Digital Champions

Running, Volunteering and Fundraising

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Digital Champion Margaret Buttner has been involved in the sport of running for close to 20 years, but it wasn’t until 2011 when she met the iconic Katherine Switzer that she made a commitment to begin running herself! Margaret has since run distances from the 5k to half-marathon and feels very privileged to have made so many great friendships through Vancouver’s running community. She can’t imagine a better sport or better friends to be associate with. Connect with Margaret on Twitter. 

Running, Volunteering and Fundraising. By Margaret Buttner. 

It’s funny how life turns out. If you had told me 30 years ago that this is what my life would look like, and how enjoyable it is, I would have said you were crazy. It’s definitely one of those “one thing led to another” scenarios.

First – the volunteering: My husband Geoffrey joined Lions Gate Road Runners, a local running club, in 1995. It wasn’t long before I became involved as a volunteer, starting with course marshaling, graduating to “food goddess” and ultimately to vice president. Being a volunteer in the Vancouver running community really means being part of a family. We help at each other’s events, we socialize together and sometimes we even travel together (for example, South Africa in 2014). Along the way I’ve had the privilege of meeting many runners – from elites to everyday runners. It’s hard not to be inspired after watching runners and walkers meet the challenge of a marathon, half marathon or shorter distance, many for the first time.  In 2011, I had my “aha” moment – I met Kathrine Switzer and promised her that I would finish a half marathon before the next time she saw me. I fulfilled that pledge and have never forgotten the feeling of satisfaction as I crossed the finish line.

Second – slow running: It didn’t take me long to realize that I was going to be a “slow but steady” runner. I have a couple of foot issues that come and go, and taking it easier on course keeps my feet happy. I started running more in 2012 – mostly shorter distances, but wasn’t seeing much progress in my times. But I started losing weight later that year, and started to see improved results. Crossing the finish line felt better and better, as did collecting the race medal and wearing it proudly the rest of the day. My preferred distance these days is 10K and under, but there are so many great races around Vancouver that it’s not hard to find one. We also live five blocks from the ocean, so training runs are incredibly scenic.

Last – the fundraising: I’ve participated in the Scotiabank Charity Challenge for 10 years now. When I joined the Vancouver Public Library Foundation last year, I knew that the Charity Challenge was a great fit. There are so many enthusiastic runners at the library, and with a staff of 800 it wasn’t hard to put a team together – “Readers in Motion”. Every morning I walk into this spectacular building knowing I have the best job ever. Funds raised from the Charity Challenge will fund valuable early literacy programs for young children, reading mentoring programs for teens and children, and spaces such as the Inspiration Lab, the first free digital creation space in Vancouver. We’re organizing a “treat trolley” in early June to help raise awareness and funds for our team. For my own fundraising, I’m not beneath bribery – offering home-baked cookies to friends that pledge me. They’re all pretty generous – I’m very lucky to have them in my life.


Digital Champions Blog: Accepting Injury

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September 26th, 2016 – By Ashley Dier

This is not the blog I planned on writing. I had a few ideas, tackling your first marathon, overcoming peak week or maybe a piece on staying confident on race day. Instead I’m staring down at an air cast with a bad case of the runners blues and a bit of denial over the fact that I won’t be running the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon at all.

Potential stress fracture, the words every runner dreads hearing. Looking back over the past four months, the signs were there, but I was in denial. “Maybe it’s the shoes” I thought, convincing myself that the growing pain in my foot was a normal running ache. Then came the long run of 24k, the run that became this training cycles breaking point. Months of running on an injury caused gait changes which lead to compensation injuries elsewhere. Everything surfaced during those 24k.  

The Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon was to be a stepping stone for me. In the spring of 2017 I am planning a fundraising run in memory of my Grandfather who lost his battle with cancer last year. In an effort to give back to those who made him more comfortable in his last weeks with us, I will run 80k in his memory and raise money for the cancer care centre where he stayed. It’s easy to see how this air cast has thrown a small hiccup in these plans.

Being told you cannot do something you love, in this case running, is difficult to hear both mentally and physically. We physically condition our lungs and our muscles to be able to run long distances, but we also condition ourselves mentally. That mental strength is what I find myself relying on lately. But it’s not all bad, focusing on the negatives doesn’t help anything or anyone so let’s discuss a few positives, shall we?

Nutrition: Lack of running allowed for me (forced me) to look at how I’m eating and how I can improve my diet. Eating more nutrient rich, bone healing foods and learning more about how certain foods help our bodies recover from injury has been very helpful.

Activity: Staying active has been super important for my mental health. This meant trying new things like swimming more and biking. I’ll confess, biking isn’t the easiest with a boot.

PMA:  Positive mental attitude! Perhaps the most important factor for me as been staying positive. From the beginning, I tried to not focus on the negatives, to accept the diagnosis, and to work on recovering.

I’ve never seen more runners on a daily basis than the past weeks of no running.This may not be the way I thought my first marathon would play out, but I’m okay with it. There are lessons in everything, I’m sure there’s one somewhere in my injury for me to discover. For now it’s support duty – cheering on fellow runners is something my crew takes very seriously. #crewlove

There will be other races, I will run a marathon one day and I will run 80k in the spring. For today and tomorrow and the day after that, it’s all about staying positive. I am grateful for the ability to run and move and for my health. I am grateful for my friends and family and for those I don’t know sending me healing vibes. This is all just a small chapter in my running story.

Keep an eye out for me cheering along the course October 16th!

About Ashley Dier: I’m a run leader with Parkdale Roadrunners and Academy Of Lions Run Crew. Running has become a way of life for me. I spend my days writing about running, health and fitness as a freelance writer. Through my writing I give back to the communities that have helped me, sharing the stories of others. I didn’t originally plan on running a marathon this year, but after losing my grandfather to cancer and seeing how hard he fought I was inspired to push myself. In the spring of 2017 I will run 80k as a fundraising memorial in memory of my grandfather. Follow Ashley on Twitter and Instagram


Digital Champions Blog Post: Running: The Best Exploration Tool

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September 19th, 2016 – By Amber Daughetry

When I first started running, I didn’t know where to go. I hadn’t heard of MapMyRun or joined a running group, so I would put on my shoes, step out my door in Cabbagetown, and see where I ended up. I ran up and down the Don Valley, along the Danforth, downtown and back, and to the beach. I learned that my place in Cabbagetown was far more connected to the rest of the city than I had realized – I could run everywhere.

Running is one of my favourite ways to travel, because it allows you to see sights in a completely new way. You’re going fast enough that you can cover some serious distance and you’re going slow enough that you have time to take in the views around you. When I was New York City last year, I got to know the area I was staying in really well because of my morning 5K runs. Starting my day running gave me ideas for places to visit later on in the day – I found lots of great shops, cafes and trails to come back to.

There’s actually an entire new industry that’s opened up based on this concept: running tours are available in countries all around the world. Fellow Digital Champion Dan Grant runs City Running Tours Toronto that shows visitors our city’s incredible history and culture. And if you’re planning a trip to Rome, Melborne, Buenos Aires or Copenhagen, you can sign up to get a tour of the city from a local runner, while getting a workout at the same time.

Having lived in Toronto for just over eight years, I’ve found that running has also been the best way to get to know the different neighbourhoods I’ve lived in. After starting my running journey in Cabbagetown, I moved to the west end and have now run all over the city. I’ve discovered how calming running through High Park can be and how some days there is nothing better than running by the lake at sunset. Running for me is so much more than exercise; it’s an opportunity to be a tourist in my own city, to discover something new, to check out communities I’ve never lived in, and to experience what different neighbourhoods are like when the seasons change. Running and exploring are now forever linked; going for a run means going on an adventure and being open to discovery, something I love and look forward to.

For your next run, try doing your own personal tour – throw on some running shoes and a good podcast and take off – let your feet guide you and see where you end up. If you’re looking at the city with fresh eyes, you just might be surprised at what you see along the way.

About Amber: In 2014 my mom convinced me to run a half marathon with her. It was such an amazing experience that I’ve been hooked on running ever since, completing two more half marathons and numerous shorter runs. I’m thrilled to be a digital champion for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and to join the incredible group of people who are running it this year — can’t wait to see you there! Connect with Amber on Twitter and Instagram.

Digital Champions Blog Post: In Praise of Solo Running

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September 16th, 2016 – By Lauren Simmons

Most recreational runners know the appeal of training with a group: there’s familiar faces week after week, a shared sense of purpose, and there’s always someone to keep you company for those long runs, no matter your pace. Between traditional running groups like those hosted by The Running Room, and newer, more socially-driven groups like Parkdale Roadrunners and RunTOBeer, there’s likely a group for everyone. I’ve drifted in and out of running groups, myself, but I always come back to the reason I love running and why I started running in the first place: to be alone.

I started running when I was in university, living with a roommate during the school year and my family during the summers. Running was my way of carving out a little space for myself in my day or week, and that remains true to this day. I know I’m not the only runner who has sorted out tough stuff on the road; running helped me find peace and calm through my struggles with infertility and a miscarriage. No matter how hopeless things felt, my running shoes were always waiting for me, early in the morning, filled with possibility of a faster time and a new day. I needed to be with myself on those mornings.

Now that I’m a new mom, solo running is once again my way of having some breathing room in my day. After my daughter is asleep, no matter how long the day has been, I know I can have just a few minutes of time alone, with my music or podcasts or sometimes just my thoughts. For many women, returning to exercise after childbirth can be challenging and daunting, but for me, getting back to running was something I knew I had to do. The physical adjustments have been many, and my return has been slow and measured. I may never return to the paces of my running past. But running will always be there, simple and true. In the act of putting one foot in front of the other, over and over again, I find a place for my thoughts, a way to work through my challenges, and most importantly, I find space, for just myself.

The great thing about solo running is that no matter the time of day, I always see another runner, or two, or many. We share a nod or a hello, and we continue on our own paths. In a way, this is why I’m running for Nellie’s Shelter for Women and Children in this year’s STWM Half Marathon. It’s important for me to support families at times of crisis, as a way to let them know that they, like me, are not alone.

About Lauren: I’m thrilled to be returning for my third time running the STWM Half-Marathon, raising funds for Nellie’s Shelter for Women and Children. I’ve been running recreationally for about 15 years, having conquered the sub-25 5k and the sub-55 10k, and this will be my fourth half-marathon in pursuit of the elusive sub-2. As a new mum (my baby turns one year old the day before STWM), raising funds for Nellie’s is incredibly meaningful to me, and I’m looking forward to sharing the challenges and realities of training with a baby. When I can, I also cycle and swim, I’m a pacer with the RunTOBeer crew. Connect with Lauren on Twitter and Instagram.

Digital Champions Blog: How to Stay Motivated with 5 Weeks to Go!

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By Karen Simpson
TORONTO September 12th, 2016

How will you feel in 5 weeks? In that time, we will all be finished our goal race, the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon! But right now, we are doing our best to deal with the longest of our long runs and I have decided to write a post about how to stay motivated.

They say training is the hard part and the race is the reward. If this is true, and I believe it is, then we are currently in the hardest part of our training plan. We all need a little reminder about how and why to stay motivated. Here are 10 creative approaches I’ve been using this summer:

Raise money for charity. This has been a great motivator. It’s no longer just about you, it’s about all the people who you can help and all the donors who have helped you to help others. Be accountable to that and use it as positive motivation to continue your training. It’s not too late to pick a charity! A lot of money can be raised in 5 weeks. Check out all the official charities you can fundraise for in the Scotiabank Charity Challenge.

Hold that moment. If you track your training runs using a GPS device, go through the downloads. How has your pace improved? How has your distance improved? Often we are so consumed with where we have to go that we forget how far we’ve come. Pat yourself on the back and take a few minutes to review just how far you’ve come in training in just a few months.

Run in a group. Run alone. Mix it up. Personally I’ve learned to love both and my training during the week consists of group runs and my weekend runs are typically alone. This year, I have run with 9 different groups, met many new friends and I get something different from each group. I’ve been challenged in interval training by one group, discovered the joys of running new routes in different parts of the city with others, and met people from all over who run my pace. Just go on Facebook and search running groups, there are many.

Smile. Even when you don’t feel like it. While you’re running, smile. When you smile you release chemicals in your body that make you happier. When you smile and other people see you smile they usually smile back and this sends a whole bunch of good vibes into the world. Sometimes it’s not all about performance, but about joy and let’s face it, when we’re happier, we end up performing better.

Go back to the start. Why are you doing this race? What or who was your motivator? You must have really wanted a challenge in your life and now is the time to remember just why you chose to put yourself out there with this goal. If there’s a ‘who’ that motivated you, call them.

Just run 1 kilometer.  I’ve struggled with the heat as I’m sure many have this summer. Several of my runs have started by committing to run just 1 kilometer at a time. At some point, I realized the effort of getting dressed, finding time and getting my butt out the door was harder than actually completing the distance required. Using this technique has helped me complete many of my training runs.

Have people in your life who push you out the door. Tell them they have a role, even give them a title like ‘Kick my butt cheerleader’ and tell them to ignore you if you complain about running, make faces at them or you act like you don’t like them anymore.

Count-down to your taper. Prior to any big adventure, there comes a point where I count down the number of sleeps until I’m on the plane. Look ahead in your schedule and figure out how many runs until you start your taper! If you have a 16 week training plan you’re in the final lap of your training. One foot in front of the other and do whatever you need to do to keep your head in the game.

Get more sleep! Rest and recovery are two of the most important elements to get you to the start line. Getting to the start line injury free is your goal right now. Rest will also help you maintain a better attitude during your training.

Create 3 goals for race day. One easily doable goal, a reasonable stretch goal and a goal that will have even you shocked on race day. Over the next 5 weeks assume everything is going to be perfect on race day and finish off your final weeks of training based on the 3rd goal … you might just surprise yourself.

About Karen Simpson: I’m Karen and I’ll be running to raise awareness and funds for Cystic Fibrosis Canada. I have watched an impressive young man deal with the challenges of this disease and it really put things into perspective. We are blessed to be able to run, so let’s never forget that! There are tons of great charities to represent through the Scotiabank Charity Challenge this year. I want you to pick a charity, get a tutu and join me for some fun on October 16th. I started running in January 2013 after climbing Mt Kilimanjaro. I fell in love with climbing and wanted to train like a mountaineer — turns out most of them have distance running as part of their training. Since then, I have done a lot of running and climbing, including 5 mountains around the world and I just returned from Mt. Elbrus in Russia. Races are my motivation and I’ve completed over 60 so far! STWM was my first full marathon in 2014 and I recently ran my first ultra-marathon (53km) to celebrate turning 53. Let’s get this party started! Connect with Karen on Twitter and Instagram. 

Digital Champions Blog: Race Training – Making a Plan

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By Jamie-Leigh Cuthbertson 
Toronto August 25th, 2016

I signed up for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon in May, riding the heels of the incredible runner’s high I had from running my first half-marathon in the spring. I loved training for that race, but found that my training lacked a whole lot of structure and I didn’t end up building distance as early in my training schedule as I should have. It was fine, and my race went really, really well.

For this race, I decided I wanted to put together a formal training plan for the race. I did my research and put together a plan that included everything a good training should include:

 #1 Long Runs: 

Building up your distance is going to be an important part of training for any race. Your training plan should include a weekly long run where you can gradually increase your distance each week, getting closer to your actual race distance. These runs help build the physical foundation and endurance you’ll need to run the race as well as the mental strength to face any challenges you may encounter.

#2 Speed Work:

While it may be hard to believe as you’re doing 200m sprints during the hottest days of the summer, speed workouts get your body used to moving faster and train it to burn less fuel while going further. I have also found that increasing my pace in speed workouts mean that my long run pace seems a lot more manageable. Playing around with running paces has helped me know when to give it more gas or when to keep some in the tank in race scenarios as well.

#3 Strength Training:

Long runs and speed workouts are great at working the main muscles we need for running, but there are other important parts of our body that we need to keep strong to help prevent injuries. Strength workouts for runners should focus on targeting muscles that help keep you balanced like your core, hips, back, and glutes.

#4 Rest Days: 

The most important part of any training plan is scheduling your rest days! Your body is working hard for you and you need to reward it with some recovery time. Your body takes this time to repair muscles and without these days, you risk over training and overuse injuries. My training schedule ensures I get at least 1 day per week of full rest and relaxation.

Even though I follow a training plan, I work in extra strength training and sometimes shift the dates of each run or workout based on what is happening that week. It’s important to be a bit flexible with your training plan and enjoy the process!

If you ever need any company for speed work, long runs, carb loading, or rest days – give me a shout on Twitter @JamieLeighTO.


Digital Champions Blog: Lessons from the Home of the Marathon

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By Rachel Dewan
Toronto August 25th, 2016

If you had told me a year ago that I would be training for a marathon, I would have been skeptical. If you had told me a year ago that half of my marathon training would take place in Greece in the summer, I never would have believed you. Who would ever want to make training more difficult than it already is? As a student of archaeology, I have been fortunate enough to spend the last five summers excavating ancient sites on the island of Crete, but while the warm climate is a welcome escape from a long Canadian winter, the sun and the heat make for grueling conditions, far from the ideal running weather.

Yet, nearly one year after running my first half-marathon, here I am, finishing up the final week of two and a half months of marathon training and archaeological study in Crete. You see, that first 21.1 km race at the 2015 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon led to another in the winter, and then another in the spring. When friends started to talk about running the full marathon at this year’s STWM, I joked about it with them, but figured that my summer field work in Greece would make training too difficult. Then I learned about the Scotiabank Charity Challenge. Being able to use the marathon as an opportunity to fundraise for a charity that I care about seemed to me to be the best way to complete my first marathon and I couldn’t pass it up. I registered for the race, dedicating my first marathon experience to Matthew House, a refugee shelter in downtown Toronto, stuffed my luggage with energy gels and electrolyte tablets, and took my training across the ocean. After all, as the home of the first marathon, Greece seemed a particularly appropriate place to embark on this adventure.Rachel Dewan Blog Photo 1

Now, as the Greek part of my training comes to an end and I prepare to fly home to Toronto, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Training this summer definitely wasn’t easy, but no one ever said it would be. In fact, I have learned more than I ever thought that I would, and about far more than just running. I should’ve known that the country which has already taught me so much through its history would have just as much to share in its present. After countless miles over Cretan soil, here are five lessons that I think apply to every run, whether you’re exploring the olive groves of Greece or the streets of Toronto.

1) You are always stronger than you think. I’ll be honest: that first 10k run on Crete was probably the hottest, sweatiest run of my life. But it broke whatever mental barrier I had built, and encouraged me to push myself, one training challenge after another. Each run was an accomplishment, and showed me just how strong the human body truly is. Runners, never underestimate your body’s ability to adjust to its surroundings. While the heat could be tough and the howling winds of East Crete became my nemesis, I put one foot in front of the other and told myself that sweet baklava awaited my return to the village.

2) Keep things in perspective. Of course, there were the inevitable days when a run was particularly tough or I was lacking energy after a long day of work. It was on those days that I needed an extra kick to get motivated; it was on those days when I reminded myself why I was doing this. For me, running the marathon isn’t just a personal challenge, but also a way to support Matthew House. The refugee crisis has hit Greece particularly hard and the effects of this global emergency run deep. Yet, it is places like Matthew House and the incredible people behind it who offer hope. So when I was exhausted from poring over books or studying ancient pottery and wanted to skip out on my training, I turned my thoughts to those for whom I was dedicating my marathon; those who are facing hardships I cannot even begin to comprehend – and persevering.

3) Encouragement is key. If you’re a runner in Greece, you will inevitably get asked, “But what are you running from?” Of course, it’s a question asked jokingly, but at the same time, let’s just say that running for running’s sake is not all that common in this country. That does not, however, mean that your running will not find support. In fact, quite the opposite! Memories of my summer runs are littered with little moments of motivation, from the supportive wave and nod of a lone fellow runner I might pass on the road, to the two elderly men who stepped off the curb to let me pass, broke into applause, and cheered me on with a chorus of “Bravo!” They may never know how much these little actions meant or how they helped me to finish that run strong, but I will certainly pay it forward, never underestimating the power of encouragement.

4) Appreciate the great outdoors. Even if nothing else had gone as planned, my runs would have been worthwhile for the scenery alone. If you’ve never been to Crete, add it to your list; blue water and glistening beaches abound, but more than that, there is an untamed beauty in the environment of this island, and nothing is more satisfying than reaching the perfect hilltop lookout with your own two feet.  Running gave me the chance to explore this natural environment in a unique, very personal way, and taught me to appreciate my surroundings at any speed. This is a lesson I will take back to Canada with me. We too often take the beauty of our home for granted; Greece has reminded me to look up from the road or the trail and take in the world we run through and live in every day.

Rachel Dewan Blog Photo 2

5) Honour tradition. The Greeks have given us the marathon and the Olympic Games, so I’d say they know a thing or two about athletic traditions. This spirit of tradition and the idea that athletes are following in the footsteps of the ancients lives on today, and the Greek people proudly commemorate their ancestors’ legacies. In fact, I began my summer training in Greece with a 7.5 km race at the ancient sanctuary of Nemea, where the finish line was set-up inside the ancient stadium! So regardless if you are running the traditional 42.2km, conquering a new half-marathon challenge, or running your first 5k, follow the Greek example and celebrate the fact that you are a part of history.

About Rachel Dewan: After running my first half-marathon at last year’s Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, I knew that it would not be my last. Three half-marathons later, I’m excited to mark another first at this year’s STWM: my first full marathon. It is an experience made all the more special by the Scotiabank Charity Challenge and the chance to support the amazing work of Matthew House, a refugee shelter right here in Toronto. Although my training plan is uniquely divided between the intense summer heat of Greece where I conduct archaeological field work, and a Canadian fall, I am continually motivated by the incredible spirit of the residents of Matthew House, my fellow Nike+ Run Club runners, and everyone training to run their best on October 16th. I can’t wait to share in this experience with you! Connect with Rachel on Twitter and Instagram

Digital Champions Blog: Urban vs Suburban Running

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By Charles Minor
Toronto August 17th, 2016

Remember the TV show ‘Green Acres?’ In the show, the two main characters have opposed lifestyle choices- one loved the city, while the other loved the countryside. Watching a re-run of this show made me think: what kind of environment do I like running in the best? The urban hustle-and-bustle or the more relaxed, quiet suburban style? Both have their pros and cons and I’m sure people have their preference, so let’s explore some of the features of both venues together!

I have to admit that running downtown is relatively new for me. As a “Scarberian” I grew up running in the suburbs and similarly, I have spent most of my adult life living and running in Aurora/Oak Ridges. My initiation into downtown running came a few years ago when I joined the RunTOBeer crew and Canada Running Series for a training run in the Toronto core. One of the first things I noticed while running downtown is the “start and stop” nature of running; you are a slave to the traffic lights downtown, and man are they everywhere and frequent! It takes some getting used to waiting at a stop light when you are used to running with little to no stopping in the ‘burbs. I can only imagine what a long run must be like downtown! During a Sunday long run in Aurora, you can go ages without coming near a traffic light and it is not uncommon to not see a car or another person for your 2 plus hour run! Suburban running tip: make sure to bring water, cell phones and money with you on long runs. There are no stores, bus stops or bank machines to hit along the way should you find yourself thirsty or tired!

Another thing that struck me while running downtown is the “Spartan Race” style! There are obstacles everywhere! Garbage cans, parking meters, humans or bicycles, man you gotta be aware of your surroundings or you could get seriously injured. Urban running tip: you have to have your wits about you in both environments but be prepared to dodge hazards downtown! In the burbs, the biggest obstacle is…well…nothing! While running on the sidewalk or the shoulder of a road, the only concern is the local traffic, and maybe the occasional bit of roadkill or the neighbour’s dog).

In both urban and suburban venues, safety is a number one concern for runners! Here are some tips for both types of running:

  • Be visible, wear lights and bright colours.
  • Make eye contact with cars when you enter an intersection, make sure they see you.
  • Bring a cell phone and carry ID.
  • Tell someone where you are running and when you plan to come back.
  • Avoid ear phones. I know most people love their music when running, but it doesn’t allow you to stay aware of your surroundings. If you must wear ear phones, use only one or keep the volume low.
  • Mind your manners. Obey road rules and be polite and courteous to drivers – it’s contagious!

I guess now that I think about it more, I don’t have a preference! I love running downtown as it is so exciting, full of energy and it prepares you for race day, especially if you are running the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon! My downtown runs are like a mini dress-rehearsal where I get to practice getting to a venue, as well as running in a possible new environment. I also love running in my home turf of the suburbs as it is peaceful, quiet and it allows me to focus on my inner thoughts when I run as opposed to focusing on my surroundings! If you run strictly downtown: go to the burbs and check it out-you won’t be disappointed! To my fellow suburban runners: get downtown and enjoy the excitement and energy that can be found running in the city!

About Charles Minor: Hi everyone! Like a lot of people, I started running in public school on cross country and track and field teams. As a kid I always dreamed of one day running a marathon but it always seemed so daunting to me. Completing my first marathon was one of the best accomplishments of my life, something I always look back on with pride and happiness. Now as a busy parent, running has been an outlet for me to unwind and to stay physically fit. Running has taught me how to set and achieve goals, to act as a role model for my students at school but most importantly it has allowed me to strengthen the bonds that exist with my family members and to create new friendships with other runners. I look forward to sharing my Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon journey with all of you! Connect with Charles on Twitter and Instagram

A Glimmer of Hope: Robert MacDonald and Team I Will

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August 15th, 2016 – By Amy Friel 

Robert MacDonald knows how bright a glimmer of hope can be.

Four years ago, the Toronto-area native lay broken in a hospital bed, unable to move (or even to feel) anything from the waist down.

While vacationing with friends in Cabo, Mexico, MacDonald fell thirty feet from a hotel balcony, dislocating his spine in two places, fracturing nine vertebrae, breaking eleven ribs and his scapula, and puncturing a lung. The fractured vertebrae pinched his spinal cord, obstructing vital blood flow; the longer the obstruction went on, the more extensive the damage.

In need of immediate surgery, MacDonald was taken via air ambulance to St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, where a team of surgeons straightened and secured his spine using a computer-guided 3D intra-operative scanner. In terms of spinal cord injury, it was the gold standard in care: the fastest, most precise, and least invasive intervention possible. Even still, his diagnosis — asia B paraplegia — did not paint a promising picture.

For seven agonizing days, the twenty-six-year-old MacDonald struggled to come to terms with a future he could never have imagined. The lifelong athlete and former hockey and squash player now had a one-in-twenty shot of ever walking again.

“For those first seven days, nothing in my lower body moved,” MacDonald recalls. “I was in the ICU and I was pretty banged-up, and I thought, you know, I’m not gonna walk again. I know I’m not gonna walk again. I can’t feel anything in my lower body, I can’t move it. This is it.”

And then something happened — something terribly ordinary, yet quietly significant:  the big toe on his left foot began, ever so slightly, to twitch.

It wasn’t much. But for MacDonald, that small twitch was enough.

“I basically took it as a sign,” he says. “If my toe can twitch, well then, something else can move. I kept thinking, if you just keep moving, keep doing, keep thinking, keep positive — you’ll be able to heal.”

Robert MacDonald Treadmill

Once he was medically stabilized, MacDonald was transferred from St. Michael’s Hospital to Toronto Rehab’s Lyndhurst Spinal Cord Rehabilitation Centre, where a team of specialized physiotherapists designed a program to help him transition back into ordinary life. For someone with his diagnosis, this meant potentially learning to adapt to life in a wheelchair — a future that MacDonald was unwilling to accept.

“I believe that you alone are responsible,” he explains. “When you are potentially not ever going to walk again, you really realize quite quickly how dependent you would be on others. And that was a huge motivator for me. So I said, you got yourself into this — you’ve gotta get yourself out of it.”

His journey toward healing was measured, as he puts it, “in small muscle twitches.” Over time, he found he was able to voluntarily wiggle his toe, and began to regain the sense of touch in parts of his legs. After one month, he was able to stand with assistance. At three months in, he began to walk on his own.

The rehabilitation program was painful, tedious, and fraught with setbacks; each new milestone was hard-won. But throughout the process, MacDonald was undeterred.

“It didn’t matter if it was wiggle my toe, or get up to go to the bathroom, or walk for the first time, or stand up out of my wheelchair, or complete a 5K run,” he recalls. “It was just, I will, I will, I will. And that kind of became my mantra.”

As spinal cord injuries go, his case defies the odds. After months of inpatient treatment, a newly-discharged MacDonald walked, unassisted, through the doors of the Lyndhurst Centre, towards the independent life that once appeared to have been all but taken from him.

It’s a gift he does not take for granted.

“From what I understand, if I had had my injury ten years ago, I am definitely not walking again,” he says.

Determined to give back, and in the defiant spirit of the I Will mantra that carried him through his gruelling rehabilitation, MacDonald set his sights on running the 2015 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon, fundraising for the Toronto Rehab Foundation and the Lyndhurst Spinal Cord Rehabilitation Centre.

“They were hugely crucial to my recovery,” he explains. “I obviously don’t count my own self out — my attitude, work ethic, and all of that individual stuff that went along with it — but I think equally important is the health care that was provided by that facility.”

What began as a personal challenge quickly grew to include family and friends; by race day, 72 runners had joined MacDonald’s Team I Will, raising over $73,500 for the Lyndhurst Centre.

True to form, MacDonald did more than simply cover the distance.

“I gave it as hard as I possibly could in the last kilometre,” he recalls of the race. “So I wasquite out of breath. And I don’t know if you’ve ever heard anyone cry and cough at the same time? It is not a pleasant sound. I was crying, coughing, and laughing all at once.”Robert MacDonald STWM

For MacDonald, his half-marathon finish line represented more than just a personal goal: it was a celebration of a life he fought tooth-and-nail to get back, and of all those who had helped to make his fight possible.

Now in training for his first-ever full marathon, MacDonald and his Team I Will plan to return to the Scotiabank course this October, with a goal of fielding a team of 150 runners in every distance from the 5K to the marathon. MacDonald hopes to double the team’s fundraising to a goal of $150,000. At the top spinal cord research facility in the world, it’s a goal that could mean one more glimmer of hope for someone just like him.

“This isn’t for me,” MacDonald says. “This is for the next me.”

To join Robert MacDonald and Team I Will, please contact Vanessa Sousa at or call 416-597-3422 ext. 3724. 

Digital Champions Blog: Raising the Bar

By | Digital Champions, Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon | No Comments
By Cathy Vandergeest 
Toronto August 10th, 2016

Why did I start running? I started running to maintain my weight, get in a good workout and tire out my high-energy dog. Along the way I found an absolute passion for running. I wasn’t a sporty kid, so being able to do something athletic as an adult made me proud. ‘Runner’ became a title I adopted with great pride.

In that first year, I immersed myself in all things running to learn more. Magazines, on-line articles and social media – which was jam-packed with a welcoming community of runners constantly talking about running, just like me!

Over the next two years, I’ve learned something else that I think is incredibly important for all runners to remember.

New runners come across articles and posts by experts, elites and every day runners talking about speed, technique, distance, pace and races. We get lured in, thinking, okay, this is how to do this! While running tips, tricks and information can be great teaching tools and motivators, the ‘how-to-be-the-best-runner-ever’ advice can also lead runners down a slippery slope.

We feel the pressure to push the envelope. To raise the bar. To be faster. Better. Best. And ultimately, this means every runner out there–with hugely varying abilities–is using the exact same gauge of success. With this only-the-best goal, we feel that we have to make excuses when we don’t achieve a perfect performance. “Oh, I was injured.” “I didn’t fuel properly.” “It was a really crowded course.” Instead of feeling pride when crossing the finish line, we feel guilt.

This realization has helped teach me that my goals can be–and should be–different than those of my running friends. It’s helped me look at the bigger running picture, my skills and to focus on what I want really to accomplish. I can choose to base my goals on the areas of running I’m best at, the parts that really challenge me or the parts that I simply enjoy the most.

Remember, we are all different, we shouldn’t have to set our goals and measure our success with the same ruler.

About Cathy Vandergeest: Even though it’s been over three years since I started running I still get giddy when friends describe me as a runner. I’ve raced every distance up to 30K and train outside year-round. While I strive to live a healthy lifestyle, I also understand the need to add ice cream into the equation! Initially running started out as something just for me, but I’ve found the running community to be one of my biggest sources of inspiration, motivation and information. I love to be able to pay-it-forward and assist or motivate runners just starting or struggling. When not running I keep busy as a graphic designer in a large format print shop, enjoy cooking, gardening and spending time with my family, dogs and friends. Connect with Cathy on Twitter and Instagram