Tag Archives: scotiabank toronto waterfront marathon

Moving On After A Disappointment

29 May

This morning I woke up with a heavy heart. I got up and half-heartedly made breakfast for my family. I put on a cheerful enough face as we all ate together, but Gerard could tell that I was not quite my usual self. As we were drinking our coffee, he asked me what was wrong.

“I was supposed to be running a race today,” I said.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. Today is the day I was supposed to line up at the start line of the Toronto Women’s Half-Marathon, run a gruelling but satisfying race, and be doused with water by shirtless firefighters.

But because of life getting in the way of my training all season, I was not able to run today. Since the beginning of the year it’s been one thing after another. Weather so bad that I just couldn’t face outdoor training. Me being sick. James being in hospital. Me being sick again. Gerard being faced with ridiculous work deadlines and therefore being unavailable to watch the kids. Planning a wedding.

I have not, at any point, stopped running altogether, so I’m in reasonable enough shape. But still, considering how sporadic my running has been, attempting a half-marathon today would have been sheer lunacy. I would have risked illness or injury or both, and I would have stood a better-than-average chance of sidelining myself for the rest of the season.

But still. Knowing that I did the right thing in forfeiting this race does not make me feel any better about it. My Facebook page is full of statuses and pictures of people who did run the race, and I am – well, jealous. I feel as if I missed out by not being there.

At the same time, though, I cannot allow myself to dwell on this. Sure, I could mope around all day lamenting the fact that I missed a race I registered for months ago, and have been looking forward to for ages. I could tell myself that running at all today is out of the question because Gerard is at work and I have no-one to watch the kids.

Or I can put on my running clothes, pull out the treadmill, and as much as I hate treadmill running, get in the 10km that I want to do today.

I am going to choose the second one. I am going indulge in my guilty pleasure (a DVD of Friends episodes) while I clock up some miles on my lab-rat machine. The good thing about this: it’s a treadmill that has a slight built-in incline, so it replicates outdoor running fairly well. It’s a lot harder to run on than the treadmills at the gym.

Because I have a big goal this year: to break two hours in a half-marathon. And I want to do it in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon in October – my annual autism run. I want to break all kinds of records this year. I want to kick butt with my fundraising, and make lots of moolah to benefit people like my son – people who are loaded with potential that can be realized if the services are there. And I want smash last year’s time of 2:22:38.

It’ll be tough, but it’s never too late to start working towards it. I definitely won’t get there by sitting on my ass and feeling sorry for myself.

I do, however, stand a good chance of it if I start working towards my next race: a half-marathon in the Niagara region on July 18th. I’m not running this race with the intention of clocking up a specific time. I just want to gain the psychological advantage of having done a half-marathon this year: a practice run in preparation for the real thing.

So, this is my choice: I am going to write off today’s missed event as an unfortunate but necessary loss, and I am going to immediately start focusing on the race coming up.

I may have woken up feeling down this morning, but I am by no means out.

I am ready to pick myself up, dust myself off, and kick some serious ass.

Racing For Autism

7 Feb

I have all kind of things pinned up on the walls of my workstation. There is the requisite work-related stuff (contact sheets, cost centre codes, month-end dates, cheat sheets on how to use the corporate phone system, and so on). Then, because I am a parent, I have artwork by my kids proudly on display (three masterpieces by each child). I have a card that my coworkers gave me along with a cake to celebrate the dual occasion of my citizenship and my engagement (to clarify: I have the card. The cake is long gone). There is my Cake Wrecks calendar, which is so funny that the tears of mirth streaming down my face make my mascara run (this week’s page has pictures of Valentines cakes with icing messages on them reading, “Sorry for stealing your boyfriend”, “Nobody loves you”, and “I didn’t like you that much anyway”).

Then there is my collection of race numbers. It’s a bit like a brag wall, really, but it’s one that I feel justified in showing off. It feels great to stagger in to the office on the Monday after a race, and pin up a new number. Looking at that number, along with whatever race time was associated with it, somehow makes all of the aches worthwhile. That and the fact that running is just awesome.

My first race after my comeback to running was on September 27th, 2009 – just over sixteen months ago. In those sixteen months, I have run a total of nine races, which collectively covered a distance of 130.3 kilometres or almost 81 miles. This year I will be adding at least another 91 kilometres (56 miles), and quite possibly more.

The truth of the matter is that there is only one race every year that really matters to me. It is the race that got me back into running in the first place, and it the focal point of my racing calendar. Every step I take in training, every other race that I run, leads up to this one. Without this race, I don’t think I would be doing this at all.

It is, of course, my annual Run for Autism, the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, Half-Marathon and 5K.

For several years during my long layoff from running, I tried to get back into it, but there was always a reason for me not to run. When I got that first email from the Geneva Centre for Autism inviting me to sign up for a race to raise funds for autism, I realized that all that had been missing was the right reason to run.

Initially I was going to sign up for the 5K race, knowing that it would be well within reach, but then I thought, “Screw that. Since when do I only do things that I know are within my reach?” I looked at the calendar, did some math, and worked out that in six months, I could just about train for a half-marathon from scratch.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Now I am looking forward to my third annual Run for Autism. I have a lot going on before then – at least four races including the Toronto Women’s Half-Marathon (Shirtless firefighters at the water stations! Free chocolate!). But really, the Autism Run is what it’s all about.

When the going gets tough, all I have to do is remind myself of why I am doing this. Because of a genetic roll of the dice (as I believe) I have a child with autism. Without help along the way, my beautiful boy would be at risk of getting lost in the system, of growing up without any opportunities. Instead, thanks to places like the Geneva Centre, the world is within his grasp. He has a lifetime of challenges, and his life will never be quite the same as most people’s – but along with the challenges comes opportunity.

My Autism Runs are all about raising funds for those services, to ultimately help make the world a better place for George and for other people like him.

Because really, look at him. Is this not a face totally worth running for?

2011 Run For Autism: The Countdown Begins

7 Jan

This is so weird.  It seems like it was just yesterday that I did my first autism fundraising run, back in September 2009.  I still remember how it was.  I had resumed running after a layoff of several years just six months previously, when I weighed almost 200 pounds or 91kg (to put that into context, my height is 5′ 6″) and I could barely stagger around the block, never mind run 21.1 km.

Since then, I have run a 5km event, three 10km races, two ten-milers and two more half-marathons, including the 2010 autism run.  This year I am planning more and aiming for some ambitious time goals.  How things have changed since 2009.

What’s really exciting me today is that we have already started the process of planning the 2011 Run for Autism.  I was on the organizing committee for the event last year – a committee made up of Geneva Centre for Autism staff members and parents of children with autism – and I will be helping out again this year.  Yesterday I met with Holly, the outgoing fundraiser for the Geneva Centre, and we threw around some ideas.  The first official committee meeting will happen sometime this month, and soon I will be registered for the half-marathon and starting to raise sponsorships.

People have different reasons for running.  Some people do it competitively.  Others do it to stay in shape, and others do it simply for the love of the sport.  People get hooked on the endorphins that kick in after thirty minutes or so of pounding the pavement.  And me?  My reason for running is my kids.  I got back into it because of the opportunity to raise funds for autism services, to do my bit to improve the lives of people like my son George, and also their siblings who need a special kind of support of their own.

The running is not always easy, of course it’s not.  I go through peaks and valleys (right now, in fact, I am trying to claw my way out of a bit of a valley), and there are times when I want to simply quit a run half-way because the going is so rough.  But I put a picture of my boys in my head, and that gives me the strength I need to keep going.  It is the reason I started running, and while I am really enjoying the other benefits that come from running, my boys are the reason I keep it up.

I would run to the other end of the world for my children.  Surely I can manage the occasional 21.1 km.

2011: Aiming for 1:59:59

30 Dec

Today is the first anniversary of my pinched nerves.  I am almost tempted to go out and buy a cake with one candle, in recognition of the day I went to the chiropractor and left with a bundle of pinched nerves in my neck and going down my left arm, that put me out of action for three months.  I would not want to celebrate the incident itself, but the fact that I got through it and am now in the process of planning out my 2011 running season.  Or maybe I just want cake and I cannot come up with a better excuse.

Either way, I am oddly superstitious about this day.  I feel that if I can get through today without incident, I will be fine.  I just have to avoid walking under ladders and avoid the cracks in the sidewalk.  I am planning a treadmill run at the gym later on, on the assumption that I am not tempting fate.

Be that as it may, my running has taken a little bit of a dive over the last few weeks.  I had a bout of bronchitis that sidelined me for three weeks, and getting back into it has been surprisingly difficult.  It’s not that I’m in bad physical shape.  It’s that I came back from my illness setting ridiculous paces at the start of my runs that I can only sustain for 5km or so.  I’ve always been perfectly happy to start slow and build up to my target pace.  Why the sudden need to be a speed demon?  It’s not like I’m winning the Olympic Marathon anytime soon.

My poor pacing has the effect of making me feel a bit despondant about my running.  I fade at the fifth or sixth kilometre, and one of two things happens.  Either I finish my planned distance a lot more slowly than intended.  Or I simply cut the run short.  Neither scenario goes well with my psyche.  Both make me feel like I have a big red L on my forehead.

It is time now for me to pick myself up, dust myself off, and start running again properly.  That means proper planning, proper pacing, proper nutrition, and not being too lazy to take five minutes to stretch at the end of each run.

I have just gone online to order the 2011 Runners World calendar.  This calendar is amazing.  It has gorgeous photographs of “Rave Runs” – beautiful trails and paths that people run on.  It has race listings, running tips, inspirational quotes, and space to plan.  Simply having this thing on my wall on 2010 has been a great motivator for me.

Now I am planning my racing calendar for the year.  I am going to start out this coming Saturday, New Years Day, with the Running Room Resolution Run.  This is really more of a fun run than a race.  It is not chip timed, and I don’t even think the course is officially certified for the distance.  But that’s OK.  What better way could there be for a struggling runner to start off the new year?

My next racing event will be Harry’s Spring Run-Off on April 2nd.  It is only 8km, but the location – High Park – has so many big hills that it will feel like 10km.  I am doing this race specifically to have hills to train for.  I need the discipline, and when I am registered for races, I am actually pretty good at sticking to the right kinds of training programs for them.  Here is a promo video for the race.

Usually I would do the Sporting Life 10K down Yonge Street on the first Sunday in May, but since I am getting married the day before this year’s event, I should probably give it a miss for 2011.  So my next run will be the Toronto Women’s Half-Marathon in Sunnybrook Park.  I am really looking forward to this, not only because a fellow member of my running club is running it with me, but because the water station manned by shirtless firefighters.  Not to mention the chocolate station.

After that, I will do either the Acura Ten-Miler (which I hated in 2010, and feel the need to conquer) or the Midsummer Nights Run 15km (follows the same course as the Ten-Miler, so it will be just as much of a victory).

In late September I will do one of my favourite runs ever – the 10km Oasis Zoo Run.  I had a blast at this event a couple of months ago, and it has earned a permanent place in my annual racing calendar.  I cannot find a promo video for it, but here’s a montage of pictures I found of the 2009 event.

Then, on October 16th, I will run in what is by far the most important event in my race calendar.  It is the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon, and this is my reason for running.  This is my Run for Autism, the race I do for my son George who has autism, and his little brother James, who is experiencing the challenges of being sibling to a child with autism.  This event is loaded with emotional meaning for me.  Every step I take is for my boys, these beautiful people without whom my life would be empty.  Here is a nice video showing some highlights of the 2010 event.

I have a lofty goal for this year: to break two hours for the half-marathon.  That means shaving 22 minutes off my best time.  I’m going to have to train my ass off.  Literally.  With the amount of training I will have to do, I have no doubt that part of my ass will indeed come off.  Which is a good thing.

Anyway. I am excited about the new year.  Just planning it out is helping me break out of this funk I am in.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone all the best for 2011.  Aim high and whatever you want to achieve, go for it.

Running into 2011

18 Nov

2010 did not start off well for me, especially from a running perspective.  As I rang in the New Year with Gerard, I was high on Percocet that was barely making a dent in the pain I was in.  Two days previously, a chiropractic adjustment had gone horribly wrong, and damaged a bundle of nerves in my neck and going all the way down my left arm. For the next six weeks or so, I was in unspeakable pain.  The next few weeks were a blur of doctor’s visits, emergency room visits, nights of crying myself to sleep in agony, and many, many drugs. A series of physiotherapy appointments gradually got me back on my feet, and almost three months after the original injury, I was finally allowed to try running again.

The first post-injury run did not go well. I was only able to run for about one kilometre, and it took more than eight minutes.  I kept getting shooting pains going up and down my left arm and I had to keep stopping for walk breaks. The following day I needed about an hour of intense physiotherapy. But I was officially on the road again. I had graduated from injury status to rehabilitation status. My next run two days later was a lot better, and from that point on, the improvement was exponential.  Still, it would be several months before I could say that my rehabilitation was complete.  Even now, I get the occasional twinge in my arm, which I am trying to resolve with the help of a sports massage therapist.

Despite the rough start to the year and the hammering that my average pace took as a result, I ended up having a busy running season. Here is a list of the races I took part in:
– Early April: 10km waterfront race in Pickering. It went OK, especially considering that this was just two weeks after I had started running again.
– Early May: Sporting Life 10K down Yonge Street. I enjoyed this event and I was happy with my time of 1:05:00. Sadly, though, when I got home from the race I got word that my friend and fellow writer Tim had lost his battle with cancer.
– Late May: Whitby half-marathon. Despite some pre-race concerns about the organization of this event, it went really well. Gerard and the kids, along with some extended family, were cheering for me at the finish line.  My time was just over 2:25:00. This was just over two months after my first post-injury run – I was thrilled just to be able to finish a race of that distance.
– Mid-July: Acura Ten-Miler in the Distillery District. The less said about this, the better. It was not my finest moment. Life had gotten in the way of training, the course was mentally challenging and offered almost no shelter from the midsummer sun, and I pulled a hamstring. I finished the race in less than two hours, which is a miracle considering all that was wrong that day.
– Late September: the main event – my 2010 Run for Autism, the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon. I cannot put into words the emotional high I was on when I crossed the finish line. It was phenomenal.  I managed a negative split, and beat my time from the previous year by a full six minutes.
– Mid-October: 10km zoo run. I did this race purely for the fun of it.  I had no expectations whatsoever.  I had an absolute blast and got a respectable enough time of 1:06:00 to boot.

All in all, not a bad year.  I put in almost 90km in races, and hundreds more in training.  I overcame a debilitating injury that I had at one point feared would sideline me for good, and I am looking forward to another great season in 2011.

So what does next year’s race calendar have in store for me?  I will start with the Resolution Run on New Years Day – just a fun 5km event that’s not even officially timed, but that does throw in a nice running jacket with the race kit. After that, I’m thinking of doing an 8km race in High Park in early April.  There are lots of hills in High Park, and they’re big hills.  It will be a tough run, but it will force me to be disciplined about hill training.

I have to give the Sporting Life 10K a miss because it’s happening the day after I get married.  I don’t think my new husband will be too pleased if I jump out of bed to go to a race at six in the morning.

At the end of May I will be running the Toronto Women’s Half-Marathon. They have a chocolate station and a water station manned by hunky shirtless firefighters.  I will be a married woman by then, but I am still a woman.  And chocolate is chocolate and shirtless firefighters are nice eye candy.

I’ll skip the Acura Ten-Miler, because my experience with it last year was enough to put a huge mental block to it in my head.  I am thinking about the Midsummer Night’s Run 15K instead, but that follows most of the same route.  I may have to figure out a summer race later on.  I may even have to find one I need to travel to.

At the end of September I will do the 10K zoo run again.  I had way too much fun to even consider missing that.  And then, in October, it will be time for my 2011 Run for Autism.  I have big plans for that – to break two hours.  That will mean chopping at least 22 minutes off of this year’s time, and that’s a massive chunk.  But I am nothing if not ambitious, and assuming I don’t start the year with an injury, I think it might be possible.  Especially since I am doing it for my boys.

There is no time for slacking.  Right after the Resolution Run on January 1st, I will be diving straight back into training mode.

All We Need Is A Reason

17 Nov

This morning I woke up early and went to the gym for a rare run on the treadmill.  As a general rule, I am not fond of treadmill running.  It makes me feel a bit like a lab rat, or a hamster running in one of those little wheels.  You never actually go anywhere. You don’t feel the freedom of the open road.  It all seems a little pointless, like tofu or decaffeinated coffee.

On the odd occasion, though, a treadmill workout is better than a road run. This can be true from a circumstantial point of view (you’ve woken up with sore knees and you need to run on a surface with some give; you’re tired and cannot be bothered to map out a route; the weather outside is frightful and you cannot find your balaclava or your will power).  A treadmill run can also be beneficial from a training perspective, especially during the winter.  It can be kind of difficult to do a tempo run or speed reps outside when it’s snowing and there’s a gusty wind blowing.  Far better to head to the gym where you can focus on maintaining 5:30 minutes per kilometre without stressing about snow, wind, ice on the sidewalks, or the fact that it’s dark and you look like a burglar.

So anyway, I went for my treadmill run and worked up a good sweat.  I had some anxiety to work out of my system, so I really belted it, clocking 5km in 24 minutes. Feeling a lot better and pleasantly loosened up, I returned home, where everyone was still asleep.  Before taking a shower, I checked on my boys.  At some point during my absence, George had crawled into bed beside his little brother, and the two of them were sleeping peacefully, James clutching his stuffed giraffe, George with arm over James’ shoulders.  It was one of those moments that reminds me of why I love being a mother, and why, in fact, I was running on the treadmill at such an ungodly hour in the first place.

It is so weird to think that two years ago, I could barely run around the block. I had been bitten by the running bug previously, of course, but after seven years of no exercise my lifestyle was decidedly sedentery. I was decidedly unhealthy, and my clothing was decidedly tight.  I had tried, over the years, to make comebacks to the world of running, but there was always something that stopped me. Injury, illness, lack of time. When it came down to it, though, all I lacked was the right motivation.  When I got that email from the Geneva Centre for Autism back in April 2009, inviting me to join their team for the upcoming marathon/half-marathon/5km Charity Challenge, I knew instantly that I had finally found a reason to get with the program, and to stick with the program.

Initially I considered the 5km event.  After all, I hadn’t run in seven years and I was about seventy pounds overweight. And the event was just six months away. But the little voice in my head that never shuts up until it gets its own way piped up and chanted, “Half-marathon! Half-marathon! Half-marathon!” And before I knew it, I had clicked on the link in the email and signed up for the half-marathon. Six months later, I stood at the finish line somewhat stunned by the fact that in just half a year I had shed sixty pounds, gotten myself into some semblance of “shape”, and completed a half-marathon.

A year further down the line, I have run several races and two more half-marathons.  Another two are planned for 2011, and my comeback to running is now firmly established.  All thanks to those two little boys who were snuggled up together this morning, sleeping beside each other, making me feel like the richest person on the entire planet.

Have you ever done something that you thought would be beyond your limits?  What motivated you, and what helped keep you going when things got tough?

(P.S. My first post for World Moms Blog was published today.  Check it out:
http://worldmomsblog.com/2010/11/17/little-brother-big-hero/
)

2010 Run for Autism 2:22:38

27 Sep

Last week I actually thought I was going crazy. I was leading up the Big Race, which meant that I was running 60% of my usual mileage.  Which in turn meant that I had this build-up of energy that I could not expend in the way I usually do, which is to lace up my running shoes and hit the road. As a result of all this, I was hovering around at home, engaging in these weird frenetic bursts of activity, filling up everyone’s Facebook walls with meaningless status updates, and generally being a bit of a nuisance. Thanks to over a week of very little sleep, I advanced about eight levels in Frontierville.

I started experiencing odd little aches and twinges – tightness in the glutes, a rickety left ankle, what felt like an impending cold – all carefully designed to mess with my mind and convince me that I was not ready for this race.  When I looked back at six months of training, I didn’t see all of the long runs I had clocked up, the hill training or speed reps. I saw the gaps – the long run I missed six weeks ago because of a cold, the two speed training sessions that I was forced to do on a treadmill because of my schedule, the midweek run that I had to cut short because of a thunderstorm.

I was, in other words, experiencing the phenomenon known to runners as taper madness. Some runners are able to completely chill out and relax during their tapering.  Others tend to bounce around inside their own heads as if they’re trapped in a pinball machine on steroids.  Guess which category I fall into.

On Saturday night I went around the house, setting every audible alarm I could think of.  The alarm clock beside the bed. The alarm clock in the living room. The timer on the oven. My BlackBerry. I was so paranoid about oversleeping on the day of the race (never mind that I had been too wired to sleep for a week), and I figured that out of all these alarms, I was bound to hear at least one of them. Of course, all that meant was that on Sunday morning, I woke up at 4:30 and had to creep around the house turning off all the alarms to avoid waking up the kids.

As it happened, my wonderful husband-to-be got me to the starting area without incident, with plenty of time to spare. I checked my bag – a remarkably efficient process, considering I was in a bag-check lineup of maybe 2000 people, and I was in and out of there in less than ten minutes. Then I made my way to a prearranged meeting spot for the Geneva Centre for Autism team photo.

As I lined up at the start line, I could feel those tight glutes, that rickety left ankle, the sense that I was getting a cold and therefore not in the best physical shape. But then magic happened. The starting siren went off and as the crowd surged forward, my glutes instantly loosened up, my ankle found stability, and I was breathing strong and clear. As I crossed the start line, I winged a prayer to whatever supreme being you happen to believe in, put a picture of my son George in my head, and went on my way.

I had a series of mini-goals to accomplish for the race. I knew that the Geneva Centre representative would be at around the 6km mark along with the photographer, so my first goal was to simply get to that point. Once I passed them, I would be almost a third of the way there! As I had thought would happen, I got a great boost of energy from seeing people I knew who were cheering my name, taking my picture, and waving a banner for the cause closest to my heart.

That energy boost was enough to get me to my next mini-goal: the 10km point.  I felt a sense of exhiliration as I ran over the timing mats, and shortly after that, I reached the turnaround point.  Now I was not only more than halfway, I was physically heading back towards the point from which I had started. I was getting tired and pushing myself harder than I had in my training runs, but by breaking down the large distance into smaller goals, I was able to keep going.

With 8km to go, I started running in 2km increments. I reasoned that no matter how rough I started feeling, I would surely be able to manage 2km. As long as I focused on nothing else – not the full distance of the race, not the distance I had run or the total distance that was still to come – if I focused only on the 2km segment of the moment, I would be fine. I told myself that if things started to get really bad, the only thing I had to do was get to the end of those 2km, and then I would figure out what to do next.

And sure enough, before I knew it, I found myself with 2km to go.  I was feeling completely exhausted at that point, feeling as if I had little or nothing left to give. I took one last one-minute walking break, took a deep breath, a braced myself for the finish. With 1km to go, I turned onto Bay Street, and then I knew I would be OK. I knew that the crowds of cheering spectators lining both sides of the street would carry me for the last several hundred metres. The crowds got louder as I got closer to the finish, and despite feeling utterly devoid of energy, I found myself passing other runners leading up to the finish.

I rounded the last bend, and the finish line was in my sights. Right on the other side of the finish line, I could see a welcome and familiar figure – my man, having talked himself into getting a media pass, was crouching there with his video camera. I dug deep, and somehow found a reserve of energy that enabled me to sprint for the last 100 metres. Two hours, twenty-two minutes, and thirty-eight seconds after starting the race, I crossed the finish line, waving both arms triumphantly in the air and smiling so much I thought my face was going to split in two.

Six months of dedicated training, almost $500 raised for the Geneva Centre for Autism (which was part of a total of over $35,000 raised collectively by the Geneva Centre runners), a personal best time for the distance that beat last year’s time by six minutes.  What a day. What a phenomenal event to be a part of.

Am I hurting today? You bet. Will I do it again next year? I’ve already started to plan the training!  My Run for Autism is over, but only for this year.

With Holly Bannerman from the Geneva Centre for Autism

With John Stanton, founder of The Running Room