Running and training in Toronto

After several sessions with my new running group at the Running Room Commerce Court location in the heart of Financial District, Toronto, I can finally comment about running and training in Toronto. This post required a great deal of “research” involving time and pounding the pavement!

Currently, my closest location is at CIBC/Commerce Court (30 Wellington Street West), but very soon, due to rising rent, lease issues, or whatnot, a new Running Room to replace it will open October 10 at TD Centre (66 Wellington Street West), one block away.

The half-marathon group is large; not knowing a single person there makes it seem all the larger. In Vancouver, I went to the Granville location which was, I’m guessing, second or third in size after Denman (and Alma). I don’t know where the newest Running Room, their Cambie location, fits in. Compared to Toronto, none of the Vancouver locations are so centrally located that you have to weave through downtown streets before hitting tree-line neighbourhoods.

Until the late summer, I had only run in Toronto with Lil Sis in Richmond Hill and that route was invariably a square around her place bounded by 16th, Bayview, Yonge and Highway 7. All spring and summer, I had no interest in running outside in Toronto as it doesn’t take a genius or much exploring to know the scenery just isn’t pretty. But my races in the spring ¬†and early summer were rough and reminded me that I can’t just wing outdoor running after exclusive treadmill training.

My first run was with Wednesday Run Club at 6pm, a 7-ish K route around downtown. We never left the downtown grid and even though I look forward to traffic lights showing red, it felt like a most futile run. How on earth do you conduct a tempo run on a weeknight as dictated in Running Room training schedules??

My second run was with the Sunday Run Club at 8:30am, a 14K LSD (long-slow-distance) run and we ran up to Rosedale on Mount Pleasant Road with a nice hill as we neared Rosedale–one of the best areas of Toronto–and then back down on Sherbourne through some really down-and-out areas. I wonder if people in Rosedale knew we had come a long way (it’s always relative). My lazy and bleary Sunday morning self was glad for all the stops at traffic lights in the beginning and end. After completing this run, I felt like I would be able to do the Montreal half-marathon after a summer of no-training, by hitching to the 2:15 group on race day and faithfully returning on Sundays to LSD with the run club.

My third run was dropping into with the half-marathon group for a hill training session. They were up to six hills and I did them all despite initially thinking I’d bail after four or five and, I believe, not doing any hill training thus far in this decade! As we set out from the store, I did not know where we were headed for our hills but it turns out the group often (always) goes to Riverdale Park West at River Road (east past Parliament) and Gerrard. I did not understand how people with water bottles and fuel belts could toss it into the grass to lighten their load. It’s a grubby, very Toronto park and you have no idea what is amongst the grass. And on race day, you won’t be able to just toss aside your belt to motor up a hill! It turned out that keeping my fuel belt on helped me not be the slowest (by far) by taking water as I walked down the hill while others stopped to get water. The hill was steep and short and when I was running up it the first time and was approaching the top, I realized that after the top of the hill, the group was continuing across the top of the hill to a set of stairs and the speedsters were running up the stairs from the bottom. It was a neat workout and, most importantly, I completed it.

Panorama of Cabbagetown Riverdale Park West, Don River Valley, Toronto
Image by Flickr user mmmighty_atom

My fifth run was two weeks after my third run and I was depressed all day at work about doing eight hills when I had skipped seven. Eight repeats of the same Riverdale Park West hill+stairs?? Boring! So I was a little blind-sided by the announcement we would not only be doing a “bumpy route” (also known as a “bootcamp” run), but that there would be tempo portions. Ack! Our pace leader has the build and training to run a 1:45 marathon at least but leads the 2:15 group a bunch of us who either don’t know they are actually 2:00 half-marathoners and people who didn’t want to seed themselves as slow as “2:30-To complete”. As a pace leader, he proved his prowess during the hilly run, organizing us well, describing to us the next leg geographically and advising as whether it was “recovery jog” (30%) or slow hill or tempo (80%). It was a super-humid day as Toronto was just hit by the tropical storm remains of Hurricane Isaac and it was so discouraging to be out for over two hours. But he kept the group together and I was motivated to put my all into each leg so that I could rest for longer while waiting for the others to catch up! I am only upset with myself that when we did hills 6 and 7, a tempo stretch up Rosedale Valley Road that was 2km long, I couldn’t handle the whole stretch and stopped halfway in, when I passed Bloor Street and there was still no sign of the “first stop sign” indicating the end of the leg.

My seventh run was a week later. The week before, we learned the “9 hills” session would be another bootcamp run but the route would be kept secret. Knowing it was bootcamp was scary enough and I ate a big lunch and squeezed in a bagel snack late in the day. As a result, I felt a little ill at times. The route turned out to be the same one as the week before but with two repeats at Riverdale Park West instead of just one go at it. I paced myself on the Rosedale Valley Road stretch and didn’t feel like I was going tempo (instead of going 80%, it felt more like 70%) and I tried really hard to focus on the audiobook I was listening to and was third after the pace leader and this other guy who is not a 2:15 half-marathon but sticking around to keep his lady friend company. I could almost say that I could do that route again but the worst part was the mosquitos out in full force so late and near the wooded areas.

I’m fairly impressed with the amount of outdoor running I’ve done in Toronto when I’ve enjoyed very much my condo gym. Registering for all the road races did put the incentive/need to run outdoors so it’s really no wonder. At the end of it all, I’m impressed that people run around the city, especially originating in the downtown core. I can’t wait until my road races are done, in the books, and I only need to make my way to the condo gym to stay fit!

On this day..