Quest for Running Songs: “Delilah”

After a long hiatus, I’m finally getting back up and running – literally! – and am excited to introduce some of my new musical discoveries to fellow runners out there. Today’s selection Delilah comes from Florence + the Machine’s new album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. 

Firstly, I’d like to acknowledge that I have never been a fan of this band. When everyone else was going crazy for Dog Days Are Over, I didn’t get what the fuss was about; it just wasn’t my thing. But when I heard Delilah for the first time earlier this year, I was blown away. Within the first few seconds, this song pulled me in with its dark desperate drama, starting with a foreboding undertone that made me want to stick around to find out where it was heading. Hints of anger and frustration pepper the song as it slowly builds with an urgent energy to the driving chorus with the recurring line “It’s a different kind of danger”. Everything about this chorus – the lyrics, the duelling vocal layers, the driving rhythm – combines brilliantly to tap into my primal fight or flight instinct and gets my feet moving as if my own life depended on it.

Not only is this a great song for your next run, it’s really a great song all around. Just one tip: listen to it loud. 🙂


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Run for the Toad 25k

This year, I had lofty goals to complete my second half marathon as well as my first 25km trail run. Unfortunately, those goals were thwarted by a sudden back problem that started in early July and just wouldn’t go away. After selling my bib for the half marathon in September, I had resigned myself to not participating in the 25km race I’d signed up for. However, the runner’s gift was so good (a Nike backpack), I couldn’t bring myself to let it go so I decided I’d drive the 1.5 hours to Cambridge anyway to pick up my pack and then would go hiking in the area instead of participating in the race.

However, as race day drew closer, I started thinking ‘well if I’m going to go hiking, I may as well hike the race route for a bit to check it out for next year.’ I spoke to my physiotherapist who cautiously gave me permission to do part of the race as long as I agreed to walk the first 2km, then gently run/walk before bailing out at the halfway point. Of course I did none of those things, and so: here is my race report for the Run for the Toad 25k.

run for the toad logo

To spare myself an early morning wakeup, I got a cheap hotel in Cambridge via Priceline for the night before and enjoyed a nice leisurely drive to the race site arriving at a respectable 8:30. Parking was getting full but they had lots of attendants directing us which made it go very smoothly.

I had read that it’s a bit of a hike to pick up race kits and that’s true, but I treated it as a warm-up so I didn’t mind. (This is also how I later justified not walking the first 2km of the race as I’d promised I would. After all, I’d already walked 2 kms or so back and forth from the car so that’s gotta count for something, riiiight?)

Arriving at 8:30 gave me plenty of time to pick up my race kit, go to the washroom, have a coffee and check out the exhibitors. I was glad I hadn’t arrived any earlier, especially since it was a cold day. Happily, Tim Horton’s was very well-stocked with lots of free coffee, timbits, and cookies for everyone – I think most of us were drinking coffee just to stay warm.

Each distance had its own wave, so 25k runners waited a while for their turn to take off. As we all gathered at the start line, one of the race organizers walked through the crowd, front to back, shook people’s hands and wished us good luck – what a nice personal touch! It reminded me why I prefer smaller race events over those huge several-thousand people races.

When the race started, we all took off running but that didn’t last long because within the first kilometre the path narrows a little and goes up a hill and everybody – I mean everybody – walks. I could feel the diehard runners were frustrated at being herded like cattle, but I had purposely started myself at the back of the pack and expected some clogging so I didn’t mind. I imagine you’d have to start yourself pretty close to the front of the pack to avoid that traffic jam, there’s just no getting around it once you’re in it.

The first few kilometres were an easy run over mostly dirt roads and paths. Although it felt like a while before we got into forest, the run was pleasant and the slopes weren’t too bad. It wasn’t long before I started getting cocky, thinking ‘why does everyone say this course is so hilly? I was really being overzealous with all that hill training in June.’ I kept reminding myself that I was only a few kilometres in and really had no idea what the rest of the course would look like, which was a good thing because around the 11th km I met the hill that all runners groan about in race reports. It looks like this (except worse in real life):

run for the toad 25k hill

Photo by Jeff Wemp

At this point I’d like to remind you that the 25k race is two 12.5km loops, so what you encounter at 11k you will encounter again at 23.5km. Ew. I tried not to think about that.

However, one thing you can look forward to encountering a second time is the breath-taking lookout at the sixth kilometre (and again around 18.5). After running on dirt roads and through forest, it is such a lovely surprise to turn a corner and emerge onto the edge of a field with a view as far as the eye can see. It’s one of those moments that just fills your lungs with air and makes you want to spread your arms out wide. (And then the cold, unbroken wind hit and it felt a little less glorious!)

As I approached the end of the first loop, I was feeling pretty strong. I knew the sensible thing to do would be to pull out of the race at 12.5km as my physio guy had instructed, but I was feeling good and figured I knew what was in store for me and that I could handle it.

I was wrong.

There is a reason people follow training plans to prepare for races, and my IT band decided to start reminding me of that around the 14th kilometre. Walking became painful, and downhills were downright excruciating as my knees started locking up. At the 18th kilometre, I hobbled over to the aid station to speak with a medic who offered me a ride to the finish. I hummed and hawed. Once again, I knew the sensible thing would be to accept his offer, but at this point I had come so far and I just hated the idea of a DNF next to my name! I decided to carry on and make judgement calls at each aid station. (A side note on the aid stations – they’re great! So many tasty treats like ju jubes, M&Ms, and chips which I didn’t take advantage of because I was in so much pain but, believe me, next year I will come better prepared!)

At this point I was fully resigned to walking the rest of the race and taking as many knee-resting breaks as needed. The goal was simply to finish without causing too much damage to my IT band. I had seen that, in the previous year, someone had taken 7.5 hours to complete the 25k so I figured I had plenty of time to get this thing one. It was a good lesson in swallowing pride, and the beautiful thing is that I didn’t feel at all looked down upon for walking.

That’s the thing about running – it has a community of amazing and supportive people, which seems to be even more true of the trail running community. I loved how encouraging random strangers were to one another, and I was so grateful when one woman suggested that if I walked backwards down the hills, the IT band pain wouldn’t be so bad. She was right! I really think she saved the day for me. And this woman (below), who was in the same painful boat walked along and chatted with me for a while, telling me about her training goals. (She was training for the Disney Dopey challenge – 4 days of racing starting with a 5km, then a 10km, then a half marathon and finally a full marathon – which sounds absolutely insane to me!)

Run for the Toad 25k 2015

Photo by Jeff Wemp

As I crossed the finish line, a man was directing me to get my medal. With his arms outstretched and my sheer joy at having actually completed the full 25km, I leaned in and announced, “I’m giving you a hug!” He laughed and hugged me back. Man, I love runners. I moved on, got my medal, and hurried to the tent for the meal I’d heard so much about.

The post-race food was catered by St. Jacob’s Catering and it was delicious – salads, grilled chicken, cherry pie. Given that it was such a cold day, it would have been nice if at least some of the food had been warm, and it would have been really nice if the tents had been heated, but I really appreciated that it was more than just a bagel and a banana. This event is a class act.

Unfortunately, I was so completely frozen through that I sat and shivered while I quickly wolfed down my food, then grabbed a coffee (Tim’s was still serving!) and hustled to my car where I sat for several minutes with the heat blasting just to warm up. Next year I’ll either leave a bag by the finish line with a warm hoodie, or I’ll go back to the car to change before I sit down to eat. Lesson learned.

Overall, this was a really well-organized, fun event which offers, in my opinion, great value for the entry fee. I’m really looking forward to doing it again next year, injury-free, and taking full advantage of all those M&Ms along the way!

Run for the Toad 25k 2015 medal


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Know When to Fold ‘Em

This has been a summer of unexpected events. When I planned my training schedule for Fall races, I anticipated minor diversions but mostly thought each day would gently blend into the next, much like last year. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

In early July, I hurt my lower back. I’m still not 100% sure what caused it, but it was definitely a combination of overzealous training one weekend, not warming up and cooling down properly around an intense 8km trail run, and not doing yoga regularly like I had last year. For a month I tried to alternate between resting my back, stretching it, doing more core strengthening, and doing more stretching and strengthening of surrounding muscles. Last week I finally went for my first physio appointment where they recommended I take a break from running while working on healing my injury. Lower back pain – major setback #1.

Just one week before the lower back incident, I had applied for a new job. Throughout the month of July into mid-August, I can count on one hand (one finger?) the number of nights I got a good sleep. Mostly, I spent all those weeks in a whirlwind of stressing out and preparing for interviews, navigating emotional storms about leaving my current job, then madly training everyone at my old work and gearing up for the new job (which I started last week). It has been exhausting and, having cut out caffeine a few months ago, it all feels like a strange dream that I travelled through in a semi-conscious state of barely functioning. Changing jobs – major setback #2.

So, I have finally made the difficult decision that I’m not going to run either of the Fall races I signed up for because there is absolutely no way my body is going to be ready for them at this point. Maybe I’ll still go to the events as a volunteer to cheer on the other runners, and I’ll definitely plan to run these races next year because they look like super fun events I’d still like to participate in someday, but it’s just not feasible for me to push through them after so many weeks of lost training.

Last year, when I faced the possibility of not being able to run my first half marathon due to injury, it felt absolutely unacceptable. This year it’s not ideal, but it’s ok. This year just isn’t going to be the year that I make big gains in running. Instead, this is the year of making big gains in life and learning to take better care of myself. It’s not the win I had planned, but it’s a hell of a win just the same.

know when to hold em


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New Shoes, New Lessons Learned

Today was a hell of a day. After a couple of days of not feeling great and skipping training runs, I finally pushed myself to go out for my first 10k on a trail. The incentive? On the way to the trail, I would stop off at the store to finally pick up my first pair of trail runners. My Saucony Guides have been getting pretty beaten up doing double duty and I need them to last until my half marathon in September, so I’ve been on the hunt for a pair of trail runners that offer similar support and width to the Guides so they can work side by side with them through the next few months of training. After a few visits to Running Free to get fittings and advice, I finally decided on a pair of Brooks Cascadia 10 men’s runners today – free, thanks to the sweet sponsorship of Brooks and Team Running Free!

I immediatelIMG_20150702_171708y headed to the trail, a little nervous about doing 10k in a brand new pair of shoes but knowing I could always switch out to my Sauconys mid-run if I needed to since they were in the car. There was no need. The Cascadias were super comfortable and the tread on them was incredibly helpful on those uphills… so many uphills! (I’m beginning to hate uphills.)

Though the run was a beast to get through – I really struggled to find any enjoyment or motivation today – I ultimately did manage to crank it out and finally arrived back at my car after almost 11k of ups and downs only to discover that my car key was gone from my pocket. Somewhere in that maze of forest trails, my little black key had fallen out. After a few minutes of searching, I realized it was a hopeless endeavour and accepted that it was gone.

Thus ensued a series of phone calls to roadside assistance and a new friend to make arrangements to first be able to get my house key out of the car, then be driven to my house to get my spare car key, and finally driven back to the forest to get my car.

So today I have learned three important lessons:

1) Don’t store your car key in your pocket while you’re running, no matter how secure you think it is or how many times you’ve done it before. Sooner or later, it will fall out.

2) Always make sure your phone is fully charged before you go out for a run, because you just don’t know how much you might need to use it before you’ll get a chance to charge it up again.

3) No matter how miserable the hills feel, you will get through them. And I think we all know quitting feels more miserable than hills anyway, every time.

Notice that not one of those lessons was don’t run too long in a brand new pair of shoes. My body feels no worse than it would have after a trail run in the Sauconys and I think the hills actually felt marginally easier thanks to the wicked treads on the Cascadias.

So despite the car key foibles, I think today was actually a pretty successful day. And I’m happy to welcome Brooks into my running shoe family – I get the feeling we’re in for a hell of a ride.

IMG_20150702_165044



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The Day I Lost My Mind (or…)

I either lost my mind today, or today is the day I dared myself to be greater than I ever thought I could be.

You see, I’ve been struggling with running motivation this Spring. A month ago I finally picked a half marathon for July, set out a training plan and then promptly strayed from it just 3 weeks in. July quickly began to feel like an unrealistic goal so I decided to give myself more runway and started looking at Fall races.

I had two possible goals in mind for this year: one was to run another half marathon, and the other was to consider running a 25k. Every year I hope to push myself just a little bit more with my running and I figured 25k would be a safe little jump. What I didn’t realize was that 25k races are rare, and almost exclusively trail races (as opposed to road races).

I’ve never been a trail runner. I experimented with a trail run a few weeks ago, and have done two since then and that is the full extent of my trail running history. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, trail running requires a lot more strength than road running, burns 10% more calories and is quite a bit harder because there’s no room for error. You can’t sloppily trudge your feet forward when you’re tired or mentally check out to help the time go by because you’re too busy dodging roots, adjusting to changes in terrain, and dealing with hills… so many hills. My poor quads.

legs day

However, there are many things I love about the idea of trail running – being in nature breathing fresh air, lots of shade on those hot muggy days, staying mentally engaged figuring out where the next footfall will go, and the fact that it’s less about time and more about completing the distance. I also love that it will turn me into a super strong, kickass athlete. I am in love with the idea of trail running.

So, this Fall this crazy girl with only one half marathon under her belt will be running a 25k trail race just two weeks after completing her second half marathon. I’m not sure why I like to terrify myself by setting overly ambitious goals, but maybe that’s what it takes to keep me moving.

Now I’m in the process of creating a blended training plan that focuses primarily on getting ready for the 25k but still builds in enough road running so that I’ll be able to (hopefully) get through the half marathon without any injury. I think the key to success will be lots of strength training and lots of hill training; it looks like squats, planks, and lunges will be my new best HardisGreatfriend. Just to be clear, nothing about that sounds fun to me, but I’m so drawn to the idea of discovering inner greatness that I can’t resist the temptation to try.

So here I go. Hopefully I’ll have some pretty wicked race reports coming this way in the Fall and some rock hard quads to show off.

Wish me luck!


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Quest for Running Songs: “Planetary (GO!)”

I’m usually late to the party as far as music goes (and fashion, and slang, and well pretty much everything really). Today’s post is a prime example. As much as I had originally planned to keep these Quest posts to current music released within the last year, I have recently discovered My Chemical Romance, a band that was around for 12 years and broke up 2 years ago. But hey, if I missed them then maybe someone else did too, right?

Although their song Teenagers totally perked up a long run last week, this song “Planetary (GO!)” from 2010 is my go-to song from these guys right now. It is so high energy, I challenge you to try to sit still through it – you won’t be able to! Big sound and driving rhythm back these infectious lyrics:

If my velocity starts to make you sweat,
Then just don’t let go
And if their Heaven ain’t got a vacancy
Then we just, then we just, then we just
Then we just get up and go!

Ladies and gentlemen:
Truth is now acceptable
Fame is now injectable
Process the progress
This core is critical
Faith is unavailable
Lives become incredible
Now, please understand that,

I can’t slow down
I won’t be waiting for you
I can’t stop now
Because I’m dancing
This planet’s ours to defend
Ain’t got no time to pretend
Don’t fuck around,
This is our last chance

So what are you waiting for? Click play and just, just get up and go! (And since you’ll probably want to sing along, you can check out the rest of the lyrics here. :))


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Quest for Running Songs: “Not Today”

Yesterday I was on a really hot, humid, sweaty run just grinding out the miles when one of my favourite new songs came on: “Not Today” from the newly released Blurryface album by Twenty One Pilots. To me, this song is a celebration of defeating that voice in our heads that tells us we can’t do something, we can’t accomplish what we want to accomplish. I don’t know about you but that voice talks to me a lot when I’m running, telling me I should just stop because I’m too tired, too hot, not strong enough, etc. But when this song came on mid-run yesterday, it crushed that self-defeating voice with its chorus:

Heard you say “not today”
Tore the curtains down, windows open now make a sound
Heard your voice, there’s no choice
Tore the curtains down, windows open now make a noise

I got a huge grin on my face, picked up my pace and may have even air drummed a bit – apparently I had energy to spare! There’s something about the trumpet in the background, the never-give-up message and the build up to sheer joy at the end that makes me burst with energy.This song makes my heart so happy, I already can’t wait to run to it again. Give it a listen!


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