fitness · racing · running

Small Victories: Tracy’s Continuous 10K

So I’ve been running for about five years now and mostly I’m a run-walk interval type of person. Way back in 2012 I posted about what an amazing feeling it was to run for 20 minutes in a row. I’ve come a long way since then, but haven’t aspired to do continuous running over distances. In fact, I’ve always been in awe of people who can do it.

Not only that, the jury is still out about whether some people actually cover the ground faster with run-walk intervals. The theory: the legs have a short time to recover on the walk break, thereby making it easier to maintain a good pace on the run portion. With the 10-1 run-walk intervals, you obviously spend way more time running than walking.

When I started out on the MEC 10K on Saturday, which is the race I’ve been training for since early September, I thought I would do 10 minute runs with 30 second walk breaks. But I’ve been going out pretty strong lately on my solo easy and tempo runs and haven’t really taken walk breaks. So when I passed over the mat to start the timer  on Saturday, I thought, “what the heck? Why not try to go for as long as I can without a walk break?”

I’ve been pushing myself a bit harder in training lately, running up hills that I used to walk up, doing short pick-ups with the promise of a short walk or slow jog immediately after, that sort of thing.

The event couldn’t have taken place in more familiar territory. I have walked and run the path from Gibbons Park into Springbank and back more times than I can count. And could the weather possibly have been better on Saturday? The answer is no. It was a little cool to start with but I made the right call choosing a light tank and shorts. I kept it simple with sunglasses, no ballcap (which I’ve noticed I’ve been removing a lot lately), no water of my own (I’m learning to trust the water stations in an event), and my Fall running playlist (you can find it on Spotify if you want to follow–bear in mind that it works for me and there is no “theory” behind its construction other than that right now I like those songs in that order when I’m running).  I had my Garmin on my belt instead of my wrist so that I wouldn’t check it; the plan was to go by feel. I just wanted the data after, not a gauge during. On my wrist I wore my Timex Ironman watch in “chrono” mode so I’d know how long I’d been out. But even that I consulted only rarely (and forgot to start it until 1 km into it anyway).

I felt super relaxed and ready to enjoy my run, challenge myself a bit, and see how my training with Linda might cash out into something I could feel good about. I didn’t have any big aspirations for a personal best, which would have meant coming in under 1:06 (I never claimed to be speedy!). And it’s because I wasn’t going for a time that I felt good about challenging myself in this other way.

As one kilometre rolled into the next, I was feeling pretty fresh. I had the race broken down into three parts: go out easy for the first 3K, go steady the next 3-4K, and then pick it up the last 3K. I mostly stuck with that strategy. I took a tiny bit of water at the 5K turnaround and the 7.5K water station. I had just one Clif Shot Block at around 4K. I am terrible at incorporating nutrition properly and also didn’t really know when and it’s hard to chew when you’re running (and I didn’t want to stop running).

I kept things moving along with a few different mantras: “fast feet” is always a good one. Also “touch, lift, touch, lift, touch, lift” is my favourite because it reminds me that all I need to do with my feet is touch and lift and touch and lift again. There is something comforting about its simplicity. I did the Linda thing and fixed my efforts  on reaching the next sign, the next bench, the next whatever to keep me mentally focused instead of all over the place.

Before I knew it I had just 2K to go and I was remembering Linda telling me that there is no reason to finish a race with anything left in the tank. I mean, you’re done, right? So push a little why don’t you? I agree with this in theory but I was afraid to go really hard too soon and fizzle early, so I saved the final big push for the last kilometre. At that point, I really threw myself into it and felt incredibly awesome because I realized that no matter what I was about to finish 10K without a walk break. Not even on a hill! My last segment was at a 6:30 pace, which for me is good. I had a few moments of faster than that (even under 6:00). I was breathing hard across the finishing mat, but that’s as it should be.

I haven’t done an event alone in awhile but I didn’t feel lonely at the finish line. I milled around a bit, even met a fan of the blog and another woman (who took the picture of me in this post) who is going to blog for us about winter camping in December (hi Wendy!). I soaked in the great weather and the buzz of the finishing area, enjoyed the bananas and the bagels, and reveled in my new accomplishment.

Okay, so at 1:06:32 I didn’t beat my best 10K time. But I felt so good that I’m convinced I can get that 10K under 1:05 in fairly short order. It just means pushing a bit harder and sticking to the continuous running.

I like learning something about myself as I go. What I learned over the last little while, culminating in Saturday’s continuous 10K, is that my body doesn’t need the walk breaks. It’s my mind that tries to tell me I need them.

What’s your take on continuous versus run-walk intervals?

athletes · race report · racing

Kincardine 2017 Race Reports: Sarah and Sam’s Turn, #kwt2017

Before the race, it's Susan, Sam and Sarah sporting ball caps and a scarf. Ready to run!
Before the race, it’s Susan, Sam and Sarah sporting ball caps and a scarf. Ready to run!

Sarah: I went into this year’s duathlon having hardly trained for the run at all, thanks to the springtime trifecta of bad weather, long hours at the office, and laziness.No personal bests were in store for me, so I went for a nice jog and a bike ride on the shores of Lake Huron, and learned some things along the way.

1) There is some weirdness in the final results. I assume this is of my own making – I started one age group late (with the 45+ crowd) so I could pace Sam for the beginning of her run, but ended up with a super slow result on the first 3km (26:30?!), and a guntime almost 3 minutes slower than Sam’s despite starting at the same time and beating her to the finish. I can only guess they used the “gun” for the start of my age group and added the difference between it and when I actually started. My inner competitor is frustrated that the result doesn’t reflect all the people I’d doggedly passed on the 2nd run, but if I really was just going for a leisurely run and cycle along the lake, I oughtn’t really care. Lesson learned, start with your age group!

2) Speaking of competition, I’m normally pretty anxious before any kind of race / performance test. Serious, focused, short fuse, can’t eat, etc. Kincardine is unique for me – staying in a tiny tourist cottage with Sam and Susan T, hanging out at the start with Susan F and Tara, meant eating breakfast and smiling while I stretched and warmed up. Lesson learned, the feeling of a community event built around supporting individual efforts is unique and to be treasured.

3) Sam passed me on the bike (no surprise there!) so I had a chance to play with my pacing as I tried to catch her. I had always supposed that I would be faster overall running 2-3 minute intervals with a 1-minute fast walk between – but I definitely gained more ground on Sam running at a steady (tempo run) pace. Lesson learned, worth it to just keep running if I can.

4) I’ve been learning that eating sooner and more frequently on long bike rides really helps to prevent the lulls in energy I start to encounter after the 1-hour mark, so I thought I’d try some quick nutrition (one of those performance energy gel things) during the transition from the first run to the bike. Lesson learned, there is no amount of water I can guzzle that will keep that gel from making me nauseated during the first part of the ride.

5) I also have trouble with my calves and feet cramping up – albeit on long ride more than running – and was curious to see if I would encounter them in the duathlon. I certainly did – at the beginning of the second run. Fortunately I had my usual cure, Endurance Tap (a Canadian-made salted maple syrup “gel”), in my pocket. I was able to walk off the cramps in a couple hundred metres, with (yay!) no nausea in sight. I think I’ll stick to these for future races.

6) For those nerds interested in numbers that remember Sam’s Sunday post about heart rate, here is my heart rate for the bike portion of the course – truncated a little because I didn’t actually start my Garmin until I was halfway up the hill that starts the course.

Average heart rate : 165

Max heart rate : 175

You can see that Sam and I both have maximum heart rates very close to the standard calculation of 220 minus our respective ages. I’m ten years younger and run 10 BPM higher. Our average heart rates were at 92-94% of maximum – even when I felt like I was “taking it easy” in the middle portion of the course to not completely wear myself out pedalling into the wind, I was still up over 90%. And otherwise you can see the effect of the hills on both our hearts.

Sarah is a duathlete that doesn’t actually like running. She is riding her bike from Toronto to Port Hope on the Friends for Life Bike Rally’s 1-Day ride with a few fellow Fit Is A Feminist Issue bloggers. You can sponsor her here.

Sam: For me Kincardine is one of those events that I seem to enjoy at any speed. I’ve been struggling with sore arthritic knees that get in the way of training for the run. Instead, I’m the Queen of Knee Physio. My goal has been to run slowly and pain free. And I did it. Sarah has been encouraging me to find a sustainable slow running pace and it seems to have worked. Her coaching efforts paid off at Kincardine and at the Pride Run a few weeks before that. As usual I had a blast on the bike even securing a couple of personal bests on the Strava segments on the course. Thanks tailwinds! But best of all this was doing the race with friends. Great to see Susan F, Tara, and Carolyn there. Susan T, Sarah, and I shared a funky little cottage nearby, so close we got to shower and clean up between the race and awards and prizes. Will I do it again? Sure. And next year, this Queen of Knee Physio even hopes to be able to train for it. Wish me luck.

All cleaned up after the race! It's Susan, Sarah, and Sam
All cleaned up after the race! It’s Susan, Sarah, and Sam

You can read more race reports here and here and here.

If you want to do it with us next year, we’d love to have you along! You need to get up early on New year’s Day though. The registration sells out in the first hour or so.

Bookmark it now and mark your calendars! It’s the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon and join the Facebook group for added reminders, (Facebook) Kincardine Women’s Triathlon.

 

competition · fitness · race report · racing

Kincardine 2017 Race Reports: Julie’s Story, #kwt2017

by Julie M

Reflections on my first duathlon ever are mixed and embedded with my own approach to life of not necessarily reading the directions! 

I was not that committed to the race but I was up and it was paid for and what else was I doing on a Saturday morning, right? So off we went for the 2 hour drive from home to arrive at the registration tents at 8:20 am. (Just as a note the cut off for registration was 8:30 so in my world we were there with plenty of time.) 

The women staffing the tent seemed distracted and handed me my number and sent my tag to be ripped for a prize draw. I was quickly passed a bag and a shirt and almost dropped it all on the ground. These facts will be important later. After this I went and took my bike to the place marked ‘Bikes In.’ 

I then went to the washroom where I realized there was some organization to the bikes and I was in the wrong place but no worries. I moved my bike to the right place and tried to figure out where to go. Then I realized something was missing … chip yes the chip! As well everyone else was marked up with numbers and I was not and it was now 8:45 – 15 minutes to race time. 

No worries I figured I was here and I had my t-shirt and this is half the battle. A kind woman assisted me in getting my chip which after a great deal of back and forth and then the MC announcing and calling for chips and more back and forth I was chipped and marked. I thanked the kind woman who assisted me and we talked for a bit. She was originally from London and had 3 children who were all present to cheer her on. She was wanting to stay fit for her children and to be a good role model and she asked me if I was ready, trained and prepped…my response ‘well it’s just a 3 k run and a 12 km bike, that’s doable’ and she mentioned another 3 k run but I was unclear as the announcer came up to state the race was about to start.

The weather was cooler than I expected and I was grateful for opting out of the swim. Lake Huron is a force on a good day and today it was choppy, lots of white tops, the wind was my friend. (Again, this will be important later.) The run started good I held back and did not want to make the error of other races and blow my energy in the first km! It was a quick and beautiful run along the lake the water, trees, birds, butterflies and locals all out to cheer you on. 

I finished my run strong and started the biking and there is a quick uphill and you are off on a long cool out and back. It was amazing the ride was nice going to the ‘1/2 way mark’ and at this point I thought they made an error as it should have said ‘3/4 of the WAY’ but it was good. I saw a sign that said ‘Pedal to the Medal’ and figured these are just things I need to let go funny errors in spelling and comments are par for the course as you race away. 

As I turned back the wind picked up but as I stated the WIND IS YOUR FRIEND perhaps the kind that you don’t always want to hang out with but I was embracing the unexpected and just seeing what came with, no judgement. I saw the trail run as I headed back and thought ‘wow there are a lot of people on that run’ and then I started to ponder the comment of the woman who assisted me with the chip and the 1/2 way mark and as I headed back the last couple of km of the bike ride expecting my medal and my banana I realized as I came off my bike that there was another 3 km run. 

So SURPRISE but everyone was cheering and telling me to hurry and I, like a teenager suffering from severe peer pressure, looked to Steve and said ‘I think there is another 3 km run’ he smiled and said ‘why yes there is’ and Charlotte had her sign and I was dumping my bike and now I was running passing the chip marker on the final 3 km run.

So I think there are times that it is good to read the directions of putting things together and knowing what to expect is good; however, in this case I think this was good. All races are like lessons. Some are amazing and you surprise yourself and others surprise you with another 3 km run! I embraced that as the women that ran past me with their age numbered legs at 53, 57 and 60 were inspiring and defeating but I was amazed at their stamina. I felt a bit better with the early 30 somethings going by but I embraced my marked 43 with pride.

Overall, I highly recommend this race for anyone at any level. The energy and the challenge are amazing. Small towns are a gift of community that I miss coming from London and afterwards when I ordered breakfast the familiar ‘Are you’se guys ready to order?’ reminded me of my Grandmothers home

athletes · fitness · race report · racing

Kincardine 2017 Race Reports: Susan’s Story, #kwt2017

Tara and Susan before the race start. Tara is wearing a red ball cap. Susan is wearing sunglasses and a bright blue t-shirt.

by Susan F

For the last three years, I have done the sprint duathlon. In 2015, I had not done any training and found the transition from the bike to the second run to be particularly troublesome. Last year I did some training in anticipation of that transition. However when I started the second run, my feet felt really flat and I had difficulty running. I attributed this to my somewhat overused running shoes and opted to finish the race in my bare feet. 

In hindsight, the problem was not my sneakers. In April, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. My symptoms include an inability to make my right foot do what I want it to do. I now think this is why I had difficulty last year.

I used to like running. Now I find it frustrating because it just doesn’t feel normal. I almost bailed on the race this year, but my cousin Tara convinced me to participate. I decided that I would enjoy the morning, hanging out with my friends and fellow competitors. I walked most of the second leg, enjoying the sunshine, the views of Lake Huron and the amazing support from everyone involved. Fellow competitors, volunteers and strangers on the street smiled, waved, honked horns, and yelled words of encouragement as I passed by.  I had fun.

I don’t know if I’ll do the race next year.  I’ll decide how I feel closer to registration but I might volunteer if racing  seems like too much.

Susan (left) and Tara (right) post race, smiling, with their medals.

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.

aging · athletes · competition · race report · racing · running

Competitor or Coach? (Guest Post)

by Claudia Murphy

I’ve been struggling lately with my exercise routine. In the last couple of years belonging to a fitness group has helped me to avoid a pit of depression, so I have been feeling perplexed that what seemed like a lifeline has now become quite a challenge. Even if I can get myself to show up, I don’t enjoy it or even enjoy having done it.

I am 65 and have been working out with a group of long distance runners for a couple of years. They are a great group of people. They have been very kind and accepting– downright encouraging. Even at my bluest, there is something amazing about high intensity workouts at 5:30 am with positive and affirming people.

But in the last few months, I have been facing motivation issues. There could be several reasons.

First, I have been dealing with a chronic and persistent pain in my left hip. I have pursued multiple diagnosis and treatment options, including orthopedics (MRI, cortisone shot), physical therapy, massage, chiropractic therapy and acupuncture. The consensus seems to be that my left hip and adjacent areas need strengthening. But in the meantime, running, walking, and yoga, and even sitting all hurt. It is easy to feel discouraged.

Second, internalized ageism has become a significant force in my mind. I am one of the oldest in my fitness group. Still quite competitive, I often feel as if I’m losing. I can’t run as fast as I used to run. I can’t run as fast as most of the younger people in the group. I haven’t yet figured out the antidote to this aspect of aging.

Third, I’ve been fighting a giant battle against oppression in the workplace. Here, I’ve had to be very deliberate in guarding against internalized sexism and ageism. I have had to consciously remember my own significance and value. I have had to repeatedly decide to quash the oppressive thinking. My vigilance has been focused on this fight.

In the middle of all of this, without awareness, negative self-talk crept into my exercise time. I found myself thinking “you are too old, you look ridiculous, you are embarrassingly slow.” And these thoughts seemed true at the time, even justified. I looked for evidence to support them. Is it any wonder that my routines became less fun, less satisfying?

I’ve had to become more vigilant about this self-talk. I can be my own coach. I can replace my own negative feedback with something more positive. I find it helps to aim for messages that are somewhat neutral while still being encouraging. My mind revolts against “you are the best” But “go Claudia” or “you can do it!” work pretty well.

I recently tried this strategy in a 10K race, with some mixed results to be honest. I had signed up to run as a member of a relay team in the 2017 Fargo Marathon. About a month before the race, we discovered that the legs of the relay were not very even. One team member would have been required to run 8.5 miles. None of the team members wanted to run that far. So we decided to switch our registrations to the 10K. Even this decision felt like a bit of cop out. Last year I had run a half-marathon at this time. While it is true that I had only been able to do so with the help of a cortisone shot, I still struggled to feel OK about running a 10K.

The night before the race I was still struggling with feeling positive about running. My husband held out the perspective for me by reminding me that not that many women my age could run a 10K. He also agreed to drive me to the race and to cheer me on. The day of the race the weather was perfect. It was cool and clear. We arrived early enough to witness the start of the race for both the marathon runners and the half marathon runners.

I had a good start and ran well. I kept my mantra forefront in my mind—“go Claudia.” Since we shared the route with either the marathon runners or the half marathon runners, there were people out cheering us on for most of the route. There was music blasting or bands playing, even though it was quite early morning. I had two young women tap me on the back as they passed me by telling me that I was doing well for someone so old. (BTW this is not a very helpful way to support an older runner.)

I finished in 1:12:09, 8th in my age group of women 65-69, 37 of us running the race. I was staffing a women’s leadership development conference that weekend and decided to wear my hoodie and medal throughout the day to force myself to celebrate my achievement.

Ageism is nasty. But it helps if I do not participate in my own oppression. This is an ongoing battle for me. I would like to be able to be my own best supporter. What strategies work for you?

Claudia Murphy is a philosopher who is semi retired but still teaching part time at Minnesota Technical and Community Colleges.  She is also likes to run, bike, garden, cook and knit.

competition · fitness · race report · racing · running

Half marathon: Not quite a hot mess, but a humid fizzle

Tracy in dark pink running tank, blue cap, and sunglasses, wearing race bib uber 38046; Anita in short sleeved red v-neck t-shirt, sunglasses atop her head; inflatable MEC Race Series arch in the background.
Tracy and Anita in front of the start/finish arch pre-race, Pottersburg Park, London, Ontario.

Anita’s Take on the MEC Series Race #3 Half Marathon

This race was different. Unlike the Niagara Half Marathon, or the Florida Keys Half Marathon, or others, this time it was just Tracy and I doing a London-based race.  In the past a handful of us would make the fun trek to a different city to race.  We’ve avoided London simply because it’s a bit dull racing on the same path you train on week after week, but this race was different because the route took us along parts of the path that we’d never been on.  There were also some pre-race emotions thrown in as this was the last race that Tracy and I would run together for a couple of years owing to our forthcoming consecutive sabbatical leaves.

We went into the race with good spirits. For this one we’d tried a completely different training approach with a coach. Our weekday runs consisted mostly of speed work, which we found challenging at first but eventually we enjoyed conquering the quick, fast workouts that depended on keeping track of our pace. The weekend runs were not as long as we typically would map out for ourselves.  Nevertheless, we both felt that our bodies had responded well to the new training approach. We aimed to shave a couple of minutes off our personal best time.

The race itself was a low key affair, with smaller crowds than the other races we’d done but just as well organized.  Bagels, bananas, gum drops, Clif bars, hot chocolate, coffee and water were available before and after the race. Not too many spectators cheering us on but the route volunteers were terrific. We thought the heat and humidity wouldn’t be a problem once we realized that much of the race route was shady. And it was a lovely route with lots of greenery!  A bit of flooding too but the organizers had built a bridge over the worse part, plus they warned us about the water with an early morning email.

And now to the punchline: it wasn’t the best race for us…yes, we finished, with a respectable time, but…We felt good for the first third of the race. We held on during the second third. Sometime during the last third (around the 16K mark) the struggle started. Hoping it would pass, I didn’t let Tracy know I wasn’t feeling great until the last 3 km or so. And it wasn’t an injury or ache – it was just a ‘not feeling great’ feeling. Like maybe this feeling might progress to feeling like I need to puke.

It crept up silently because we felt like we were doing well with our pacing the whole time. We were also good to ourselves by taking a few longer breaks during that last bit. Was it the humidity? Maybe (but we’ve run in much worse). During our after race de-briefing I said to Tracy: “I never felt the runner’s high. I didn’t feel the happiness on that run.” After some thought, she agreed. Although we’re pleased that we finished in good time, the joy of running eluded us that day.

Tracy’s Take on the MEC Series Race #3 Half Marathon

Despite that we rarely do local races and have never done a local half, Anita and I were both pumped for our local half marathon last Saturday. It would be our last event together for two years. We’d been working with a coach leading up to it and were feeling good about our speed work. As Anita said, we like to travel, so the whole thing lacked the “glam factor” of some of our previous events. And because it was local, we didn’t even think to book off the night before to go out for Italian food (a pre-race tradition whenever we’re at an out of town event).

We were both in a bit of a tizzy that morning trying to decide what to wear. Shorts or capris? Short sleeves or long? I made a good last minute decision to go with shorts and a tank top.

There was a small and friendly crowd at the race site, with ample refreshments for pre- and post-race. The massage therapy students from Fanshawe College had their tables set up under a canopy for post-race massages. It was clear and sunny, but a good portion of the path was shady and we thought we’d be okay.

And at the beginning, we were keeping a fantastic pace, right on target for our simple strategy. Basically, we divided the race into three parts. The first 7K was for finding our rhythm and keeping a steady pace. The second 7K we focused on staying present with the task and maintaining a good even pace. And finally, in the last 7K we wanted to pick it up just a bit, particularly towards the end, laying it out in the last 800m or so.

Like Anita just said, we faltered in the last few kilometres. There’s a part of our long runs that we call Death Valley because it’s a hot stretch with no trees. The turnaround for the out and back for this race was just about half a kilometre or so past Death Valley. And by then it was pretty hot and humid. So no sooner had we passed through DV than we hit the turnaround and had to do it over again.

For me this was the turning point. I started to feel overheated. Subsequent water stations I knew I needed water and Nuun (though I had never trained with Nuun before, I had to drink it for the electrolytes).  We had kept up reasonably well with two other women who were running just ahead of us at a similar pace. They stayed steady steady with no walk breaks. We were taking 30 seconds every ten minutes, consistently for most of the race until the last 3 or 4 km when we started walking a bit longer.

I tried to maintain my energy with some energy balls we had made with Linda–oats and chocolate and coconut mixed with syrup and other goodies. But it was hard to chew and tough to swallow. I really needed my shot blocks, which I hadn’t had time to buy. I forgot I had a Vega gel in my belt, so that went uneaten (truthfully, I don’t know if I’d have been able to hold it down).

Most times when Anita and I run together we prop each other up. If one is struggling the other is able to encourage. But this time we both felt our energy get sucked away around the same time. After the race we both confessed that we felt like we were going to puke. I had a definite feeling of wooziness with more than 5K left to go.

I hauled out all the mantras I had, focusing on “fast feet” (which was a lie!) and “perpetual forward motion.” MEC has good signage, with lots of motivational sayings along the way (all of which elude me now).

When we crossed that finish line, later than we’d hoped to, my legs felt stiff and unsteady. I grabbed water and a half a banana. We both made our way over to the massage tables. Anita’s upper body was all seized up around her neck and shoulders.  My calves and hamstrings felt hard and tight, so much so that even a relatively gentle massage made me wince. My feet ached. This was not my usual post-race feeling. I was drained.

After our massages we walked slowly up the hill to the car. Having told ourselves earlier that we would treat this as a usual weekend run, we tried not to feel disappointed in our performance. Anita was disappointed that we didn’t get a medal for finishing. But we took a couple of post-race selfies anyway. It may not have been our best event, but we made the best of it.

And as a usual weekend goes, we treated ourselves to breakfast (or in Anita’s case, lunch) at Billy’s.

mec2
Tracy (left) and Anita (right) post-race in the parking lot, looking reasonably cheerful.
Guest Post · race report · racing

One in Twenty Thousand: Race Report of the Sporting Life 10K (Guest Post)

Running has never been my forte. That’s probably why I keep doing itbecause I refuse not to be good at things. Sometimes it feels like a fight with my body; other times, it feels like we’ve made an amicable alliance. The self-love of it comes from being able to get my shoes tied and my legs moving, and from luxuriating in the afterglow of sweat, sore muscles, and a redeeming record of my efforts on my fitness tracker, but by no means does it feel like love every step of the way.

As a female on the larger side, I feel an unending urge to push past what people would expect of me. It’s easier to train to run 15 kilometres (as I attempted last Fall) or to ride your bike 600 km over six days than it is to lose 4.5 honey badgers. Goals of distance and increased fitness are not only more measurable and achievable for me; they’re more enjoyable. They signify self-care more than any other method I’ve tested to date.

This year I completed my third official 10K run with the Sporting Life 10K in Toronto. It is worth emphasizing that this is advertised as a “run” and not a “race” (you can even walk it if you’d like to sign up for the last corral). This is a run that’s predominantly downhill where you can expect personal bests, surrounded by people in your speed-category, in a low-pressure, no-competition environment (as most charity-organized events are). For a number of participants, this run/walk isn’t about physical endurance—it holds its significance specifically for its link to support a camp for children with cancer.

preview three years shirts and medals

This run happens every year on Mother’s Day. Despite this regularity, the last three years have been met with drastically different temperatures—an unseasonable heat wave, blisteringly cold winds, and a chilly sun-mist-rain-repeat, respectively. Training early in the season in Canada is a challenge if you’re fragile when it comes to cold temperatures like myself (I recently slept in eight layers of shirts and three pairs of socks for a camping night that reached a low of 7 degrees Celsius). For me, running in the cold and rain in the eight weeks leading up to mid-May is always a nightmare. As such, I’ve been under-trained for this 10K for the last three years.

The first time I ran with a friend who was equally unprepared. There was comfort in our solidarity, particularly embarking on this scary long-distance challenge that neither of us had previously attempted. By some twist of fate, we managed to finish in less than an hour and a half (experienced runners might smirk at that speed, but for us, it was a feat!).

The last two years, I ran solo within a crowd of 20,000+ people. As an introvert, it felt oddly electric. I don’t like to run with music, so being surrounded by the march of feet and chatter of those who chose to run with friends was an ambient comfort. It was a quiet, mass solidarity.

Crossing the finish line, runners are met with a sociable welcome of volunteers of all ages holding finisher’s medals, electrolytes, bagels and bananas, and thousands of sunny faces of satisfaction of those who broke personal records, supported friends or family members, or were just happy to have completed the distance.

While I know that I don’t need an organized run to go outside and run 10 kilometres, it’s that push that I’m completing something for a reason bigger than myself that makes it possible. It also gives me a solid goal that I can pen on my calendar that I know I can’t erase.

Apart from being a benchmark that I can set for myself each year, it’s an atmosphere that’s difficult to replicate anywhere else. I don’t know where else I can find 20,000 people to run with that I can smile and nod to without requisite conversation.

Each year I’ve managed to chop about five minutes off my overall time (this year thanks to a run/walk training strategy), my legs a little more prepared and my feet less blistered, and I feel like I belong. I am one of those 20,000 sunny faces at the finish line, medal in one hand and bagel in the other. Next year, I hope to be five minutes faster.

10k finisher selfie

Vanessa is an editor and communicator in the field of health and wellness. She enjoys travelling, cycling, and photography.