Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend (TORW): Christmas in May!

Full disclosure: I am not religious. At all.

May 28-29, 2022 is a weekend that has been a long time coming. And I mean, a LONG time. I’ve been involved with Run Ottawa as a member since 2010, and have participated in every TORW since then – including the virtual 2020 (I ran the half-marathon) and 2021 (marathon) versions. But it has been three long years since I’ve heard the gun to start a TORW event.

I jokingly refer to TORW as “Christmas in May” because I experience the same childhood joy this weekend as I did at Christmastime when I was a kid. Maybe more, to be completely honest.

Why? I’m *so* glad you asked. Here, in no particular order, are the things I love SO much about TORW and cannot wait to experience again next week … and a “pro tip” for each, based on my 12 years of participation:

Health and Fitness Expo: the kickoff party for any good mutli-race event (and TORW is Canada’s biggest, in case you weren’t aware!) is a great race expo. TORW’s Health and Fitness Expo happens at the beautiful Shaw Centre – Thursday afternoon/evening, Friday, and Saturday. This is where you get your race kit, your shirt (if purchased) AND you can go shopping for other essentials (or, let’s be honest, non-essentials) that you need! Pro tip #1: try to go during off-peak hours (i.e., not Thu or Fri right after work) … and don’t just pick up your kit and go – hang in the Expo for a while … meet up with some friends … talk to some exhibitors … take a look at the other racing events that are being promoted there. Pro tip #2: if you are in the Kids Marathon, the 2k or the 5k events on the Saturday, you MUST pick up your kit before 1pm that day!

Routes: regardless of your event, you will LOVE your route. Ottawa is one of the most spectacular cities in the world in which to run – it has a great mix of urban and non-urban spaces. You’ll see incredible buildings and spectacular scenery. Most routes, for example, follow the historic Rideau Canal – a UNESCO World Heritage site. Pro tip: while this sounds trivial, be sure to keep your head on a swivel and take in the view on your run – I guarantee it will be amazing and if you don’t look, you might miss it!

Corrals: this is something I’ve missed the most since 2020 – the feeling of huddling in your corral in the 15-30 minutes before your big race … meeting people from all over who are exactly where you are in your journey, and know what you’re feeling … and just soaking in that great pre-race vibe before the gun! Pro tip #1: in your corral, find a pace bunny who is well matched to your race goal and stick with them … you’ll likely meet some new running friends as a result. Pro tip #2: don’t be shy – introduce yourself to those around you in corral … tell your story, and hear theirs!

Kids: kids are always a big part of TORW. In fact, on Saturday there are TWO kid-friendly events: the kid-exclusive Ottawa Kids Marathon at 2:00pm; and the Ottawa 2k presented by ASICS Runkeeper at 3:00pm. Both start right downtown at Ottawa City Hall. Pro tip: if you have kids, you know the drill – plan to arrive at least 30 minutes early so that you can park find your way to the event start line.

Canadian 10k Championship: to me, this is one of the extra-fun and special features of TORW. Ottawa hosts the Canadian 10k Championships on Saturday at 6:30pm. This is coincident with the Ottawa 10k presented by Otto’s Ottawa … so if you are running the 10k, you are literally running the same course as Canada’s elites … and trust me, you’ll see them … screaming back along the east side of the Canal as you make your way toward Dow’s Lake on the west side. Pro tip: if you are running the 10k, hold back a bit of energy for the middle part of the course – there are a couple of significant hills you’re going to have to deal with!

Desjardins Charity Challenge: this is where one of TORW’s core values shine through. Last year, even though COVID greatly limited the number of participants in the virtual TORW event, those participants managed to raise over one million dollars via the Charity Challenge, for charities who participate in the event. COVID times have been tough, including on charities. The fact that TORW participants rallied to the cause is amazing. Pro tip: it’s not too late to donate to a participating charity, or to an individual TORW participant … my fundraising page for the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Foundation is here.

Festival Plaza and the Kichesippi Beer Garden: this is the area outside of Ottawa City Hall (specifically in Marion Dewar Plaza) in which you can relax after your events on the Saturday and Sunday. There will be live music, medal/award ceremonies, photo stations, special guests and speakers – as well as beer from Kichesippi Beer Company and kombucha from Carlington Booch on hand (a free drink is provided to runners in the 10k, half and full events!). What more could a runner ask? Pro tip: this is a less-crowded place to meet up with a runner after their race; scout it out in advance, and make plans to meet in the Plaza and Beer Garden!

Volunteers: these people are the heart and soul of TORW. They do it all: measure, mark and marshall the courses; put up signs and banners; manage registrations and race kit pickup; work the race expo hall and booths; shepherd the corrals; hand out water and fuel during the races; give out medals and food at the end of the races; and clean up afterwards. They do it all behind the scenes, and without asking for kudos. Pro tip: thank a volunteer whenever you can – trust me, it means a great deal to them.

Spectators: I’ve run half-marathons and marathons in many cities. Ottawa hits WELL above its weight when it comes to crowd motivation during TORW. You will be inspired by the people who will line the streets, regardless of weather, to cheer you on. From the kids and dogs you’ll see, to the neighbourhood themed cheer stations, to signs you’ll read (every year someone comes up with a new one that makes me laugh), to the people offering up their lawn sprinklers or giving out freezies when it’s hot, to the crazies in costume with cowbells, to the musicians you’ll come across at various points in your route – Ottawa’s got it all! You will NOT run alone. Pro tip: high-five a kid. It only takes a second and is a guaranteed power-up.

And finally .. YOU! TORW would not be possible without the tens of thousands of athletes who come out to run or walk the routes. Your love of a healthy lifestyle is legend, and your energy infectious. Thank YOU for coming to Ottawa for TORW 2022 … it’s been a minute, and we’ve missed you! Pro tip: take a bow and give yourself a hand!

–Tracy

Eating my own dog food

Ahem:

“But if this COVID thing persists and I can’t get out there enough between now and May 29 to do as well as I wanted to in the marathon (sub-4:00), I’m not going to sweat it. Instead, I’ll shift my expectations. I’ll make a conscious decision in the starting corral to enjoy the journey, not the destination. I’ll high-five some kids; I’ll thank the people with clever signs, and whoop up the crowd, and hug any friends I see along the way. I might even walk through a few water stations. If that’s the worst outcome I face, I’m good with that.”

–yours truly: “Running with Asthma … in covid times

Little did I realize when penning these bons mots of wisdom – less than a month ago – that I would be applying them to myself now. But here I am.

A quick recap: the week of Mar 22, after two years of living like a hermit, I contracted COVID. As an asthmatic, my recovery was slow: between Mar 21 and Apr 1, I ran 0.0 kms. This while I was supposed to log 45-55km a week of volume for the Tartan Ottawa International Marathon on May 29. This temporary setback (or so I thought) inspired the quote above.

And then, back to the training. Well … from Apr 2 through May 7, anyway. In that time, I got my long runs up to 28km (a bit behind plan, but not ridiculously) and managed to pull off a pretty good 1:48 in the Toronto Half Marathon on May 1. I also managed to put in some decent intervals work and ran in some heat in Dallas while on my first business trip since 2020. I got home from Dallas on May 6, and ran Run Ottawa’s Farm Run 5k event on May 7 with a respectable sub-25:00 tine. All good, right?

And then – the afternoon of May 7: hmmm, my throat feels a bit funny … kinda sore & raw. May 8: BAM. You’ve GOT TO BE KIDDING ME. Very painful to swallow. Body aches all over. Head congested. Brutal sinus headache.

And that’s where I’ve been ever since. Two negative antigen tests later, I’ve concluded that it’s most likely an old-school sinus infection. I’m on day 3 of antibiotics and am feeling a bit better – but I’ve literally run bupkis for the last week – seven days of this and I still feel pretty rough. So again, 0.0km of running in this time, including two missed LSRs toward my marathon training. I don’t see my feet hitting the pavement for a few days yet, either.

So I revisited my April 13 blog and in particular, the passage above. I also had to make a serious decision: do I still try the marathon – albeit more slowly and without self-imposed expectations? Do I defer my marathon and build up to a virtual marathon once I’ve recovered (but in doing so, miss out on the the excitement of running a Race Weekend event – something I have been longing for since 2019)? Or should I consider something else? I asked some friends for advice … most agreed that because of my lack of volume training over the last six weeks (I am literally 200km behind), there is risk I could injure myself if I were to try the 42.2km distance on May 29. At the age of 58, my overarching goal is to keep running – an avoidable injury would be a very bad outcome for me. But I desperately wanted to run a race on May 29. What to do?

I decided – reluctantly but IMHO wisely – to transfer to the half-marathon on May 29.

So there you have it, folks. I ate my own dog food. I am very fortunate in that a dear running friend who is well matched to me pace-wise proposed that the two of us run an easy fun run half that day … so we have now declared ourselves “Team Fun Run” and we’ll fully soak up the vibe on Sunday, May 29 in the Ottawa Half-Marathon presented by Desjardins.

Expectations reset. Going for the experience, not the outcome. And I’m totally OK with that.

I hope to see some of you out there that day … and if I do, don’t be surprised if you get a big hug.

–Tracy

Running with asthma … in COVID times

Hey there runners and friends,

A good friend suggested that I pen something about running with asthma. Given that we are living in COVID times, that asthmatics are particularly vulnerable to COVID, and that it’s spring race season, I felt the timing was good.

So: I am an asthmatic. And I’m also a runner. And, if I do say so myself, a fairly competitive one. I tend to place in the top 10-12% of finishers in races. In a few, I’ve been top-3 for my age group, which I’m pretty happy about.

In some ways, I’m fortunate. Most of my asthma (diagnosed when I was five years old) is triggered by environmental stuff: fur, dander, feathers, dust, moulds and pollens – the usual suspects. That said, if I try to exert myself on a really cold day (and Ottawa has … ummm … many of those) I can end up quite short of breath until I take my rescue inhaler.

That said, asthma does affect my running, even if there are no allergens present. The reason is reduced lung capacity. At any given time, my lungs simply cannot ingest the same amount of air & oxygen as a pair of normal, healthy lungs. I’ve scored poorly on pretty much every pulmonary test I’ve taken in my life. My poor lungs just can’t do it. It’s a physical reality I’ve learned to live with (more on coping with asthma later).

If you’re not asthmatic: imagine plugging your nose and then duct-taping your pursed mouth around a straw. Then, run your race. You can’t take the tape off, and you can’t unplug your nose. That straw is all you’ve got. That’s the best description I can come up with to describe what it’s like to run as an asthmatic.

I cannot tell you how many times after a race, a first responder has approached me to ask, “Sir, are you all right?” because they think I’m about to bonk, hard. Especially in 5k and 10k races, where you pretty much go full-throttle the whole distance. I can hardly breathe when I’m done and even talking is difficult for about 30s … so I just wave off the well-meaning first-aid people. I’ve never needed them, thank goodness – but it’s good to know they are close by and paying attention!

After my intervals workouts, people have been known to observe that I breathe unusually hard. For quite a while after we stop.

And most of my race pictures look like this … it’s not pretty:

Mouth-Breathers Anonymous – Founding Member

However – there are several things I do to mitigate and/or prevent undesirable outcomes:

  • I warm up before a race or intervals workout, so that I don’t jump out of the gate “cold.” It makes a big difference in terms of the strain on the heart & lungs, especially in the first 2-3 kilometres.
  • On really cold days, I’ll be sure to go outside for a few minutes before running – and I’ll start relatively easy so as not to overload my system.
  • I bring my Ventolin (rescue inhaler) with me if I know I’m going to be running super hard or if it’s unusually cold out.
  • If I’m not feeling “great” from a cardiopulmonary perspective before a run, I have a sober chat with myself: “is THIS [training run, fun run or intervals workout] the hill I want to die on?” Sometimes, it’s best just to enjoy the journey instead of stressing over the destination.
  • I wear a RoadID wrist band so that if for some reason I do collapse or pass out, someone will know who to contact. It states that I’m asthmatic. While it’s never been put to use, it is well worth the modest investment for the peace of mind it brings me and my family when I’m out on a solo run.
  • I never, EVER wear someone else’s bib in a race. Why? If I pass out and I’m wearing someone else’s bib, bad things can happen. Like, REALLY bad things.
  • And finally – I do all the preventative stuff that I can – including taking a steroid-based preventative inhaler every day, and antihistamines when the environmental factors complicate things. This is just life when you are asthmatic.
IYKYK …

This year, I got an extra surprise: COVID paid me a visit on March 23, just four days before the Around the Bay 30k race – a race I originally had signed up for in 2020, and which had been deferred several times since. There was no way THAT was happening. So – I’ll have to wait one more year to meet the Grim Reaper in the Hammer.

What I wasn’t ready for, was the “long tail” of recovery from COVID. Based on this CBC article, I’m not alone on that front as a runner. Even healthy, active runners are struggling to get back on the bus, including Yours Truly. I’m now 22 days past day zero and am still coughing a bit, and generally congested and fatigued. And did I mention that I’m training for the Tartan Ottawa International Marathon on May 29? COVID has thrown my training into a bit of chaos: the last few weeks I was supposed to run 50-60k per week; I ran ZERO kilometres in the first 10 days of COVID, and have logged only about half of my prescribed training volume since.

So – what’s an asthmatic runner to do? As the CBC article says, shift your expectations. Listen to your body. Go out there, but try something easy at first. Maybe a slow (and I mean, SLOW) 5k. If that works, try an easy 7k next. Then maybe try something a bit up-tempo – but only a few kilometres to start because you’ve dialled up the pace. You have to play the long game when it’s your lungs and heart doing the work. It’s simply not worth the price you’ll pay otherwise.

I’m pleased to say that I ran a pretty good intervals workout on Tuesday and feel that I’m getting close to being back on my training regimen. But if this COVID thing persists and I can’t get out there enough between now and May 29 to do as well as I wanted to in the marathon (sub-4:00), I’m not going to sweat it. Instead, I’ll shift my expectations. I’ll make a conscious decision in the starting corral to enjoy the journey, not the destination. I’ll high-five some kids; I’ll thank the people with clever signs, and whoop up the crowd, and hug any friends I see along the way. I might even walk through a few water stations. If that’s the worst outcome I face, I’m good with that.

If you are a fellow asthmatic runner, put your hand up and let me know! We can share stories and swap strategies.

–Tracy

First time at Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend?

Hello fellow runners and friends!

Here we are – a week into April, and Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend (TORW, May 28-29) is less than eight weeks away! If you’re one of those runners who just had a mini-coronary because you aren’t even close to being trained up, it’s OK … you still have those eight weeks. But get on it!

For those new to TORW – either as a participant or as someone who will be cheering on the sidelines – I thought to provide a mini sneak preview of what to expect. Spoiler: you’re going to LOVE it! There’s a reason I call TORW “Christmas in May” … it brings me the same joy I had at Christmastime, as a child. So here goes!

The Events

There is something for EVERYONE … the marathon, the half-marathon, the 10k, the 5k, the 2k and the Kids Marathon. There are also the Challenges – multi-race events where participants can log as much as 59.2km over the weekend!

Kids Marathon

Put it in your calendar: the 5k and 10k happen at 4pm and 6:30pm Saturday afternoon & evening, respectively. The marathon is 7am Sunday, and the half begins two hours later at 9am.

The Routes

People from Ottawa, like me, often do not fully appreciate just how beautiful our city is. But runners absolutely treasure the privilege we have to run in the National Capital Region. Where else can you run races that cross a provincial border, go through many different neighbourhoods and pass by so many national treasures, including but not limited to: Parliament Hill; the Supreme Court of Canada; the Canadian War Museum; the Canadian Museum of History; the National Gallery of Canada; the Canadian Mint; 24 Sussex Drive; Rideau Hall; the Fairmont Chateau Laurier; the National Arts Centre; and the Rideau Canal? I mean, SERIOUSLY!!!

The National Gallery of Canada – a popular spectator spot for the Marathon and Half-Marathon

Pro tip: if you are from outside of Ottawa, build time into your visit here to either drive your route … or better still, take one of the hop-on/hop-off bus tours offered downtown. Take some time to scope out your route and see the sights before your big day!

Spectator tip: while it’s super-exciting to spectate in the last kilometre of the races on Colonel By Drive, the runners appreciate support everywhere on the course! Consider finding a spot where tired runners might appreciate a boost when their energy is flagging. Some good spots to be at include anywhere on Scott Street, the Canadian War Museum, either end of the Alexandra Bridge, or the National Gallery of Canada for half- and full-marathon runners. For the 10k, consider being on/around the Bronson Bridge as it goes over the Rideau Canal, or on either side of the Canal at the Bank Street bridge. For the 5k, good spots to stand include the Colonel By Drive side of the Canal at the east end of the Corktown bridge, or on/around the Pretoria Bridge (as the speedy 5k runners open up their throttle toward the last kilometre).

The Desjardins Charity Challenge

Each year, runners in TORW are offered the chance to sign up for one of the 50+ charities that are affiliated with the event. Run Ottawa takes care of all of the back-end logistics; the charities simply contact Run Ottawa to register, and then runners can select a charity when they sign up for a race. It’s that simple. If you are running this year and are not yet raising money for a great cause, go to your Race Roster registration and consider signing up for the Desjardins Charity Challenge!

Amazing fact: did you know that in TORW 2021, despite being a virtual-only event with about 6,000 participants, the Charity Challenge raised over ONE MILLION DOLLARS? It’s true! Let’s beat that number in 2022!

Shameless plug: this year I am running the marathon to raise funds for the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health. If you so inclined, I’d appreciate any donations to this worthwhile organization that conducts research, provides clinical services and advocates for those suffering from mental-wellness challenges. To donate, click here.

Donate to the Desjardins Charity Challenge!

The Health & Fitness Expo

No runner can resist the Health & Fitness Expo in the Shaw Centre downtown (Thu/Fri/Sat of Race Weekend). This is where you pick up your bib/timing chip, the rest of your race kit and purchase whatever other swag brings you joy from the Expo participants … it’s like going to a shopping mall exclusively for runners! This year brings some exciting changes to the Expo – trust me, you’ll love them.

Pro tip: plan to attend the Expo at an off-peak time, to make the experience more leisurely and avoid the traffic/parking log jams that tend to happen on the Thursday or Friday after work hours. Stop at the booths, engage the exhibitors, and arrange in advance to meet up with your running friends! You might find yourself signing up for a destination race you were never aware of.

The Merch

I will let the official TORW merchandise speak for itself. It is freaking AMAZING. Free shipping within Canada, for orders over $100. Click here to visit the Run Ottawa Online Shop and take a look! Warning: you *will* want to buy some. TORW merchandise will also be available at the Health & Fitness Expo.

You know you want this.

The Spectators

The incredible support from residents of Ottawa is, frankly, what makes TORW so great in this runner’s opinion. Whether it’s the little kids looking for a high-five, the people holding signs to keep runners amused, the neighbourhood-sponsored cheer stations, the musicians on the routes, or the crazies in costume screaming their lungs out, TORW has it all.

The Volunteers

These people deserve their own shout-out. They are there at the crack of dawn (or often well before!) to set up the routes. They are there long after the runners have gone home, to clean up cups, banana peels, disposed gel packs, and other debris left on and around the course. They are the first responders who quickly come to the aid of runners in need. And they are the smiling faces who give you water/Nuun on the course, and your medal when you’re done. THANK YOU VOLUNTEERS.

Trivia time: did you know that over 2,000 volunteers make TORW possible? Be sure to thank them!

We love our volunteers!

Otto’s Ottawa Power Crew

The Power Crew is a group of 14 socially-minded runners who have volunteered to raise awareness of TORW and promote the event to the public via social media, in-person events and blogs like this one. We share tips on training, nutrition, fundraising, etc. – and will also be involved in other Run Ottawa events in 2022.

I’m honoured to be part of the Crew for TORW 2022 and hope to meet as many of you as I can in 2022! The members of Otto’s Ottawa Power Crew 2022 are profiled here; why not give us a follow and get engaged? You won’t regret it – we’re a fun bunch.

The Xtra Mile Crew

This is another amazing group of volunteer runners whose sole purpose is to help runners finish their races strong. You’ll see them in their distinctive shirts on the 10k, half-marathon and full marathon courses. They will be only too pleased to run with you for part of your race – and in some cases, see you right to the finish line!


I hope that this summary of what to expect at TORW will entice you to either register to run in one of the races, volunteer, or simply come on out the weekend of May 28/29 and cheer on the runners! Thanks as always for your time & support.

–Tracy

My COVID Experience: a Cautionary Tale

Hi all,

Well, after more than two years of being cautious and careful, COVID finally visited our home. To be honest, it was probably inevitable: the current “stealth” Omicron variant is highly transmissible; and our provincial government has started dropping many preventative protocols which I believe is giving our population a false sense of security (yessir, it’s an election year in Ontario, folks – in case you weren’t aware). So I wasn’t entirely surprised when I learned last week that our son had tested positive. Fast forward five days and I started feeling a bit light-headed and congested. Two days later, I was horizontal.

I was surprised to learn that “abdominal pain” is a COVID symptom. Sadly, I learned this little fact first-hand. I hope that others don’t have to experience this particular symptom, because it’s not fun. I also exhibit many of the other usual symptoms: congestion, dizziness, body aches, chills, fatigue. Fortunately I have not experienced loss of smell/taste, so at least there is that.

This week was originally to have been a very busy one for me. I had several personal appointments scheduled (doctor, dentist, RMT, osteopath). We were to share a long-overdue dinner with my brother and his wife this evening. I had also planned to run the Around the Bay 30k race in Hamilton with many Ottawa running friends this coming weekend – a race that had already been deferred for two years due to COVID. All of this had to be scrapped as I isolated at home. As of today (Fri, Mar 25) I’m still feeling quite poorly, but I’m only on day three of symptoms … so I suspect I have at least a couple of days to go before I start to feel better.

Why am I posting this? Not to seek sympathy. My wife and I had discussed this many times – we knew that it was highly likely our home would end up with COVID. No, I’m writing about my experience as a cautionary tale. A few words of advice if you are feeling in good health right now:

  • First off: prepare for COVID. It can come at any time, and given the recent indicators (see next bullet) your time may well come soon. And remember, if you had an earlier COVID variant, you are not immune from this one. If you have been vaccinated/boosted, you are not immune (although you are FAR less likely to end up in the hospital, which is a very good thing).
  • Second: the wastewater signal in Ottawa is on the rise, again. Ottawa Public Health believes that this surge will be less intense than its predecessor – but the poop data does not lie, and COVID is coming back, Ottawa. And based on the slope/trajectory of the curve below, I’m not at all convinced that this surge will be any less intense. Stay vigilant. Despite what the politicians will tell you, we are not past COVID. Learning to live with COVID means you may well get COVID.
S*** is getting real, folks. The poop data doesn’t lie.
Source: https://613covid.ca/wastewater/
  • Third: please be mindful of others. I canceled my appointments because it wouldn’t be responsible of me to be in public, despite the political talking point that we are “learning to live with COVID.” Learning to live with COVID does NOT mean moving forward in naive denial; to the contrary, it means staying responsible – whether or not you have the virus or its symptoms. Remember that COVID symptoms manifest themselves after you begin to be contagious. Please be mindful of others: continue to wear a mask in public places and respectfully distance yourself. Think about people who are immunocompromised, and young children and others who cannot be vaccinated.
  • Finally: if you can but haven’t, please get your vaccinations and/or booster dose. I have to tell you that as an asthmatic who has a history of respiratory challenges, I am beyond thankful that I dutifully got my vaccine and booster doses when they became available. I don’t even want to think about what this week would have been like, had I not done that.

Thanks for your time in reading this. Feel free to share if you think it might help others avoid getting COVID, or giving it to others. Stay safe, friends.

–Tracy

Winter’s Not Dead Yet.

I’ve authored this post as a service to those preparing to run in Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend in Ottawa, Canada, May 28-29, 2022. I’m running the Tartan Ottawa International Marathon on May 29, to raise awareness and funding for the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health, an organization that conducts research into the functioning of the brain, advocates for those with mental-health challenges, and provides critical clinical services for those in need. If you value the information in this post and/or would simply like to make life better for those truly in need, please consider a donation to my fundraising by clicking here. THANK YOU!

So – it’s mid-March. It’s warm. The birds are singing. Soft, southern breezes are flowing. You can see spring flowers emerging from the newly-exposed grass.

<sound of record player needle scratching>

Not so much, actually. Unless you live in Vancouver or Victoria, BC – in which case I hate you. But I digress.

Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend (TORW) is about 11 weeks away. In most places in Canada and the northern US, that means you still have a lot of “character-building” training runs in front of you.

For those of you who are new to “spring” running in a northern climate and/or lacing up now to start your training for TORW, I thought it might be helpful to provide some training tips based on my 27k long/slow run (LSR) on Sunday. So here they are, in no particular order:

Expect – and prepare for – ANYTHING.

You just never know what Mother Nature will deal you, this time of year. Especially those of you living in/around Ottawa.

I recall when training for TORW in 2016 that I went for a 20km long run with my son, on Mother’s Day (May 8 that year). We had driving sleet in our faces for half the run. SLEET, people! In MAY!!! So don’t get caught unprepared. Some tips here:

  • Wear layers. I highly recommend merino wool for any layer that comes into contact with your skin. It is comfortable, wicks moisture well, and doesn’t stink when you’re done. I have a go-to merino shirt and socks that I use every time I run (and yes, I wash them between runs!).
  • Err on the side of extra layers. You can always take a layer (like a shell) off once you warm up, but if you end up with a chill midway through run on a cold day it can be miserable.
  • Start off with a hat and mitts. Again, you can always take them off mid-run, but if the wind gets you and your head and hands are not protected … brrrrrr.
  • Water-resistant shoes are highly recommended when things start melting. I have a pair that allows me to run THROUGH a puddle, rather than jumping over it (and risking injury – see below!).

Bonus tip, not related to winter running:

  • When things DO warm up – eventually (think: mid-May in Ottawa), I suggest that you deliberately wear an extra layer – or two – on a long run. Why? To acclimatize yourself to running hot. Because if you have been in Ottawa for TORWs past, it tends to be warm and humid. You don’t want your race day to be your first exposure to real heat!

Running in snow or on ice is a different kind of workout.

You know that 10k long run you’re doing this morning, but it kinda snowed a lot last night? Well that 10k is going to feel more like 15k because of the extra effort you are going to have to make to lift your feet. Or if it’s icy, infrequently-used stabilizer muscles (like adductors, tensor fascia latae, and your core muscles to name a few) are going to get an extra workout.

Because of this, I would advise the following:

  • Work some strength training into your regimen, on non-running days. There is no end of exercises you can do to strengthen your stabilizer muscle groups. Talk to a physiotherapist for advice on this – they are usually more than willing to set you up with a home-based strength program!
  • If there is snow to deal with, consider dialling back your distance a bit, or running a bit more slowly than you normally would … to offset the extra effort.
  • if you can afford to, purchase shoes that are purpose-built for hard / slippery surfaces like a trail shoe or a winter-designed running shoe like the Saucony Peregrine or Razor ICE+, or ASICS GEL-NIMBUS. Go to a store with trained staff (like Sports 4 or Bushtukah in Ottawa) to get some advice re what’s best for you.

The tips above may help you to avoid two sources of injury: overworking and straining muscles which may not be in prime shape; or slipping/falling on ice.

Just because it’s cold/cool, doesn’t mean you don’t need fuel or fluids. Prepare accordingly.

This is something I have to remind myself of, always. I am a sweater and overheat easily. In the summer I will easily lose 5lb in fluids from running a 10k, even at a relaxed pace … so I don’t need a reminder to bring water/electrolytes. But in the winter, it’s cooler, so I don’t feel like I’m sweating as much … which may be true, but only by degree (pun intended). So bring fluids and electrolytes, especially if you are building up to a longer distance like a half or full.

“But it’s really cold,” you say … and you’re right. And stuff freezes in the cold. So here are some things you can do to counter the possibility of a frozen water bottle:

  • Warm your water up, just before you go … it only delays freezing, but that might be enough to get you through a shorter-duration run.
  • Put something in your water that lowers its freezing temperature. Salt in your water, for example, lowers that temperature by a couple of degrees – not much, but perhaps just enough. Nuun also lowers the freezing temperature of water. To lower it more, double-up on the Nuun.
  • Put your water in an insulated container and/or into an insulated belt holder. I did this last weekend (bottle was insulated, and put into a thick neoprene sleeve) and even though the windchill was -11C my water (in a 20-oz bottle) never froze for the 2hr, 45min I was out.
  • Find water sources that you don’t have to carry. It’s too soon for outdoor fountains until May, but you could hit up a local coffee shop or public building that has water fountains. Just be sure to support them with your business, if you do this!

On the fuel side, this can also be as problem. If you are running long distances – for any more than 90 minutes – you are going to need fuel every 30-45 minutes. But who hasn’t bitten into a rock-hard “chew” or tried to suck back a frozen gel?

  • Here’s a tip – try a maple syrup / ginger / salt-based fuel like Endurance Tap or Altitude. The freezing temperature of Altitude, for example, is -18C … significantly lower than most running temperatures, even in a cold city like Ottawa! I used Altitude last weekend and it didn’t disappoint … it flowed freely, despite the wind and cold.

Ask around about road and path conditions.

I cannot overemphasize this. Last weekend I opted to try a different 27k LSR route, on roads and paths that I run frequently and assumed would be relatively clear (even after an overnight snowfall, which we had had).

I was wrong. So very, very wrong. Of the 27k I ran, I would estimate that at least 15k of it looked like this hellish landscape (actual photo, taken by me on Carling Avenue, about 12k into my 27k run):

Ottawa in what nobody would even loosely call “spring”

In particular, Scott Street – an Ottawa favourite training route due to its flat and well-maintained sidewalks, was basically un-runable. I ran it anyway, but it was a slog I would not wish upon anyone. There was much swearing.

So put out feelers among your local running hive – Facebook groups, Insta friends, etc. Ask and get a sense, before you commit!

Speaking of which: the treadmill CAN be your friend.

I have put more time/distance on our treadmill this year, than I ever have. Which says a lot, because I truly HATE running on the ‘mill. But with Netflix or a podcast, the experience was tolerable (up to 18k for me) and was a good alternative to running in a -27C windchill (which we had pretty much EVERY weekend in Ottawa, in January and February).

I realize I am very fortunate to even have the option in my basement – but if you (or perhaps a good friend or neighbour, or a local gym) has a ‘mill, take advantage of it on those days where you just can’t do it outside.

And speaking of friends … on cold/messy days, there’s company in misery!

Invite a friend or to two your run, especially your long runs. The time will pass more quickly AND you’ll have that extra level of accountability to make sure you show up!

Thanks for your time in reading this – I hope these tips help you get through the “shoulder season” between now and May! Click on the image below to donate to the great work done by the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health … thanks!

In Troubled Times, Let’s Make a Difference

Hello friends. I hope all is well. But for most of us, it’s not.

We are still managing life with COVID, two years later (it was literally two years ago this week that I was asked to start working from home … and I’m still there).

Those of us in Ottawa are still healing and cleaning up the mess (physical, mental and emotional) from a four-week siege of our beautiful city.

And now in Ukraine, an insane sociopathic despot is creating unbearable suffering for millions of people whose only fault is the fact that they happen to be a resource-rich next-door neighbour.

So there’s all of that. It’s pervasive, it’s heavy, and it affects all of us.

Most of us will get through it. Most of us have access to family, friends and resources that will help us. Most of us can dig deep to find the time, space and resilience to move forward.

I fall into the “most of us” category. I suffer regularly from generalized anxiety. It takes very little for my mind to spin up a worst-case narrative that can be intimidating or even debilitating. My ability to catastrophize is legend. But I’m fortunate: I have a wife and son who love me and understand that this is not of my doing; I have friends who do not judge and provide me with much-needed distraction; and I have my running (my precious “alone-time” activity) to help me get past the moment and reset. With all of this at my disposal, I get through it.

But some of us, through no fault of their own, have challenges that prevent them from moving forward. What about people who suffer from mental-health challenges and concurrent disorders? They were at a great disadvantage before our current troubles hit. These people are equally deserving of help … but don’t have the necessary resources at their disposal.

That’s where the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health enters the picture. If you know me, you know I’ve been working to raise awareness and funding for the Royal for the last five years. The amazing people at the Royal conduct a staggering array of critical research into mental health and the functioning of the brain, toward their mandate of providing the best possible patient care for those in Ottawa and Eastern Ontario who need the help. They also host an amazing number of free events that educate the public on mental health & wellness topics and themes.

The research and services performed by the Royal are absolutely critical in our community.

This year, as I have in the past five years, I’m running for the Royal. On Sunday, May 29 I will run the Tartan Ottawa International Marathon (42.2km) to raise funds and awareness for the Royal. My goal is to raise $4,220.00 for the Royal. I can’t reach that goal without help from my family, friends and colleagues.

Can you help me to help the Royal? It’s easy! Just visit my fundraising page and pledge any amount that you can afford. Your support is so very much appreciated. Thank you, in advance, from me, from the Royal, and from those in our community who benefit from the Royal’s work.

For my part, I’ll keep training, and keep you posted 🙂

–Tracy

Last year’s Ottawa Marathon (virtual/solo). Photo credit Dennis Jackson.

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