Toronto Women’s Run Half-Marathon: Race Review

I’ve been a big fan of the Toronto Women’s Run Series since I ran my very first race with them in October 2010. Over the past three year I have completed their 8K and 10K races, but this was my first time running their half-marathon. Here’s what I thought:

Registration and Race Kit Pick-Up: Online registration was simple and quick. The half-marathon didn’t sell out so there was no rush to register early. The Toronto Women’s Run is really good at sending out regular email news blasts with updated info so everything about the race was very clear. Race Kit Pick-Up was at the Rosedale Running Room, easy to get to for downtown dwellers, but probably a pain for those who live outside downtown. Pick-up was offered on Friday and Saturday.

image(3)Digital Hype: The Toronto Women’s Run does a great job of creating hype and building momentum about the race on facebook, but their twitter account is lacking.  I saw them use the #TOWomensHalf hashtag a couple times and tweeted to them to see if that was the official hashtag, but never got a response.  The hashtag was used on race day by a few runners (including myself), but certainly wasn’t trending.

Getting to the Race: As long as you have a drive to Sunnybrook Park the morning of the race,  you’re fine. This race is not accessible by TTC due to it’s early start time on a Sunday morning.

imageCourse: To be honest, I didn’t love the course. At the last minute the organizers had to add two hills (due to construction at Sunnybrook) and the 750m hill at 19k was incredibly demoralizing. The portion of the course from 13k to 18k was a loop from Don Mills Road to Pottery Road along the Don River Trail. It was nice because it was a on a trail, but it was soooooo boring. There was no music, only one water station at the turnaround, and a few scattered volunteers cheering us on. Of course those volunteers were AMAZING, but it was a long way to run out and back without much excitement going on. I ran this race alone and for this stretch it felt very lonely.

Finishing Line and Medals: The finishing line was perfect. Lots of volunteers and spectators lined the course so it really felt like a champion’s finish! Medals, or necklaces in this case, were handed out as soon as your crossed and plenty of water and eLoad was waiting as soon as you exited the chute. Post run food included pitas, chips, banana and chocolate. The finishers necklaces by Foxy Originals were a nice touch as something different from the typical race medals. I love the charm and will probably transfer it to a keychain so I can use it everyday.

image(2)Would I run this race again? Probably not. This was my 3rd half-marathon (I ran the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon in 2011 and the Niagara Falls Women’s Half-Marathon in 2012) and this was my least favourite. I love the Toronto Women’s Runs Series and what they stand for, but this course was just really boring, especially the portion on the Don River Trail. I definitely wouldn’t run this alone again, but might consider it as part of a running group or with some friends.  In the future I would definitely still consider running this series’ 8K and 10K races.

BONUS: Because it was the Toronto Women’s Runs 5th anniversary, all digital images were free, courtesy of Ryder Photography! I thought that was a very nice touch. Here’s my favourite one:

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Pre-Race Nerves – just f***ing run!

Well it’s about that time when the pre-race nerves start kicking in. I don’t really know why I’m so nervous for this race. I’ve run 2 half-marathons before and a 20K race and I know I can do it. I have trained all throughout last fall and winter, steady since August 2012, and only really let the ball drop once…it was in February which is known for being the most miserable month of the year so I’m not going to be too hard on myself.  I’ve logged 400km so far in 2013, and even though I probably should have gone on more long runs, I know I can run 21.1k on Sunday.

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But, I’m still nervous. I bought this Oiselle t-shirt last weekend on a trip to Michigan. I bought it because I have wanted to buy a Oiselle shirt forever, and also because the saying on it has a lot of meaning to me. Beginning last fall, I started to get anxious on my runs. As someone who has always run to escape stress, the fact that anxiety was now following me on my runs was not something I was happy about. To be honest, this winter/spring has been tough. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve texted my mom or sister during a run or right after dealing with a panic attack. I feel incredibly lucky that every time they’ve called me and talked me through my anxiety until I felt better. I could have packed up my shoes and given up running many times, but I didn’t. On Sunday I am running for them because without them, I couldn’t run.

20130524-140415.jpgJust last month my good friend Joanne raced in her very first marathon. We had been training together over the winter via Nike+ (she lives in BC) and we pretty much talked about running everyday, and we still do! Right before her race she texted me and said she was nervous. Since she was the one running 42.2k that day, not me, I was calm and collected and gave her some wise words of advice from Running Room founder John Stanton. As you can see from the text to the left, Joanne had other things running through her head, and I’m happy to say that they got her across the finish line in 4:14:52!

On Sunday I’ll be thinking of my sister, my mom, and Joanne as I run 21.1k through Sunnybrook Park. I know I’ll be nervous the night before, the morning of, and right up until the start line, but I also know I won’t be running alone. As a wise running friend once said to me, just “f***ing run!”

Why I Run

1.To push myself further than I ever thought I’d be able to. 3 years ago a 10K or a half-marathon seemed impossible, but now 10K is my short run and I’ve run 2 half-marathons. Right now a marathon seems impossible, but by 2014 I hope to make it a reality.

2. To combat stress and keep anxiety at bay. Running provides me with an opportunity to focus, calm my racing mind, and just enjoy the moment.

2. For shoes, tanks, and tights! I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love shopping for a new running outfit. Lululemon, Asics and Nike are my go-to brands.

4. To keep a fit, strong, and healthy body that I can be proud of. I know that being able to run is a gift and isn’t something that everyone can do. Whenever I don’t feel like going for a run, I think of how lucky I am to have two strong legs to carry me out the door and through many kilometres.

5. To maintain membership in a worldwide community of amazing, strong, and passionate people who are always willing to share their love of running online and off. I have met at least 100 new people (IRL) over the past year because of running and they are all AWESOME.

Why do YOU run?

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Harry’s Spring Run Off holds a special place in my heart.

Harry’s Spring Run-Off has always held a special place in my heart. As the daughter of a prostate cancer survivor, Harry’s Spring Run Off is an annual family bonding tradition that me, my parents, and my sisters look forward to.

I’ll never forget sitting at the kitchen table, having just finished dinner, and hearing my dad say “I have cancer.” It was the very last thing I expected to hear from my health-conscious, flax-loving, greens-eating dad. Three things became clear at that table: the cancer was in the early stages, surgery was imminent, and we would get through this as a family.

My dad was very lucky as his surgery went well and this year marks 5 years cancer free! If we thought my dad was health-conscious before, he now juices daily, is 80% vegetarian (following my lead) and doesn’t go to bed without drinking his matcha green tea.  Did you know that matcha tea has one of the highest levels of antioxidants? Higher than pomegranates and dark chocolate and blueberries! Truth – you can read it here.

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In addition to celebrating health, we also chose to celebrate fitness and activity with Harry’s Spring Run Off! Every year we register early for the run because it always sells out. My parents post a countdown on their fridge at home. My sister and I train for the 8K run and my dad walks the 5K. Two years ago we fundraised over $1000 for the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation (official charity of the run) in honour of all the families and brave fathers who have faced and will face prostate cancer in the future.

Running and walking together as a family has made us stronger and I am so grateful that every year we have this wonderful event to look forward to!  From the course that runs through beautiful High Park (ending with the killer Spring Hill) and the amazing volunteers who cheered us on every step of the way, to the very nice technical t-shirts and the much-needed toques handed out at the finish line, this race is a great kickoff to the spring running season.

Seeing my dad cross the finish line is an emotional moment for us all.  This year I captured it on Vine and I can’t stop watching it.

Every Journey Begins with a Few Steps: How I Became a Runner

I was not born to run. For the first 25 years of my life I was a mostly overweight, yo-yo dieter and an average athlete who had a love-hate relationship with the gym. Running came into my life at a time when I really needed it. After anxiety and depression contributed to a 70 pound weight gain, my concerned doctor told me it was time to get serious about losing weight. I still remember the first few steps I took as a runner along the Lisgar Trail in Mississauga – little did I know they would be the first steps of many, many more.

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60 seconds – that’s how long my first run was. Whenever someone asks me how I became a runner, I always tell them that it was a journey that started with a 1 minute run.  Slowly, I worked up to 5 minutes of running, then 10, then 20, and eventually an hour. My first race was the Toronto Women’s Run 8k on October 23rd 2010 and I finished in a time of 45:17. Since 2010, I have completed 10 additional races, including 2 half marathons, which had me running over 2 hours straight.

In addition to the amazing physical benefits of running such as increased endurance, weight loss, and some pretty killer calves, running has made me a stronger person mentally and emotionally.  Crossing the finish line at a race, whether it be 10K or 21K, is an indescribable feeling. I still get overwhelmed as I see the cheering crowds, the time clock, the finish line in sight and I’m usually tearing up by the last 500 metres. I feel like a champion every time I cross the finish line knowing that I have accomplished something that has tested both my physical and mental strength. Running-Pic-Toronto-Womens-Run

When talking to non-runners, I often hear “Oh, I could never be a runner.” My automatic response is always “Oh, yes you can.” If I could become a runner, anyone can. You don’t need to have an athletic body or a history of participating in sports to be a great runner. Most of what you need comes from inside: a strong will, a dedicated mind, perseverance when training gets tough, and most importantly, the power to believe in yourself.