Running on Manitoulin Island near Fred's CampLast week, my family made their annual pilgrimage to Manitoulin Island, the largest fresh water island in the world. For the past 14 years, we have spent a week in the summer in a rustic cabin at a place on Lake Kagawong called Fred’s Camp. Usually the week is filled with a lot of swimming, lounging, boating and eating. This year was pretty much the same, except the weather really let us down. Instead of the lovely 25 degree sunshine we’re used to, we had some pretty cool, fall-like days.

So what’s a girl to do when you can’t lounge lake-side sipping a frosty cocktail? Run, of course! And with a half marathon on the calendar, this was the perfect opportunity to get in some mileage.

Last year, I got very used to long runs on city streets in the sweltering heat, so the cool air and the quiet country roads of Manitoulin Island were a welcome change. Over the course of the week, we ran three times, racking up a total mileage of 18K. Nothing too crazy. We were on vacation after all.

Running on the island is exactly what you might think. Lots of lovely country roads along the waterfront, varied terrain, very little traffic, and even fewer runners. I never encountered another one in all my 18 kilometres. This was a pretty drastic contrast from my recent run in NYC! And despite the fact that Manitoulin Island is really off the beaten path, I was still able to get a GPS signal with my Nike+ watch so I could track my (pathetic) pace and distance.

I’d like to say the runs were glorious and fast and that I felt great. The truth is, I felt sluggish and slow. It was actually pretty frustrating considering this time last year, I was averaging a half marathon or more weekly in terms of my long runs. I just couldn’t get into that zone. You know the one. That state where you find a great average pace and feel like you could run forever. Every step was tough. I felt like my breathing was laboured and I was running out of steam so quickly. If you can’t have a great run in a place like Manitoulin Island, running a road in Toronto is going to be a tough go.

I blame it on all the fresh air. I’m not used to spending the majority of my day in natural lighting! It can be very exhausting apparently.  I’m sure my daily spicy Caesar and the 4L box of Pinot Grigio I drank over the course of the week didn’t help.

I’m now back in Toronto and ready to tackle my half marathon training with enthusiasm. I’m hitting the road tomorrow and I’m hopeful that I’ll have a more inspiring run. I’ll miss the quiet streets of Manitoulin, but hopefully, I’ll find my groove again. Otherwise, the next couple of weeks are going to be rough.

Running on Manitoulin Island near Fred's Camp

Some pictures taken while out on our various runs.

Running in NYC during summer streets on Park AvenueI only had one agenda item while in New York City: run in Central Park. I’ve been to New York several times for work or special events, but I never manage to run in Central Park which made be very sad. So when we planned this long weekend trip with a very loose itinerary, I made a run in the park the top of my to-do list.

When we arrived, we hopped in a taxi to meet up with friends for dinner. Our taxi had a little TV running local news and my ears perked up when I heard about something called NYC Summer Streets. For three consecutive Saturdays in August, more than seven miles of NYCs streets are closed for people to play, run, walk or bike. I was thrilled! What a wonderful coincidence!

During the event, a stretch of Park Avenue from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park was closed for the whole morning! It was like a road race where we picked the start time and the distance! August 2 was the first Saturday of this annual event and I couldn’t wait to hit the road! New York City’s streets are not the most runner friendly place so this was the perfect opportunity to run in the city AND hit up Central Park as planned.

My husband and I met up with our friend Mary around Grand Central Station and we ran along Park Avenue until we got to Central Park. The run along Park Avenue was great. There were people walking and roller blading, biking and running and there was lots to look at – including a trumpet player on every corner playing one single note. I kept expecting them to break into song but they remained steady on one single note. We asked a police officer if she knew what they were doing but she seemed just as perplexed as we were. It was a bit strange… but one comes to expect strange things in a city like New York.

We made it to Central Park around 1:00 pm. I can see why the park is so necessary in NYC. Amidst the traffic, congestion and general busyness, there is this beautiful oasis right in the middle of the city. With miles of perfect running paths, it is easy to understand why runners flock here. With a variety of terrain and beautiful scenery, it really is a runner’s dream. No wonder the final miles of the New York City marathon take place here. There’s also a lot to look at! If you like people watching, this is your ideal place to jog. There’s also plenty of perfect places to stop along the way for rest breaks, pit stops and water.

We capped off our run by watching some kids on a carousel – some joyous, some terrified, both amusing. Afterward, we cooled down and hit up Whole Foods for some healthy post-run snacks and ate them in the park near the row boats. As I nibbled my falafel, we placed bets on which couples might be getting engaged, but were disappointed not to witness someone’s big moment. We wandered around the Park for most of the afternoon and then headed back to our hotels to freshen up and continue eating and drinking our way through New York City.

If you’re planning a trip to New York in the coming weeks, I highly recommend you hit up Summer Streets and Central Park. Definitely a treat to run in this picturesque urban oasis.

Have you ever run in Central Park?

Running in new york city Central Park

Running in new york city Central Park

I can tell its Friday before a long weekend. My office was quiet and closed at noon, emails are slow and the drive to work was half the time it normally is! No wonder so many people were sharing funny articles today.

First, my mom sent me this link to a Buzzfeed article entitled 25 Things Only People Who Fail At Exercise Will Understand. While I exercise regularly, I can absolutely appreciate every item  in here. I’ve used most of them at some point. Especially using exercise as an excuse to continually snack.

George Constanza snacking

nomnomnom

Another funny thing I came across today was this amusing article from Runner’s World showcasing the worst stock photos of women running. They are so perfectly terrible. Especially this one:

fake runner

Ooph. Running is tough.

Anyone who has worked with me professionally knows about my dislike for stock imagery. It’s completely fake-looking and unoriginal. However, I work at a PR agency as a social media Director and sometimes, using stock imagery is unavoidable.

Be this a lesson to you. If you absolutely MUST use stock imagery, please please please pick something that actually looks a little real. I’m sure the woman in the picture is a nice person, but she is clearly not running. Not even my worst race photo has looked that ridiculous. Also, anyone actually running isn’t smiling. Unless they are crossing the finish line. If you need pictures of women running, ask me. I have lots of REAL women ACTUALLY running. Just saying.

Happy long weekend runners!

Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Maratong

For many runners, the motivation to run a race is to raise money and awareness for a good cause, so it’s no surprise that many races across the country are realizing the importance of charitable partners. In fact, last year, the New York City Marathon had 317 organizations as non-profit partners, a 74% increase from just three years ago. So last week, when I was contacted by a volunteer from the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (CBCF) about their partnerships with the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, I was happy to help.

If you’re interested in supporting this great organization, read on…

***************************

Hello everyone!

My name is Arina Rusu and I volunteer with the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, Ontario Region (CBCF). I am very happy volunteering with CBCF because I genuinely feel that I am making a difference in the breast cancer community. I am confident that I made the right decision because I witness every day how my work forwards CBCF’s mission of a future without breast cancer.

One new thing I’ve learned since volunteering with CBCF is that 1/3 of breast cancers are preventable. Participating in regular physical activity, like training for and running in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon is a great way to help reduce your risk of breast cancer.

For the past two years, CBCF has been one of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon’s official charities. Here’s how you can help us support the breast cancer community:

  1. Join us by signing up to run and fundraise for CBCF and the STWM this year!
  2. Use our discount code: 14TCBCF to receive the early bird discount. You can still register to fundraise for CBCF even if you have already signed up for STWM.
  3. Start fundraising! If you are one of the top 10 fundraisers and you raise a minimum of $250, you will receive a full reimbursement for your registration!

Although advancements have been made, 1 in 9 Canadian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.

I believe that everyone can help make a difference. There is strength in numbers and we can all help support the common goal of creating a future without breast cancer.

trail running

Midway through our trail run on Sunday.

I’m a creature of habit. I tend to stick to the same running routes week after week. In fact, I’m one of those crazy runners that actually enjoy a run around a track or repeating a neighbourhood loop five or six times. Sometimes, running mindlessly is a good way to regroup. I find it relaxing. It’s kind of like my form of meditation.

That said, I cannot stress enough the importance of variety in your exercise routine. Sure, you can try new areas of the city, but why not try something new altogether – like trail running!

I had the pleasure of going on one of my first true trail runs this past weekend in Goderich. My parents have a boat in the beautiful Homan Inlet Marina in Goderich. Nearby, there’s a little trail that runs along the Maitland River and as far as the teeny town of Auburn.

Escaping into nature is an experience you’ll never get on a typical road run and there are plenty of reasons to hit up a trail. Here are five of my faves:

Gives your body a break

A trail’s softer surface is easier on your joints and alleviates a lot of stress many runners encounter daily running the city streets. There’s some give in the ground along trails and as a result, your knees, ankles and hips aren’t absorbing as much weight. Trail running can often result in fewer injuries too, not only because of the lower impact, but also because you build more strength in your lower leg muscles.

Makes you a better runner

OK, I can’t really guarantee this but there’s definitely evidence to suggest that the benefits of trail running transfer to regular road running. Studies show that running on uneven terrain causes you to take shorter, quicker strides, which is good for any surface. Ultimately, this allows for faster running both on and off the trail.

It’s good for the mind

There is less focus on time and pace on a trail and as a result, you can just focus on and enjoy your run. You know your time won’t be fast because you’re focused on avoiding tree roots or rocks and adjusting footing for hills and tight turns.  For this reason, regular trail runners say they find the sport mentally relaxing as opposed to the arduous grind often associated with slogging along the asphalt streets.

Protects your skin

Well, sort of… Running in the shade of a forest will definitely help you avoid the sun’s damaging UV rays, but you’ll have to spray on some bug repellant before you head out. That, or run really, really fast, to avoid mosquitos! Another added benefit of a shady trail run? No racer-back tan lines! Whoo!

Enjoy the quiet

I feel like I spend half my life in traffic. Hitting a trail is a great way to avoid constant stops at red lights or busy intersections and you can really just take in the quiet surroundings. Leave your headphones at home and enjoy the sounds of birds chirping or running water. It’s a beautiful thing, especially if you’re a daily commuter like me!

Do you ever run on trails? Where are your favourites?

Can't get motivated? Get some new shoes! The brighter, the better!

Can’t get motivated? Get some new shoes! The brighter, the better!

It’s that time of year again. The time where lounging in the sunshine and sipping cool beverages on patios takes priority over running. This time last year, I was just starting the most intense training program of my life in preparation for my first full marathon. This year, it’s nearly half way through July and I’ve logged a measly 6K.

With beautiful weather and abundant opportunities for social gatherings, it can be hard to get out there, especially if you don’t have a goal on the horizon. If you’re like me and you’re feeling more like a beer and burger instead of starting a training plan, here are a five somewhat unconventional ways to kick your lazy butt into gear this summer.

  1. Get some new kicks. New shoes motivate you to get out there and I’m a firm believer that the brighter the colour, the faster you run. I just purchased myself a pair of the new Nike Zoom Pegasus 31s. Who could possibly run slowly in a bright pink pair of sneakers? Not only are they awesome, but they are finally the right size! If you’re thinking about buying a new pair of shoes, read this first.
  2. Sign up for something. I just signed up for the Scotiabank Half Marathon in October. No turning back now. I’ll have to find some time to start getting in those long runs. I haven’t run more than 11K in months… Need a good kick in the butt? Get a race date on the calendar.
  3. Think motivating thoughts. Every mile you run burns approximately 100 calories. Think of that next run as a couple slices of pizza… or whatever your go-to high-calorie snack is. I feel like I need to run many, many miles to compensate for my summertime diet lately!
  4. Get a dog. Or borrow one. Find an energetic pup that loves to run, or offer to take a friend’s dog out for a jog. Here’s a handy article from Runner’s World on the top running breeds. Happy dog shopping!
  5. Treat yourself. But only after your run. Make your favourite drink, snack or dinner. I suggest an iced coffee or bowl of ice cream. The sooner you get back, the sooner you get to have it.

How do you motivate yourself to get out there in the summer?

It starts easy, but man... day 20 and beyond are KILLER.

It starts easy…

I am a huge fan of running while on vacation, so it’s no surprise that I packed my running shoes on a recent vacation to Scandinavia. My husband and I visited Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki and everywhere we went, there were runners in large numbers jogging along the waterfront, through parks, and along lovely paved trails. I was especially impressed with the dedication of runners in Finland. Even when it was 13 degrees, windy and pouring rain, there were still runners out in large numbers running along a paved waterfront path. Now, that is some serious dedication.

The one thing missing from all these great running spots was me. I didn’t lace up my shoes once. Nope. I was too busy sampling the local meatballs in each country.

OK, that’s not entirely true. We were incredibly active while travelling. We walked everywhere. We rented bikes three times and toured the interesting parts of the various cities, and we completed something massive. A feat of epic proportions. The 30-Day Ab Challenge.

This 30 day challenge was sent to me in late May and we somehow decided it would be a good idea to start it June 1, fully knowing that we would have to complete the later, more challenging portions while on vacation. Somehow we managed. Even while aboard a cruise boat from Copenhagen to Oslo, we found a way to fit in these ridiculous workouts each day. I lived for the rest days. They were much needed. Into the last week, each workout was a massive effort and my abs hurt so much that laughing or sneezing was painful.

Frankly, the intensity of these daily challenges derailed any notion of a leisurely vacation run. After touring around all day on foot or by bike and capping the day off with a grueling 30-minute ab workout, the last thing I felt like doing was going out for a jog around a park.

Now we all know that a strong core helps with running, so I can only hope that this arduous challenge has some impact as I gear up to start training for the Scotiabank Half Marathon in October. At the very least, my abs are strong! I took a before and after photo for my own documentary purposes and there was some definite improvement. Now that we’re back on Canadian soil at our sedentary desk jobs, enjoying after work cocktails on patios, I assume all muscle gain will be promptly lost.

Nevertheless, it was a good challenge and one that frankly, I didn’t think I had the drive or motivation to see through to the end, especially on vacation. I dare you to try it!

Not down with sit-ups? Try this (much easier) 30-day burpee challenge.

What 30-day challenges have you tried?

I visited a track in Finland. I just didn't run on it. (Olympic Stadium, Helsinki)

I visited a track in Finland. I just didn’t run on it. (Olympic Stadium, Helsinki)