October 2013 - Run for the Thrills

running fights depression

Running Fights Depression

Posted by | Balanced Runner, Fit by Forty, Why I Run | 2 Comments

I freely admit that I fight against Depression.

When I’m depressed, all of my motivation evaporates, nothing seems appealing, and everything seems overwhelming and tiring. Getting out of bed takes a major act of will. I feel like I deserve an award just for showering and brushing my teeth in the morning. I feel like doing nothing except sleeping all day.

The last thing I feel like doing is going out for a run. And yet, according to a new study, that’s exactly what I should do. Because running fights depression.

According to a study out of the University of Toronto (yay! my alma mater), regular physical exercise can reduce future episodes of depression. So if, like me, you know that you are prone to depression, engaging in regular physical exercise makes a big difference in reducing the risk of developing depression. The study, which stretched over a 29 year period, found that even moderate exercise, like walking or gardening, can ward off depression.

Obviously this does not mean that exercise is some kind of magic bullet: you can exercise a lot and still experience depression. And telling a depressed person to “just go out and exercise” probably won’t help all that much. (Instead they will probably just hate you.)

For me, however, it’s encouraging to think that my quest to be “Fit by Forty” will have a positive impact on, not only my physical fitness, but my mental health as well. In my experience, it makes sense: when I go out for a run, even though it’s hard and it hurts, afterwards I feel better about myself. In the past I’ve found exercising outside to be especially helpful for my mental health. Something about getting dressed in my workout clothes, getting “out the door”, smelling the fresh air, and feeling the warm sunshine lifts my spirits, especially considering that my daily routine often consists of spending hours huddled in the basement by the flickering glow of my computer monitors.

Although “getting out” and doing anything can be helpful for depression, exercise is especially helpful for physiological reasons. As anyone who’s studied biology can tell you, exercise causes your body to release endorphins. These endorphins interact with receptors in your brain to inhibit your perception of pain and actually trigger positive feelings (similar to morphine). Following a good workout, runners may experience a sense of endorphin-induced euphoria, commonly known as “Runner’s High”. Other studies have found that these exercise related endorphins can be an effective tool in combating mild to moderate depression.

Now, there is a certain pathetic irony to be found in the fact that the thing to treat depression is something that requires motivation. But I guess that’s why it’s smart to start a running habit before you get depressed.

Checking in on running status update: Today was my 6th run and I ran my longest run so far (4.4km). I know it’s not a lot, but it’s nice to know I’m progressing slowly. I ran outside and the sun was up, which was nice (the last few times I ran outside it was night). I’m planning to choose a race to train for  so I’ll have a goal. Not sure what I should do yet, though. Maybe a 10k?

lanni marchant

Inspiring Runners

Posted by | Why I Run | One Comment

How fast are the top Marathoners running?

There have been some exciting races in Canada the past couple weekends.  I saw the Canadian Woman’s Marathon Record broken by Lanni Marchant in Toronto at the Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon on October 20th.  Inspiring runners, like Lanni and Krista Duchene, both who ran faster than the 28 year woman’s record at that Toronto Marathon,  are such a joy to watch in action and they challenge me to keep pushing myself.  The male winner at the Waterfront Marathon, Deressa Chimsa, ran the fastest marathon ever run in Canada.  So how fast are this amazing athletes running?

When you watch even the top marathoners come across the finish line, it is deceiving – they look strong and fast, but compared to sprinters they can look slow, to our eyes.  Let’s look at the stats and see what they are actually accomplishing:

Deressa Chimsa, from Ethiopia, won the marathon in a time of 2:07:04.  This means he was running each kilometer (on average) in 3:01.  This translates into a 4:51 mile pace.  On a treadmill setting this is 12.4 miles per hour! The top of the line treadmills at the gym only go up to 12 miles per hour maximum (and many home treadmills only go as quickly as 10 miles per hour).  Try running at 12 miles per hour the next time you are on a treadmill and see how long (if at all) you can run at this pace.  Then remember that Chimsa ran at this pace for 26.2 miles.  Impressive.

I am not Ethiopian, nor a male, so let me explore Lanni Marchant’s accomplishment.  She was the third woman to finish the Toronto Marathon, finishing behind Flomena Cheyech of Kenya and Sechale Adugna of Ethiopia.  Her finishing time was 2:28:00, the fastest marathon time ever run by a Canadian Woman.  Lanni’s average pace was 3:31 per km.  I can actually run a km at that pace (unlike the 3:01!), but she ran at that pace for 42.2 km!  For those who think in miles, this translates to a 5:39 mile pace (I would be hard pressed to run for an entire mile at that pace) and a treadmill speed of 10.6.  At this pace, her average 10k was a 35:10 and she ran that four times plus 2.2km (her first 10km was actually 34:52, so she slowed slightly as the race pr0gressed).  There are very few women who can run a single 10km race at that pace.

I did my 400m repeats this evening to work on speed and leg turnover.  I ran each 400 m at approx. 79 sec (it is my first speed workout after the half marathon) – which is a pace of 3:18 per km.  I can run 400m quicker than the top woman marathoners – but this is 400m!  And it is still slower than Chimsa’s overall marathon pace of 3:01.  This is certainly eye-opening and inspiring.  This is not to discourage all of us – it is to remind us of the incredibly hard work that goes into the winning race times and to keep us striving to push ourselves.  There is more speed in all of us, we just need to keep wanting it and working for it!

training plan

The Essential Training Plan

Posted by | Training | No Comments

Focus your training and achieve better results

Know the purpose for each of your runs!  Have a clear goal for your training and a specific training plan of how to get there. Is your run today an easy run for aerobic base or recovery or a tempo run at lactate threshold?  The big mistake we often make is to always do the same type of run:  running at the same pace and over the same distance.  To get faster and stronger, we need to mix up the training to target different systems in the body and to challenge our body with new stresses.

I am currently setting my goals for 2014, deciding on races, prioritize which are the focus races and which races are part of the training plan to get me to my big goals.  When training for a marathon, I use shorter races as part of my training to build towards that end goal.   Now that I have selected the Boston Marathon and the Half Ironman as my focal races, I am creating a training schedules of what I need to do in order to succeed in these races.

Key concepts in creating a plan are:

1. Specificity of Training – Practice what you are training for.  Obviously the specific sport, but also prepare for the specific distance and the speed you plan to race at.  Training for a 5km race is very different than training for a marathon, however, the 5km race can be part of a marathon plan, if it is used as a tempo run, to prepare for the marathon.  The training sessions however for a 5k goal and a marathon goal are very different!

2. Current Level of Fitness – You need to know your current level of fitness and build your training plan based on that starting point.  Building slowly is key – as you stress your body it becomes stronger to gain fitness and strength, however, over- stressing the body (over-training) will end up in the body breaking down and becoming injured.

3. Phases of Training – Split training up into phases to build slowly and ensure that the foundation is there for the harder types of training.   I will describe these phases here and then in an upcoming post, I will go into detail on the types of workouts that are done in the different phases of training. These concepts are taken from Daniel’s Running Formula:

  • Phase 1 – Base training – Foundation and injury prevention training.  During this first phase the focus is on steady easy running to build endurance and allow the body to adapt to the stress of running.  Cells adapt, increased blood flow to muscles develops.  Focus on increasing distance of running, slowly and steadily.
  • Phase 2 – Early Quality – Start adding in some short speed repetitions to teach legs to turn over more quickly, improving running mechanics.  Add hill workouts to build strength.  Easy runs are still done for recovery and for long runs (half marathon and marathon training)
  • Phase 3 – Speed Phase – Adding in longer intervals at VO2 max pace.  This would be the most strenuous phase of training.
  • Phase 4 – Final Quality and Taper – Tempo runs are the focus in this phase.  These are runs done at lactate threshold.  Some intervals are done, but less than in Phase 3.  The last week or two of this phase is a TAPER before the key race.  Mileage decreases and the body is allowed to fully recover for the key race.

I am hard at work creating my training plan for 2014.  I am currently recovering from last week’s half marathon and doing easy, fun runs. I would love to assist you in making a training plan or you can find a coach in your area to help put together a program to reach your goals. Happy Training….

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WaterfrontHalf feature

Running Races

Posted by | Events, Training | 7 Comments

Running Competitions are for everyone.

I believe that all runners, from novice to experienced, to elite runners, benefit from running races.  Races come in all forms and variations.  Road races, trail races, relay races (teams of people divide up the overall race distance – i.e. The Cabot Trail Relay), survival races (i.e. Tough Mudder) and other new races are making appearances all the time (i.e. Color Me Rad) Races give focus to your training and keep you going when your motivation is lagging.  Races are a great celebration of your hard work and a time to connect with other athletes.  The focus of your own personal races can vary dramatically as well, from simply finishing a certain distance to having a particular time goal in mind or to finishing in a certain position.  The fear that the words “race” or “competition” many instill in some of us (me included) is worth facing.  The race experience is life enhancing and the jitters I feel on race morning (or even the evening before) are well worth conquering.

My race season for 2013 is quickly drawing to a close.  I have only three trail races left in the Aktiv Trail Race Series for my race line in 2013.

I have had some real highlights this past year:

  • Winning the Mississauga Marathon in May and breaking 3 hours – 2:58:23
  • Winning the St. Catharines Road Runners Race Series – a variety of distances from 5km to half marathon, with a mixture of road and trail races
Lead Woman

So excited to Win the Marathon

I am excited to be planning for my 2014 training and racing season. My focus races are highlighted and the races in between are meant as building up and preparing for the focus races.  I will evaluate as time goes on if I need to eliminate some of the less important races, due to other life commitments or for the sake of the key races.

boston logo



  • Aktiv Trail Race Series

2014 is the year of the triathlon and my 40th birthday.  I have contemplated the triathlon for years, so a milestone birthday, as well as friends who are training with me, are making me finally commit to this goal.  I challenge you to consider what new goal or new adventure you will embrace in the coming months and to go for it!  Join me in some of these races and let me know which races you are doing!

See you out there on the roads and trails.

Running Discipline

Pursuing Running Discipline

Posted by | Fit by Forty | 6 Comments

Janine says I should write an article on running discipline. She’s a lot better than me at discipline, but I’ll give it a shot.

First: checking in. I have run twice since my public declaration to get “Fit by Forty”. It was dark and raining both times, but thanks to our shiny new treadmill (won by my wonderful wife!!) I ran in the warmth and comfort of my basement, watching Netflix to help pass the time. Today I will run again for the third time. We’re out tonight until about 9:30, so I’ll have to do another late-night run, although this time I plan to go outside.

I’m only on my third run and I am tempted by thoughts of skipping it, “just this one time”. This is the hardest thing I’ve found about running in the past: it is very hard to consistently muster the discipline to run even when I don’t feel like it.

The biggest struggle for me is that, at least for now, running is a painful and very unpleasant experience. I feel sweaty and hurty all over. On my last workout I chose a program on the treadmill that was too hard for me, and I felt like I might indeed die before the workout was over. I kept checking my heart rate and wondering if my heart was going to explode. I imagined dropping dead. The treadmill would cheerily toss my sweaty corpse against the basement wall where I would lie, rigor mortis contorting my limbs. Janine would find me in the morning I would be a mangled mass, and then, boy, she’d be sorry.

My imagination skills are a lot stronger than my discipline skills.

I always start a new fitness routine with great enthusiasm, and it only takes a few hard workouts for my visions of the New Slim Trim Me to fade into the background as I realize how much work it is to move from fat to fit. Running especially requires an immense amount of discipline to keep going. When I run I am chasing my own discipline, and I’m not sure I’m going to catch it. At least this time I am also being chased by the social pressure I have brought on myself by making this process so public.

Janine constantly impresses me with her seemingly endless stores of self-discipline. She gets up most mornings at 5:30am to go run or swim. When she races, she often pushes herself to near-exhaustion by the finish line. I really appreciate that about her, because she’s so different from me. I am (to put it mildly) not exactly a disciplined guy. I’m creative guy! a critical thinker! an imaginative fellow! …but not so great when it comes to doing some chore reliably and consistently.

Running is going to take some real discipline on my part. I hope I can do it this time.

P.S. I take great comfort in the kind comments that many of you surprised me with on Janine’s facebook. Thanks!

P.P.S. Janine says this post is not very encouraging, and re-reading, I see that she’s right—it is a little depressing. Sorry about that… so let me put a positive spin: I have run twice and am going to do my third run today. Hooray for my running discipline so far!!

scotiabank half

After a Bad Race

Posted by | Training, Why I Run | 3 Comments

Why do we have Bad Races? So we can have GOOD ones!

So, I am disappointed in my race performance today.  A friend reminded me that if we did not have bad ones, we would not be able to identify the really good ones.  I did not feel horrible; I just slumped in the middle of the race and could not get my legs going any quicker.  I didn’t have the edge, the “peppy”  legs, the quick turnover throughout the entire race.  I had some great kilometers, like my last kilometer (km 21) was 3:20!  Where did that come from, when my average pace was 4:00?  My finishing time was 1:26:12.  My “standard” half marathon is around a 1:24 and I want to get down to low 1:20.  Today was a long way off of that.

First and foremost I deal with a disappointing race by remembering why I run in the first place.  I run for the joy of running, not the goal of racing.  I ran 21.1km today and I had a great workout, though not a great race.  If I had set out this morning and averaged 4:00km pace for 21.1km I would have been pleased with my effort.

In a race, I run partly for the unity I feel with the multitudes of other runners that I am sharing the experience with.  Today there were 25 000 runners from many parts of the country and the world, running the streets of Toronto (causing some major traffic jams!)  As I was driving out of the city I was almost brought to tears watching the marathoners still running the last few kilometers of the race, looking quite beaten up, but soldiering on, giving it their best.  That effort is inspiring and thrilling.

Today I also ran first and foremost to raise money for World Vision, to help impoverished children.  I raised $500 for that cause and ran for that.  I am thankful for everyone who sponsored me in this effort.

I deal with a disappointing race by allowing it to spur me on to train smarter and harder in the future.  I did not train properly for a half marathon this fall, missing some key elements in my training.  I was a bit scattered in my approach, as I was also focusing on 5km trail runs.  In the mix of things, I missed my long hard run sessions.  This certainly had an effect on me today.

I deal with a disappointing race by celebrating the successes of so many others.  I am thrilled that Lanni Marchant broke the 28 year old Canadian Women’s Marthon record.  She is inspiring and I send her my hearty congratulations.  I rejoice with the many runners who ran their first half marathon or first full marathon today (I spoke with a few of them at the race).  A race is an exciting place and in the end, it was great to be at there today, even if I did not perform as well as I had hoped to.


big jimmy

Fat by Forty OR Fit by Forty

Posted by | Fit by Forty, Runner Profiles | 2 Comments

James, aged almost 38, jokes that his goal  is “Fat by Forty”.   He is confident in his self worth, so he can joke about the fact that he has steadily been gaining weight over the past 16 years of our marriage.  James never lost the baby weight of our three children (those sympathy pounds that he accumulated) whereas I did.  Truth be told, James really does want to become more healthy and he often starts diets or runs for even a month here and there, but then the stresses of life take over – or minecraft time cuts into his training and resolve.

James just told me that he would like to run a marathon one day.  He ran a half marathon when he was 22, just after we were married.  James went for the family hike on Thanksgiving Monday and he needed to take a two hour nap when we came home.  He realizes that without some serious effort, he will not be able to keep up with his children for much longer.

Can we change his trajectory – and make his new successful goal “Fit by Forty”?  What can we say to motivate James?  James is considering joining this website, with his story of gaining fitness and being the average man who wants to become more fit.  We have dreams and plans, such as a multiple day bike tour of PEI or multiple day hikes in new and exotic places.  Without some training, these possibilities will not be attainable for James.

James’ comments:

So I feel a need to weigh in here (haha, get it? weigh in? …nevermind). Let me state firstly that this whole thing is my idea. I can’t help but feel inspired when I see Janine and all the other incredibly fit people out there “running for the thrills”. For me, at this point, running is less “thrilling” and more “painfully excruciating”… but maybe with some encouragement and the added social pressure of making my progress public, I might be able to muscle my way past the painful part to get to the thrilling part?

I’m motivated to make my “fit by forty” journey public because I hope that my own experiences will be an encouragement to some of you out there who, like me, are not as fit as you wish you were. If I feel like I’m partnering with people out in internet land on the goal of increased fitness, I know it will help me follow through with my own goals. And hey, if I can do it, anyone can!

Ok, I’m off to do my first run in a while. I’ll report back tomorrow…

(Bonus pic: wow, I used to be skinny.)

wedding pic



grid workout

Conquer Painful Runner’s Knee

Posted by | Training | 3 Comments

The past couple of weeks I have joined the vast group of runners and other athletes who have at some point experienced Patellofemoral Syndrome, commonly referred to as “Runner’s Knee”.  I was quite happy to be excluded from this group up till now.  However, I can now discuss this topic from first hand experience and actually share several strategies that have been very successful for me in relieving pain.

Patellofemoral Syndrome is characterized by pain under the knee cap (patella) where it joins with the femur.  The cause of pain and dysfunction often results from1) Tight Muscles – Abnormal forces:  ie. tight muscles pulling on the knee (quadriceps and IT band) or 2) Imbalanced muscles 3) prolonged repetitive compressive or shearing forces, such as in  running or jumping  3) fractures; 4)osteoarthritis.

If you have pain, the best first step is to see a sports medicine doctor and/or massage therapist, to diagnose the cause of your particular pain; each person’s body is unique.

It is helpful to have strategies at your immediate disposal; appointments may be days away, and your doctor will likely recommend at least some of these strategies.  I will list what worked best for me first- (remembering as you read that the cause of my pain may be different from yours). The good news is interventions really did work!

1. Reduce Inflammation with icing and anti-inflammatory medication (ibuprofen).

2. Massage:  I saw a massage therapist familiar with runners.  He worked deep into the quadricep muscles and IT band, which were extremely tight (along with working the other leg muscles and gluteal muscles).  I had relief the next day from the worst pain.

Knee Band3. Patella Band/Knee Strap:  A thin strap that goes under the knee cap.  It works by pressing on the patellar tendon, keeping the knee correctly aligned.  I am wearing it during exercise for support and have experienced a huge reduction in pain. Many runners feel relief using this tiny piece of equipment.  Read Wall Street Journal article on the Patella Band. Find an affordable brand at your local Walmart.


Grid Roller4. Foam Roller:  This little tool is amazing – it loosens the muscles, like massage and has been incredible in working out my muscles and relieving the pressure on my knee.  It can be used every day.  So glad to have this tool, as my massage therapist is currently on vacation (and it is much cheaper than a massage!)  I had tried improvising with my child’s soccer ball, but I would definitely recommend purchasing the real product, as it is much more effective and comfortable.  I am using The Grid roller.


5. Rest:  I reduced my running mileage in half and did a bit more cross-training with the  non-impact activities of swimming and cycling.

6. Strengthening Exercises –  Quadriceps strengthening is commonly suggested because the quadriceps muscles help to stabilize the patella. Quadriceps weakness and quadriceps muscle imbalance may cause abnormal patellar tracking.  For runners, cross-training with cycling will help build the quadricep muscle. Also do specific exercises to build the quadricep muscles.

The goal is to conquer this painful “runner’s knee” for good and once again embrace healthy runner’s legs and enjoy pain free running.

elijah hike

Running For Life

Posted by | Balanced Runner, Why I Run | No Comments

Time For Thankfulness

I am thankful for health and fitness shared with family.  I am thankful that my running makes me strong enough to hike all day and keep up with my active children – running for life!

All members of my family greatly enjoyed a hike through Short Hills on a sunny Thanksgiving.  My 8 year old son ran up and down all the steep hills for the thrill of it!  I was proud of him and joined him on several of his sprints up the hills and also walked behind him at times, allowing him to show me up.

Our children have been hiking since before they could walk!  Yes, we transported them initially via baby snugglies and hiking backpacks, but they have been hiking on their own since they were strong enough.  Today they hiked for 2.5 hours, which is an easy hike for them.  A highlight of our summer was a 16km hike along Cape Split in Nova Scotia.

Running provides the fitness for me to take my children on these expeditions and challenge them to be fit and healthy and enjoy the great outdoors.  Today’s workout was a hike/run with the family gang.  It was glorious!

Elijah running



Half Ironman Pursuit

Posted by | Triathlon Training | 5 Comments

Entering a New Adventure

I am a runner:  I have raced distances from 5km to Marathon.  I have run 9 Marathons thus far, and the tenth is set to be in Boston 2014.  I love running on the trails and on the roads.  This past year I have added both cycling and swimming to my repertoire.  I am growing to love these two new sports and with the input and inspiration of several triathlete friends and training groups, I am taking a plunge into the TRIATHLON World.

Triathlons are various distances of a swim, bike and run combination.  I have my sights set on doing a Half Ironman – also called a 70.3 (named after the total mileage of the race).  The goal is to do this race in June 2014.

  • 2km (1.2 mile) SWIM
  • 90km (56 mile) BIKE
  • 21.1 km (13.1 mile) RUN  (half marathon)

I have contemplated the triathlon for many years, deciding to wait until my children are older before training for all three sports.  I have slowly added the new components to my life.  Last January I joined the Master’s swim group, adding two swims per week to my running routine.  Half a year later I found a used road bike that fit me well and was in good condition and started cycling over the summer months.  I have only managed to add one ride per week to my routine so far.  Will I be able to train successfully for the Half Ironman?

Saturday I rode for 72km through the rolling hills in the Niagara countryside.  It was a lovely fall day, and the ride was most enjoyable with several challenging hills up and down the escarpment.  I felt great after the 72km ride, which gives me hope that with eight months of training I will be successful at riding 90km.

Over the summer months I explored open water swimming in Lake Ontario; very different from swimming in the pool.  The waves were very challenging at times.  It also takes a bit of courage to jump into the murky Lake, with unknown entities below.  I don’t think about it much and simply swim hard and hope that scares away any creatures in the nearby vicinity.

There are new skills that I still need to acquire, never having done a triathlon.  I need to put all three sports together!  I did several swim-run combos over the summer, which went well, but have not combined all three sports yet.  Along with your body adjusting from the water, to the bike, to running on the road, one also needs to learn how to transition quickly.  Transitioning effectively means practicing removing wetsuits with ease, quickly putting on cycling shoes and grabbing one’s bike smoothly.  The next transition involves changing from cycling shoes to running shoes.  Costume changes in the sports world!

I have entered into this new challenge slowly, adding one element at a time over the past months.  I am confident that with patience, determination and the incredible support of my family and training partners, this new goal will be achievable.