Challenging Times, Helping Others

Hi, all – and thanks for the visit.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

screen shot 2019-01-20 at 10.06.32 pm

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

stwm 2012

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

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

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


Long … SLOW … runs.


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Sunday Morning Run Club - Apr 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Silent Auction Payment Page: Royal Foundation for Mental Health Fundraiser


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

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

Buy Now Button

Thanks again!

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

Come and Play for the Royal!

Hi all,

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

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

The event details are as follows:

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

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

Running for the Royal!

Hi all,

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








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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Making the Unspeakable, Speakable

Hi all.

Something happened this week that made it perfect timing for a blog  update.

As many of you know, while training for last month’s Ottawa Marathon, I raised funds for the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health.  The Foundation invited me and my teammates (Cathy and Melissa) to an appreciation event at the Royal on Monday, June 19.

Attending the event, to provide their support and thanks, were Luke and Stephanie Richardson.  For those not from Ottawa, Luke is an Ottawa-born NHL alumnus, who played with the Ottawa Senators from 2007 though 2009, and was assistant coach with the team for a few years following.  He is still active with the team as head coach of the Binghamton Senators in the AHL.

But that’s not why the Richardsons’ presence at the event was noteworthy.

Their story is tragic.  In 2010, Luke and Stephanie lost their then 14-year-old daughter, Daron, to suicide.  At the time, they were unaware of Daron’s mental health issues and struggles.

I remember thinking, while listening to Luke and Stephanie speak:  they have experienced an unspeakable tragedy.

But ironically, that notion was contrary to the entire point of their talk.

Rather than retreating into private silence from the resulting pain and hardship – which would have been an entirely understandable response – the Richardsons decided instead to use their loss as a call to action, creating Do It For Daron (DIFD).  DIFD was initially a grassroots effort to raise awareness of issues relating to teenage mental health, and create opportunities for youth to talk about their feelings and ask for help, versus suffering silently and alone under the weight of the stigma related to mental health issues.

DIFD aims to achieve this transformation by providing youth, teachers, coaches and others with the strength and resources to engage and create conversations about mental health issues – and to get help when needed.


To say the movement has grown, would be an understatement.  The purple DIFD heart is a universally-known symbol in the Ottawa area.  Teenagers are learning that it’s OK to to have bad feelings, and that if they do, it’s OK to reach out for help, and engage others in conversation.

And the Royal is part of the process.  The Royal spearheads initiatives that support DIFD such as: research and information to help prevent suicide; programs like Is It Just Me? that teach high school-aged kids about their feelings and how the brain works; the HealthyMinds app that helps kids gauge their feelings and deal with stress; and other initiatives designed to better understand youth mental health and equip our youth with the tools and resources they need to cope.

And yet … and, yet – we are still losing our kids to suicide and other outcomes from mental illness.  Our work is never done.

Listening to Luke and Stephanie speak – using their story to urge teens to talk, and their friends, parents, coaches and others to ask questions – was incredibly moving.

These courageous people have made the unspeakable, speakable.

For this reason, I’m going to keep raising money for the Royal and for DIFD – through my running and through other fundraising initiatives.  Our kids are too rare and precious not to throw all of our resources behind.

So be on the watch for my future runs and other related events, that I’ll share with you.  Thank you in advance, for any support you can lend along the way.

In the meantime – click on the link below and take a look:

Luke and Stephanie discuss their experience, DIFD, and the importance of caring for our youth.

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Ottawa Marathon 2017 Report: a Different, But AWESOME, Experience!

Hello again!

The 2017 Ottawa Marathon is now in the history books.  My experience this year was a bit different, on a number of fronts:

  • I was one year older.  As you get to a certain point on life’s timeline, you start to think more carefully about potentially health-altering choices.  Like running 42.2km in the heat.  But I decided to do it.
  • For the first time, I entered a race with injuries to worry about.  My right Achilles tendon and calf had been pretty sore for the months leading up to the race.  And my left hamstring, which I strained in the fall of 2015, reminded me regularly that it was there.  I wasn’t sure what, if any, effect this would have on my ability to run 42.2km at a pace of MY choosing.  Turns out, it had no effect at all.  Race-day adrenaline heals many ills.
  • Also for the first time, I was a member of Team Awesome – a group of passionate, enthusiastic and social runners who work with Race Weekend organizers to promote awareness of the event and (hopefully) increase registration numbers.  It was an absolute blast to be part of this great team, and I now have many new running friends scattered throughout Canada and in the USA … and one from Kenya!


Team Awesome 2017 Fun Shot - May 2017

Team Awesome 2017 – so privileged to be part of this group!

  • I had missed some training in the months leading up to the marathon.  In March, I got a very bad flu and couldn’t run (literally) for a couple of weeks.  You can see from my running distance chart below, the effect this had on my training volume:

Not hard to tell where the flu bug sidelined me …

But some things this year were very similar to Ottawa Race Weekends past:

  • The weekend was INCREDIBLY well organized, details well communicated and courses expertly marshalled … thanks to the organizers and thousands upon thousands of volunteers.
  • The course was beautiful.  And the fervent crowd carried us all to the finish.  Again.  Always.  Ottawans are SO lucky to live in this incredible city.


TORW Course

Seriously – can it GET better than this?!?

  • My fundraising went well – I have raised $2117 for the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health … $100 (exactly) over my $2017 fundraising target.  Thanks again to all of my supporters for your kind generosity (see my last post for more on this).  And a shout-out to my fundraising teammates Cathy Christenson and Melissa Bindner, for their work for the Royal as well!
  • Related to the Royal:  I ran in honour of a family friend, Helen O’Brien, who worked at the Royal for her entire career and who passed away from cancer last November.  Sadly, this is not the first race I’ve run in honour of an absent friend.
  • It was HOT.  Again.  My running friends refer to this phenomenon as “the Shouldice Curse” now, as if it’s a given.  As in:  if Shouldice is running a half or full, it’s going to be crazy-hot out.  A week prior to the race, they were predicting 16C and cloudy with showers.  We ended up with 25C and full sun.  The curse strikes again!  But the heat makes for better war stories after the race.
  • My finish time (4:00:12) was jussssst over the psychological barrier that I’d like to stay under (and have stayed under, in my two prior marathons:  3:51 and 3:59).  But I walked for several minutes with a friend who was in a world of hurt at the 33k mark, and so I’m happy with the result.  Sometimes it’s not about the destination, but rather the journey.

When I ran the Ottawa (2014) and Chicago (2015) marathons, I documented some of my memories and feelings of gratitude afterwards.  I do so again here; for whatever it’s worth, here goes … in more-or-less chronological order:

  • Bonnie & Reid:  thank you, again, for putting up with my running “habit” (and Reid, so glad you too have caught the bug!).  I know I was away – a lot – in the winter and spring, between my business trips and my inflexible running schedule.  Thank you for understanding how important it is to me, and indulging me without judgment.  And Reid – congrats on your 5k (19:57) and half (1:43) performances!
  • Team Awesome:  you are da BOMB.  What a great group of people.  I found it amazing that when we first met as a group, in person, on Friday night, it was like we had all known each other for years.  Such is the power of social media and the fellowship of the running community.  Thank you all for your camaraderie, and I truly hope to be part of it again next year!
  • Saturday/Sunday Run Club (Sandy, Cathy, Jane, Mel, Dennis, Brent):  you made many a cold, dark, miserable weekend morning bearable.  Just the thought of the post-run coffee/gab was enough to get me out of bed and onto the cold, snowy/slushy/icy streets.


Sunday Morning Run Club - Apr 2017

Saturday/Sunday Run Club.

  • Rick Hellard:  as always, Coach, thanks for the advice, when needed, to get me past the obstacles (both physical and mental).
  • Ottawa Race Weekend organizers & volunteers:  THANK YOU for everything.  From the privilege of being on Team Awesome, to the President’s Reception, to the VIP tent at the finish line, to the races themselves and everything around them, you hit it out of the park, again.  Ottawa is a mid-sized city, but it puts on a world-leading event.  There’s nothing like Ottawa.


  • Mother Nature:  you came at us hard in both 2016 and 2017, but we were victorious!!!  Next year, some cloud, maybe a breeze and some cooler temps would be nice.  You were kind to the spectators, though – so maybe I need to be thankful of that.
  • Spectators:  again, well done.  The crowd can be a bit sparse in the early going (let’s be honest:  7:00am is a bit of a tough time to be out on the streets if you’re not actually in the race), but was in full, rowdy force by the time I hit Wellington West (CRAZY!) and peaked in the last 4k (Colonel By, Pretoria, and Queen E) — providing me with energy that I desperately needed to get to the finish line.  In particular, a big thanks to:  my brother Lee (who woke up at 4am to go downtown with me, and saw me off at the start line); Peter & Helen Smith (at the start line and also on Sussex drive); Peter & Chris McDougall (whom I saw THREE times on course, Pete proudly waving the New Brunswick and Acadia flags); Andrew Codrington, Shari Orders & Lia Codrington (whom I saw in the Glebe); Rob Ferguson (whom I caught mid-yawn on Queen E just west of the Bank Street bridge); and my brother and sister-in-law, Tyler & Kim (on Scott Street, just west of Tunney’s Pasture).  Also a big thanks to the anonymous spectators who spurred me on to start running again toward the end, when I was starting to falter a bit.


  • The kid who handed me a freezie on Stanley Avenue:  dude, you are a life saver.  That said, I got a massive freezie headache post-consumption, and wasn’t thankful in that particular moment.
  • My godson, Derek Smith, who found me in the recovery area:  Derek is a triathlete who competes for Queen’s University (cha geill!).  Derek ran his first marathon that day, in 3:15.  Oy.  Derek, sorry I had to keep moving so abruptly, but I felt like I was going to pass out and had to find a bench in the shade (see next point).
  • The runner who asked me if I was OK after the race:  I was experiencing pretty intense tingling in my arms & legs, so knew I needed to sit down, quickly.  So I did.  The chap beside me checked in on me to make sure I was OK.  We chatted a bit (he was French and graciously put up with my attempt to speak the language) – turns out he ran his first marathon that day, a 3:45 in that heat.  Respect.
  • Power-bell guy, punch-the-cardboard-sign-for-beer-guy, the musicians, dancers, bell ringers, clacker whackers, drumming crews, Captain Canada, and every kid who high-fived runners:  thanks to all of you, for the welcome distractions.

I think that’s it, for this report.  Thanks again to all of you for the support and encouragement (enablement?) you provide to me and runners like me.  I’m not sure I’ll do another marathon after this one – I’m beginning to realize that my sweet spot is the half.  But one thing I’ve learned in this sport is never to say never.

Over & out,


Pre-Marathon Thank-Yous

Hi friends & followers,

We are only six days from the gun as I write this.  Per my last post, I’m well into the maranoia stage of race prep now, and checking the weather for May 28 about 14 times a day.  I’m also trying really hard to avoid people in general, and germs in particular.  But that comes with the territory.

I wanted to use my last pre-marathon post to thank the wonderful friends and family I have, for their support and generosity as I trained for the race and at the same time raised funds for a very worth cause, the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health.

First, some personal thank-yous:

  • Thanks to my “Sunday Run Club” friends, who have trained with me throughout the cold, dark and unforgiving Ottawa winter.  Running in the cold, dark and barren Ottawa winter is not something that comes easily or naturally.  In particular, thanks to Cathy Christenson and Melissa Bindner (who are my fundraising teammates on Tracy’s Trotters), as well as to Jane Spiteri and Dennis Jackson (who were always available to keep our spirits up and keep us grounded).  And Jane – thanks for hosting those Sunday bitchfests, after our long runs!  Also thanks to Brent Smyth – who, while not joining us on our long runs (as he is prepping for his first Ironman!), lent his support from the virtual sidelines with encouraging texts, Facebook posts etc.
  • Tracy & Sandy - May 13 2017

    Sandy and I on our last long run before Race Weekend 2017

    A special shout-out to my running twin, Sandy MacLeod.  Sandy is a fellow ginger, and someone who happens to be perfectly matched to me in terms of distance and pace.  We also share the same fave author/novel (John Irving/a Prayer for Owen Meany), and recently discovered that we have a mutual friend who lives in Toronto (life’s funny that way).  We’ve logged a lot of kilometres this winter … and in the summer and fall of 2016, as well (we both ran in the Scotiabank event last October).  Sandy:  thanks for the company, the conversation (read:  listening to me go on and on), and the post-run COFFEE.  (And one of these days, your dog is going to decide that I’m OK!).

  • Thanks to my running coach, Rick Hellard – I’ve known Rick for 6 years now, and he has coached me through numerous half- and full-marathon efforts.  I love Rick’s energy and no-BS approach to training (basically:  show up, do the work, no shortcuts, no excuses).  Rick kept me on plan (well, as best as can be when I travel every second week!) and was there whenever the injuries and doubts started to surface.
  • Finally, and most important:  a huge thank-you and I-love-you to my wife and son, Bonnie Peebles and Reid Shouldice.  Every week, I disappear for several hours to get my runs in.  And after my Sunday long run, I disappear again in the afternoon, for a nap.  You’ve not said much about all of this, but I know that sometimes it’s not ideal to have me absent (although often, it’s perhaps a godsend!).  You never heap on the guilt for my absences, or shut me up when I go on and on about long runs, intervals, splits, ignorant drivers/cyclists, weather, or my aches & pains (which have been on the increase this time around).  And I know you will be there for me next Sunday, both during and after the race (an aside:  Reid is running the half on Sunday – good luck, Reid!  At least this year you won’t be running it on a broken leg – true story).

Second, some thank-yous to my fundraising sponsors.  I set out with a lofty goal for this race.  Seeing it is Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017, I decided to try to raise $2017 for the Royal.  But I didn’t have time to do any sort of event-based fundraising, so I needed this time to rely solely on friends, colleagues and family.  And did they ever come through:  as of the time of this post, I’ve raised $2104, exceeding my goal.

So thank you to the following amazing people … when I see this list, it’s an amazing testimonial to how fortunate I am:

  • Pete & Jill
  • Stephen & Tara
  • Bill & Kristy
  • Lee & Carol
  • Brent
  • Susan
  • Cathy
  • Gary
  • Lara
  • Chris
  • Rob
  • Sue
  • The gang from Forrester
  • Brooke
  • Tina
  • Joanne
  • Nat
  • Wendy
  • Carol
  • Marilyn
  • Stephanie
  • Jeanne
  • John

Each and every one of you will be on my mind on Sunday as I progress through the 42.2km course.  You will ESPECIALLY be on my mind as I hit the wall somewhere in the 35-37k zone, and undoubtedly ask myself, “why the f*** am I doing this?”  You – and the Royal – make it all worthwhile.  (BTW – it’s not too late if you are interesting in supporting the Royal – just click here to make a difference!).

Finally, a profound, life-long and heartfelt thank-you to Helen O’Brien (nee Murphy).  As some of you know, Helen was a very close family friend, like a second mother to me and my two brothers when we were young, and like a younger sister to my Mom and Dad (both of whom were only children).  Helen was always a presence in our lives (even when thousands of kilometres separated our families), and she devoted her entire career to the Royal.  Sadly, we lost Helen last fall to cancer.  I last visited with her early last summer, and while at the time she knew that her prognosis was not good, she was at peace with her fate and somehow still retained the genuine and positive energy that she always had when we saw her.  She had a couple of good visits with Reid, as well, which I am thankful for – spreading her energy to another generation of Shouldices.

Murfff – this one’s for you.



Taper Madness … and Survival Tips

OK – so as I write this I am 12 days from the 2017 Ottawa Marathon.  12 days!!!  It’s around this time that runners begin the taper (the process of reducing the volume and intensity of running before the race, so your body has a chance to heal and rest up).  During the taper, a strange existential condition that I call “maranoia” takes hold:


With the race on the distant horizon of my mind’s eye, my brain turns to clear, logical, and entirely rational thoughts such as:

  • Will I lose all my training/conditioning during the taper?
  • What if I get sick?  OMG, my son/wife/dog is sniffling – I’m next!
  • What if I get injured?  I could stub my toe on something, or fall down the stairs!  What if someone drops an anvil on me?
  • What’s the weather going to be like?  If it’s like last year, it’s going to be stupid-hot!  What if it rains?
  • What should I eat/drink?  Can I have a beer in the next two weeks?  Should I start loading up on the carbs now?
  • What if I can’t sleep the night before the race?  I can’t run a marathon when I’m already exhausted …
  • What should I wear on race day?
  • What about that nagging knee/back/hip/calf/quad/glute/IT band problem I’ve been having – how am I possibly going to finish the race with that?!?
  • Are my nipples going to withstand 42.2km of chafing?

If you are running a long race on May 28, like me, some of these questions may have already crossed your mind.  If you are a first-timer:  I may have infected you with my condition if you’ve read this far … in which case, apologies … and welcome to the club.

But there is good news.  I’ve run two marathons – both under less-than-ideal conditions – and more half-marathons than I can count.  And I’ve lived to tell the tale.  You will, too.

So for fellow sufferers of maranoia, and especially for the first-timers, here are some words of encouragement from someone who has been there & done that:

  • If you have trained faithfully and diligently, you will be OK with taking things easy during the taper.  It took you 16-18 weeks of training to get here – you won’t lose all of that overnight.  Your body will be there for you, when you need it.
  • You can do the run, even if sick.  For my first marathon in 2014, I was sick as a dog.  But I finished, on a hot day, 2 minutes faster than my goal time.
  • You can also do the run if you haven’t slept much or at all.  It’s not ideal, of course … but the adrenaline and energy of the crowd will make you forget the sleep thing.  In that same 2014 marathon, I slept less than 3 hours the night prior to the race, due to my cold.
  • Related to the above:  the adrenaline of race day – from the pre-race vibe, the runners in the corral with you, and the spectators – will give you free energy and speed!  I generally run 10-15s per km faster during a race, than I think I can sustain.  I don’t know why it works – it just does.

Hopefully the above points address any “what-if?” concerns you may have.  Here are some other taper and pre-race tips that you may find useful:

  • Weather:  as much as you’d like to, you cannot control this.  But you can prepare.  I recommend that between now and May 28 you force yourself to do a run in the heat – even if just a short run.  For Ottawa residents, that opportunity is coming this Wednesday and Thursday.  Get out there, sweat it up, and ensure you know what running at race pace in the heat and humidity feels like.  You’ll thank yourself on race day (Ottawa is rarely cool at the end of May!).  Ditto for rain – pick a rainy day and get out there for 30 minutes or more.
  • Diet:  you CAN control what you eat.  In the taper period, don’t eat anything radically new or different.  This is NOT the time to try that five-star-hot curry.  Or to up your intake of fatty foods or red meats.  Or indulge yourself with that really wicked, 100-proof bourbon.  Or to do that root-veggie juice cleanse you’ve heard about.  Nothing new or radical, people.
  • Hydration:  yes, of course … but in moderation.  Don’t start drinking 8L of water a day leading up to race day, if you’ve not been doing that all along.  Do whatever has worked during your training.  Perhaps up the intake a bit in the 2-3 days prior to the race, but don’t chug like a crazy person the day prior.
  • Salt:  this is actually quite important, if it’s hot on race day.  There is this little thing called hyponatremia, that can kill you.  This is when you are depleted in sodium (e.g., due to excessive sweating).  So if it’s unusually hot, be sure that either your sport drink has sodium in it, or that you are popping some salt pills along the way.
  • Fuel:  again, don’t do anything new here.  If you’ve been using gels, keep using them (and at about the same intervals as during your long runs); if you use chews/chomps, keep using them.  If you did not use fuel when training, race day is NOT the time to start.
  • Chafing:  wear BodyGlide or similar protection, in any area of your body where your clothing might create some chafing issues.  Men:  be kind to your nipples!  For both genders – think about the seams of your shorts or undergarments, where your socks may have rubbed in the past, etc.  If you have done your training, you already know all of these sensitive areas, so ’nuff said.
  • Lube, part II:  if volunteers on the course are holding out sticks with globs of transparent goop at the end – those are NOT popsicles!  That is Vaseline, meant to replace any BodyGlide (see above) that may have worn off if you are perspiring a lot, or if it’s raining.  My advice:  take it and use it – they are handing it out for good reason.
  • Clothing:  DON’T. WEAR. ANYTHING. NEW.  I saw a woman at a race once wearing a brand new pair of shoes – for a marathon – that she had purchased the day prior, because she liked the colour.  When I last saw her, she was hobbling and crying in those beautiful shoes.  Don’t be that person.
  • The night before:  Lay out all your stuff.  Everything.  Shirt, shorts, socks, shoes, bib & pins, Garmin/GPS watch, fuel belt, gels, water bottles, salt pills, hat, BodyGlide, sunscreen, sunglasses, shoes, phone & buds (if you run with those), pace band.  EVERYTHING.  Leave nothing to chance.  The morning of the race, you may not be able to think clearly.
  • Race-day breakfast:  the morning of the race, go with whatever you have consumed before your long runs … if you drank coffee all along, be sure to have one (and if you didn’t, don’t!); if you normally eat oatmeal before your long run, eat oatmeal.  Do not have fried eggs & bacon (“for the protein”) if you’ve not done this before.
  • Pre-race warm-up:  be sure to loosen up before the run.  Do dynamic stretches and an easy warm-up run.  Get your body ready, loosen those muscles & joints, and build up a light sweat.
  • Corral jitters:  hey, we all get them.  My thing to do is to chat up the people around you.  Find a friendly face and engage – learn their story and how they got there.  Or just look around and soak up the pre-race vibe!
  • The start:  if your finishing time matters, check your GPS constantly.  As in, every 15-30 seconds.  If you start too quickly out of the gate (and we’ve all done it), you will never get that energy back at the end of the race.  I cannot stress this enough.  “Plan the run, and run the plan.”
  • The journey:  try, if you can, not to obsess too much with your pace.  Look around you!  Soak up the energy of the crowd.  Enjoy the course and surroundings.  Look for friendly faces among the spectators.  High-five a kid.  Thank the on-course entertainers and volunteers handing out fuel, water and Vaseline.  Pump your arms to get the crowd going.
  • The slog:  no matter how much you’ve trained, the last 2-3km (of a half) or 5-10km (of a full) will be hard.  Your brain will try to convince your legs to stop.  Have a mantra that will keep you going when this happens.  My trick is to think about people who are not as fortunate as me and cannot run the distance – in my case, the people for whom I run to raise awareness/funds for charity.  It’ll keep you going.
  • The finish:  when you approach the finish line, be sure to stand up straight (shoulders square, chest expanded) and smile for the crowd and cameras.  This is YOUR moment – you earned it, so enjoy it!
  • Recovery:  be sure to rest & elevate those tired legs & feet post-race.  Ice anything that needs it.  Maybe enjoy an epsom-salt bath … and a nap afterwards.  And the food:  GO CRAZY, you’ve earned this!

I hope this is helpful for new or inexperienced distance runners.  You’ve got this!

I’ll write another post after the marathon, to capture my journey.  Let me know how yours goes, too.  GOOD LUCK!




Some REAL Facts …

Hi all,

It’s May 1 as I write this.  And that means that the Ottawa Marathon is less than four weeks away!  This is when the marathoner looks forward to the “taper” process, wherein we rest up before the big day (although why we look forward to tapering, I don’t know – marathoners get a bit antsy when we can’t run – and it drives those around us crazy).

Taper Time

Tapering – you’ve been warned.  And the bit about chocolate is especially true.

For me, it’s also time to put in a final appeal to drum up support for the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health, the cause for which I’ll run the Ottawa Marathon on May 28.

Why support the Royal?  We live, sadly, in an age of “alternative facts.”  So to buck the trend, here are some REAL facts, provided to me by the Royal:

  • 1 in 3 Canadians will experience a mental health problem during their lifetime.
  • The physical, emotional and economic burden of mental illness and addictions amounts to more than 1.5 times that of all cancers, and more than 7 times that of all infectious diseases.
  • 70% of mental health problems have their onset during childhood or adolescence. The earlier an issue is treated, the higher the chance of recovery.
  • In any given week, at least 500,000 Canadians are unable to work because of mental health problems.
  • The cost to the Ontario economy of mental illness and addictions is $51 billion, each year.  That’s BILLION, people.


Supporting the Royal addresses three important facets of addressing mental illness and addiction:

  1. The Royal funds critical research that transforms the understanding and treatment of mental health issues.
  2. It applies this research and understanding to clinical service, thereby helping those suffering from these issues (anxiety, depression, addiction, sleep issues, schizophrenia, etc.) to get better, more quickly.
  3. It performs a critical advocacy role, educating and informing the public about mental illness issues, toward the goal of ultimately banishing the related stigma.


Could you help the Royal out?  Every dollar matters, and your support is greatly appreciated.  To sponsor my marathon and support the Royal, click here.

Thank you for your time and support, as always!