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)

Running a marathon is crazy. I know because I did my first (and possibly only) one back in October. I was a legitimate crazy person leading up to the race. I fluctuated between crying uncontrollably and laughing deliriously. I was basically insane for 16 weeks leading up to what was one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.

Today, I came across this little gem from The Oatmeal, a site I visit often for a regular dose of laughter. The Oatmeal is a comic website created in 2009 by Matthew Inman. While most of his comics are amusing and chuckle-worthy, this one – an excerpt from his upcoming book – really spoke to me. I also think it accurately captures the craziness that inevitably comes with the fascinating sport of marathon running.

If you’ve ever run a marathon, I think you’ll like this:

via The Oatmeal.com

via TheOatmeal.com

via TheOatmeal.com

via TheOatmeal.com

via TheOatmeal.com

via TheOatmeal.com

To read the full version, check out this post on Runner’s World or visit The Oatmeal.

smart peopleThe 10K Training Clinic I’m leading at The Running Room is coming to a close. Somehow, we’re already 8 weeks into a 10 week program and I’ve learned a lot from this experience.

I’ve learned that I still hate getting up for an 8:30 a.m. run on Sunday mornings. Especially in the summer. I’ve learned to care less about speed and time. I’ve learned about true dedication from a few very inspirational group members, and finally, I’ve learned a lot from running experts.

One of the reasons to join a clinic with The Running Room is that we coordinate an expert guest speaker to talk to the group once a week about various topics related to the running. Sure, you can run with any number of Toronto running clubs for free, but the small fee you pay when you register for a training clinic with The Running Room helps pay for added perks like training advice from super smart people.

For the past four weeks, here’s what we’ve been learning.

Hill Training

Albert Dell’Apa from Raging Bull Road Runners came to talk to our group the night before we started hill training. Hills are hard. Typically, I avoid them and I know a lot of runners in my group did too. Albert did a great job explaining why hill training is good, and the proper way to run a hill. Hills build strength and endurance, and frankly, they help you become a better runner. Albert taught us that the key to running a hill is to run by effort, not pace. This simply means that when you approach a hill, you should tackle it with a pace you know you can maintain throughout. If you want to know more about Raging Bull Road Runners, you can follow them on Twitter @RagingBullRunners, or on their Facebook page.

Nutrition for Runners

We also heard from Kyle Byron of Kyle Byron Nutrition. I loved Kyle’s talk. He was funny, honest and personable and gave us straight talk about fuelling properly as a runner. He talked about the importance of hydration and protein and what to do if you slip up. He also advocated treating yourself with food that may be considered less than optimal in a regular diet. Craving a donut? Have it after a run, he said. This is the kind of advice I can really get behind! He also talked about the importance of drinking water when you wake up. You wake up dehydrated so starting your day with a glass of water is key to getting your metabolism started.

Injury Prevention & Massage for Runners

Melissa Doldrun from Rebalance Sports Medicine joined us to talk about injury prevention. One of the key things she discussed was regular stretching and warm-ups and she did lots of helpful demonstrations. She also talked about the benefits of massage for runners – both self massage through things like foam rollers, and professional massages from an RMT like her. You may recall that I was a frequent guest at Rebalance in the fall and winter after my IT Band injury so I’m a huge fan of the clinic. They totally understand runners, so if you’re looking to heal something, or just work out some tension from a long run, Rebalance is the place to go.

Heart rate Training

Finally, we heard from Krysten Siba Bishop from Polar Canada about the benefits of heartrate training. While it’s not a perfect science, your heart can be a powerful training tool. It can tell you when you’re pushing too hard, or not hard enough and can really help you optimize your training. Krysten herself has a fascinating story. She was diagnosed with rare heart arrhythmia and was fitted for her first pacemaker when she was just 17 years old. She uses Polar watches to monitor her heart while running. To read more about Krysten’s story, check out her blog here.

We have one more talk on race day preparation and then that’s it. The team is prepared to tackle their first 10K race. Good luck to everyone running The Run for Huntington Disease on June 22! I’ll be cheering for you.

National Running Day

via Women’s Running Magazine

Today is National Running Day! According to the official website, today is the day when long-time runners reaffirm their love of running. It’s also a day where beginners can kick off a new commitment.

What better way to celebrate this day than to head out for a run – a tough run! We’re currently in Week 7 of my 10K Training Clinic with the Running Room and tonight, we’re doing five  hill repeats. Hill repeats are exactly what they sound like. Running up and down a hill on repeat. They suck, but they build stamina, strength and endurance and come race day, you’re always thankful you did them. And whenever my group moans about hills, I always remind them: hills build character.

To commemorate the day, several of my favourite running blogs and websites published interesting articles. One that caught my eye was this interesting campaign from New Balance and Westin Hotels where they created a vending machine that dispensed free running gear! Check out more details on this cool campaign here.

If you’re a runner, get outside for a run tonight! It’s a great day. If you’re not a runner, give it a shot. Try a five minute jog. Maybe you’ll  discover a life-changing hobby.

Happy trails!

cinderella-glass-slipper

I finally found a shoe that fits perfectly! Just like Cinderella!

By the time you are 30 years old, you would think you would know your shoe size. Turns out, I’ve been running in the wrong size shoes for more than 3 years.

Last week, a representative from New Balance visited the Liberty Village Running Room to offer runners in my 10K Training Clinic the opportunity to go for a run in a new pair of shoes. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity. My shoes have hundreds of kilometres on them. I trained for and ran a marathon in them so they are just about dead. I’m the market for a new pair so this was the perfect opportunity.

The representative asked me my shoe size. I told her 6.5. She instead gave me a 7. I tried them on and she checked where my toe was in the shoe and decided that I actually needed a 7.5! I was shocked. I’ve been running in a size 6.5 for years.  I own 7 pairs of running shoes and they are ALL a size 6.5.

I was doubtful, but I headed out for our run in the new shoes. It felt great. And my toes felt like they had room to move around and actually grip the pavement. No wonder my feet are perpetually sore. I’ve been running in shoes that are too small for years! My feet are constantly covered in callouses or blisters and I fall victim to black toenails pretty regularly. Fortunately (or unfortunately?) I have a really high pain tolerance in my feet, so these things rarely bother me. Well, except during sandal season. I am slowly going broke from regular pedicures to compensate for my ugly feet.

But now, I may have found the solution! The representative from New Balance suggested that many of these problems could be solved simply by upping my shoe size!

In fact, many websites I later consulted agree you should leave some wiggle room in your running shoes. Feet swell when you run so you should make sure that you have a thumb’s width off space between your longest toe and the end of the shoe. In fact, some experts say you should be able to “play piano” with your toes, meaning you should have enough room to move your toes around top and bottom, left and right. The general rule of thumb is that your running shoe should be about a half to a full size larger than your regular shoe size. I love that I am only learning this now. I cannot believe I ran a whole marathon in a shoe a full size two small! Better late than never I suppose!

I love shoe trial promotions. They are a great way to really test-drive a new shoe. And frankly, I’m sold. Before this 10K clinic ends, I will likely buy at least one new pair of running shoes and it may very well be the New Balance 1400.