Monthly Archives: September 2013

Guest Post

A few months back I discovered the blog site Run Rod Run. I’ve checked out many blogs but choose carefully which ones I like to follow regularly. There is, after all, only so many hours in a day and what hours I have seem to be sucked up by running. That said, I’ve always thought the next best thing to running is reading about someone else’s run. After reading a post by Rod I knew his blog was one I would want to revisit. I am always impressed with Rod’s accomplishments (let’s just say he could not use the title “Blog for an Average Runner”), and I am also a fan of his writing style and perspective.

We recently decided to “guest post” on each other’s sites. Not only is Rod a faster runner than me, he is also faster at putting together an article for posting. So while I have yet to organize something for his blog, he has sent me this great post about his first time running the Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Enjoy!

The Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon
by Rod Lowe

Rod Lowe is a Toronto-based runner and Registered Massage Therapist. On February 14, 2014 he will set out on his own “Valentine’s Run for Heart & Stroke”, a charity marathon,42.2 km, on his 42.2nd birthday The run will raise money for the Heart & Stroke Foundation in memory of his father who passed away in December. To find out more please visit here.

It was my 2nd marathon in a race and 3rd overall. The 1st was a training run in March in a time of 4:37:33. The 2nd was the Goodlife Fitness Marathon in May — 4:15:39. That May I was on pace for a 3:46:28 finish as I passed the 30 kilometre mark. But I perished badly in the final stages. I would not make that mistake again. This time I was determined. I needed to break the 4 hour barrier.

The morning was cool and gusty. The Scotiabank Marathon course is largely flat, travelling out west from the downtown core before heading out east to the Beach area of Toronto and then turning back west for the finish. The winds were coming on strong from the west putting us in deep for the first 12 as well as the final 9 kilometres. The upside, a considerable tail wind for the long middle stretch. I need a 5:41 per kilometre pace to finish under 4 hours. My game plan is clear to me from the outset. I will hold a 5:45 pace into the winds to begin. Once the race turns eastward I will then take advantage of the winds and aim for a 5:30 pace. This would leave me with over a 3 minute cushion heading for home. With this approach I would break the 4 hour mark if I could hold onto a 6:01 pace into the winds during the final 9 kilometres.

As we start the race I fight the urge to take off too fast but even restrained I’m going out an average of 15 seconds per kilometre faster than I intended. The headwinds being buffered by the crush of runners ahead of me.

My friend Monique awaits on bike to cheer me on. As was the case at the Goodlife marathon in May she will follow as close to the race course as possible to boost my morale. As an added bonus, Monique is a massage therapist and nurse; I might need her! Today I first see her at the 5 kilometre mark. She’d been there awhile and feared that she’d missed me. My assurances that I’m slower than she thinks meet with laughter both from her as well as the runners around me.

The entertainment along the Lakeshore is lively and helps to keep us motivated. Before long I’ve reached the turnaround and know that for the next 21 kilometres I will have the wind at my back. My pace quickens but I manage to keep it under control. At the halfway mark my time is 1:56. I have a 4 minute cushion. But we are now heading into what is for me the most daunting segment of the course.

East of Yonge Street along Queen’s Quay and heading into the strip that leads to Leslie Street is a long industrial tundra. Entertainment on this section dwindles. The scenery becomes Siberian in its harsh barrenness. For 7 or 8 kilometres the course is devastatingly desolate. Without crowd support, musicians, or dancers the war of mental attrition intensifies as I realize how far we have left to go. Valiantly I struggle to do calculations in my head. If I maintain this pace, how fast will I finish? Mathematics. Carry the one. ANYTHING to get my mind off the dreariness that threatens to chip away at my resolve. It’s not until we hear the percussive beats of the Chinese dragon dancers awaiting us on Leslie that my stupor is broken. The rhythmic din is a veritable salvation after the sensory deprivation that defined the last 40 minutes of my life. I heave a sigh of relief. The hard part is over.

From here we enter the vibrant Beach area of Toronto. I grew up close-by and my spirits surge with the home crowd adrenaline. Throngs thicken as bands energetically exhort us further. I high-5 old friends and scream “hellos” to familiar faces. Moreover, at the 35 kilometre mark Monique makes her presence known once again. She had lost me through the race but had strategized her wait and would now ride slightly ahead to pace and encourage me the rest of the way home.

A 5:12 split for kilometre 37 and Monique screams out “You’re making this look easy Dude!”. I’m feeling good. With a little over 5 kilometres to go, my goal is very much within reach.

At kilometre 39 we approach a slight incline as we climb above the Don Valley Parkway. Physically it is the last real uphill we will face. The ascent is minor but so late into the race it can be punishing to the weary. Mentally the DVP is the only thing that separates me from our return to the downtown core and the finish. At this time stories of a runner collapsed from a heart attack have begun to circulate. Not the news we need to hear. For now though I’m all but certain of a sub 4 hour finish. I just need to hold it together.

400 metres left and my left calve starts to cramp. A slight hobble and a wince of pain. But I am so close. I take a final glance at my watch. I’m in good shape. With ample time to spare I can safely coast home. As much as I wanted to sprint to the line, I admonish myself “Don’t be a hero Rod”. Just close this one out.

I finish. The time, 3:53:07.

Shattering my personal best set 5 months earlier by over 22 minutes.

At that moment I fulfil what a year prior seemed impossible. I will forever be a Sub 4 Hour Marathoner.

*This account is based on my experience in 2011. The current course offers small changes including starting the race with a minor climb to Bloor Street and the Yorkville – Annex area of Toronto. You won’t feel the climb but you will appreciate the descent along Bathurst to the Lakeshore. The race now also has another slight incline and descent toward the end of the race along the Bayview extension. Unfortunately the industrial section east of Yonge along Queen’s Quay to Leslie still looms but it has been mercifully shortened by a good 2 kilometres.

Army Run Race Review

It is Monday night and I am still smiling. Did I mention I ran my slowest half marathon ever? And yet I feel like I accomplished great things both mentally and physically. It was an emotional race and one that I will always remember. I had moments of wanting to dance (I refrained), moments when I wanted to cry (I let the tears come) and moments of absolute peace. And yes there were a few moments – though only a few – when I just felt tired. I still can’t believe that I ran a solo run of 11km and then followed it up with 21.1. According to my Garmin I ran a total of 32.33km, the most running I have ever done in one day. There was a half hour break between the two runs, so I know the experience wasn’t quite the same as heading out for a steady long run, but I don’t care. I did it and it felt great!

But before I tell any of my story (let’s face it, blogs are a lot of “me, me, me” time) I will explain the tearful part of the run. Obviously the Army Run has a unique emotional aspect due to the involvement or our troops. It is an opportunity to thank our military personnel and to remember to be thankful for this wonderful country in which we live. We Canadians are a proud group of people, but often in a quiet way. Gathering thousands of people for this special run is a way to display our pride. One of my favourite signs simply stated “Be brave, eh!”

At around the 9k mark in Quebec the meaning of the race struck home for me. A young lady was just ahead of me and the caption on the back of her shirt immediately caught my attention. It stated “My Brother, My Hero”. Below it was a picture of a young soldier. It took me a moment to take in the fact that under the picture was his date of birth and date of death. Honestly, running a race at that moment just seemed so unimportant. I knew I had to say something to her but what? I love writing and I love words, but sometimes words just fail. The best I could do was run up beside her, tell her I loved her shirt, put my hand on her shoulder and wish her a great run. As I crossed the bridge back into Ontario I wasn’t even thinking about the run or how I would manage my longest distance ever.

At the end of the race I spotted the rest of the soldier’s family. His parents had shirts on that said “My Son, My Hero”, his wife had one that stated “My Luv, My Hero” and his little boy also wore a shirt for his daddy. Again I was at a loss for words but went to them to tell them I thought of their lost loved one throughout the race. I wish I could have said more.

So, even now, it seems a little unimportant to review the rest of the race. All of the other events and emotions of the day can only be considered secondary, but the fact is those secondary moments played parts in the whole experience.

For the first time ever my goal was to slow my time down from my current best of 2:03. I had originally planned to add more distance on at the end of race but someone gave me the brilliant advice (thanks Rebecca!) to do the extra distance before the actual race. This was so smart! By having already run 11km I was able to just enjoy the race and not have to think about what would come after. It also allowed me to finish up my long run with the cheers and excitement that can only be found in a large race. What a way to do a long run while training for your first marathon!!!

My solo run was uneventful until the last km. I had set out from the Convention Centre down past Dow’s Lake and back. On my return trip the 5k was well underway, so I was able to run along the pathway while the runners were running towards me on Colonel By. What I hadn’t planned on was a number of runners leaving the road (the official route), crossing the grass and running on the pathway. Suddenly I was running against a wave of runners. I, by the way, was wearing my race bib. I had already felt a little silly running away from the race area on the first leg of my run. I kept expecting people to yell at me I was going the wrong way. But now I really looked like I had no idea of what I was doing. I heard one girl in the race ask her mother why there was a runner running backwards. I think I had a few nasty looks too but I refrained from telling anyone that they were actually off the official course. It was the after 30 min crowd so I put it down to casual runners just not knowing the rules.

Once I fought my way through the crowd I made it back to my car, was able to drop off things I didn’t need and then headed to the finish area to see if I could meet up with my family. The timing worked out perfectly as my son had finished his race and I was able to talk to him briefly about his run. He at first thought he was a little slow, which we had told him could very likely happen due to the crowds. He hadn’t used a watch but told us he had seen the digital clock and it was around 30 minutes when he crossed the line. It took us a minute to clue in that that would of course be gun time. It ends up he ran his fastest 5k ever, coming in under 29 minutes! He was very proud, and more than a little exhausted.

I won’t go into lots of details about my run once the starter’s cannon went off (no wimpy guns here). Suffice it to say I loved the course and loved the supporters. Just as I did at Ottawa Race Weekend I tried to high five as many spectators as I could. Once I got settled into a rhythm I stuck to it and ran the most steady race I have ever done. Large chunks of the race seemed a little surreal. I am not sure if this makes any sense but there were many times where I kind of forgot I was running. And thankfully that wasn’t because I was close to passing out from exhaustion. Somehow the run just seemed relaxing. I loved the scenery and the weather was perfect. With the exception of the first km I never felt overly crowded and considering there were 10 000 people in the race that is quite surprising. My only complaint was the D.J who insisted on continuing to try to blast his music over the beautiful bells of St. Patrick’s Basilica. The bells were magical to run with and thankfully, with the exception of when I was immediately near the D.J. the bells were the stronger musical force. The sound of the bells could be heard well before the church and followed us for some distance beyond.

If I were honest, the food selection at the end of the race I found to be a little disappointing. But maybe I just had high expectations since I had heard the food was very good last year. It was also one of the first races in which I did not feel slightly nauseous by the end. In fact I was starving by the 16k mark. Unfortunately for me I don’t like bananas or power bars and while I like yogurt it is not necessarily something I want to eat immediately after a long run. Since those were the only options I was a little out of luck. But really it did not matter. Why? Well just go back to paragraph three of this post. Quite frankly, the food didn’t matter. This race was about more than the food, more than the final time, more than the run. Perspective is an important thing in life.

If you haven’t run the Army Run, do yourself a favour and sign up for 2014. You won’t regret it.

32k Done Today!

A full race report will come soon, but the short story is I ran 11k on my own, followed by a longer than ideal break of around 30 minutes until the race started (was tricky timing everything) and then completed 21.1k at the Army Run. I did the half marathon in 2:14, my slowest half ever but perhaps the one of which I am most proud. I treated it as a long slow run, chose a pace and stuck with it throughout the whole run. In fact, I was so steady I kept thinking my Garmin wasn’t working because it stayed stuck on an average pace of 6:19 for 3/4 of the race. I only truly felt tired at the 17k point, and that feeling was gone within 500 metres! I know this sounds ridiculous but much of the race just felt relaxing. I guess taking away any finish time goals just allowed me to go along for the ride.

Lots more to talk about in the next post. For now though, if you feel the need to hear more about my running you can take a listen to this weekend’s iRun podcast where I talked to Mark Sutcliffe about training for my first marathon. You can find the September 21 interview here.

My New Shoes Are Making Me Smile

I finally made myself go buy new running shoes today. I hate going to get new shoes. There are too many choices and I always worry that I will buy a pair that after only a few outdoor runs will prove themselves to be really uncomfortable and therefore a waste of money. And possibly the worst part… I look at the wall of funky, bright, multi colour shoes, none of which fit me properly. No, every time the ones that seem the best fitting for me are boring old white. Sure they throw on a couple of colourful stripes, but by the time the white turns grey (which usually seems to only take two runs) you don’t even notice the stripes anymore. I am not even sure why they bother to make white shoes anymore since everyone I have talked to wants colour, colour and more colour. Even guys seem to want to break away from the standard looking shoe. In my “real” life I am not a neon person. I own a lot of burgundy and gray clothes. But if I am going to be out there running crazy distances I figure I might as well have some crazy shoes to match.

So here are the shoes that make me smile:

My happy shoes :)

My happy shoes 🙂

Come on, you’re smiling right now, right? That said, my husband’s only response when I showed them off was, “Why?”

Army Run Tomorrow!

Ottawa’s big racing event of the fall is the Army Run and tomorrow is the big day. The Army Run is Canada’s fastest growing race event, with 22 000 runners registered in either the 5k or half marathon races. It is hard to believe that this is only the 6th year of the Army Run. It started in 2008 with only 7000 participants. Despite the fact that race was before my running days, I was one of those who took part in the inaugural event. At that time I was Nordic Walking and I walked my first half marathon distance in 2 hours and 56 minutes. I returned the following year to walk it again, taking 3 minutes off my time. I’m not sure why I didn’t make it to the race these last few years, but I am definitely looking forward to returning as a runner.

For those who have not been to this race before, it is a different experience from any other large race. From the dog tags for medals, to the cannon that starts the race, this is a unique run. More than anything, there is an emotional and motivational pull to this event that is just a little stronger than anywhere else. This race is about supporting our troops and recognizing what they and their families have given, all in the line of duty. Both distances have a large number of ill and injured soldiers and civilians taking part, and if that doesn’t motivate you to get off your butt and do your best nothing will. I remember seeing Jody Mitic in one of those previous races. Jody of course is now well known in Canada as a second place winner in Amazing Race Canada. But in that 2009 Army Run everyone knew him as the double amputee soldier who would be tackling the half marathon. When I spotted him on the course I was tired and wanted to slow down. But the effort that he was clearly putting into achieving a pretty amazing goal was so clear that I knew I could not take a break. This race reminds us to try the impossible and strive to be better.

So, tomorrow I will do just that. No, I won’t be going for a PB, actually I am planning on adding quite a bit of time to my 21.k best time of 2:03 and change. I will though be going for my farthest distance yet. My original plan was to tack on km to the end of the race. However, at Expo last night I ran into someone I used to work with who is a very accomplished and experienced marathoner. She right away suggested I switch my plan around; start with my individual run and then do the race. She wisely pointed out that then I would be finishing my longest run with the encouragement of a crowd. What a brilliant idea. At first I wondered why I didn’t think of it but then I realized that starting a run that early in the morning is just not something that ever comes to mind for me. But that is now my plan. I hope to fit in 10 (maybe 12?) km before the half marathon. The logistics are going to be a little tricky as I am going to try to finish that run as close to my start time as possible while still making sure I get into the crowded start area with a bit of time to spare. I am also not looking forward to starting a run already cold and damp. But it will all be worth it if I actually make it past the 30k mark tomorrow!

First “Faster” Run in Three Weeks!

Normally my comfort zone is running at a pace between 5:50 and 6:00 minutes/km. After a week off and two weeks of treating every run as a slow run, well that comfort zone is definitely gone. When I headed out tonight I felt like I was flying. And then I looked at my watch. How could I feel so fast when my average pace was 6:10? Honestly, I felt like I was breaking speed records. But, I reminded myself that I am not going to be obsessed with numbers and carried on.

And then it happened. When I turned at the halfway point to head home I got to experience that slightly magical feeling when everything falls into place. Without trying harder I was suddenly running faster. With a cool autumn wind behind me and a setting sun in front, I was running effortlessly. My iPod Nano landed on “Crash” by Dave Matthews. Not exactly a running pace tune, but a powerful song both vocally and musically. I couldn’t help but smile. These running moments are special, but they are just moments. It didn’t take long for it to become work once more, hard work at that. But in the end I finished 8k with a 5:57 average pace. I had enough in me to do a fairly fast sprint, and once again my music seemed in sync with my run. My last few minutes I ran to Canadian singer Joel Plaskett’s “Million Dollars”. Nothing like running to the words, “We’ll go out, we’ll take no prisoners; we look like a million dollars; every time they look at us we’ll blow their minds”. Those are fighting words:) Another line from the same song that might be quite appropriate for marathon race day: “Let’s go make some history before we fall apart.”

If you haven’t heard Million Dollars, I recommend you add it to your running playlist. Check it out on Youtube here And, to throw out one more plug for Canadian content, you can also find the song in one of my all-time favourite movies, One Week. If you have not seen this film, put it on your must see list. You can see the trailer here.