Category Archives: Uncategorized

How to run with your dog…

Over the winter holidays I decided that if I was going to take our dog Sydney (pictured left) for a walk, I could metaphorically nail two birds with one stone and run with her for a short warm up, then drop her back off at home before continuing on for the rest of my run.

Not so much.

Syd is an awesome dog and heels very well. But on our inaugural running adventure, she was good for the first kilometer or so, and then her attention quickly devolved into smelling anything that would get me to stop running. This included stopping very abruptly to relieve herself in the middle of the sidewalk.

Unknowingly, I had committed one of the most common mistakes when attempting to take a dog for a run — too much, too fast. “They [people who run with dogs] make the mistake of assuming the dog will stay at their side and assume that the dog can run forever just because they seem to be able to,” says Gillian Ridgeway, Director of the Who’s Walking Who Dog Training Centre, and author of Citizen Canine.

Gillian recommends that your canine companion get a visit with their vet before starting a training program. Yup, despite the extra fur, our four-legged friends need the same things that we do before starting an exercise program: a check-in with the doctor, and a training plan to improve their fitness.

According to a New York Times article from January, you also need to take into consideration the type and breed of your dog, and whether these factors might exclude them from being a running partner. The article says, “for example, dogs with flat noses — pugs, bulldogs, some boxers — may have trouble breathing during strenuous exercise. And while hunting and herding dogs are physically built for running — like border collies and Rhodesian Ridgebacks — they may be more interested in chasing prey than staying on the sidewalk.” The NYTs also prepared a visual for this that can be seen here.

“Your dog needs to be fully developed,” adds Gillian, “and it is not recommended that you start a running program with young pups.”

With all of these considerations out of the way, starting your furry friend’s training program is nearly identical to many Learn to Run schedules I’ve seen. “Like any training program,” says Gillian, “have them build up to it. Go for short, medium-speed runs and start to build up the stamina before the speed.” In addition, she also recommends building up your dog’s endurance by teaching your dog to fetch a ball or Frisbee, saying that once he or she has mastered that, you can stand at the bottom of a hill and toss it up the hill for them to fetch. “This will ensure that the dog will give his all while going up the hill,” she says, “and build the strong muscles he will need for running.”

Not putting the proverbial cart before the horse, it’s also important to ensure that your dog has some obedience skills before training. “It is important that your dog knows to stay at your side and not pull or lag, prior to running,” says Gillian. “If they do not have this skill, then it is time to get back into school.”

Once your dog is ready to begin training, you could try a program such as this one suggested by Dogs in Canada from Canadian Running Series, or try following one of many Learn to Run programs.

In addition, the safety of your dog is very important, and you should familiarize yourself with many of the warning signs. Gillian recommends monitoring your dog for signs of stress, such as panting and cautions owners to carry enough water for both runners. “I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gone to the dog park, lugging water with me, to get there and find the rest of the dogs parched,” she says. “The owners just smile as they come and drink my supply, and this is in a park where they’re running for balls, not jogging for miles.”

Gillian recommends that runners stop and encourage their canine companions to drink frequently to avoid dehydration and to keep an eye out for overheating.

If you’re going to put your dog on a serious training program, you should speak to your vet about proper nutrition to fuel your calorie-burning pooch, as they may need a diet designed specifically for active or performance dogs. Another safety recommendation is to keep an eye on the pads of their paws and make sure that they’re protected (Gillian suggests avoiding running your dog on pavement). “Humans can purchase super-shoes to help us, so make sure the traction is good and not too hard on your dog’s joints,” she says.

An article from last year’s Dogs in Canada Magazine also recommended using a harness when running with your dog, instead of a standard collar, as the collar could cause damage to the spine and other parts of the neck. It also recommended using a standard leash and not a retractable one (which most runners know as trip wires).


Shaving 22 minutes in 10 lbs…

(Wherein Matt approaches his food as a form of training to help improve his running.)

The inspiration:

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=elite+runner&iid=6319374″ src=”9/1/8/5/AgeAFL_Fun_Run_c455.jpg?adImageId=10387254&imageId=6319374″ width=”380″ height=”229″ /]Apparently, it’s common knowledge in the running community that loosing one pound can increase a runner’s speed by about two seconds a mile (in Canadianese, that would work out to be roughly 3.2 seconds per kilometer). That can be huge for elite runners who need to shave (or shed) precious seconds off their race times. This is generally referred to as their “race weight”.

Generally, I aim to do the best I can (as hokey as that may sound) — so why not finish my race with a better time? It may not smash any world records, but I could aim to smash my PB (or set a challenging one in the case of the marathon).

This got me thinking, why not us non-elites? I want a race weight damn it!

A little background:

In May 2008 I was 85lbs heavier then I currently am. Over the last couple of years, I’ve managed to loose a considerable amount of weight that was done in a healthy, sustainable manner that didn’t include anything gimmicky or invasive. It’s become incredibly cliché, but it truly was a lifestyle change that also included taking up running and adopting a plant-based diet. I’ve developed a strong fascination with all thing nutrition, and  love learning about how different foods affect the body. I have no academic credential in nutrition, but day dream of getting some.

The starting point:

This is me last Friday:

I’m currently at what I (and my physician) consider a healthy and manageable every day weight of 185 lbs at 5’11”.

The how:

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=vegetarian&iid=5079696″ src=”7/6/a/3/Cardboard_box_of_ad2c.jpg?adImageId=10387700&imageId=5079696″ width=”337″ height=”506″ /]A pound of fat is comprised of 3,500 calories. I’m aiming to loose a total of ten pounds of fat before I run the Ottawa Marathon. That’s a total 35,000 calories that are gonna go!

The basis of weight loss in no secret (despite what infomercials would have us believe). Calories in must be less than calories out in order for the body to shed weight. The challenging part of this will be to do this while also maintaining an adequate nutritional basis from which to train for my marathon.

I’m going to do this by focusing on three specific areas that will become future installments in this series of me acquiring my race weight:

  • Food: nutritionally rich, dense, filling and whole foods
  • Training smart: building strong, lean and efficient muscle
  • Mental: treating food as a source of fuel with purpose

The goal:

My race weight goal is 175 lbs, which according to those studies should shave an additional 22 minutes and 35 seconds off whatever my marathon time would otherwise have been. Not too shabby for 10 lbs lost!

So that’s the plan I’m looking at — acquiring a race weight so I can run faster! I’ll keep you all updated in coming posts within this series, and welcome any crazy souls who want to join me in acquiring their own race weight.

Toronto hills and cake…

This post is a little bit random, but I’m feeling a little random at the moment, so bear with me.

First some housekeeping. It’s been a month or so, and I keep forgetting to mention it, but I acquired an actual domain name for the blog. So is all ours! No more! I’ve also put up a new page on the blog to archive previous installments of the Toronto Runner series. You can check this out by clicking on the link above or by clicking here. Also, if you haven’t already, you should really venture on over to the right hand side of this screen and click on the Facebook link and become a fan of the Fartlek Runner. I post to that page when there are new blog entries and other random stuff that comes up between posts. All the cool kids are doing it, and you’re a cool kid… right?

Today is February 10th, and the novelty of winter running is starting to loose its panache. We’ve been pretty lucky so far and it’s been pretty mild and dry, but I have the feeling that my honeymoon period with this season is drawing to a close. Also, it’s amazing what a season can do to the volume of running-related laundry one has! The silver lining (or golden as the case may be) is the amount of daylight we’re getting is now noticeably longer, and I try to keep in mind that “spring” is just around the corner (39 days and counting to be exact).

Toronto Hills

The hill in Hoggs Hollow

I’m looking to start a new kind of profile on the blog — one that looks at the best hills in the city for doing hill repeats on. I know of a couple, but I figure there has to be some real gems out there in the different areas of the city. So I’m looking to you to help me out. Please click here and send me your suggestions for the best hill(s) in the city and I’ll go out and run them and report back with a rating system and pictures. This most likely won’t be weekly, but I hope for it to be regular.

This has nothing to do with running, other than running can provide the caloric room to eat it! Tonight I made a chocolate orange bunt cake with orange and chocolate icing all over it. The recipe comes from here, and it’s really good. I made it to take in for a potluck lunch my work is having this week, so we’ll see how it goes over, but I have a sneaking suspicion that there won’t be left overs.

Running safely…

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=road+safety&iid=5081122″ src=”8/6/c/c/Cross_sign_on_9650.jpg?adImageId=9333370&imageId=5081122″ width=”234″ height=”347″ /]Generally, running is a pretty safe sport. We don’t have ginormous line backers charging at us and we’re not flying down the slop of a snow- and ice-covered mountain at high speeds with poles. But running isn’t without its risks. Running outside, and especially running in highly populated areas, comes with it’s own set of cautions and needs for safety considerations.

Case in point is that in Toronto over the last 10 days, there has been 10 pedestrians killed — nine by vehicles, one by a train. Among the victims have been a woman in her mid-30s, three senior citizens, and a 28-year-old woman pushing her 7-week-old son in a stroller (her son survived).

During the winter these dangers can be even more pronounced when we’re often running in the dark and having to navigate snow and ice on the sidewalks. I can’t count the number time where I’ve been nearly hit by someone rolling through a stop sign, looking left while turning right, and so on. And while those who drive vehicles bear a large portion of the responsibility, there is also a need for us foot-traveling-folk to remember an important truth: when a vehicle and a body meet, it will always be the body that looses.

These types of tragedies are completely preventable, so in the interest of keeping us all a little safer out there on the roads, here are some things that we as runners can do:

  1. Wear clothing and/or gear with reflective materials on them (or add reflective strips). This makes you instantly visible to vehicles. You can also add a headlamp to this not only to make you visible, but so you can see your path better as well.
  2. Carry identification: There are a number of companies, such as Road ID, that offer easy to use identification systems. Or you can simply put your id in your pocket. Some important information that should be included is your name, address, phone number for family or friend, blood type and any medical conditions that may be relevant.
  3. Music: many of us (myself included) love to run with music, which means that we must be that much more vigilant about being alert, or chose not to run with music.
  4. Watch for car doors.
  5. Slow down at all intersection, and don’t assume a car will stop where it’s supposed to.
  6. Run against traffic (even on the sidewalk) so there is a better chance of vehicles seeing you, and you can see them.
  7. Look directly at drivers, making eye contact.
  8. Be aware of streetlights, signs and crossing timers. Runners should be the example we want to see.
  9. Make sure your friends or family know your favourite routes and if possible, let someone know where you will be running (and likely return time).
  10. Trust your intuition.

Other recommendations for safety in general, include:

  1. Carry a quarter or a cell phone for an emergency call.
  2. Don’t wear jewelry.
  3. Run in areas that you are familiar with.
  4. Avoid unlit areas, especially at night.
  5. Carry a whistle or noisemaker.

Have I missed something? What are your suggestions for playing it safe while running?

Running green…

A couple of times a year, I come to a point where I have to face the inevitable conclusion that it’s time to starting looking for a new pair of running shoes. Most runners go through several pairs a year, and those shoes (much like the fur bunnies from my dog) can multiply like rabbits.

I have several pairs that are now ready to move on to the great shoe box in the sky — one pair are the first runners I ever bought (for the learn to run clinic I took last year), another pair are the shoes I trained and ran my first half marathon in. Sentimental? Yes. Ready to go. Double yes!

This brought me to thinking about what to do with them. I don’t want to just throw them out, but wasn’t sure what other options were available. This also got me to thinking about the much talked about carbon footprint, and how we as runners can reduce ours.

A little google-foo has revealed many ways runners can recycle their shoes, which range from having them donated for second use by shelters (or shipped overseas to Africa), to having the rubber, foam and mesh ground down separately, and being used to make athletic surfaces such as running tracks, basketball courts, and tennis courts (see Nike’s reUse a Show program, which unfortunately is not available in Canada).

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=running+shoe&iid=254151″ src=”0250/f74c4cdf-aed8-4ac8-bfc3-bba6881458b5.jpg?adImageId=9242035&imageId=254151″ width=”380″ height=”255″ /]In Ontario, there appears to be two good options for recycling your old running shoes. The first is to donate your used running shoes to a group called Sole Responsibility — an Ottawa-based nonprofit organization started by a group of runners who send the used shoes to Africa for people who need them. The second option is to take your used shoes to your local Running Room store, who then donate them to charity (the North York and Commerce Court locations donate them to the St. Michael’s homeless shelter). If you’re outside of Canada, you can find international options here. Runner’s World also has a list of organizations here. If you know of other local options, please drop me a note either through the comments or through the contact me page – I’d love to know about them!

In addition to recycling shoes, I also found out that companies like Brooks are reducing the packaging of their shoes by not putting those bunched up (highly annoying) papers inside their shoes, and reducing the paper used inside of the box. They have also included instructions on how to reuse or recycle the boxes that the shoes come in and have added a compound to their bioMoGos midsoles that reduces the time they take to break down in a landfill from 1,000 years to 20 (still sounds like a long time, but it seems to be a step in the right direction).

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=recycle&iid=233992″ src=”0230/b2c3f7fd-0258-4e09-8f84-503451b37642.jpg?adImageId=9242140&imageId=233992″ width=”380″ height=”253″ /]Other companies have also introduced clothing lines that feature bamboo in their fibres, which reduces the amount of pure synthetics, but overall running gear is still pretty far behind the times in terms of it’s ecological friendliness. This is where the reuse option can come in handy, donating technical wear you no longer want to used clothing stores like Goodwill or Value Village.

There are some other, lesser-known companies that have come out with eco friendly running shoe lines, doing away with frivolous features such as plastic appliqués. They are opting for environmentally friendly shoe materials, such as recycled plastic containers, corks, and bamboo.

So now I turn it to you — what are you doing as a runner to be more environmentally friendly in your sport?

My running holiday list…

It’s that time of year again when everyone is running around to get their holiday shopping done. It’s also the time of year when we’re all being asked, “what do you want?” This question always catches me off guard, because I really don’t start thinking about the holidays until I’m reminded that they’re impending. This year, my stock (and truthful) answer is that I want gift cards to running shops.

While running is a comparatively cheap sport, there are items that can make it more enjoyable (like body glide) and safer (with reflective gear). Also, with so many races and so many entry fees, it can be nice to have a break on the gear that helps you to get there. So, here is my quick list of items that I’m planning on purchasing with any gift cards I receive:


Next to urban professional women, there is no other group of people who are as shoe-obsessed as runners! With my marathon training beginning in January, I’m going to be in need of a few good pairs of shoes! I’ve tried several brands and styles and at this point, my all-time favourites are my Asics Gel Kayano 15’s. I haven’t had a single ache or pain since using these shoes, and while they’re a little pricey ($199), I consider them insurance for my legs.

Fuel Belt:

My current two-8oz bottle fuel belt has been a trusty friend over the last year, getting me through my first half marathon. But the time has come where I need to have more water available, especially since the city shut the water off to the public fountains for the winter! I’m still undecided between the four and six bottle models (especially in terms of carrying weight), but I’m definitely looking for more than two.

Winter running clothes:

The weather outside is getting cold! And I’m not doing laundry three times a week for my running clothes, so I will be looking for some new winter running pants and a couple of tops and fleeces to round out my winter running wardrobe.

Foot roller:

This would be a total indulgence, but after a long run, my achy feet would love it!

So that’s my list. Fancy, huh? What’s your list look like? What is it that you’re hoping Santa will leave under the tree for you and your running bag?

And for my own record keeping, here are the past week’s runs:

Date Distance (km) Pace (/km) Time
November 25 13 4:50 1:02
November 27 10 4:50 48:11
November 29 25 5:25 2:15

Toronto Runner: Allison Larsh

“I began running because I never could,” said Allison Larsh, a 28-year-old IT Project Co-Ordinator. “I have this horrible memory from childhood from when I joined my elementary school’s cross country team,” she recalls. All of her friends were joining the team, and so Allison thought she should as well. “I guess I didn’t factor in that running as an overweight kid was not easy.”

She remembers that for her first run, her teacher tried to stay behind and support her until she realized that the rest of the team had finished and were being left to their own devices. “Instead of finishing, I took a left towards my house and abandoned my back pack to the school yard,” Allison remembers. “I remember that feeling of not being able to do something that I wanted to do and being humiliated by it. So, I decided to take running back.”

Years later, Allison has lost 145 pounds, runs four to five times a week, and goes to CrossFit (a strength and conditioning program). “Now I run because there is nothing else in my life that makes me feel as simply and as satisfyingly good about myself,” says Allison. “I love the feeling of choosing to make myself feel good. There’s so much I have no control over, but this, this one small thing I can do.”

With a marathon (Ottawa: 4:31), three half-marathons (Ottawa twice: 2:35 and 2:11, and Scotiabank: 2:00), and a 30k (Around the Bay: 2:39) under her belt, Allison’s short-term goal is to make it through training for her next marathon in February (Winterman) without a return to the disabled list. “Some people think it’s crazy to run in the winter. I think it’s crazy to run in the summer,” says Allison. “The mechanics have been working smoothly thus far, and I think CrossFit plays a large role in that — It keeps the rest of me strong and balanced, so that I can keep running.”

At the top of Allison’s most memorable running moments, was when she ran her first marathon in Ottawa last year. “Not only was it the farthest I had ever run,” said Allison, “but I ran it specifically for my Dad who has late stage kidney cancer.” She ran the race injured, which had prevented her from being able to train for the event. “I definitely cried during, and I definitely thought about quitting,” she recalls, “but that race was my Dad and I’s ‘thing’.

“He and the rest of my family were waiting for me at the finish line, and it really meant a lot to me.”

Allison can often be found running along the trails in the Don Valley, where she enjoys the hills. “It makes me feel like I’m playing,” she said. “You can’t take yourself too seriously when you are bounding up and down. Of course it kills my quads.” Allison also enjoys the challenges of Moore Ravine, which runs from the belt line down to the brick works before meeting up with the Don Valley trails. “The best part of running in Toronto is the abundance of trails,” says Allison. “I often ask myself how I can live in this city, with all its urban-ism, and thirty seconds later, be running in relative peace and quiet.”

In the longer term, Allison isn’t limiting herself to road races. “I’d like to move to ultras,” she says. “I find it incredibly satisfying to run long and I love running on trails. I’d like to do the Run for the toad 50k, to whet my appetite.” She also notes that this goal is somewhat dependent on staying off the disabled list.

When asked, Allison often struggles for the words to express what running means to her. Her most truthful answer is: “I run because once I couldn’t. I run because I can always get better. I run because I’m proud of what I’ve already achieved. I run because it makes me happy. I run because it keeps me sane. I run when I’m sad, I run when I’m stressed, I run when I’m angry. It is something that constantly changes, I never see the same things twice, and I see my location in a whole new way each and every time. I run because it leaves me feeling grateful: that I am healthy enough to do this, that I have something that I love in my life, and that it gives me a sense of self. I run because it’s simple — I put on my shoes and I go. Sometimes, the runs are great. Sometimes, they are awful. But, to quote my favourite running quote, ‘I’ve often regretted not going for a run, but I’ve never regretted going for one.’”

To keep up with Allison, her upcoming races and progress, visit her blog at

Quick facts:

Favourite Shoe: New Balance 1063

Favourite Equipment: Double-layered socks

Favourite thing about running Toronto: Networks of trails

Motivation: Feeling good about myself. “Running is a socially acceptable drug, and for now, it’s my drug of choice.”

Favourite Quote: “I’ve often regretted not going for a run, but I’ve never regretted going for one.”

Allison’s PB: 1:57 at 2009 Scotiabank Waterfront Toronto Half Marathon