80km and almost 2,500 metres of vertical through the mountains, forests, villages and vineyards northeast of Florence. Starting and finishing in the Piazza Michelangelo, a hilltop square offering the most famous views of the city. This EcoTrail 80km is what destination-race dreams are made of.
All photos by Dave Wise
Usually I make my first race of the season one in which I can do my best. Maybe set a PB in to start the year off on a high note. The spring is when I’m fresh from winter training and rested because I haven’t raced for a few months, you see, so I generally see it as a time that represents a great opportunity to realise my full potential.
Take last year, for instance. I ran my last marathon of 2017 in the November, then had a month off before starting to prepare for the Malta Marathon. I trained smart and went into the race in late February, 2018, feeling fantastic, and as a result knocked 9 minutes off my PB, finishing in just over 3:03. It felt great to start a season with such success!
But this year is going to be different. The winter temperatures at home in Toronto have regularly dropped to below -15C during the past 3 months, making training outside for more than 2 hours at a time a struggle. And what trails there are in the city had become ice rinks by December, so any hope of getting any vertical training in over rough ground was quickly squashed. Of course, there were indoors training facilities if all I was looking for was long-run fitness, but a running track was never going to give me the leg and core strength necessary to take on an 80k trail race with over 2,400 metres of climbing.
So why have I chosen a race I've no chance of running a PB in, as my season opener?
I’d first run an EcoTrail event in Paris, several years ago, and loved it. We’d started the 50k in cold sunshine near the Palace of Versailles before running through 40k of hilly, stark post-winter woodland and emerging onto a grassy slope with Paris arrayed below us. I remember the exhaustion of a hard run evaporating as I’d spotted the Eiffel Tower. That was where the finish line was, right under this iconic monument, just 10k away!
That had been the high point of the race for me, not the finish but that moment where I held trail running and high culture in the same focus, in the same passionate feeling. I love the trails, mountains and forests but I also love art, interesting architecture and city life so to combine them all in a race experience is a for me a huge win, and to realise that during a race was a memorable moment, one of the finest of a long running career. And now I had the opportunity to do it again, in Florence, one of the centres of fine art! How could I do anything other than grasp that opportunity!
It's clear I guess, I'm excited for the race. The 80km route will take in villages that I’d read about in classic books (such as Fiesole, which had first come to my attention in ‘A Room With A View’) and I’ll be running through the very vineyards that give birth to Chianti wine. There’ll be some mountains to explore that I’ve read nothing at all about and also, after it all, I’ll still be in Florence, surrounded by the art of Michelangelo, Leonardo, Donatello and Botticelli, as well as some of the finest food in all of Europe.
So I’d signed up with no hesitation and now race expo day has arrived and here I am, holding my race bib pack, looking out over the red roofs of Florence to the mountains beyond. I know that they’re going to kick my butt big time tomorrow and I don't care one little bit. I feel the full joy and appreciation of being able to contemplate finishing a tough 80k ultra as I move into my 51st year; I'm so lucky, and grateful.
I make a few selfies in front of a full-size copy of Michelangelo’s ‘David’ statue and take another long look at the 280 degree panorama of city and mountain. I enjoy the birds chattering among the olive trees, and the friendly, down-to-earth vibe of the other competitors who are, like me, soaking up the sun and the occasion. Then I begin the walk down the hill - towards the throngs of tourists promenading over the Ponte Vecchio - and onward to an early night at my B&B.
12 hours later I’m strolling back across the Ponte Vecchio, only this time the crowds are gone and it’s just me, enjoying the first rays of sunrise illuminating the medieval buildings. I haven't even started the event and already the day is one to remember; sharing this iconic, beautiful site with no-one but a few sleepy birds is something I'll remember forever. I’m feeling remarkably calm and rested. Usually I sleep badly before a big race, but not last night. Maybe that’s partly because my B&B - Velonas Jungle - is luxuriously comfy and extremely quiet, or that my dinner - at Il Vegano - was clean, tasty and nutritious. And maybe partly because the pressure is off. I know I can’t perform at my highest level in this race so all there is to do is completely relax into the experience. The weather forecast is predicting a high of 20C and sun, I’ve got all day to complete a distance that I’d usually expect to knock off in under 9 hours; this is going to be a dream day of running in the Tuscan hills!
It’s a little chilly at race HQ, the wind whips in from the mountains and across Piazza Michelangelo. A growing band of racers huddles inside a large tent. Many of them look like they’ve got some solid winter training in and many years of hard won experience - thighs like tree trunks are the norm. I hadn’t expected anything else, trail running has long been a popular sport in Italy and France - where most of the competitors come from - and whatever race you choose in those countries you know the standards are going to be high. I hear many languages in the gentle hum of conversation, this is a true international event. English spoken with UK, US and Canadian accents, French from France, Belgium and Switzerland, Spanish with hints of Mexico and Argentina, German, Russian, Greek, Slovakian, Polish, and a few more I can’t recognise. With five minutes to go we walk out to stand under the flapping ‘Salomon’ and ‘Suunto’ flags, our brightly-coloured clothes shimmering.
I take a deep drink from a water bottle that I’ve filled with 4 hazelnut cappuccinos. I love the feeling of a caffeine buzz kicking in just as the inspirational music starts with a few minutes before the race begins. I move towards the front, I want to be in the start line photos. But many others have the same idea before me and the best I can do is 5 rows back. It’s ok, not that important. 10 seconds to go, ah, the sun isn’t warm yet but there’s nothing in the sky that says it won’t be later. I can’t tell you how good this feels after a long Canadian winter when the temperatures never climb above 0C. Just to be in shorts, about to run in green mountains, bliss. 5 seconds to go, I fully comprehend how lucky I am to be here. I smile, widely, and we’re off.
The track leads us immediately past a church and into a wooded area. I’m in the leading group of 20. The track is wide, I pass a few people. We move onto the road and head downhill, I pass a few more. I’ve studied the race route and know that the first 10km is either downhill or flat, so this is my chance to run to my full potential as I’m well trained on the flat. I know that running full out will come back to bite me later in the race but the mountains are going to do me in anyway. I may as well gain some ground here and just battle it out when the time comes. Maybe not the best strategy but it’s what I’m going with today!
The route flattens and takes us on a dirt trail alongside the Arno River. I squint into the sun, push hard but also make sure I enjoy the hazy scenery. A marshall says I’m in the top ten. I know it won’t last but I’m pleased with the effort so far. We head uphill past a series of small villages, Florence begins to spread out below my left hand. Wow, I can see all the spires and the huge central dome of the Cathedral, the view makes my heart smile. The mountains rise away to my right, I’m in the shade of trees, the track is easy going and well marked. Life couldn’t be better. I pass a couple of runners and accelerate away downhill before climbing again through another stone village where an old man stops clipping his vines, smiles and shouts ‘Bravi! Bravi!’. Really, even if I had all the money in the world, there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing right now.
I move into thicker forest alternating with open heath land. Spring shows itself, the ground is scattered with primrose and violet, lizards scuttle among dead leaf debris, and the track is lined by bushes heavy with white blossom.
Now we’re into the more technical trails, I’m slowing down. A young guy flies past me on a tricky descent. I can’t follow. He’s skipping down a steep slope over unstable boulders with a confidence that says he does this every day. Maybe he does. If I tried that I’d turn an ankle pretty quick and my race would be over.
But it turns out he’s slower than me on the flat and uphill and I soon overtake him. We repeat this exchange of position several times over the next few kms. It feels good to be in a battle within a race. We reach the second checkpoint at Madonna del Sasso together; it’s in an old church, I'm unsure if I've ever seen such an impressive aid station... I tuck into banana, orange, and biscuits and refill my water bottle with electrolyte drink. I’ve got a hydration backpack full of a sports drink to give me fuel on the run - there’s about 1,000 calories in there in total - and I’m not yet feeling the cramps that come with salt loss too much, but the sun is getting warmer and I’m trying to stack the odds in my favour as much as I can.
Trail events often differ from road marathons in several ways regarding care of the natural environment. The EcoTrail race regulations state that every runner has to carry their own reusable cup or water bottle, none of those plastic ones are offered at the aid stations. And if you're seen discarding any trash - like a gel wrapper - anywhere but an aid station or trash bin, you're disqualified. Fantastic, that's how all races should be.
I leave the checkpoint first, make good ground on the flat path. But then it turns sharply downhill and the lad literally flies past me, I can’t believe he’s going as fast as he is. He’s either going to do fantastically well or he’s falling soon, for certain. I let him go, put him out of my mind, enjoy the track as it leads past a mini waterfall and up over mossy rocks. I breach the hill and he’s there, 20 metres down the trail, lying on his left side, looking fearfully at his right leg. He rubs his thigh and then put his hand to his head, leans back into the undergrowth and swears. I can’t see any blood but his face says he’s done some serious damage. All thoughts of our little battle evaporate and I feel great sadness for him. We’re just 28kms into the race and it looks like his day is over.
‘What can I do?’ I yell. He shakes his head. I get painkillers out of my waist belt. ‘You want painkillers?’
‘No, I’ll be ok.’ I’m kind of pleased because I’ll probably need them after the first 50km.
‘You want help back to the checkpoint?’
‘No, go on, I can run.’
I carry on, as he says. I’ve done nothing for him but it’s all I can do really, offer the help, let him know there’s an option if he wants to bail, then get on with my own challenge.
An hour later I’m on a steep, limestone uphill section, squinting against the white glare of the rocks, giving it all I have, when he passes me. I gasp a ‘Bravi’, the lad’s got some guts for sure. He’s limping a little but he’s getting it done. Perhaps I’ll pass him again later but then again, this is the uphill, this is where I excel in our little exchange, yet he’s leaving me standing. Good for him, the trails have put him to the test and he’s responding with a great show of character. I feel proud to be in the same race as the lad.
We’re 35km in and I’m starting to feel my lack of training. The distance is no problem, it’s just the vertical metres that are killing me. My hip flexors and glutes are screaming and my quads are starting to do very weird things indeed. Shuddering, feeling one moment like they want to burst through my skin and turn outwards and next like they just can’t support me any more and will have me crashing to the ground any minute now.
Dammit, I should have trained better. I should have taken a few weeks out in February, flown south, got some serious mountain trail miles in. But how could I do that, I work full time, have a relationship to nurture, I can’t just take time out like that. No, no, the balance has been right, I worked out what the financial and emotional cost of doing better would be and decided against it. I got this right. It hurts like hell now but I knew this was coming, I knew I’d start to lose places as the race went on. Just cool it down, I tell myself, remember what you expect of yourself here, stop pushing so hard, get your phone out, snap some photos, the views are magnificent and this maybe the only time in your life that you’ll ever see them. It’s certainly a perfect day to be here. Clear skies, no haze, enjoy it.
41km in, I approach the 3rd checkpoint at Monte Senario, it’s a km away uphill. There’s a race photographer standing at the end of an avenue of cypress trees. It’s shady and cool and although I haven’t got much uphill running left in me I give it a bit of effort so my race photos have a chance of looking respectable. Vain I know, but I've never met a non-elite trail runner who doesn’t admit to thinking the same in the exhaustion of the moment.
I can’t imagine how on earth I am going to finish the 80km. Physically, I feel near to my end. I need to fool myself, to take my mind off the present, so I think of a D.H. Lawrence quote that I read yesterday that fits the situation right now…
‘For as we have candles to light the darkness of night, so the cypresses are candles to keep the darkness aflame in the full sunshine…’
Man, even without the cypress trees blocking out the sun all around, it feels dark right now. I stumble into the aid station buried under the church and gulp down minestrone soup. Then Coke, more soup, biscuits, fruit, and more Coke. I know the sugar rush will offer short lived energy and the crash will be coming, but I’ve got to gamble that I’m mentally strong enough to withstand it because physically I’m shot to pieces.
I’ve a full marathon to go with loads more elevation, I’ve said and thought it before but I have to confront the words, the feeling, again; I just don’t know how I’m going to finish. My head’s fine but my legs are jelly and now my ribs ache, an ache that’s spreading through my entire core, probably caused by the endless jolts, up and down.
There’s only one thing to do in a situation like this and that’s dig in and take what you can get from the experience. The track leading on from the aid station is very runnable. If I was feeling up to it I could push the pace hard here but as it is I poodle along on the flats, defend my thighs on the downhills, and give them a firm massage as I walk the ups. I pass a marshall who congratulates me for being in 8th position. I’m amazed, I feel like I’ve been going backward for hours but it seems that I’m doing ok really.
The large, grassy hilltop that I crest next has mind-blowing, smile-inducing views. I get my phone out and enjoy trying to work out how to capture it all. ‘Hey, you’re off track, this way!’ a girl shouts, she’s come up fast behind me and is now veering left down the grass into the valley. I look around, wow, she’s right, the view has distracted me, I’ve missed the markers. Lucky she was there or I’d be wandering off in the direction of Milan.
The kms are ticking down. Runners pass me and move away easily. The views never get any less beautiful. I feel a little sad that I can’t run at anywhere near full capacity. I’ve so much fitness inside me but a certain few muscles - hip flexors, glutes, quads - that I haven’t trained properly have the final say, and tell me that it’s a snail pace only for me until the finish line. It’s ok, I knew this was coming. I just have to remind myself of that and enjoy the day. Not actually very hard to do when the scenery is this special.
Alexis from France runs with me. We reach Fiesole and snap photos of each other standing at ‘The Window’ viewpoint with Florence laid out below us. We can see the finish line. It’s just after 3pm and locals fill the sidewalk cafes, the clinking of wine and beer glasses has us wishing the last 20kms pass quickly.
‘Shall we stop for a quick beer?’ Alexis suggests.
‘Nice idea but I’m on my ass already,’ I say. ‘If I stop for beer it’s game over. We get a free beer at the finish line, yeah?’. Alexis nods and we run on.
I tell him to leave me, I can’t keep up.
‘Enjoy the cold one, I’ll be there soon enough,’ I say. The track is so runnable now, man, I wish I had the ability to use it. If you’re coming to run the event next year, bear this in mind. The first half of the race up to the 3rd aid station is the toughest, if you can save some of yourself for what comes after, you’ll smash it.
I keep moving, the last few kms are passing without incident, I’m happy with that, I make peace with myself. I’ve done well, I’ll finish. I’ve enjoyed a truly magnificent day in the Tuscan mountains, my ass has been kicked by nature and my own limitations and my heart feel full as a result of all this. Like this morning I’m on the banks of the Arno, and similarly the sun is in my eyes only now it’s approaching sunset and the cotton wool-like flowers of riverside trees float and sparkle like faeries. The track is crowded with locals taking a stroll and many of them understand what the race has entailed.
‘Bravi! Bravi!’ they smile. Just a half hour to go!
The final hill is in shadow all the way, the trees close in, it’s gloomy but all is good, I know the Piazza Michelangelo is near. Loud finish-line music and garbled announcements overpower the traffic noise. I see a break in the trees, then the fluttering finish line flags. I’m slow now but I still take it down a notch, this is the time to high five, to smile wide, to bathe in the accomplishment of finishing a tough 80km race. I raise my arms for the final 20 metres, look beyond the finish line to the silhouette of the ‘David’ statue. What a place to finish a race! I start laughing, this is great. Call it what you like, runner’s high, ecstasy, being held within the divine embrace, I don’t care right now, it feels fantastic.
Alexis is sat at the base of the statue. He finished in just under 10.5 hours. I’ve taken nearly 11. That’s over 2 hours more than my usual time for this distance but all is ok.
‘The beers run out,’ says Alexis. Ok, maybe not everything is ok…
We sit in the sun and trade stories about the run. This half hour after a race offers such a good feeling; I’m exhausted, happy, accomplished. I don’t even care about the lack of beer really. I’m in a city, a country, that does wine very, very well. There’s a reasonably priced bottle of Brunello or Chianti with my name on it at any corner store in town. I’ll pick one up on the way back to the B&B, along with a big bag of salty chips and some chocolate. I can see myself now, showered, smiling, elated, lying in my soft bed looking out the window over red rooftops to the mountains, washing down all the treats with a fine wine. Excellent.
What a race it’s been. A solid test in beautiful surroundings, perfect weather that topped out at around 21C, very well marked trails, decent aid stations, and lovely volunteers. And now I’m lying in the sun talking about running, and soon I’ll be walking down into the city with another 5 days ahead of me in which I’ll visit all the museums, see all the art, opera and gardens, and eat all the food. Life could quite possibly be better but at the moment I can’t imagine how. Thank you Florence, thank you my fellow runners, and thank you EcoTrail!
Transport - I flew to Pisa from London with Easyjet. British Airways, which have a slightly better reputation for reliability, also make the trip. If you book far enough in advance you should find the fares to be about the same. You can also fly direct to Florence but the fares are more expensive. I decided to fly to Pisa instead as there were more flights to choose from, they were cheaper, and the bus and train connections from Pisa to Florence are frequent and only take just over an hour.
Accommodation - I stayed at Velonas Jungle B&B, which is a 15-minute walk from the city centre and very convenient for the train station and the place where the airport bus drops you off. I loved this B&B, the rooms are amazing, the people very friendly, the breakfast (which is all vegetarian with plenty of vegan options) is first class and it's very quiet. Book directly with them for the best deals - http://www.velonasjungle.com/en/
It was freezing outside, this evening of March 6th. The weather forecast said it felt like minus 18 degrees. Many of us were huddled inside The Running Room, keeping warm while catching up with running mates, waiting until we were called outside to the start while the volunteers were taking registrations and handing out bibs to participants. We may have had different motivations for registering for this frigid 3k, but we were all there to try and make a difference and run or walk for equality.
The Secret Marathon 3K run/walk, which was held on the week of International Women’s Day, celebrates everyone’s right to be free to run. We were just a few of the women and men in Toronto and across Canada joining at multiple locations, or participating virtually, to follow the example set by the brave runners in Afghanistan and unite for freedom, gender equality and safe spaces for all. According to the creators and organizers of the event, thanks to all who participated The Secret Marathon 3K will allow the story of Afghan girls and women running for freedom to be shared across Canada through the film which is scheduled to be released Fall 2019. You can read more about the film and the 3k here.
"The goal of The Secret Marathon 3K is to celebrate our right to be free to run and walk in our community. Many women both here in Canada and in Afghanistan don't feel safe to run at night or alone and we want to change that by bringing our community together to celebrate everyone's right to be free to run or walk in their community." Kate McKenzie, Race Director
Regardless of the chilly temperature, the mood was light and everyone was happy to get started. We headed outside to the start where we listened to details of the event and the film from Kate McKenzie and Hirra Farooqi, the Toronto Co-Race Directors. Then we were off. Just like last year, the wonderful volunteers were on hand to make sure we followed the correct route and as an added touch for the weather, they warned us to slow down when we were coming up on some icy bits of trail. We followed a scenic out and back route through the park and along the boardwalk and although it was a cold evening, the sky was clear and the view along the boardwalk was fantastic. I thought about how fortunate I was. I often run alone and although I am cautious, alert and ready to change my path if needed, I have been lucky enough to feel safe in my community and comfortable with the paths I run. I know this is not often the case for many.
"By participating you are helping us to share the story through film and by making a donation you are helping to further the work of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan. Together we can empower women and girls through education and sport." Excerpt from the race registration information.
This event is wonderfully inclusive to runners and walkers of all speeds. Many of the participants were waiting at the finish to high-five all runners and walkers as we returned, including the race directors. Once everyone was back we were encouraged to head back in to The Running Room for refreshments and a prize draw. I personally made a beeline for the cinnamon chai tea that was being served, which really hit the spot after the frigid run.
Race Director Kate McKenzie and me, after the run
While I didn't win a prize or set any new personal bests during the run, this event is one that I highly recommend and I know I will continue to return each year that it takes place. At the time I was writing this, The Secret Marathon 3k had reported to have had virtual runners in 17 countries across the world, and 16 host cities in Canada with 38 communities participating. The event raised an amazing $15,935 in donations. This is enough to sponsor 53 girls to pursue their education for a full year in Afghanistan, empowering women and girls through education. To me, that is definitely worth a little cold weather running.
RunPosted by Dave Wise Thu, February 28, 2019 05:25PM "Run to Reach is a personal and international fundraising effort to support global communities by completing 30 marathons in 30 countries before I turn 30, in June 2020."
Liz, your list of marathons and charities are unusual,
exciting and relevant, there seems to have been a lot of thought put into the
'Run to Reach' project. Can you recall what set you on the path to creating the
project, where there any great inspirations or happenings? And what were the
major hurdles between conception and launch?
At the end of last year, I was at a point of transition
and deep reflection in my life...one could call it a very mild existential
crisis. I knew that whatever I chose to do next had to positively impact the
world outside my own personal bubble. It would also have to inspire others to show
them that, in their power as one individual, they too have the capacity to
change the lives of others. And finally, I knew that the only way I was going
to be able to personally achieve this, was if I could somehow insert my two
loves in life into this equation: running marathons and traveling the world.
The time frame (3 months) to organize this charity
marathon mission felt very overwhelming - finalizing the marathon schedule,
choosing all the charities, getting my website going.
There were definitely many hurdles along the way, mostly
trying to figure out the best way to collect funds for all the different
charities. For weeks, I was conflicted about whether I should start my own
501c3 or have separate fundraisers for each of the races. Then of course, the
occasional dark cloud of self-doubt set in, where I questioned my own abilities
to take on such a project. But I am learning so much along the way and I do
find comfort in knowing that there is always a solution to every challenge
faced. And if it wasn’t challenging, everyone would do it, right?
How did you choose which marathons you wanted to take
I definitely wanted to choose marathons that were more
off-the-beaten path. Once I had a general idea of the countries I wanted to run
in, it was very important for me to find organizations within each country,
whose mission I strongly believed in and felt a deep connection to. I also felt
it was a moral duty to sign up for marathons in areas of conflict, such as such as in Palestine or Kurdistan Iraq, to
demonstrate how running can be a powerful, unifying act of peace and movement.
By traveling to Palestine and Kurdistan Iraq, I hope to paint these countries
in a better light and show the rest of the world a small piece of their vibrant
Regarding the charities, how did you decide which ones to
support in each case? Was each charity found after much googling and reading,
to see what gelled most with your feelings, or did you have another way of
making your choices?
It was a very time-consuming process choosing all of the
different organizations. It did take a considerable amount of time researching
and connecting with each organization to learn more about the specific types of
projects they were working on. Overall, I made it my highest priority to select
charities that I felt a strong connection to, who demonstrated a substantial
amount of transparency, and were also keen to support me as much as possible
during my campaign. Many of these organizations were selected based on their
high “effectiveness” ranking on the GiveWell website. Others were chosen based
on actions they were taking to actively empowering the communities (and
environment) in need, by enabling them to increase control over their lives and
achieve genuine self-sufficiency.
You’ve already done 11 marathons as part of the project
so far, Beirut, Vienna and the Bagan Temple Marathon in Myanmar particularly
attracted my attention. Any memories you’d like to share from them, the races
themselves or the charities you got involved with there?
Beirut holds a very dear place in my heart, it is truly
one of the beautiful cities in the world with the warmest people, food, and
culture. Yet, it has also gone through so much political strife over the past
fifty years. Running the Beirut marathon was particularly memorable race for
me, as it happened right when the current prime minister was being held hostage
in Saudi Arabia. As this happened, the Beirut marathon turned into so much more
than a competitive race; but a peaceful demonstration of unity and camaraderie
amongst local Lebanese and foreign runners. It was a very powerful four hours
of running, witnessing the city come alive and unite for this event.
Do you feel that your attitude to life, or running, has
changed since you ran your 1st marathon?
Absolutely. I was much more numbers-focused and
goal-orientated when I signed up for my first marathon. My running identity was
always shaped by numbers, how many miles I was clocking in per week, my goal PB
Now, after six years of running marathons, I’ve become
much more ‘process-oriented’ during training, which has completely transformed
the way I feel about running. I prefer to focus now on the immeasurable
components of how my body is responding to running, such as my daily energy
levels and mood. During each of my training runs, instead of focusing on the
distance ahead of me, I strive to achieve a certain level of meditative ‘flow’
- where I forget that I am even running at all. I think this new ‘mindful
mindset’ towards running has allowed me to no longer fear the crazy big
physical goals I have set for myself over the next year and a half.
I suspect that at some point you weighed up the question
of carbon emissions created by flying and travel vs the potential worth of the
project. Can you talk me through your thoughts on that?
Yes, I have been very conscious about this question of
carbon emissions during the planning of my expedition. I am actually in the
process of working with several companies to try to offset my CO2 emission by
supporting different energy, emission reduction, forestry and water projects,
building low carbon growth and sustainable development in the areas that need
it the most.
Your next 4 months are going to be outstanding, but a
great challenge I’m sure, with marathons in Algeria, Guatemala, Palestine,
South Africa, Kyrgyzstan and Sierra Leone.
Now, as somebody who’s been to Palestine/Israel many
times and has colleagues who go there to do business in Palestine occasionally,
I think that the fact that you’re going to Palestine to do such an event is
going to get you a 4 hour interrogation and a strip search at Israeli customs,
for sure. Then there’ll be the emotional turmoil of running through refugee
camps and hearing the many shocking, sad stories that people are always ready
to tell, and the extreme kindness and genuine welcomes into humble homes and
existences. And then you’ll need to get out of Israel, which’ll be another
interrogation and strip search. This could take a huge mental toll. And you’re
doing all this after having been in Guatemala, which is a beautiful country but
one that also has one of the highest violent crime rates in Latin America, and
a refugee camp in Algeria, another place that’s going to offer a highly
emotionally charged visit. It’s not just that these places are potentially
dangerous, it’s also that each one of them is what many of us would call a life
changing trip, offering you so much positive info to process and integrate into
your own worldview. So, have you any plan (such as lots of time off work!) in
place to help you deal with the potential info overload, mental trauma, as well
as the travel fatigue, of your program?
I could not have phrased this whole experience better
myself! It is indeed going to be a dive into some kind of high-wattage,
mind-expanding, soul-enriching adventure that will undoubtedly change my life
forever. I am planning to stay at least two weeks in each of these countries to
try to immerse myself as much as possible in the culture and allow for a deeper
understanding of the many issues facing these countries. A huge goal of mine is
to show the rest of the world the beauty of each of these countries and the
rich culture they each hold.
I feel like the resilience and strength of the local people
I encounter in each of these countries, will give me the energy to keep moving.
I’m sure there will be moments of serious fatigue, but I am determined to show
the rest of the world these countries and the strikingly unique and beautiful
cultures that define them.
The marathon in Algeria, tell me about what you know
about the race, the location and the aim of the charity you’re working with
there. I saw a little video on their website, seems like they’re helping to
reimagine the once nomadic community into a static setting, and giving them a
voice to talk about their situation through the creation of some beautiful
The race is taking place at the Sahawari Refugee camp in
Tindouf, Western Algeria; home to over 150,000 refugees of a ‘forgotten conflict’:
an older generation who lived through the war against Morocco for this land
until 1991, and a younger generation born in the camp’s state of limbo since
the war’s ceasefire agreement. Yet, despite being one of the oldest refugee
camps in the world, the Sahrawis of Western Sahara are an indigenous African
people hardly known in the West. Very little media has shed any light or
visibility on their plight; yet, their longstanding resilience persists. The
Sahara marathon is a solidarity race with aim of putting the Sahawari cause on
the minds of our global, collective conscious.
The money I raise ahead of this marathon will directly go
towards the Stave House project, launched by the Sandblast Foundation. The
Stave House project offers music and English classes to children in one primary
school in the smallest camp of Boujdour. Two hour classes are given every day,
after school, to engage the children and develop their potential. Through the
project, Sandblast also supports the training of local Saharawi teachers to
deliver the programme, so that the local teachers will be able to run the
project autonomously in the future.
The marathon experience in Sierra Leone sounds amazing.
You don’t just go there for a 1 day event, it’s 5 days long and takes you to
see many projects that the marathon raises funds for, so you can see how your
fundraising is changing the lives of communities across the country. You must
be very excited for this experience!
Yes, I am very excited for this marathon! Street Child,
the organization I am working with ahead of this marathon, has launched such
admirable community empowerment projects throughout Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone
is still plagued by extreme poverty, but I do hope to show a better image of
the country than what our global conscious understands it as.
The marathon in Kyrgyzstan, I’m pleased to see that
Helvetas, the charity you’re raising funds for there, is helping farmers to
grow Fairtrade, organic cotton. It’s an area that desperately needs help, the
cotton business there has been dreadfully managed in the past, with little
attention paid to water usage/draining of lakes, and there’s been much talk of
slave/child labour. Can you talk a little about what made you focus on this
After learning about the prevalence and seriousness of
human rights abuses taking place in the cotton sector in both Uzbekistan and
Kyrgyzstan, I knew I wanted to focus all of my energy supporting an
organization that was directly tackling this issue. Helvetas has completely
transformed the cotton sector in Kyrgyzstan by converting over 18’925 ha of
land to be certified for organic production, which allows farmer to completely
avoid the use of both pesticides and chemical fertilizers. A percentage of the
funds raised for the organic cotton project also went towards building schools
in these farming regions, allowing children (who were previously forced to skip
school to work in the cotton fields) to resume schooling. Helvetas was the
perfect example of an organization that was not only helping the community in
need, but completely empowering them to lead more self-sufficient lives.
Finally let's put the spotlight on your Guatemalan race.
What are you expecting from this one?
I am honestly a bit nervous for the actual marathon!
There is a good 2300m incline going up the Pacaya volcano at the beginning of
the 42km route, which will be extremely challenging, even for the fittest.
Regarding your running kit, what thought has been given
to the varying climates that you’ll be running through; have you got the same
kit for all races or a variety of gear?
I do tend to stick to the same sort of running kit for
all of my races. I always buy the same Asics running shoes (had to stock up on
six pairs of these ahead of all of my marathons!). I’ve been recently trying to
switch to more environmentally-friendly athletic wear and am now a huge fan of
Bamboo Clothing and Sundried, whose clothing is made from used coffee grounds
and plastic bottles, as well as Teko eco-performance running socks. To protect
my skin against the sun, I throw on a Sol Wrap, a sun protective, cooling
Do you plan to take your own running fuel, or are you
eating whatever is available locally?
I will be sure to bring some of my own energy gels (Huma
Gels) with me for the races. But when I am on the road traveling, I am super
excited to carbo-load on all of the local delicacies. Before my most recent
marathon in Oman, I could not get enough of their spiced rice and curry dishes,
which I’m convinced was the reason behind my personal record marathon time
How would you describe your training in between your
A lot of my marathons are spaced out only one or two
weeks apart from the other, so I think training my body and mind to endure that
many miles was a big initial challenge. I somehow keep making it through and
continue to feel great afterwards, which is the biggest motivator to keep
going! During the down periods between marathons, I focus on doing a lot of
strength training exercises (pilates, yoga) and stretching to try to prevent
You’re aiming to raise $100,000 for your charities, how
are you going about that? Do you offer fundraising talks about your races, or
are you focusing on awareness and asking people to donate via the individual
charities websites, or have you other ways of turning what you’re doing into
much needed funds?
This is the biggest challenge as I was very new to
fundraising when I first started this project.
As I continue the fundraising efforts for this campaign,
I am now approaching businesses within the countries that I am running in to
solicit donations to the local charities. I am also meeting with artists in
each country and collecting some of their artwork, to be auctioned off at
several fundraising dinners I am hosting throughout the year. Down the line, I
definitely do plan to organize some talks at a lot of these marathons and
I’d really like to hear how the next 4 months pan out for
you, it’s got the potential to be a fascinating learning experience as well as
a big physical and mental challenge. And I’d like to hear more about the next
group of 2019 marathons, which will include trips to Iraq, Cuba and Argentina.
For readers who want to delve more before then though, what’s the best way to
get up to speed on your project, and then to follow along with your adventures?
Dave – This is quite possibly my favourite race of the season, despite the fact that I’m far from a good 5k runner, and that it’s usually pretty cold this early in the year. It’s just such a good atmosphere, the Achilles charity does excellent work helping the disabled get into sport, and Steam Whistle beer is great so the after party always is, too. And add to all this, the race starts underneath the CN Tower and everybody is in that special sort of festive mood that St Patrick’s Day generally brings with it, you can see you have a unique event going on slap bang in the centre of Toronto.
I caught the subway down to Union Station – the race doesn’t start until 10.30am so there’s plenty of public transport even though it’s a Sunday morning – and picked up my race pack in the Steam Whistle Brewery. It was about -4C outside but the sun was angling in through the huge windows making inside a sunny, warm place to be. It was almost a shame to move outside for the race, but it had to be done! There aren’t corrals in this race so if you want a clear run at a fast pace you need to get on the front row. I was about 5 rows back yet still I had a few very young kids in front of me that I had to weave around once the gun went off. As for the rest of the course, there is a slight uphill and usually a fierce headwind at some stage (this time it was coming back along Wellington from about 2.5 to 3.5km), few crowds but ample marshals. It’s all over before you know it and then you have the happy task of receiving your medal and bottle of water from the volunteers…
…and then going back into the brewery for a pot of chili and free beer. A lovely way to spend a few hours on a Sunday morning!
Virgil – The Achilles Canada St. Patrick’s 5k run; I’ve always loved this race for the festive atmosphere and scores of runners dressed up in Irish Green costumes. Today was no exception, there were green top hats, orange tresses, shamrock shaped glasses and leprechaun outfits everywhere. I would say nearly half of the crowd dressed up or at least incorporated some green into their running outfit that morning, myself included. It was a freezing cold day so I ran in tights, a tech shirt and long sleeve top. There were a couple of vendor booths lined up in front of the brewery. Once I made my way inside I was able to pick up my bib and race bag without issues.
It was a packed crowd inside as runners were trying to stay warm. I picked up two boxes of Lucky Charms cereal to give away and headed out to drop off my bag. At the start line I took a few pictures before squeezing in with David and the other runners just before the gun went off. Last year I remember running around slower runners and kids as the gun went off and everyone burst out of the start gate. This race wasn’t organized into formal corrals, despite a fairly large crowd of over 1100 runners. Once there was a slight gap in front my me, I started my watch and ran over the timing mats. I wanted to try to find a clear path around other runners to go for a good time. I started off well for the first kilometre, but short distances aren’t my forte. I was doing my best to keep a sub 4:40 pace and monitoring it. The race leader already had a sizable gap on the rest of the field and had already run around the 2.5k turnaround, by the time I saw him. He flashed by me just as I passed the 2k mark.
The GPS was giving me wonky readings because of interference from the buildings on Wellington Street. At first it was a speedy 4:20 pace, but jumped to 4:40 before dropping back to 4:35. I must have started off too fast because I was getting burned out by the fourth kilometre. The finish line was just beyond reach as I missed my PR by 40s. Nonetheless it was a fun day and there was plenty of Steam Whistle Pilsner and chilli (both meat and veggie options available) going around, accompanied by an entertaining live band to complement the festivities.
I met up with my friends and sat on the floor to eat and take in the music. I was really pleased with the shirt design, and the bib pickup and bag checks went smoothly. I highly recommended this event for people who want a fast early season race, runners who want to dress up and party after in the brewery, and anyone who wants to be Irish, at least for a few hours! Achilles Canada did a great job at this perennial favourite. To discover more about this race, and to register for next year, visit https://achillesstpatricksday5k.ca/
RunPosted by Dave Wise Sun, January 20, 2019 09:07PM Here’s a short film that Dave made to give you an idea of the event.
Dave – I didn’t think I’d be in shape to run the full Mississauga Marathon. Although I love it and have run it for the past few years I’d only just come back from the 7 day Marathon des Sables a few weeks earlier and felt that perhaps having just run 250k through the Sahara Desert I’d better stick to the half distance this time around. It would be a new experience, I’d never run the half route before, and I wouldn’t be sacrificing much in the way of fun by doing it. I’d still get the great organisation, the atmospheric start line (the half and full Mississauga Marathons start at the same time) and the pretty finish area down at Port Credit, all I’d miss out on was running out of gas at about the 30km stage and moving so slow I’d have trouble staying awake…
Virgil and I arrived at the community centre (which acts as the main car park) at 6am, used the washrooms and caught the last shuttle bus to Square One and the start line.
The sun was just starting to peep over the condos and we enjoyed the sight of it as we woke up with a free coffee supplied by a Tim Horton’s van that the organisers had arranged to be there. There was a brief warm up on the grass in front of a stage, I ran a little more to loosen up a tight hamstring, went to the washroom (the lines in front of the porta loos were long but there were also washrooms near the city hall complex), grabbed another coffee to help shift me into race mode and started to walk along with the crowds to the start line. The sun was shining now, the music was loud, I was in the zone and all thoughts of being tired left my mind. I felt great and was going to give the race my best. The siren went off, we surged forward into a blizzard of confetti and soon I was moving past the 1:30 pacer, hoping that I was not going to see him again today.
The route has a net downhill but there are a couple of grinding uphills during the first 10k or so and I determined to use these times, when I couldn’t go fast, to eat the dates that I’d brought along instead of gels. 3 of them would give me about 200 calories and I reckoned that would be enough to get me to the finish line.
At about the 7km mark a Kenyan moved up alongside me. My first thought was, what on earth was he doing this far back in the field? I was chugging along at about a 40 minute 10km pace which is fine for me, but for him? He was obviously a well trained athlete, just by looking at him I could see that his power to weight ratio was world class, he didn’t have an ounce of fat on him and he was moving well, just slower than I’m used to seeing Kenyans run, that’s all. I wasn’t complaining, it was great to run behind him for the next 7km, to see how he dealt with the uphills by making his footsteps shallower, and how he increased his speed to shake off anybody who tried to overtake him without any sign that he was working harder than before. He didn’t swing his arms more, didn’t lean forward, didn’t increase his footfall, he simply surged forward seemingly without effort. It was great to watch. I had half a fantasy that I could stay with him until the end of the event and maybe even race him for the finish line, but when we got to the part of the course where the full distance veers right and the half carries on, he veered right and I was left carrying on forward on my own. The field had strung out now, I was happy that I only had a few kms left, I felt strong and able to increase my pace. The course dropped downhill, under a bridge, up a small rise and then down again, heading towards the lake. It invited runners to pick up speed, to give everything in these final stages. I saw a couple of guys in front and made an effort to catch them, doing so after another km as we kept to the shoreline. The lake was shining to our right, the sun was warm, there was a lively cheer point where all the girls were dressed in white and shouting wildly and then we were into the final km. I was winding down into easy mode so as to enjoy the finish shute which was packed with spectators but then in front of me I could see the timing clock over the finish line reading 1:26:30 and I thought, oh, if I get a move on I may get a personal best here! So I gave it one last push and crossed the line in 1:26:50, just 5 seconds under my best, which I was happy about, especially as the PA guy said I had made the 50+ podium, which was an added bonus.
I got my official time, they said I had come third in my age group, but when I went to the prize giving table and asked for the 3rd place prize they looked at their list, claimed there’d been a mistake, handed me a Tim Horton’s gift card and told me that I had actually won 1st place. I wasn’t sure how that happened and when I looked later online I was still listed as 3rd place in my age group, but I took their word for it and hoped that the other 2 runners who were supposed to be above me weren’t too annoyed at being demoted. Sorry you guys if that is the case!
Virgil finished soon after me. We’d both had a great time on the course and now we enjoyed the live band as we refuelled with the free bananas and variety of snacks that were given out to all runners in the event village.
For me Mississauga is the number 1 spring marathon in the Toronto area, and a must do if you are lucky enough to be in the area at the time. Fantastic course, very fast, well organised, super friendly, loads of drinks stations and plenty of goodies at the end. Fantastic! Virgil – The race prep for the Mississauga Half started off as a adventurous drive to pick up kits for my team. There was a high wind warning alert in GTA and there were multiple traffic delays due to debris on the road and non-functioning traffic lights. Scores of downed trees caused some local roads to detour around as city crew was doing cleanup. I would have waited till Saturday to do it, but I had a kayak rolling class to go to and it was along the way, so I pushed on. The Expo was nicely organized with many vendors offering food samples – I got a big bowl of chilli right when I walked in! I’m pretty much set when it comes to running gear but it never hurts to take a peek at the merchandise. The kit pickup was uncomplicated and contained some oats, crackers with protein spreads, protein drinks, and a nice blue race shirt with the 15th anniversary logo cleverly placed within the words “Mississauga”.
The next day we headed to the community centre where the shuttle buses were picking up runners to take to the race start. I was having contact seating issues with both eyes since the early morning and it was quite irritating. I was glad that I was able to resolve it before we headed out to the buses. It was a beautiful cloudy race day for a half marathon, 13°C with sun peeking out at times, a complete contrast to the cold rainy conditions of the last two editions. There were no organized corrals but pacers were easy to spot and it was easy to slip inside the barriers. At the gun, a confetti machine blew a cloud of colourful flakes and I took a few more photos before deliberately running over the timing mats. The game plan was to pace up slowly to the 1:50 pacer. I did this at around the 5.5k mark, and introduced myself to the pacer, who was named Troy. At this point I had a 38s buffer. So far so good, now the plan was to run with his group and break free with 2-4k to go to chase my PR. I took a cup at each water station and ensured the pace group remained within 10s reach. I crossed the 10k together with the group but I started feeling calf twinges at 14k.
Aching to catch up after bobbling a cup of electrolytes at a water station, I caught up to the group at 16k but now both my calves were cramping at 16.5k and Troy and co. slowly dropped me behind. As soon as I pushed the pace my calves would twinge with each step so I had to back off the effort. The run looped around the waterfront and back through a short forest section of the Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail before cutting into Lakefront Promenade Park. The announcer called out my name a few dozen metres before the finish line, which was a nice boost. I crossed the line in 1:51:33 (about 2.5 minutes behind my PR) and collected my medal and a generous helping of carbs and Stinger waffles. That was when I found out that David won his age group and PR’ed with a blazing 1:26:50, despite running a small race called Marathon Des Sables a month ago – winning a Tim Hortons gift card – CONGRATU-FREAKING-LATIONS! David was powered by delicious dates stuffed with ground coffee beans. I ate five of them during the run and they were delicious!
Next stop for Trek and Run is the Conquer the Canuck Marathon Ultra Trail Weekend, where I will be doing the 50k trail run, followed by Cambridge Tour de Grand 160k gran fondo; while David will be taking on the Ultimate Canuck challenge weekend, including the 50k (part of the Canadian Trail 50k Championships), followed by a trail marathon distance the next day.
Congratulations to the race crew for executing a well organized run, I always look forward to this event each year. For runners interested in PR races in cooler weather, this is high on the list with its net 80m drop and ranked only behind the Hamilton Marathon as the fastest course in Ontario.
RunPosted by Dave Wise Sat, January 19, 2019 09:10PM Virgil - After having done this race in scenic Shades Mill Conservation Park in Cambridge in the last two years, I was eager to attend this perennial favourite with David, as I knew it would be an ideal race for him. The fact that it was the site of the 50 km Ultra Trail Canadian Championships certainly intrigued him, and we knew that it was going to be a popular event.
Race director Tony Martin was not only is a very down-to-earth guy that I’ve known for several years now, he also gives back to the running community in many ways, including scheduling regular training runs in the area. In fact, you may have seen a certain clown at various trail and road races in the GTA advertising his ultra! I’ve done training runs with a few friends (in the winter, no less!), and if I was more local I’d definitely be there more often. The race offers distances for everyone – 8.33k (single lap), 25k, 42.2k, 50k, and the Ultimate Canuck Challenge – 92.2k. That’s right, ultra runners up for the challenge would run the 50k on Saturday, followed by a marathon on Sunday.
Best Western Plus was gracious to offer Trek and Run a suite in their hotel. As an official hotel sponsor, they are recommended due to its proximity to the race course, a mere eight minutes drive away. Our home-away-from-home was a spacious corner suite, clean and well organized, with a pull-out sofa bed in the TV room. Free parking and wifi are standard, along with the hot breakfast buffet that included make-your-own Belgian waffles, eggs, sausage, and fresh juice. Breakfast opened up extra early for the race, and we met several other runners that were participating as well. Staff were very accommodating at check-in and out. There was also a pool and hot tub for those who wanted to wade around and relax.
We were blessed with decent low 20°C weather, cloudy with few sunny breaks. We parked and picked up our race kits, which included Endurance Tap energy gels, containing pure Canadian maple syrup, sea salt, and ginger; and a very nice 20″ x 40″ microfibre towel with the CTC logo printed on it. After the obligatory sunscreen and bug spray ritual, we headed down to the start line where the crowd of runners were milling about. After the national anthem was played on an electronic keyboard, we were directed to stand behind the start for a group photo and soon we were off! Despite the cooler weather which was a welcome respite from the mini heat wave in previous weeks, the humidity was omnipresent, and the few rolling hills of the course cranked up the difficulty level. The course contained a good number of aid stations, some with ice – which was great for cooling drinks but also to wear inside a running cap. There was even an aid station with donuts and another one serving bacon, along with the more usual sweet and salty treats – all run by supportive and friendly volunteers. The rolling hills and looping course made each lap an idyllic run with nature, with the park’s namesake tree canopy providing relief from the glaring sun. There was a forested section that provided shelter from the sun running solitude, and frequently the stacatto drill of a woodpecker was heard. The lightest smattering of rain was hardly felt, and I wish it could have rained a little bit more – but not enough to make things muddy!
I was aching a bit with sore calves from my daily weekday morning gym workouts, which was absolutely not ideal pre-race prep! After crossing the sixth lap, I made a beeline for the complimentary massage tables where a much needed calf massage was offered. Several slices of pizza were devoured, while David waded in the lake. I ended up with a discoloured baby toenail, a well earned trophy for my efforts, along with offical race trophies – a bottle of homemade wine (your choice of red or white) and a medal. David had an amazing run, coming first in his age group, and second overall going into Day 2. This was after telling me that he wasn’t in 100% race form, with two-time champion Andrew breathing down his neck only 2.5 minutes behind! The next day, I participated in the 21st annual Tour de Cambridge, a gran fondo cycling event mere minutes drive away from Shades Mill. They offered distances ranging from 25k to 160k, making it a very family friendly cycling event, as well as offering distances to pique the endurance crowd. After notching up my century ride, I returned to pick up David, and was elated to hear that he finished the trail marathon to claim that second place overall. What an amazing result for the team! Check out this great race by visiting the Conquer the Canuck website, and see you at the next race!
RunPosted by Dave Wise Sat, January 19, 2019 09:03PM The Hamilton Road2Hope has the potential to be the fastest marathon in Canada; Dave, Virgil, Emrys and Adam from our team took on the Full Marathon, and Jenn took on the Half. Jenn – The reviews were right, the course was fast and there was a lot of downhill. In fact, the half marathon was several kilometres of downhill. Slightly boring and empty highway mind you, but still downhill.
Getting to the race by car was very easy. Save for a line-up to get into the parking lot which had us rushing to make the last of the buses, it was easy to find and parking was ample. Once we were off the bus, bag check at the start was very simple and there were lots of porta potties.
Then we were off! The crowd for the half was quite small so I was across the starting mat in no time and my first several kms went by very fast. The volunteers at the aid stations were really upbeat and made sure you got all the water or electrolytes you wanted. And I must say that although this is a small race on quiet suburban streets, paths and highway, there was still a fun smattering of people out to cheer us on. Even on the highway! At one point we were on a trail that turns onto a pedestrian pathway and there was still the odd person popping up to support us. However, even with the speedy start, this was not the PR I had hoped for. I slowed down dramatically in the 2nd half and after taking stock of my aches and pains I decided to finish, but to take it easy and enjoy the sunny day. Once we got to the waterfront the crowds grew. So many people were out to cheer and offer up orange slices (yes please). It was a very scenic route to the finish where a bowl of hot veggie soup was waiting and very welcome. They also offered fruit, chips and pizza if you fancied.
Overall this event was a lot of fun and one I would enjoy giving another go in future. The volunteers were exceptional and did not want you to go hungry or under-hydrated! And afterwards we all got free race photos to download, which was cool. Well done, Hamilton Marathon! Adam – Hamilton Marathon Road2Hope is a great way to close off the race season. As Canada’s fastest Boston qualifier, last year 22% of runners reached this goal. Race weekend is broken down into a 1km kids race Saturday with 5k and 10k options for adults and the half and full marathon events on Sunday.
The marathon begins at ArcelorMittal Dofasco Park on Green Mountain road in Stoney Creek. This is a point to point run with parking at Confederation Park, the finish (you can park at the start but will need to arrange post race transportation). Shuttle service begins early race day with the last bus leaving shortly before 7 am. The marathon has about 800 people running so there is plenty of room to move freely through the park and start area and bag check is available for free inside the main building which doubles as a warm up space.
The half marathon began at 7:45 am sharp. Jenn was ready and she rocked it. At 8:00 am the marathon began. Virgil and I decided to start together and run just a head of the 4.30hr pacers. David and Emrys started a bit a head running for faster times.
Temperatures were cool but not out right cold. The sun began warming the sprawling landscapes as my body began to loosen up. Having just recovered from a bad lung infection, I was grateful to start out nice and easy. I’ve gassed twice before on this race. Soon we reached Ridge Road which overlooks Hamilton and Stoney Creek then out to Lake Ontario. From there more picturesque autumn scenery, farms, vast fields and transitioning trees. The first 10 km peeled away pleasantly as we began rolling hills. Careful here, these may gas you early.
At 15 km my body felt strong enough to want to open up a little. Unlike usual, I took lots of nutrition early, grabbing water at the many aid stations. I said goodbye to Virgil. The next 5 km flew by and brought the race back into residential Stoney Creek. A section of the road was missing and soft clay/gravel, a reprieve from the concrete. I know both Dan from the Runner’s Den (a local sponsor /planner) and others worked diligently to have the area groomed just days ahead of the race to keep it open. Around 22 km brought us onto the Red Hill Expressway and a strong head wind. This is without a doubt a highlight of the race. I let my legs go and maintained a strong pace. Having gassed lots during this decent previously, I focused on my breathing, practicing gratitude for my health and the spectacular scenery.
Eventually the road flattens at 28 km and here is the only official aid station with nutrition. I grabbed a bunch of Cliff gels and pushed for the beach. Kilometer 30 brings you over the QEW on a pedestrian bridge and to the Beachfront Trail. Then the next 12km are basically and out and back to the lift bridge and back to Confederation Park. These kilometers go slow!! Pace, pace, pace. I tried to maintain single minded focus and stayed fixed on finishing strong. At 36 km runners knee, an old enemy, exploited some under training of mine. I knew running faster would actually help alleviate this. Typically this part of the race eats up my heart and crushes me. Not this year. I gathered all I had and ran hard right through the finish. 4hrs 20 minutes, which was a marathon best time for me.
Post race there is lots to eat, free massage, free coffee and the best ever vegetable and rice soup. Lots of space to keep warm and stretch.
Take away – The Hamilton Marathon Road2Hope is a well planned and classy event. Local high school kids ran the many water stations, local police and medics extended their services and cheered on participants, the weather was perfect. The race directors know how to put on an event.
All in all the Road2Hope gives runners a chance to run fast. With 400 meters of decent, cool breathable fall temperatures, and lots of flat course, a Boston Qualifier or Personal Best is very achievable on this course. I will return next year and beat my time for sure. Virgil – The Hamilton Marathon Road2Hope is considered Canada’s fastest Boston Qualifier with its large net elevation drop onto the Red Hill Expressway and late season cool temperatures.
Driving down from Toronto was a bit of a challenge as the Gardiner was closed from the DVP to the 427, necessitating a local drive for part of the trip. Once parked, we hopped onto the shuttle buses and was swiftly whisked to the community centre where the start line was. A quick washroom break and baggage check in and we were ready for the last run of the year.
The half marathon started 15 minutes before us, so we had some time to take in last minute nutrition and try to stay warm. Eight o’ clock came and we were off! I ran a conservative pace with Adam for the first few kilometres. There were some scenic vistas as we were high up overlooking the city. It seemed like the water stations had pretty weak electrolyte drinks prepared, several times I was offered a cup and it seemed to be filled with plain water. Good thing I brought some electrolytes of my own to supplement. Adam headed off to run his own race after 15 kilometres and I was doing well until just before the 20th kilometre, when my knee started acting up.
That made me drop my pace just before the race ran down the highway ramp, where the full brunt of headwinds hit. I have to admit, running on an empty multilane highway never gets old! This stretched for about 7 kilometres before exiting and heading down towards the Red Hill Valley Recreational Trail. Thankfully it wasn’t too windy running along the waterfront section, including the loop along Beach Boulevard. After what seemed an eternity, we approached the turnaround to run back to the finish at Confederation Park.
The last kilometres of any marathon are the most difficult, and this race was no exception. It seemed that some of the walkers on the course were moving just as fast as my fatigued jog/run/walk combination. At the finish I collected a large maple leaf medal and a space blanket. In the tent was some squares from a local pizzeria and some great tasting hot vegetable broth soup. The last marathon of the year was finally put to rest. That doesn’t mean that the running is over though. In fact I signed up to do a 50 day run streak challenge to raise awareness for sharks on Facebook. It’s been nearly a week later and I’m happy to report that the extra running has become less of a chore and has become easier to do, especially after the legs have had a chance to recover! Best of luck on your fitness ambitions, and we’ll see you in 2019, stronger and faster! Dave – I find Hamilton tricky; it has the potential to be a very fast marathon yet being in November, it’s at the end of the season and no matter how careful I am with my taper I don’t seem to get it right. This year was no different. The weather was near perfect for a fast race, about 0C when we started out, with sun. No real wind to speak of for the first 15km or so, when the route covers the high ground. Incredible views out over Lake Ontario, I really enjoyed it. My pace was good, I was on for a sub 3hr PR.
Then we hit the highway heading down to the lake and the headwind was strong enough to take any advantage away that the downhill had promised to offer. By the time I hit the lakeshore I was down to a 3:13 finish time, way off my best. This wasn’t the marathons’ fault, really, it’s just so late in the season that the accumulation of all those races and all that training that many of us do meant I was just tired. My advice to anybody running this race in 2019 is, if you want a fast time, build it into your schedule, starting now! Plan to have a couple of months off racing from August onwards, train smart during that time, go into the race with a rested body. And take your own running fuel, as the aid stations are old school – water, electrolyte, gels at the 28km stage – so you’ll need to top that up. The course sets the stage for a PR, it’s up to you to prep right for it, and I didn’t do that this time. But I still had a good time. Before the race, I looked back over the season and realised that the highlights were the moments before a race – when you have all the anticipation – and the moments after, when you’re chilling with your friends enjoying the feeling of a tired body and good company. So I went into Hamilton determined to enjoy both of those aspects of the event, and so came away with a great feeling. I may have missed a PR by 10 minutes but I’d had a good day out with great team mates, at a very friendly race organized by super friendly people. I couldn’t ask to end the season in any finer way.
RunPosted by Dave Wise Thu, January 17, 2019 10:39PM I’d just passed the half marathon point in a personal best time of 1:26, my head was up, I was still smiling and to an outsider it might’ve looked like I was doing just fine. But there was the twinge in my hamstring to nurse – it’d been there at the start of the race and it was getting worse – and now it was being joined by a slight groin strain that felt like it could put an end to my race with a single mistimed, over-reached step. I’d kept up well with a group of lads who were aiming for a sub 3 hour time until just 5 minutes before but now they were leaving me as if I were running in glue and I knew it was going to be a tough job keeping my injuries in check and my mind positive for the next 13 miles. Then the RAF lads ran past…
I saw the circular emblems on their dark green shirts, RAF Cosford I think it said underneath, as we turned into Ta’Qali National Park. Thoughts motored way faster than my legs now felt able to; Ta’Qali used to be an RAF base, my dad was an RAF man who’d visited Malta, his ashes rested in an urn decorated with the image of a Spitfire, he was the catalyst for me being here, I was doing this for more than me, I had to push, this was important. Dad has passed on late in 2017 and after the funeral, as my sisters, brother and I had sat around at our family home, I’d flicked through Dad’s single photo album and found many reminders of his time in the forces. There’d been his own pictures of Germany and Egypt (on maneuver, of Dad on his service motorbike and in a cockpit) where he was mainly stationed, as well as a set of 6 postcards showing general views of Malta. I’d forgotten he’d even visited the island – I wasn’t the most attentive of sons so I must have missed his stories about his time there – but Mum had helped me out, reminding me that he’d stopped off on the way back from the Suez crisis and that he’d enjoyed his time there.
A couple of months later Malta had come to my attention again, this time in the shape of it’s marathon. My 50th birthday was on Feb 22nd and since the Malta Marathon was on the 25th and had the reputation of being a fast race I thought it would be a decent present to myself, as well as a way of honouring Dad’s memory, if I were to run it. We don’t tend to dwell in a depressive way on things in my family, we think that if you’re going to remember somebody it’s best done with joy and smiles rather than sadness and frowns. Dad wouldn’t want any of us to sit around moping about his passing, for sure, but he’d be pretty happy knowing that we taken inspiration from his life to create some adventures of our own. So that is what I’d set about doing.
And I remembered all that as I ran through Ta’Qali. The black and white photos of Dad in his RAF days… …the old Maltese postcards…
…Dad’s face as I last saw it, his smile, his words… …and whilst it didn’t take away the pain and the injuries it did put them in perspective and reinforce that I wasn’t just running this race for me. There was Dad’s memory to do honour to, Mum would have her eye on my result, as would my extended family and girlfriend, and on top of all that I was raising funds for the MSPCA (the Maltese version of the RSPCA animal charity), too. The animals were depending on me to put on a good show; the better I ran, the more money it’d be possible for me to get for them. Reminding myself of all that pulled my scattered thoughts into a tighter circle, a circle I could begin to control. Calm was needed; only a clear head could get a good result from this position.
The RAF lads were pulling further away from me but the distinctive circular badge on their shirts offered me a last gift, a prompting to remember the story of the ‘Falcon of Malta’, better known as George Beurling, a Canadian pilot who’d joined the RAF and had become, during 1942, known as an ace, deadly fighter pilot. My friend Trevor, back in Canada, makes a point of sending me timely information and he’d Facebooked me George’s story a couple of days before. The article explained that Beurling had developed the habit of only engaging enemy aircraft at 250 yards or less – a range at which many other pilots would be breaking away for fear of crashing – and he apparently owed his spectacular success to remarkably good eyesight and the ability to toss his Spitfire into violent combat manoeuvres. If jumped from behind, he would pull back on the stick of his Spitfire so hard that the aircraft would enter a violent stall, flick over and spin; this was a hard, sudden and very dangerous act for the enemy fighter on his tail to follow. Beurling would also ram both ailerons and rudder into a sudden and violent turn, causing his Spitfire to flip over and drop like a stone. It’s said that only a very experienced (or crazy) pilot would pull such stunts more than once or twice; Beurling made them a matter of habit.
Beurling had taken chances and, coupled with his experience, they’d worked out for him. My impending injuries were not to be compared to any wartime situation yet I could learn lessons from Beurlings’ story. I was 50 and had run nearly 100 marathons, I could push my body to higher limits that I’d done before, I could use my experience to ride the fine line between finishing well and limping. If I failed, oh well, this wasn’t a war, the stakes weren’t that high, and if I succeeded, then all well and good, maybe I could make my family proud and even – dare I think it – break the 3 hour barrier for the first time ever? The conditions were perfect, they had been all morning. We’d started off just outside Mdina – a beautiful, walled hilltop town known as the ‘Silent City’ – at a cool 7:30am. It had been a perfect start to race day; the buses had dropped us there an hour earlier offering up plenty of time to walk (or warm up with a gentle run) the narrow, dimly lit alleys and admire the cathedral before being guided to the start line by a brass band, the music increasing in power as the minutes ticked down. I’d been nervous during the previous days, as I always am before a big race, hadn’t felt in great form, thought maybe I’d been enjoying the local food and wine a little too much (very possible), and had imagined that the hamstring niggle I’d started to feel had just been a psychological trick played by a primitive brain that always seems to object when the prospect of a marathon appears.
‘You’re going to die doing this,’ it says.
‘I’m not,’ I answer, ‘this isn’t 500BC you know, and there’s food available at the end of it, ok? And hey, even if I do die whilst running, it’s my choice to do so, right?’’
Despite the logic, you know how it is, the brain is always in survival mode, always trying to live forever, always looking to convince us not to go beyond what it deems safe.
So I’d ignored the hamstring niggle because even disregarding the primitive brain syndrome, in reality what could be done? I’d journeyed to Malta to run the marathon, I was hardly going to call it off just because of a little pain, and I’m terrible at resigning myself to a slow race.
With 5 minutes to go I’d felt myself growing in confidence. There was a little cloud cover, no rain and it was about 14C. Perfect. 4 minutes to go, I’d downed a can of energy drink. 3 minutes to go, my eyes popped as the caffeine took hold, I’d looked around, there were English club vests dotted among the more than 950 runners, everybody was getting excited, taking selfies, exchanging good wishes. I was proud to be among them. With all the talk – and damning evidence – of doping at the highest level of sports nowadays, races like these presented a purer form of sport, one where decent people ran fairly, without drugs and the horrible, selfish attitude that cheating highlights. Yes, this was real sport. I was hyped, I was ready. 2 minutes to go, goodness, I was so happy to be there, this was what life was all about. Everybody was naturally high, in good moods, emanating positive energy, smiling. There wasn’t a frown or a sign of bad feeling in sight. This may not have been humanity at its finest, but it was pretty damn close. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, bang! Go!
We’d poured through the empty streets of Rabat and then downhill towards Ta’Qali. The marathon had an overall drop of 200 metres from start to finish and if felt like half of that was within the first hour or so. My race plan had been to stick to a 6:52 pace and then try to up it towards the end but the downhills were so enticing I’d made the most of them, using the ‘falling forward’ motion to cover ground with little perceived effort. Or so I’d thought. My watch told me I was keeping a 6:22 pace, way too fast bearing in mind my previous 3:09 marathon best. I’d rolled with it, maybe it was my day after all, and after half an hour I’d eaten a date that I’d laced with Nescafe and Tailwind. Gels tie my stomach in knots so I’d decided to take a more natural, although perhaps not too conventional, route when it came to nutrition. Dates at 90 calories a pop plus Tailwind for power, Nescafe for caffeine, if I took 1 of this little energy packs just before every water station – which were every 5km – then on paper it should get me through. We would see. As well as water stations there were Powerade stations, sponge stations and numerous live bands playing along the route. Add to this plenty of volunteers, marshalls and decent signage and you had a very well organised marathon that was easy to run. Easy, I mean, as in you didn’t have to think about anything but the running, which was proving to be rather tough for me as we exited Ta’Qali and made for the 25km mark and the main road where we’d meet up with the half marathon runners on the road to the finish line at Sliema. The road surface was good, I just had to focus on keep my steps regular, not make any jerky movements that might increase my injuries and keep my thoughts tight and positive. Easier said than done but I was determined to give it a go. I think the initial downhill section had encouraged me to run recklessly fast and that had been where I’d picked up the groin strain; I had to avoid falling into the trap again when the next bit of downhill appeared. Pockets of crowd support helped me along, the loud live bands also. The route had been pretty, rural, mostly flat yet sometimes hilly (especially at the 16km mark where there had been a long grind uphill for a km or more) after that first large bit of downhill but now a few hills had kicked in as we moved into more residential/commercial areas and the sun had emerged, both adding extra challenges that I struggled to physically and mentally cope with.
So many times I wanted to walk, just a little bit, and I nearly did once but just as I started to slow an English lad eased up beside me with words of encouragement.
‘You going for a 3 hour?’ He asked. I nodded in response. ‘You’ve got loads of time, I did this race last year, I was at this stage at the same time, went on and finished in 2:55, just keep pushing, you’ll do it.’
The km signs were showing that we were near to the Sliema finish now. We turned left onto a back road that led below the massive defensive walls of Valletta and 2 or 3 half marathoners thundered past me as the road dipped steeply downhill. I knew the incline was going to tear into my quads and possibly be the end of my race but I thought of George Beurling, fell forward and gave it all I had anyway. My knees were screaming, the route veered left again and we were on the flat seafront, snaking around the final 4kms to Sliema. Later, on this very spot my friends doing the half marathon told me, they’d passed 2 or 3 marathon runners laid out flat, being attended to by medics. It was probably the heat, and the fact that the downhills, at this stage, weren’t as easy to run as they might have been earlier on. Or perhaps it was simply the thought of 4kms more on the flat, sun scorched roads that had put the runners on their backs. It was certainly a challenge I was barely able to face up to myself.
The tall waterfront apartments blocked out the sun for a few short, blessed minutes, then the shadows left me and it was bright, strength sapping sun all the way. The crowds were denser now, all English voices shouting
‘Come on, not far to go, run faster!’ But I had no more strength in me. My watch showed I was slowing, in the last few km I’d gone from a 6:38 pace to 6:56. It was pathetic, I was going to miss the 3 hour mark. I thought of how I was letting everybody down. Did I really have nothing in me? How was I going to feel after the race? Would I be spritely and able to move easily? Probably, in which case, I said, Dave, get your leg moving right now. I tried but they didn’t respond. I checked my watch, I was slowing even more. I was so sad, I didn’t even know if I could finish…
Then another part of me said no, fight it, this is not finished yet, you have to give it all you have. There’s no way you’re leaving anything in your legs, you have to collapse at the finish line, it doesn’t matter what time you get but what’s certain is you have to be utterly exhausted by the time you’re done, anything else is a gutless failure.
The red fluttering flags of the finish straight were in sight, I could see Marks and Sparks, Matalan and Burger King on the left, signs of home, my watch read 2 hours 56 minutes, ok, the 3 hour finish was gone, there was no way I could make up the ground, but it’s ok, keep pushing Dave, I thought, your friends and family are worth more than you giving in like this. The crowds were dense now, shouting encouragement, I smiled at a few kids who were trying to high-five runners, I waved indiscriminately, the finish line was near, my vision seemed blurry yet I could see the large clock, 3 hours and 2 minutes it said, I pushed hard and crossed a minute later.
A Japanese runner was blocking the finish shute, he was leaning on a railing being sick, the heat had affected many of us, I was eager for shade but I couldn't see a way past him so I collapsed onto the railing myself. A minute or so later he raised his head, put his arm around me and we walked to collect our medals together.
‘Is anybody lying there?’ I said to a medic, pointing at the shady space of concrete behind him.
‘It’s all yours,’ he smiled. I slumped onto my back and stayed flat out for 20 minutes, trying to lower my core temperature. I’d beat my personal best marathon time by 6 minutes. Perhaps if I’d run more tactically and not got drawn in by the hills I’d have done even better. I wasn’t happy for a while, a lay there kicking myself emotionally, but once I’d cooled down I told myself to man up and get real because really, who can stay miffed for long when you’ve just beaten both your half and full marathon PB?!
Beyond the finish line the road was full of runners stretching out, celebrating with family and taking selfies. I joined them. How many medal selfies can you take after a marathon? If the views and backdrops are this good, oh, too many to count…
Later I’d learnt that I’d got 3rd place in my age group, the over 50’s. It was great news yet I knew I was walking around my hotel room and enjoying the hotel pool a little too easily. I could’ve run faster. Marathon running isn’t just about fitness, it’s about knowing how to give your best, and that was a skill I had yet to master. It was ok though. I’d done all I could on the day, I think I’d done my Dad and loved ones proud, and next time I would learn how to give more of myself. I would run this race again and next time I would do better, I knew it already.
If you’d like to see a little more about my trip to Malta, here’s a short video I made before and during the race.
RunPosted by Dave Wise Thu, January 17, 2019 10:08PM You can read several articles about the 2018 Marathon des Sables in our magazines, and here are the short films I made each day as I ran. If you have any questions, here I am – email@example.com
RunPosted by Dave Wise Thu, January 17, 2019 02:16PM We decided that this marathon film wasn’t just going to be about the race, and instead focus just as much on the many great things you can expect to experience on a trip to Rome. The hotel, the restaurants, the museums and the sights (especially the sights you might want to see if you’ve been to Rome before and already visited the more famous monuments). Here’s the film!
Ok, the film shows you what to expect from the marathon, so there’s very little need to say much more except that be patient with the sign up process. Even though it’s easier and to be fair, more welcoming, that other major marathons, you do need to understand that to enter you will need to get their own medical form signed off by your doctor (which may cost you nothing, or it may cost you a great deal depending on your doctor) and you’ll also need to buy a Runcard, which allows you to run in Italy. The process is easy; however, finding where on the website to buy the card was troublesome. As I say, be patient, you’ll get there in the end and the Rome Marathon is definitely worth it. An excellent couple of bonuses of running in Rome is that you receive free entry to 10 of the city’s museums for you and a guest for the week surrounding the marathon, and you get to eat at awesome restaurants. Add to that the very decent hotels (I have advice about these to follow) and you have the makings of a perfect weekend, or week, away for runners and non-runners alike.
For hotels I recommend either The Beehive(an eco-conscious, luxury hostel/budget boutique hotel) near Termini Station...
...and very convenient for the airport bus and the subway or, if you’d like to stay nearer the race start line in more luxurious, and expensive, surroundings, then Hotel Lancelot is my first choice.
For good value, healthy vegan restaurants my top picks are 100% Bio for dinner, Ecru Roma for lunch and Flower Burger for anytime. To give you an idea of the food available at these places here are some photos. First is 100% Bio, serving organic, very tasty delights created by Chef Thomas.
Then there is Ecru Roma, not far from the historic centre and Vatican City. And finally Flower Burger, a really fun, cool place in Vatican City itself. The buns are coloured by natural flavourings such as cherry and vegetable carbon. The look will appeal to kids, but the taste will certainly appeal to all. I mentioned before the museums that you can visit for free if you sign up for the marathon. If you’ve already seen the major sights such as the Coliseum and Vatican Museums then you’ll yearn for something else I’m sure and these minor museums will fit the bill. I just wandered around them all without knowing what I was to see, enjoying whatever was on show, and often I was the only visitor. Imagine that, a few hundred metres away the major sights are absolutely packed with tourists but you step off the beaten track just a little bit and beautiful buildings and sights will be all yours. I think the most amazing moment was when I walked into a small side room at the Palazzo Barberini and found myself looking at this painting by Caravaggio, it was absolutely stunning. Usually this sort of art would be the centrepiece of any city’s main museum’s collection but here it was for the curious visitor to stumble upon. It was well worth wandering aimlessly to find this sort of thing. Magnificent! I’ll finish with a few photos of race day. You approach the race start by walking up to the mighty Coliseum. It was raining hard at this point of the day but nobody seemed to care, we were too hyper with anticipation. You don’t need the theme tune to Rocky to get you pumped up when you’re approaching this great Gladiatorial area.
Then you run as you like – I wanted a 4 hour marathon as I was in training for the MDS, and that’s what I got – and enjoy a grandstand finish as you run back through the old centre and finish where you started, except this time you'll be looking at the Coliseum.
Not a bad backdrop for a ‘holding the race medal’ photo, right? I hope I’ve persuaded you to visit Rome, and enjoy the experience as much as I did. It’s a fabulous city, one of the best, the people are great and the food and accommodation is top class and, if you choose wisely, very good value. If I didn’t cover what you’re eager to know, please do fire me off an email, I’ll be happy to try to help – firstname.lastname@example.org
To discover more, please see https://www.maratonadiroma.it/?lang=en