clothing · cycling · fashion

Dear Sugoi, I want gender equality in colour choices

Today’s blog post was about the dark and the end of weekday evening rides.

But I’m still commuting by bike sometimes and I’ll ride on and off throughout the winter. And I like to be seen!

I just posted to our Facebook page this morning a review of super reflective cycling jacket. See Sugoi Zap Jacket, Glow-in-the-dark apparel for after-hours commuting.

I read some reviews, watched the promotional view, and set out to order it.

I love the bright red.

Sugoi Zap Reflective Jacket - Red: Image 11

But when I went to order a women’s jacket, here’s the colour options I got.

photo of Women's Zap Bike Jacket

No red! I went ahead and ordered the men’s.

Sugoi, not all women want pink. Maybe you need to read, What’s So Bad about Pink Anyway?



Bring on the evening dark, or the end of the weekday cycling season

imageThere’s snow in the forecast for Halloween night and daylight savings ends this weekend. Time for the cold and the dark.

Excellent timing for our last Thursday evening intermediate ride of the season with  Coach Chris.

Next week our fun 40 km loop won’t be possible. It’ll be dark by 5:30 pm and while I ride with lights in the city, I’m leery of fast riding on country roads at that time of the day in the dark.

I’m not that scared of cold and I’ve got my cyclocross bike for bad weather but from here on in it will be longer weekend rides, weekday commuting some days, and time on the trainer and rollers.

We had a lovely ride, our small but mighty group of three. I’m glad Cheryl, of Happy is the New Healthy,  decided to break her rule of never riding in single digit weather. Yes, it was cool. Yes, it was windy. But there was also some talking and laughing and planning for the winter and discussions of spring.

There was also a failed attempt to take back my Strava segment from Kim but I’ve added that to my spring “to do” list as well. You’ve been warned!



The Gendered Impact of Apple’s New Health App

health appI uploaded the new iOS software to my iPhone today and yes, there it was, a white square with a red heart in it. It wasn’t an app I’d selected. No. It’s Apple’s new app called “Health.”  And the thing about Health is this: you can’t delete it.

So why is that a problem?  Well, according to this article, the app is “literally dangerous” because with its weight tracking and calorie tracking features it triggers people who are attempting to recover from eating disorders:

The Health app is literally dangerous, specifically to people dealing with/in recovery from eating disorders and related obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Obsessive weight tracking and calorie counting are classic symptoms. These disorders literally kill people. A lot of people. Apple’s Health app is an enabler of this behavior, a temptation to fall back into self-destructive habits. The fact that it can’t be deleted makes it worse by orders of magnitude.

The majority of people with eating disorders are women (though the number of men with eating disorders is on the rise). My first thought was that people who don’t want to use the app can just not use it. I have a special folder on my phone for apps that I don’t use much, and some of those, like Apple’s “game centre” app and “stocks” app, can’t be deleted either.  I didn’t even remember I had them until I checked just now to see what was in my “unused” app folder.

But eating disorders aren’t like that. They involve compulsive behaviors that are difficult to control.  An app that tracks weight can be as tempting to someone trying to deal with an eating disorder as an open pack of cigarettes might be to someone trying to quit smoking.

So not allowing people to delete can actually threaten their health.  And in this area of health, it’s women who are more at risk than men.

I actually don’t quite understand why Apple is so intent on making every iPhone user keep the health app.  It’s not the greatest app in the world. It’s quite clunky and not all that intuitive.  You can read more criticizing it as a health app here.  At the moment, it doesn’t seem to do anything other than record data from other apps or that users enter themselves.  I am not opposed to using apps to track things like health, but my first impression of this app is that I’m not likely to use it because it doesn’t seem user friendly at all.

The other interesting gendered aspect of the app that this article and this article point out is that it has nothing for tracking periods.  The post, “why can’t you track periods in Apple’s Health app?” points out that there are some good health reasons for women with menstrual cycles (and that’s quite a few women) to want to keep track of them. The author says that “menstruation, changes in menstruation, or lack of menstruation can be signs of other health problems.” And frankly, to my mind, it’s just good to know what’s happening with the cycle.  The author goes on to say:

I wanted to know how many people are of menstruating age at any given time. Worldwide data from the US government census for 2013 is banded by age groups, so to be err on the side of caution I’ve selected ranges between 15 and 49 as the menstruating ages. Of course not all of those people will actually menstruate, but I hope that the difference is insignificant.

By this estimate, over 1.8 billion people are currently of menstruating age. That’s just over a quarter of the population. If you also include people who have menstruated or are yet to menstruate then of course that number is approaching half the world’s population. That’s a huge potential audience, of whom a large proportion might be interested in recording their cycles at some point in their lives.

Tracking cycles isn’t anything new, it has been done since the dawn of time, in many different forms. I am pretty sure it was the first ever occurrence of Quantified Self movement, although for reasons I cannot understand cycle tracking doesn’t feature very prominently in it.

So why hasn’t Apple included it in Health?

The author speculates that since “Stocks” is undeletable, Apple must have thought that more people would be interested in keeping up with the stock market than in recording their periods. I’m not sure that follows exactly, but what it does suggest is that Apple thought of people who want to keep up with the stock market but did not think of people who might want to track their menstrual cycles.

The Pacific Standard post makes a great point, which is that app design is not neutral.  I think this is the most interesting aspect of these discussions, since it draws a further conclusion from these gendered oversights:

Both of these problems are part of a larger design issue, and it’s one we’ve talked about before, more than once. The design of things—pretty much all things—reflects assumptions about what kind of people are going to be using the things, and how those people are going to use them. That means that design isn’t neutral. Design is a picture of inequality, of systems of power, and domination both subtle and not. Apple didn’t consider what people with eating disorders might be dealing with; that’s ableism. Apple didn’t consider what menstruating women might need to do with a health app; that’s sexism.

This all reminds me of one of the early criticisms that feminist philosophers of science made of health research. They pointed out that so much of the findings were based on studies on men, and then the conclusions were generalized to apply to everyone, not taking into account that not everyone is a man. This meant not only that health issues specific to women were for a long time under-researched, but also that women’s health was at risk because many of the treatments hadn’t actually been tested on them.

Apple has done the same sort of thing with this app, designing a health app that’s meant to be neutral when, in fact, it isn’t.

injury · traveling

Life as a shark!


I told my massage therapist today that I felt like a shark. He laughed.

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve got to keep moving.”

Let me explain.

I hurt my back last week. Now, you might think that was from Aikido. Throwing, rolling! Whee! Thump! Or on the sprint stretch of our Thursday ride. Or deadlifting at CrossFit. But no. I hurt my back flying to Chicago, busing to Madison, and then sitting at a conference all day.

(I struggle with conferences. I really do. At home and at work, I love my standing desks but it seems rude to stand at conferences. Philosophers know me and they’re used to my standing and stretching at the back. But this was a conference of political theorists and I was the outsider. It felt extra awkward to stand. See Academic conferences as sitting marathons for more on this theme. I’ve decided from now on to opt for perceived rudeness over injury. It’s an easy choice.)

At the end of the day when I got up, my back went into spasm. Pain, lots of pain, and the left side of my low back kind of seized up.

For a day or two it was a challenge getting socks and tights on. It was a challenge rolling over in bed, finding a comfy spot for sleeping. It was an extra special challenge busing and flying back home. Stairs hurt. Sitting hurt.

It’s better now. Thanks Aikido, thanks foam roller, thanks lots of walking, thanks not much sitting, thanks massage therapist.

But it made me reflect on the challenge, as a very active, older person, of staying in any one position for too long. Hence the shark analogy. Now not all sharks need to keep moving or die, but it’s true for most shark species.

One of the senseis at Aikido referred to my back pain as “you’re not 25 any more” injury.

I’ve been asking around about what people do when they know they’re going to be stuck in one place for awhile. Dave from CrossFit  said he spends lots of time foam rolling the day before and the day of when he has to fly. Massage therapist advised getting a massage before travel. (I like that idea too.) One extremely fit friend, a life long fitness instructor, doesn’t travel so much these days. She finds long flights so painful that she avoids them.

My partner joked that I need to “train up” for sitting. Get more practice in. Work on my endurance. It’s a bit of an issue since long car trips aren’t my thing any more.

Is this a challenge you face? What do you do to make traveling easier?

Shark swimming
race report

Halloween Haunting 10K Race Report: Working the Witch’s Magic for a 10K Personal Record!

Hocus pocus!
Hocus pocus!

On Sunday I ran my last race of the season, the Halloween Haunting, my third 10K since the spring.  I did this one for the sheer fun of it. They had a kiddy 2K, a 5K, and the 10K. Lots of people from Balance Point Triathlon were taking part.  And with the Halloween theme, people would be in costumes.

I’m not one for dressing up, but at the last minute I took a trip to the Dollar Store and spent $7 on stuff for a witch costume–a red pointy hat, a “sexy witch” dress (that’s all they had), and a spider ring.  That was my gesture toward the theme.

We gathered in Springbank Park for the latest start time I’ve ever had for a race: 10:30 a.m. The 5K was an hour earlier, so by the time I got there, the competitors in that race had either arrived back already or were coming in.

The 10K was just two rounds of the 5K loop.  I ran into Gabbi, the Balance Point coach, and her sister and niece right away when I arrived. They were all dressed up as zombies.  Penny and Esther who I’d done the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon with ran the 5K together, looking groovy, as if they’d just walked in of the set of the play, Hair (they claim not to have coordinated their costumes).

A very stiff north westerly wind threatened to blow my witch hat right off of my head. After a bit of milling around, a last minute trip to the port-0-potty, a quick warm-up  as recommended by Gabbi (because yes, it does usually take me about 2-3K to find my stride), and a few photos, we took our position at the starting line.

I love these local events. The announcer was the leader of my very first “learn-to-run” group (spring 2013!) and it felt good that he remembered me from then.  I ran into a couple of colleagues from the university, a client of Renald’s, and a woman I knew from yoga. Lots of BPT members were there, whether or not they were racing.  It just felt like home.

Whereas for my first 10K I was a bundle of nerves, this time I felt calm and as if nothing was at stake.  And then we were off.

I went out of the gate with the crowd, a bit too fast at about 5:10 per km. Honestly, I’ve never kept up a pace like that in my life.  So I pulled back and settled in at about between 6:15 and 6:30 km for the rest of the race. I decided that this time I was going to push myself in the hopes of achieving a personal best, which meant beating my previous best time of 1:07:46. I’d calculated that if I maintained under 6:30 and hardly took any walk breaks, I could do it.

The people who are fast at 10K are so incredibly fast. The course involved two loops of a 5K, and each loop had a switchback portion so you passed the people ahead of you. Some of the young guys from the Distance Club passed me going in the other direction before I even reached 3K.  These same speedsters passed me again before I got the halfway point. The leader finished his race in just under 31 minutes!  My 5K split was more than that!

But the magic of it all was that when I hit that 5K point, I said to myself, “only 5K to go!”  Now, a year ago, 5K was about all I’d ever run. It might as well have been a marathon.

In any case, I didn’t set out to be a champion, just to break my own personal record.  And break it I did!  I seemed to be racing with a bunch of people who didn’t take walk breaks. That’s the difference between the Runner’s Choice approach and the Running Room approach. Runner’s Choice sponsored this race. Their clinics are geared towards continuous running. The Running Room uses 10-1 run-walk intervals as a fundamental part of the program.

Lots of people encouraged me along the way.  The red witch hat made a difference, gaining me some enthusiastic support.  By the second loop, the felt hat got a bit much and I ended up hanging onto it most of the way. I had my music ready to go, but after about three songs, I opted to shut it off and listen to the sound of my feet hitting the pavement and my breath.

At one point, running alongside the river, a flock of geese flew overhead. Another flock of at least 80 geese were sitting in the river and took off, all noise and splash and flapping wings, as I passed by. That made me think of the Mary Oliver poem, “Wild Geese,” (which is brilliant) and the lines “You don’t have to be good” and “the world offers itself to your imagination / calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting / over and over announcing your place / in the family of things.”

I wasn’t running with anyone else at that point (or really at any point in the race), and something about that moment with the autumn air and the geese taking off from the river, and the changing trees, and knowing I only had 3K left to go, I fell into a rhythm that felt solid and strong. Renald had read something to me in the morning about “effortless success” and those words flowed into my thoughts as I ran.

I’d planned to pick up the pace with 2K today, just after the turnaround. By then, I passed a few people who had passed me early on. I took a very short walk break of about 20 seconds to drink some water, and then I blasted it for all I had left. My Garmin was telling me that if I could just keep up or increase my pace, I would be able to come in under 1:06.

Gabbi was cheering me to the finish line. When I crossed the finish line I hit “Stop” on the Garmin.  Personal record.

Official race time: 1:05:56.

What this says to me is that the goal of a sub-65 minute 10K is actually achievable. Since the beginning of the season, I’ve taken close to 5 minutes off my 10K time.  And I honestly feel as if I’ve not hit my top speed or endurance yet.

So far, each time I’ve run a 10K race I’ve achieved a personal best. I know this can’t continue indefinitely, but I’ve set it as a goal to break 1:05 next time. I think I can do it, even without my witch hat and halloween hocus pocus!


cycling · Guest Post · traveling

Guest post: Susan blogs about riding her bike and silencing her harshest critic


When my sister-in-law (Sam) asked me to write a guest blog about a recent biking trip, I found the question problematic.   What would I, a lawyer, write about?  Who would want to read my musings?  Would the academic readers find my thoughts too trite?  But when I talked to Samantha about what I might say, she encouraged me to go ahead.

I begin by mentioning my feelings of inadequacy because I struggled with similar feelings while biking.   In writing this post, it made me wonder why.

To give some background, about five years ago I was asked by a close friend if I wanted to go with a group of her friends on a self-guided biking trip in France to celebrate her 50th birthday.  As a relatively fit “travel tart”, I jumped at the chance.  Several months later, 6 lawyers and 2 PhDs headed off to France to explore the Loire Valley by bicycle.  Since then, the somewhat fluid group has gone on at least one “big” biking trip each year, and last month, four of us went to Colorado and Utah for a week of biking.

So why did I feel inadequate on this particular bike trip?  It’s because for the first time, I was the least fit biker in the group.  I really struggled the first day.  My bike felt heavy and at times, it seemed like I’d never biked in my life before.  In my head, I questioned whether I could bike for 5 more days, especially there were days scheduled that were twice the distance of the initial day.  On a later day, when we were hill climbing, I gave up on a hill because it seemed too hard for me to do.

What is interesting is that my negativity was entirely self-imposed.  My friends didn’t care at all that I was following behind.  I didn’t slow them down.  They didn’t even notice my internal struggle.  It’s also interesting to me that the judgment was entirely self-directed.   When others in my group walked up hills too, I didn’t judge them – just myself.

While it may be my feelings were rooted in competition, I think they went deeper than that.  It seems to me that they were caused by years of internalized worry about what others’ think of me.  Even though these days I am fairly confident in most aspects of my life, the residual feelings of inadequacy are insidious.   That being said, if I take a step back, I know these feelings are solipsistic – in other words, I become overly concerned that those around me are paying attention to my inadequacies when the truth is that most of the time, no one else has even noticed.   This is especially true while biking because my friends’ only focus was on pedaling and getting up the hills too.   Furthermore, I believe these three things to be true:

(1) Everyone has their own issues and they too have internal negative voices at times

(2) My friends know and love me; I shouldn’t care what strangers think (most of the time I truly don’t)

(3)  Someone has to be at the back of the pack.

The good news is most of the time, I don’t let my insecurity stop me from trying from new adventures and reveling in my accomplishments, however small.   I must confess that I took comfort on the trip from the fact that every day I got a little bit stronger.

Life has a way of throwing us curveballs.  My response to these experiences is to try to embrace every opportunity while I can.  That won’t happen if I spend my time thinking I can’t do something  I haven’t even tried, or perhaps worse, if I don’t do something I can just because I’m afraid someone will judge my skill or lack thereof.   Life’s too short to live that way, so I’m working on silencing those pesky internal voices that try to tell me otherwise.


Susan Fullerton, a lawyer working for the government, lives in Toronto. She is an avid traveller who has had varying levels of fitness throughout her life. These days, she’s focused on being a reformed hoarder, trying to make better choices about how she spends her time and money.

link round up

Fit is a Feminist Issue, Link Round Up #7

This is where we share stuff we can’t share on Facebook page for fear of being kicked out! Read why here. Usually the posts are about body image.

  • ‘What painting portraits of naked women has taught me’

    Artist Aleah Chapin, 28, has caused controversy with her realistic paintings of nude older women. Now, she has a new London show that celebrates the female form at every age. Here, she opens up to Claire Cohen about body image and the perils of social media.

    Thanks MLG!

  • Instagram bad for body image, says study

    According to a survey undertaken by US Glamour magazine, 64 percent of women said looking at photos of women on social networking sites like Facebook and Instagram is what made them feel worst about their bodies.

  • Playboy models from Miss March 1954 to Miss January 1979 on meeting the male gaze then—and now.

    Still, for the women of Playboy who decided to step back in front of a photographer’s lens for New York, that sense of control, however illusory, was a large part of the appeal of posing — both then and now. There is, according to Playboy magazine’s official style guide, no such thing as a former Playmate. Once earned, the cultural designation as sex symbol, according to Hugh Hefner’s surprisingly embracing philosophy of beauty, is one a woman retains for life. “When you look at pictures of yourself from long ago, you see this young girl,” Cole Lownes says of her own ­centerfold. “You look into the eyes of the model, and you realize she doesn’t know what she knows now.” In these portraits: some knowledge.

  • Trying to make the topless swimsuit happen in 1964
  • When we think of the monokini today, we picture those fiddly one-piece swimsuits that give you awkward tan lines, popularised by the Kardashian and Hilton sisters. But the first monokini was in fact originally a topless swimsuit that exposed the female breasts, conceived in 1964 by avant-garde designer Rudi Gernreich, who predicted (rather accurately) that “bosom will be uncovered within five years.”

    While the design initially had a harder time catching on in the United States (the first American model to pose in the swimsuit, Peggy Moffitt, received death threats), the monokini appears to have found itself more at home unsurprisingly in Paris, at the legendary Piscine Molitor, where the first bikini was revealed to the world nearly twenty years earlier in 1946…

aging · body image · movies

Policing of Women’s Looks Is Alive and Well: Just Ask Renée Zellweger

renee-zellwegerThe celebrity newsreels were abuzz last week with the news that Renée Zellweger looks quite different from how she used to look.  People were shocked and demanded an explanation. Did she go under the knife? Why? And why won’t she fess up to it? The Telegraph asked it most bluntly:  Renée Zellweger: Why Does Her Face Look So Different? And of course, readers of People Magazine had strong reactions, ranging from “leave her alone” to “why doesn’t she just be honest about the work she’s had done?”

At least one article harkened back to what she’d said about cosmetic surgery in the past. Several retrospectives appeared (for example, this), as they so often did with Michael Jackson, tracing her transformation over the years as evidence of an evolving appearance that can only be attributed to surgery.

The whole thing spilled off of the celebrity pages and right into mainstream media. CBC Radio contacted me to ask if I would devote three hours on Thursday morning to make myself available to talk to eight different regional morning shows across Canada, each for 5-7 minutes. Topic: Renée Zellweger’s new look.

While I do have a few things to say about this, I reflected on my schedule.  It was packed that day from morning to night. Did I want to spend three hours, from 6-9 a.m., talking about Renée’s new look? Not really.  Pass.

What do I actually think about the whole thing? Mostly, the buzz she created by stepping out looking different than she used to is evidence of the prevalence of the policing of women’s appearance.

I agree with Leah MacLaren (who used to have Renée Zellweger as her celebrity lookalike until this week), who says:

Renée Zellweger’s face, just like her body, is entirely her own and what she does with it is none of our business. Given that she’s an actor, it should hardly be surprising (let alone galling) that she might wish to change her appearance to suit her craft. When she gained weight for the Bridget Jones series, after all, we collectively venerated her for it. So why the outcry over her face?

MacLaren thinks the real reason people are so upset is that we don’t recognize her anymore as the celebrity we have come to know. And that’s disturbing:

All the emotional baggage we projected onto her famous squinty-eyed smile is suddenly revealed for what it really is: A complete waste of time and energy. It’s our “Where’s my Renée? Give her back!” moment.

Rather than responding to the “did she or didn’t she?” question, Zellweger responded to the reaction to her appearance by saying:

“I’m glad folks think I look different!” she said.

“I’m living a different, happy, more fulfilling life, and I’m thrilled that perhaps it shows.”

She says that any aesthetic changes reflect her newfound inner positivity and contentment, after having readjusted her work-life balance.

“My friends say that I look peaceful. I am healthy,” Zellweger told People.

“For a long time I wasn’t doing such a good job with that. I took on a schedule that is not realistically sustainable and didn’t allow for taking care of myself. Rather than stopping to recalibrate, I kept running until I was depleted and made bad choices about how to conceal the exhaustion.”

She eventually became aware of the “chaos” and “chose different things”, including a slower-paced, more fulfilling lifestyle.

“I did work that allows for being still, making a home, loving someone, learning new things, growing as a creative person and finally growing into myself,” she continued, noting that she chose to address the speculation because “it seems the folks who come digging around for some nefarious truth which doesn’t exist won’t get off my porch until I answer the door.”

Regardless of any judgemental criticism, Zellweger is more at peace with herself than ever.

“People don’t know me [as] healthy for a while,” says Zellweger. “Perhaps I look different. Who doesn’t as they get older?! Ha. But I am different. I’m happy.”

It’s great that she can have such a light-hearted attitude about it all.  Because really, it’s no one’s business. I know there are those detractors who say that celebrities have chosen to live in the spotlight, that being subject to public scrutiny is the price of fame. But no one seems to realize that it’s that same public scrutiny that enforces a standard of ageless youth and perfect beauty.

I agree with Rebecca Shaw, who says that “The Renée Zellweger Pile-On Proves, Once again, That Women Can’t Win”:

The pressure to stay looking a certain way is damaging enough for women who are not in the entertainment industry. It is unimaginable within that sphere. All you need to do is take a quick look at how leading men like Liam Neeson and Harrison Ford are allowed to age with no repercussion, to see what is different for women. All you need to do is to see how those leading men age into their 50s and 60s are still playing sexy leading men, while their romantic on-screen partners stay 25 and 30 years old, to understand what is unfair here. Have a look to see how many great parts are written for older women. Have a look to see what age actresses are when they stop being cast as the love interest, and start being cast as the mother of actors similarly aged or younger than them in real life (in Riding in Cars with Boys Drew Barrymore played the mother of Adam Garcia, despite being two years younger than him in real life).

Think about the value we place on women, and how easily discarded and replaced they are once their skin starts to sag in a way we find unpalatable. Then think about all those reactions to Renee Zellweger’s face you saw.

We demand that women look a certain way, and we discard them like garbage when they stop. We demand they stay the same, and then we judge them for choosing to use plastic surgery. We comment if they look fat, if they look thin, if they look old, if they look like they’ve had work done. When women try everything in their power to hold onto those brief moments where society found them appealing enough to look at on a screen, when they try to stay looking the same because they know we will discard them as soon as they are out of date, we turn on them then, as well.

Women can’t fucking win, because we won’t let them.

Sadly, that’s not news.


competition · racing · running

First Marathon: Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon Race Recap

The day before the race

I met up with Megan and Mandy at the expo to pick up our race kits. I had a moment right before I went to get my bib where I nearly teared up a bit. My first marathon race bib! Megan got her half-marathon kit and was able to switch to a faster corral. She has been working with a coach and her dedicated training has definitely paid off!

The expo itself was crowded, and we soon found ourselves sitting off to the side, discussing our plans for race day. Megan asked if Mandy and I were going to run the whole thing together. Mandy and I both agreed that we would start together, and if either of us, for whatever reason, had to take off, we’d do so. Megan said she was getting misty thinking about Mandy and I crossing the finish line hand in hand. We had a good laugh-cry about that. (Admittedly we’re normally a gushy bunch, but pre-race jitters exacerbate that!)

That night, I carb-loaded with pasta (although nervousness made it difficult to eat as much as I’d wanted) and Kevin and I hit the hay with our alarms set for 6:30am. I had nightmares about the race, and each time I awoke throughout the night I was relieved to find that the race hadn’t started yet.

Race day morning

Our apartment is conveniently located right behind City Hall, which just so happens to be where the start/finish for the race was. (This was yet another reason why it made sense for this to be my first marathon!) Because of this, we offered the apartment for Mandy and Megan to use to keep their things instead of dealing with bag check, and also for last-minute bathroom breaks. We all got ready: I moleskinned my feet, filled up my hydration pack with cherry limeade Nuun, stashed a few Clif bars in the pockets, and pinned on my race bib. With the outside temperature a balmy 2 degrees Celcius, I decided on capri run tights, a short sleeve shirt, and a throwaway sweater to wear to the start.

Mandy and I said our goodbyes to Kevin and Megan. Kevin was in the red corral – he was aiming for a zoomy sub-1:40 half marathon. Megan was in the yellow corral, for a sub-2:00 finish.

We took our places in the green corral. I had put 4 hours and 30 minutes as my estimated finish time, but of course, I really didn’t have any idea what to expect. I sucked back a salted caramel gel at 8:50, readying my energy reserves, and at around 9am, we crossed the starting line. We were off!

Waiting for the race to begin!

The first half

I told Mandy that I wanted to take the first couple of kilometres somewhat slow. That wasn’t difficult, given how crowded the field was. We naturally fell into a 6:30 min/km pace. Around 1.5km in, we had warmed up enough to shed our toss-away sweaters. I hadn’t put on my music yet – at the start of a race, especially, I like to enjoy the sound of all the footfalls on the pavement.

Around 3km we picked up the pace slightly, hovering around 6:10 min/km. We talked about the race, about training, about the signs that we saw people holding. We wondered how Kevin and Megan were doing in their half-marathons.

It’s hard to describe how I felt during this leg of the race. It was just so, so much easier and more enjoyable than I had thought it was going to be. Every time I glanced down at my Garmin, our pace stayed constant. For kilometres 3 through 19, we didn’t vary much more than 10 seconds per kilometre in our pacing. I have never before had a run, let alone a race, that incredibly consistent. But it wasn’t just consistent. It was pleasant. It was fun. It was joyous. It was beyond any of my expectations. Running with Mandy and Megan is always a pleasure, and almost always easier than running on my own, but this was something uniquely special.

Kilometres 7 through 10 were particularly fun and just flew by, because we spent them watching the race leaders run along the other side of the road, having already reached the switchback point along Lakeshore Blvd. We kept our eyes peeled for Kevin and Megan, and managed to see and cheer for both of them. Around 10km in, I made myself take another gel, even though I didn’t necessarily feel like I needed it, because I knew I would be sorry later on if I didn’t.

Around the point where the half marathon splits from the full marathon, Mandy started to have hip and knee pain, aggravated by the pavement and downhill portions. We stopped so she could stretch, and I suggested that we run the uphills and walk the downhills – not exactly a conventional race strategy, but one that would hopefully keep the pain from being overwhelming.

Km 21-30

After the half-marathoners turned off to their finish, it felt more like the “real race” began. I had expected it to feel lonelier. Indeed, the field of runners dwindled, though it wasn’t exactly sparse: there were still about 6000 people running the full marathon (although double that number ran the half!). I was all smiles for the volunteers and the faster marathoners who had already completed another switchback. And most people were all smiles back. At this point, most people clearly still had energy. Far from being lonely, it felt like I was joining in on a club.

Kms 23-28 had a number of little hills that I might otherwise not have dwelled on, but suddenly was hyper aware of because they clearly were doing a number on Mandy’s hip, even with the walking breaks. It was around this point that I realized that I was not going to be able to run the whole race with her. I was sad, and a little bit worried, knowing that I would have to say goodbye soon. But I was also just so immensely grateful to have been able to run almost 30 happy and fun kilometres together. Just before kilometre 30, I gave her my love and kept running.

This is probably my favourite race photo ever. Mandy and I were silly whenever we saw a photographer on course

The last 12 km

Now the race felt different. Harder, yes, but I don’t think it was nearly as mentally tough on me as it would have been had I run the whole race alone. My body was beginning to feel the distance, and this stretch was a bit lonely, without much scenery or cheer stations. However, once I got into the Beaches, things perked up – there were lots of people cheering, including children who were giving out pieces of banana to the runners (I didn’t take any, but I did ask an obliging bystander to grab a Clif bar out of my hydration pack for me).

The toughest stretch for me was kilometres 34-38. My body was aching now. My legs were on fire. My hands were freezing from the wind (I’ll point out here that it was NOT sunny, as forecasted. I wished for long sleeves!), and my left arm was going numb from my Garmin. My left foot, the one that has been giving me trouble with numbness for a couple of years now, was not numb but in pain. The funny thing is, I was so grateful that it hadn’t gone numb, and also grateful that the pain hadn’t started earlier in the race, that I didn’t even mind very much!

Mandy had warned me that now was the time when stopping would be the most tempting and the least advisable. Every time I stopped, I realized she was exactly right. Walking then running again hurt so much more than just running. I texted Kevin and asked how his race and Megan’s had gone. I wanted another burst of happiness to ride, and I knew that would be it. I wasn’t disappointed when I saw that they had both achieved incredible PRs.

Buoyed by that, and firm in my knowledge that if I stopped again I’d pay in spades, I settled in to run the last four kilometres without stopping. And, somehow, I did just that. At some points it felt like I was limping rather than running, and I felt like the slowest person on the planet. (Yet, remarkably, I brought my pace down from 7:55/km to 6:46/km over the course of that last 4k).

In the finish chute, I was greeted by cheers from Kevin, Megan and Tim (her husband and a good friend of mine), my mother and grandmother. I crossed the finish line with a time of 4:46 – an automatic PR, of course!

Mandy finished a little bit after, in good spirits as well, despite the pain. I was glad of that, because I had been worried about leaving her. She’s now very confident that there will be more trail races and far fewer road races in her future.

The Aftermath

Several people asked me, “would you do it again?” or “what’s next?”. Perhaps I’m still riding the runner’s high, but I think I would do it again. Prior to this, a marathon seemed mythical – something that I really didn’t have much of a reference point for. Now I know that I can do it. It’s not easy, but it’s certainly attainable with training. I loved finding out that I am capable, physically and mentally, of toughing it out for 42.2km. I wasn’t even as sore as I thought I would be in the days afterwards (even my blisters were fairly minimal, all things considered!). There is a part of me that would definitely like to train smarter (not necessarily more!) and see if I can’t get closer to that 4:30 time that I guesstimated when I signed up. I think it’s attainable!

My mother asked if this was it – would I stop here, or would I want to go further? I don’t know the answer to that question yet, but an ultra-marathon is something that I at least have some frame of reference for now. I’m not signing up for anything just yet, but I’m also not ruling it out! But for now, I’m content to enjoy my accomplishment and the accomplishments of my friends.

Happy finishers: Kevin, Steph, Megan, and Mandy.

Stephanie is a PhD candidate in Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Toronto. She is also a triathlete, photographer, drinker of craft beer, and newly-minted marathoner.

The marathon medal completes my set! Pictured here is the 5km medal from 2012, the half-marathon medal from 2013, and the marathon medal from 2014.

Got five minutes on a Friday? Help a university student out!

My daughter, Mallory, who has blogged here about biking, canoe trips, and barefoot triathlons is a university student. She’s taking a course which requires her to come up with a business idea.

Unsurprisingly, it involves bicycles. The idea is for a program to teach children to ride. As part of her proposed plan, she needs data from parents. Would they find this useful? Would you?

She needs one hundred people to fill out her “children and cycling” survey. Please take five minutes and help her out.

Here we are together on our bikes after a nice 70 km ride!