Tracy’s $2 Life Hack for Winter Builds in Ottawa

I have some big races coming up: the Around the Bay 30k on Mar 26; the Syracuse Half Marathon on April 16; and the Ottawa 10k presented by Otto’s Ottawa on May 27. I look forward to those races, for sure … but doing my build toward those races – especially the 30k ATB in March – means cold-weather running. LOTS. AND. LOTS. of cold-weather running.

Many of you are in a similar boat – especially if you are building toward the Tartan Ottawa International Marathon or Ottawa Half Marathon presented by Desjardins at Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend at the end of May. Not to mention any of the Challenge events! And most of you do your long / slow runs on the weekend. Ugh, right?

Sadly, there is no life hack to get you trained up for those distances. You have to do the time.

But, dear runner, hear me out: I have a very good life hack that will make those winter long runs easier – and maybe even something you look forward to! Here it is:

  • Did you know that on Saturdays and Sundays, the cost to park in the garage at Ottawa City Hall (Elgin between Laurier and Lisgar) maxes out at $2? TWO DOLLARS! I kid you not.
  • Did you know that this particular garage is UNDERGROUND AND HEATED? It’s also well-ventilated (never smells like gas / exhaust).

So now, I make it part of my routine to start/end my long runs at Ottawa City Hall. The benefits of doing so are numerous:

  • You start in a heated garage.
  • You end in a heated garage.
  • You are near the Canal, Wellington, Sussex, the bridges to Gatineau etc. and can easily integrate these segments into your route.
  • If you are meeting other runners, you can all congregate in the garage … and if Biff is ten minutes late arriving (and let’s be honest, isn’t Biff *always* late?) then you are not standing around freezing while you wait for him.
  • You can change into dry clothes at the end of your run … in a heated garage. No post-run chills or hypothermia!
  • If running with a group, someone can bring munchies for a bit of a tail-gater after the run. I have been known to bring / ingest donuts. If running alone, you can bring your own munchies. Either way, you can leave them in the car and consume them when you are done – and they won’t be frozen solid. CRAZY, RIGHT?
  • Once you are nice & dry (and, did I mention WARM), you are only a block or so from numerous locations for a post-run get-together / treat: Starbucks, Bridgehead, Johnny Farina, the Clocktower Pub, Brown’s Socialhouse and other spots are only a short walk away! “But Tracy,” you say, “that means more cost for the garage.” NO, MY FRIEND, IT WON’T!!! IT’S ONLY TWO BUCKS!

I hope that this little hack changes the experience of the winter build for at least one reader. It’s changed my winter running life, that’s for sure!

–Tracy

With Great [Otto’s Ottawa] Power [Crew] Comes Great Responsibility

Hello friends! Thanks for checking in. It’s early January 2023, and most of us are starting to settle into a new year, with new races and other running events on the horizon.

Many of you are either already in – or about to start – your build for a winter or spring race. Personally, I’m signed up for Run Ottawa’s Richmond Road Races 10k (Jan 29), the Around the Bay 30k (Mar 26), the Syracuse Half Marathon (Apr 16) and finally, the Ottawa 10k Presented by Otto’s Ottawa (May 27). Hmmm, that’s a lot of racing … I’d better get on that.

I wanted to share that as announced today by Run Ottawa, I’ll once again be part of Otto’s Ottawa Power Crew for the winter/spring 2023 racing season. I’m absolutely pumped to be part of this crew of stellar people. Otto’s Ottawa Power Crew is a team of dedicated runners who love to engage other runners to discuss training, injury, nutrition, gear, and other running tips & tricks. You’ll be seeing us on your social media feed in the lead-up to Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend (May 27-28).

Ultimately, Otto’s Ottawa Power Crew is here for YOU. We are accountable to the greater running community and want to help you achieve your running goals while having fun along the way! Without you, we have no purpose!

So here’s my question, to get this party started: what would YOU like me and the rest of the Crew to be thinking about and engaging you about, between now and June? Tips & tricks for winter running? Best practices – or pitfalls to avoid – when training for an endurance race? Pre- or post-run food choices? Fuelling strategies for your big event? The coolest gear? The best post-run watering holes?

Comment below with any ideas, and I’d be glad to oblige, along with the rest of Ottawa’s Ottawa Power Crew!

–Tracy

Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend 2022: Event Report

And so it is that one of the most anticipated weekends in Ottawa over the last three years will now live on as a cherished memory for all who took part. Congrats to all TORW participants, staff, volunteers and spectators – you are all spectacular.

This is just my story – but there are tens of thousands of others, all equally worth telling.

My TORW 2022 story started last fall when I eagerly signed up for the Marathon, fuelled with enthusiasm to run a full again (my last was TORW 2017) and raise awareness and funds for the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health.

My story didn’t end the way it was supposed to. Due to some physical challenges – a back injury in late January; COVID in late March; and an undiagnosed illness that was likely flu (but felt as bad as COVID) at the beginning of May – my marathon build was doomed from the start. So I made a decision a couple of weeks before TORW to transfer to the Half. It was a wise decision.

But I digress. Here are the highs of my TORW – feel free to comment at the end of this post with yours!

Fundraising

  • Personally, I managed to raise $3,475.51 for the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health, which makes my heart sing. The Royal delivers essential services in our community to those suffering from mental-health challenges. Thank you to all of my sponsors – you carried me to the finish.
  • In aggregate, the Desjardins Charity Challenge raised over $890,000 for participating charities at time of writing. Thank you runners for rallying to make TORW even better for our community!
Thank you to all my sponsors!!!

Event Vibe

  • The Run Ottawa team really outdid themselves on this front. From the race kit pickup and Race Expo, to the races themselves, to the Festival Plaza and all things in between, TORW delivered an incredible participant experience that exceeded the highest expectations.
  • Particular kudos should be awarded for the look & feel of event elements – the shirts/swag, Race Expo design, event & course signage – and especially the new finish-line LED wall experience – all came together in a visually stunning manner. My son is very good at graphic design and said, “Dad – they totally nailed it. They could not have done a better job of selecting a colour scheme and look that works like that.”
TORW Race Director Ian Fraser at the opening-night Warm-up Party

Spectators

  • As always, the Ottawa community came out in droves to infuse all runners with much-needed energy and positivity. Special props to the kids (as always!), the noise-makers, and those who were brave enough to wear confining costumes in the heat … as well as to residents who donated their sprinklers to runners desperately in need of cooling.
  • For those who shouted out my name as I ran by – there were many of you, but sometimes I couldn’t actually see you to know who you were – thank you. Trust me, runners can pick their name out of a boisterous crowd and it means the world to us.
Tasha Wodak winning the 10k on Saturday evening … the support of spectators all along the 10k route is something you don’t see in most races

Volunteers

  • I don’t know this year’s number but typically there are about 2,000 volunteers who make TORW happen. This year’s volunteers seemed to be EVERYWHERE, and they were always busy making the experience better for participants and spectators. Thank you!
  • This included medical staff and volunteers who patrolled the course to ensure that runners stayed safe. No serious medical situations were reported as of the end of TORW, which on a day like Sunday says a lot about the responsiveness and dedication of this crew.
  • A special nod to the TORW Race Committee – an inner-core group of knowledgeable TORW veterans who know what they are doing … and do it so well that I would assert TORW is the best-run multi-race event weekend on the planet, certainly in North America.

Xtra Mile Crew

  • These volunteers get their own shout-out. Highly visible and on course in the 10k, Half and Full events, they were there to help runners finish their journey. They stayed until the very last runner crossed the line. I know many XMC members and to a person they are kind, giving people. Thank you.

Otto’s Ottawa Power Crew

  • This one is a bit selfish. I was privileged to be part of this group in 2022. Otto’s Ottawa Power Crew is a team of volunteers who took to social media to raise awareness of TORW and advise runners on topics like training, injury prevention, nutrition, etc. I am honoured to have been part of the Crew in 2022 and have met some incredible new friends in the running community from Ottawa and beyond.
  • A special shout-out here to Crew lead Jennifer Tuthill. Using the “Crew” metaphor, Jenn was our coxswain – giving us direction, spurring our collective energy, suggesting creative ways to engage other runners and the community, and generally keeping us inspired. THANK YOU, JENN!
Otto’s Ottawa Power Crew – we present well

The Run Ottawa Team

  • When I tell people that Run Ottawa – the organization that puts on TORW – only actually has a handful of employees, the response is usually shock. But it’s true. There are very few cogs in the RO machine.
  • I want to give a special shout-out and thank-you to the RO employees who worked around the clock so that TORW was every bit as amazing as we hoped it would be, and then some: THANK YOU to: Lisa; Jenn; Al; Joe; Morgan; Danielle; Alistair; Dave; and Ankur. You are so amazing and TORW Director Ian Fraser is so very fortunate to have you!
  • Speaking of Ian: how’s THAT for delivering under pressure? A new TORW Race Director, who has to put together an “experience to remember” after two long years? Ian – you crushed it. Thanks so very much on behalf of all of us for steering the ship.

My Personal Story: the Half-Marathon

  • I had absolutely no idea how I’d do in the Half, given my two COVID-like illnesses in March (definitely COVID) and early May (felt like COVID). My lungs and head still had some leftover congestion going into TORW week, so I set my expectations low.
  • Standing in the corral on Sunday morning with my amazing running friend Tegan (thank you, Tegan!), I could feel the sun and heat already … and it was only 8:45am. I dialled my expectations back, mentally. Tegan and I agreed to run an easy pace and just enjoy the experience. We kept each other honest in the early going even though our Garmins consistently disagreed on our moving pace, by up to 10s/km.
Tegan and Yours Truly in the Half corral
  • After about 7k, the race started feeling a bit too much like “work” to both of us … so Tegan and I had a quick chat (as runners do) and agreed to just run based on feel for the balance of the race. We agreed to separate and drifted apart over the next 500m or so.
  • At the 9.5k mark, I saw the XACT Nutrition cheer station. So awesome. I had several friends in there (Stephen, Tammy and Kristel among them) and their infectious energy was a much-needed “power-up” during what otherwise would have been a very uninspiring part of the course in Tunney’s Pasture.
  • I actually ran the middle part of my race quite well … proceeding with a very gradual negative split. Until about the 15k mark … at which point I boarded the Struggle Bus.
  • For the last 6.1k, my heart rate increased – as did the frequency of my walk breaks – as the sun and heat took its toll and I needed more fuel and water/electrolytes to keep going. Fortunately, I reminded myself that I was to run by feel … so when things started feeling “hard” I dialled it back a bit and monitored my breathing. Many times I thought of my amazing PT Richelle and the advice she would give me in this sort of situation.
  • At about the 17k mark (Sussex Drive, just north of the Rideau Centre) my left calf started twinging with sharp bolts of pain. This is an early indicator of a possible calf cramp – a runner’s nightmare. You know something worse (much, much worse) could be coming … but when? Could I finish the race before it happened? I made a decision to change my form a bit. I am normally a mid/forefoot runner, so I deliberately started landing more flat-footed, to bring my heel down further and give the calf a bit of a stretch on each foot plant. It worked: while there were other twinges in the last 4k, the calf did not seize.
  • Once I got to the Pretoria Bridge, I knew that while I wasn’t “home” yet, it was only a matter of 6-7 minutes, tops, to the finish. And with the wall-to-wall screaming spectators to get me there, I knew I was going to be OK.
  • I finished in 1:55:19 … in the top 19% of all runners. Not bad for an old dude with bad post-COVID lungs! And I enjoyed it.
18k in, at the Shaw Centre

All in all, TORW delivered and then some. The bar has been raised! I look forward to many, MANY more TORWs in my future. I hope you all had the same experience as me – please don’t hesitate to post your own comments below so I can share your experience too!

–Tracy

19.1k point … 2k to go and looking surprisingly strong (not gonna lie, I wasn’t feeling that way!)
Fin … 1:55:19

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.