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!


If …


As my friends & family are aware, I’m running the Ottawa Marathon on May 28th, to raise funds for the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health.  I chose this worthy cause for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the Royal doesn’t give up on the potential of people.  The Royal strives to better understand the mysteries of the brain, and then use that understanding to make life better for those struggling from mental illness.

If you’ve read this far, I have a challenge for you:

If … you understand that today’s complex, fast-paced world and its related pressures can make it difficult for many people to cope …

If … you are dismayed when you hear news about struggles faced by people like you and me, every day …

If … you or anyone you love has been affected by mental illness …

If … you want to support a world-class research organization that continues to make great strides in mental health research, and invests in improving the care given to those with mental illness …

If … you want to contribute to critical, Royal-led initiatives such as the Campaign for Mental Health, Do It for Daron (DIFD), and the You Know Who I Am campaign

If … you want to make the world a better place for others …

If … you want to make a difference in the lives of others …

… then would you consider sponsoring my marathon?  I’ll run 42,195 metres on May 28th (that’s a lot of running, friends!), to help the Royal.  If you were to sponsor my run, your kind support will be the tailwind that will help me make my journey that morning and cross the finish line with a smile.

My personal goal is to raise over $2017 – to honour Canada’s 150th birthday celebration this year.  So far, I’m just shy of $1,000.  So I have a ways to go!  If you can contribute to my goal, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

To sponsor me:  click here.

Thank you so much for your time and support.  It means the world.


Why You Should Support the Royal

Hi friends & followers,

In January, I announced that I would run the Ottawa Marathon on May 28, 2017 to raise funds for the Royal Foundation for Mental Health … and to honour a family friend, Helen O’Brien, who dedicated her career to the Royal and helping others.

We live in difficult times.  Life’s pace is hectic, its pressures constant, its stressors many. Mental illness is an oft-hidden scourge that affects all of us, directly or indirectly. It shows itself in many ways. There are far too many stories in the news in which it is discovered too late that someone suffered from anxiety, or depression, or PTSD, or substance addiction – or some other manifestation of mental illness.

We’ve all been through it, or know someone who has.

The Royal is there, for those who need help. It is a critical advocate for those suffering from mental illness, and dealing with the stigma that comes with it.

Why donate to the Royal?  Here are only a few reasons:

  • The Royal advances life-saving research and patient care.
  • It responds quickly to critical funding needs as they arise.
  • Your support helps the Royal get more people suffering from mental illness into care and recovery, more quickly.
  • Your donation ensures that the Royal can continue to attract and retain the best and brightest minds in depression research
  • Money raised from donors helps the Royal purchase equipment that expands its capacity to help.
  • Your help funds critical Royal initiatives such as the Campaign for Mental Health, Do It for Daron (DIFD), and the You Know Who I Am campaign.

In summary:  donating to this worthy cause allows the Royal to transform lives.


Would you consider sponsoring my marathon on May 28?  It will spur me on to think of your support for the Royal during the 42.2 km run … and I promise to carry you with me each step of the way.

Here is my sponsor page:  https://secure.e2rm.com/registrant/FundraisingPage.aspx?registrationID=3654406&langPref=en-CA#&panel1-2 … for Canadian donors, the Royal will automatically issue a tax receipt for any donation over $20.00.

Thank you SO much for your time and consideration!


Running for a Cause in 2017

Hi all, and Happy 2017!  It’s going to be an interesting – and busy! – year …

team-awesome-2017-logoMost of you know that I will run the Ottawa Marathon on May 28.  I originally registered for the Half, but thought I would “upsize” my participation in Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend (TORW) 2017 when I was named to Team Awesome, a group of runners who are raising visibility/awareness of, and excitement around, TORW.

So – the old body willing, I’ll run 42.2km on Sunday, May 28.  May the weather gods look upon us favourably that day (they most definitely did NOT in 2016!).

If you know me well, you know that I have a passion about running to help others.  I’ve raised a lot of money in recent years for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada, for CHEO (via the Sears Run), for Candlelighters, and most recently, for Imerman Angels.

As part of Team Awesome and TORW 2017, I thought I would dedicate my 2017 marathon to one of the charities supported by the Scotiabank Charity Challenge (hashtag #RunScotia).  I gave the list of charities a look, and one stood out as an obvious choice to me:  the Royal Foundation for Mental Health.

Why the Royal?  There are a few reasons:

  • In today’s crazy, hectic world, more of us than ever struggle – often silently – with mental illness.  It’s one of those things that tends not to get as much attention as it should, due to social stigma … so I thought, why not help out this worthy cause?
  • The Royal does a TON of work to help those who suffer from mental illness, including critical research and advocacy services (it is one of Canada’s leading centres in this regard).  Funds raised for the Royal, as a result, are amplified beyond just the local community.
  • Finally – and most important to me personally – a very dear/close family friend, Helen O’Brien, devoted her entire career to the Royal, spending well over 50 years there helping patients.  Helen passed away in November, and I would like to do something for the Royal as a nod to Helen, and as a gesture of love & support for all that she did and all that she was to me and my family.  We miss you, Murfff.

Helen O’Brien with me at my brother’s wedding, August, 2010

Run Ottawa and Scotiabank make it very easy for me to support the Royal, and to reach out to my family, friends and colleagues to donate and make a difference to this worthy cause.  So you’ll be hearing from me soon.  Thanks in advance to all of you who will support me.

If you’re still reading this and want to make a difference – here’s the place to go … I’ve set a personal fundraising goal of $2017 for obvious reasons!

Tracy’s Donation Page – Ottawa Marathon 2017 (tax receipts will be issued)

In the meantime – out into the cold winter I go, to start training for May 29!  Hard to imagine now, but the race is just around the corner.

Twitter event – #runOTTchat – Sun Nov 20 at 8:00pm

Hey people!  A short public service announcement.  On Sunday, Nov 20 at 8:00pm ET, the members of #TeamAwesome, 2017 Edition, will be introduced to the running community on a tweetup.  The hashtag to follow:  #runOTTchat.

The event will introduce the team members and let us tell you a bit about ourselves, our running history and what motivates us to keep going.  I would love anyone planning to run in Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend (TORW) to join in on the fun!  If you are new to running or to racing, you should definitely check in … we will be sharing tips/advice for that first big race next May.

A personal request:  if you are socially-conscious runner, why not dedicate your TORW 2017 run to a charity and raise some money for people who could use a hand?  The Scotiabank Charity Challenge allows you to select an affiliated charity and use your participation in TORW as a vehicle to raise funds for those who could really use some help.  Check out the Scotiabank Charity Challenge page for more information/details – and by all means reach out if you want advice or guidance … through running, I’ve raised over $100,000 for charities in the last six years and I can give you some ideas!

So come one, come all on Sunday!  It’s going to be a blast.  #runOTTchat



Team Awesome for Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend 2017!

So this happened:  I’ve been selected by the organizers of Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend (TORW) to be part of Team Awesome, 2017 Edition!


The team is comprised of over 20 runners who are participating in TORW.  Our goal is to generate some energy & enthusiasm for the 2017 TORW event (May 27-28), and to build a sense of community among runners participating in the weekend.

I’m honoured and privileged to be part of this great crew, and you’ll be hearing from me and the rest of the team over the next 7 months.  There will be tweetups, group runs, blog posts, updates on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and so much more.  Be sure to follow the #RunOttawa2017 hashtag and @RunOttawa Twitter handle!

One of the perks of being part of Team Awesome is that we also get to run in the event of our choice during TORW.  I originally signed up for the half … but given that it will be 2017 and the 150th birthday of Canada, I’ve decided to supersize my participation and run the full!  I ran the Ottawa Marathon in 2014 under way-less-than-ideal conditions (SO.VERY.HOT!), so I want another kick at the beast.


Ottawa Marathon 2014 – clearly the heat wasn’t affecting my spirits TOO much … #NoSpongeLeftBehind

I’m nursing a couple of injuries right now, but am confident that between now and May I can do some rehab and build up my strength for the full 42.2-km adventure!

Those who know me well, also know that I run for causes.  I currently run for Imerman Angels, a charity that connects cancer fighters & their caregivers, with those who have been through it and come out the other end.  I hope to use my Team Awesome experience to encourage others to run for one or more worth causes during TORW!  It’s such a fulfilling way to match your running passion to making the world a better place for those who need a bit of help.  Contact me if you want some guidance on this front … I would love to engage any runner considering making a difference.


Chicago Marathon 2015 – for Imerman Angels

The rest of the team will be announced by Run Ottawa on Sunday, November 20 – much, much more to come.  Until then, keep running, stay connected and stay tuned!