Tag Archives: scotiabank toronto waterfront marathon

Lessons Learned: Getting The Cup To Be Half Full: Guest Post by Phaedra Kennedy

4 Jan

Almost 12 years ago, I packed my life into checked baggage and moved, by myself, halfway across the world. When I landed in Canada, a country that I had never set foot in, I did not know a single soul. My friend Kane (a truly amazing human being who really deserves a blog post all of his own) put me in touch with his friend Phaedra Kennedy, who happens to live in Toronto. When Phaedra and I met, we discovered to our mutual delight that we shared an interest in running.

Since we met, a lot has happened. We met our life partners several months apart and we are both now married. We’ve moved around, stuff has happened in our careers, and for both of us, running took a back seat to other events that were going on in our lives. Now, we are back in the running scene, and Phaedra is coaching me for the 2012 season. This is truly an honour: Phaedra is the kind of runner other runners look at in envy and admiration.

Today, Phaedra tells us about how she rose above personal tragedy and sadness to have a phenomenal season of running. This is a tale of strength and determination that I for one will take with me as I strive to achieve great things in 2012.

When Kirsten asked me to write a guest blog post for her, I was incredibly flattered.  I was also a little befuddled.  Her goal was to start off the year on a positive note so she approached 5 women she considered to be inspirational.  To be included in that group was high praise.  Me, inspirational?  I don’t know about that.  I thought long and hard about what I should write about.  She gave me no guidelines only that it had to be positive.  Which was challenging for me given that I had been in a bit of a funk as of late.   To top it off, I don’t normally think of myself as a positive person.  That had been cemented by the fact that I took one of those online tests a while ago to determine if I was a pessimist or an optimist.  Surprise, surprise, I was a glass half empty kinda gal.   But, somewhere along the way this year, my mindset MUST have changed a bit because this year has been one of the best years of my life and I chalk that up to me WANTING it to be that way.   Positive thought and determination made it so.

It all started in November of 2010.    I had just run a dismal race at the Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon.  I had decided to do the marathon after spending 1.5 years going through 3 failed IVF cycles.  It was a half-hearted attempt to get my athletic mojo back.  Over the course of the year and a half, my body had become a science experiment.  I had given up control over it in the hopes of starting a family.  I had been poked and prodded, injected with drugs, monitored on an almost daily basis.  My normal exercise routine went out the window.  I became a slave to my cycle.    Instead of early morning swim sessions, early morning clinic visits became the norm.  It took a toll on my body and my emotional state.  We had one last kick at the can in November of 2010.  When that failed, we were devastated.   When you’re used to being able to train your body to do what you want it to do, to have our 3rd IVF attempt fail was frustrating.  Especially when your doctor kept telling you everything looked great.  For whatever reason, my body was not meant to bear life.   It was a tough pill to swallow.  I went back to running to help soothe the pain.  There were some tears shed on those runs.  But there was also a realization that perhaps I had been given a different kind of gift.  The gift of being able to really follow my passion, to really delve into running like I never had before.  I was coming up on 40 and I thought You know what, I’m going to make 40 the best year of my life (to date).  With that simple vow, a world of possibility opened.   I rose to the challenge of taking the knowledge I had and crafting a plan that would get me to my goal.  I set what I thought was a lofty goal:  I was going to run 3 half marathons in 2011, with my last one being run in 1h 40 min or faster.  And I was going to blog about it.  Blogging would keep me accountable and if I managed to reach out and inspire a few folks along the way, then that was a bonus.

My plan was a departure from most traditional distance running plans.  Too much mileage and I will get injured.  This time around I focused on quality vs. quantity (no junk miles!!) And I added more strength training to my routine.  My diet also changed thanks to an amazing program called Precision Nutrition.  Gone were the processed foods and larger than necessary portion sizes.  I did a complete overhaul. I was quite proud of my little plan and my body responded to it well.

My first half marathon was the Chilly Half in March 2011.  It was the weekend of my 40th birthday.  My goal was to run sub 1:50.  No surprise, it snowed the night before so the conditions were horrible.  I didn’t freak out.  The snow was a blessing.  It made me start out slow.  Which was great.  Even with the slow start, I managed to pull off a 1:47 and change.  Perfect.  I was pumped.  I didn’t let the weather get me down.  I just went out and ran.  Lesson learned:  Don’t worry about things you don’t have control over, just go out and do your best.

My second half marathon was the Toronto Women’s Half in May.  I had been really looking forward to this race.  I had finally gotten back out with my running group so I had been getting some good speed work in.  I couldn’t WAIT to see what I was capable of.    The course was rolling and it was on bike paths so I figured it might be a bit challenging.  Bring it.   Race day was muggy and gross, but nothing that a few cups of water from some shirtless firefighters couldn’t help.  I busted my butt in this race.  Went out way too hard and paid for it near the end.  But I pushed through pain that normally would have me backing off.  I came out with a 1:41:39.  A new PB! And 5th place in my age group!  Lesson learned:  I’m tougher than I give myself credit for.

I went on a racing frenzy during the summer. It seemed like I raced almost every other weekend.   With each race, my results were better and better.  I started to get spots on the podium.  I won my age group a few times and then I actually snagged a women’s overall win.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d have a year like this.  It took positivity to a whole new level.  I trained hard and continued to race all summer.  I learned to really listen to my body.   I went into each race with a positive outlook.  And a goal of working hard and giving it my all.   My new motto became leave it all on the race course.   This was a new thing for me.  I was always so cautious when I was racing.  What if I went out too hard?  What if I blew up?  No longer a concern.  I had faith in my abilities.    This was new to me!

As my 3rd and final race got closer, I thought about revisiting my goal time.  I was running the Scotiabank Half and it was flat so my husband said I should aim for 1:35.  In the back of my head, that became my new hard goal.  I recruited a friend from my running group to pace me.   This time I wanted to race smart and not go out too hard.   Race day I was calm cool and collected.  I knew I could do it.   Sub 1:40 would not be a problem.  Could I break 1:35?  If I raced smartly, and trusted my abilities, I figured I could.

In typical fashion I wanted to go out hard but my friend kept me in check.  I made a few mistakes early in the race that would have saved me some panic late in the race but at about 19km, I knew I was going to make it.  It would be close but I knew if I pushed myself I’d be ok.  Before I knew it I had hit the 500m mark.   I was overcome with emotion as I ran towards the finish line.  The culmination of a year of hard work was coming to a head.  The doors were finally closing on an old chapter of my life and opening on a new one.  I could see the clock counting down to 1:35.   I crossed the finish line in 1:34:48.   Amazing.  What was even more amazing was that I managed to place 6th in my age group out of 662 women.  6th!!!   When my husband told me that I burst into tears.  Tears of joy, amazement & thankfulness.

Lesson Learned:  Trust in your ability and most importantly believe in yourself.

I had exceeded my original goal by 5 minutes and I had crushed my PB from May by 6 minutes.    I never imagined I’d have a year like this.   All because I made the decision that 40 was going to be the best year of my life AND I actually did something about it.  I was amazed by the things that happened along the way.  I realized that my mindset has changed.  I’m no longer a glass half empty kinda gal.  I’m not quite at the glass half full point but I’m working on it.  2012 will be the year the glass becomes half full.  Of that I’m certain.

(Photo credit: Phaedra Kennedy)

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2011 Run For Autism

17 Oct

It is 8:55 on a cool Sunday morning. I am standing on a street in downtown Toronto, with about 15,999 other people. The atmosphere is buzzing with the collective energy of the crowd. As the national anthem, performed live, comes to an end, the crowd breaks into cheers and applause. And then, at 9:00 sharp, a siren sounds and the crowd surges forward as the race begins. This is it. My 2011 Run For Autism, the event that I have been training for all season. As I cross the start line, I am choked up with emotion as I think of the reason I am doing this run. My son George, my boy with autism and tons of love, my inspiration.

When I started training for this race in the Spring, I had a goal to finish in less than two hours. I knew that this would be ambitious: last year, I clocked a time of 2:22:38. Knocking 23 minutes off would be a tall order indeed. But if I formulated a good training plan and then stuck to it, I might just have a shot.

It has been said that life is what happens while we’re making other plans, and that was definitely the case with this season’s training. In the Spring I had a bout of bronchitis that put me out of action for a few weeks. I also had to deal with events like the brief hospitalization of one of my kids and a shoulder injury that sidelined me right in the middle of the season. Not to mention the fact that I got married in April.

Still, I somehow managed to salvage something resembling a training plan about six weeks before the race. I ran a couple of interim races and did OK, and then, right when my training was supposed to be peaking, I caught a nasty cold. I considered running through the cold: conventional wisdom is that it is safe to run as long as all symptoms are above the neck. But I knew from prior experience that running with a cold would slow my recovery and could jeopardize my race. So for once I exercised common sense and rested. Following the advice of my friend Phaedra, who is the kind of runner who wins in her category, I adjusted my training plan and made it to race day more or less in one piece.

It was obvious to me that two hours would not be doable. I considered following the 2:15 pace bunny but when I worked out the average pace that this would require, I realized that I would likely drop further and further back and just waste energy on being stressed. In the end I came up with a goal of 2:20. This struck the perfect balance between being achievable and being challenging.

I started out with the strategy of running the first 5km at an easy pace, without worrying about what my average pace looked like. If I fell behind my target pace, I would have 16km to make up the lost ground. I needn’t have worried: I was running at my goal pace by the 4th kilometre. I was running tens and ones – meaning that I would run for ten minutes and then take a one-minute walk break. During my ten-minute running stretches, I was getting ahead of my goal pace, and this provided me with enough of a buffer to stay on target during the one-minute walks.

Throughout the run, I was following my Dad’s strategy of “fishing for runners.” It’s a simple but effective strategy: you pick a runner about 200m ahead of you, reel them in by gradually catching up to them, and then run in their slipstream for about 500m before passing them and finding another runner to fish for.

For a while, I worried that I was matching my goal pace too easily. Either my energy would run out long before the distance did, or I had seriously underestimated myself during training. I tried to rein myself in but my body wouldn’t let me. I felt good, and I just had to go at the pace that my legs were dictating. It was only in the 18th kilometre that I started to feel the exhaustion. By then, I had less than 3km to go. I was faced with a choice: I could let my mind trick me into slowing down and missing my target time, or I could dig deep and just find the energy to keep going.

I chose to dig deep. I thought of my son George. He has to live his entire life with the challenges of autism, I told myself. The least you can do is run for another fifteen minutes.

All of a sudden, I was turning onto Bay Street for the final stretch and I had just 500m to go. Both sides of the street were lined with hundreds – maybe thousands – of spectators. My personalized bib was allowing people to cheer me on by name.

300m to go… I am exhausted and my legs feel like jelly, but I can see the finish line right up ahead of me. The closer I get, the louder the cheering is.

200m to go… a little bit of vanity takes over. I want a good finish line photo, so I start positioning myself in such a way that I will cross the line without being obscured by other runners.

100m to go… someone yells out, “Congratulations, Kirsten!” I raise my hand in acknowledgement and sprint for the finish, just metres away now. As I’m crossing the finish line, I somehow find a smidgeon of energy to raise both arms in the air in a gesture of triumph.

I have done it. I cannot believe that I have done it. I have run this race, beaten my goal time, and set a new personal best time for myself.

2 hours. 19 minutes. And 46 seconds. Every single moment of it dedicated to George.

Rain In My Running Shoes

3 Oct

I have never been one to let the weather stop me from running. While I prefer clear, cool conditions, I have been known to go out in the rain, wind and snow in order to rack up the miles on my running shoes. From time to time, the seemingly adverse weather conditions have worked to my advantage. It is amazing how refreshing a light shower of rain can be during a long run.

And so, when I woke up yesterday to the pitter-patter of raindrops against the window, I was not deterred. I had a long run planned, and nothing short of a meteor hitting my driveway would stop me. This was to be my last long run before my half-marathon on October 16th, so I really needed to get out there and get it done.

It was cold enough for me to abandon the running shorts in favour of my longer fall-weather running pants. I stuck to the short-sleeved tech shirt, but added a lightweight running jacket. Although the sun was not shining, I wore my hat: the peaked cap is a great way to keep rain out of my eyes. I stocked my fuel belt, cued my music, laced up my shoes, and hit the road for a 20km run.

Sometime during the second kilometre, I became aware that the gentle rain had intensified, and that raindrops were now hitting my face from the side, hard enough to feel like tiny little pellets. By the time I had completed 5km, I was running in a torrential downpour. The wind was buffeting me from side to side and I was wishing that I had brought my gloves. Worst of all, my socks were squelching inside my running shoes. I had to stop twice to pour water out of my shoes.

Still, I soldiered on. People driving by in their cars were looking at me with astonishment, as if to say, “You’re running in this?” I felt validated when, in the fifteenth kilometre or so, I saw a fellow runner braving the elements. It always helps to know that I’m not alone in my running insanity.

After more than two hours of running, I came to a stop in my driveway, having run my allotted 20km. My hands were so cold that I struggled to fish my front door key out of my pouch. Fortunately, my five-year-old son was waiting just inside the door for my return, so he spared me the necessity of actually having to unlock the door myself.

Twenty-four hours later, I am still hurting. My legs are chock-full of lactic acid, and my left ankle is aching. I feel as if I will never walk normally again (I will, of course, be fine by tomorrow).

There are those who wonder why I put myself through this, what possesses me to go out in dreadful weather conditions for the privilege of having sore legs for the next two days.

Part of it is the joy of the sport, the sense of freedom that comes with being out on the open road, the “Runners High”, and the sense of accomplishment when the run has been completed.

Part of it is that I don’t have a naturally fast metabolism like some people, and if I don’t stay active I fall out of shape very quickly. Running is the only form of exercise that really works for me.

The biggest part of it, though, is that I’m doing it for my kids. In two weeks, I am lacing up for my third annual Run for Autism. All funds that I can raise leading up to this event will go straight to the Geneva Centre for Autism, to be used for much-needed services for children and youth with autism.

It is services like the ones provided by the Geneva Centre that have helped my son achieve phenomenal things in the four years since he was diagnosed with autism. In order to see a continuation of the progress, we need a continuation of the funding. This facility really does help people with autism to touch the stars, while also providing support for their siblings and parents.

Ultiimately, I run so that I can do my own small part in making the world a better place for my children. I think that’s a pretty darned good reason to go running in the wind and the rain every now and then.

To sponsor me for my half-marathon, please visit my fundraising page. All sponsorships are being matched by a donor who wishes to remain anomymous, so any funds raised will be doubled!

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/13013135@N00/5879848337. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

Autism: Running To A Better Future

4 Sep

Running in the 2010 event - I want this one to be even better!

Six weeks to go…

As of today, I have precisely six weeks to do two things: first, to get myself into good enough physical shape to put in a half-decent showing at a half-marathon, and second, to raise a thousand bucks.

On October 16th, I will be participating in my third annual Run For Autism. I am joining the Charity Challenge at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon/Half-Marathon/5K. I will be running the half-marathon, any funds I can raise in sponsorships or donations will go directly to the Geneva Centre for Autism.

My stated goal on my fundraising page is $500, but I am really hoping to raise at least $1000.

There’s just one problem: I’m not really pushy enough to be a good fundraiser. I suffer from social anxiety, and I have a hard enough time talking to people about things in general. When I have the added pressure of asking for money, that makes things so much harder. So usually I send out fundraising emails to people who I think might be receptive to the idea of forking out a few dollars. While my fundraising efforts have, in the past, had reasonable enough results, I cannot help thinking that I would be better at this if I was just a different kind of person.

This year, I am trying to be more pushy assertive about making my sponsorship requests. I have sent out my fundraising email to people I actually know, and now I am appealing to you, the general Internet public, to consider sponsoring me for this run.

I would appreciate, and so would the children and youth with autism who would benefit from expanded services – services that can be a crucial part in helping people with autism become integral, economically active parts of their communities.

My son George, who is almost eight, would appreciate it. He has an entire future ahead of him, and the quality of that future could have a lot to do with the services he has access to now.

To sponsor me, please visit my fundraising page.

(That wasn’t too pushy, was it?)

(Photo credit to the author)

95 Days And 6 Hours

13 Jul

95 days and 6 hours to go…

In 95 days and 6 hours, my heart will be racing and my adrenaline will be pumping.  I will be filled with nervous energy, and all of my senses will be on high alert, even though I probably will not have slept for a week.

In 95 days and 6 hours, I will be one of 20,000 runners waiting for the starters gun to go off, signalling the beginning of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and Half-Marathon.

In 95 days and 6 hours, I will start my Run for Autism – the race that I do for my son George, who is my inspiration and my reason for running. My son, who has taught me so much about myself, about life, about the things that really matter. My son, who I love so much that I sometimes think my heart will explode.

Up until now, I have had a poor season of training. A variety of illnesses, extreme weather conditions and family emergencies has conspired against me. Not to mention the not-so-small matter of getting married. I did succeed in running an 8km race in the Spring, but I have had to blow off not one but two half-marathons since then, because I have just not been ready for them. I have tried to follow some kind of regular training regimen, and I have been running just enough to keep up some kind of conditioning, but my training has been very much a stop-start kind of thing.

Until now.

Over the weekend, I gathered together pen and paper, the list of races I am registered for between now and my Autism Run, and my calendar. Thus armed, I plotted out a training program, a path to get me from here to there. It is a program that will work. By the time I’m done, I will be able to run the distance and run it well, as long as I stick with it.

My impediment is not lack of discipline. If I have a run scheduled, there are very few things that will deter me. From time to time I may have to shift a run to another time, or even to the following day, but if my schedule tells me to run, then I will run.

The only thing stopping me – barring unforeseen emergencies – is my health. It hasn’t been so great lately. I have been tired, run down, and prone to getting sick. Conventional running wisdom dictates that it is safe to run with a cold as long as all symptoms are above the neck, but practical experience has taught me that it is not a good idea. It might be perfectly safe, but it knocks my immune system down a few notches so that it takes me longer to recover.

So the way I see it, the one thing standing between me and my ability to totally rock this year’s race is my health. If my health is good, my training will take care of itself.

With that in mind, I have a plan. This is all stuff that I really should be doing anyway, but if planning it is what it will take, then so be it.

Here are some promises that I am making to myself (and we all know that it’s wrong to break a promise, regardless of who it’s made to):

I promise that I will hydrate myself properly, and not only during my training runs. And not only with coffee.

I promise that I will take my vitamins every day, because I definitely feel healthier when I do.

I promise that I will see a nutritionist, because my diet is one area where my self-control goes to the birds.

I promise that I will try harder (and “try” is the best I can do at this point) to get more sleep so that I am not literally running on the smell of an oil rag.

Four promises. Anyone can keep four promises, right? And they’re not even hard promises, with the possible exception of the last one.

I can do this. I can totally do this.

In 95 days and 6 hours, I will be ready.

If He Can Do It, So Can I

15 Jun

Last night, my son George was upset. He was distressed for the entire evening, crying and looking at us sadly with tears escaping from his beautiful big blue eyes. I could tell that this wasn’t just a case of a kid being in a bad mood. Something specific was bugging him. I just didn’t know what it was.

It was heartbreaking. There was this child, my beautiful boy, clearly wanting or needing something, and he was not able to communicate what it was. It was not for lack of trying. He was making supreme efforts to find the words and get them out, but no matter how much I tried, I just couldn’t understand.

In the end, George was just looking at me with an expression that told me he didn’t blame me for not getting it, that although he was sad, he was used to not being able to express himself, used to not being understood.

It was that look, the expression of resignation, that broke my heart. The idea that my child is already, at the age of 7, getting used to a life of hardship, just kills me. I guess this kind of acceptance has to happen sometime, because George’s life is never going to be the same as most other people’s, but still. It’s a difficult pill for a parent to swallow.

Moments like this strengthen my resolve where my running is concerned. On Sunday evening, I ran 14km on the treadmill. That’s a long way to run on a lab-rat machine, but really, I didn’t have any choice. Circumstances were such that it was the treadmill or nothing. And because I have a half-marathon a month from, now, I had to put in the distance.

Just because I deemed it necessary to run for 90 minutes on the treadmill, that doesn’t mean I liked it. It was very hard. The running part was OK. It was the mental resolve part that got me. Treadmill running is mind-numbingly dull, no matter what you do to try and distract yourself, and it took all of my self-discipline to keep going for the full distance.

Many of my long runs – even the ones I do on the open road – are tests more of my mental fortitude than my physical abilities. I know that I can run the distance. I have the base of physical fitness, and I have developed a running form that works for me. The mechanics of my body work just fine. The trouble is that my mind keeps trying to tell me that I’ve been running for a long time, and really, I should be getting tired by now. I have developed techniques to keep myself mentally strong during my runs. Playing music, thinking of things that are not running related, focusing on my body and how it feels as I run. The most effective technique I have, though, is this: all I have to do to keep going is think of the reason I’m doing it.

Every step I take, every aching muscle I endure, every toenail that I lose – it’s all for George. All of this training takes me closer to my Run For Autism, the event I use to raise funds for autism services to benefit my son and other people like him. Running for my child – what better motivation could there possibly be?

People sometimes ask me how I do it, how I go for all of those long runs and then, at the end of it, go out and race for thirteen miles.

For me, it’s easy. All I do is think of my boy. If he can live every day of his life with the challenges he faces, surely I can manage a two-hour run.

If he can do it, so can I. And he is my inspiration.

For details about my Run For Autism and how to support the cause, please visit my race page.

2011 Run For Autism – The Countdown Begins

3 Jun

I’m feeling fantastic today!

Actually, that’s not strictly true. I was awake all night with a sick child, who at some point during the process very generously shared his bug with me, as a result of which I am bone-tired and tossing my cookies. So in reality, I feel really, really rough. I feel like a hedgehog that just got dragged backwards through the business end of a lawnmower.

But despite my less than stellar physical condition, I am feeling good about some things that have happened this week.

First, I resumed early morning running. I’ve been a little out of it for a while, and a lot of my running has been done on the treadmill. But two days ago, I dragged myself out of bed and went for a run before work. It was great. I felt the way I always do when go for early morning runs: alive, invigorated, positive about starting the day with an accomplishment. And since my route involves me running east over the Rouge Valley bridge, I get treated to the most spectacular sunrises. I mean, what’s not to love about all this?

Later that same day, I got a series of emails informing me that I am now officially registered for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon. Which means that everything I do between now and then (everything running-related, anyway) is in preparation for that race. It is my annual Autism Run – the reason I got back into running two years ago. This will be my third year doing the run. In 2009, I finished in about 2 hours and 28 minutes. In 2010, I improved that time to 2:22:38, knocking more than six minutes off my time from the previous year. This year I want to do something even more spectacular, and break 2 hours.

That will be a tall order. Taking 22 minutes off a time over a distance of 13.1 miles? It’ll be tough. But that’s not going to stop me from trying.

The other thing this all means is that I am now officially fundraising, enlisting people to sponsor me for the run, trying to gather together as much money as I can that will all go towards providing services for children and youth with autism.

I cannot stress how important this is. George’s progress since diagnosis has been off the charts, but this is no accident. It has taken many hours of hard work, buckets of tears, patience, IBI therapy, parent training, information sessions, and advice. George would not be where he is today if it weren’t for the Geneva Centre for Autism, who have provided services and training and all kinds of other resources.

I cannot help but think that if George continues to get services that evolve with his needs as he grows up, the sky will be the limit for him. This child is so loaded with potential, but he does need help and support to realize it. If funding dries up, so does my child’s future.

So I spent some time yesterday setting up my fundraising page. I have set my initial target at $500, but I am really hoping to surpass that and raise the target. Preferably more than once.

My call to action is this: if you have the financial means, please consider sponsoring me for my run. If you cannot afford it (and I totally get  that – life ain’t easy for many people right now), then please spread awareness about autism. Help spread the word that people with autism are a valuable part of our society.

And if you circulate the link to my fundraising page, that will be an added bonus as well.

I am excited about getting this show off the road and doing the best I can for my George, which means doing the best I can for my family, and for the community of autism.