The Power of Friends: Ottawa Marathon 2021 Race Report

Where do I start …

On Saturday, May 29 I ran the Ottawa Marathon. The net of it: I got it done; I had the time of my life; and (once again) I was reminded of the power of friends. This post will focus almost entirely on the latter.

But first: I’m delighted to report that I exceeded my fundraising goal for the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health! When I started this journey, I committed to raising $4,220 for the Royal – far exceeding any other amount I’ve raised on my own for a running event. As of the date of this posting, I’ve managed to raise $4,457 (and counting!) to help the Royal help those in our community. Thanks to all those who have sponsored my run and are helping the Royal achieve its mission. For those who might still wish to donate, the donation window is open until June 21, and my fundraising page is here: https://raceroster.com/events/2021/34303/tamarack-ottawa-virtual-race-weekend-2021/pledge/participant/10761112.

And second, for the data nerds: I finished in 4:08:46, which was 1 minute, 14 seconds ahead of my plan. Over 42.2km, that’s not bad. I tried to stay on my target pace of 5:55/km … and managed to finish with an average pace of 5:54/km. My running coach Rick once called me “the metronome” for my consistency; I think I lived up to that moniker on Saturday!

Running a marathon is hard; running it alone with no crowd is far more challenging. I’ve done long runs solo before. Let’s be honest – in COVID times it’s been pretty easy to practice the discipline. And to be truthful, I actually enjoy solo long runs: it’s just me, my breathing and my feet. Running alone for stretches of time helps me shake loose my daily anxieties (I have many) and stressors, and just be in the moment.

But running 42.2km continuously, alone, is much tougher (spoiler: this is the segue to the power of good friends).

In the last few weeks leading up to my run, many friends reached out to me: how are you doing? Do you need any help on race day? Do you want some company? Can I help you with water or fuel? Just let me know! This was a common refrain.

At first, I gratefully declined the offers because I initially planned to run the marathon on my own. But the more I thought about it, I realized that I’d still be doing the running myself; and I reminded myself that my friends were offering because they truly wanted to be there for me.

So I put the ego aside and started accepting my friends’ big-hearted generosity. Which is an excellent segue to my memories from my 2021 Ottawa Marathon. So … here we go:

  • 6:45am: I did a final check on my supplies, my GPS watch, setting up a live tracking link etc. I looked outside, and there is Brent Smyth. He had offered to ride his bike with me for the first 5k or so. He schlepped all the way from Blackburn to Carp, to see me off. What a guy.
  • 7:00am: go time! I wanted to start at 7:00:00, and managed to do so. If you know me well, this will not surprise you.
  • Brent rode alongside me for my first 7.2k or so … he kept me honest to my pace, at one point reminding me that I was running up a “false flat” – an uphill grade that doesn’t feel uphill, yet will tax you if you try to keep your pace up. So I reined it in. Brent: thank you for all that you do, for so many.
  • Shortly after Brent and I parted company, I heard a familiar voice to my right on Old Second Line Road … it was Michelle Hughes, pulling up beside me in her vehicle to see how I was doing and ask if I needed any water/Nuun top-ups yet. I was good, so she promised to see me later and went ahead.
  • For a while, I ran alone – along Terry Fox Drive, Innovation Drive, and then to Hines Road (where my company’s office is). On Hines Road, there was Michelle again – with a home-made sign that picked me up and promised all sorts of treats (of the sugary variety) if I needed them. Again, I was doing fine at that point (about 11.8k in) but I thanked Michelle and kept going.
  • About 100m later, there was Lara Winnemore, cheering me on at the corner of Solandt and March Road. We had a brief exchange across the road as I ran by.
  • I then headed southeast on March Road toward the Watts Creek Pathway. Both Michelle and Lara honked as they drove down March Road, to give me a little bit of a lift.
  • At the corner of March Road and Herzberg, I crossed over to the west side of March Road to pick up the bike path that would lead me to Penfield Drive and connect to the Watts Creek Pathway. There, waiting for me on their bikes, were my dear friends Peter and Helen Smith. I met Peter in first-year university (gulp – 39 years ago!). Peter and Helen rode with me along the bike path and Penfield, to the Watts Creek Pathway.
  • As I ran under March Road and joined up to Watts Creek, there were Michelle and Lara again! Michelle had set up a station with a bottle of Nuun, a bottle of water and undoubtedly a load of other stuff – again, not because I needed it but because I could have (BTW Michelle: if there is ever an apocalypse, I want you in MY corner).
Michelle (foreground) and Lara – at the Watts Creek Pathway
  • I continued along Watts Creek for about a kilometre and was delighted to see my old running friend Dennis Jackson waiting for me. We met 10 years ago running together for Team in Training. He is an astoundingly-talented photographer and he was there to capture me at one of the quieter points of the route. As a result, I have some outstanding professional-grade photos from my run. Thanks, Dennis!
Watts Creek Pathway … photo courtesy of Dennis Jackson
  • A couple of kilometres later, I passed under the bridge that popped me out onto the Carling Avenue side of the trail, and there waiting for me were my brother Tyler Shouldice and his wife Kim. This was a big surprise to me (in a very good way!) but I should not have been surprised, as Ty & Kim have always made an effort to be on my race routes for the marathons I’ve run. Ty & Kim would pop up at several other places on my route – and every time it was so great to see them!
  • Once the Watts Creek got to Moodie Drive, there again were Peter & Helen, Michelle, and Lara. At this point, I took a wee cup of Nuun from Michelle, and also had her top up my bottle. And away I went. I would see Michelle later. Peter, Helen and Lara: thank you so much for mixing up the North Kanata part of my journey!
Michelle (foreground) with Helen, Peter and Lara at Moodie Drive
  • Just before I emerged from the Watts Creek Pathway at Acres Road, another surprise: Cathy Christenson and her partner Dale were there to keep me going. Cathy has been my partner-in-crime in raising funds for the Royal for several years, and she and I have run together for even longer. I saw them again on the course, as well. Cathy & Dale – thank you so much!
  • And then, about 200m later, I connected with Dan Pak, who really needs no introduction in the Ottawa running community. Dan is ALWAYS there for runners doing their races. You can find him riding around on his bike, taking great photos, and also helping keep runners safe from cyclists and other traffic on the shared pathway. Dan traveled with me the rest of the way – which says a lot for his big heart and generous nature.
  • Once I crossed over to the Britannia side of Carling Avenue, the pathway became the Ottawa River Pathway – which would take me all the way downtown. A couple of kilometres later, I would meet up at Britannia Beach with Rob Rashotte. Rob, like Cathy, is a member of our “Sunday Run Club.” He gives me credit for giving him the running bug, and he definitely paid me back in spades during my marathon. At my request, he accompanied me from Britannia to Westboro Beach (this was the loneliest segment of my route, and it was great to have him alongside).
Rob keeping me company out of Britannia
  • Around the same time as meeting up with Rob, and with Dan still in tow, we met up with Sammi Walker. I’ve known Sammi for a couple of years now; she is Michelle’s best friend and I liked her the instant I met her. Sammi was on her bike and like Dan, she stuck with me for the balance of my marathon. She kept things light with her humour and infectious enthusiasm – not to mention her amazing selfie-while-looking-backwards-while-riding-her-bike skills.
Michelle with bike sherpas Sammi and Dan
  • Just before Westboro Beach, I saw a smiling Stefanie Kotschwar, who was running her own race that day, but timed it in hopes that she’d see me. It was so great to say hi as we crossed paths. Thanks Stefanie, for keeping an eye open!
  • Rob parted with us at the beach – but promised he’d catch up with me later, on his bike. After that, I ran about 2.5km on my own, with Sammi and Dan keeping the path clear for me, taking photos, and offering me any assistance I needed. Fortunately, I was still feeling pretty good, so it was smooth sailing at this point.
Sammi’s amazing selfie skills … Tracy and Dan behind
  • During this interval, Bill McGee – a longtime friend of mine from Nortel/Entrust and Trend Micro, passed by on his bike going the other way. Bill yelled my name so I took notice, which was great; interestingly, this was the second time in three weeks that we crossed paths at that part of the pathway. Later that day, Bill made a very generous donation to the Royal, which I was so very grateful for – thanks, Bill!
  • Then, I approached the Island Park Drive bridge … which to me was a key milepost: it meant I was (finally) entering the “core” of Ottawa and I’d start to see more people and other distractions, to help me pass the time and keep the negative self-talk at bay. That’s when I got the biggest surprise of the run: after I emerged from the tunnel under the bridge, there was my 20-year-old son, Reid Shouldice. Unknown to me, Reid had decided to run part of my route with me. He simply smiled, said “hey!” and started running with me. Reid ran from Island Park Drive to the Lemieux Island facility. My heart was singing.
Reid running with his Dad 🙂
  • The next milepost of significance was at Remic Rapids. I had told some folks that his would likely be a good place to top up my water bottle, hopefully one last time. And there, ready to see me, was Michelle again – with her bottle of Nuun, bottle of water and snacks ready and waiting. She offered me all sorts of sugary snacks, but my stomach issued a big nope to those. Michelle had Dixie cups of water & Nuun ready for a quick drink. At this point, I was already sugared out (I was ingesting maple syrup every 6km as fuel) so I chose to drink a bit of water and asked Michelle to top up my bottle with same. Also at Remic, my good Run Ottawa friend Ron McBride was waiting, ready to finish my run with me. I thought he would be on his bike but he came out ready to run. It was welcome company, because I knew from experience that while there was less than 10k to go, it would be the most challenging 10k.
Ron keeping me company for my last 10k
  • Also joining me here was my sister-from-another-mister and fellow running ginger Sandy MacLeod. Sandy and I have only known each other since 2015 (we ran the Chicago Marathon together that fall as a fundraiser for Imerman Angels) but she is a kindred spirit and I feel like I’ve known her all of my life. Sandy has made a point of checking in with me throughout my training, and it has meant a lot to me. Sandy was on her bike and ready to go, with cowbells! So off we all went. Dan, Sammi, Ron and Reid stayed on the path with me, and Sandy took the high road on the Parkway for a different vantage point.
  • Less than a kilometre later I heard, “hey Tracy – go!” I turned and looked back, and there was Christian Mellows. He works at my company, and in 2019 as part of the Xtra Mile Crew, I helped him finish his first marathon in brutal heat. Christian also gave generously to the Royal. We only spoke for about 5-10 seconds but it was so great to see him!
  • Shortly after we saw Christian, Reid got to his finish point – and there waiting for him & me was my amazing wife Bonnie Peebles, along with our dog Karra. It was so good to see Bonnie’s beaming smile (if you know Bonnie, you know what I’m referring to). I thanked Reid for his wonderful surprise, waved to Bonnie and Karra, and Ron and I continued along the pathway.
  • Next, as we approached the Prince of Wales railway bridge, we were joined by Clark Carvish. Clark is an amazing guy who is always volunteering at events and helping his running friends. Clark and I went to the same high school back in the late 70s/early 80s! He was on his bike and was ready to see me through to the end. So now I had a pretty impressive entourage: Dan, Sammi, Clark and Sandy on bike, and Ron on foot. Any lingering thoughts I had about running alone were completely gone now – it is SO great to have a crew with you – I highly recommend it!
  • Things were starting to get real when we got to the War Museum (36k) – not really surprising as this is when a lot of marathoners hit a wall. I remember as we approached the museum that the bottoms of my feet were starting to complain (I tend to run mid/forefoot so the pads of my feet can get pretty sore). The good news was that other than that, I was feeling pretty good! My calves were a tad tight and my quads were tired, but there was no pain … which was a good thing, because in some of my training runs I had encountered pain in my left quad and IT band.
  • Ron and I ran up Wellington Street on the south side (fewer people and, most important, SHADE). When we got to the Terry Fox statue as we approached Metcalfe Street, there were Clark and Sandy, who had gone ahead to set up a photo. While at that point I couldn’t stop (you never, EVER want to stop in the last 10k of a marathon!), I definitely absorbed the meaning of that moment. In my opinion Fox is THE quintessential Canadian hero (I’m still hopeful he’ll end up on the new $5 bill) and thinking about him put any pain/discomfort that I had at the moment on a very distant back burner. It’s amazing how a selfless and courageous young man can still have that kind of impact, 40 years later.
Taking a moment to remember and reflect upon Terry Fox
  • From there, Ron and I traversed to Elgin, down Elgin Street to the NAC, and then down the NAC ramp to the Rideau Canal. Now we were in the final stretch, with 4km to go. It would be an out-and-back down the Canal to about Linden Terrace, and then back.
  • We approached Lisgar Collegiate on the Canal pathway and there were some of my peeps – including Run Ottawa besties Suzanne Robertson, Lisa Georges and Vicki Bencze, cheering me on. I believe Michelle was also there at this time (but to be honest, my memory gets foggy at this point). And rejoining my entourage here was Rob – this time not running, but on his bike.
  • My goal at this point was to stay focused on the task at hand. I did the math (note: I am really good at math, but 38.5k into a marathon, even simple arithmetic can be a challenge): I had to run out another 1.85km, turn, and then come home for the finish at Lisgar. I checked the math in my head about five times, to make sure it was right. Sammi, Dan, Clark, Sandy and Rob were offering encouragement from their bikes (apologies now if I seemed oblivious – I was not!). And Ron just kept alongside – respecting my pace, offering gentle encouragement and letting me finish my race the way I wanted to.
  • As we approached the Pretoria Bridge, Ron mentioned that he needed to use the porta-potty so he would do that and wait for me to return and finish the run with me. I told him that was a good plan, and he peeled off (note: remember this point, for later). For the next 1.5k or so, I ran on my own on the path, with Dan, Clark, Sammi, Sandy and Rob offering support from their bikes. I got to Linden Terrace – the turnaround point, and ran onto Queen Elizabeth Driveway for the home stretch (it was closed to pedestrian/bike traffic). This way, I would be able to run the same last finishing stretch as I would normally run in the marathon, from the Pretoria Bridge to Lisgar Collegiate. It became clear at this point that I was going to make it – I was still feeling pretty good, all things considered. My strategy of keeping to a moderate pace and hydrating regularly had worked.
  • All I remember in the last 1.5km was a montage of: my friends surrounding me and offering encouragement; Sammi and Dan checking on how I was doing physically and using their bikes to keep a bit of a perimeter of space around me; Clark riding behind me and telling me to imagine the crowd screaming; Rob and Sandy yelling out their support; and Sandy ringing her cowbells. And then, the last 300m or so – hearing Lisa, Suzanne, Vicki and Michelle screaming – also with bells and an awesome horn (thanks, Lisa – that horn was AMAZING!). And then, at the Somerset Bridge, Reid again – to finish with me. I tear up as I write this – such amazing, amazing friends and family.
I mean, seriously: look at this finish crew! THANK YOU ALL!!!
  • At the end, we all celebrated under the shade of a beautiful tree, Canal-side. I was joined again by Bonnie and Karra. And one more welcome surprise: my good friend Steve Keenan – whom I’ve literally known since we were toddlers – came out to celebrate the finish. Suzanne – bless her heart – had a cold Sunsplit IPA ready for me (she knows me SO well). Michelle gave me the best blue freezie I ever had. Lisa had SuzyQ donuts (I had to wait a while to eat mine, but it was delicious). Sandy and Suzanne both gave me finisher bags with beer, carbs and salty snacks. And Lisa put my finisher’s medal around my neck (which was really cool, because a week prior I had done the same for her).
Lisa awarding me my bling
A very happy marathoner … note the brewski
  • Funny finish anecdote #1: remember Ron? He waited on the Canal pathway for me to return, but I chose to run back on QE Driveway. Oops. By the time he realized I had taken the road, it was too late – he tried his best but couldn’t catch up to me (which I guess means that I finished strong!). Sorry, Ron – I’m an idiot and the brain is a tad foggy at the end of the run.
  • Funny finish anecdote #2: as I was right near the end, a car goes by me on my left, pretty closely. I remember saying to Reid, “what the F***?” because QE Driveway is closed. Reid told me after, “Dad, that part of the road wasn’t closed – that was a car going around you.” I was running down the middle of an open roadway. Again, I’ll blame the brain fog.

Done. 42.2k of running. Five months of training, 714km (68 hours) of running logged along the way. Most important: $4,457 raised for the Royal, to help people in our community.

A journey which far exceeded the distance I ran on May 29, thanks to my amazing, generous and giving family, friends and colleagues … and to all those who came out and supported me on race day.

I may well be the luckiest man on this earth. I love you all and I owe you so much.

–Tracy

So Many Thank-yous

It’s only six days before I step out my front door and begin a journey that should take between four and five hours, yet represents a much longer journey that started over four years ago.

If you know me well, you likely know that I raise awareness and funding for the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health each spring, as part of my participation in Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend (TORW). As runners, we are fortunate that TORW includes a charitable-giving component – the Scotiabank Charity Challenge – in which any runner can dedicate their race to a worthy cause and fundraise for that cause as they train.

COVID times have been hard … and particularly so on the charity sector. People are struggling to keep things going day-to-day. Some are out of work – and have been, for some time. Some support multiple kids in home-based school, on top of their “normal” jobs. And some have lost family, friends and colleagues to the pandemic. So it’s not altogether surprising that charitable giving might be taking a back seat.

But not you, TORW runners. Oh, no – not you. Because: YOU. ARE. AMAZING.

To wit: in 2019, there were well over 31,000 runners in TORW – and almost $800,000 was raised for participating charities. That’s pretty impressive – about $25.80 per runner. Fast forward to 2021: there are far fewer TORW participants due to COVD – around 6,000 at the time of my writing this – and they’ve raised over $600,000 so far – with a month left to go in the fundraising window. That’s $100 per runner, or 4x what was raised per runner in 2019. Absolutely astounding.

On a more personal level: as I have since 2017, I am raising funds for the Royal. And given that I was to run the 42.2km marathon this year, I decided to set a big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG) of $4,220 in donations in support of my run. As I write this, I’m at $3,852.20 and counting. I’m about to raffle off a beautiful wool blanket made by my good friend Cathy, and I’m sure proceeds from that will put me over the top.

So a HUGE thank-you is due to all of my amazing and wonderful family, friends and colleagues who have given so generously to the Royal. Your support will ensure that the Royal will continue to deliver critical services to our community: clinical in- and outpatient services for those in immediate need; research into the functioning of the brain; and advocacy for those who suffer from mental-health challenges and who are frequently underrepresented.

Here are some other thank-yous, since I’ve got your attention anyway:

  • Front-line medical professionals: doctors, nurses, interns, orderlies, volunteers … you have all kept us going and have gone FAR above and beyond … for far longer than any of us ever expected. Thank you.
  • Teachers: I don’t know how you’ve done it. With so many shifts/pivots between synchronous and asynchronous virtual classes in addition to in-school vs remote teaching, it would be easy to thrown in the towel … but you haven’t. And let’s all remember that demographically, many teachers are young women who also take primary care of their own children.
  • Emergency services workers: police, fire, paramedics. Always there when needed, and very often in circumstances not conducive to their own mental wellness. Kudos.
  • Retail & hospitality sector workers: you’ve put up with a lot. And you were far from the front of the queue when vaccinations started … due to your age, for the most part. Thank you for keeping shelves stocked with essential items for the rest of us. Thank you for getting us access to services we needed, where and when we needed them. Thank you for helping us when we were stressed and confused about COVID protocols and simply how to get from A to B.
  • Researchers and scientists: we may owe you the largest thanks of all. Thanks to you, there is a path out of this pandemic. And this, less than a year after it hit. Things could be much, much worse. Yay science.
  • Single parents: these are the people I try to think of when I start wallowing in my own privileged definition of hardship. You want to know who is suffering most? Think of the young, single parent (again – likely female) with 2 or 3 young children, trying to hold things together financially while raising a family on their own. Thank you for your efforts to keep your families whole.

As I make my way from Carp to downtown Ottawa next Saturday, I will be thinking of all of you amazing people – especially when things start to feel tough (usually around the 35k mark!) … because you are all my heroes and will inspire me to finish.

–Tracy

PIVOT!

Hello again.

If there is a word which has become part of the COVID vernacular, it’s “pivot.” In the last 15 months or so, everything has changed … and continues to change. Remember wiping down all of your grocery bags and wearing disposable rubber gloves everywhere? Remember when wearing a mask was NOT considered an effective measure? Remember the Great Sanitizer and Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020? Remember sourdough bread and “starter madness?” Tiger King? Tie-dyed shirts? Jigsaw puzzles? And ALL of the “challenges” on Facebook? It seems every month there was something new as people redefined their daily existence.

Been there. Done that.

Change is hard. And it can be exhausting. Especially for those like me who find comfort in the familiar, and tend to get anxious when faced with “adventure.”

But as a species we are resilient and have adapted to changing conditions. We now have four vaccines – FOUR! – that came out in about one year’s time … when typically it would take several years to come up with even a single vaccine for a disease. We now know that surfaces are relatively weak as a COVID transmission vector – but droplets from our mouths and noses are the main culprit. So now we (well, the reasonable “we” I suppose) are getting vaccinated and continue to wear masks to contain community spread.

Our family has pivoted in the last year as well … I’ve been working from home for 14 months now … long days of seemingly endless Zoom calls. No business travel (not gonna lie: that’s more like a blessing in disguise). We got a puppy last July, which makes working from home … “interesting.” My son has been schooling from home since last March – again, not ideal, but he has adapted well. The hardest part, I think, has been the social isolation … not seeing family and friends throughout all of this has been very difficult … but I see a light at the end of that tunnel. I believe that by Labour Day we’ll be in a much better place than we are right now.

From a running perspective, I’ve had to pivot as I train up for the Ottawa Marathon (which I originally planned to run on May 22). I have had a niggling foot issue – in the metatarsal area under my left foot, to be precise – which shut me down from running for 7-10 days at a time, twice since early March. Normally this would not be a big deal … but when you are on a tight training plan for a marathon, this can really mess with your preparedness.

But I did the right thing – I saw a PT, trusted her knowledge/advice and suspended training to heal. It wasn’t easy. I hated not being able to lace up and get outside – especially during some of the beautiful April weather we had in Ottawa. But the strategy worked and I healed.

I also decided to bump my marathon date back by a week. So I’m now on a path to a marathon on May 29. That date will not change, unless something unforeseen happens – in which case, I suppose I’ll pivot again.

I’m running my marathon to raise awareness and funds for the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health. The Royal conducts research into the brain, provides clinical services for those in our community who have mental-health challenges, and advocates for those who suffer from mental-health issues and need a voice. If you would consider supporting my effort with a donation to the Royal, my fundraising page is here: https://raceroster.com/events/2021/34303/tamarack-ottawa-virtual-race-weekend-2021/pledge/participant/10761112.

Thank you!

–Tracy

Bumps in the Road

So … last week as part of my training fo the Ottawa Marathon in May, I had to do a long slow run (or “LSR” in running circles) of 25k. To those who run marathons, a 25k LSR is not that big of a deal – in fact, it becomes a short run as you build up endurance for the marathon effort over time. For me, it was a bit bigger deal in that I hadn’t run a marathon since May of 2017. In fact, my longest run over the last six months was about 22k, on New Year’s Eve. So yeah, this was kind of a big deal.

I deliberately decided to use part of my marathon route for my LSR. I figured it would give me some good feet-on-ground experience with the route so that in May it would feel familiar – not just the path, but the ups & downs that go with it … and the progress markers I’d see as I ticked off each kilometre.

Here’s my marathon route:

The part of the route I planned to run would start at the 15km mark shown on the map. Specifically: at the entrance to the Watt Creek Pathway at Corkstown Road, about 30m east of March Road. From there, I’d wend my way northeast about 12.5k. This would take me roughly to the other side of the Mud Lake area in Britannia; at that point, the plan was to turn around and head back.

And it was a PERFECT day for running, in my books: about 5C, overcast, light breeze. For this ginger runner, ideal conditions! Look how happy and excited I was. No, really – just LOOK:

SOOOOO HAPPY.

But I was about to hit two bumps in the road … metaphorically speaking, of course 🙂

The first challenge came at about the 21k mark on the map above (or, about 6km into my 25k route) This is where the Watt Creek Pathway pops you out at Moodie Drive. I would wait for the light (of course, ALWAYS) and cross Moodie Drive to continue on the Watt Creek Pathway as it snaked toward Holly Acres Road and the Bayshore area. After that, I would cross Carling Avenue and connect with the Ottawa River Pathway … which would take me downtown on the rest of my marathon journey in May. But … when I crossed Moodie Drive, this was what I was met with:

Ummm, no s***, Sherlock.

So … unless I sprouted scales/fins and learned to breathe underwater, this path was not for me. Not that day, anyway. The obvious next move: PIVOT!

But here’s where if you know me well, you’d know that at this point, I was anxious (and truth be told, a tad irked). If you don’t know me well: I’m a planner. As in, *everything* should have a plan. Call it what you will … perhaps my inner Sheldon. But I digress. Suddenly, only about 6km into my 25km run, I no longer had a route. I’m pleased to report that after about only 30 seconds of thought, I turned left and ran north on Moodie Drive to Carling Avenue. I realized that because I was running an out-and-back route instead of a loop, I really didn’t need to stick to the plan.

So yay me, for being able to get past the moment, think calmly, adapt to the situation and move on. If you don’t suffer from anxiety, you may not fully appreciate this little victory. The ability to “get out of the moment” and cope is actually a good skill for all of us as we navigate the metaphorical LSR of life.

So, off I went. It turns out that my detour made the 12.5k turnaround point right at Mud Lake (instead of past it). So I made a U-turn and started my trip back to my car, with a bit of a cool breeze in my face. All good.

At about 15k, though, my left leg started complaining … as in, some pain started in the hamstring (from a long-ago strain) and referred down the leg. It was annoying, but not awful: runners deal with stuff like this all the time, especially older runners like me. I reminded myself to take it easy, slow my pace a bit, and concentrate on my form – especially that of my core and upper body. This helped, for a while.

But when I hit about 19k, the bottom of my foot started complaining. This was new, and troubling: when you are a runner and the bottom of your feet hurt, all of the fun of running kind of disappears. And at this point, I’m still 6k away from my car. What do I do? Do I walk the final 6k – which would take about 75min instead of the 32min or so it would take to run? Do I call my wife or son for a lift back to my car? Or do I just tough it out? I opted for the latter. You know: “Just keep swimming.” Except instead of swimming, I’m running. And instead of enjoying a nice float through the warm waters of the Great Barrier Reef, every second step I’m reminded of how not-fun this is.

But I persevered, and made it back to my car. And was pleasurably distracted by some nice scenery along the way:

Ommmmmmmmm

The last couple of kilometres were actually quite bearable, and almost pleasant – probably because psychologically I knew I was close to the end. Marathons are like that, too – you suffer so much after 35k into the race (well, those of us not born in Kenya, Ethiopia or Somalia do), but in the last couple of clicks you tend to find it in yourself to get the job done and keep your eye on the prize. Mind over matter.

So now I am taking a week or so off to rest and heal, when I should be piling on more kilometres. The only saving grace in this situation is that I’m not looking to “race” my marathon in May – I’m going to run it for fun, meet some friends along the way (COVID protocols permitting) and enjoy the journey. Normally I’d run a marathon in just under four hours. This time, it will likely be 4:30 or longer. But that’s OK.

And by the way: my marathon date has been set! I’ll head off the morning of Saturday, May 22 (bad-weather backup date: Sunday, May 23). I’m running to raise funds and awareness for the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health. If you would consider sponsoring my run with a donation to the Royal, I’d greatly appreciate it – as would those in our community who benefit from the Royal’s research, clinical services, and advocacy for those who often do not have a voice. Donate here. Thank you so much!

–Tracy

42.2km for Mental Health

Hello friends!

Well, 2020 was a year for the ages. It started normally enough. Personally, I was fortunate enough to travel to Japan for a business trip in January and see a part of the world I had not seen prior. But things changed – quickly – in mid-March, when the WHO declared the COVID pandemic and we all went home for a wee timeout. Many thought it would last a couple of weeks to a month; I thought we’d be on the other side by July.

And yet here we are, over a year later. Still in various states of lockdown/restriction. Frustrating. Annoying. Sometimes anger-inducing.

And I’m one of the lucky ones. I am relatively healthy (I’ve actually managed to lose 15 pounds during COVID). I have a stable/paying job that allows me to work from my comfortable home. I have a wife, son and puppy who love me and help me get through my days. Look up “privilege” in the dictionary, and there I am.

I cannot fathom what it must be like for those who are more vulnerable: people who have lost their job or must put themselves at risk, every day, to pay for food and shelter; single parents who are somehow keeping a job AND teaching their children from home; people trying to manage the lives both of their own families and of aging, vulnerable parents; and people who struggle daily with mental-health challenges, on top of everything else.

So this year, again, I will run for the Royal. In May, I’m going to run the Ottawa Marathon (42.2km) to raise funds and awareness for the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health.

My big, hairy audacious goal (BHAG) is to raise $4,220 for this worthy organization as part of Ottawa Race Weekend’s Scotiabank Charity Challenge.

2020 and 2021 have not been good years for charities. Face-to-face fundraising events have disappeared; and virtual events are everywhere, creating a lot of competition for people’s attention. Charities are scrambling to find funding to continue their operations and achieve the good they do for our society.

So with your help, we’ll help the Royal continue to deliver mental health care, advocacy, research, and education services that will transform the lives of people in our region who live with complex and treatment-resistant mental illnesses.

A lot of people ask me how long a marathon is. Here is the route I’ll take – from my front door in Carp to Ottawa City Hall on Elgin Street – to give you a sense of the journey:

https://www.mapmyrun.com/routes/view/4080651916

My goal this time around is not to run this marathon quickly; instead, I’ll take my time and enjoy every step of the journey … for my own mental health. I have already had good friends offer to meet me along my route – to provide me with water and encouragement. Others have offered to run part of the route with me. I am so very fortunate to have friends like this.

But not all of us share my good fortune – which is why I’m doing this. Along the way – as I train and ultimately run the distance in May – I will remind myself of the tens of thousands of people in our region who struggle with mental-health challenges every day, and need the help of the Royal to meet those challenges (fact: the Royal connects with over 62,000 clients and families yearly). So your support will make a big difference in the lives of so many people in our region.

As I near my marathon date in May, I’ll keep you all apprised of my progress and provide more information on the Royal and what it does for our community.

For now: will you help me to help the Royal? Please consider a donation – any amount will be gratefully appreciated. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Click here to access my fundraising page:

https://raceroster.com/events/2021/34303/tamarack-ottawa-virtual-race-weekend-2021/pledge/participant/10761112

Thank you so very much.

–Tracy

Challenging Times, Helping Others

Hi, all – and thanks for the visit.

Toward the end of 2016, I made a decision to fundraise for the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health.  If you know me, you probably know the story.  Simply put, this organization helps those who need it – by providing clinical services, doing impactful research on the brain in the context of mental health, and advocating for mental health & wellness initiatives.

RHC

Fast forward to 2020.  I cannot think of a period in my lifetime – literally – when the work done by the incredible people at the Royal is more critical … right here, and right now.

The world is dealing with an existential crisis.  People are sick, in alarming numbers, with no end in sight.  Many are losing their jobs.  Life-long savings are worth a fraction of what they were worth only a week ago.  Children and youth are feeling every bit of the anxiety around them, but don’t know how to cope with it.  All of this puts incredible pressure on people, and many do not have the resources to cope.

The Royal continues to be there for those who need it … by reaching out to the community, offering tips and tools for coping with the stress, and providing critical services for those with an acute need, who have nowhere else to turn.

I will run the Ottawa Half Marathon on May 24, again to raise funds for the Royal.  The actual race event may or may not happen; regardless, I’m going to run 21.1km – solo, if need be – on that day.  I would ask you to support the Royal by making a donation to my run, no matter how big or small.

I am incredibly fortunate to have a home, food on my table, and stable employment.  I suffer from stress and anxiety, and both have absolutely ratcheted up of late.  But I have people I can turn to, and the means to get professional help if I need it.

Many, many people do not have this luxury.  This is a time where we need to come together, and to help others.

Will you help?  If so, please go here and make whatever contribution you can – with thanks, from the bottom of my heart.

–Tracy

So, You’re Training for Your First Half-Marathon …

Hello all!  It’s been a while since I’ve posted.  But it’s January – the time of year when all runners start to turn their attention to the spring racing season.  Ottawa is no exception:  despite the -40C windchill outside today, you’re all starting to consider the road to Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend (TORW).  And many of you start your training plan in the next week or two.

Full disclosure:  I started running relatively late in life compared to most – I ran my first half in 2010, at the age of 46.  Since then, I’ve run many halfs … 14 that are officially documented on Sportstats, a couple of Hypothermic Halfs (that aren’t on Sportstats), and a few out-of-country “destination” halfs (Red Rock Canyon, Dublin, and Richmond, VA).  I’ve also notched three full marathons (Ottawa twice, and Chicago once).  I’ve run halfs in -30C windchills (see “hypothermic” above) and in 35C humidexes (especially the Army Half of 2016 – ugh!) … so you could say that I’m “battle-hardened.”

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It was -25C, before windchill, when I ran this Hypothermic Half a few years back.  My mouth is open; I’m likely swearing.

I thought that as a public service, I’d post a few tips, especially for those who are attempting their first half in 2019.  Most of these also apply if you are training for a full; both are distance runs, and a degree of discipline and planning is required if you wish to finish the race and be happy with the result.

So here they are, in no particular order – with the caveat that I am neither a trainer nor a nutritionist.  “Your mileage may vary.”

GOAL-SETTING & PLANNING

Set a realistic goal.  A good rule of thumb, if you don’t know what’s reasonable, would be to take your typical 10k finish time, double it, and then add about 20 minutes.  Are you a 50-minute 10k runner?  Then 50×2 = 100, plus 20 = 120 minutes.  So you could reasonably expect to finish a half in two hours.  Put another way:  if you have never done a 50-minute 10k, do not try a sub-2:00 half, because you will likely end the race disappointed in the result – and maybe in yourself.  And who wants that?  If you want to try something a bit more scientific, you can consult the free McMillan Running Calculator.  If you have a good sense of what your typical 10k time is, you can enter it and the calculator will spit out your expected pace/splits for a half.  It’s pretty good.

goal

Create a plan.  You can get these online, or you can consult a running coach.  I can tell you, based on my experience, that for a half you’ll need to do at least three runs a week:  an intervals run (where you run at challenging/fast paces for multiple, short distances); a tempo run (a “comfortably hard” pace that you could sustain for about an hour), and a long/slow run (where you deliberately run comfortably and more slowly than your race pace, for progressively longer distances as you train).  If you can fit in a fourth run per week (typically a second tempo run), so much the better.  Everyone is different, but the weekly cadence that worked most effectively for me was:

  • Tuesday:  intervals (typically about 45 minutes in total, comprising many sets of intervals with rest periods built in).  Interval pace can vary from your race pace, to faster-than-your-5k pace.
  • Thursday:  tempo run (typically about 50 minutes).
  • Saturday:  tempo run (typically about 40-45 minutes) – or strength work (see below).
  • Sunday:  long/slow run (distance based – build up from a 10k base and get up to about 20k).

If you have the time, work strength training into your off days.  Especially core and upper-body, because these parts of your body will get you through the last 2km or so, when your legs start to give up the ghost and the lactic acid takes its toll.  Someone once told me that your legs will get you most of the way, but your core and upper body will see you to the finish line.  If you only have four days per week to work out, I would personally recommend only three runs (i.e., drop a tempo run) so you can do strength on the fourth day.

Commit to – and stick to – the plan.  You simply can’t skip training runs, if you want to meet your goal.  This is an endurance event you are training for – so you can’t get away with good intentions – you’ve gotta do the time.  The only exceptions here would be an injury or some sort of significant illness.  Otherwise, do the runs – all of them.  If the weather is bad, find a treadmill.  If you are under the weather, but not totally down & out, try to do the run, but perhaps a bit shorter or with a bit less intensity.  Get to a point where the weekly run cadence is engrained in your head and immutable.

Plan the run, and run the plan.  I cannot overstate the importance of this one, simple piece of wisdom.  In running circles, people regularly say it – but not many of us heed it, especially in the first big race.  Having diligently having trained for the race, we explode with enthusiasm and burst out of the start like we are Captain America, at least 30s/km faster than we’ve ever run in our lives.  In a 5k or 10k race, that will definitely come back to bite you – but you’ll get away with it, and probably finish.  For a half or full, however, you could actually blow up and not finish the race.  If your plan is geared toward a 6:00/km average pace, force yourself – especially in the first 3km – to run no faster than that pace.  Trust me:  watch your GPS like a hawk, and trust the plan and your training.

stwm 2012

The 2012 Scotiabank Half-Marathon in Toronto.  My (fairly ambitious – but achievable) goal was 1:40:00 or less.  The clock here reflected gun time, not my time.  I finished in 1:39:53, thanks to committing to my goal, watching my pace (note Garmin GPS on left wrist) and sticking with my training.  And I also acknowledge my coach yelling at me on course.

Be careful with your long/slow run distance.  As a rule of thumb, you should not increase the distance of a long run by more than 10% or so in any given week.  Otherwise, you risk injury.  You may want to push it a bit, at first, but trust me:  your long runs will eventually get long enough – so be patient!

Long/slow runs are just that:  long, SLOW runs.  I made this mistake in my early training.  I ran all my long runs at roughly race pace.  It felt like I could, so I did.  I remember my coach, after reviewing my training log, telling me something along the lines of, “you can’t run all your runs at race pace – would you normally run a race four times in a week?”  Again, you’ll risk injury by doing this.  Personally, my slow pace ended up being about 20s/km slower than my goal pace.

tortoise

Long … SLOW … runs.

GADGETS & MUSIC

If possible, get a GPS watch.  You can’t know how you are doing if you don’t check in regularly vs. your goal pace.  Having a GPS watch is your best chance of staying on target.  If you don’t currently have one and can afford it, buy one; if not, perhaps borrow one from a friend … and train with it.  Many runners use their phone’s GPS, but I would caution that phones can be inaccurate at times:  based on my friends’ anecdotal experience, mobile phone apps tend to overstate your pace and/or distance a bit (i.e., making you think you ran more quickly and/or longer than you actually did).  But a phone GPS is better than no GPS.

Or, go low-tech.  If a GPS isn’t in the cards, you can purchase a pace band that shows elapsed time for each kilometre of your run, for a given distance and goal time (you can get these at most running stores like Running Room).  With a pace band, you can check progress against your watch based on elapsed time for a given distance, instead of having to check pace in the moment.  The downside of this approach is that you’ll have fewer opportunities to “check in” … and it could be a bit trickier to correct if you drift from the plan, because you find out later.

Consider no music.  I fully realize that some runners would call this heresy.  I personally do not listen to music when I run.  I eschew tunes because I like to clear my head while running, and I like to listen to my foot cadence and breathing as part of that experience.  It’s really my only chance to “zone out” and be a bit mindful, and I take full advantage.  It is also a safer practice – because you will not be distracted by music when running and can readily hear other runners, approaching bikes, cars, etc.  I realize you may not subscribe to this philosophy, but perhaps try it sometime.  Plus, if you adopt this approach, on race day you’ll get to hear all the people cheering – there’s nothing better!

THE PHYSICAL STUFF

Learn to use fuel.  Experiment during training with different types of fuel.  I prefer chews (similar to gummies), but some prefer gels or the newer maple syrup-based products that provide the needed energy/carbs to get you to the finish.  In the early days of your training, experiment a bit on your long runs, and find what suits you best.  Then stick with what works for the balance of your training and for race day.  I would generally use between one and two packs of chews for a half (e.g., take a few chews 15 minutes before you start, and then a few at the 6k, 12k and 18k points).  NOTE:  fuel is NOT something you should try the first time on race day; you have to have used it prior, so you know that it will not affect your gastro system.

Ditto hydration.  Most of us bring water with us on long runs.  For organized races, water stations are usually found every 4km or so so you don’t have to carry it.  But be sure you are rehydrating enough.  The rule of thumb is, if you feel thirsty it’s already too late – but drink only to thirst and no more.  As you train, you’ll learn how much and how often.

And, electrolytes.  Your chews or gels may have electrolytes; and often on course you’ll be offered either water or electrolyte drinks at water stations.  Just make sure you’re getting some, to replenish what the sodium and potassium you lose from sweat.  If you don’t, you may end up with some unwelcome cramping late in the race.

Don’t get adventurous with diet.  Find what works best for your long run.  Not just what you eat, but how long before your run you do so.  For me, it’s oatmeal with brown sugar and a small black coffee, a couple of hours before gun time.  You want to ensure that you work anything through your system well before gun time.  Once you find something that works, don’t mess with it!  Do the same thing, at the same time, every time.  Boring?  Perhaps.  But you won’t find yourself in GI distress come race day.

Listen to your body.  If something starts to hurt, don’t fight it.  Dial back the distance, volume or intensity, and see if the pain goes away.  If not, talk to a physiotherapist and address the issue.  Note that there is a difference between “aches” and “pain” … if it aches, that’s normal:  your body learning to achieve new limits and you should press on.  If there is pain, that’s a problem, and needs to be addressed (see, “PT and RMT” below).

Get to know your PT and RMT.  This is obviously a function of how much you can afford; but if you can afford to consult a physiotherapist for rehabilitation (if you feel pain), then do so.  If you can afford massage therapy every 4-6 weeks, schedule it in.  Note:  IMHO, the best massage is one that actually hurts (i.e., deep-tissue massage, not the light stuff).  Try to get PTs/RMTs who understand running and the typical issues that runners have (e.g., tight IT band, sore Achilles tendon, tight calves, plantar fasciitis, etc.).

ATTITUDE

Find some friends for the long/slow runs.  There are two reasons for this:  (i) they are long runs, so having friends along helps pass the time and make it fun; and (ii) it creates a sense of joint accountability:  it’s harder to blow off a run if you know others are expecting you.  Your friends will also egg you along on some of those more … “character-building” long runs when you just can’t find what you need to finish.  If you don’t have a group of friends who run or are new to the area, consider joining the free runs run by Running Room or Run Ottawa – trust me, you’ll meet new friends!

This is my Sunday Run Club – a great crew that I’ve logged countless miles with.  Below that are some of my Run Ottawa crew – people I run with at many local races, and practice with on Thursday evenings.  They are all among my best friends.

Sunday Morning Run Club - Apr 2017

Some of my Sunday Run Club buddies.  We log the long miles, together, all year round on Sunday mornings.  Great runners … great people … and great friends.

tracy and ro crew - 5k fun race - sep 2018

Some of the Run Ottawa crew, with whom I run at numerous races year-round, and practice on Thursday evenings.  Yes, there is beer.

Be prepared for the suckage.  I’m not going to lie:  if you are running a half … even if you’ve trained well for it … the last 2-3km (and maybe more) will suck.  If you are running a full, the last 5-7km (and maybe more) will suck.  This WILL happen.  So you must be mentally prepared for it.  Here are some tips to help you get past “the wall” and finish the job:

  • Leverage the free energy.  If you are in a race with spectators, embrace them.  Say thank you, high-five people, gesture to them to get them cheering louder (I promise you, they will!).  They are there to help you!
  • Train up for the distance.  I’ve covered this elsewhere, but for a half, make sure you’ve done a long run of 20km.  For a full, you have to be careful:  go up to 35km but don’t push it (you would not want to injure yourself as you get close to your race!).  Pace doesn’t matter for these runs … it’s about “time on feet” or “junk miles” or whatever you want to call it.
  • Play mental games, to pass the time.  I will (for example) pick a signpost or other object up ahead, and try to guess how many paces it will take me to get there.  See how close you can guess; and then do it again with another object in the distance.  This will occupy your brain (because you have to count the paces).  Or try to run a certain number of steps, exactly, in a minute – again, to keep your brain busy and occupy your mind while keeping on going.  If you are a bit more aggressive, you can pick a runner ahead of you and make it your goal to pass that runner.  Then pick another.  And so on.
  • Try not to walk.  It’s really difficult to get running again, once your brain gives your legs “permission” to walk that first time.  It is far preferable to just slow down to a shuffle, than to walk – because you’ll keep the running motion going.
  • Check in on your form.  When things start to get tough, do a mental checklist of your form from time to time.  Is my head up?  Shoulders back & chest expanded (expanded lungs = more oxygen to the blood & muscles)?  Core engaged?  Slight body lean forward (but from the ankles, not the waist)?  Just going through this checklist will help you recover from slumping, and it will make you feel stronger.  It will also keep your brain busy/engaged.
  • If using a phone, play music that amps you up!  As I state above, I don’t play music myself … but if you are, find something that cranks you up and play it.

Finally – and I purposefully put this last – HAVE FUN.  This is your first half (or full).  It would be a shame only to focus on the end result, and not the journey!  Have fun on your long runs and meet new friends.  Challenge yourself to new bests when doing intervals.  On race day, soak in the pre-race vibe.  Say hi to the folks around you in the corral.  Smile – not just when near a photographer, but throughout the run.  Look around, soak in the sights, and relish the fact that you are able to run in the first place.  Thank the volunteers.  High-five the kids who have been waiting to watch you run by.  Congratulate those around you at the finish.  And enjoy that bagel and banana – YOU DID IT.

tracy-at-national-gallery-27k-alison-photo

Ottawa Marathon, 2014.  This was at the 17k point.  I tried – successfully – to whoop up the crowd.  They were very obliging!

I hope you find some value from the tips above.  Finishing your first half or full is a life milestone that you will never forget.  And it’s something that precious few of us achieve – so be proud!

I’d love to hear from anyone who wants to share their experience and tips – just comment below 🙂

–Tracy

Silent Auction Payment Page: Royal Foundation for Mental Health Fundraiser

RHC

THANK YOU for supporting the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health at our House of TARG fundraiser!  We enjoyed hosting you and are grateful for your support.

Use the button below to use your credit card to pay for your ticket or silent-auction item(s).  The transaction is secured by PayPal.


Buy Now Button

Thanks again!

–Cathy, Sandy and Tracy (aka Tracy’s Trotters)

Come and Play for the Royal!

Hi all,

I’m not in what should be the final 4-5 weeks of training for the Ottawa Half Marathon, on May 27.  That said, anyone living in Ottawa knows it’s been a bit of a weird “spring” for training, so you’ll forgive me if I admit that I’m not in peak shape yet.  Sigh.

But this post isn’t about my state of readiness for the half.  It’s about an AWESOME event that I’m co-hosting, on Tuesday, May 8, to raise money for the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health (see post, “Running for the Royal!” from March 12, for more on this very worthy cause).

The event details are as follows:

  • Tuesday, May 8 from 8:00pm to midnight
  • House of TARG (corner of Bank & Sunnyside)
  • LIVE music with Running Naked, silent auction for cool stuff, and a 50:50 draw
  • And hey – play pinball/arcade games and enjoy craft beer & home-made perogies while rocking out to the band!
  • Advance tickets:  $15/person, $25/couple
  • At the door:  $20/person

Screen Shot 2018-04-14 at 2.18.32 PM

Come on out and have a blast while supporting a great cause!  You can email me here, if you’d like to purchase advance tickets.  Thanks!

Running for the Royal!

Hi all,

It’s been a while, so I thought a quick update was in order.  The spring racing season approaches, and with it, Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend 2018.  This weekend is by far the highlight of my running year, and I’m pleased to report that this year I will run the Ottawa Half Marathon on Sunday, May 27.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Those who know me well, know that I run to help others.  This year – for the second straight year – I am running to raise awareness and funds for the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health (aka, “the Royal”).

My son Reid and two friends Cathy and Sandy will also run for the Royal this year.

Why the Royal? In a nutshell, the Foundation provides clinical services and advocacy for those who suffer from mental illness.

We live in anxious times.  Many of us, in addition to managing life’s daily stressors, also have to deal with mental illness.  This is a heavy burden to bear, and there is a certain stigma attached to mental illness that makes it difficult for people reach out and get help.

We all know someone who is having a hard time and needs support.  Indeed, many of us struggle with anxiety, depression or other mental illnesses and disorders.  The Royal’s mandate is to help those people – and further, to provide critical advocacy services on their behalf.  I’ve met representatives of the Foundation, who are to a person very genuine and caring people.  This is a truly worthy cause, and I hope you would agree it is deserving of our collective support.

If you are willing to lend your support by sponsoring my half-marathon, please click here to make a donation.  Literally any amount is gratefully appreciated – with my heart-felt thanks.

Feel free to scroll down to see some of the great work that the Royal is doing!

–Tracy