Run TO, Shop TO: Aleksandra Myszk of AM Coffee Studio

Our new “Run TO, Shop TO” blog series aims to shine a spotlight on Toronto-area runners who are also passionate small business owners. We have all heard about the challenges facing small businesses as they re-open and operate safely through the COVID-19 pandemic, so it is our hope that by sharing these stories, we can rally and encourage the running community to shop locally. We are all in this together – let’s support our fellow runners!

Aleksandra Myszk is a runner, triathlete, and founder and creator of AM Coffee Studio. Aleks was raised in Poland but immigrated to Canada before she was 20. Ambitious and driven, she embarked on a career in the fashion industry, which led her to high-level corporate roles in luxury retail. Despite her success in the fashion world, she was left feeling uninspired. After hitting a major rough patch which left her searching for a deeper meaning, it was running that helped Aleks to eventually rediscover herself and her happiness through running.

Aleks’ journey to running began with a true inspiration – her cousin, Julianne Miszk. Julianne was an avid runner and an award-winning swimmer. She was also a loving daughter, sister, and caring friend to many. In 2016, Julianne, affectionately known as “Kiki” to her family, was diagnosed with cancer. She met the diagnosis with fierce strength and positivity, embodying what it meant to live life to the fullest. Tragically, Julianne lost her battle with cancer, but her legacy lives on in friends and family such as Aleks who are inspired by her to live life with zest and to never stop reaching higher.

A few months before her cancer diagnosis, Julianne invited Aleks to watch her compete at an international track and field competition. Aleks was touched by the invitation, and the trip turned out to be life changing. At the track meet, Aleks witnessed athletes with physical and mental disabilities giving it their all as they competed in the summer heat. The determination and pure joy of the athletes, each battling their own challenges, stirred something in Aleks. The following year, she ran her first marathon, with Kiki and those track athletes as her inspiration every step of the way.

Running sparked Aleks’ passion for wellness, taught her to be resilient, and led her on a journey to empower others to find their own paths to self-discovery. Along the way she ran many more races, competed in triathlons, and completed an IronMan70.3. Running and endurance sports became physical and emotional outlets for Aleks, and her transformation eventually inspired her to leave her career in fashion behind. She decided to make her vision of creating a space for coffee and community a reality, and soon founded AM Coffee Studio, a community space in Roncesvalles meant to inspire. In addition to coffee, the Studio offers food, books, yoga classes, a run club, and comfortable spaces for you to dream, create, and work. 

So Aleks, how can the Toronto running community support you and AM Coffee Studio, particularly during this challenging time?

Patrons of AM Coffee Studio will see the Butterfly Pea Latte (or the Kiki Latte) on the menu; this item is a tribute to Julianne, with 25% of the proceeds from all Butterfly Pea Lattes going to Camp Ooch, a nonprofit camp that helps kids affected by childhood cancer. It’s also a cause that is near and dear to many in the Toronto running community, as every year we #runforooch at the Sporting Life 10k. Aleks encourages everyone to support her, the Studio, and Camp Ooch, by purchasing one of these lattes. She also hopes that people will help in their own ways: “to raise awareness and funds for cancer research however they can—whether that’s by donating to organizations such as Camp Ooch or SickKids, or volunteering with organizations such as Special Olympics.”

The Kiki Latte

“In terms of supporting me and my business, here at AM Coffee Studio, community members and customers can purchase a Kiki Latte (Butterfly Pea Latte), which 25% of proceeds got to Camp Ooch.” At AM Coffee Studio, the Butterfly Pea Latte on the menu is a tribute to Julianne. 25% of proceeds from the Butterfly Pea Latte goes toward Camp Ooch, a nonprofit camp that brings laughter and joy to kids and families affected by childhood cancer. Aleks encourages everyone to raise awareness and funds for cancer research however they can—whether that’s by donating to organizations such as Camp Ooch or SickKids, or volunteering with organizations such as Special Olympics.”

Run TO, Shop TO: Phil Cha of Riddle Room

Our new “Run TO, Shop TO” blog series aims to shine a spotlight on Toronto-area runners who are also passionate small business owners. We have all heard about the challenges facing small businesses as they re-open and operate safely through the COVID-19 pandemic, so it is our hope that by sharing these stories, we can rally and encourage the running community to shop locally. We are all in this together – let’s support our fellow runners!

“To be honest, I never thought I’d own a business. I had just returned from my marathon in Antarctica for my seven continents challenge, and I was deciding how I’d finally ‘grow up.’’’

Yes, you read that right; not only did Phil Cha run a marathon in Antarctica, but he has run a marathon on all seven continents! But his journey to that point started many years before. Growing up, Phil had a dream of going to the Olympics for Taekwondo. Devastatingly, those dreams seemed to disappear when he tore his ACL. “I was depressed. I felt useless, like the best years of my physical activity were behind me, even though I was only in my early 20s. While in my state of self pity, Nike launched their Nike RunTO 10k race on the Toronto islands. I decided that I would be stubborn and literally “Just Do It.” Ever since then, running long distances has been more about the mental battle than the physical one for me; a way to push myself to develop my mental calluses.”

Years later, Phil was in Seoul, Korea when Nike launched its Nike Human Race. Then and there, Phil decided that he was going to “run the world,” and made it his goal to run a marathon on every continent. And run them he did: in Punta Arenas, Chile; at the Great Wall of China; in the Dopey Challenge at Disney World, Florida; in Greece at the Athens Authentic Marathon; in Sydney, Australia; in Tanzania at the Kilimanjaro Marathon; and in Antarctica! When he returned home from this incredible challenge, he wasn’t sure what would be next. He was torn between going to medical school or trying out a 9-5 job. One day, while mulling over his options and vacillating between career trajectories, Phil attended a birthday party at an escape room. “I hated everything about it. I shared my thoughts with a friend and, long story short, he asked if I’d like to go into business with him. Six years later, here we are!”

Today, Phil is the owner of Riddle Room, a Yonge Street game café with escape rooms. Riddle Room has board games, video games at each table, it makes its own board games, and hosts multiple escape rooms. “There’s no cover to come to our place either. Just buy something and stay as long as you want.” The animal art on the matcha latte is a crowd favourite.

Phil may never have thought that he would own a business, but “today it feels like a home away from home. People have gotten engaged here. We’ve had celebrities come in. We’ve hosted charities like the WWF. We’ve had reality show dates filmed here. It’s been a wild ride!”

So Phil, how can the Toronto running community support you and Riddle Room, particularly during this challenging time?

“Please come by! Book an escape room at! They’re great for dates. Or come and get a latte and play some N64. We have some gift certificates too. Honestly, as an indoor entertainment facility that was forced to close for four and a half months, we need all the help we can get. Sharing this post, making a review on Google/Yelp, or Trip Advisor, and telling people about us all help. Thank you in advance!”

You can read more about Riddle Room’s experience through lockdown and with CECRA in a recent CBC article. You can also follow Phil and Riddle Room on Instagram.

Run TO, Shop TO: Laura McLean of Laulaubird

Our new “Run TO, Shop TO” blog series aims to shine a spotlight on Toronto-area runners who are also passionate small business owners. We have all heard about the challenges facing small businesses as they re-open and operate safely through the COVID-19 pandemic, so it is our hope that by sharing these stories, we can rally and encourage the running community to shop locally. We are all in this together – let’s support our fellow runners!

It all started with her dog, Artie. Whenever Laura McLean would give her German Shepherd a brand new chew toy, it would be destroyed in seconds. Laura was tired of this constant cycle, and so decided to simply make her a stronger toy! As she made more and more, she eventually made a few out of denim to fund another project. “The toys were mostly dinosaurs and I called them my misfit monsters because they weren’t that great looking. But people bought them and that led to people asking for cat toys which led to people toys!” By February 2020, Laura had created an official business.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Canada, Laura wanted to present a low price point product that would bring people joy despite the challenging times, so she launched a webshop and started selling her felt toys. By April, she was also making masks to fill the demand for these crucial items, then turned to scrunchies, and now bucket hats. “It’s an evolution!” To date, Laura has made almost 1000 masks to keep people safe during the pandemic; better yet, the last 400 that she has sold have included a $2 donation to the Northumberland Fare Share Food Bank.

Photo from @laulaubird.

When she’s not using her creative talents, Laura is usually on the go and staying active. A lifelong runner, Laura started running early in her childhood. In high school and into university, she shifted to hockey, but when her hockey career ended because of an injury, she found her way back to running and continued through her adult years. Unfortunately, in 2017, she suffered some health issues and is still sidelines, “but, a runner at heart, I know I’ll be back some day hopefully sooner than later.” In recent years, Laura has been swimming five days a week at the local pool. She loves that the pool requires you to book a time slot and pay in advance; the system serves as a great incentive to stick with it even on those days when excuses creep in. And with plans to start on a run/walk schedule, Laura is excited to ease back into the sport she has always loved – running.

So Laura, how can the Toronto running community support you and your business, particularly during this challenging time?

“Over the years the Toronto running community has done so much for me, since leaving Toronto in 2019 I’ve had waves of feeling connected and disconnected from a community that was once the bread and butter of my social life. The biggest support right now is honestly words of encouragement and sharing word of mouth. Words of encouragement because I have a long road ahead of me to finding fitness again, and word of mouth for my small business it’s the best advertising you can get!”

You can shop Laura’s products on her website and follow her on Instagram.

Run TO, Shop TO: Heather Gardner of Kardia Athletica

Our new “Run TO, Shop TO” blog series aims to shine a spotlight on Toronto-area runners who are also passionate small business owners. We have all heard about the challenges facing small businesses as they re-open and operate safely through the COVID-19 pandemic, so it is our hope that by sharing these stories, we can rally and encourage the running community to shop locally. We are all in this together – let’s support our fellow runners!

You probably know Heather Gardner from seeing her and her run crew out on the MGT on a Wednesday night or Saturday morning, their enthusiastic cheer stations at races, or her motivating Instagram presence, @catchingheather. A passionate runner, Heather has been dedicated to the sport for over a decade now. In 2009 she transitioned from a very active job as a health and physical education teacher, to a sedentary one of consulting on health and phys.ed. It was at this time that she got a personal trainer, someone who has become a real mentor and close family friend, and it was the trainer’s idea that Heather try running. Since then, she has never looked back, running 11 marathons, including NYC three times, in the past ten years!

Photos by Jess Baumung.

But more than a recreational runner, Heather is the founder and owner of a fitness studio and community in Toronto. Back in 2013, she started @Tribe_Fitness as one of Toronto’s inaugural run crews. “I sent out a tweet asking people if they wanted to join me for a run, and to my surprise, people did. They invited their friends, who invited their friends, and we just grew from there. In 2017 we opened TRIBE as a studio, a hub for our free crew runs, our coached race team, as well as indoor cycling, and yoga classes.”

This week, Heather’s studio has gone through a pretty big and positive change, one which demonstrates real leadership in the fitness community. “Our goal has always been about community, and building community through running and fitness. When we heard that our name did not have that same meaning for all members of our community, it because our focus to work towards changing our name as quickly as possible. On Wednesday September 9th we made the decision to change our name to Kardia, (@KardiaAthletic). It combines our love of community with our love of cardio (a.k.a. running).” Heather is so grateful for all of the support that she has received from the Toronto running community throughout this time of change and growth.

With so much of her energy dedicated to running the studio, leading runs, and teaching classes, it is a wonder that Heather finds time for her own training – but train she does! For her, scheduling is key; if she has an event to train for or a training plan to stick to, she can schedule her day, get into a routine, and stick with it. “It certainly isn’t always easy to put my training above work or my clients. I know that it makes me a better person when I can dedicate that time to myself.”

So Heather, how can the Toronto running community support you and KardiaAthletica, particularly during this challenging time?

“Shopping local and sweating local is important for every small business right now. We know at @KardiaAthletica that not everyone is ready to come back to a studio workout, so we’re offering all of our classes simultaneously online. So, from the comfort of your home you can join us for a 50-minute foam rolling class, yoga class, or body weight HIIT workout for only $10 or $15 in studio. We’ve got over 50 classes weekly, so check out our schedule at”

Why Students Should Run Too

University and College years are often described as a time of self-discovery. For myself, my discovery came in the form of developing a new love and hobby; running. In my second year, I saw a friend fundraise around $1000 for a charity through the Scotiabank Marathon charity challenge. This was incredibly inspiring to me. Having been volunteering with the charity Second Harvest through a university club, I wanted to take my philanthropy further. So, I signed up for Scotiabank half and several races proceeding it. I laced up my shoes 4 times a week and hit the pavement to train!

In my last two years at the University of Toronto, I ran 8 races and went between 5 different running groups. Often, I showed up to run groups and noticed a prominent missing demographic, students. Why was this?

There are many students who are involved in athletic endeavours where running would be great cross-training. Not to mention it’s a great stress reliever with a strong community in Toronto and other cities. For many students, building time in for fitness is difficult in between piles of readings, pending exams and assignment deadlines. Also, commitments to clubs and part-time jobs take up free time as well, and that’s completely understandable. For myself as an undergrad, getting myself up in the morning and lacing up my shoes felt painful some days. Especially after all-night study sessions powered by 3 cups of coffee, however, the rewards were much greater than the losses. These are three reasons I encourage participation in the run community for undergrad and graduate students.

Increased Social Circle

In University, your social circle can easily become limited to being only other university students. However, relationships with non-university age people can be equally (if not more) beneficial to your social network. People of many age groups and walks of life attend running groups. The more running groups I joined, the more friends I made around the city. Broadening my network outside of my university allowed me to discover new job and volunteer opportunities, and a mature friend circle.

As my interest moved away from college parties to endeavours that could aid my running, my run group friends became the perfect people to try new things with. In many ways, running groups are a non-intended social networking forum. I met people from diverse backgrounds and work industries through our shared love of running. Also, many run groups facilitate social events as well like runs to local restaurants and pubs in the city, which were great for connecting with people. If meeting people at college parties, fraternities, and clubs isn’t your forte there’s plenty of people to be met through running groups! I went from being strangers with the people at running groups to regularly attending Barrys Bootcamp and F45 classes with them!

Time Management

With increased training both solo and with my running groups I had to revaluate my schedule to make everything fit. Staying up until 1 am was no longer working for me in terms of training for races. Training caused me to flip my entire daily schedule upside down, by maximizing my mornings rather than sleeping them away. Slowly over time, I have trained my body to wake up between 6:30-7:00 am. This allows me to fit in a run, a few hours of studying, and time for a proper breakfast before 10 am!

For other students I know in the run community, they always talk about how running helped them shake bad habits like procrastinating, heavy drinking and partying. Many of us also improved our diet and meal prepping skills to aid in our training. Losing bad habits simultaneously increased their academic success along with their athleticism! Now as a graduate student, my early morning runs are the highlight of my day that gets me up and going. Building time in for running can be challenging, but it also challenged me to efficiently schedule my day to maximize my training results and overall productivity.

Stress Relief

Let’s face it, university is stressful. When those stressful sessions hit, it curling up in bed and watching Netflix is appealing. However, one of the many benefits of running is its release of endorphins, which decrease your stress levels. There were definitely days I didn’t feel like going to run club. However, stepping away from studying for an hour to interact with people while exercising often improved my mood. Also, seeing myself push through the challenge of running 3 half marathons gave me increased confidence to push through challenges in school. Therefore if you’re looking for a healthy outlet to channel your stress as a student, the run community is a good place for you ? .

If this article has sold you on the benefits of running groups as a student I’m glad! Check out the running groups page on our website to find a group near you!

“Do You Have to Run on Our Vacation, As Well?”

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You and your non-running partner decide to go on a family vacation. Your home evolves into an atmosphere of joy and excitement as both of you google your new destination, book tickets, plan out the budget, the travel details, the activities for the kids and more. The itinerary is packed solid.

And then you do it. You suggest a few small changes just so you can squeeze in a few runs. It’s met with either eye rolls, flared nostrils, clenched jaws, exasperated exhales, frustration-filled sighs, or displeased shrugs. Worst case scenario, all of the above.

New locales = Renewed love for running
At home, I’ll plod over the same route without fuss. When everything’s familiar, I can spend more energy on the run and less on decisions of where next. Don’t believe me, ask Steve Job’s wardrobe.

But when I’m in a new town, new city, new country, it’s a new route every run. As any runner worth their gear will tell you – Running is the best way to explore a new place. I love taking in the sights, the sounds, the smells, the culture, the wildlife, the friendly waves and strange stares. There’s a new adventure at every corner, a new discovery on every road. I also love the comments on my Strava and Instagram feed that accompany it.

Anyway, where was I?
Right, back to my story. No further mention of my running plans is made. The partner then mistakenly assumes that no running will be happening. Peace is now restored.

See, running is a part of my life. As necessary as the air I breathe or carbs I consume. It doesn’t just switch off because of a vacation. I don’t stop breathing or eating because I’m on a vacation, do I?

Sneaking out
On the appointed running day during the vacation, I wake up at 5:30 am (something I never do at home), and quietly sneak out at 6:30 am. Yes, it takes me a while to get ready (make breakfast, eat breakfast, clean, cleanse, stretch, wear running attire and paraphernalia, pre-run drink). By the time I’m back between 8:00 or 9:00, my non-running partner and kids are still sleeping soundly. Snoring, too. After about an hour, my partner greets me with a big broad smile, asks me how was the run, then a slow leisurely breakfast. To my questioning look, my partner nonchalantly reminds me we’re on a vacation.

It’s happened every single holiday. In Ottawa, PEI, Florida, Delhi, Mumbai, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah. It’ll happen on every one yet to come.

Finding The Time to Train

When I was trying to qualify for the 2017 Boston Marathon, I started a blog (Brooklyn2Boston) to document the journey. The blog is long gone, but I was able to locate some of the posts. This is one of them.

Training for a marathon is a major time commitment which can be difficult to manage when you factor in your day job (unless you get paid to run!), your family, and a myriad of unplanned events that can derail even the most flexible of training plans. Before I started training for marathons, my runs were often unplanned and the distances varied depending on how I felt or how much time I had to run. If i didn’t feel like running, there was no impact as I was not training for a race.

Training For My First Half

When I started to train for my first half marathon in 2014, I followed the Hal Higdon Half Marathon – Novice 1 training plan. From what I recall from my training, I was pretty consistent with my runs. I didn’t do much speed work at the time mostly because I didn’t really understand the importance of speed work and, quite frankly, running really fast made me nervous! This particular plan consisted of four days of running, two days of rest, and one day of cross training (which was really a third day of rest). At the time, I was starting a new job and my runs rarely exceeded 5-6 kilometres during the week so it wasn’t much of a challenge to find the time to run after work. My long runs always took place on a Saturday and only exceeded 16 kilometres towards the very end of the plan; as a result, I was rarely away from home for more than 1 1/2 hours.

Finding Time to Run

Once I started training for my first marathon, my weekday runs became increasingly longer (10-15 kilometres) and my long runs started to encroach uncharted territory. On Sunday, March 1st, 2015, I ran 30 kilometres for the first time! Sunday long runs took on a whole new meaning for me and I was finding I was now away from home 4 to 4 1/2 hours!

Whenever I speak with fellow runners about training plans, we often discuss how many kilometres we run in a given week and how we feel. Rarely does the conversation come up about the impact on our families when we run as much as we do. My son was turning 5 when I started training for my first marathon and he was participating in a number of after-school programs and weekend activities.

For my weekday runs, I had to adjust my training schedule my runs between work and picking-up my son from aftercare. My routes were always planned so I could finish my run at the aftercare facility and distances were dictated by how much time I had. Fortunately for me, I am able to get to work early and leave early. There were days where I had late meetings and I did not plan any runs on those days (that or I occasionally ran later in the evening). There were times where meetings were booked at the last minute and it just meant I had to be flexible with my runs. On top of all this, we had two golden retrievers (both have passed since I first wrote this, but we now have a 16 month old puppy!) and I have to factor in their walks with my runs!

For weekend runs, I had to finish in time to pick my son up from Sunday Hebrew school (by now I had switched my long runs from Saturday to Sunday). For the most part, I always arrived a few minutes early, but there were a few occasions where my long runs took an extra long time and I arrived juuuuust in time!

I was only running four days a week, but it was obvious I needed to follow training plans that were flexible and allowed me to move things around when required.

Being away for 4 to 4 1/2 hours is a long time, especially on a weekend when you have obligations at home; for that, and I am eternally grateful that my wife supports my running. I sometimes forget how much of an impact running has on my family, so I consider myself very fortunate that my wife is so patient and understanding when it comes to training.

Finding Even More Time

I followed the same training plan for my second marathon in October 2015, but realized I wasn’t running enough to reach my goal of a BQ. When I started to build a training plan for my first BQ attempt at the Goodlife Fitness Toronto Marathon on May 1st, 2016, I had to find the time to add a 5th day of running into an already busy week. As you can see from the plan below, I only missed four days in the 16-week training plan (the big X), but I did have to adjust quite a few runs. My weekly “mileage” was all over the map and rarely consistent, but I was giving myself the best chance to hit my goal.

I know a lot of people who run early in the morning and I’ve tried to move some of my runs to the morning, but I’m not really a morning person! I also need to get up extra early to walk our dog first!

A lot has changed since I trained for my first marathon. I now run six days a week and I run mostly in the morning (primarily because I support business partners on the West Coast, so they’re all three hours behind me! My long runs have moved back to Saturday (I like to have the rest of my weekend to relax or cycle!) and there aren’t any races happening right now due to the global pandemic, but I’m still training to maintain my fitness!

How to Run From Injuries

I’m going to start by saying I love running. Despite my contorted face as I put one foot in front of the other, it feels awesome. It makes me feel alive and happy. Keeps me grounded. Gives me a feeling of belonging (to a worldwide community). Lets me devour as much ice cream as I want. And I love basking in that post-run glow. Every runner has their own version of this list.

So, I want to talk about something that lies in wait on every runners’ path. Because no matter how carefully you run, an injury almost always catches up to you. Staying injury-free is a huge runner goal because it’s so important to putting in consistent training, getting those coveted gains and finishing a good race. And, of course, all of the intro paragraph.

With just a few steps, you can make sure you’re back on your feet faster than a long run in summer. But before I proceed, I should mention I’m not a doctor and if you’re injured you should seek medical advice from a trained professional. Please read the previous line again.

1. More is too much

It’s easy to dash into problems when you’re ramping up your mileage. Which runner hasn’t suddenly increased their mileage because they were feeling strong during their marathon training? Or run harder because they were running in an advanced group and couldn’t show weakness. Me, definitely me. A good rule is to increase training by no more than 10% from the previous week. Easy-peasy, right?

2. A song of fire and ice.

At the first sign of injury, take a short breather from training. Apply ice or heat packs to the afflicted area. Roll and massage the muscles and the surrounding area. Stretch. It’s always easier to manage and recover from a small niggle rather than a larger injury.

3. Less speed

Speed work and hills can aggravate most injuries. I had shin splints in 2019, and decided to do hill sprints. Yes, I sat out the remainder of the 2019 season. It’s possible to train through injury. But it means shorter easy runs and flat roads.

4. One leg at a time

Single-leg exercises are your running partner when it comes to staying injury-free. Single leg squats, glute bridges, Romanian deadlifts and leaps, build tremendous strength and stability. As you run, your leg on the ground bears all your weight and impact forces. Strengthening each leg individually helps to build stability, efficiency and proper alignment. That means fewer chances of injury.

5. Good prehab means less rehab.

Along with regular strength training, massages and foam rolling, during your normal running schedule, it helps to visit a physio and chiro. They will make certain everything’s working the way it’s supposed to. Make them your first resource, instead of a last-ditch resort.

6. Signs from the body

An injury is a sign from the body that things aren’t working or working out the way they should. Perhaps the mileage is too high, the recovery not enough. The speed sessions too much, or the strength training too little. It could mean improper body mechanics or running form. When you get this sign, listen to it. Seek expert medical help.

The Importance of “Finding Your Why”

Like most runners, running for me has primarily been used as an outlet – time where I can dedicate my thoughts to just putting one foot in front of the other, or as an escape from having to confront everyday stuff I’d really just prefer not to.

My personal running journey is one I’m sure many kid athletes can relate to. It really started when my grade school’s cross country coach said I’d be a great addition to the school’s team. Clearly this was a big life moment for me. I was excited because it meant I could be more like my uncle – an avid runner whose marathon photos and feats were well celebrated in my family. 

After feeling pretty left out and loner-ish through school, I found being a part of the cross country team as a thing to look forward to. The next year I came in 11th place out of like 75 girls in my event. Which was cool, because I knew I liked running, but I wasn’t sure if I was good at it.

But it’s only really in the last 5 years that I started running longer distances – increasing my comfortable 5k to 10k, and then eventually working up to training for a half marathon. 

My first amateur race (one I signed up on my own accord) was the Toronto Waterfront 10k in 2017. I ran a 49:49, which wasn’t too shabby. 2 years ago my goal was to run a half marathon in under two hours – which I did at the Scotiabank Half Marathon in October. I would have cried from this succession – except I froze after the race because I didn’t plan in accordance with the weather conditions and did not think to have brought any additional warm clothing to throw on after. 

Am I a professional athlete? Not in the slightest. I’m amateur 100% – if there was a term below that like lazy amateur runner, I’d be more comfortable conforming to that term. As much as I love running, I am a lazy person. I don’t always adhere to the guidelines that are well advised on in Runner’s World (I enjoy reading their articles though – don’t get me wrong). I do what works for me while balancing what I know I need to do to get better and reach my personal goals. If I told you I only ate for fuel I would be lying. I’ve hit the treadmill to run a 10k after a casual beer. Also I used to run a foodstagram where I pretty much just eat cheesy meat pasta and potatoes for the world to see.

If you’re reading this blog because you want to get into running but you’re not really sure how to do it the right way – I think you might be better off getting advice from a proper trainer, or by taking the first step and joining a local running crew. Full Transparency, and as stated previously I’m by no means a professional. But as an average person who considers themselves to be a regular runner, I think the most important thing for getting into running and signing up for races is figuring out your why. Finding your why essentially means finding your purpose. A Lot of people will tell you to find your why for running and for other things in life. I used to think that finding your purpose was unnecessary, but I’ve come to understand that you have to ask yourself why so you can measure growth. 

I started to figure out my why by asking myself a bunch of questions: Why are you going to put your body through this? Is it because you love the way you feel after a run? Is it because you feel like you need to get fit somehow – and running seems like a good way to do it? 

Whatever your why is, it’s gotta be good enough to keep you motivated to push a little bit more every time. 

If you find that you’re dwindling and you’re not running as much or adhering to your training schedule – that’s totally cool. I get it – life gets in the way sometimes and I am a firm believer that progress is not linear. But a good why is what gets you back out there putting one step in front of the other.

2018 was a really rough time for me. Traumatic experiences are a natural part of the human experience. Getting past them honestly feels like finishing a race you’ve been working up to for months – sometimes even years. For a while I was running to not have to listen to my own thoughts. I’d run farther by pushing myself further because I felt like the aches in my legs were a better way to distract myself from recurring negative thoughts. I pretty much turned doing something I loved into something I did to avoid confronting some deep-seated issues in my life at the time. I lost my why – and I really needed to reconsider what I was doing because I took something I loved and turned it into a way to punish myself. 

While I was running farther than I ever had in my life, I pushed myself to the point of unnecessary injury. I experienced intense muscle pain and spasms in my right foot, and my knees righteously did not want to cooperate with how far I was pushing myself. Having to deal with plantar fasciitis and runner’s knee were the result. Not uncommon injuries for runners, but I didn’t try to address them properly as a well intentioned runner should. To me it felt like I deserved what I was experiencing and to some extent these injuries were just a normal part of the process. 

Ultimately, I really needed to re-calibrate my why because I completely lost focus of it in the course of simultaneously blaming myself when I was not running, and running to avoid those feelings of guilt.

How did I do this? Counselling helped to establish and confront some of the negative things I was feeling, but honestly I had to take a step back and look at why I started when it came to running. 

Now, my why is no longer negative – sure I still run to not have to wash the dishes, or clean my apartment, or not respond to emails – but I run because it’s time I have to myself again. It’s time in my day that I can reclaim as truly my own. My why is learning to love myself – in my daily routine, and through running.

I run now because I’m thankful my body is capable of pushing physical and mental boundaries I never thought it could.

Learning to love yourself mentally and physically means pausing when you’re tired, taking time to think about how your body is feeling, and not pushing yourself more than you think your body can take. I’m currently building back to where I was in terms of distance, but I feel much stronger emotionally now than I’ve ever been before.

I intended to end this year by running the full Scotiabank marathon as opposed to my usual half. But understandably so, COVID-19 has put a hold on things in the race community for the time being. I think in the meantime I’ll just stick to casually running and take this time as a much needed break. Eventually, when things are “back to normal” I’ll ramp up the training. But ultimately, when I do begin again the biggest difference from where I am now to where I was 2 years ago will be in mindset. I’ll accomplish future running goals with complete awareness of my why.

Finding Run-Love in the Time of COVID: 5 tips for new runners

Over the past few weeks, a number of friends have reached out to ask me “how to start running.” My first reaction is always to doubt my ability to answer this question. I’m not a certified coach, I’m not the fastest runner around, and, in the grand scheme of things, I haven’t been doing this running thing for that long. I just really love this sport and have found a whole new wonderful world in the community that is running. But over the weeks, I’ve found myself reflecting on my own journey in this sport, and the many, many pieces of advice, help, support, and motivation that I have received from runners of every ability and experience. Some of these came from coaching pep talks meant to fuel and motivate a race; others were quotes from elite runners who had made running their careers; but, to be honest, most were random, seemingly-insignificant tidbits shared amidst the nervous energy of new friends before a group run, in the middle of a 15 miler, when that high is real and euphoric, or as part of TMI conversations between best running friends, the kind that happen after the polite facades of new friendship have fallen away and months of long runs mean you already know too much about each other.

So in the spirit of passing it on (something that I have found key to the generosity of the running community), I offer a few of my own tidbits for those who might be finding run-love in the time of COVID. Or those who might be reconciling with an old friend. Or those who might be hating it and pushing anyways! Because although I may sometimes doubt my own legitimacy, it seems I need to listen to my own advice — tip #5: I am a runner.

And runners help runners.

1) Be kind to yourself. Far too often I hear new runners putting themselves down, usually before they have even started! The number of times I’ve heard someone say “I’m not fast enough for that…” or “I have a stupid question about running” (sidenote: there are no stupid questions about running) far outweighs the number of times I’ve seen new runners celebrate their achievements. This is the opposite of what running is about! Both when you are starting out, and as you continue through the sport. Running should make you feel strong and confident. Try not to let any negativity or insecurities get in the way. This goes for runners of all kinds. If you find yourself thinking “I can’t do this,” turn it around and tell yourself “You’ve got this!” Seriously — I’ve never been one for mantras or internal motivational speeches, but by the end of a race, I will inevitably be repeating “You’ve got this, Rachel!” to myself over and over again… Did I just refer to myself in the third-person?! Yes, yes I did… And you’ll be amazed at how much it will help you too.

2) Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Start with a distance, a pace, or an activity that is manageable, then work your way up from there! Not only is this a healthy way to improve your fitness and reduce your risk of injury, but it will also make running more enjoyable! If 5km feels like a painful slog, start with 2km and work your way up. If a certain pace leaves you winded after just a few minutes, slow it down, and gradually increase your pace as you gain more fitness. Remember, your body needs time to catch up with you! It doesn’t know that you’re trying to make this new running thing a routine and it can’t go from zero to one hundred overnight. Now, to any of you out there saying “But what’s the point of running if you’re not trying to run fast?!” (because I know you’re out there… I’ve met a few of you over the years), please, please just keep this in mind. You may push your body into a speedy run, but it isn’t necessarily going to like it and I don’t want to see you get hurt when your love affair with running has only just begun…

3) Wear running shoes. I know, this sounds obvious… But I don’t just mean sneakers, trainers, or “tennis shoes,” as my Southern partner calls them. I mean shoes meant to help you run. Shoes that are built for the forward motion of running, not trainers meant to give you stability at the gym, or stylish sneakers that follow the latest trend. Running shoes will help you run. You may already own some, and if they’re not 10 years old, that’s great! Use those. But if you either don’t have a pair or your old ragged pair is worn out and ragged, you should buy some. Do it! Take the plunge. Having the proper footwear is one of the most important parts of running, especially for warding off injury. Your feet and body will thank you.

An often-received follow-up question: “Which shoes do you recommend that I buy?” This really depends on your foot, your stride, your preferences… So unfortunately I can’t tell you about a magic shoe that will be perfect for you no matter what. But I can say that my personal favourite for an all-around comfortable, reliable running shoe is the Nike Zoom Pegasus. Now 37 years old and still going strong.

4) Run when and where you are happy. Some of us are morning people; others are not. The same can be said for runners — some runners are morning runners (*hand way up*), others are definitely not (there’s a reason why there’s a run club called “Night Terrors”)… There is no right time of day to run, no magic number of times per week. Run when you want, when your schedule allows, and when you feel the most motivated. The same goes for where. Have a favourite walking trail nearby? Try running it! Love being near the lake? Consider driving there once a week for a special waterside run. Bored with your usual neighbourhood routes? Try running them in reverse! You’ll be amazed at what a difference your scenery can make to your attitude and motivation. Especially right now when we can’t run with friends, running in places and at times that make us happy will increase that boost of energy and endorphins.

5) You are a runner! If you get out there and put one foot in front of the other, you are a runner. There is no speed or distance necessary to achieve that milestone — the only thing that makes you a runner is you! Running is truly that simple.

And that’s why so many people love it. That’s why it can mean so much.

It’s just you and the earth, coming to terms with each other one step at a time.

So, one more time for the people in the back: You. Are. A. Runner.

* This post was originally published by Rachel Dewan on May 30, 2020.