k’s

1 8.5k

3 5k’s

1 personal best in the half marathon

3 personal bests in the 10 (faster at each attempt)

1 unofficial fastest 5k in one of my longer distances.

1 30k PB (of course it was my only 30k race…so far!)

1 disaster of a race – the marathon – but I completed it!

2 new cities visited in order to race: Vancouver and Philadelphia

1 great year of running

I also started trail running, orienteering and took swimming lesson.

So what are the plans and goals for next year?  In no particular order:

– a 1:55 or less half marathon

– a 51 minute 10k (I’ll take 51:59!)

– a third marathon

– and of course, the Prague Half Marathon, which may be the race in which I aim for that 1:55; other than some cobble streets it is supposed to be a very fast course.

What are your plans for 2015?IMG_2353 (Copy)




Finishing Strong

Today I finished my 16th race of the year and my third attempt at what I consider to be one of the two toughest half marathon courses in the Ottawa area.  Ironically, I have to say that these two difficult races are also by far my favourite.

One of them is last month’s Fall Colours Half Marathon.  I love it for the cool weather, the gorgeous colours, the free chili and massages and for the family feel of a Thanksgiving event.

Today’s race was the Mission Possible.  It is my third go at this course and it is on my must do list for each year.  I love it for its purpose, for its time of year, for its charitable spirit, and for the comfortable small race feel.  Of course it is not surprising that the huge breakfast buffet and the warm clubhouse with showers are major pluses for this race.

This race raises money for The Ottawa Mission.  The Mission provides meals, a place to sleep, job training and general support for the homeless men of Ottawa.  It also offers a Saturday morning run club as a way for the men to strive for goals and improve their daily life.  I believe that through today’s race over $10 000 was raised for the Mission.  A number of companies, including Telus, Mizuno, and Running Room donate and make this race possible.  The Marshes Golf Course allows the race to take place on its golf cart paths and is also the location for that tasty brunch I mentioned.

As a cold weather runner, I love that this race, which also offers a 5k distance and a marathon relay, is held in November.  The September and October race schedule in Ottawa is bursting at the seams.  You can easily pick one race or more for every weekend.  But November is a slow month as many people start to pack away the running shoes for winter boots.  When you think of it though it can be the perfect month to race.  With all of that fall training behind you this can be your fastest time of year.  Sure it can be cold but at least there is no fear of heat exhaustion or sunstroke.  Key though is having a nice location and the Marshes Golf Club has that.  At this race the only time you have to spend outside is when you are running.  Before the race you can throw all of your extra gear in a locker in the change rooms.  Then you wait inside until they ask you to move to the start line, about 3 minutes before the beginning of the race.  The finish line is literally right outside the doors of the club.  You cross the line, a kind volunteer hands you your certificate (no medals at this race) and you walk inside to grab a hot shower.  After that climb some stairs (the only disadvantage of the site!) and sit down to have a hot brunch.  No porta potties, no standing in crowded corrals (there were less than a 100 of us in the half), no debating if your running clothes will leave you feeling like an icicle as you stand forever waiting for a horn.  Honestly it is the most civilized of all races.

Each year there is also a guest speaker.  Two years ago Canadian marathoner Dylan Wykes shared his running experiences with us.  Last year Jodi Mitic, the Canadian solder who lost both legs only to go on to run the Army Run Half and to star on Amazing Race Canada, was the guest speaker.  When I read that this year’s speaker would be former politician Stockwell Day I admit I was a little disappointed.  I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to finish my half marathon sitting and listening to a politician speak.  It ends up though that Mr. Day is an avid runner and a Boston Qualifier.  He has also run the Great Wall of China.  His talk was gracious, interesting and humourus, particularly when he admitted that his final time was incorrect due to the unfortunate fact that nature’s call forced him to head to the indoor washrooms with only the last 4k or so to go.  He inadvertently crossed the finish line that otherwise was so conveniently was placed by the doors to the clubhouse.  He also noted that he now realized that Immodium isn’t just for full marathons.  Couldn’t agree more!

As for the course, in the past I have always compared it to a kids’ roller coaster.  No super steep hills, but no flat stretches either.  This course defines a race full of “rollers”.  The whole course is done twice and the hilly spots give a definite impression that they grow between your first visit and your second.  It is a very different hill experience from that other race I love, Fall Colours.  In that race you keep working your way up for 10 or 11 km and then start coming down again.  Technically I think it would probably be regarded as the tougher course (it certainly has the most elevation change of any road race in the area), but I have to admit the constant, never-ending rollers of the Mission Possible are my nemesis.

When I first ran the course two years ago it was my second half marathon, my first having been completed a month earlier.  I was feeling cocky, having completed my first in 2:04, well below my expected time of 2:12.  I was on such a high after that first race I came home and immediately looked to see if I would be able to get in one more half marathon before winter.  When I started on the Mission Possible course that year I thought nothing could stop me.  Those hills were babies, how could they slow me down?  The fact is by the last 3 or 4k they had completely kicked my butt.  I remember being very disappointed in my 2:06 finish.

Last year I ran it 3 or 4 weeks after my first marathon.  I thought I was feeling good.  I went out fast.  By 16k I wanted to cry.  I was hurting more than I did on the marathon.  Final time, 2:08.

So this year I had a goal.  Two goals actually.  Finish in less than 2:06 and finish strong, knowing I had beat the course, the course hadn’t beat me.  I kept telling myself that this time I would “run smart.”  And run smart I did, though I still ran the first 8k faster than I had planned.  I swear I kept trying to slow it down and then I would look at my watch and realize that I was faster than I should have been if I was going to run a conservative race.  In fact when my watch beeped for the 8k mark I was convinced I had slowed my pace way down, only to discover that it had actually been a 5:30 km.  Visions of my struggling body attempting to get through those last hills, the worst hills of the course,  finally was enough to make me slow down.  I ran the middle of the course a little more conservatively, carefully taking half pieces of Shot Bloks to avoid running out of steam.  I saved some energy and had little difficulty picking up the pace for the last 1/3 of the race.

At this point I have to give a shout out to the volunteers.  This is not a race with spectators but the many volunteers who were out to make sure you didn’t turn the wrong way off the winding course were so supportive.  With temperatures hovering around zero and some wind thrown in, they had to be cold.  Somehow they managed to tell everyone how good they looked.  A special shout out to the guy at the final turn to the finish line.  He yelled at me to get my eyes up and chase down the man ahead of me.  His encouragement gave me one last kick.

The good news, my final time was 1:56:15.  The bad news, by my watch the course was short.  I knew that was going to happen and I briefly considered the idea of continuing to run for another 500 meters.  Briefly.  I decided it didn’t matter, I had more than met my goals.  I finished strong with a negative split and I killed my previous times on the same course.  Even if the course had been the right length I still would have finished under 2 hours, making this my third sub 2 hour half marathon of the season.  For the first time in my three years of running half marathons, I completed the last one of the year happy and strong.  Perfect way to finish the 2014 race season.  What can I say, I love this race!

The boys loved the 5k too, though poor Evan, for what is at least the third time in his running career, ran an awesome race (25 minutes) only to have his time recorded incorrectly!  I think he has some magnetic field that interferes with chip times and at the moment the stats have him in last place with a 1 hour finish.  Our boys were the only kids 13 or under in the race, so race director Phil Marsh very kindly created a last minute 13 and under category, handing out a nice bag as a first place prize.  Of course the bag was handed to Luke, who also had a great 27 minute run, at the awards ceremony.  Let’s just say there have been a few arguments as to who really gets to keep the bag!

Even though I have one more race – a virtual race – to do, this definitely felt like the end of race season.  But my training is not going to take a holiday.  I have a few big goals for next year.  I’ll be posting about them soon.


You Thought Running Was Frustrating?

We have all had those moments when running tests our frustration levels. Those days when you head out psyched for a great run only to discover your body has no intention of cooperating. Or those days when your mind gives up on you and negative thoughts overcome you and convince your body to quit.  And of course there are the days when you just hurt.

But I will tell you that standing in the woods with a map and a compass and having NO IDEA where you are ranks right up there in frustration.  When this happens and you are only looking for control #3 on a course that has 13 controls, well there can be a temptation to ditch the map and compass and just find a road and go for a run.

That was the state of mind I found myself in during Sunday’s orienteering event in the Gatineau Hills. I thought the first part of the course was going to be easy. There were trails to follow and it didn’t look like you had to stray too far from the paths to find the controls. I am slowly becoming more familiar with the many, many symbols you need to know to be successful in this sport. The last half of the course looked like it could be a little trickier as it used fields and gullies and we were warned that the trail was unclear. In the end it was the woods that confused me. All the leaves have fallen now, making summer trails less distinct.  There were also a few large fallen trees across the trails, a couple right at trail junctions, making it even more difficult to recognize trails. I ended up wandering the same small area repeatedly only to discover I had overshot the control. During this search the only thing I did know was how to get back to the start and our warm car in the parking lot. I admit that I seriously considered heading back and calling it a day.

Luckily I did finally find the control and upon finding the next one my mood lightened and I was able to convince myself to continue to the end. I was soundly beaten by both boys and my husband (who won the event!) and was left only mildly discouraged. I do really enjoy the sport but for me it will be viewed primarily as a fun way to cross train for my running. The rest of my family is now looking at running as a way to cross train for orienteering. Either way, we have found another family sport that will get us out into the woods and will keep us fit. More than anything I love that we all have another activity in common, one in which we can compete at our own level and then enjoy sharing our strategies and adventures.


Rogaine – It’s Not About Hair

Up until recently, when I heard Rogaine I thought of hair replacement. I’m not even sure if that product still exists, but I know there was a time when it was advertised regularly.

Now that I have entered the world of orienteering, Rogaine has a new meaning. It is actually an acronym for Rugged Outdoor Group Activity Involving Navigation and Endurance.  Last weekend at a Quebec ski hill, the boys, my husband and I took part in our first Rogaine.  I could probably sum the event up in one word; hills!

The Rogaine is a “score-o” event; like all sports there is a lingo to learn. In a score-o you get your map 20 minutes before the mass start. As a team you decide what route you are going to take and which controls, each worth a certain number of points,  you want to find. The catch?  You have a time limit. Get back after that time and you lose 10 points for every minute.  All of this means you need to use some strategy, not to mention watch the clock. We chose to do the 2 hour event, but there was also the choice of 4 and 8(!) hours.

Here is what I learned, and it was a lesson I learned in the very early stages of the event.  The lesson didn’t even have anything to do with orienteering.  What I learned is that I am outnumbered and there is too much testosterone in this family. And I think I can say with confidence it is only going to get worse, considering my youngest isn’t quite at the testosterone-fuelled-competitive stage yet.  Without going into details, let’s just say there were times I just stayed at the back and let the arguments ensue. Being a very slow map reader, it at least gave me the time to try to figure out where the heck we were.

Arguing aside, we did have great fun trekking up ski runs, crossing creeks, slipping down slopes, running through puddles and racing to a final few controls before hitting the finish line just before the two hour mark. In the end, our score fell somewhere in the middle of the pack and we finished tired, wet, hungry and happy :)

Gatineau Hills view

Gatineau Hills view


Another 10k PB – Or Not???

Twice this summer I PB’d on 10k courses.  10k is not really I distance I have worked on but this summer I did a couple to see where I was at.  Early in the summer I finished a race in 55:39, beating a previous time of 56 something.  By the end of the summer I did one in 53:05.  Both times I was thrilled, at least I was once I got over the initial urge to vomit.

Today I went into a 10k with no plans for a PB, but a more general goal of sub 55 minutes.  I had already spent two hours yesterday running up and down (and up and down some more) at a local ski hill for an orienteering event.  More about that in another post, but I will say now it was a blast.  I wasn’t as sore as I could have been today but I knew I was tired.  Thankfully I had switched my entry – I was originally entered into the half marathon but once I knew I was participating in the orienteering I decided 10k would be more than enough.

Did I beat my previous best time today?  I think so.  Here’s the problem, the course came up short, at least 110 metres short.  I hate that, particularly in this case because I came in under my best time.  I again surprised myself, something of a pleasant regularity now, and found myself running into the finish chute seeing a time starting with 52 on the clock.  I really hadn’t been looking at my pace very often so didn’t have a sense of what my time might be.  Ends up my final chip time was 52:15!  The extra bonus, no real urge to lose my breakfast!  Despite feeling tired I had a solid run, with my last full km being the fastest.  But do I get to count it as a PB?  Technically I guess not, though when I do the math I should have still come just slightly under my previous best.  As happy as I was to see that finish line, I wish it had been about 150 metres farther down the finish lane.

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