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Running For Autism: One Step At A Time

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Two days from now, I am running my annual half-marathon for kids with autism. You’d think that after doing ten half-marathons in the last six years, this would be old hat to me. I am familiar with the distance, and since this year is my seventh Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront race, I am familiar with the course. I know exactly where the hills are (not many, thank God, and none of them are exactly mountainous), I know where the halfway point is, and I know which sections of the course are more challenging for me.

The training, the period of Taper Madness and the race itself are supposed to get easier with each passing year, right?

Well…

This year, my family has faced some intense challenges. A series of unfortunate events culminated in my husband having just three weeks’ notice to vacate his business premises. This meant packing up and moving fifteen years’ worth of product, tools and heavy industrial-grade machinery. While this was going on, I landed a big contract for my own fledgling business that I couldn’t turn down. I was helping with the move during the day, working on my contract at night, and grabbing catnaps on the couch from time to time.

This left me no time for running. My half-marathon training called for intense speed work during the month of July. Instead, my training ground to a screeching halt, and I was only really able to get it going again halfway through August. By then, as much as I had tried to keep my work on an even keel, I had fallen so far behind that I was continuing to work late into the night. So although I was running again, I wasn’t running as much as I needed to.

Consequently, I am not as prepared for this race as I should be. I know I can complete the distance, but I do not expect it to be my finest hour. I don’t even have a goal time in mind. All I want to do is cross the finish line, get my finisher’s medal, and come home where I can sit on the couch and eat weird amounts of cheesecake. If I get a decent time – and I’m certainly not ruling that out – that will be a bonus.

My fundraising hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped either, for pretty much the same reasons. Asking people for donations makes me feel more than a little awkward at the best of times, and this year it has been particularly challenging. I haven’t had time or energy, and I have been operating in a fog of exhaustion and stress. I have fallen far short of the fundraising goal that I had set for myself.

But still – I have raised almost $300, and that money is going to make a huge difference to some kids with autism. It will provide art supplies, musical instruments, sports equipment or camp activities. It will give young people with autism opportunities and experience that might otherwise be out of reach for them. And I am more grateful than words can express to the people who have helped me reach that total.

I think, in spite of the circumstances, I have done all right. I feel excited about the upcoming race, and I feel proud to be doing my small part to make a difference to children and youth with autism.

It’s not too late to donate. If you would like to sponsor me, please click here. All funds go to the Geneva Centre for Autism, where they will be used to provide services for children and teens with autism.

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

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Running For Autism 2014: A Thousand Thank Yous

Today’s post is going to look a bit like a speech from the Oscars, only there’s no red carpet, I’m not wearing a ballgown accessorized with diamond jewellery, and I didn’t get a funny little trophy thing. Instead, there is the finish line of a race, a sweaty old running outfit accessorized with a space blanket, and a finisher’s medal. Just setting the scene so you can picture me as I start my speech.

<clears throat and waits for the audience hubbub to die down>

My 2014 autism run is now almost a week in the past. I have one day left of sitting on the couch doing nothing post-race recovery. The stiffness in my legs is gone, my knees have recovered, and the chafing from my sports bra is fading. Even the Ankle of Doom is feeling pretty good. I am almost ready to lace up my shoes for an easy run, and I have started thinking about my race calendar for next year.

I want to thank my mother, because people always start by thanking their mothers. And because my mom is awesome. She lives on the other side of the world, but I felt that she was part of the finish crowd cheering me on last Sunday. Thanks also to my brother, who is a loyal supporter and a great friend.

I want to thank my Dad, who was an elite runner in his youth and the first to fuel my love of running many years ago, in a previous life. Dad was a superb runner, and he always believed in me. He is no longer with us, but I still feel his presence when I run, and he was definitely with me on race day.

I want to thank the organizers of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, Half-Marathon and 5K for putting on a fantastic event. Everything was great, from race kit pickup right through to the post-race food. I enjoyed almost every minute of the race, and I even made it through my troublesome 18K patch better than I ever have before. I had enough energy in reserve at the end to really belt it out in the last kilometre, and the look on my face in my race picture tells you how I was feeling as I sprinted to the finish line.

Best finish line shot ever!

Best finish line shot ever!

Thank you to the Geneva Centre for Autism, not only for being a constant source of support for my family since George was diagnosed with autism in 2007, but also for getting me off the couch and into my running shoes a little more than five years ago. It is a true honour to be affiliated with this organization that has given countless autism families the most precious of commodities: hope.

Thank you to all of the people who sponsored me. Your generous donations are going to make a real difference for so many kids. Thanks to you, children and youth with autism will be able to learn how to play musical instruments, participate in sports teams, attend social skills training, go to summer camps, communicate via iPads and much more. Opportunities are being created for my son and other kids like him, thanks to you. My appreciation for your support has no bounds.

Thank you to the runners in my life, who have always been there with words of advice and encouragement when I’ve needed it. You have celebrated with me after the good training runs this season, and you have commiserated with me when the going has been tough. You know what it’s like – the long runs on rainy days resulting in squelchy shoes, the uncomfortable chafey bits where you didn’t apply enough Body Glide, the runs that are just bad for no reason – and you always encourage me to keep going.

Thank you to all of my non-running friends, who tolerate my running-related social media postings: the race-time status updates, the moans and groans about sore muscles, the Instagram pictures of my training watch. You are kind enough to like and comment on my posts, you tag me in running-related things that you think I will like (and I do – I love all of them). Your messages of support and love last Sunday were overwhelming, and they meant the world to me.

Thank you to my husband, who holds the unenviable position of being the partner of a runner. Over the course of the season, he made sure I could get out for my long runs and races, and he tended to my aching muscles with the right combination of concern and humour. The night before the race, he sacrificed sleep so that I could rest undisturbed by children, and he got up early to make sure I got to the start line on time.

Thank you to my younger son James, my tireless supporter and cheerleader. He cheerfully saw me off for my long training runs throughout the season, and he always welcomed me back with a hug, even though I was stinky and sweaty. He is a fantastic champion for his brother’s cause: it was his idea for me to run in a cape last Sunday, to “get into the spirit for autism”. His energy is contagious, and I took a bit of it with me on my race.

The final thank you is reserved for George, my older son, my brave and amazing autism boy. George is my inspiration. He is the reason I get up early in the morning to run in the dark, the reason I do ten-mile training runs in the midsummer heat, the reason I am willing to get rain in my running shoes on wet days. George teaches me about life every single day. And when I am struggling through a run, feeling like it will never end, thoughts of George get me through. I tell myself that this kid lives with autism every hour of every day. That doesn’t stop him from being one of the most determined people I have ever encountered. If he’s not going to give up, then neither am I.

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This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Finish line photo credited to Marathon-Photos. Picture of runner’s wall message credited to Kirsten Doyle.

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6 Reasons To Run The Durham Quarter Marathon

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Every year, my race calendar is a combination of the old and the new. Although I like exploring new races and new challenges, there are a handful of events that I put into my calendar every year. One of these is the Durham Quarter Marathon, or DQM. This event has all of the right ingredients, like great organization, a scenic course and a great cause.

This year I was kind of bummed, because I came down with a nasty cold several days before the race. For most of the week, it looked doubtful that I would be able to run, and it and touch and go right up until the night before the race. Fortunately, though, my immune system did what it does best, and I woke up on the morning of the race feeling  just a tiny bit congested but otherwise fine.

I’ve missed races due to illness or injury before, and it’s never fun. This event in particular is one that I never want to miss (the only race that I hate missing even more is my annual autism fundraising run). Here are some reasons why I love this race so much, and why I believe all runners in the GTA need to try it out at least once.

1. DQM raises funds for a cause that I am absolutely in love with. The Refuge is a place in Oshawa that helps homeless youth. They provide meals, basic supplies, clean clothing and a place for homeless teens to go. DQM does not merely support this cause by putting logos everywhere. The organizers provide a very practical way for runners to make a real difference. Instead of getting one of those reusable shopping bags that runners already have too many of, you get the race kit in a small cardboard box, which you can then fill with supplies and return to The Refuge at a later date.

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2. DQM is one of the smaller events. It does not have the massive numbers of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, or the Yonge Street 10K. This means two things: you don’t have to fight ridiculous crowds in order to be squeezed into your corral, and the race has a wonderful community feel. When you run DQM, you feel like you’re running with friends. That community spirit travels with you along the entire course.

3. The course is absolutely marvelous. The run starts at the Oshawa City Hall (just a block away from free covered parking), and it runs along the Oshawa Creek and the Waterfront Trail. The last little bit offers a lovely unimpeded view of the lake. It’s a net downhill course, which means that the start is at a higher elevation than the finish. There’s something in it for runners of all levels – a nice combination of ease and challenge. There are a couple of decent uphill stretches in the second half, and a lovely little downhill right at the end, so that runners can build up good momentum for a sprint to the finish line.

4. The logistics of this race are so well organized that it’s impossible not to enjoy the experience. The 6K and 7K markers may have been slightly off, but apart from that, the course was well marked. There were four aid stations along the course, spaced fairly evenly. The organizers also provide bag check facilities, and for runners needing to get back to the start area, a free shuttle bus. Not one of those old school buses that make you feel like you’re being spanked whenever you go over a bump in the road, but a nice comfy city bus.

5. There’s a great finish line vibe. This year I loved the finish line announcer. He was announcing and encouraging runners as they sprinted down the final stretch, and he managed to make everyone feel like a champion. The atmosphere was one of support and celebration. I felt a tremendous sense of collective goodwill as I wandered around the finish line area picking up my bag and getting my post-race banana.

6. I appreciate a good coincidence as much as the next person, but how could you not love a race where you can take a picture of last year’s bib and this year’s bib that looks like this? Who knows – maybe if I run this race often enough, I’ll have a nice little collection of Lucky Number 7’s.

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This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Finish line shot is credited to the organizers of DQM. Shots of the bibs and the race kit box label are credited to the author.

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Goodlife Toronto Half-Marathon: The Day The Wagon Lost Its Wheels

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Less than a mile to go…

I had such high hopes when I signed up for the Goodlife Toronto half-marathon. I spoke to a number of people who had run it beforehand, and for the most part, reviews were good.

It’ll be easy, they said. It’s all downhill, they said.

All righty, then. It sounded like just the race to kick off my season after a brutal winter of spotty training, mostly done on the treadmill. Maybe I would even be able to pull off a personal best.

For about a week leading up to the race, I was fighting a cold and dealing with seasonal allergies. I was popping Cold FX pills twice a day and drinking orange juice as if it was about to go extinct. I willed my body to hold off on getting sick, and it seemed to work.

And then, on the morning of the race, I woke up feeling as if a steamroller had driven through my head. I felt so congested that for a few moments, I debated with myself whether I should run the race. I talked myself into going. All symptoms were above the neck, so it was, according to the experts, safe for me to run. Besides, I had trained for this race, and come hell or high water, I was going to run it.

For the sake of my sanity, I tend to divide half-marathons into thirds. That way, instead of running 21K, I’m running three blocks of 7K each. 7 is an easier number to work with than 21, especially when your feet feel as if they’re going to fall off.

The first 7K went really well. I was tracking above my target pace, but that’s mostly because the biggest downhill sections were early in the race, and that lulled me into a pace that was, in retrospect, far too aggressive. That was even taking into account a nasty uphill section in the fourth or fifth kilometre.

Things started to get a little rough during the second 7K, but I wasn’t too concerned. I figured that I had just gone out too fast, and that all I needed to do was adjust my pace and I’d be OK. But instead of getting better, I started feeling worse. In spite of the wind, my body was starting to feel uncomfortably warm.

During the final 7K, the wheels completely fell off. I realized that I probably should have been hydrating more than usual because of my cold, and that my body was screaming for more fluids. I dehydrated to the point where I stopped sweating because my body just had no fluid to make sweat with. I got through about 3K by counting my steps. I was setting myself little challenges and giving myself rewards.

If you run for 40 steps, you can walk for 20.

If you run until the end of this song, you can walk for 100m.

Those few kilometres were excruciating. I stopped caring about what my finish time would be. All I wanted to do was push forward so I could get to the finish line. I wanted to be allowed to stop running.

With 3K to go, I stopped completely. I drank several ounces of water, followed by some Gatorade and then some more water. Usually I hydrate in sips. This time, I gave myself a downpour. I reset the shuffle on my music player, dug deeper than I’ve ever had to dig before, and I started running in the direction of the finish line.

My running wasn’t fast. My running wasn’t pretty, or efficient. My form was so bad that it could have been used in a textbook picture of “how not to run”.

But I ran. I focused on the music playing in my ears, and I ran. I smiled grimaced at the well-meaning spectators who were telling me how great I looked (I looked like crap, but it was nice of them to say so), and I ran. I thought about the finish line, the weight of a finisher’s medal around my neck, and the feeling of accomplishment that I would feel, and I ran.

After about four geological eras, I crossed the finish line. My usual finish line kick didn’t happen, and I barely had the strength for my finish line fist pump. But I had done it and I had the finisher’s medal around my neck to prove it. And my time – 2:23:01 – was not bad considering the circumstances. I’d actually been expecting a lot worse.

For the last five days, I’ve been nursing my aching legs and my bruised ego. I’ve suffered from self-doubt: if I had this much of a hard time during what was supposed to be an easy half-marathon, how will I manage 30K in August? But now I feel that I’m ready to move on. We can’t always have the race we want, and sometimes we have to have bad races in order to get stronger.

I am ready to lace up the running shoes again, to hit the road and get training again. And that 30K race in August? I’m planning to eat it for breakfast.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit: www.marathonfoto.com.

 

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Running For Autism 2013

There are few things more surreal than waking up on the morning of your biggest race of the season – the event that you have spent all year preparing your body and mind for. You know that this is it. This is what everything you have done this season has been leading up to – every race, every long run in the pouring rain or blistering sun, every gruelling session of slogging repeatedly up the same hill.

As I got ready for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon on Sunday morning, I alternated between eerie calmness and frenetic nervousness. On the one hand, I felt ready. I had trained hard, and there was no question that my body would be able to handle the half-marathon – a distance that I had already run seven times in the last four years. On the other hand, I had just been through several months of the most mind-bending stress. My body was ready, but was my mind strong enough?

And would I be able to run 21.1km wearing a cape and a funny hat?

For the first time ever, I had decided to run a race in costume. This involved an autism-oriented logo…

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… a hat spouting weird hair…

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… and a cape.

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The day before the race, I wavered on the whole costume idea. I was going to feel very self-conscious at the start, walking around among thousands of people with blue hair spouting from my hat. But then I remembered what I had written on the message wall at the runner’s expo – the reason I was doing all of this.

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As it turned out, I didn’t feel self-conscious at all. In the start area I saw several people wearing costumes. Besides, I was hanging out with Charlie, who like me was running for the the Geneva Centre for Autism. I was having too much fun to feel self-conscious.

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When Charlie and I made our way to the start line, we found ourselves further back in the pack than we had intended, and we felt as if we waited forever before we finally started to shuffle forward. I wished Charlie luck, stepped across the timing mats, and the race was on.

Right from the start, I felt marvelous. The costume didn’t bother me in the slightest, and I didn’t have any of the awkward stiffness that I sometimes feel during the first couple of kilometres. For a change I didn’t start out too fast. I ran the first 7K at a nice easy pace – fast enough to keep up a respectable average speed, but not so fast that I would run out of steam before hitting the halfway mark. About a third of the way into the race I kicked it up a notch, and by the time I ran over the 10K timing mats I was cruising along very comfortably.

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Three kilometres later, I reached the turnaround point, and I was feeling great. I was starting to tire and I still had eight kilometres to go, but I was now physically heading towards the finish line. I contemplated increasing my speed, but decided not to. I tend to struggle in the 18th and 19th kilometres of a half-marathon, and I wanted to make sure I would have the energy to get through that patch.

As I was running up the only real hill on the course, my fuel belt came off, and I had to stop to pick it up and secure it around my waist again. I was worried: my pacing had been so perfect, and this was just the kind of thing that could break the rhythm. But fortunately, I was able to get right back into it without losing more than a few seconds. I made up the time by sprinting for sixty or seventy metres, and then settled back into my regular pace.

As soon as I started the 18th kilometre, I hit my customary struggle. My legs started to feel like jelly and my brain started to tell me that I couldn’t do this anymore. Telling myself that this was only in my head, I ran on. I allowed myself to slow down a little, but I kept going. I got through that kilometre and the next one by counting in my head – a neat little trick I figured out that distracts my mind from what I’m actually doing.

All of a sudden, I saw what I had been waiting for – the marker indicating that I was now in the 20th kilometre. Just like that, my mind cleared and my jelly-like legs started to feel strong. I had just over two kilometres to go – less than 13 minutes of running. I could do this. I told my legs to go faster and they willingly obeyed. With one kilometre to go, I slowed down briefly to remove my ear buds. I didn’t need music now. There were crowds of spectators lining both sides of the road – they would carry me to the finish.

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500 metres to go. About ninety seconds from now the finish line would be in my sights. Spectators were cheering for me by name and I was smiling and waving cheerfully, loving every moment. With 300 metres to go, I put every ounce of remaining energy into my legs and a mental picture of George, my son and inspiration, into my head.

I crossed the finish line with a time of 2:16:42 – a new personal best time. My legs were hurting, but my spirits were absolutely flying.

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When I got home, I gave my finisher’s medal to the person I was doing all of this for. The smile on his face mirrored the feelings in my soul.

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This year’s race is done, and I am already looking forward to next year’s event.

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10 Awesome Things About The 2013 Durham Quarter Marathon

 

Crossing the start line - there I am, wearing number 7!

Crossing the start line – there I am to the left, in the pink shirt and white hat!

1. There was free undercover parking just a block away from the start line. It was refreshing, not having to walk half the distance of the race just to get from my car to the start.

2. The race kit included some nice goodies, including a water bottle (runners can never have too many of those) and a super-cool race shirt that actually fits properly.

3. The cause is just too worthy for words. This race benefits The Refuge, which helps homeless youth. Runners were given a practical way to help: the race kit was packaged in a sturdy cardboard box, which could later be filled with donations like food and diapers, and returned to The Refuge.

4. This race was a fairly small event – about 600 participants. This gave it a strong community feel, and it meant short Porta-Potty lineups.

5. The course is fantastic. The unusual distance (10.549km) appeals to my quirky nature, and most of it is run on park trails. The course doesn’t lend itself to crowd support, but it is scenic and has plenty of natural shade.

6. The finish line is at a lower elevation than the start line, meaning that most of the run is downhill. It’s not as easy as it sounds, though, because most of the downhill bits are in the first half. There are a couple of monster hills in the second half. Last year I was able to power up the first of these hills, but faded going up the second one. This year, I paced myself more sensibly in the beginning of the race, and I was able to tackle both hills head-on.

7. This year the finish line was moved to the parking lot. Runners veered off the lakeside trail and ran in a loop around the parking lot to the finish. The layout lent itself to great crowd support at the finish, and the show-off in me appreciated this. The extra cheers spurred on a great finishing kick.

8. There was a lot going on in the finish line area – enough to keep tired runners fed, hydrated, massaged and entertained – but not so much that it was overwhelming. I didn’t have to fight my way through crowds to get what I needed, and I enjoyed meandering around the various displays while I ate my post-race banana.

9. All of the volunteers on the course, and at the start and finish areas, were so nice. One in particular – the lady who retrieved my bag from the baggage check – engaged me in friendly conversation, and seemed genuinely thrilled that I had had such a good race. That little interaction added a nice personal touch to the event.

10. The shuttle bus was not a school bus, like it is at many other races. I always feel sorry for the kids who have to ride on those things every day. They have to plunk their bums on a seat that’s as comfortable as a two-by-four, and then get bounced around like jelly-beans. At this race, I got to ride back to the start line area in a bus with comfy padded seats.

Thank you to the organizers, volunteers, police officers, spectators and fellow runners for making the Durham Quarter Marathon such a fun event. I will be back next year – this race has earned a permanent place on my annual race calendar.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit to the Durham Quarter Marathon.

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My Message To Runners

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To my fellow runners,

There are no words to describe how I feel following the events in Boston yesterday. It hits very close to home for us runners. Our beloved sport – our refuge and escape, the thing that keeps many of us feeling safe and grounded when things are hard – has been targeted in such a violent way. This has affected the entire running community – not only the runners themselves, but race organizers and volunteers, and those people who make races truly special and memorable: the friends and family members who stand on the sidelines cheering us on as we race for the finish line.

I cannot imagine what it must have been like for those of you who were there in Boston, running the race. To those of you who crossed the finish line, I hope that amid the chaos and the sadness and the shock, you can hold onto the fact that you accomplished something incredible. Don’t let the perpetrators of this terrible act take the victory away from you.

To those of you who were forced to abandon the race, I hope you will be able to return another day to finish what you started. The Boston Marathon will be back – I hope you will too. Claim that victory that you so richly deserve.

To those who were injured, whose loved ones were injured, who are now having to say goodbye to friends and family members who lost their lives, my heart breaks for you. You are all in my thoughts as you try to rebuild your lives, recover from the injuries and adjust to a whole different life.

The people who did this want us to be afraid. They want us to either abandon our races or approach finish lines with fear. They want us to give up.

Clearly, they underestimate our ability to band together  and fight back. They forget that we train our bodies and minds to accomplish great things no matter what obstacles lie in our way. They don’t factor in our stubbornness, our absolute determination to get ourselves across that finish line, no matter what.

Afraid? Don’t be ridiculous.

Let’s come back from this stronger than we’ve ever been before. Let’s train harder, race stronger and celebrate more joyously when we cross the finish line. Let’s make it clear that we will not let anyone bully us into hanging up our running shoes. Let’s make sure every race is full to capacity.

My friend Phaedra, who ran the Boston Marathon yesterday, said this: “A marathon is supposed to be about the triumph of the human spirit, not about senseless violence.”

We can and will make the human spirit rise up and lift us above this tragedy. The people with the bombs are cowards. We are the ones with the strength and courage.

And we are the winners.

Regards,
Just another runner

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Race Report: Tannenbaum 10K

Rain at the start-line!

It did not look like a good day for a race. Truth be told, it did not even look like a good day for getting to the race. It was raining, the start-line was a good 12K or so from my house, and the wipers in my car were broken. Public transit does not run early enough on Sunday mornings, so I had no option but to cab it to the race. An expensive proposition with Toronto cab fares being what they are.

Good thing the race registration fee was so low.

By the time the cabbie dropped me off, it was raining harder. This was not the gentle, drizzly kind of rain that I actually enjoy running in. It was real rain, the kind that gets into your shoes and soaks your socks before the race has even started.

Fortunately, shelter near the start-line was plentiful. The race started on the Martin Goodman Trail beside the lake, and there is a big gazebo-thingie that seemed to have room for everyone. I stood there drinking my water, looking out at the weather and thinking I must be mad to be voluntarily running in this.

But that’s runners for you. I’d have shown up to the race in a blizzard.

The race was a small event with a strong community feel to it. There were about 500 runners braving the elements, and because of the reluctance of runners to emerge from the shelter, I thought the race would start late. But with two minutes to go before the start, we all lined up, and right on schedule, the starting siren went.

I expected this race to be a bit rough. I had not run in a while, and for about a week I had been staving off a bug. In addition, this was the day after my birthday and I had a birthday-related hangover. That plus the foul weather would surely make this one of my most dismal performances ever.

Sometimes, though, an enforced rest can work wonders. I did a great deal of running this season. I ran a lot of races and clocked up a whole new set of personal bests. After my half-marathon in October, I was tired. The break from running was just what I needed.

As soon as this race started, I felt great. There was none of the stiffness I was expecting, none of the discomfort that sometimes takes a mile or so to ease off. I got into my rhythm right away. I wasn’t going fast, you understand. I was never going to achieve a personal best on this particular day. But I maintained a respectable enough pace while jumping over puddles. After 3K or so I realized that the rain had let up, and I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

I ran the first half nice and steady – not fast, but not slow either. I was staying more or less with the middle of the pack. Somewhere between 4K and 5K there was a giant puddle pond going right across the road. There was no way around it. The only course of action was to go through it.

Or perhaps over it?

I approached this body of water thinking that I really didn’t want to soak my feet. I kicked up my speed a notch, and while runners all around me were splashing through the water, I made myself airborne and took a balletic leap over the puddle. By some miracle I managed to clear the water.

Shortly after that I reached the 5K turnaround point. The aid station there was a welcome surprise – the race website had advised runners that they should bring their own water. I gratefully accepted a cup, chugged it down, and started my return journey.

By this point I was starting to feel a little tired, and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to repeat my impressive leap over the big puddle. But I only had about 4K to go, so I just ran through the section that seemed to have the least water.

I ran on, maintaining a reasonably steady pace, and all of a sudden I found myself with just 1K to go. I pride myself on my finishing kick, and so I decided to belt out that last kilometre as hard as I could.

After running most of the race at an average pace of about 6:40 minutes per kilometre, I ran the last kilometre in 5:23. Seems like my recent break from running hadn’t adversely affected my ability to sprint to the finish. I crossed the line with a time of 1:06:03. Not my best time, but definitely not my worst.

Small races are sometimes surprisingly well-organized, and this was definitely one of those. The marshalling was fantastic, and the course was accurate and well-marked. The volunteers manning the aid station were cheerful and friendly even though they had probably been there in the pouring rain getting set up. For a very reasonable registration fee, I got a warm winter hat and a finisher’s medal that ranks among my favourites. I was even lucky enough to win a draw prize, which was presented to me by none other than Santa Claus himself.

I have been searching for a late fall/early winter race to round out my running season, and with this one, I think I have found a gem.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

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Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon: 2012 Run For Autism

It is raining and I am starting to get cold. I have already surrendered my jacket to the baggage check tent, so I am standing in this foul weather with shorts and a short-sleeved T-shirt. There is no shelter and the only thing keeping the rain off my face is the peak of my hat. This is good. I cannot abide water on my face. The line-up for the Porta-potties – a standard feature of the starting area of every race – inches forward too slowly.

Soon I will be toeing the start line of my fourth Run for Autism, and I feel more than a little emotional as I think about the reason I am running this race. Every mile is dedicated to a child with autism, but really, this run is for all kids with autism everywhere.

I wrap my arms around myself and shiver, both from cold and anticipation.

It is starting to rain harder.

The morning of the race was a little chaotic, made worse by the rain. We had circled around city blocks for about forty minutes in search of somewhere affordable to park. As a result, my designated warm-up time was taken up by the Porta-potty line, and when I had done what I needed to do there, I warmed up by jogging from the Porta-potties to my place in the start line. The massive scale of this event meant that this was a reasonable jog – enough for me to satisfy myself that my tight left leg and niggling back pain wouldn’t hinder me during the race. At some point right before the race started, I noticed that the rain had let up, and the conditions were now perfect for a run.

A fair distance ahead of me, I heard the starting siren go off, signalling the release of the runners in the first corral. My friend and coach Phaedra was somewhere in that group, and I silently sent good wishes to her through the ether. I knew that by the time I crossed the start line, Phaedra would have done at least two kilometres, possibly closer to three.

The siren went off again, and the second wave of runners was off. My corral was next, and I shuffled forward with the crowd. Just as the anticipation was building up to an unbearable level, the announcer counted down to the start, the siren went, and we were off.

The course was different this year. In prior years, half-marathoners ran down to the Lakeshore and stayed there for most of the out-and-back route. This time round, the route took us around more of the city streets before turning onto Lakeshore. I like some variety in my routes, and I really enjoyed the changes.

For the first few kilometres, I comfortably stayed ahead of my target pace. I restrained myself from going out too hard, and I felt good. I had initially pondered the idea of running with a pace bunny, but I quickly dismissed that idea. I always worry that if I run with a bunny I will be running their race, when I really should be running my race. This season in particular, I have become a lot better at running smarter as well as faster, so I really didn’t need to pace myself against another runner.

Which is why I am somewhat baffled that when I unexpectedly found myself alongside the 2:10 bunny just before the halfway mark, I decided to stay with him. I was so caught up in the excitement of the day, and at that point I was feeling strong, and those two factors together probably sent any sense of logic out the window. As good as I was feeling, I had never intended to run this race at a 2:10 pace.

It worked for about 3K, but then I started to fade. I drifted to the other side of the road and let the bunny go, and for the next 5K or so, I was able to maintain my original pace.

The bad news is that the damage had been done. My efforts to stay with the pace bunny had made my tight left leg flare up, and the nagging little pain in the small of my back started to extend down my left buttock, where it intersected with the pain in my leg.

The good news is that by this point I only had 2K to go. My body was screaming at me to stop. I felt as if my leg was on fire, but the thought of all of those kids with autism, including my own child, kept me going. I was going to stop at nothing to finish this race.

The final kilometre can only be described as agony. My left leg was actually twitching and I was running at a limp. The finish line kick that I usually pride myself on was replaced with a series of stops and starts, but I did still manage to run across the finish line.

If victories are made sweeter by how hard you work for them, then this one was the sweetest of them all. Of all the half-marathons I have done, this one was definitely the hardest.

In spite of how tough those last kilometres had been, I still ran a personal best, crossing the finish line in a time of 2:17:31. I actually cried as the finisher’s medal was placed around my neck.

Tears of pain. Tears of joy. And most of all, tears of love for my son who is my inspiration.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

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2012 Run For Autism: Starting The Journey

Many of you already know the story.

You already know how I was a runner way back when, and then stopped and completely neglected my physical health after the birth of my kids. You know how I always wanted to get back into running, but never found the discipline. You know how I became completely comfortable as a couch potato but never quite got rid of that residue of regret.

You also know how an email landed in my inbox one day that completely changed everything. The email was an invitation for me to join the team being put together by the Geneva Centre for Autism for the forthcoming Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront races. Participants could run the 5K, half-marathon or marathon, and in the process raise funds for services for children and youth with autism.

It turned out to be just the motivation I needed. Within 24 hours I had made the transition from couch potato to speed demon extremely slow runner. Six months later, I had dropped almost sixty pounds and I was standing exhausted but triumphant at a half-marathon finish line, clutching my finishers medal and sobbing with emotion.

Here I sit, three years later, getting ready to embark on training and fundraising for my fourth Run for Autism. Since that first half-marathon in 2009, most of the weight has stayed off, my half-marathon time has improved by almost ten minutes, and I have raised over $2000 for the Geneva Centre for Autism.

This year’s race is on October 14th. My fundraising goal is a cool thousand dollars. This means that for the next four months, I will be shamelessly asking people for money – friends and family, complete strangers, and everyone in between. The money will go towards supplies and services for children and youth with autism. These are services that can provide skills that will last a lifetime, enabling people like my son George to lead happy, productive lives as fully integrated members of their communities.

Some examples of what $1000 can do are as follows:

  • Art supplies for 40 children and young adults
  • Sports equipment for 20 children and young adults
  • Musical instruments for 15 children and young adults
  • Job training for 15 young adults
  • Field trips for 10 children and young adults
  • Summer camp for 4 children and young adults
  • 2 iPads loaded with apps for individuals with autism
  • 1 piece of state-of-the-art sensory equipment

This list goes to show that every single cent really does make a difference. If you have the ability to, please consider sponsoring my Run for Autism and contributing to this incredible cause for my child and for other people with autism.

To donate, please visit my fundraising page.

It takes a very special kind of village to raise a child with special needs. Today, I invite you to be a part of my village.

(Photo credit: Brightroom Professional Event Photographers)