Run For The Toad training log #4: The magic of the week of

For me, closing in on the starting line of any race causes nerves, but there’s something about “the week of” that feels transformative and magic .

Suddenly, everything I’ve been chasing is terrifyingly and tantalizingly close.

Long training hours turn into short runs that shake the dust, but there’s no pushing for more distance. Whatever work I could do to prepare myself out on the trail or road has been done. I can only eat well, get enough sleep, prep my kit and be patient. I can sit with my anxiety and my flighty excitement.

I can once again lace myself into the shoes of the protagonist. Envision the start, the struggle, the finish line. “The week of” gives me time to reflect on the work.

Race week is also magic because any joy of running that I lost during sometimes gruelling training starts to return.

I feel a buoyant and exciting propulsion towards the finish I forgot I was craving. It’s easy to get lost in the middle of months of work and forget what you were pushing for in the first place.

”The week of” sharpens everything into focus. It brings the goal back in sight. Race day is coming, it will happen and then it will be over—and there’s literally nothing to do but go along for the ride.

You can’t guess how many minutes your race day experience will go on for—how many steps are in that mason jar guessing game?—but it won’t be anywhere near as many as the hours you poured into getting ready. You might as well try to enjoy every moment of build you can… And every second of the actual day.

Because for all the struggle and suffering you put into it—when it’s over, glowing with victory, wrapped in your foil blanket like a sweaty burrito, with a medal around your neck and a banana in hand… You’ll start to miss training and racing. It’s just that instantaneous, the way the feeling of joy comes and goes once the race is over.

Cue melancholy and longing music.

So this week is a time to prepare and think about stuff before the pre-race joy and the post-race blues. To go a little out of your mind as you prepare for your battle. To brace yourself and breathe deep and recognize that even getting to this point is a huge accomplishment.

The week of is an energizing chance to look back on what went wrong, what went right, and what goals or hopes wait on the other side of the race… AKA what race you’ll be signing up for next… AKA the thing you promised yourself you probably wouldn’t do but now you’re almost most definitely doing.

Run For The Toad 2019—I’m ready for you…. and whatever impulsive, soul-saving decisions come to me in the week that follows.

Run For The Toad training log #3: Let’s get first aid training!

During a recent long run, I was on my way back towards my car to complete my 18kms when two cyclists passed me going uphill.

As I watched one of them struggle up the incline, I noticed a huge tear in the back of his skin-tight cycling shirt, and the deep red scrape underneath it.

This dude had definitely bitten the dust, hard. So hard, in fact, it didn’t look real.

He looked like the Hollywood version of someone who had crashed their bike—like there was a team of special effects and makeup artists crouched somewhere in the bushes, waiting to be called in for touch ups. That doesn’t look painful enough. Can we make it more painful?

“James,” Mr. I-Ate-It called out to the rider ahead of him. “James!” And James slowed down to a stop until they were paused, side by side. I was still churning my way up the incline behind them, closing in just enough to hear this gem:

“The bone in my finger is poking through the skin.” Oh okay.

I was completely useless.

If I had had a role in this production it would have been Woman In Background Of Scene Gaping Silently In Horror And Disgust. I really need to update the First Aid training I took in my Grade 6 babysitting course.

James mumbled something back to him—which I didn’t hear over the alarms ringing in my ears—and the two swung back onto their bikes and continued up the hill, albeit at a slower pace. No place to go but forward, I guess.

Now I’m maybe more horrified than ever at the prospect of biking on the trails. There are times where I almost faceplant at low, low speeds.  At a high velocity? On wheels? No thank you.  

As I rounded the bend, I locked eyes with the father of a small family of three who were coming from the other direction.

Judging from the expression on his face, he had heard about the bone-out-of-skin situation too and, just like me, he wasn’t ever going to be able to unhear it.

Run For The Toad training log #2: Trail running for beginners

It’s been a weird and crazy summer of travel, but in between zipping across the world and back, I’ve managed to keep up a mostly-regular schedule of runs in the city and also on the trails—and I’ve been learning a LOT.

So, here’s some things I’ve learned while training for Run For The Toad 2019 as someone who has never before taken on long distance trail race training. A little “trail running for beginners” if you will.

1. Embrace trail running pace; kiss your regular pace goodbye

Seriously. Hills, technical sections with roots or rocks, running into hikers with friendly dogs (DOGS!)—they’re all going to slow you down. And you know what? That’s good. It’s kind of the point. I didn’t go out into nature to get the hell out of nature as fast as I could.

Plus, eliminating the speed element (for the most part) and instead opting for the “I just want to survive the obstacles and make it back to my car” makes it into a fun kind of survival game nobody else is playing.  

Mind you, I still track my time and my distance, but this is more to ensure I’m covering adequate ground for training and also for providing my family with time estimates as to how long I can be gone in the woods for before they should call the police.

2. Bring real food snacks

I’ve discovered that unlike road running, trail running requires more than some super sweet goo or the usual run candy. It has been a huge help to throw some more substantial snacks in my bag like granola bars or jerky to keep me powered up even when the going gets tough and the calves start screaming.

(Dogs and snacks… How did it take me so long to discover trail running life?)

3. Don’t wear headphones

This is trail running 101. No headphones, no music, no podcasts. Yes, you’re going to be trapped in your own thoughts for a few hours. If that sounds awful, that’s probably exactly what you need.

Also, it’s going to keep you from being run over by mountain cyclists and horseback riders, or worse, scared out of your wits by a hiker group you should have heard over the depthy debate NPR is serving into your earholes.

Weekly Roundup: Exercise Versus Alzheimer’s, a Transgender Athlete Study, and Run for the Toad Training Begins!

Working out can protect you from Alzheimer’s


I’m all about finding reasons to get moving that don’t have the underpinnings of diet culture attached—and research may have given us another one! Runner’s World and have both reported on a new study showing that getting your body moving even a little more each day can help prevent the buildup of plaque in the brain previously connected to Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers are looking into movement as a preventative treatment as well.
Check out the Runner’s World Article here.
Read about the research findings here.

Study launches to SEPARATE fact and fiction about transgender athletes

There’s a lot of bluster and misinformation being spread in the media about the so-called edge that transgender athletes (particularly female ones) have over their cisgender counterparts. The catch is just this: there haven’t been any large-scale definitive studies to prove the existence or nonexistence of such advantages.

Now, Canadian-born researcher Joanna Harper is set to lead a large study on transgender athletes, hopefully bringing today’s most heated debate in athletics truth over opinion. Read about the study on the Huffington Post.

“Until we have several of these larger-scale studies done worldwide, it’s hard to be truly definitive on anything.” - Joanna Harper, in interview with the CBC

Run for the Toad training begins!

Shameless self promotion: I’ve officially started training for my upcoming Run for the Toad 25K race coming up in October—and I’m writing some training blogs to keep track of the progress.

Read the first one here—where I’m a scarecrow made of sandbags, a mosquito pin cushion, and a true crime fan running alone in the woods.

Run for the Toad Training Log #1: A Sandbag Scarecrow & Mosquito Bites

Run #1: Run For The Toad, Hitting The Road

• First official day of Run for the Toad training: the road to my first major trail race starts here.

• I'm always looking for omens, and can foolishly get into the mindset that the first run will set the tone for the rest of training. The tone of this run was "sweat and suffering".

• Coming off a run break in Italy, I was hoping for fresh legs but they ended up feeling like lead. Thankfully training schedule called for a slow fiver—”slow” was the only speed I had in the tank.

• What is it about running in the heat that makes you feel like a scarecrow made of sandbags?

• By the time I completed my usual 5k work loop, I noticed what looked like tiny beads of sweat on my arms. Turns out it was hot enough to experience milaria crystallina—a mild heat rash. I think I’m off to a great start.

Run #2: Hill Repeats, A Horror Story

• I headed into a nearby trail to take on some hill repeats, bug spray from my apartment and thank goodness I did. Closer to dusk, the woods were buzzing. Every two seconds there was a mosquito whining in my ear.

• I trotted a little over a kilometre into the woods and came to three forks in the road (a trident)? There was a longer less steep hill, a steeper hill. I chose the steeper hill and got to hustling.

• …Hustling is code for having my butt kicked by a hill. Note to self: research proper technique for running up and down hills. I could feel my body hunching and my form and posture slipping.

• Everything felt… not great. I got a stitch in my side a few times from the humidity. My knees didn't feel quite easy on the path. My calves needed stretching. I barfed in my mouth at least once (at LEAST).

• I accidentally had the GPS on my Fitbit (I’m not a tracking junkie) but may have come up with a rough average of my speed per kilometre out on the trails… Which is only important because I've been toying with the idea of training for time-on-feet instead of distance. I know some people do it for ultras, but I'm wondering if it might help me as I sharpen for the 25k.

• Need to build in some cross-training and lots of stretching to make this work. I have no doubt I can finish this race… But I’d like to finish it in one piece, strong.

• Made it back to the car. Still somehow got some mosquito bites. … Bastards. Running is going to literally eat me alive.

Run #3: Slow And Steady

• Headed out for my first long run with a double espresso from Tim Hortons and a blueberry muffin. It was early, sunny, not too hot—great running conditions.

• Lots of other cars parked at the trailhead (runners & or cyclists also up and about early).

• Ended up walking up a lot of hills and jogging down them. First off, to conserve energy. Also noticing my body hasn’t 100% adapted to tackling hills yet so trying to focus on building the muscles before trying to barrel anywhere.

• Running further and further out into the woods all I can think about is true crime and how hard it would be to find a body out in the forest.

• Which is right around when a cyclist lets out a loud whoop from behind me as he blazes by (thanks buddy) and I nearly pee myself.

• Round out the 14km with a decent amount of energy left in the tank, even if my legs are tired. Only a little bit of aches and pains the next day, which I’m hoping will ease up with training and muscle development.

• At least 14km is over half the distance I’ll be doing in Run For The Toad. Makes the whole thing seem less scary… a little.

Mambo Italiano: Lessons From My First Body Positive Vacation

I had the incredible privilege of spending the past two weeks on vacation in stunning Italy. My family and I went to Mondello and Palermo in Sicily for a family wedding the first week, spent the second week in sunny Sorrento, and rounded out the trip with a couple days in Naples.

I was nervous about lots of things about this trip—about only speaking un pochinno italiano and having to get everything at work organized before I left. But, on top of that, I had a lot of body and food related anxiousness.

Cue: diet culture-based nerves about visiting a country famed for its love of carbs (bread, pasta, pizza), having an uncertain schedule, and heck—even wearing a bathing suit had me sweating (not only because Canada and Europe were in the middle of a massive heatwave).

We got home last night. I’m battling jetlag as I type this, but I wanted to distill what I learned about fitness, food, and self love from the entire experience before I plunge into training for Run for the Toad, job hunting, and general life in Canada.

1. The world didn’t end when my running routine did

I’m the first person to admit that my relationship with running is a little co-dependent—like many runners, I have a hard time skipping runs without feeling antsy or, worse, guilty. I packed my gear and my Sauconys with the intention of getting up early to get in at least three runs each week.

I ran twice—once in Modello and once in our hotel in Naples when it was too hot to go outside. The rest of the time I was running to the local cafe for a espresso or a gelato (or both).

Instead of running, I navigated the sun-baked labyrinth of Palermo by map, explored the ruins of Pompeii, climbed Vesuvio and swam in the Mediterranean Sea. BUT even if I had spent the entire time lounging beachside with an Aperol Spritz for company, it would have been fine.

My legs didn’t lose their muscle. My lungs didn’t atrophy. I was so busy having fun I didn’t even miss running. (It pains me to type this.)

2. Eating the pizza and embracing simplicity

Italy was big on simple ingredients, bold flavours (shoutouts to my brand new espresso addiction). I was able to put aside my diet culture fears because I wanted to try it all. There’s no magic trick to make this happen. I have a fairly normal relationship with food (albeit after a history of disordered eating). However, if diet culture started dripping poison in my ear, I just reminded myself that I hadn’t bought a plane ticket to hold back or feel guilty.

You know what? I don’t regret a single bite.

I tasted pizza in Naples with a sauce that thrummed on my palate with so much vibrancy and freshness that it damn near made me burst into tears. I ate mango gelato from a brioche Sicilian style that was the best mango-flavoured anything I’ve ever tasted. I schkoffed mounds of pasta seasoned with nothing but herbs and olive oil, buried under jewels of mussels, clams, and lobster. I didn’t feel guilty about any of it because I wasn’t about to let diet culture ruin my vacation.

In fact, I brought a special souvenir home—a new philosophy: “cook simply and don’t let yourself regret any bite.”

3. All bodies are beach bodies (no, really)

Italians are kinda known worldwide for being conventionally beautiful—perhaps blindingly so. Mondello is known for being a gorgeous beach town—given the recent shakiness of my confidence , this felt like a dangerous combination.

I know all of the adages—one person’s beauty doesn’t diminish your own, all bodies are beach bodies etc. etc. I also know I work at a desk, away from the sun’s tender touch (aka pale af) and spent my early twenties hiding under a t-shirt every time I went to the beach or pool.

I was determined to do what felt impossible and get to the beach in my first ever bikini. When we got down to the sand and surf, there were literally all body types kicking it on the sand—and nobody cared (to which I have to thank the privileges of having an enabled, white, cis-gendered, small-fat body). I wish I could say it felt awesome, but really it felt… like nothing. It felt normal… because even in Italy, it kind of was.

So I sun bathed and went into the ocean for the first time in almost two decades and loved it.

Now that the whole trip is over, I’m hoping to take the revitalized thrill of travel and channel it into cooking some fun new things and adventuring forward into training for Run for the Toad in October! (Stay tuned for training blogs.)