Every April, around 30,000 runners make the pilgrimage to Boston, Massachusetts, to take on the holy grail of road races. The Boston Marathon, now in its 123rd year, is notorious for its challenging topography (they don’t call it “Heartbreak Hill” for nothing) and wildly unpredictable weather, which can range from unseasonably hot to hypothermia-inducing. But if there’s anything that can prepare a racer for wicked conditions, it’s training through a Toronto winter. We asked eight talented local runners how they’re gearing up for that Hopkinton start line, and what the iconic race means to them.
Rachel Dewan, The Rookie
When not training for her first Boston, Rachel Dewan is pursuing her PhD in Greek archaeology, so it’s no surprise she appreciates the origin story of the marathon (legend has it the Ancient Greek messenger Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens, to deliver news of a military victory—then promptly perished from the exertion).
What is your training schedule like? “My training with The Rooster Project has me running six days a week, including two speed workouts and one long run. This cycle’s mileage started around 70k per week and will peak at just over 100k.”
This winter was savage. How’d you survive training through it? “I am so much more motivated to brave the elements when I know my friends are counting on me. When we’re in it together, the cold never seems quite as bad. Of course, there have been many days this winter when running outside seemed too big a risk. For those treadmill-bound days, all I can say is thank goodness for Spotify.”
For long runs: music, podcast or total silence? “I start out listening to an episode of Beautiful/Anonymous or Armchair Expert, but once I need the real motivation, the music comes on. My running playlist is an eclectic mess of energetic pop, nostalgic ’90s, country, Disney, hip-hop, musicals—anything that gets me moving.”
What are your pre-race rituals? “I have everything laid out and ready the night before, so there’s no stress in the morning; the flat-runner ritual helps with this. Mentally, I find a lot of motivation in my fellow runners and the community, so it’s important for me to check in with my friends and running family before the race.”
Why is the Boston Marathon such a big deal for you? “As someone who studies history, I have a huge respect for traditions and Boston’s storied past. It’s powerful that I can run this race when just 50 years ago, Kathrine Switzer was disqualified from it because women were considered too weak to run 26.2 miles. I’m thankful for all the women who came before me, faced challenges and broke barriers, so ordinary women like me can stand on that start line.”
Sasha Barak, The New Mama
Sasha Barak didn’t realize she was newly pregnant when she ran her first Boston Marathon last year—making her PB, in the relentless rainstorm, even more impressive. She welcomed her baby boy in December and has been gradually getting back into the sport she loves.
What is your training schedule like? “This year my big goal is to finish the Boston Marathon. I’ve just started doing short runs outside every other day, combined with strength workouts. In between, I do easy elliptical workouts, pool runs and brisk walks.”
This winter was savage. How’d you survive training through it? “I spent most of the winter indoors, first running on the treadmill and doing pool runs while I was pregnant. Then with the baby, I had to slowly reintroduce physical activity to my postpartum body and only recently started running outside again.”
For long runs: music, podcast or total silence? “I prefer conversations with my running partners. But for solo runs, I’m a clumsy person, so I have to be extra aware of what is going on around me, which means no headphones. I do listen to podcasts on a treadmill, and my current favourites are Rich Roll and Running for Real by Tina Muir.”
What are your pre-race rituals? “They’re simple and boring: make sure I hydrate, carb load with a pasta meal, do a shakeout run, do yoga and get to bed early. I get pretty nervous before big races, so I spend the night before alone or with a couple of close friends.”
Why is the Boston Marathon such a big deal for you? “There’s something about the challenging qualifying times, hard winter training and nasty race weather that attracts nutty people like us. I like to suffer to achieve my goals in order to enjoy the results, and the Boston Marathon is the perfect race for this. My son is too little to join me in Boston this year, but my dream is to see his smile greeting me at the finish line one day.”
Gabriel Jarquin, The World Traveller
Working as a flight attendant gives Gabriel Jarquin, who’s preparing for his first Boston Marathon, the opportunity to mix up his training routes. He’s logged kilometres everywhere from New York’s Central Park (his favourite place to run) to the streets of Paris to the tranquil Japanese countryside.
Which groups do you run with? “I do most of my training alone, but I try to run with Parkdale Roadrunners when I can.”
What is your training schedule like? “I run five times a week. I find my body loves me more when I take two rest days from running. This season I’m attempting to become stronger and less injury-prone, so I joined Academy of Lions, where I do CrossFit, weightlifting and mobility classes. This is probably my first season without an injury.”
This winter was savage. How’d you survive training through it? “This season I had no choice but to do some of my training on the treadmill. But I do embrace the savage, running in a torrential downpour one day and recently doing a long run in a snowstorm. Runners have to train in those elements because you have to be ready for anything on race day.”
For long runs: music, podcast or total silence? “If I’m running alone I usually listen to music. If it’s a chill day, I will listen to Christian worship music. If I’m doing hard tempo or intervals, I’ll listen to electronic, trance, house or club to keep me on pace and to distract me from the pain.”
What are your pre-race rituals? “I pray and ask God to be with me every step of the way. My dad usually leads the prayer either in person or over FaceTime.”
Why is the Boston Marathon such a big deal for you? “I think any marathon is a big deal. I am very happy I got a chance to run the course as part of my training, which makes me excited to tackle it on race day.”
Sydney Guloien-Olmsted, The Fuel Pro
Sydney Guloien-Olmsted works in marketing with Endurance Tap, the Toronto-based maker of salted maple syrup energy gels—a job that helps her connect with like-minded athletes, who don’t consider her six-days-a-week running schedule crazy. This will be her second time running the Boston Marathon, though she plans to return “for many more.”
Which groups do you run with? “I’ve lived in three different cities over the past three years, so I’ve run with East Van Run Crew in Vancouver, Island Striders in Victoria, and now The Rooster Project in Toronto.”
What is your training schedule like? “I run six days a week, including two run workouts, and a long run that also sometimes includes a workout. The other days are easy runs. I also do a balance workout once a week, and strength twice a week.”
This winter was savage. How’d you survive training through it? “Having the right mindset is key, so I always try to find something positive in every run, like enjoying a bit of sun, running with a buddy or ending at a coffee shop. One of my goals this winter was to never run on the treadmill. There’s something about running outside that’s so much more satisfying.”
For long runs: music, podcast or total silence? “Normally I don’t listen to music because I don’t race with music, but I have let that go this winter. It depends on my mood, but typically I listen to Top 40 or dance music.”
What are your pre-race rituals? “I lay out my clothing and nutrition, so I don’t worry about it in the morning. I recite my race plan and fuel plan to make sure I have it memorized. I stay off my feet as much as possible. To get extra excited and ready, I also like to visualize, imagining how I will feel crossing that finish line after all the work I put into training.”
Why is the Boston Marathon such a big deal for you? “I grew up watching my dad train for multiple marathons, including Boston. I always knew it was special because you had to earn your spot.”
Ellen Mitchell & Andrew Guytingco, The Power Couple
Ellen Mitchell and Andrew Guytingco first met through Nike Run Club, when they were introduced by a mutual friend. At the time, Ellen was training for the Around the Bay 30k, so Andrew “swooped in and offered to pace.” They hit her goal time, and started dating shortly thereafter. Now, they train on the same running team, Pace & Mind, and qualified for their first Boston Marathon in the same year. Can you say #couplegoals?
What is your training schedule like?
Ellen: “I run six days per week, averaging 90–95k total, and I do some light strength and mobility. Long runs often have some marathon pickups and plenty of hills. Andrew and I do our easy runs together, and we try to bring our mini Aussie, Tucker, when we can!”
Andrew: “I run five days a week, averaging 85–95k total. I throw in a little bit of strength work, a lot of mobility, and light cross-training on my off-running days.”
This winter was savage. How’d you survive training through it?
Ellen: “I hate the treadmill, so even on some of the coldest days you’ll find us outside. Mental toughness, right?”
Andrew: “Having a coach to keep me accountable and knowing I’m part of a ruthless team that trains in any weather give me enough motivation to get out the door. But when it’s really cold, hand warmers, double gloves and waterproof shoes are essential.”
For long runs: music, podcast or total silence?
Ellen: “Most of my runs are spent with friends, so there’s lots of chatting instead of music. Plus, I find earbuds constantly fall out, so I just don’t bother.”
Andrew: “Total silence! I used to run with music, but my weird-shaped ears make it frustrating, so I learned to love the sound of my own two feet.”
What are your pre-race rituals?
Ellen: “I am obsessed with beets, so I have beet juice, beet pasta, beet everything, leading up to race week. Race morning involves a mini dance party in our house with our favourite songs of the moment. I won’t disclose Andrew’s current pump-up song because I don’t want to embarrass him too much.”
Andrew: “The day before a race, I’ll get a haircut so I feel extra light on my feet. During the race, when things get tough, I reflect on my training cycle and remember the runs that felt good and feed off that confidence.”
Why is the Boston Marathon such a big deal for you?
Ellen: “I never thought I would run a marathon, let alone Boston. Inspired by my two best friends, I ran my first, the Ottawa Marathon, in 2017. Andrew was coming back from knee surgery, but cycled the course as much as he could. After that I thought, OK, maybe I can actually do this! Coming from a girl who hated the 12-minute run in high school, this was pretty big. Then, watching Andrew qualify for Boston too with an insane time of 2:56, I had to hold back tears as he crossed the finish line. He has been the most supportive through everything, and I can’t wait to be at the start line with him.”
Andrew: “Hearing about the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013 is what got me interested in running. I really admire how the entire city forged together on the back of such a terrible tragedy and now celebrate their athletes and draw strength from the event every year. The following year I ran my first marathon and it was the hardest thing I had ever done physically, but I fell in love with the sport. When Ellen got her BQ, I knew if we could run our first Boston together, it would be something we would never forget.”
Jessica Portelance, The Philanthropist
Jessica Portelance will be making her Boston Marathon debut, running with her company and also raising funds for Myeloma Canada, a cause that’s close to her heart: her dad has multiple myeloma, and every dollar will go to supporting the research quest for a cure.
Which groups do you run with? “I run with the One Academy crew at least twice a week for both road and trail runs.”
What is your training schedule like? “[Each week] I do an interval session with One Academy, a long run on the weekend, one tempo session and one or two easy runs. I also include One Academy strength and cardio classes as cross-training.”
This winter was savage. How’d you survive training through it? “My amazing run crew and lots of layers! I have the greatest friends who push each other and keep each other accountable to make it out for those cold and windy runs.”
For long runs: music, podcast or total silence? “Ideally I can chat with friends, but on solo runs I opt for podcasts. Reply All and Armchair Expert are my favourites because they make me laugh out loud and help pass the time.”
What are your pre-race rituals? “I try to relax, lay out my clothes and eat a good meal the night before. I wake up early with plenty of time before the start, but I inevitably get nervous, so any prep goes out the window. For Boston, seeing my parents and fiancé at the finish will be the biggest motivation, even if my race doesn’t go as planned.”
Why is the Boston Marathon such a big deal for you? “I’m honoured to be running as a Manulife/John Hancock employee (the title sponsor of the race) and raising money for Myeloma Canada. I chose this organization because my dad was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer that forms in plasma cells. I can’t imagine another marathon in any other city that I’d want to race as my first.”
Katie Sin, The Expectant Mom
Katie Sin, FLEETSTREET’s very own Special Projects Lead, will be toeing the line at the Boston Marathon for the second time. This year she’ll also be sneaking a bandit runner onto the course: she’ll be seven months pregnant come race day.
Which groups do you run with? “I achieved my BQ training with Pace & Mind, but I’m now mostly running at my own slow pace because I’m pregnant.”
What is your training schedule like? “Due to a benign cyst on my ovary, my doctors advised me to reduce my workouts, so I do cardio workouts three to five days per week, followed by pregnancy-friendly strength exercises. I’ve stopped tracking my mileage, which is a refreshing change.”
This winter was savage. How’d you survive training through it? “I’ve been extra cautious with icy roads and have done most of my workouts indoors, alternating between the treadmill and elliptical. I miss running with my friends and my team, but I didn’t feel any jealousy as they endured the freezing, miserable conditions this winter!”
For long runs: music, podcast or total silence? “I’ll chat with friends when running with a group, but I listen to My Favorite Murder if doing cardio at the gym.”
What are your pre-race rituals? “Carb loading is my favourite part of training, so I look forward to classic spaghetti and meatballs. Despite setting everything aside the night before, in the morning I usually end up second-guessing my outfit or continually re-adjust my fuel belt, but this time I’ll be much more relaxed going into the race. My plan is to stay at a comfortable pace, listen to my body and just enjoy the experience.”
Why is the Boston Marathon such a big deal for you? “After a disappointing result at the 2017 Boston Marathon, I postponed starting a family, hoping to achieve one final marathon PB before getting pregnant. Thankfully my husband, Nathan, was patient and supportive of this goal, which took three more attempts to achieve: I ran a 3:18:21 at the Erie Marathon—an 11-minute PB—which earned me a BQ for 2019. Now, being able to run the Boston Marathon while pregnant feels like I’ll be conquering a challenge that once stood between me and starting a family. I’m so excited to continue with my passion for running as I begin this next chapter in my life.”