The “Cheapest” Sport Comes with a High Price

image from @abrowngirlruns

Often, running is considered one of the cheapest sports. A pair of shoes is all you need right? Technically, yes but those shoes do not come cheap. According to Runners World (2013) the average runner spends more than $14,000 during their running life. You might be thinking “well I’m not an elite runner clocking 50km a week! Surely I’m spending less.” However, this stat accounted for runners who are ONLY buying $50 shoes and never participate in a race. The average lifespan of a pair of running shoes is around 500km. For someone who only owns one pair of shoes and runs 3-4 days a week could easily burn out a pair of shoes in just four months.

Running and Privilege

So why does it matter? Running is a privilege, not a right… that’s exactly the problem. Distance, track, and trail running is often reserved for people with some amount of economic privilege. This causes people with more money to often have better health. Often, people with higher incomes have lower chronic illness rates, higher physical fitness, and higher life expectancy. This gives higher-income individuals better life chances: such as a greater likelihood of getting good jobs, more leisure time, and more social relationships.

For amateur runners who do wish to participate in races costs continue to make this difficult. Marathon and race entry fees have risen by more than 35% since 2007 according to Running USA (2019). This is 3.5x than the normal inflation rate. This statistic does not take into account the other expenses of marathon participation, such as travel costs, clothing costs, and accommodations.

So what can be done to close the economic gap in running and health in general? Luckily, there are several amazing organizations doing their part to make running more accessible. Including, The Kickback Connect which provides many BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) with running gear. As well as Air Up There Run Crew in Hamilton that has a Mutual Aid fund to provide running gear to BIPOC and/or LGBTQ+ runners. For individuals looking to do their part, some ideas are:

  1. Organizing a running/sports gear drive in your community
  2. Donate your race bib if you are unable to participate in an event you registered for
  3. Start a mutual aid fund in your run crew to alleviate marathon costs

Running is a gift that ALL people should be able to participate in.

Men are killing their workouts. Women are getting killed at theirs.

With the Daylight Savings Time firmly in effect, my post-work runs are now in the dark. So, one evening when trotting the perimeter streets of Milton, I was about to pass a woman running alone. Before I canter any further, I feel it’s important to mention the area was deserted, the streetlights were on, and houses only a short distance away. I was about to pass her, and in keeping with standard runner protocol, I harked “to your left”. To my complete surprise she turned her body away and crouched, muttered an ‘oh no’ and tensed her body. It took me a stride to realize she thought she was about to be attacked. In the most gentle and empathetic voice I could muster, I reassured her, “please don’t worry”, and carried on. I wanted to stay or say or do more, but I hesitated, thinking she may actually see me as a threat. In that moment I felt simply horrible. I was given a small glimpse into the fears and dangers women constantly live with.

Men vs women runner worries

When I head out for a run, all I worry about is hitting my paces, not getting injured and having enough water. Women have a whole different set of worries. Chief of which is staying alive. See, I understand the irony here. I’m a man writing about women’s safety. It’s something I’ve never experienced. But I understand it when women exchange knowing glances as they open up about being harassed, catcalled and followed; when they share their avoidance of certain areas; when they converse about women murdered on their runs; when they ask for company for a nighttime run; or when they discuss creepy looks from certain men.

Discussions about anti-socials on social media

Women runners on Instagram regularly post about being harassed, catcalled and honked, having to evade men following them, or carrying pepper spray along with gels and water. A woman runner on Instagram met a photographer for an NYTimes feature about women’s safety. In that half hour she was catcalled by various strangers 6 times.

2020 for female runners

Along with the regular horrors of this year, 2020 has been a terrible year for women runners. We’ve lost quite a few of them. To men. Of course, we’ve heard only about a few of them like Sarmistha Sen, Sydney Sutherland, Alexandra Nicolette Brueger, Karina Vetrano, Vanessa Marcotte. But there have been several more around the world. And countless more who’ve been ambushed or harassed while running.

How do we make women feel safe?

Harassment happens. Women know it, men should, too. Women do all in their power to be stay safe including plodding along only on well-lit, safe routes, avoiding headphones, running with company. Men should be outraged it’s as pervasive as it is. The ones doing the harassing need to understand their actions are a big deal. It’s not complimentary. Men need to start getting angry, not surprised, when others whistle or make lewd comments at women. Awareness and understanding from men will improve the reality of women runners, rather than the usual cliched safety tips that put the onus on women.

Note: At Runners of the Six, we want to acknowledge that violence is experienced by different runners of a variety of identities including gender, race and sexuality. This article speaks to the specific experiences of cis women as reported in media, statistics and research. Gender is a spectrum and there are several ways people identify. We also acknowledge that non-binary and trans individuals undoubtedly experience violence as runners.

Get Off The Road: Winter Trail Running

If there are bonus kudos awarded to those who continue to run outside when the snow starts to fall, there could be an extra gold star for the runner who stays on the trails in the winter months. All winter runners are warriors; those who hit the trails are no exception.

To keep you crushing trails all year long, we spoke with Eric D’Arcy, race director for 5Peaks Ontario and Crazy Cat Adventures, two local trail race circuits. D’Arcy shared his tips for winter trail running and while trail running in general requires a specific set of safety and gear requirements, winter conditions call for even more attention to detail. 

Be cool – stay warm!

Ensure that you choose shoes with proper traction for the conditions. Remember that ice can be hiding under snow and it’s important to be prepared. Winter trail specific shoes, ice spikes, or Yaktrax are all good options. Consider choosing a shoe with a Gortex shield, keeping your feet toasty and dry.

Layer, layer, layer! Staying warm and dry is essential, especially for long outings. Depending on the temperature, you’ll want to have at least 3-4 layers on the upper body. Avoid cotton, opting for wool or polyester. Face coverings, mittens or gloves, and ear protection are essential items in the winter. Base layer bottoms are an option for very intense cold.

A key point to remember, D’Arcy shares, is that everyone is different. “Your tolerance to the cold is going to be different. Know what works for you. Trial and error will help you learn what you need for your body. Test out different options and make notes so you can refer back to when dressing for various temperatures.” 

Play it safe

Staying safe is a key component to any runners repertoire. It is ideal to share your run with another person, but if you have to go alone, it’s especially important to make your whereabouts known. Even familiar trails can look very different when covered in snow. 

Although it’s lovely to leave the devices behind when out for a run, phones and GPS devices can be extremely helpful. Protect your phone battery life by wrapping your device in a cozy cover as batteries tend to drain faster in the cold. 

Keep up the sips

It can be challenging to pay attention to hydration and nutrition at the best of times, but it is equally important to do so when engaging in winter sports. Keeping well fueled and hydrated will support your body temperature, too, warding off the cold. Remember that tubes and bottles can freeze, so selecting insulated products is worth the investment. You don’t want to get caught on a long trail run with no way to get your hydration out of the bottle! 

Likewise, with nutrition, be sure to pay attention to different products and how they respond to subzero temps. Opt for fuels such as Endurance Tap or Xact Nutrition, both of which won’t freeze when the temperature plummets. 

Slow down, speedster!

Stay humble! As most trail runners know, your trail and road pace will likely vary significantly. The gap between these paces grows with the technical aspects of the specific trail. In winter, these challenges are further augmented. Try running for effort and time-on-feet rather than for pace or distance. Copious amounts of snow and ice will impact your ability to hit certain paces, so be prepared to slow down where necessary. 

Winter trail running offers a beautiful chance to enjoy the outdoors and experience some joyful quiet. Let your preoccupation with pace fall by the wayside as you cruise around the forest, with only the crunch beneath your feet as a soundtrack. Toronto has a variety of beautiful trails that can be enjoyed all year round. With the right gear and preparation, you can still partake in off-road adventures. Plan well, be safe, and have fun!

For information on winter trail races, visit Crazy Cat Adventures (events may differ due to Covid restrictions).

3 Lessons Running Has Taught Me

Every runner’s personal experience with running is different, and we can see it in all the ways we choose to run. When we choose to run: think of the early bird runners who are up before us all, while the rest of us prefer to run later in the day. Where we choose to run: moving tactfully through the trails or hitting our familiar everyday paved routes. Who we choose to run with: running in groups and having the support of a running community, in contrast to those of us who find solace in running solitary. 

It’s clear there are many ways to be a runner. 

But what are the things that are common despite those differences? Other than the fact that we all, you know… run. 

While each of our experiences’ with running may be different, I think there are a few things that we learn along the way that tie us together. Whether you’re new to running or have been at it for years, I’m certain that most runners have learned the same 3 lessons (albeit in different ways) through their own running journeys.

Here are the 3 lessons running has taught me:

Patience

One of the biggest lessons I think running can teach is patience. We learn patience in our training – taking it day by day, week by week until you’ve built up the endurance to meet your distance goals. We learn patience when dealing with our everyday expectations. Not all runs are good ones. Sometimes our tracker’s inexplicably turn off, sometimes we eat it and slip and fall on icy patches during our winter runs, sometimes we straight up just feel like crap and can’t fathom going farther. But being patient with ourselves and knowing that your sad run is only a small part of what is needed to reach your long-term running goals is what ultimately keeps us going – and that requires a high degree of patience. 

Another (unfortunate) way we learn patience is through injury – dealing with the inability to meet the goals of your training program, or to simply get out there and run as far and as fast as you’re used to can really wear you down mentally. 

For myself, acquiring a higher degree of patience has been especially difficult. I can confirm that knee meniscus tears are no fun. As runners I think we assume pain is sort of normal. “If you can run on it, you’re fine”. This was a huge miscalculation for me, as it got to a point where the pain and swelling would keep at it for a couple days after a long run. I struggled with normal everyday things like walking, going up the stairs, and even found myself bracing to stand up and sit down at my work desk. Inevitably, the pain got worse and I had to accommodate my training plan to ensure I wasn’t overextending myself and worsening my injury. Now I’m actively trying to take care of my knee injury. But I’ve had to learn patience by adjusting my expectations. I might not be as fast or able to go as far, but going to PT and not pushing past boundaries I’ve set for myself is what will allow me to get to where I used to be before. Patience is key. 

Humility

This was a difficult lesson for me to learn. I grew up running. I did cross country and track and usually did pretty well. For me running used to be about competition with others. It wasn’t till I graduated from highschool that I realized that the only person I was really competing with was myself. There wasn’t anyone racing me anymore, the only person I was running against was me, and the reasons why I ran began to change. 

Like it does for so many other runners, running would offer a sense of clarity to the stress that undergrad would bring. I still cared about how fast I was going, but I didn’t have anyone to compare myself to. It became more about that sense of calm running had to offer, and less about the weird sense of competition I felt like I had to prove to others – when in reality no one cared about this but me. 

I think my irrational wall of competitiveness finally came crashing down when I signed up for my first race, and realized that I’m just one of hundreds of people that call themselves runners. Standing at the starting line in a crowd of people who are all at different parts of their running journeys made me feel like an idiot for even trying to compare myself to others to begin with. Watching people blow by you when you pass them in the first 5km will 100% humble you if it hasn’t already. To run with humility is to run without the weight of arrogance and pride weighing you down. 

Courage

I think that sometimes we undervalue the courage it takes to sign up for a race that finishes at a distance you’ve never even attempted before. From 5ks to ultras (not that I’ve ever ran an ultra), that feeling you get when you sign up for a race you’ve never ran before is still the same. Being equal parts excited and worried are the emotions that usually fill me up when I get that confirmation email from Race Roster. 


Can I even do this? Why am I doing this? Who the hell do I think I am for even trying to attempt this? What have I done?” – are all typical things I say to myself after I sign up for a race. These are still things that I say to myself even when I sign up for races I’ve completed in the past. But once those feelings subside, actually executing on a training program for months before race day, and then driving yourself to your race, standing in your heat in anticipation for the start, and then actually running the thing and finishing it all by yourself are all courageous acts. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first 3k race, or your 100th marathon – you put yourself out there and ended up exactly where you never thought you’d be and I think that’s a big deal. If people tell you it’s not, they’re wrong. The running experience is full of small and big, brave wins

Transitioning to Become a Morning Runner

I used to scoff at runners who told me they’d wake up at what to me was the middle of the night to go running. In my mind, there was only one 5:00 and that time was in the evening. Living in downtown Toronto I felt fairly safe running in the evenings on well-lit busier streets so waking up that early never struck me as appealing – or necessary. My mornings were rushed as it was, I didn’t need to add another step into my schedule.

Then came the Covid, and like many others, my usual routine changed dramatically. Now I no longer had to allot time for commuting to work, getting “dressed up” for work was no longer a requirement, and on top of that I moved to the suburbs which meant losing my weekly runs with my crew and running partners. I decided it was time to try something new and capitalize on the two extra hours a day I now had and give running in the wee hours of the morning a try. 

Having always enjoyed running with others for the company (and safety) I looked for any running groups in Oakville. There’s one suburb crew in the Oakville/Burlington area (Connor’s Runners if you’re interested) but I couldn’t and still couldn’t muster their 5:30 am START time. So I figured I’d just need to adapt and get comfortable running solo. I don’t mind running solo but I find having a partner helps to stay accountable and the competitive side of me loves the challenge. 

Luckily I happened to get introduced to a new neighbour down the street who also is a runner and has a similar pace to mine. The one difference between us though was he was already accustomed to early wake ups. We exchanged numbers and I tried to sound cheerful about meeting at 6:30 am.

I don’t like being rushed in the morning and I’m not someone who can just roll out of bed and get going. My body needs time to wake up, have my coffee and smoothie, and to put on my gear. I figured waking up at 5:45 am would be enough time before having to head out to meet my new running partner. 

Being a fairly regular person, coffee usually does the trick for me to get natures call moving but on my first run with my new running partner, 3km into the run I had to go – immediately. I didn’t really know my neighbour to explain the situation and we were no where near a bathroom, luckily we were on a trail that had ample bushes…and leaves! 

The next morning I tried skipping my coffee entirely but that didn’t solve the problem either. Desperate for a solution I asked my coach for his advice (I figured he’d probably encountered this problem at some stage of his long running career). He had the groundbreaking recommendation to maybe try waking up earlier. That did the trick. I now wake up a full hour before I lace up in order to let my body do it’s thing under no pressure. 

This fall and winter, I’ve done a couple of runs after work but I find that I dwell on it all day and I’m usually hungry for dinner right after work. With winter upon us, daylight is at a premium but at least halfway through my run, the sun rises, making the whole ordeal worthwhile. By the time I’m finished, I feel energized and ready for the day. I never thought I’d be “one of those runners” but I’ve really enjoyed getting it done first thing and have the rest of the evening off. Or maybe it’s just because I live in the suburbs now!

If you’re thinking of making the switch to include a morning run, you’ll want to go to bed earlier. I go to bed around 9:30 (welcome to your 30s) because I know for my body it’s critical to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep. 

Everyone’s different but if you’re in a similar situation with more time on your hands due to working from home, maybe making a morning run part of your day will pleasantly surprise you.

What Runners Look Like: Body Image and Running

“So what do you like to do for fun?”

“I like to run! How about you?”

“Wow that’s amazing! As you can probably tell looking at me, I’m not a runner”

Yep, this is a real conversation I had with someone, and unfortunately, it’s not unique. So many people walk around with the idea that they don’t “look like a runner”. As if there is a specific menu item of physical traits every runner has to have. Running and body image go hand in hand. For many people who haven’t come to love running within itself, running is a way to change their body which society has told them isn’t good enough. I remember this feeling as a new runner. There was something exciting about seeing your clothes fitting looser, and having people tell you, “you look amazing!” or “have you lost weight, you look great?” For some people, comments like these can lead them down negative roads of over-exercising and disordered eating.

Running and Body Image Go Hand and Hand

When people think of disordered eating, it’s easy to think of severe cases of Bulimia or Anorexia Nervosa. However, there are many behaviours engaged in daily by people that fall into the category of disordered eating. This can include overexercising or restricting eating to make up for eating large portions, feeling guilt and shame associating with eating, or having rigid ritual routines around exercise and food.

I would encourage runners and nonrunners alike to look at the full diversity of bodies in the running and fitness community. Although, in advertisements and running imagery often shows thin, able bodied people as runners, that only represents a fraction of all the talent runners within this community.

credit: nationalgeographic

Mirna Valerio- multi time marathoner and ultramarathoner

Frank Pizarro
Frank Pizarro, marathon runner

"most of us don’t even acknowledge ourselves as athletes because we know that physically we don’t fit the mould of what society believes an ‘athlete’ looks like." Photo: Nicole Spears

Nicole Spears: Fitness Trainer, Triathlete, and Endurance athlete

Before you tell yourself that you “don’t look like a runner”, remember this, a runner only has to be one thing; someone who runs.  Whether you run once a week, once a day, or a few times a year, that’s all it takes to earn the title of “runner”. As a runner myself who has had many fellow runners pass by me on the streets, my only thought of them was “another runner, thank goodness”, and I know I’m not the only one.

Want to get faster? Start running slower!

This headline sounds so counter intuitive, right? Because traditional thinking and a lot of social media says to get faster, you need to run faster, try harder, keep at it, don’t stop, never give up, push just a little more. And where does that road lead? Either frustration corner or injury lane.

First, what do the elites do?

Elite runners know their most import workouts are the long, slow runs and recovery jogs. They understand the toll hard runs take on their bodies, and without good recovery it’s not possible to get the benefits of the workout. Because when this becomes a pattern, the next step is chronic fatigue or burnout, and of course, every athlete’s worst nightmare – injury.

So, how slow is slow?

Since slow is relative, let’s define it as an easy pace. Elite athletes, Olympic champions and world record holders, some of whom have marathon PBs of under 2:08, and sub-28 min 10,000m times, will jog along at 6:00/km. That’s more than 2 times slower than their race pace. That’s an easy, easy pace. They have an 80-20 rule, where 80% of their runs are slow.

When you run slow, say 60% of maximum HR, your heart reaches its maximum stroke volume (the highest amount of blood the heart can pump out per heartbeat). At this HR, your pace is very slow, and your heart muscles are getting a great workout without getting too tired or exhausting the rest of your body.


Tell me more!

While you are in the blissful state of slow running, unbeknownst to you, there are some big transformations happening at your cellular level. The slow, easy paces stimulate growth of mitochondria (the organelle responsible for energy production), increase capillary capacity and the ability to deliver oxygen to the muscles.

You also recover quicker from slow, easy runs. And this gives you the ability to run harder during your harder workouts.

Want to get the most of your faster sessions, add in slower ones. Going hard at every run, is effectively taking two steps forward, one step back. Not to mention, increasing your risk of injury.

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 www.riddleroom.ca! 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.