Mind, Motion & Matter

Running, Essentially . . .

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A Canadian reviews America’s 10 Best Cities for Runners

Running in Washington D.C.

It’s all about the sights on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

While visiting Austin, Texas in January I happened upon a Forbes Magazine article listing the top ten cities for running in the U.S.  I was surprised to see that I had run in 9 of the cities on the list. As the ten cities were not ranked, I’ve listed them in alphabetical order.

  1. Atlanta
  2. Austin
  3. Boston
  4. Boulder*
  5. Chicago
  6. Minneapolis
  7. New York
  8. Portland
  9. San Francisco
  10. Washington

*Boulder, Colorado is the only city I have not run in (or visited). However, having run in Santa Fe which is 7,199 feet above sea level, when I had a slight cold, which exploded into a very painful chest cold after a lung-searing run at that altitude I have little desire to run in Boulder which has a slightly lower altitude. I’m taking the liberty of substituting Sacramento, California for Boulder on my re-ordered ranked list below.


Running through the center of Austin, Texas on a Ladybird Lake trail.

  1. Austin
  2. Portland
  3. Washington
  4. Boston **1998, 2000. 2007, 2008, 2013, 2014
  5. Chicago *2006
  6. San Francisco
  7. Sacramento *2007
  8. New York *2009
  9. Minneapolis
  10. Atlanta

* *Years that I have run a marathon in a city

Austin, Texas

It was tough to decide between Austin and Portland but Austin won out because of its dirt trails with overhanging trees which line Ladybird Lake. Portland’s prized bike-running path, the Springwater Corridor is mostly paved and does not have much shade.

Portland, Oregon

One feature of running in Portland is the ease of bike rental on the river trail. This is a great way to have a non-running friend or spouse join you for your run.


Portland Rail Trail, The Springwater Corridor

Washington D.C.

Running is the best way to see some of the sights like the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorial. Another bonus is the number of clean public restrooms around the public parks and monuments.


Boston is well, Boston, but apart from the marathon, a run along the banks of the Charles river on the Cambridge side while rowers pass by makes for a storybook setting.


Love the slightly downhill course of the California International Marathon in Sacramento. There is also a long-standing distance race in November which serves as a tune-up for the marathon. The Clarksburg County Run used to be 30K but is now a 20 miler with a 5K, 10K and half-marathon option. Proximity to San Francisco, a 2 hour drive, is another plus.

San Francisco

Running along the waterfront route from Market street over the Fisherman’s Wharf is one way to avoid hills in San Francisco. Love the idea of their women’s only marathon but not on the hills of San Francisco.


Runs along the lake are pleasant but summer races in Chicago can be stinking hot. The Chicago marathon course is my favourite. I ran it once when it took place on the third, rather than the traditional 1st weekend in October.

New York

New York is near the bottom of my list as I’m personally inclined towards the urban outdoor experience of west coast cities like Portland and Seattle. But I do love the shorter races in Central park organized by the New York City Road Runners.


I’ve been to Minneapolis twice. Once for a convention and the last time a quick overnight stay to visit the World’s Biggest Mall a.k.a. “hell on earth” according to my husband. Nothing memorable to report other than feeling safer than I did in Atlanta and I’m sure summer runs in Minnesota are cooler than Atlanta as well.


I ran in Atlanta nearly 25 years ago while attending a convention. I think I was the only runner in the group of 2000 attendees. It was one of the muggiest runs of my life. My friends worried for my safety and I have to confess, I did not feel particularly safe there even though I stuck to the tourist zones.

I was going to say this post was part one of a series, with subsequent posts providing more detail on running in these cities. However given my poor record of following up with promised part twos, I’ll leave it at this and invite your comments or recommendations.

Happy vacation running!



The 100 mile week, redefined

Until a few years ago I could run up to 170K or 105 miles at the peak of marathon training no problem. As I approach my 57th birthday the realities of training in the second half of my sixth decade (other than slower times) have begun to appear. Pounding the pavement takes more out of me and I just can’t train like I used to. What to do?!  While I have been a lifelong commuter cyclist, I’m not too keen on training rides that take three times as long to get the same cardio effect as a run. Training takes enough time as it is.

Back in the day, younger at age 52

So this is where I am at now, with eight weeks before my target race, the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on October 14th. I’m cautiously boosting my mileage. I should hit 102K for this week after logging 18 miles or 29K this morning. After my 5 mile run tomorrow the past week will look like this:

  • 13 miles ( with 2 x 10 minutes at threshold pace)
  • 6 miles easy
  • 7 miles easy
  • 8 miles with a ladder workout of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 (minute) sections of near interval pace running
  • 6 easy
  • 18* steady
  • 5 very easy (tomorrow)
  • Total = 63 miles or 102.5 K

The * asterisk is to note that having devised a new and complicated route to merge my run with a friend’s 10 mile run.  I got home, measured my route and saw that I was short 1.5 miles. You’ll know by this comment that I’m an old-school runner who does not own a GPS watch. Thankfully, I had not cooled down much so I immediately headed out the door and did the missing mileage. I gave myself a little pat on the back for that. Had my husband greeted me with a latte, as he often does post-long run, I might not have been able to gather myself up to get the job done.

Looking ahead, the peak training weeks will be from August 27th to September 24th. From there I will begin a three-week taper. I am curious to see how much mileage I will be able to manage at the summit of my training – the 100 mile week redefined.

As for my goal time, I’m will race a 10K next Sunday, on slightly rested legs, which will help me gauge my fitness level. Naturally, I’m hoping to improve on my 2nd slowest time ever of 3:50 run at NYC last year, the slowest being the 4:10 I ran in my first marathon in 1981.

My results since age 50 are:

3:10:02 Detroit (2005) 1st in age-group

3:13 Chicago (2006) 1st in age-group

3:17 Boston (2007) 3rd in age-group

3:23 Boston (2008) 7th in age-group

3:42 California International Marathon (2010) 1st in age group CLICK HERE for full story

3:50 NYC (2011) Waahhh! This one really hurt bad and I was 29th in age-group. CLICK HERE for full story

I’m hoping I can improve on my 3:42 of two years ago and my most optimistic hope is to run close to 3:30. According to the McMillan running calculator the 21:04 5K I ran in the spring extrapolates to a 3:25 marathon but we all know that for the vast majority of us, it is really difficult to match our shorter distance race performances at  the marathon because of the mileage base required. Surviving marathon training, is a lot of what running a marathon is about.

One bright spot on the topic of aging is that I was able to match past performance levels (age-graded score) at 5K on fewer training miles, with the help of intense  speedwork and an indoor track season build-up to the 5K. But – as a 56 year old marathon runner, accustomed to running the longer path, I’m hoping that a shorter path might still do the trick.

To get to the finish line, you’ll have to try lots of different paths.
Amby Burfoot


Consistency is Made of Runs Like This

While sipping my coffee just after 4 a.m. yesterday morning, I wondered if the only smart choice for a 15 mile run was on the treadmill.  Nonetheless, I decided to stick to my plan and left home at 5:47 a.m. just 2 minutes behind schedule. The temperature was 27C with 79% humidity, said to to feel like 38C on a day being billed as one of the hottest of the decades. As the day evolved the same-day temperature record was broken with a 37.5C and notably for me, with my early start, the all-time highest, minimum temperature record of 27C  was broken at 6 a.m.

Sunrise on Lake Ontario

Lake Ontario 6:00 a.m. July 21, 2011 - A record minimum temperature at 6:00 a.m.

How did it feel to run in these conditions? Thanks to a 20K breeze off the cooling waters of Lake Ontario it was not too bad. I ran at a very slow pace but since most of my run was along the lake shore, with sun on the horizon and not overhead, I survived quite nicely. For the first time since my December marathon I wore my most pared down running gear, the type of outfit that my son once referred to as my bathing suit.  This added to my comfort level.

Humber river park

Cooling breezes off the lake on Humber River spit at mile 9 of 15.

I’ve never seen so many shirtless men of all ages, walking, cycling and running. This was not a day to be self-conscious and I said to myself, “Good for you!” when spotting a senior man going topless.  On my part, I admit to being grateful that I resumed my planking routine given that I was exposing my belly for the first time in a while. A notable sighting was group of 25-30 twenty-something rowers with their bare backs to the lake, listening attentively to a coach.  I think we would be happy to have this group holding the fort.

I received a couple of comments commiserating about hot weather running, a blogger from Florida and one from Chicago.  This led me to check out temperatures at 6 a.m. in these cities.

Toronto 27C 38C 20K 79%
Miami 27C 39C 0 84%
Chicago 28C 39C 17K 74%

I think Miami were the worst off with not a breeze to be found. The two hottest races of my life have taken place in Chicago. The windy city, in my experience is even muggier than Toronto. I ran the Chicago Distance Classic 20K more than a decade ago and then a 5K. That 5K was brutally hot. I recall feeling as that the last kilometer was one of the longest ever, more grueling than the last kilometer of a marathon.

In 2006 I ran Chicago on a nice cool day and placed first in my age category of 50-54 with a 3:13. My participation was strategic in that it was the only time in recent memory that the race was held in the third week of October, a couple of weeks later than usual. Early October in Chicago  involves the risk of running a marathon in what for me are less than ideal conditions.  The famous scorching conditions of the following year bore out my fears with headlines like 2007 Chicago Marathon: One Dead, Hundreds Treated, What Went Wrong?

At the end of the hottest July 21st ever, I felt great for sticking to my program of running 15 miles as I head towards a 50 mile week. Yes, consistency may seem like a mundane concept but for the marathoner, achieving it involves a few battles with the elements.

Battle Number One on the road to NYC – WIN!

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The Bend at Boylston

Yesterday was the 3rd day of 2011 that I did not post.  And no, it was not because I was watching the Oscars.  Although I’ll jump on that theme and mention that  movies were something of a topic on the Saturday run.  The DVD of my favourite movie Ugetsu Monogatari by Kenji Mizoguchi is now making the rounds of our group  albeit slowly.  And next week, I’ll hand off another favourite, Johnny Guitar a Nicholas Ray film, beloved by Truffaut and Almodavor to name a few.  If you love film, you owe it to yourself to click on my links to information about these two classics.

Mainly the absence of a post was due to a thematic vacuum.  Jumping off from a point I made in my last post about how lovely those long straightaway marathon finishes are I’m going to assign a 5 star rating system to final mile of some of the marathons I’ve run.

Boston Marathon *****
Detroit Marathon ****1/2
California International Marathon (Sacramento) ****
Columbus Marathon ***1/2
National Capital Marathon (Ottawa) ***1/2
Chicago Marathon ***1/2
Mississauga Marathon **1/2
Toronto International Marathon **1/2

I like the finish on Ford Field of the Detroit Marathon and the separate finish for men and women and the California International Marathon but nothing beats the final mile of Boston with the final turn onto Boylston Street, a slight downhill grade and the stupendous crowd support with the finish line in sight. Check out the this footage of the turn on to Boylston.

And this exciting footage of Dire Tune and Alevtina Biktimirova battling it out in the 2008 Boston Marathon. I’ll be there in 14 months and counting!

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I’ve finally gotten round to writing an ABOUT tab for this blog. Here it is.

Detroit, Ford Field Finish

The choice to return to very active life I experienced while growing up, has brought many good things into my life. This journey began with a few runs, while still a smoker, fitness classes at the YMCA which led to quitting smoking, cold turkey. With all the excess energy of being more fit and tobacco-free I began to run regularly, first a mile and then a few months later, a marathon in 4 hours and 11 minutes. Recently, I celebrated 30 years of running for fitness, friendship with my 20th marathon, surpassing the Boston qualifying standard by 33 minutes.  One of the good things was meeting my husband over 25 years ago when he introduced himself in a YMCA cafeteria after the 1985 Peterborough Half-Marathon. He remains, my favourite running partner. We have a 23 year old son, 17 nieces and nephews and 4 grandnephews and grandnieces.

Highlights of my racing career came later in life; 1st place finish in the 50-54 category at the Chicago Marathon, 3rd place (50-54) at the Boston marathon and a time of 3 hours & 10 minutes at the Detroit Marathon, run at age 50. I like to refer (or brag) of having qualified for the Boston Marathon in the Open Men’s category at age 50. This time also qualified as an Ontario 50-54 age group record for the marathon. The time I am most proud of from my younger days is having run my 4th half-marathon in 1 hour & 23 minute after less than 3 years of running and with low-mileage training due to chronic ankle injuries.

Over the years I have learned that advising people about how to train is tricky business AND that there is no formula. We are, as George Sheehan put it, “An experiment of one.” I’ve run while pregnant, run good times on low mileage, run great times on high mileage and run purely for fitness for the first 9 years of my son’s life, returning with a vengeance by logging more than 100 miles a week at times, with high-intensity workouts thrown into the mix.

Along the way, I’ve had to learn and abide by the “laws of the body”, George Sheehan again. I hope that providing some insight into how running fits into my daily routine might encourage you to commit to habits that will enhance your quality of life. I find the benefits to be as much (if not a little more) about mental well-being as physical.

There is an abundance of information available on fitness and training for the motivated and curious, and it is not my goal to spend a lot of time on the details of which others have expertly written. I would caution however that discernment is required as there are obvious paralells between “getting fit quick” and “getting rich quick”. I hope my observations about what has worked for me, while running close to 60,000 miles or more in my lifetime, might arouse your curiosity and point you in the direction of finding out what routines work for you, be it running or your heart thumping activity of choice.

As for all the non-running chit chat, I think of it as my side of a conversation, were we to share each others company while on a run — that being the most companionable of spaces.  Consider this your invitation to comment and question.

All the best!



30 years of running, 20 marathons run

As I work towards deciding which marathon to run this spring, I quickly jotted down, in chronological order a list of the marathons I’ve run and my times. It is the first time I have done this and eventually I’ll add more detail to this record which at this point is a draft, more or less. In bold are the top three highlights.

  1. Toronto Marathon, October 1981 — 4:11
  2. Ottawa Marathon, May 1982 — 3:37
  3. Toronto Marathon, October 1985 — 3:15
  4. Shamrock Marathon (Virginia Beach), March 1987 — 3:07 (gave birth to son Steven on December 19th, 1987)
  5. Toronto Marathon, October 1996 — 3:30 (9 1/2 years since last marathon)
  6. Boston Marathon, April 1997 — 3:28
  7. Columbus Marathon, October 1998 — 3:14
  8. Boston Marathon, April 2000 — 3:14
  9. Columbus Marathon, October 2000 — 3:15
  10. Ottawa Marathon, May 2002 — 3:07:02 (personal best, age 46)
  11. Ottawa Marathon, May 2003 — 3:11
  12. Ottawa Marathon, May 2004 —3:10
  13. Detroit Marathon, October 2004 — 3:11
  14. Mississauga Marathon, May 2005 — 3:14
  15. Detroit Marathon, October 2005 — 3:10:09 (Ontario age-group record, 50-54)
  16. Mississauga Marathon, May 2006 — 3:12
  17. Chicago Marathon, October 2006 — 3:13 (1st in 50-54 age-category)
  18. Boston Marathon, April 2007 — 3:17:54 (3rd in 50-54 age-category)
  19. Boston Marathon, April 2008 — 3:22 (7th in 50-54 age-category)
  20. California International Marathon, December 2010 — 3:42 (1st in 55-59 age-category) (2 1/2 years since last marathon)

Ottawa marathon 1982 - Nice headband!


The final mile, a state of grace

By the time you get to mile 23 the prospect of the final .2 miles of the 26.2 mile marathon distance seems magnified.  Why 26.2 and not an even 26 miles?

It is helpful therefore when the race course has a one-mile-to-go sign at the 25.2 mile mark, as on this course.  During that final mile I think of myself as running a mile on known terrain such as two laps of Winston Churchill Park or the final mile of various routes out and back from my home to make the remaining distance seem less onerous.

The day before the marathon, a trip to the finish line to visualize race finish

I began to push harder on the homestretch and there were a lot of people along the course to cheer us on.  As familiar as I am with the event when I am a spectator I feel a world away from connecting with the unique mind-body experience of running a marathon and feel at a loss for an appropriate cheer.

There are a couple of mantras that I repeat to myself, “rhythm, relax, focus” and the other which I feel a bit embarrassed about revealing, “strong as a bull, smooth as silk”.   I particularly remember repeating this last one in the 2007 Boston marathon when I placed 3rd in my age-category.

I once read that the difference between your average fitness runner and those running for optimal performance is that the first group disassociates while racing and the second group does the complete opposite.  My experience has been that two elements that have made a difference for me are; belief in the remarkable capacity of the human body and the ability to experience your body in the moment and react accordingly for the task at hand.

For me a part of achieving this balance and fluid mental state involves what you could call prayer.  I recognize that while there are factors under my control that allow me to run and race, there is so much that is out of my control and that is a gift so I give thanks for this state of grace. So, part of being in the moment is a mind-track, if you will of bits of traditional prayer as well as the self-composed.

With around 700 meters to go, my husband spotted me but too late to get a photo.  He was trying to pick out the red singlet that I been wearing in the morning and I had stripped down to my base layer.  He shouted encouragement in very emotional and endearing terms and I increased my pace through to the finish, my 20th marathon completed, the 25th anniversary of our first date celebrated —  in the final mile.  I crossed the finish line and felt a surge of emotion —  as joy, fulfillment, satisfaction and relief converged. 


There’s a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Leonard Cohen

Finishing my 20th marathon in 3:42 at age 55

A few minutes after the finish with finisher's medal, teary-eyed, elated and exhausted