How Experiencing Pain Made Me a Better Person (and Runner)

Pain sucks. Trust me.

I’ve been through some pain. A run in with a car while riding my bike to work on September 16, 2011 introduced me to pain at a level I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

I went over the hood of a car, landed on my left side and pushed my left elbow out through my triceps and shattered my humerus (upper arm) into five or six pieces. A paramedic who happened to be just around the corner and was on scene in less than two minutes was honest with me while I was lying on the road with my arm bent and pointed in the wrong direction.

“We need to move your arm onto your chest. This won’t be fun, but it has to be done.”

It wasn’t fun. It hurt like hell. But once it was moved, and my arm was across my chest and roughly back were it belong, it was better.

In the emergency room various doctors, paramedics and nurses came by to look at my injury. I remember on guy picking dirt out of the bone that was protruding through my arm. I learned that pain medication works.

An open, displaced, compound fracture was the official diagnosis. Dr. McKee put it all back together in a five or six hour surgery that night. Two plates, 13 screws and 42 staples.

The first night was long and tough. The pain was intense and it was impossible to sleep.

I spent two nights in St. Michael’s Hospital before they deemed me well enough to head home with a prescription for hydromorphone and instructions to start physio in a week.

The pain medication worked wonders. I could take 10 milligrams, and within 15 minutes the pain would fade away. Three hours later, it would return and it was time for another dose.

Physio is a special kind of hell

I started physio not knowing what to expect. It became clear within the first ten minutes of my first bi-weekly session that, like the moving of my arm on the road after the accident, this wasn’t going to be any fun at all. I would take the same 10 milligrams of hydromorphone on the walk over to the clinic. It barely took the edge off the pain.

Some days I would leave in tears. A “good session” left me exhausted and with a throbbing arm for hours. For months and months, twice a week, I walked over to the clinic and let someone stretch and twist and bend my arm for 30 minutes before sticking me with 15 acupuncture needles to aid in the recovery.

I figured I would be done and recovered by Christmas when the injury first happened. Then I thought maybe spring, and I signed up for the 2012 BMO Vancouver Marathon in May. All through the winter I thought of being done with physio and running a marathon to celebrate and declare that I was back.

I ran the marathon, and cried at the end because while I finished the race, I wasn’t done my recovery yet. The next day it was back to Toronto and a day after that I walked over to physio again and again for another three months.

By the summer, it was clear that I wouldn’t get my range of motion back no matter what we did at physio. I talked it over with doctors and my physiotherapist and decided to go back and have the plates, screws and scar tissue removed in another surgery that eventually happened in late March, 2013.

The day after the surgery I went home and a few days later it was back to the clinic for more physio and more pain. That went on for another few months until the progress stopped and I had to accept that my left arm would never be right again. That was that.

I still have pain from time to time. Some days my left hand goes numb because the nerve that runs through my elbow joint gets pinched. Changing weather (especially when rain or snow is on the way) leaves me with am annoying dull ache for a day or two. Every night when I try to get in a comfortable position to sleep with an arm that won’t bend the way it used to, I’m reminded of how I had to sleep on the couch for six months after the accident.

I thought this was a running blog

So what does all this have to do with running?

I’ve run 11 marathons and two 50km ultras. Anyone who runs long distance will tell you the same thing. It can hurt.

“Make friends with pain, and you’ll never be alone.” – Ken Chlouber, creator of the Leadville 100 mile ultra marathon.

I can honestly say that experiencing that kind of intense and frequent pain from my bike crash changed me. It made me realize that I was tougher than I ever imagined that I was. Initially I dreaded walking over for physio and often contemplated quitting it entirely.

But a strange thing happened over time. I started to look forward to physio. It’s not that I enjoyed the pain, but I started to embrace the process and the pain that was part of it. It was never fun, but it had to be done.

It was often awful, terrible pain. And I survived. And two days later I would go back for more and do it again.

I realized that if I went in thinking, “Bring it on!” that the sessions were way better and far more productive. Not fighting the pain and embracing the process meant more progress.

When it came to training, I started looking at my runs the same way. I looked forward to tempo runs on Tuesday where I could push myself and then come back on Wednesday and do it all again on sore legs.

Sunday long runs were a chance to explore how far I could run when my legs were yelling at me that they couldn’t run anymore. I became more aware of the difference between good pain that I should push through and bad pain that was telling me to stop.

More pain, more gain

Last March I fell out on a 29km run on Hilton Head Island. I was 14km into the run and I went down hard. It turned out that I broke two ribs in that fall, but I didn’t know it at the time. I ran 15km back to our place on the other side of the island after the fall, with each step becoming more and more painful as things tightened up.

The next week was rough. Sleep was tough, breathing hurt and running was basically impossible (of course I tried). The 2017 BMO Vancouver Marathon was already on my schedule and the flights and hotel were booked. I had eight weeks until race day and I could barely move, let alone run.

The day after we got back to Toronto I made an appointment with my physiotherapist. I told her what happened and we got to work to make running a marathon in less than eight weeks a possibility.

I fell on March 12 and started running again on March 28 and let me tell you, it hurt.

It began with an easy 5km run/walk on a Tuesday night. Then a harder 8km on Wednesday. Then 10km on Friday. Sunday was a painful and difficult 17km.

I embarked on a very aggressive plan to get two 30km runs done in April before starting the taper with a 23km run three weeks before race day. Those 30km runs hurt like no other runs I’ve ever done (including my first 50km ultra). But I ran them from start to finish and, like the physio sessions after my second arm surgery, I looked forward to the pain and embraced it as part of the process.

Marathon day came and I finished it with a really great first 32km and a really tough last 10km. I knew at the start line that the last quarter of the run would be a slog. And I started it anyways, ran to it and ran (and walked) through it to the finish.

Embrace it, overcome it

Pain sucks. But it’s part of life.

Jordan Peterson says about pain, “Pick up your damn suffering and bear it.”

In other words, this life we’re living sometimes sucks and it includes suffering and it involves pain. Suck it up. Pull yourself together and get on with it.

I think of this often when the running gets tough. Like in life, when things turn to shit, you have two choices. You can walk away from it and complain and feel sorry for yourself. Or you can toughen up. Take it. Embrace it. Run through it. Overcome it.

When I’m out on the marathon course, or even in the later stages of a really rough training run, one of the biggest motivations is knowing from experience that the best way to deal with the pain is to run through it and overcome it.

Just like when I walked out of a particularly horrible physio session after my accident, when I hit the finish line after 42.2km and some wonderful volunteer puts that medal around my neck, the pain sure as heck doesn’t go away.

It’s still there and sometimes it’s even worse than when I was running. But it has no power over me anymore. I’ve won. I’ve embraced the pain and invited it in. And it didn’t beat me. I beat it and took its power away.

The Importance of Having a Good Physiotherapist

If you run, you really should be on a first name basis with a good physiotherapist.

It’s not that running is so awful that you’ll for sure need medical treatment all the time, but distance running does put some stress on the body and a good physiotherapist is just the ticket to both getting, and staying injury free.

My physiotherapist, Adriana at Athlete’s Care Liberty Village, understands me as a runner and also knows my body well. I’ve been seeing her for various aches and pains and injuries since my bike accident where she was my go-to therapist leading up to, and after my second arm surgery.

Acupuncture works. Part of what a good physiotherapist does to get you back to running.

Since then, I’ve returned for treatment and advice whenever I’ve found myself with an injury that was impacting my training in any meaningful way.

Why a physiotherapist?

While a doctor can provide diagnosis of whatever is ailing you, your physiotherapist will be concerned with providing diagnosis, along with effective treatment and management of injuries. A doctor will tell you to take Advil and rest until it feels better. A physiotherapist will create an active treatment plan that might include exercises, massage, acupuncture and even running.

It’s been my experience that seeing a physiotherapist regularly contributes to far faster recovery from injuries, and also a much quicker return to running.

My latest visit

I fell running on vacation about ten days ago and one of the first things I did when I got back home was to make an appointment with my family doctor to get things checked out. As usual, the doctor was not super helpful. While I got a good diagnosis of some bruised ribs and strained muscles, I didn’t get anything resembling a good treatment plan.

So today I went to see Adriana. From the moment I walked in to the clinic, it was clear that she was highly engaged and focused on getting me back to good health and running as soon as possible.

Her assessment included looking at how I was breathing and moving along with what movements were causing pain. She quickly diagnosed that I had some muscle strain in my diaphragm along with bruising to a few ribs. A knowledge of the physiology of the body and how the muscles and skeleton interact to create movement is key to seeing what isn’t working correctly and figuring out why.

Treatment today included a deep massage of the area, some stretching and some training for some home treatments to do on my own. I’ll go back Monday (and likely again later next week) to continue the treatment including acupuncture which I have found speeds healing. Adriana assures me that my marathon in just over six weeks is still doable and I should be feeling fine in time to get in a few more longer training runs.

That’s why I love having a good physiotherapist. Adriana knows how my body reacts to treatment and understands from experience how long it takes to recover from this type of injury. That experience allows her to put my mind at ease and provides me the reassurance that everything is going to be fine.

Where to find a good physiotherapist

If you run, especially if you run long, and you don’t have a good physiotherapist, then I strongly suggest you seek one out. Sometimes it’s easy to ignore little aches and pains like some mild shin splints or a touch of plantar fasciitis. But seeing a physiotherapist can speed healing and also give you ways to avoid those types of injuries in the first place.

Ask around your running group for recommendations. Many runners will have a favourite therapist that they will recommend to you. Shop around a bit as well. You want to have a good rapport with your physiotherapist and they should understand you as an athlete and not just as a patient.

Once you find a good one, you’ll wonder how you ever did without them.

STWM Race Weekend Todo List

Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon weekend is here and there are a few things every runner should have on their todo list before the races on Sunday morning.

Expo and Speaker Series

First up, make plans to get over to the Running, Health and Fitness Expo to pick up your race package and maybe do a bit of shopping. The race package contains your number bib (with a timing chip attached), as well as your participant shirt. The shirt is a nice one, designed by local artist Mango Peeler.

After you’ve got your bib and shirt, you may want to check out the Speakers Series to hear from a great line up of speakers including Canadian Olympian Lanni Marchant, Masters Runner and World Record holder Ed Whitlock, Running Room founder John Stanton and more. The schedule for the Speaker Series is here.

Apps and Course Guides

New for 2016 is the official STWM App for iOS and Android

New for 2016 is the official STWM App for iOS and Android

You’ll also want to download and setup the official STWM app on either your iOS or Android phone. The app has all the info you need for the weekend, including live tracking on race day for all events. Get your friends and family to grab the app to so they can track your progress as you race.

Knowing the course is super important. Have a good look at the RacePoint course map (complete with road closure information and other details like water and cheer stations). Once you’ve memorized all the turns, give my STWM Course Guide a read.

The half and full marathon share the first 20km of the route, so whether you are running 21.1km or the full 42.2km, the guide has lots of info on things like where the small hills are and what to watch out for on the streets (hint: streetcar tracks).

Carb-loading and Friendship Running

Carb-loading is key to a good marathon performance, especially in the latter stages of the race. This article from the Globe and Mail explains how to carb-load properly and points to a study that shows it really works. Spend Friday and Saturday eating all the carbs!

If you are at the Expo on Saturday morning, you can get in an easy 3km run at the Running Room International Friendship Run. Here’s your chance to meet all the Pace Bunnies and run with John Stanton of the Running Room and a few hundred of your fellow competitors.


The Running Room Friendship Run at the 2016 Ottawa Marathon

This really is a worthwhile and fun run to help calm some of those nerves and shake out your legs 24 hours before your big run. Meet at the Expo site – more information including the 3km course map is here.

The More You Know

Saturday evening is when you’ll want to lay out your race day gear and make sure you have everything you need for your race on Sunday. Hopefully you already have the gels and sports drink you’ll need.

Take a minute to create a checklist that has everything you’ll need at the start line so you can double check that you’ve got it all when you head out the door on Sunday morning.

There’s some other last minute info at the STWM website on things like bag check, transportation to the 5km start line, and race etiquette. The more you know, the better. Read it all!

Sleep Well, Run Strong

You may not sleep well the night before your race. That’s to be expected. Research shows that the sleep you get the night before that is very important. So pack it in early on Friday night and get a good night’s sleep heading into Saturday.

Hopefully the Blue Jays game will be over early with another dominant win over Cleveland in Game One of the ALCS. Either way, take it easy on the alcohol and load up on nachos and other carbs instead.

Check the raceday forecast a million times and make sure you’re dressed for the weather. Right now it’s looking like it’ll be warmish for mid-October so shorts and a t-shirt are probably the right call. Expect some light rain here and there too. Pack a big garbage bag to stay warm and dry at the start.

Whatever happens this weekend, get out and take part in the festivities and run well on race day. Toronto will be out in force to cheer you along the way. Enjoy!


There is only one way to become a marathoner – through complete commitment. You need to really want to do it.

When you embark on the long training journey that takes you from being a runner into being a marathoner, the one thing you’ll need above everything else is a deep-seated desire to make it happen; a commitment to seeing it through to the finish no matter what.

It all takes commitment

Running when you are tired and don’t feel like running takes commitment. Running 30km on a Sunday morning the week after you ran 30km on a Sunday morning takes commitment. Giving up your evenings or weekends to get your runs in takes commitment. Eating differently takes commitment.

It’s that complete commitment that will get you out the door after a long day at work or at 5am when it’s cold and dark. It’s commitment that will keep you running after 25km when your legs are aching and you want to quit and take a bus home. And it’s commitment that gets you to the finish line on race day when you’re running farther than you’ve ever run before.

Without commitment, you’ll find yourself sitting on the couch instead of getting out to run. Without commitment, when you have a choice between running the hill repeats on your schedule or grabbing some wings and beer with your friends, you’ll choose the latter. Without commitment, when the runs get hard and your body starts to complain, you’ll skip a run or two xand justify an extra few days of rest.

Ask yourself…

So before you decide that you want to run a marathon, ask yourself if you are fully committed. Do you know what it takes? Are you willing to do what it takes? If the answer is “Yes!” then go for it. Otherwise…

Going Beyond 21.1km

A month and a bit into training for the Ottawa Marathon, and things are about to get pretty serious.

Up until now, Sunday runs have been in the 13-16km range which should be old hat if you’ve been up the training ladder for a half marathon or two. With that base in place, the Running Room training program escalates pretty quickly with 19km, 23km and 26km Sunday runs. Even if you’ve run multiple marathons, that rapid increase is a test of the body and the mind.

Building on a strong base


The bridge in Toronto that we cross on runs longer than 21.1km

Heading into the next month, you’ll want to be sure to stick to your weekday runs and continue to build that strong base of training. Without the weekday runs to provide a foundation, these long Sunday runs will take a toll.

Slow it down

If you’ve never run more than the half marathon distance before, the 23km and 26km runs can be intimidating. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t be running these at your half marathon race pace. These are easy runs at conversational pace.

Keep that pace in check and you’ll cruise through 21.1km and easily add on the extra two or five kilometres to complete these runs. Once you’ve broken through into the mid-twenties distances, the 29km and 32km runs will seem less intimidating.

Good luck and keep it moving forward!

Running Injury Prevention and Management

Marathon training puts a lot of stress on your body. As a result, injuries are fairly common, especially in the early stages of the training program.

While injury prevention should be a key part of your strategy to get to the start line, the truth is that injury management will likely also become important at some point during the 18 weeks of training.

Not if, but when

It would be great if we could all avoid getting hurt while ramping up to be able to run 42.2km. But that’s not all that realistic given the amount of running required. Whether it’s an overuse issue, or something like a twisted ankle or some tendonitis, something will likely come up that will need managing and treatment.


Athlete’s Care in Liberty Village…where I seek out advice and treatment.

Many marathon runners will be able to tell you the name and phone number of a good physiotherapist from memory. That’s because when training is underway, they are likely making a few visits here and there to get help.

Treatment could be some deep massage for shin splints or a pulled hamstring. Or it might just be some advice on how to deal with some foot soreness that is getting in the way of regular running.

The smart runner knows when to seek out that advice to keep a small niggle from becoming a serious issue that shuts down training and puts their race plans in jeopardy. If something crops up that is not the usual soreness that comes with lots of running, then don’t hesitate to have a physiotherapist check it out.

Most times they’ll advise you to take it easy for a few days, do some specific stretches or exercises and you’ll be on your way again. Other times they’ll tell you to shut it down for a bit and will come up with a treatment plan to get you back on the road again as soon as it’s safe.

Know your body

Another trait of experienced marathoners is that they truly know their bodies. They know which injuries they can run through, which ones are actually helped by running, and also when to stop and take a break to heal. They’ve learned the difference between a little soreness that is nothing to be concerned about and a sharp pain that tells them to stop running and seek help ASAP.

While stubbornness is also common in runners, it’s a trait that can be both a blessing and a curse, depending on the circumstances. Stubbornly pushing through when rest is the proper strategy isn’t smart and can be a ticket to a stress fracture or some other sidelining injury. On the other hand, gritting your teeth and running through some minor aches and pains is sometimes the right thing to do to build strength.


Acupuncture to treat shin splints.

Knowing when to rest and when to continue comes down to experience and knowing your body well.

Eye on the prize

The goal of any marathon plan is to get to the start line ready to attempt 42.2km. That means your body needs to be capable of making it to the finish on race day. Approaching the start line with a bad case of shin splints that are on the edge of a stress fracture isn’t going to end well.

Absolutely, the focus should be on injury prevention. But if you do suffer from aches and pains, don’t hesitate to seek advice on treatment options. The sooner you start to treat an injury, the faster you’ll recover. Often times you can easily manage an injury and continue to train as usual or with some modifications to mileage or speed. If rest is required, take it and don’t panic.

Good luck!

Back to Running

Last time I ran was January 30th. The following morning I woke up, hopped out of bed and was greeted by some bad foot pain.

A visit to my physiotherapist Adriana at Athlete’s Care on Monday confirmed that I’d annoyed the fascia on the bottom of my foot…the dreaded plantar fasciitis.

I'm a Pepsi fan, but these little plastic Coke bottles filled with water and frozen solid are pretty perfect for rolling your feet.

I’m a Pepsi fan, but these little plastic Coke bottles filled with water and frozen solid are pretty perfect for rolling your feet.

The good news? It was relatively mild. The bad news? No running for a bit. The first few days were easy since running was the last thing I wanted to do on a foot that was angry about just participating in any activity.

Slowly, but surely

But by Wednesday, things were starting to look up. On my second visit to physio on Friday, things had improved quite a bit. Still no running, but at least I was walking normally and thinking about getting back into the training plan.

Sunday I felt like I could have run 5km and been fine. But with another physio session scheduled for Tuesday (today), I held off and took the extra rest.

Today things feel pretty good. The deep massage across the bottom of my foot that was tough to take last week was fine today. Adriana said, “go ahead and run” today, suggesting it would probably flare up a bit, but that it should be manageable going forward with regualr icing, stretching, and rolling of the bottom of my foot.

Back at it

Tomorrow afternoon will be the real test when I lace up my shoes and run the 6km from the house over to Ginny’s work to get the kids. Here’s hoping that things go fine and I don’t find myself hopping on a new streetcar down along Queen’s Quay.

If all goes according to plan, I should be back on track in a week or two. While I missed a pair of long Sunday runs, the good news is that they were 10km and 13km respectively. Considering I’ve been running 16km regularly on Sundays, it’s not a big loss.

That said, things do get serious pretty quickly from here, so I’ll be hyper-focused on making sure I’m stretching, rolling and icing both feet now throughout the week.

Fingers crossed.

An Early Setback

I haven’t run since Saturday thanks to a sore right foot. The diagnosis is a bit of plantar fasciitis and the treatment plan is rest, ice, deep massage, acupuncture and some ultrasound.

What, me worry?

Here I am in week two of my marathon training and I’m already side-lined. This is the first time I’ve had an injury that’s taken me completely out of the game. Am I worried? Yes. Not being able to run is pretty problematic when the goal is to be able to run a fast 42.2km at the end of May.

But it’s no time to panic. There’s lots of time to get back into the swing of things. I was already a week or two ahead of the game and missing a few runs at this early stage is just a minor setback and easily overcome.

The goal now is to get the foot better, then to ease back into the program and get back on track.

I’ll hit the physio again tomorrow for some massage, acupuncture, ultrasound and advice. I’m fortunate to have a therapist I trust who also understands that runners want to run.

Each day it’s getting a bit better, but the one thing that I don’t want to do now is to rush back and re-injure or irritate things.

Knowing When to Downgrade or Drop Out

Training is hard work, and sometimes life or injury gets in the way and you are faced with a difficult decision of whether to downgrade to a shorter race distance or even drop out entirely.

Deciding to switch to a shorter race (or no race at all) isn’t always easy. Sometimes you’ll find yourself on the fence between toughing it out and running an event you know you probably aren’t quite ready for, or switching down to something shorter and then dealing with the regret of not having reached your goal.

Here’s a few tips to make the decision a bit easier:

  • If you are injured, it isn’t worth it to run: There will always be other races, but if you run through an injury you run the real risk of doing more serious or even permanent damage that could mean the race you run will be your last. If an injury is affecting your training to the point where you are falling so far behind that you don’t think you can run the distance, then you need to listen to your body and either downgrade to gain some healing time, or drop out entirely.
  • Take a look at your training log: I sure hope you have a log of all your training, because it never lies. If you find yourself questioning how you’ll get runs done every Sunday, you should look no further than your training logs to see what’s going on. Be honest with yourself and compare your log to the training schedule. If you’ve missed more runs than you’ve done, or came up way short on your long Sunday runs, then it’s time to admit you probably shouldn’t be running the race.
  • Do a commitment check: Ask yourself, “How badly do you want this?” If you don’t have an immediate answer, then deep down inside, you’ve already made the decision. Distance running is a serious commitment. Maybe you bit off more than you could chew, or maybe your priorities shifted. If you aren’t fully committed to the race, you can’t succeed.
  • Consult your buddies: Ask the people you run with what they think. They’ll often know where you are in your training better than you might and if you tell them to be honest, you’ll often get the answer you need. Draw on their experiences as well. It’s likely that some of them have faced similar decisions in the past.

It happens

Downgrading or dropping out happens. Look at the numbers of people who sign up for races every year and then don’t show up on race day. Distance running, especially the marathon, is hard. It’s 18 weeks (or more) of full commitment and it involves all facets of your life.

Don’t be afraid to be honest with yourself when the time comes to make the decision. Sometimes having the weight lifted off you mind will help you rediscover running for the love of it.

If you do decide to continue on your training journey, take the opportunity to fully recommit to the training and hold yourself accountable to that decision. Good luck!

Nike Thinks Running is Combat

Apparently Nike thinks running is a battle sport.

Just look at this sampling of tweets coming from their @RunNikeWomen Twitter account this weekend:





It’s not just these ones either. Have a look – almost every tweet they send involves an aggressive word like dominate, crush, destroy or annihilate.

Running is not something to be defeated

In the world of Nike Running, the goal is to attack a run and annihilate it. Apparently the beautiful act of running, something humans were born to do, is not something to be savoured, or enjoyed. Nope. For Nike, running is nothing short of a war between the runner and the run.

You see the same language in their apps and services as well. When you complete a run with the Nike+ app or watch, you don’t just finish it, you “crush” it.

I run to enjoy, not destroy

I don’t understand why Nike insists on making running a battle sport, but it’s one of the many reasons I don’t run Nike events, or use Nike services like Nike+.

I’m happier to use and support companies like The Running Room, Saucony, and Garmin who celebrate the joys of running and who don’t turn something as beautifully simple as running into a war.