Archive for the ‘Running’ Category

What does it take to finally run a strong marathon and earn a shoe in the process!

Was it a perfect race, no. But yesterday at the Hamilton marathon I finally ran the marathon I’ve been trying to run since fall 2015. You can tell from the expression on my face it didn’t come without effort, but I’m very happy with the result.

HamiltonFinishPrevious marathons

I always liked 5 km and 10 km races. I blame my sister Judy and my friend Christopher for putting marathon ideas in my head, eventually I decided to give it a try.

  • Spring 2014, I ran 3:53:05 at my first marathon in Ottawa. I was thrilled because that got me into Boston 2015. I ran it in 4:05:43. I was happy. It’s a tough course, I didn’t push it, I wanted to soak in the atmosphere and enjoy the experience.
  • Philadelphia 2015 I tried for a sub 3:50 and ran 3:51:47. I was happy to have a PB but a little frustrated trying to learn how to run this marathon thing. I tried again at Grandma’s marathon 2016. It’s a fast course but unfortunately it was miserably hot and I finished in 4:07. No fall marathon in 2016 due to hamstring issues.
  • Spring 2017 I ran Boston 2 Big Sur, which mean two marathons in 2 weeks so suffice to say I did not try for a personal best, each race was over 4 hours. But, it gave me more confidence in my strength on the longer distances. New York City 2017 was my third attempt to break 3:50, trying to follow the pace bunny was a bit of a disaster, and I gave up on the pacer at km 26, I did hold on to run a PB 3:49:19 but it wasn’t pretty.


  • Spring 2018 I ran the Vancouver marathon with a goal of 3:45. I still don’t know what exactly went wrong, probably heat? I’ll never know for sure. Suffice to say I felt great at the start was on pace for my 3:45 and it all fell apart at 21 km. I finished in 4:05:30 bitterly disappointed. My fall race was Chicago, a fast course, In January I had visions of 3:45 in Vancouver and 3:40 in Chicago. but after the disaster that was Vancouver, I needed a morale boost. So I decided to just try and run a strong sub 4. I had a great race, felt strong the whole way, finished in 3:52:30 smiling.
  • Spring 2019 I was back in Boston, it was warm, first run in shorts since November. This is not the day to try and PB, so I set a simple goal of running my first sub 4 in Boston. It was close but I powered through the last km to finish in 3:59:25.

Working towards the goal

Through all four years, all my times on the track, and in shorter distances indicated I could run a marathon faster. I just couldn’t make it happen. People running with me on the track were posting sub 3:40 times. Why was I struggling so much just to break 3:50? The marathon is cruel that way 🙂 it teases you. You know you can do it faster, but you only get a couple of shots at that distance a year and I think that’s part of the appeal. It’s a challenge to run a marathon *well*.

I trained hard every season, I cross-trained, I did hills, I did speed work. 2019 things seemed to be coming together.

I was running well on the track, but I generally do run well on the track. That’s where I look the fastest compared to other distance runners. But, I was hitting some sub 7 minute 1600s. that was new.

canadaDayRandyI decided to take a serious shot at breaking 45 minutes on a 10 km. My current PB was 45:03.  I always had a mental block with the idea of running sub 4:30 kms for 10 km. I picked my race, I even did a ‘run your fastest 10 km’ 6 week training plan leading up to race day. I got my friend Randy to pace me. I jogged the route three days before the race to learn the hills and turns. Race day was not perfect. It was warm. But with some help from Randy, I left it all on the course and finished in 44:36. (as an added bonus I was 5th woman overall, I sneak in the occasional age group placing, but I’m not usually in the top overall).

So could I beat my 5 km PB? That requires a PB friendly race. There’s a 5 km in New Brunswick near my parents place, called the Joe McGuire race that is flat and fast! My dad drove me out while I was visiting, there was a little bit of wind, and it was a touch warm, but I managed to finish in 21:33 beating my previsou PB of 21:47.

armyPacerSo now I had the strength from my marathon training and my legs were remembering how to run fast. Could I put it all together? My fastest half marathon was a 1:46, which I *knew* I should be able to beat. I went out with the 1:45 pace bunny and posted 1:43:20 at the Ottawa Army Run in September and felt good the whole way. You can tell I am having a good race when I have the energy to goof around with the race photographers trying to give my pace bunny bunny ears.

Can I produce the results I want at a marathon?

The Hamilton marathon is advertised as a fast course. It has a downhill from 22 – 28 km. I struggle the most mentally from 21-32 km so this worked in my favour. The biggest issue with Hamilton is actually the long downhill. A lot of runners find it beats up their quads. One of the things I worked on after my first Boston marathon was my downhill running. I now take pride in begin a strong downhill runner. In fact I ran a leg at the Peak 2 Brew relay race which was 10 km continuous downhill with an average 6% decline this summer. I figured it would be good preparation for Hamilton. I trained for it and even  with the training, it took me 4 weeks to fully recover from that 10 km downhil run, but the training did 100% pay off! I pass a lot of runners on downhills now and it’s very satisfying.


I also knew that my best times always came at fall races. Training in winter and racing in spring does not lend itself to personal bests. It’s hard to run fast in winter on icy and snowy roads, and if you get a hot day for your spring race, you aren’t acclimatized and it can really mess you up. Whereas if you train through the heat in the summer, then you feel really fast when it cools off in the fall.  You do also learn from every marathon you run, even those where you are disappointed with your results. Even if a marathon does not go well the training you put it does build and make you stronger for the next one.

Okay so back to Hamilton… It’s a fall race, I’ve set PBs on 5km, 10km, 8 km, 15km, and 21 km already this year. It’s a fast course. It’s time to run that sub 3:45! I decide to follow a pace bunny since I know my Garmin runs a little fast (i.e. it will read 1.0 km when we are at .98 or .99 kms). I figure if I feel good maybe I’ll even try to pick it up at 37 km and get under 3:44.

zebrawarmupgearMy sister and I hit the thrift shop for our traditional keep warm at the start throwaway clothes (matching zebra outfits this year!)

But wait there is no 3:45 bunny in Hamilton. It’s a small race, there’s a 3:50 and a 3:40. Uh oh. Runnign with a 3:50 and then taking off to get under 3:45 sounds risky. Well, I guess it’s time to see what these legs can do. Let’s run with the 3:40 and see how long I can hold on!

The forecast is decent, not too hot, a little windy, but that’s okay, when you run with a pacer you can usually find someone to draft behind 🙂 I’m in the gynasium at the start line and I see someone holding the 3:40 sign. I walk over to ask his plan, will he walk water stops, will he run an even pace or negative split? He tells me he’s not the pace bunny, he was looking for the 3:40 pace bunny and they gave him the sign since the bunny forgot it. But he introduces himself to me, nice to meet you Julio and says “stay with him since I’ll get you there in 3:40”. We go to the start line. We can’t spot any 3:40 ears. He gets the announcer to ask the 3:40 bunny to come get their sign. At this point a half dozen other runners have come over to join us since he’s holding the 3:40 sign. Julio shrugs and says oh well, I guess I’ll be the 3:40 pacer.

Off we go, it turns out Julio has paced other races, including a recent 1:50 half marathon. He’s also run the Hamilton race before. He starts calling out to runners what to expect on the next stretch of the race and the planned pace. “we are 30 seconds ahead, we’ll lose time when we turn into the wind, but don’t worry we’ll get it back on the downhill at 22 km”.  He calls out the water stops. Since we had already chatted in the gym, I find myself running beside him chatting amiably.

An added bonus, one of my long run buddies Terry joins the pack! Terry has a goal of running 100 marathons before he turns 50! He will run 3 marathons in a month during peak race season. This is the first time we’ve been in the same race. Unfortuantely it’s end of race season, and 3:40 is too agressive given the strong race he ran at Petit Train du Nord and he drops off, but not before we get an official race picture together !


At km 13 another runner says to me ‘ you can run faster than 3:40 if you are able to chat that much’. Julio and I laugh, One thing I have learned is that staying relaxed as long as you can really helps. If I can’t talk 15 km into a marathon I’m probably not going to hold that pace! I had the pleasure of doing track work with a guy named Jim who would hum and sing to himself doing speed work while my friend Henry and I panted along trying to keep up.  When I finally ran a race with Jim I discovered he does the same thing during the race, humming as he passes you. Whenever I find myself tightening up in a race, I try to channel my inner Jim, I won’t say I can sing and run a marathon at the same time, but I do try to smile, and relax.

Julio was wearing gloves and holding the sign, so I open his gel packs for him and we continue to chat, other runners occasionalyl come up to joiKanakoHappyRunnern us and chat as well.

I am feeling good and suddenly I see a spectator in a K2J shirt (there were very few spectators on this race) and it looks like… it is, it’s Kanako and her husband Face!!!  Kanako is another of my long run buddies. Neither she nor Face is racing this weekend, what are they doing here? I run over give her a hug and my spirits are buoyed. Kanako is another fast runner who is always smiling during races. She is constantly getting her race photos picked for race advertisements!

“Okay this next stretch will be windy, we will go a little slower here to conserve energy and we will make it up on the downhill” says Julio. I drop behind the shoulder of Julio or other runners for a good chunk of the 8 km stretch with the headwine. I move out front whenever we approach a water stop. They are short water stops. I am not carrying any water, and with the stops 3 km apart I want to make sure I take something at each stop.

We finally turn off the windy bit and to our shock the police directing traffic stop the runners to let the cars drive through. Frustrated we jog in place afraid of seizing up until he lets us through. I make the comment ‘hope no-one misses their target by 30 seconds because that would suck’ but I shake it off and try to relax, getting angry won’t help my race, and we have just arrived at the top of our 7 km downhill! I am in my happy place, we cruise down the hill and by the time we reach the bottom we have 20 seconds in the bank. I’m at km 28 and still on pace for a 3:40!

Of course the downhill is over now, but it’s flat. Lots of people told me the flat would feel really tough after that long downhill, but honestly I was okay, I think that downhill training paid off. I start thinking maybe I’ll actually pick it up at 37 km and run sub 3:40!

We started with about 20 runners in our 3:40 pack. Once we left the downhill it thinned out fast. By 31 km there were only four of us left. One guy said “I’m going to pick it up the last 10 km, anyone want to join?’ I said no thanks, I might go at 37, but not until then, a lot can happen in the last 10 km. (Foreshadowing?  or experience ?)

Km 32-36 were into the wind. I had dropped behind Julio’s shoulder, and the conversation had definitely dropped off. I was running out of steam. I used my strategy of dedicating each of the last 10 km to a different person who *cannot* run a marathon do to illness or injury and would love to trade places with me right now. Rita, James, Krissie, Jesse, Mel, Chris, Rosanna, Guy. At km 36 I gave Julio his last gel and he said okay that’s my last gel, take off, make your move. I replied weakly ‘I’m just trying to hold on’ . There were two of us still running with Julio and both of us were hurting. km 37-38 I thought of Randy helping me get through the last few km of that 10 km PB and how much that hurt  but I had held on. km 38-39 I thought of the friends I had who were diagnosed with cancer in the past month, what did I have to complain about.  (Side note: Cancer SUCKS!) The last water stop was at km 39, Julio was 100-200 meters ahead of me, The other guy had dropped off. I decided to walk about 20 steps at the water stop. First time I walked the entire race. I was struggling, but I was still passing people. Hey a few spectators – please cheer me on please!!!! What I would give for a familiar face to show up and run me through this last km right now! I’m counting off every 100 m in the last mile. We make the final turn toward the finish – 100 meters to go? and *F*K* it’s uphill into the wind, ” Seriously uphill and headwind” I said out loud completely miserable. “Yes but you can see the finish line” yelled the volunteer. I mustered what I could and I won’t say I sprinted to he finish but at least I didn’t slow down. 3:40:29! FYI Julio finished in 3:39:58 all alone, but I did find him in the finish tent to say thank you, he really helped me pass the miles, and I appreciated not only his pacing but his company!


I feel like I finally ran a ‘good’ marathon. Could I have run faster? Not much! I certainly didn’t have anything left at the finish. I had run through the suck and held on to the end without completely falling apart. I didn’t just achieve my goal of 3:45 I had come within 30 seconds of my stretch goal (I wonder what would have happened if we hadn’t been stopped at those traffic lights :))

A few years ago, I was congratulating Corey,  another K2J runner, on winning a race (yes 1st overall) with a PB and he said “well the pixies and fairy dust showed up’. I have always loved that phrase. You can train, you can prepare, you can do yoga or physio, you can eat right, but you also need the pixies and fairy dust to show up to get the performance you want on race day.

So thank you to all the running buddies who helped me learn to embrace the suck, to enjoy the good runs, to make sure you do a few races just for fun (Bay 2 Breakers anyone?)  to get through the crappy runs, to pick up the pace a little, to take a risk on race day, to appreciate every day you are not injured or sick because at least you *can* run, to run that optional 6th 1600m on the track, to drag yourself out there when you would rather stay in bed.  Thank you to all of you who kept telling me I could run a 3:40 and who will probably tell me I should now try for 3:35.  I’m good with the 3:40 for now thanks! Marathons are exhausting 🙂

Oh and with regards to the shoe… our running group K2J fitness has a K2J award, run a PB in a 5km, 10km, half and full in a 16 month period and you get to give them a shoe to have nailed to a piece of wood. It’s the highest award in our little running group. I love it because it’s all about achieving your *personal* best. It resets when you turn 50, 60, or 70 because at some point you have to accept you will slow down and you aren’t going to beat the PB you set at 25.  Setting lifetime PBs at the age of 49 feels pretty damn good, now if you will excuse me, it’s time go decide which expired running shoe to give the coach!pile of running shoes








Army run 2019 – I love you BUT …

I am deviating a bit from my usual race report format, because this year the Army run made some big changes, and I wanted to touch on a few of them specifically while they are fresh in my mind.

This post is broken in two – WHAT I LOVED and WHAT YOU NEED TO FIX for next year.

What I loved

Partnering with OC Transpo

Having the ability to take OC Transpo to the start, instead of driving downtown and trying to figure out parking. I left my car at the Park N Ride in Fallowfield, hopped on a 95, got off at Pimisi and it worked great. On the way back, I took the O-Train to TUnneys Pasture (just so I could ride the O-Train), there were volunteers when I got on the O-train giving directions on where to baord, and volunteers when I got off the O-train letting us know which way to go to catch a bus or exit the station.

I ran the half marathon, so not having the LRT running until 8 AM really wasn’t a factor for me, and I just took the 95 all the way to the start. So it really didn’t bother me that OC transpo wasn’t in a position to open the LRT early. It was the first week of operations for the LRT after all.

The atmosphere of the race

Army run has a great atmosphere. Starting at the war museum and running through Beechwood cemetery all fit in well with that atmosphere. Personally, I don’t mind the extra hills on the route. This is not a good course to try and set a personal best (hilly, crowded, lots of turns), it’s a race to run and soak in the atmosphere. I still love the shirts. Cool hoodie style shirts for the Commanders challenge. Was nice to have the cannon back at the start line again this year. I adore the dog tag medals and all those touches that make the Army Run special.

The pacers

The pacers I met did a great job! Staying solidly on track for their predicted times. They even had their planned per km pace written on the signs, which was helpful for the 1:45 since the two pacers took different approaches, one did a 4:59/km pace, the other did a 4:55/km pace. So depending on whether you wanted to be aggressive or conservative you could pick your pacer.  Thank you, I met my race goal, and the pace bunnies helped with that.

Port-a-potty lines

For a race this size, I was impressed with how short the lines were! I just kept walking towards the back of the corrals until I found a shorter line. And my stops pre and psot race they still had toilet paper. Thank you.

WHAT YOU NEED TO FIX for next year

Okay, that’s all the good stuff, now I have to bring up some of the problems. There were some issues with the new location and route, that if not addressed will affect whether or not I recommend this race to others in the future.

Signage at the race expo and start area

I know that Friday noon is a madhouse to pick up bibs, so I specifically went at 2:30 PM Friday. It was nice and quiet. Due to construction traffic was a mess, but that’s not something the Army run can control. I found a parking spot on the street near the war museum and grabbed it, so I cannot comment on how parking worked if you drove into the actual museum grounds.

What I can say is once I got out fo the car, I had no idea where to go. There were tents and fences and people all over the place. But There were no signs outside saying Bib pick up this way – T-shirt pick up this way – Race Expo this way. Given that the bib expo was inside the museum, down the hallway, aroudn the corner, that would have been helpful. Then I was tol pick up your tshirt at the expo. Okay… so I figured out how to get to the expo and walked a loop around the expo but still could not find the t-shirt pick up, oh apparently I missed the little turn off 2/3rds of the way down the second tent which is a little tunnel that takes you to the t-shirt pickup. Again SIGNAGE PLEASE! Honestly, it took so long to figure out where everything was that I spent absolutely no time in the expo itself. I have been known to spend money in race expos buying shoes, sunglasses, shirts, gels, I didn’t even look around, I was so focused on trying to figure out where the heck to get my shirt. When I did get my shirt, I just wanted to get out of there before rush hour traffic set in.

Bag check

Signage on where to find bag check would have been nice as well. Once again I arrived with a bag, and no idea where to go. I did find a volunteer who told me it was where I picked up my t-shirt. So the volunteer was helpful, but really some basic signage would go such a long way!

It was a bit confusing when I dropped off the bag, do I ahve to drop it off a the booth with my race distance? OR can I drop it off with any of the volunteers?  It felt like you were supposed to go to the booth for your distance, but of course all the half marathon runners were dropping off bags aroudn the same time and the other volunteers had no-one coming up to them… you know what would be helpful? signage or a volunteer at the entrance letting you know the scoop.

I did not have a very long line for bag pick up or drop off, and the volunteers were great, but I did have friends doing Commanders Challenge and some of them were unable to get their bag between races. That’s not good! If you set the expectation that I can get my bag between races, and then I can’t get it… that’s a bigger problem than just telling me hey don’t expect to get your bag between races.

Hand cycles mid-race

I am 100% supportive of hand cycles and wheelchair racers! I also think it’s great to have people of all different levels of ability running the race, slow fast, doesn’t matter, you did it! good for you! You rock!

I don’t remember this problem before, but maybe it just happened to be around me, but I caught up to a couple of hand cycles around Beechwood cemetery. They were slower than me going up the hill. They were faster than me going down the hill. Faster than me and everyone else around me. This meant cries of “cycle on your left, cycle on your left” were a regular occurrence for about 8 km as we would pass him on the uphill, and he would pass us on the downhill. Of course the hand cycle was near the curb and lots of runners were running along the edge of the road (it’s a popular place to run for cutting corners, or just to find space on the road). Some runners heard us when we yelled out cycle on the left, some did not. We would yell over and over, and sometimes we had to jog over and tap a runner on the shoulder because they were in the zone, or just wearing headphones. Frustrating as it was for us, it must have been even worse for the hand cyclist who must have been constantly adjusting speed to avoid hitting someone.

The 5 km finish

A friend of mine had 2 kids running the 5km, he went to the finish to watch them run in and what he saw was a solid wall of people. You could not actually run to the finish line. I quickly did the math and wondered what happens when the fast 10 km runners start coming in to that mess? I gather things cleared up engouh or they made a path to the side for the 10 km finsihers zooming in which is good, but wow that 5 km finish was a mess!

The water stops

Okay I’m torn about mentioning this one. The volunteers at the water stops were great! They made sure you knew if they had Nuun or water. There were a good number of water stops on the course, and there was a sponge station and misters. ALL OF THIS I APPRECIATED THANK YOU! It was hot, and it all helped.

It was a little tricky to get water at some of the stops, and I wasn’t in the thickest pack of runners. There were a few water stations that were only on one side of the road, and the number of tables and how spread out they were seemed to vary. SO if it’s possiblew to have water stops on both sides of the road for all water stops and spread the tables out a bit more so we have a little mroe space to grab a cup that woudl be great. But this isn’t a MUST fix, this is a “if you want suggestions on how to improve this is somethign that could be even better.” I’ve seen WAY worse at other races.


So hey Army Run – I am sure you are getting feedback from other runners. There were some issues with the new location, but I think you can fix a lot of it with a little planning. These types of issues can really discourage someone who was doing their first race, or will make them look to other races instead. I hope we hear in the news about ‘improvements’ for 2020.

Sincerely – a 5 time Army run 1 time Commanders Challenge runner who has frequently convinced others they should run the race and wants to continue doing that in the future.







Trekz Air Aftershokz Headphones review

Air AfterShokz bluetooth bone conduction headphonesIn this post I will review Trekz Air AfterShokz Headphones. These are bluetooth, bone conduction headphones.

When I started training for half and full marathons I wanted to run with music and podcasts for those long runs. But no matter what earbuds I tried they fell out, or my arm would catch on the cord and pull them out of my ears.  Eventually I gave up.  Then Garmin announced watches that could store Spotify playlists.  Music without carrying a phone! Now that’s tempting, but that requires Bluetooth headphones. I picked up the Garmin 645 (follow link for my review of the Garmin) and some Aftershokz Air – Bluetooth Bone Conduction headphones. Here’s my thoughts:

Running is safer with bone conduction headphones

Shows headphone position as above not in earBone conduction headphones vibrate against your cheekbones instead of broadcasting the music into your ear. This makes them fantastic for running outdoors because they do not go in your ears. That means you can hear ambient noise and your music at the same time.  I can hear the birds chirping and my feet against the pavement. Most important I can hear a car coming.  Occasionally I have worn them on long runs with a friend, because sometimes at the end of the run we start to get spread out and I might end up running solo. Sometimes they don’t realize I am listening to music because I can still carry on a conversation at a normal volume level.

The importance of hearing ambient noise was reinforced for me this weekend at the 2019 Ottawa Army Run. There were a lot of hills and some of the wheelchair competitors would get passed on the uphills and then pass the runners on the downhills. It was a crowded race and we kept yelling out “wheelchair on the left” and there was inevitably one runner with in ear headphones who did not hear the other 10 runners yelling to them, finally someone would have to run over to them and tap them on the shoulder to get them to step aside. If you think that was frustrating for us when we wanted to focus on our race, I can only imagine what is was like for the wheelchair athlete who must have spent most of the race yelling out ‘on your left’.


The headphones are nice and light, and it’s great not dealing with any cords.

Summer running – I run wearing a visor and sunglasses. On longer runs I do start to feel mild discomfort from the pressure on the back of my ears caused by the combination of pressure from my visor, my headphones and sunglasses (Love my Smith parallel Max 2 sunglasses with the rose coloured polarized lenses though I swap to the clear lenses for occasional night runs).

Winter running – Depending on how cold it is I wear anything from headband, to winter running hat, to neck warmer pulled up over my ears and hat on top. Headband and hat is not a problem, but when I pull the neck warmer up over my ears the band of the headphones sticking out the back is a little awkward.

Shows headphone band sticking out behind neckSitting around – I love them for the occasional conference call, washing dishes, or just walking around. If you are in a recliner or a train seat and have your head resting against the back of the seat you will find the back band of the headphone means you have to adjust the position of the headphones a bit to rest your head back comfortably.

Eating – because the bone conduction relies on contact with the bones, if you are chewing on something while listening to the headphones you will notice a variation in the sound while chewing as your jaw bone shifts.

Weather tested & durability

I have run in weather ranging from -20C to + 30C. I have run in rain and snow. Never had an issue. The newer version which I have is supposed to be more water resistant than the older versions (i.e. better when sweaty or raining). They do come with a warranty as well ( I was told if a pet dog decides to chew them up, they would still replace them, never tested that promise because I have cats, so I don’t know if the sales person was exaggerating :)) I do frequently jam the headphones into a pocket of my backpack or purse, so they don’t require careful care or attention. My son has an uncanny ability to destroy Bluetooth headphones with impressive speed so I bought him a pair of the older Aftershokz for his birthday, 20 months later they are still going strong. He likes the older ones because they come in nice bright colours: yellow, and bright blue. The newer ones are muted colours like navy blue and earth green.

Battery life

When I am going for a long run, I make sure to charge the headphones.  They last just fine through a 20 mile run. I have actually started wearing them more and more around the house, on travel days, while working.  According to the web site the batteries recharge fully in 2 hours and will play for 6 hours of continuous music.

They have a microphone too

Yes these headphones do have a microphone. So, one day, I decided to try and take all my conference calls with the headphones sitting at my desk. I did find that when I was sitting still the vibration of the bone conduction started to bug me after a couple of hours.  I never noticed it at all when running, only when sitting at my laptop and wearing the headphones for multiple hours. They are very useful when I am travelling and need to take a quick call from my phone or laptop and I have not had any complaints about the microphone quality from the people on the other side of the calls.

Sound Quality and Volume level

The sound quality is great, I can listen to them at a low volume in a quiet area with no problems at all. If you are in a noisy environment such as a train or public space it is much harder to hear anything in your headphones because of course since they do not go in your ears they do not muffle any ambient sound.

What feature is missing?

They have a volume control on the headphones, and I discovered the pause button by accident one day, but there are no controls for skipping a song. I have several running playlists, and sometimes a song comes on that isn’t quite what I want for that moment in my run.  I can skip a song by using the Garmin, but not with controls on the headphones themselves. I guess there is a trade-off between simplicity and functionality. I do find these easy to use and easy to pair to my device. I pair them with my phone, my Garmin 645, and my laptop.


Well since I am sitting here listening to music with my headphones as I put the finishing touches on this post and have convinced two other runners to try them and they are both happy I think it’s safe to say I’m hooked. But I have listed the pros and cons as best as I can for you so you can make your own decision. Happy running!



Runner disaster stories: Wardrobe malfunction

Woman running in a race with two small kidsIf you run long enough, you will do something stupid or encounter some sort of running mishap. In this series, I’ll try to make you feel better about your own mistakes and occasional bouts of misery by sharing others tales of woe! Such as the previous post ‘The unfortunate incident of the improvised gel pouch

Today’s tale comes from Sheila and will remind female runners of the benefits of modern running gear!

The wardrobe malfunction

It was a very hot day and I was getting ready for a 10km race. I was picking out my race outfit. This was in the late 80s before Lululemon and general availability of sports bras. My old cotton bra was more breathable and also had a few holes to let the breezes so it seemed a better idea than the nylon one. I selected shorts and a suitable cotton race T shirt and headed out for the race.

At first, it seemed I had made the right decision. Unfortunately, as I ran, gradually the fastener at the back seemed to be getting looser and looser. The course was 5 km out and 5 km back. Shortly after the turnaround the fastener broke completely. The straps started to slip down my arms, poking out of the shirt sleeves, so I pushed them back up onto my shoulders.  Eventually the chest strap and cups themselves slipped far enough that everything under the shirt was loose and bouncing. The kilometers passed as the shoulder straps and I continued our endless game of slide down the shoulders and push them back up again. With great relief, I spotted the finish line. What better way to ensure I didn’t cross the finish with bra straps around my elbows: I crossed the finish line with my arms triumphantly raised above my head.

Runner crossing finish line with arms up

Who is Sheila?

Well among other things she’s my mom and she was quite the trailblazer in women’s road running. While these days there will often be multiple women competing for the podium in the 60+, 70, and 80+ age groups. When she was running, more than once race organizers had to add an age group because they did not expect any women her age in the race. She qualified for and ran her first Boston marathon the year she turned 65. In her own words:

I started racing when I turned 40, after three years of competitive orienteering convinced me I could run, though not as fast as eldest daughter Judy or my six-foot husband Tim. I have always liked exercise and the outdoors.

One of my favourite running memories is the Boston marathon. The hills did not seem alarming to a woman trained in Fredericton (note from Susan: Fredericton is a river valley and has no shortage of long, steep hills). The cheering students could have been my own (note from Susan: she taught at St Thomas University for over 20 years). Another favorite memory was having almost the whole family running a 10km in Montreal to celebrate my 70th birthday in 2008, finishing in the Olympic Stadium . Alas, Tim’s knee problems meant he could only meet us at the finish.

If you run or jog you may enjoy my other running related posts which include everything from a fun runners quiz, to practical tips, gear reviews, and race reports.

Runner disaster stories: The unfortunate incident of the improvised gel pouch

SusanRacingArmyIf you run long enough, you will do something stupid or encounter some sort of running mishap. In this series, I’ll try to make you feel better about your own mistakes and occasional bouts of misery by sharing others tales of woe!

Today’s story comes from yours truly, and involves my first race using gel/chews.

I started as a 5 km runner. 10 km races felt long. But, eventually, I decided to run a half. I trained. I ran the Toronto Goodlife half marathon, missing my time goal by 2 seconds! My running buddy suggested gels or chomps might give me that little bit of extra energy to hit my goal.

chewsI tried gels, but just couldn’t swallow the viscous liquid while running, so I tried the chewy gummy bear type energy chews. I particularly liked the berry flavored ones that I reminded me of Swedish Berries.

Every 8 km, I would take two or three chews. The chews provided an additional distraction as I spent the next 10 minutes of my run using my tongue to gradually remove the bits stubbornly stuck to my teeth. With these longer training runs, and hot summer weather, I also purchased my first water belt, complete with a pouch suitable for gels or chews.

Race day arrived. I picked up my bib, and was preparing to check my bag. I had my water belt around my waist loaded and ready to go. But, this was a major race (Ottawa Army Run) and there were plenty of water stops along the route. Did I really want to wear this big bulky belt the entire race as I chased my goal time and personal best?

Running Water belt

I could manage without the water, but I needed a way to carry the chews. No pockets in my running shorts, that would be too convenient, but well, as a female runner I did have an option not available to gentleman runners. Yup, I decided to toss the packet of chews into my running bra and threw the water belt into my gear check bag.

Off to my corral, wait for the cannon (they still used a cannon to signal the start at Army Run back then) and off I went. I was holding steady, and I have to say my improvised solution seemed to work just fine! I was able to get the water I needed at the aid stations, and aside from a few startled looks from other runners when I reached into my bra to pull out the package of chews, eveything was going to plan! I missed my time goal, but I now had two half marathons under my belt (if I can still use that expression given I left the water belt in my gear check). Surely the experience would get me there eventually.

I hobbled home and hopped into a much needed shower.

Side note: Some of you more experienced runners, likely anticipated what comes next, but remember I was new to distance running and to the sensation I would shortly experience.

As soon as the hot water hit my upper body I must have leapt 18 inches straight up into the air! Oh how it burns! It seems the edges of the package bouncing around against my chest caused a bit of chafing! I managed to move out of the spray zone, turn the temperatures down, and position myself to minimize the contact between shower water and two spectacular chafe marks on my chest.

Sketch of shower curtain and shower running and scream of Yikes from behind curtain


So – apparently chafing when running is a thing! Now, as an older and wiser runner, I have my go-to race belt which has a small pouch, elastic loops to hold gels, and bib clips. I also have considerably more experience with the burning sensation that tells me I need to up my anti-chafing regime.

Running belt with bib clips and pouch

Have you got a ‘not my brightest moment’ running story to share? Pass it along!

Happy running, and next time you have a ‘Doh!’ moment, remember, you are not alone!

Check out my other running related posts.






What to pack for Ragnar / Peak to Brew relay races

So you are headed out for a running relay race! Ragnar, Peak 2 Brew, regardless get ready for a race of a different type!

Ragnar  and Peak to Brew logos

To help you prepare, here’s a suggested packing list for you and your van mates

Before you pack anything, keep in mind, that when you have as many as 6 runners in a van and a driver that does not leave much space for luggage. Don’t use a suitcase, use smaller sports bags which can be packed more creatively in the van

Running gear

For each leg of the race you want:

  • 20180811_094029Running socks
  • Shirt or tank top
  • Running bra
  • Running shorts

It’s helpful to put your running clothes for each leg into it’s own bundle or Ziploc bag, so you can quickly find what you need when you need it. The Ziploc bag can also be used to store the sweaty running clothes after you finish a leg.

For running in general you want:

  • Running shoes
  • GPS Watch
  • Visor or hat
  • Hair elastic?
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Belt to carry cell phone and/or water
  • Water bottle (to carry or to drink in the van)
  • Headlamp for night run
  • Rear light for night run
  • Reflective vest for night run (most races require an actual reflective vest, a light up LED vest may not qualify)
  • Rain gear
  • Something to keep you warm if it cools off (overnight legs it may get colder)
  • Anti-chafing supplies?
  • Gels?

Don’t forget to charge or get fresh batteries before you leave

  • Headlamp
  • GPS Watch
  • Cell Phone (if running in another country do you want to ppre-purchase a local SIM or roaming plan?)
  • Any light up accessories

Van supplies for you

  • Towel to sit on when you hop in the van after a leg
  • Sandals or other shoes to change into after your leg (if you bring sneakers, you probably want clean socks as well)
  • Phone
  • Phone charger
  • Snacks to keep you going (it’s hard to have fun if you are hungry, what is easy to pack, won’t go bad in the heat, and will keep you going if you are hungry and there is no meal in sight)
  • Your preferred electrolyte drink
  • Cash – you may end up eating group meals and splitting costs, it’s easier if you have some cash on hand
  • Jacket you can wear if it cools off

Sleeping suppliesp2bnap

  • Mat (if there is room for it in the van)
  • Sleeping bag
  • Eye mask (the places you try to sleep will have people coming and going with light appearing and disappearing)
  • Ear plugs (even the cheap foam ones are better than nothing) – the places you try to sleep will have people chatting, runners coming and going rustling sleeping bags, etc…
  • Look up how to use vibrate on your GPS or watch to use as an alarm clock
  • In a perfect world, everyone would bring a nice comfy pillow, but realistically there is not going to be enough room in the van for everyone to bring a pillow, so bring a travel pillow or use your sports bag packed with clothing as a substitute

Van supplies for the team

Co-ordinate with teammates to make sure the van is stocked for the team:

  • 20180810_144139Garbage bags
  • Window markers suitable for writing on van
  • Any other supplies for van decorating – flags, ways to attach flags, etc…
  • Baby wipes to clean off the writing on the van when the race finishes and for wiping down the occasional runner as needed
  • Noise makers to cheer on your team mates
  • Foam roller or stick to loosen up between runs
  • Basic first aid kit (Band aids, blister band aids, Benadryl (for allergic reactions), Tylenol, antibiotic cream, gauze pads, tape, tensor bandage, Tylenol or equivalent)
  • Nail clippers
  • Kleenex
  • Toilet paper (in case of unstocked port-a-potty)
  • Water container to carry water for the team
  • Febreeze to get rid of that lovely sweaty runner smell?
  • Cooler
  • Cups (useful if you are going to do water stops for your teammates)
  • GPS with maps pre-downloaded

Making the most of storage space in the van

  • If anyone on your team has a roof carrier, that may provide extra storage space. Some mini vans have roof racks built in which can take a roof carrier
  • If you rent a mini-van check to see if there is any storage in the floors

Race specific documentation

Each race has specific maps and information you need during the race. Make sure each van has their own copy!

  • Clipboard & Pen
  • Maps (DO NOT assume you will have cell coverage throughout the course!)
  • Race book
  • Safety flags?
  • Paper maps
  • Spreadsheet of predicted finish times for each leg of the race

Clean up supplies

Some of the exchanges may have shower facilities, a little clean up can make you feel more human

  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Towel for after shower

Non-Race related supplies

Are you staying in a hotel the night before or after the race? Do you want a change of clothes for the post-race celebration?

  • Change of clothes
  • Toiletries
  • PJs or whatever is appropriate depending on your sleeping arrangements (i.e. do you have a roommate?)
  • Sanitary napkins/tampons if you are unlucky with timing


  • Have fun! Yes you will get tired, yes something will go wrong, someone might get a little grumpy at some point – write it off as hunger and move on. Take pictures, chat with other teams, enjoy a shared experience, eat some junk food, celebrate with a club soda, beer or wine at the finish!


Joe McGuire Race Report

The Joe McGuire race is a 5 km, 10 km race and 5 km walk in Woodstock, New Brunswick. It’s advertised as a flat, fast course. It does not disappoint.

Joe McGuire race swag

Who is Joe McGuire anyway?

Joe McGuire was inducted to the NB Sports Hall of fame in November 2009. As of 2019, he holds the record for New Brunswick’s fastest marathon at 2:27:51, which he set at the Halifax marathon in 1984. He also won the master’s division at the Boston marathon in 1985.  Not bad for a guy who says when he first started running to lose weight in 1977 could not run a mile and ran at night in the evening because he felt self conscious about having others see him run.

For me, this race has some personal meaning as well. My mum and dad were racing in New Brunswick at the same time as Joe. I often came along to run the occasional 5 or 10 km. I remember hearing Joe’s name when awards were presented at the end of the race. My father confirms that he was often bumped down a spot on the podium by Joe. When my dad was catching up with Joe at the race, they were reminiscing about exchanging greetings with Joe before he reached the turnaround of his first marathon, Joe had reached the turnaround and was running back. My dad wore his 1987 Joe McGuire race shirt to accompany me to the race today only just outdoing another gentleman in a 1988 Joe McGuire race shirt! If I got the math right since 2019 was the 33rd running of the race, the race only started in 1986!

The route

Joe McGuire Race routeYou start at the Woodstock fire station , run to the bridge, cross the river, run along the river on the north side, turn around and come back. The finish is NOT the same as the start line. The finish is on the far side of the bridge, which saves you running up the hill over the bridge at the end of the race. But it does mean you need to either take the shuttle back to the fire station, walk back to the start, or if you have a cheering team old enough to drive, they can drive the car to the parking lot at the finish. The 10 km route goes further down the river before turning around.

There was one water stop at the 5 km turnaround and another water stop at the 10km turnaround.

The hills

Because you don’t cross the bridge on the way back, this course is a net downhill. The last mile or so is uphill, but not too steep. The downhills are a nice incline, gentle and long enough they help your pace. I’ve shared the elevation chart  from my Garmin below:

Joe McGuire Race elevation chart

Fun for runners of all levels

This race brings out a mix of serious runners and community runners which is kind of awesome. This is evident when you look at the wide range of paces in the age group winners. In the 50-59 women of the 10 km, first place time was 40:04, 2nd place was 43:12, and 3rd place was 1:05:34. The women’s 40-49 first place time was 57:52. Curious if you would have placed in your age group in 2019, take a look at the 2019 results.  Everyone crossing the line receives a finisher medal, but no matter what your finish time, you should stick around until they post the age results, just in case! FYI – They present the awards after the last runner finishes.

Fast runners are likely coming out to run the race because it is a good course to set a Personal best (I set a 5 km PB here), and because the 10 km is part of the Run Trackie Superseries. and you can accumulate points towards the provincial standings.

What’s unique about the race

The medals are handed out by the race’s namesake: Joe McGuire himself.


It’s a community race, so that means prizes, swag bag goodies, and post race snacks are often donates by local businesses. It’s wonderful how the local businesses support the race. In 2019 instead of a t-shirt you got a really nice coffee mug (pictured in the photo at the top of this post). First place male and female overall in each race got an embroidered race towel. 

There were draw prizes too. They draw the names ahead of time, so all you have to do is stop by the table to see if there is a prize with your name on it.

There were old-school engraved medals with the race name, year, age group, and finishing place for 1st through 3rd in every age group. I don’t see many medals engraved like that these days. The age groups were 10 years, but they had an under 14 age group and a 15-19 age group in the 5 km this year. (Kudos to the talented 12 year old who was first female in the 5 km race finishing in 20:11!)

Post race food

There were bagels, watermelon, oranges, and coffee. There were also Timbits and chocolate milk which made me happy.  Covered bridge Potato Chips also provided full size bags of chips at the finish line as well 🙂

Covered Bridge Potato Chips



There were 2 port-a-potties beside the start line and one port-a-potty in the finish area.


At the start line, you can park behind the fire station. Don’t park at the guest house across the street. There were guests whose cars were blocked in by runners.

At the finish line, there is a parking lot next to the finish area.

How did my race go?

If you are curious about my personal race, like several others at the race, I arrived hoping to run a personal best. I made sure to line up at the start line, since 4-5 seconds caught behind a slow runner can make a difference when trying to best your 5 km time.  At the last minute I realized there was no timing mat at the start, another reason to line up at the front if you have a time goal!  The race is chip timed but all times are gun time.

Thanks to adrenalin and downhill my first km was solidly sub 4 minutes. Suffice to say that did not last, but I was able to maintain a decent pace, until the turnaround point. Fortunately the slight headwind on the downhill was a tailwind on the uphill. I managed to finish wheezing with an 11 second PB. Mission accomplished, as an added bonus I won my age group, but it was the personal best I really wanted 🙂

If you enjoyed this post check out other race reports and running related posts