Cheryl’s First 5K (Guest Post)

Race pic

(Photo: A medal that says “Toronto Women’s 8K/5K 2018” above a yellow race bib that says “2203 Cheryl”)

In September I decided that I wanted to participate in an organized race in the fall as the culmination of my couch to 5K program. A google search turned up the Toronto Women’s Run series and I signed up for their 5K on Saturday October 13th as my first official race.

I found it highly motivating to have this race to look forward to and it kept me focused on reaching my goal of being able to run 5K by a specific date. The week before the race I completed my first 30 minute run – according to the couch to 5K app this equals 5K, but the reality is that I’m slower than what the app expects so it was a bit less than 5K. Nonetheless I felt ready!

A friend was registered to run the 8K race that day and we had planned to drive there together, but unfortunately she got sick and couldn’t make it. So it was just me heading up to Wilket Creek Park early on Saturday morning, which I actually felt fine about as I’ve been getting much more comfortable with solo activities in the last couple of years.

I had a good tip on parking from when I picked up my race kit the night before, so after parking I walked 15 minutes to the race site and oriented myself to the key points – port-a-potties, bag check, and starting line. Everything was well-organized and easy to navigate, and the vibe was warm and friendly.

The race was intended primarily for women, which was part of the appeal for me.  As a Toronto Women’s Run event, men could participate but were asked not to cross the finish line first and weren’t eligible for awards. There was no mention of how non-binary people might participate, which is something that I’ll be giving the race organizers feedback on.

I was in wave 2 of the 5K, which was the last wave of the morning. After cheering on the 8K runners and the 1st wave of the 5K, I got myself into the middle of the pack in the starting area. Right on time at 9:18am, wave 2 was off.

The start of the race was exciting, with so many people moving forward together in a big burst of energy. Gradually we spread out over the course according to our speed, and although many runners passed me, I also passed some people – much to my surprise.

The course through the park was lovely, and it was good weather for running – sunny, very little wind, and around 8 degrees Celsius. I kept a slow and steady pace so I could run the whole way without having to stop to walk. The time went by quickly as I passed the kilometre markers and the course marshals and supporters cheering us on. In the last 100 metres I pushed myself to sprint to the finish line, and ended with a chip time of 36:42, placing 29th out of 46 runners in the 45-49 age category. Not bad for a first timer!

Some of my favourite moments during the race were:

  • The times I was passed by older women – I admired them and I also felt like this could be my future if I keep training
  • Reaching the halfway point and feeling confident that I could keep running the whole way
  • Getting high fives after crossing the finish line – I appreciated this support from others as someone who was there on my own

The thing I liked least about the event was that the announcer kept referring to us as “ladies” and “gals”, which I found patronizing and irritating.

Other than that, I loved it. I felt strong, confident, and proud at having achieved my 5K goal. I will definitely be running more 5Ks in the future.

What was your first 5K like? Or your first time reaching another fitness goal?


Couch to 5K – an update (Guest Post)

A photo of Cheryl, a white woman with a lime green scarf and a dark sweater and cute, short spiky hair.

Thanks for all the encouragement on my couch to 5K journey! I’ve been keeping at it these last few weeks, although sometimes the intense heat in Toronto has been challenging. There were a few days when I decided it was too hot to run, and other days when I managed to get a run in while there was cloud cover or when it cooled down right before or after a rain shower.

Today I wanted to share some more thoughts I’ve had on running since I last blogged, specifically on the question of when to run. This is another thing that I’ve found a bit more difficult than expected. Technically, going for a run outdoors is something I can do any time. But in reality it’s a bit more complicated than that. Runs have to fit around my other obligations and basic life necessities – like working, eating and sleeping. Running too soon after a meal has proven to not work well for me, so after eating I need to wait for an hour or more if I want to be comfortable. I also prefer to run when it’s light out, for my own feeling of safety, and I try to avoid the hottest parts of Toronto summer days.  That’s a lot to consider and plan around!

I know that early morning runs are a great option for some folks, and I’m all for that if that works for you. But getting up early to run before work is something that I just can’t make myself do, so that’s off the table for me. (Morning can be hard already, as that’s a time of day when I regularly experience a lot of anxiety and/or morning depression). I know it would be a series of failed attempts, and that wouldn’t do anything to help me feel good or achieve my goals.

Given all that, here’s what I’ve found works best so far – running in the late afternoon, after work and before dinner. To help with this, on run days I try to leave work a bit earlier than usual, which has also been great for my work/life balance. Weekends are a bit easier, although it depends on how many other activities I’ve packed into the days, as I tend to try to fit a lot in. I aim to do one run each weekend and two during the week, and I usually manage to do at least two out of three, and sometimes all three. So my 8 week program may take more like 10-12 weeks, and I’m ok with that.

At this point I’ve completed week 5, day 2 of the training program, and the next day will be a 20 minute run with no walk breaks. The longest run without a break so far in the program has been 8 minutes, so I’m nervous and excited to see how running 20 minutes non-stop feels. And I’m also open to giving myself a walk break if I need one, because here’s an important thing I realized: I want this program to fit me, rather than trying to make myself fit the program. I’ll let you know how it goes!

About me: Feminist, bisexual, LGBTQ health researcher, book lover, drummer, introvert.

Guest Post · running

Starting my feminist fitness journey: Early days of couch to 5K (Guest post)

A photo of Cheryl, a white woman with a lime green scarf and a dark sweater and short spiky hair.

Hello fellow feminist fitness folks, this is my first guest post and I’m feeling a bit nervous about it but also excited to share my thoughts and experiences in this space as I embark on my own feminist fitness journey.

I stopped going to the gym gradually over the last year (not that I was going very much at all) for a combination of reasons – boredom on the treadmill when the TV system in the gym was changed to one that I could rarely make work, anxiety about sharing the space and machines with other people, and the fact the my running shoes had developed a hole in the lining that hurt my foot. But perhaps the biggest reason was that I found myself feeling a lot of self-imposed guilt and shame when I didn’t go, which was pretty much all the time, and this was making me miserable. So I decided to let the gym go. This was a relief and definitely good for my mental health, but I found myself wondering “now what?”

I was not and am not in great physical shape, and after quitting the gym I was struggling with how to change this without getting into a repeat of the obligation/guilt/shame cycle. I also thought a lot about the “why” behind my interest in getting fit. How much was coming from a desire to change my body to be thinner and more conventionally attractive? Could it ever be possible for me to want to get fit without some of this internalized stuff coming up? After reading Sam and Tracy’s excellent book this summer I had more tools to approach fitness in a new way and since then I’ve been trying to focus on reasons for getting fit that feel good to me as a feminist (more on this in a future post).

Here’s how I got started: I posted on Facebook about reading Fit at Mid-Life, and my friend Tanya messaged to ask if I ever went running. I told her that I’d run occasionally in the past, but had worked up a lot of internal barriers to it over the years (Anxiety! I will be slow and awkward and people will look at me! Where will I put my keys and water?!). She’d recently started running again using a couch to 5k program and invited me to join her for after work runs. So I decided to give it a try.

Here’s a brief story of my first few weeks, as it involved a lot more than I thought it would “ie. just go outside and start running.”

The first thing I knew I needed to do was buy new running shoes. I’d been feeling annoyed about doing this because it seemed like they wore out much sooner than they should have, given my relative inactivity, and I’d been putting it off because I resented having to spent the money.  But running with shoes that hurt wasn’t going to work, so I went out and got new shoes.

For my first run I had the new shoes, but no place to carry my phone to use the training app as my running clothes don’t have appropriate pockets for this. So I just estimated the times for alternating the 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking that the app instructed.

I definitely started from the couch on this one –I was surprisingly sore the next day. I felt proud of having worked hard enough to feel it, but I also noticed some negative self-talk about how out of shape I must be to feel so sore.

Next I had to solve the problem of how to carry my phone while running. I did some research and bought a money belt/fanny pack sort of thing which has been working well for me so far.

I’ve been running at a local park and in the university area near my home, and also with Tanya at a running track in the east end of Toronto. I think that having some variety is helpful for me in terms of not getting bored.

After a couple more runs I noticed that my breasts were hurting because my old sports bra was not providing enough support.  Shopping for any kind of bra can make me feel like my body is not normal, because I have a really hard time finding bras that have long enough straps over the shoulders. Two stores and about eight types of sports bras later I found one that fit and it’s made running a lot more comfortable.

In the in the first 2 weeks I completed 5 of the 6 sessions from the training program, did a lot of troubleshooting, and spent over $300. I’ve been reflecting on the things that have I have access to that make running easier – money to buy gear, safe outdoor areas to run, and a washer/dryer in my apartment for washing stinky clothes.

I took a break for a week for a family visit in August, and then started up again right after that. It’s feeling good, and on my most recent run in particular I had all the gear I needed, had figured out how to use the music player successfully in the training app, and so was finally able to just get out there and run. At this stage it’s still actually alternating between walking and running, but by the end of week 8 I’m hoping that I’ll be able to run 5K. Stay tuned for more on my progress towards this goal over the next 6 weeks!


About me: Feminist, bisexual, LGBTQ health researcher, book lover, drummer, introvert.