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”

Rosedale Valley Trail

For those who live in the downtown core or West Toronto, the Rosedale Valley feels like a kind of eastern boundary in the city – one of the last roads to the east before reaching the Don Valley Parkway (DVP). But the East Toronto neighbourhoods lie beyond the DVP boundary, making the Rosedale Valley an accessible connector between the downtown core and the Don Valley trail system and neighbourhoods beyond. It is also a main feature of the Toronto Marathon’s route for both the 21.1 km and 42.2 km races each spring.

The Rosedale Valley Trail proper is 2.5 km long but connects to a wide variety of other trail systems and routes in the city, allowing you to create a longer run if you wish. These can be accessed from the top (northern part of the valley at Yonge and Aylmer) or the bottom (the southern part at Rosedale Valley Road and Bayview Avenue) of the Rosedale Valley. If you start at the northern part, you can access the valley road just south of the TTC Rosedale station on Yonge Street. Here you will find Aylmer Road, a short connecting ramp which curves southeast to join Rosedale Valley Road. While running down Aylmer, stay on the sidewalk on the north and east side of the road. As Aylmer and Rosedale merge, cross over to the west side where you will notice a paved but worn trail that runs parallel to Rosedale Valley Road. Follow this trail and you will find yourself running downhill into a tree-shaded valley that is particularly breathtaking in the fall, when the leaves change colour and the valley turns gold, orange, and red. Look up and you will notice that you pass under a number of large bridges as you run – these are some of Toronto’s major east-west roads which cross the valley as they connect the centre of the city with eastern neighbourhoods such as Greektown, Leslieville, and Riverside.

As you near the bottom of the valley trail you will notice a grassy cemetery to your right; this is St. James’ Cemetery and Crematorium, which, having opened in July 1844, is Toronto’s oldest operating cemetery. Shortly after passing the cemetery, you will see Bayview Avenue appear ahead and, on your right, a paved trail leading into a small parkette. This marks the end of the Rosedale Valley Trail, and the start of the “choose your own adventure” part of the run: if you continue to Bayview Avenue, you can join the Don Valley trail system, run up to the scenic grounds of Brickworks, or from there take Milkman’s Lane back up to the residential streets of Rosedale. However, if you turn right into the little park in the valley, the trail will lead you to a long staircase that will bring you up to Wellesley Park. From there, you can head west on Wellesley to get back into the city centre, or go south on Sumach Street to Riverdale Park West, where the infamous Riverdale hill can add a little extra workout to your run. Or, of course, you don’t have to leave the valley at all – you can simply turn right around and run back up the valley for a 2.5 km climb to Yonge Street!

The Martin Goodman Trail

A go-to favourite for runners of Toronto, the Martin Goodman Trail (often lovingly referred to as “the MGT”) stretches nearly 20 km along the Toronto waterfront, from Mimico in the west to the Beaches in the east.

If you were to start in the west and run east, you would first encounter the beautiful Humber Bay Bridge, a landmark of the waterfront with spectacular views of the Toronto skyline. From there the MGT parallels Sunnyside Boardwalk, so you have the choice of running on the boardwalk or pavement. As you run closer to the city, you will pass a number of historic Toronto structures, including the century-old Palais Royale dance hall and event space, the Boulevard Club, established in 1905, and Branch 344 of the Royal Canadian Legion.

At the top of a hill beside the Legion and the Argonaut Rowing Club (a hill infamous for its inclusion in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and Half-Marathon), you enter Marilyn Bell Park, named for the first person to swim across Lake Ontario. To the north you will see the extensive grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition, an annual summer fair established in 1879. Within the Exhibition grounds, the big red BMO Field, home of the Toronto FC, looms large. A little further on, to the south, the former amusement park and entertainment area known as Ontario Place can be seen. A variety of special events, festivals, and concerts continue to take place here throughout the year, and IMAX movies are shown in the enormous Cinesphere, the world’s first permanent IMAX theatre constructed in 1971.

As the CN Tower looms closer, the trail cuts through Coronation Park opposite the regal Princes’ Gate, the monumental entrance to Exhibition Place constructed in 1927 for the 60th anniversary of Canadian confederation. Beyond Coronation Park sits Billy Bishop Airport, a city airport accessible by ferry or underground tunnel.

Running south of the downtown core, look to your left and then way, way up for a view of the 553.3 m-high CN Tower and the huge white dome of the Rogers Centre, proud home of the Toronto Blue Jays. Running further east, past the Harbourfront Centre and Queens Quay where you can catch ferries to visit the Toronto islands, you will cross some major Torontonian streets: Bay Street, home of Toronto’s financial district and stock market, then Yonge Street, often recognized as the longest street in the world, though its 1,896 km are now contested due to name changes.

Heading into the east end of the city, you will pass the Redpath Sugar Refinery, the Redpath Sugar Museum, and the sweetly named Sugar Beach. As you turn right off Lakeshore onto Cherry Street, you will cross over the Keating Channel and run into the Lower Don Lands. The street ends at the picturesque Cherry Beach, with its lake-side windsurfing and boating clubs, but the MGT continues to the east with a forested trail leading to Tommy Thomson Park and the Leslie Street Spit. The spit is a 5km extension of environmentally sensitive recreational land which juts out into the lakefront. Protected by the Toronto Region Conservation Authority, you can explore the trails while taking in the diverse bird species, lush plant life, and breathtaking views of the skyline.

Back on the lakeshore, the MGT continues east, past Ashbridge’s Bay and into the eastern waterfront known as The Beaches where you can stay on the paved trail, run parts on the boardwalk, or take to the sandy beach for an added challenge. At its most eastern extent, the MGT officially ends at Balmy Beach, though few runners can make it out there without pushing themselves another half-mile east to the R. C. Harris Water Treatment Plant for a drink from some of the coolest water around! There’s a reason that it has been nicknamed “the fountain of youth.” Once you feel refreshed and rejuvenated, turn around and do it all again from a new west-bound perspective! But don’t worry, you don’t need to run another 20 km to get back – you can also just jump on the Queen Street streetcar, part of the Toronto Transit Authority (TTC) network, take a well-deserved seat, and ride back into the downtown core.

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.