Race Report: Sporting Life 10K


Wow. A race report. It’s been forever since I wrote one of these things, mostly because it’s been forever since I ran a race worth reporting on. Last year most of my race plans went up in flames when my right knee got an abrupt and agonising introduction to the cement floor in my garage. Then I went away to South Africa for a month, and when I came back, I had one setback after another.

A part of me was dreading the Sporting Life 10K. It was to be my first 10K race in about two years, and I’ve been struggling to get anything over 5K. When I registered for this, there was plenty of time. It was February, I was running regularly, everything looked good. But the time got whittled away by injuries, a bizarre sports bra issue that is another story for another day, a bout of strep throat and one cold after another.

But I was going to run this race, come hell or high water. I didn’t care if I was miserable doing it, all I knew was that not doing it was not an option. But I sit here now with aching legs just over 24 hours since my wave took off from the start line, glowing in post-race euphoria.

Was I fast? Not by any stretch of the imagination. But I finished the race, and what’s more, I loved every single step. Before I get into it, I want to give kudos to the organizers of the Sporting Life 10K. This is a big event that draws massive crowds, but everything ran smoothly, from the bag drop at the start right through to the loading of the post-race shuttle buses at the end.

The training

I have to give major props here to my coach, Phaedra at PK Performance Coaching. She provided me with a solid training plan that I followed as closely as possible in spite of the setbacks. And when things were not going well, she was always just an email away, ready to give me advice and words of encouragement. If you are a struggling athlete in search of accountability and structure, check out PK Performance Coaching. I promise, you won’t regret it. The best part is that you don’t even have to be local, because Phaedra does everything via the magic of the Internet.

The gear

The clothing I picked for the race was perfect for the weather. I was wearing calf-length running tights and a super-breathable T-shirt that was cool, comfortable and looked good (because race photos, people). My Midsummer Night’s Run hat and my trusty New Balance shoes completed the ensemble. It was a chilly morning, and I had goosebumps after I took off my jacket so I could check my bag. But I knew that I would fare better than the runners who were wearing long-sleeved shirts beneath their race T-shirts.

I did have an unexpected glitch with my clothing, though. My recent focus on clean eating has not yielded any results on the scale, much to my frustration. But as it turns out, I have started losing inches, and my running tights kept sliding down from my waist. I had to keep hoiking them up until I figured out a way to tighten my fuel belt enough to keep them up. A pleasant, if inconvenient problem to have.


As mentioned above, my overall eating habits have undergone an overhaul in the last couple of weeks. I am a lot more conscious of what I am putting into my body, and in general my energy levels and ability to concentrate have improved. In spite of my spate of colds, I had hopes that my improved nutrition would help me on race day.

In years gone by, my go-to pre-race meal has consisted of a peanut butter sandwich. This time, I decided to do something different. About an hour before the start, I had a strawberry banana smoothie. It was a little sweeter than I generally prefer first thing in the morning, but it gave me an infusion of energy without making me feel weighed down.


I’m usually terrible at warming up before races. There’s a part of me that thinks, why would I use up valuable energy when I have an entire 10K ahead of me? I should save it all for the race! I know that’s ridiculous, of course. My son is a track athlete, and warmups are a big part of his competitions. I see the correlation time and time again: on days that he does his warmups properly, he performs better.

Phaedra’s training schedule for the race included a ten-minute warmup. I had plenty of time and no excuses, so I did a slow warmup jog followed by some of the drills that my son does with his athletics club. A few strides and some gentle stretching, and I was done.

Did the warmup have an effect? Absolutely. I usually struggle for the first kilometre or so of a race, but I didn’t have that problem this time. When I was released from my starting corral, I was warmed up and ready to settle into the run far more quickly than usual.

The race

I went into the Sporting Life 10K with the benefit of having run the course several times in the past. I knew where the easy bits were and where I might need to rein in my pace a little. As 10K races go, this one is an easy coast down Yonge Street. Most of it is either downhill or flat, with just a couple of gentle uphill slopes along the way.

I knew that most of the long downhill stretches were in the first half of the race. I also knew from prior experience that it might warm up quite a lot during the second half. And so I expected the first 5K to be easier and faster, and that was what I planned for. I wanted to capitalize on the early downhills and cooler temperatures while keeping enough gas in the tank for the finish. I stuck to my strategy, and resisted the temptation to go faster than my target pace even when I felt that I could.

It paid off. I finished about two minutes off my goal time, but I didn’t crash and burn near the end the way I have so many times in the past.


This race had the longest finish line chute in the history of finish line chutes. When you cross the finish line, you walk for about ten minutes before you get your post-run water. Five minutes further, you get your medal. Finally, five minutes after that, you can grab your post-race food.

I can understand why it’s set up this way: with 20,000 participants, this is one of the biggest racing events in the city. In retrospect, I think it was good that they kept us moving for so long after the finish. It was like an enforced cooldown.

What I take from this

My biggest gain here, apart from the accomplishment of finishing 10K, is a boost in confidence. This race was a good litmus test for me. I now know that I have it in me to accomplish the goals I have set for myself, and I have a fairly good idea of the work that’s needed in order for me to get there. My next race – the Durham Quarter Marathon – has a couple of big hills on it. It will be tougher, but I know I can do it.


Ways To Get Off Your Ass And Go Running When You Don’t Want To


A couple of days ago, I woke up not wanting to run. I had this whole list of things that I would rather do than go out and run, like setting my face on fire, declawing angry cats, and listening to country music.

We all have days like that. I’m sure that even the most dedicated athletes sometimes look at their training schedules and go, “Ugh. I really don’t feel like it.” I have had enough of those days to have developed a Ways To Get Off Your Ass And Go Running list.

1. Have your running gear laid out in a visible place before bedtime the previous night. There is nothing quite like the guilt induced by a pair of neglected running shoes staring balefully at you each time you walk by.

2. Think of how great you will feel when your run is complete. At the same time, think of how much you will regret it if the day passes by without you going for your run.

3. Think of the reasons you run. Are you doing it for health? Enjoyment? A cause? To win races? You are not going to serve your purpose by letting lack of motivation win.

4. Don’t let yourself make excuses. When I have those days, I’m always tempted to say, “I don’t have time,” or, “I don’t really feel well,” or, “Maybe it’s too hot to go running right now.” Obviously, if you’re coughing up a lung or it’s hot enough to fry an egg on your driveway, you shouldn’t run, but you’ll know if you’re making excuses. If you are, you need to beat down those inner voices and get out there.

5. Think of how missing a run will disrupt your training schedule. Runners live by their training schedules. If you skip out on this today, you will have to run tomorrow. But then you would have to rest the following day, and that would mean missing your scheduled tempo run, or hill training, and… You get the picture. Do you really want to mess up your schedule?

6. Break your run into chunks. Instead of thinking in terms of the whole distance, just tell yourself you’ll go for one or two kilometres and then see how you feel. Chances are that by the time you’re a couple of kilometres in, you’ll wonder why you were reluctant to run.

7. Choose a route with variety. This means different things to different people on different days. Sometimes you may want to combine road and trail, and sometimes you’ll go for a route that offers varied scenery. Variety can simply mean a route that involves a number of left and right turns. Variety keeps things interesting, and it keeps you mentally engaged.

I went out for that run a couple of days ago. Check out today’s vlog to find out how I felt about it.

This is an original post to Running for Autism by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit to the author.



Back From The Murky Depths


Welcome, welcome, welcome to my resurrected blog! I’ve been away for a while, just dealing with life. Several things have been getting in the way of blogging lately, like an insane workload, a car accident (everyone is fine) and the odd little mini-crisis here and there. A few updates:

My autism boy is off to high school in the fall! It was sad to say goodbye to the elementary school that gave him such a great start to his education, but we are excited about this next phase in his life. In other news, he is almost fourteen and he’s bigger than me.

My runner boy is – well, he’s running. He’s going into Grade 7 and he’s just closed out his first track and field season. He loved every minute of it and made some great gains, and he’s ready to step up his training and racing to a whole new level. Oh, and when he runs 5K races with me, he leaves me in his dust!

My own running has suffered of late, mostly because of a serious knee injury that I sustained in the most ridiculous way. What happened was, I was going out through the garage to lock the side gate, and I tripped over the lawnmower. I went crash, boom, bang and smashed both knees on the cement floor. My left knee was a little banged up, but it was fine. Unfortunately, I managed to twist my right knee when I fell.

This whole fiasco put me out of running for a good three weeks, which was too bad because I had only just gotten back into it. My knee still hurts when I turn it at certain angles, but it can take impact again, which means I’m back on the road.

One good thing did come out of my knee injury. While I was unable to run, I didn’t want to lose the progress that I had made prior to my fall. So I decided to get my cardio fix in the pool. It had been far too long since my last swim, and I had forgotten just how much I love swimming. Swimming was, in fact, my first athletic love. I swam competitively as a teenager, more years ago than I care to mention. After hurting my knee, I started spending large amounts of time in the pool, and I enjoyed it so much that swimming has become a permanent fixture in my training schedule. I am even starting to think of multi-sport racing.

One final bit of news: I have started a vlog with my runner boy! Check out our channel at and subscribe to get our updates!



Running Giant Steps For Autism

A Kindergarten class at Giant Steps school for children with autism

A Kindergarten class at Giant Steps school for children with autism

My son was diagnosed with autism when he was almost four years old. He had fewer than five functional words, and his favourite pastime was lying on the floor examining a piece of string. The diagnosing doctor did not give us a great prognosis: our boy, he said, had limited capacity for learning, and he was likely to fall further and further behind with each passing year.

Not to be deterred, we persevered with the speech therapy sessions that he was already enrolled in, and we put him on the waiting list for occupational therapy. These services, combined with intensive behavioural intervention (IBI) turned out to be life-changing interventions. Within weeks, we started to see an explosion of skills. My son did not have a limited capacity for learning. He simply needed to be taught in a non-conventional way, by people who understood the challenges faced by kids with autism.

Now thirteen, my son has blasted most of that doctor’s predictions out of the water. He has his challenges, and he may never be able to live completely independently, but the skills he learned all those years ago created enormous amounts of potential for him.

It is imperative that children with autism be given opportunities to learn as early on as possible, no matter how bleak their diagnosis looks. Without the services that my son received, he would not be the same child he is today. The world would not get to see how bright and funny and amazing he is.

Autism families find hope in all sorts of places. One such place is Giant Steps, a school and therapy centre that is dedicated to helping kids with autism develop skills that will last them a lifetime. Through an intensive program that includes various forms of therapy, the staff at Giant Steps facilitate the unlocking of potential that might otherwise be hidden away forever. In so doing, they are not only helping the kids, they are helping the entire community.

This weekend, I will running the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon in support of Giant Steps. All of the funds raised will go towards the following hands-on therapies that are so crucial for these kids:

Speech & language therapy: Children with autism are all over the place with regard to their communication abilities. Some can hold conversations but experience verbal “tics”. Others are completely non-verbal. The speech therapists at Giant Steps work with kids of all communication abilities, and they make use of tools like augmentative communication devices and PECS (picture exchange communication system).

Occupational therapy: Giant Steps has therapists who can help children who struggle with fine or gross motor skills, sensory challenges and proprioceptive difficulties. This in turn helps them develop independent living skills, like dressing themselves, being able to write and coping with sensory overload.

Behavioural therapy: Kids with autism often experience intense anxiety and sensory difficulty that comes from their neurological differences. For many, frustration at not being able to communicate is combined with an inability to regulate emotions. The result can be meltdowns that are traumatic for the child and his or her caregiver. Using ABA (applied behaviour analysis) techniques, therapists are able to teach children how to cope with their challenges.

Giant Steps does not receive funding from the government or from the school board for the therapy they provide. The provision of services is dependent on donations and fundraising endeavours. I am asking friends, family and supporters to sponsor my autism run, so that Giant Steps can continue the work they do.

If you would like to sponsor me, please visit my fundraising page. The difference you make will last a lifetime.

This is an original post to Running For Autism by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit for all pictures: Giant Steps Toronto.


Book Review: Beyond Rain Man by Anne K. Ross

beyond rain man

When my son was first diagnosed with autism nine years ago, I went to my local bookstore in search of help. I was looking for books that would tell me how to deal with the sensory eating issues, the grocery store meltdowns, the head banging incidents that left dozens of holes in our drywall. I wanted to know how to get my son to talk, to make friends, to play with toys instead of spending hours staring at a piece of string.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that I didn’t need an instructional manual. I needed to know that I was not alone, that there were people out there who knew what I was going through as the parent of a child with autism, and above all, that my family and I would survive. We would figure out all of those things that I was so desperately looking for, and we would, in time, adjust to our new version of reality.

While I was enduring this phase of post-diagnostic angst, psychologist Anne K. Ross was going through experiences that she would later capture in the pages of a wonderful book. Beyond Rain Man tells the story of a woman who, having devoted her life to helping children with developmental disabilities, was thrown for a loop when her son was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome.

With compelling bravery, the author tells the story of her son’s childhood. She describes his struggles, the tears and the triumphs, and the ups and downs of the relationships within her family. As an autism parent, I can relate to so many of the stories Anne tells in her book: the impact of her son’s Aspergers on his younger brother, the challenges of keeping a marriage healthy when there’s so much going on, and the endless concerns about the future.

I do not feel as if I read a book. I feel as if I sat on a couch chatting with the author over a cup of coffee, learning about her experiences and how she and her family got through them.

If time travel was a thing, I would toss a copy of Beyond Rain Man to that earlier version of myself who was desperately searching bookstores for answers. I would make the book magically appear in front of her, and I would tell her that this is the book she needs to make her feel less alone and more hopeful.

Kirsten Doyle was given a copy of “Beyond Rain Man: What One Psychologist Learned Raising A Son On The Autism Spectrum” by Anne K. Ross, in exchange for an honest review.


Autism Doesn’t End At Five: Aaron’s Story

Today’s “Autism Doesn’t End At Five” series features the story of Aaron, who is four years old. Even if he reaches the top of the IBI waitlist before his fifth birthday, which is unlikely, he will only receive services for a short time before his age deems him ineligible.

autism doesn't end at five - aaron

Aaron was diagnosed with autism when he was just two years old. His mother had done the research: she knew that an early diagnosis followed by early intervention would improve her son’s chances of a good outcome. She was hopeful that now that Aaron had been diagnosed, she would be able to access services for him.

Instead, she found herself and her son being placed onto one waitlist after another. While Aaron is waiting his turn for IBI services, he is missing the developmental window identified by the Ontario government. Now almost four, he still technically qualifies for IBI, but considering that most children spend two years or more on the waitlist, he is unlikely to get to the top of the list by the time he turns five.

Aaron has been identified as being on the severe end of the autism spectrum. He has many challenges: among other things, he is non-verbal, he has limited eye contact, and he is not able to use the toilet independently. Many children have made tremendous gains in all of these areas thanks to IBI therapy.

In spite of his challenges, Aaron has many strengths for IBI service providers to build on. His mother describes him as a “puzzle wizard and builder extraordinaire”. This indicates the presence of strong problem solving skills and solid learning capabilities. Everything points to Aaron being an ideal candidate for IBI, and that is not going to magically change on his fifth birthday.

A year from now, Aaron will still be highly likely to reap enormous benefits from IBI therapy. But a year from now, the Ontario government will cut off his access to this critical therapy simply because of his age.

Aaron’s parents, who also have five-year-old twin girls, are now talking about private therapy. They refuse to give up on their son, but helping him is going to result in upheaval for the family. They are listing their home for sale in an attempt to pay for IBI therapy themselves. No family should have to go through this kind of stress – especially in a country like Canada, which prides itself on human rights and equal opportunities for all people.

“My heart aches for my son and I need to stay strong to be his voice in any way I can.” – Kelly, Aaron’s mother

By Kirsten Doyle. Photo courtesy of Aaron’s mother, Kelly.


Autism Doesn’t End At Five – Jolie-Anne’s Story

Our “Autism Doesn’t End At Five” series continues today, with the story of Jolie-Anne. In spite of steady success with IBI, Jolie-Anne is no longer eligible to receive services, simply because of an arbitrary age cut-off imposed by the Ontario government. If you have a story that you would like told, send an email to kirsten(at)runningforautism(dot)com.

autism doesn't end at five - jolie-anne

When Jolie-Anne was just twenty months old, her mother suspected that she might have autism. After spending eighteen months on a waitlist for a developmental assessment, she was formally diagnosed when she was a little over three years old.

For the next three years, Jolie-Anne was on the waitlist for provincially funded IBI services. During this time, her mother dug deep into her bank account to pay for whatever early intervention she could afford – speech therapy, occupational therapy and ABA social groups.

Jolie-Anne’s fifth birthday came and went, and she was still on the IBI waitlist. Her parents were no longer prepared to wait – they decided that until the government came through, they would find a way to foot the massive bill for IBI themselves. They felt that they had little choice: in the months leading up to this decision, Jolie-Anne had made virtually no progress in spite of being in a special needs classroom with a full-time EA.

Almost immediately, Jolie-Anne’s family and IBI providers started to see a difference. For the first time, she had a voice. She started using words, making eye contact and forming friendships. She learned how to state her name, age and address. She acknowledged her grandfather for the first time and gave him a hug.

The progress came at a tremendous financial cost to the family. Jolie-Anne’s parents were overjoyed and relieved when they were finally granted government funding for IBI services in September last year. Jolie-Anne continued to acquire new skills and meet the therapy goals that were laid out for her.

Sadly, thanks to the Ontario government’s new policy to deny IBI services to children aged five and above, Jolie-Anne will not be able to continue with IBI therapy unless her family is able to stretch themselves financially, even more than they already have.

Jolie-Anne’s mom is thinking not only of her own daughter, but of other children who are impacted by this new policy.

“I think of all the kids, who like my daughter could start IBI at age five or later and benefit from the same life-changing results, but they will not have that opportunity. I am heartbroken.” – Tia, Jolie-Anne’s mom

It is more than a little disturbing that any government can decide that children are no longer deserving of life-changing therapy simply because they have reached a certain age. It is cruel to give the families of children with autism hope only to snatch it away. It is short-sighted to deny a child services that would enable him or her to ultimately get a job and contribute to the economy.

By Kirsten Doyle. Photo courtesy of Tia, Jolie-Anne’s mom.


Autism Doesn’t End At Five – Xander’s Story

Today we continue our series of stories about children with autism in Ontario. The Ontario government’s recent announcement that IBI services are no longer available to children aged five and older has had devastating consequences for many families, including the family of six-year-old Xander. If you have a story to tell, send an email to kirsten(at)runningforautism(dot)com.

autism doesn't end at five - xander

When Xander started provincially funded IBI services in December 2015, his family breathed a sigh of relief. He was two months shy of his sixth birthday, and he had been on the waitlist for three years. His initial baseline assessment showed delays in several areas: he was not consistently responding to his name, his vocabulary was extremely limited, and he struggled with tasks like tracing letters and using scissors. Back then, he could not even tolerate sitting at a desk for any length of time.

Xander’s IBI team identified fourteen therapy goals for him to work towards. That is a lot for any child to accomplish. But Xander quickly became a poster child for the effectiveness of IBI therapy.

Within three months, he had accomplished – and in some cases surpassed – every one of those fourteen therapy goals. He was responding to his name and he could recite his home phone number. His vocabulary was growing steadily and he was learning to make requests verbally. He developed the ability to follow simple instructions, and he could now sit at a desk working for up to ten minutes.

In other words, IBI had given Xander the building blocks, a solid foundation upon which to build. In the next phase of IBI, he was going to build on that foundation and learn how to use his newfound skills in a functional, meaningful way.

That, at least, was the plan. Then the Ontario government came along with its announcement that IBI will no longer be provided to children aged five and older. Children of that age who are already receiving IBI services are going to be phased out of the program.

This news has been a devastating blow to Xander’s parents. In just a few short months, they saw their son start to blossom. Now they are faced with the prospect of him losing access to a method of intervention that has unlocked all kinds of potential in him. The future, that was looking so full of promise, is once again uncertain.

The Ontario government is trying to sugar-coat this by saying it is in the best interest of the kids. They are offering affected families one-time payments that do not come close to making a dent in the expense of IBI therapy. The alternative services they are offering to older children is not nearly as effective as IBI.

Xander’s story is one of a myriad tragedies affecting Ontario families in the wake of this announcement. He is living proof that IBI can and does work for older children, and unless some kind of miracle happens, he could become living proof of what happens when you remove such a crucial service from a child with autism.

By Kirsten Doyle. Photo courtesy of Xander’s mom, Shannon.



Autism Doesn’t End At Five: George’s Story

This is the first in a series of stories in response to the Ontario government’s announcement that IBI services are no longer available to children aged five and older. This disgraceful, discriminatory policy ignores the fact that autism doesn’t end at five. If you have a story that you would like told, send an email to kirsten(at)runningforautism(dot)com.

George: autism doesn't end at five

My son George was diagnosed with autism when he was almost four, a full year later than he should have been (the doctor’s initial refusal to refer him for an assessment is another story for another day). By the time he had gone through the government assessment and been deemed eligible for services (yet another story for yet another day), and served his time on the waitlist, he was a couple of months past his fifth birthday.

You know, that magical cut-off beyond which, according to the Ontario government, kids can no longer benefit from IBI therapy.

When George entered IBI at five years and three months, he functioned at an eleven-month level on verbal abilities, and at sixteen months on non-verbal abilities. His overall level of functioning was fourteen months.

He had a follow-up assessment at the age of six years and five months, a little over a year after starting IBI. The results were staggering. On verbal abilities, he was now functioning at 35 months, and on non-verbal abilities he was functioning at 51 months. Overall, he was at a level of 39 months.

Can we do the math here? My son gained almost two years in verbal skills and almost three years in non-verbal skills. Overall, he made gains of 25 months in a fourteen-month period.

These gains translated into an explosion of progress that was visible to everyone. George started to learn simple skills like getting dressed and using the washroom without assistance. He spelled out full, grammatically correct sentences using alphabetic fridge magnets, and for the first time, he was making his requests verbally. When he was six, he made his first deliberate joke, and we started to see his funny, quirky sense of humour.

There are no words to describe how grateful I am that George was born at the time he was, that he turned five in 2008 and not 2015 or 2016. Because in the new reality created by the Ontario government, he would have missed out on that rocket-like trajectory of progress. He would not be where he is today – a happy twelve-year-old who, while still clearly autistic, shows incredible amounts of potential.

I feel a sense of survivor’s remorse. I feel devastated for all of the parents who will not get the experiences with their kids that I had with George. My heart breaks when I think of the potential that is being flushed away, the kids who are being left behind, the parents whose hopes have been shattered.

IBI can and does benefit children of all ages. Nobody should be left behind because of an arbitrary age cut-off, because autism doesn’t end at five.

By Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit to the author.




Autism Doesn’t End At Five

Autism doesn't end at five

It has been a long time since I have posted here. I have been dealing with the stress and chaos of life. This is nothing unusual, and it certainly does not set me apart from other people. Lack of time is a symptom of twenty-first century life. Several weeks ago, though, something strange happened in the Ontario autism community. The provincial government announced that it was cutting off IBI services to children with autism aged five and older, and while other autism parents organized and attended protest rallies and made YouTubes, I was shocked into immobility. I decided to use my platform as a writer to send the message that autism doesn’t end at five, and I collected stories from autism parents. But then I was attacked by a massive case of writer’s block. This news is so big and so devastating, and I was struggling mightily to process it.

For those who are not familiar with IBI, it stands for Intensive Behavioural Intervention. It is one-on-one therapy that is administered for several hours a day, usually over a period of two or more years. It is based on a system of prompts and rewards, and it is tailored for each child that receives it. While there are some exceptions, IBI is highly effective for children with autism. When I say “highly effective”, what I really mean is “potentially life-changing”.

The Ontario government is telling parents that IBI is not effective for children aged five and older. There are many of us who know better. This week, I will be sharing stories of children whose experiences defy what the government is claiming. I will also share stories from parents who have suffered the devastation of having their children removed from the IBI waitlist.

The first story, featuring my son George, will be posted tomorrow. If you have already shared your story with me, it will be posted this week. If you have a story that you would like to have told, send an email to kirsten(at)runningforautism(dot)com. I promise to publish every story that I receive. No voice should be left unheard.

The Ontario government needs to get the loud and clear message that autism doesn’t end at five.

By Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit: QUOI Media Group. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.