5k Revolution: Toronto Women’s Run 5k Race Recap

No matter how many races you run, there will always View event: http://www.zoomphoto.ca/event/19636/be a handful that stick out. Whether it’s the first time you conquer a new distance, a race where you set a PB, or one where you just have a damn good time, some races will always remain fresh in our hearts and in our minds.

On Sunday, I had one of those races.

I had been looking forward to the Toronto Women’s Run 5k at Sunnybrook Park since I signed up last month. This was a late addition to my race calendar, but the Toronto Women’s Run Series will always hold a special place in my heart as I did my very first race ever back with them in 2011.

My goal on Sunday was to run a 5k PB (sub-24 minutes) and see how hard I could push myself in this new distance. I’ve only ever raced 2 other 5ks before, but there is something about the short and quick burn of the 5k that I love. I absolutely hate how I feel when I’m running them, but immediately after crossing the finish line I want to do one again to see if I can go faster! To be honest, I almost gave up a few times during Sunday’s 5k, but I never let my legs stop moving and ended up with a big surprise at the finish line.

The race was pretty small, 762 runners in the 5k, and we were divided into two corrals, sub-30 and over 30 minutes. I tried to line up as close to the front as I could and just let er’ rip as soon as the gun went off. My strategy was “fade from the front” and to just go as fast as I could for as long as I could and slow down towards the end if I needed to. Well, my first kilometre was 4:27 (I’ve never done that before) and it was a bit fast for me. I tried to pull the pace back, but I was already in a world of pain so I thought I might as well keep going as hard as I can to get this thing over with as quickly as I can! That’s the goal, right?

As you can see from my race photos, I was not a happy View event: http://www.zoomphoto.ca/event/19636/camper, but as my good friend Christa says “pretty stops when the gun goes off.” Yes, it sure does! I pushed through the remaining 4 kilometres in 4:49, 4:48, 5:03, and 4:59. You can see where I paid for that ambitious 4:27…I have never been so thankful to see a finish line in my life and I grabbed my medal, took some water and headed straight for the finish chute to find an open area to catch my breath. I often get really anxious when I finish a hard run so I just needed to get out of the crowd and into my own space.

After I picked up my post-race treat bag, including a delicious Awake Chocolate Bar, and a tiny sample of Starbucks Iced Coffee (damn, that tasted good), I walked over to the results board to see I had finished sub-25 in 24:41 and that landed me in 5th place in my 30-34 age group. I was feeling pretty stoked about that. Although my time was about 30 seconds off my PB, I was pleased with my race and hungry to train throughout the summer to improve that time in the fall!

As I made my way back to the course to cheer on some of my friends who were still coming in, I realized something…if any of the top 3 women overall were also in my age group, that would bump me up in my standings since you can’t win awards for overall placing and age group placing. No double dipping. I quickly opened my Sportstats app to see that the top two women were in my 30-34 age group. I got really excited and nervous and mentioned to my boyfriend that I might win an age group award! I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but I made my way over to the awards stage to listen to the awards ceremony.

Sure enough, when the 30-34 age group category TO Women's Run With Plaquewas announced, I came in 3rd out of 104 runners! After I picked up my award and posed for some pictures I immediately texted my friends, family and Coach who all replied with some variation of “Are you serious?” and “You got to be kidding me!” Yes, even I was (and still am) shocked, but what a cool experience it was to win that award! Crossing that finish line is a moment I will never, ever forget and I am so happy that I didn’t give up, even when I really, really wanted to.

After a very disappointing marathon debut and a physical and mental struggle with recovery, this race (and AG award) were everything I needed to get my head back into the game. When I chose my race outfit for the 5k, I wanted to channel my inner Lauren Fleshman with my favourite green Oiselle Flyte Tank because I’ve been a long-time Fan Girl and really love the funny and poignant pieces she writes about why the 5k is freaking awesome. She presents a view that we don’t hear a lot, but one that gives credit and strength to the women (and men) who excel at short distances, and most importantly LOVE to run them.

I can say with all my heart and soul, that I LOVED running that 5k. Did it hurt? Yes. Was it hard? Yes. Did I love it? Absolutely. Do I want to do it again? As soon as possible! I think I’ve found a strength in running I didn’t know I had and a place that I want to keep exploring. Although my initial plan for this year was to build up to another long distance race in the fall, I realize that that’s not what I want to do. Right now I want to focus on getting stronger, getting faster, and seeing how much I can improve my 5k and 10k times over the next 6 months. As Lauren Fleshamn, a master of the distance says:“It’s time for a 5-K Revolution!”

I’m on board.

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:

race pic jenna

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!”

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.

First-Race-Jenna

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.