How to: Selecting the perfect wine

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Interview with Jen Drynan – friend, mom, pharmacist, and 2:49 debut-marathoner

Sometimes I find I need a little inspiration in life and running. I need to be reminded that I should not make excuses for reasons that I can’t do something – I should adopt a positive attitude and try my hardest. One of my great sources of inspiration in many areas is my friend Jen Drynan. Jen is a pharmacist, mom of twins, rock-steady friend, and amazing runner who seems to be getting faster every year, always with a smile and usually while dropping off baked goods for someone in need. To highlight the amazing runner point, Jen just ran her first marathon in Niagara in a spectacular time of 2:49! I caught up with Jen so she could give me the low-down on how she manages to do it all.

1. I first met you on the x-country team at Queen’s University in 1994. You were a top runner on the team then. How long had you been running competitively before that?
• I started running in Grade11 at Unionville High School. Thanks to two dedicated coaches, Dave Stanley and Keith Hotrum, I made it to OFSAA in Cross Country and/or Track yearly from 1989-1992. I thought that would be it for running. But at graduation, Mr. Hotrum took me aside and said “I know you don’t think you are talented enough to run varsity at Queen’s but you go out there and do it!” Without that encouragement, I would have hung up my spikes.

2. You remained a competitive runner on the road scene after university. Then in 2007 you became a mom to twin boys! Tell me about the role running played in your life in the early days of new motherhood.
• Getting back into running after kids was a mental health choice. Going for a even a quick run helped me get out of the house. Running was also became a form of weight and resistance training. Pushing a double Chariot out of Sunnybrook Park made me feel physically and mentally tough!

How I picture Jen running

How I picture Jen running

3. In the past few years you’ve posted some very fast times (in 2012 Jen ran 1:19 for a half marathon, 35:48 for 10K and 18:04 for 5K) along with an amazing marathon debut of 2:49! When did you decide to make the transition back to competitive running?

• I really didn’t consciously decide to get back into competitive running. But, I did commit to running the Sporting Life 10K when the boys were just over a year old. I was pleasantly surprised by my result and realized that there might still be hope of running decent times post kids.

4. You have a busy life with a job as a pharmacist, a busy husband and two kids. How do you create the balance and fit in your training?
• I end up running in the wee hours of the morning or running home from work. Multi-tasking is key. When I squeeze my run in before the day starts, I find I can focus better on the rest of “the list”.

Jen, happily juggling it all

Jen, happily juggling it all

5. Your husband coached you for your recent marathon. This can be tricky territory for many people. How did the dynamic work for you?
• Mark has coached me in the past and knows me, my body and my schedule better than anyone else. I trust his knowledge and knew that he would adjust my training plan based on the feedback I gave him. I would say it was truly a team effort.

Jen and Mark - great teamwork!

Jen and Mark – great teamwork!

6. What is your favourite workout?
• Kilometre repeats.

7. What is your least-favourite workout?

• Ascending distance repeats. Or anything that involves a 500 m repeat – that distance always kills me!

8. What is your favourite indulgence?
• Chocolate.

9. You are a great inspiration to many working parents who are still trying to perform at their best. What/who is your greatest source of inspiration?
• I am so fortunate to have many role models and sources of inspiration. In terms of running a marathon, watching my sister Ali run her first was extremely motivating. Nicole Stevenson, a great friend, mentor, and coach is of course an inspiration; as are the Angels, her talented group of runners.
• In terms of perseverance and commitment, kids are my inspiration. My own because anytime I feel like giving up, I think of what I want to model for them. I want them to see that if you work hard at something you enjoy, there are benefits. In this case, both physical and mental. And, working at Sick Kids, the patients and their families are inspiring. The mental and physical strain of running pales in comparison to what they endure.

Jen in her role at work

Jen in her role at work

10. Any final words of wisdom?

• My Dad always said “If something is worth doing, it is worth doing well” and my Mom always told me “Just do your best and have fun!” If you can strike a balance between these two sentiments and commit to and enjoy hitting the pavement, you will find you are “running well!”

Thanks Jen! Good luck in your next races, and I hope to get out to train with you more often in the future!

Le Slump

I am aware of the fact that I haven’t posted in a while.  The truth is that I have nothing great to write about.  I now realize that I’ve overdone it and am in a bit of an over-training slump.  How did this happen???  I’ve been able to handle this volume and intensity before.  The answer, I now realize reluctantly, is that I am under-recovering.

I need to do a bit less of this:

And a bit more of this:

(yes, he’s mine – and he never feels guilty about sleeping in)

This is a difficult concept to fully embrace when you want results and you’re motivated to work hard.  I realize that I should have planned way more of a recovery block after my marathon in March and my attempted double-peak with the 30K two weeks later.  Instead I just kept pushing and trying to build on my fitness.  What manifested was weeks of so-so training with some days of great runs or workouts which would fool me into believing I was recovered with many days of fatigue and lack-luster workouts in between.  Oh hindsight!

Here is a sample of some of the pages in my training log from the past month:

… you get the idea – there is a definite trend here.

I am obviously not to be trusted to be in charge of my own training schedule.  Oh, I know completely the concept of rest and recovery, and always build it in to training plans I write for others.  I, however, have not been working on a training cycle, rather the concept that I should run as hard and for as long as I can whenever I have the opportunity because my opportunities are so rare.  Clearly this plan is not working.

My planned solution is to hire a coach who can oversee my training cycles and phases.  One thing I do know about myself is that I’m very coach-able.  If it’s written down I tend to do it.    This is what was discouraging me from adhering to a formal plan, as I get very stressed if I can’t fit in something that has been planned.  Running whenever it suits me works for me psychologically, but maybe not as well physically.  So here we go … let’s hope for a more successful fall of racing!

Shoe Review – adidas Boost

I’ve been trying out adidas’ latest technology in their introduction to the Boost running shoe.

The Technology:

The midsole is comprised of thousands of EVA capsules bonded together.  These capsules store and release the energy of a runner’s impact better than any other traditional midsole on the market.  Translation: they make your run feel “bouncy”.

The upper is made out of seam-free supportive materials which hug your foot like a sock providing optimum support with no irritation.

The Claims:

  • The Boost technology provides the elusive ultimate blend of cushioning and responsiveness.  I’ve always thought these two traits were exclusive.  I have my “soft, squishy” shoes which I use for my recovery runs and my “firmer, flatter” shoes which I use for performance efforts such as intervals or tempos.
  • The shoes will last longer than shoes with traditional EVA as the capsules won’t break down as quickly as uniform foam so the shape of the shoe will maintain its integrity over a longer period of time.
  • Unlike traditional EVA the Boost technology does not change in different temperatures (I’ve definitely experienced harder and squishier rides than expected in the extreme cold and hot with other shoes)

For a complete run-down on the technologies and engineering of the Boost check out this video at the unveiling in New York City:

Introduction to the adidas Boost

My Verdict:

  • I’ve used the Boost on treadmill runs, easy recovery runs and intervals.  I loved it for the latter two – on the treadmill it felt a tad squishy as the ‘mill itself has a lot of give and the added cushioning feel left too little firmness under foot.
  • I’ve LOVED them for recovery runs outside when my legs have literally needed a “boost”.  I’ve felt like they’ve brought me back to a par on days when I was flat.
  • I’ve used them for intervals and was surprised to find them as responsive as they were.  When I’m running faster I’m up on my toes more and I’m looking for a firm platform from which to push off.  I found the Boost responsive enough in my longer intervals to suit my purposes.  I might not use them for shorter or more intense intervals on the track (not that I do those much anymore, but if I did…)
  • I like the sock-like upper.  It’s snug and holds my foot perfectly onto the midsole.
  • I think they look cool.  Especially when I’m wearing all black and training in the dark.  I feel like a ninja.

Bottom line: definitely worth trying out and seeing if they’re a good fit for you.  If they fit well and make you feel fast and sleek, I say you can’t go wrong.

Profile – Nicole Stevenson

Nicole Stevenson: Lifetime runner, professional career woman, successful coach, great friend, mentor and role model to many. I wanted to know a little more about how one of our greatest home grown talents got to where she is.  For more information check her out at


5K 15:52

10K 32:29

Half Marathon 1:12:51

Marathon 2:32:56 – fastest female Canadian marathon 2002, 2004

Ironman 10hr 38min – 3:05 marathon at Ironman Brazil, run course record


RW: When and how did you first get into running?

NS: I started running in middle school. My brother Avery who is one year older, was already a successful and popular runner, so I thought I’d give it a try. I wasn’t very good at first, and even quit the cross country team in grade six! Things changed quickly. I showed talent when I went out for track and the rest is history. I was absolutely hooked on running and racing.


RW:  Tell me about your experience training and racing in the US college system.  Was there a lot of pressure to log big miles and produce top results?

NS: I heard about all the pressure put on athletes going to US schools but I didn’t encounter what’s mentioned above. I went to Wake Forest knowing it had a strong team, but the best runners were all 800-1500m runners. I quickly established myself as the top distance runner in cross country. On the track I knew I needed to further develop my speed but I was moved up to longer distances because that’s where the team was weak. So I have a little regret that I never got my top speed developed, but at the same time I can’t complain about free schooling, fantastic race opportunities and a very good education. I am still in touch with my best friends from Wake.


RW:  When you graduated and came back to Canada, what role did running/racing play in your life as you developed your professional career?

NS: When I came home I really noticed the difference between Canadian and US opportunities. In the US I was offered a full academic scholarship to obtain Master’s degree in Biology and was offered a spot to train full time with a couple of American running clubs. Foolishly, I turned down both of these since I was homesick and figured the same opportunities would come my way in Ontario. I was very wrong and became very disheartened at the lack of support compared to the US, both academically and athletically. So I took a full time job and started coaching myself.  My job became more and more important, and only in my late 20’s did I start to realize that my prime running years were slipping by. At that time I started working with Dave Reid and Hugh Cameron as my coaches and found success very quickly. I had a strong running background and aerobic base, I just needed support to put the physical and mental aspects all together to hit fast times.


RW:  When and why did you decide to take it to the next step and train seriously for the Olympics?

NS: After training with coaches for only a year, I was soon convinced that I should move up in distance. So I ran my first marathon in 2002 and was pleasantly surprised at my time: 2:36! Not bad for a rookie (well, kind of rookie, I had run Chicago self-coached in 1999 in 3:12 and ran Boston in 2000 while injured but just for the experience). That time was the fastest in Canada and then I decided to make training a priority and see how far I could go.

I wouldn’t say I ever trained “for” the Olympics. I really trained for myself and those supporting me. The Olympics became a target when I hit the international standard in 2004.


RW:  Tell me a bit about that experience.  What did the training entail mileage-wise?  What was a sample week?  What were some of your toughest workouts?  How did you fit it into “the rest of your life” with balancing work and social life?

NS: My training was not “epic” compared to some of the programs I’ve seen (and have even provided to athletes!) I suffered injuries as a teenager and into my early 20’s and therefore trained a little cautiously, trying to avoid any injuries or setbacks.

Each year I added to my average weekly mileage. Back in 2003 I was running about 100-110km per week and scored 2:36. I moved up to 120-125km per week the following year but didn’t see many gains. In 2004 I advanced to 130-135km per week and managed to get a PB 2:33. I tried to bump up mileage again after that but I’d often build fatigue and have to move back to the 130-135k. I think I have run one week at 100 miles (160km) but couldn’t repeat it – if I wanted to be able to get out of bed each day and keep my job!

For workouts, I would do 1 shorter interval workout per week, 800-1200m repeats, and one longer interval workout that had mile, 2k repeats and sometimes longer. I ran a long run most weekends, minimum 2hr and max 3hr, reducing these just before key races and during recovery phases.

My goal is training was to push myself hard but rarely red-line it. I think this was a safe way to train but it says a lot about how cautious I can be.


RW:  Now you’re quite a successful coach with the Angels group.  Tell me a bit about them.

NS: University of Toronto coach Ross Ristuccia approached me late 2008 when I was finished with my international career. I had hit a bump in the road after 2006 and decided to pursue other avenues, including coaching. At UTTC I worked with the senior female athletes, those who had graduated from UofT but were still training with the club. I was instantly hooked! Working with people to help them achieve their goals quickly became my new fix in life.

In 2011 I started to work independently of UTTC so I could recruit athletes outside of the university. Since then in our group of about 20 women, we have had great success with many 1-2-3 Angels podium finishes at Toronto races. With the Angels group my goal is to help young (23+) athletes reach their potential and to develop elite and international level runners. It has been very rewarding so far for all of us, with support for training and racing and also in careers, families and other life happenings.


RW: How does running fit into your own life now?

NS: I have been living in Montreal for two years while all my running friends and athletes are in Toronto. I definitely have noticed how much motivation comes from hanging out with runners! Some days I find it tough to get out the door because I don’t have the same circle of fitness buffs here, but I have been doing enough to stay fit for my comeback. I’ll return to Toronto this summer and promise to push myself again for the start of my master’s (40+) career.


RW:  What is your favourite workout?

NS: I have two favourite workouts. One is the execution run (sounds intimidating, eh?) which is a long run that includes some tempo, some marathon pace and then some all-out running at the very end.

My favourite interval workout is never-ending 1k repeats. You do as many as you but once your pace starts slowing then you allow yourself just one more…


RW:  What is your favourite race?

NS: I love any race that has good crowds and warm weather! I enjoy the Canada Running Series events for their elite lists and fast courses, but I also enjoy competing in places where I am anonymous and just race my heart out.


RW:  What is your favourite food?

NS: Chocolate almonds and peanut butter sandwiches.


RW:  Any advice for those trying to fit their running into a busy life?

NS: Do what you can and make it fun. Run with friends as much as you can.

Sometimes when you have a busy day you can break up your runs into two short runs, 1 in the morning and 1 after work. Heading out the door for 20-30min is easier for your mind than packing in an hour every day.

Be very aware of how you’re feeling. If you don’t feel like heading out the door, it might be because you don’t have much in the tank that day. Run hard days when you are rested, nourished and hydrated and not when you are feeling tired and stressed out from long days.


RW:  Thanks so much – see you on the roads!!!

NS: Woohooo!

Winter Running Tips

Today was one of the coldest days of the year so far.  I know, we’ve gotten soft with our winters lately, but -24C with the windchill still seems pretty cold to me – whether I’m used to it or not.  SO, what do I do to get out the door on days like this?  A few tips:

  • “Run” an errand.  You probably have to get out the door for something, right?  If you’re going to brave the outside anyway, why not just don your running gear and see if you can add a few miles to and from your destination if needed (I needed to get to the bank today, so used that as my reason to get out the door)
  • Take the pressure off your time and pace.  In freezing conditions and snowy/icy footing, use effort as your guide, not pace.  I had a 5 mile loop in mind today and left my watch at home.
  • If you do have an effort session in the plans, consider hills instead of intervals.  Hills work on strength, so effort based repeats work well and you don’t have to be as concerned with time – you can still get the same quantity in as you do in the warmer weather.  I have hills planned for my workout tomorrow with my dedicated and intrepid group so I went to check out how our hill looks.

This is the top of it – the city has salted a path – yay!  Here’s the middle part:

I tried to take a picture from the bottom to show the 3rd part and the better perspective, but that’s when my phone decided it was too cold to take any more pictures.

  • Bundle up!  Ok, sometimes when I’m feeling particularly wimpy, I tell myself I’m going to overdo it on the clothing so that I don’t have that uncomfortable first 5 minutes of cold before I warm up.  That’s what I did today, but I think I was just overdressed.  I had planned an easy day, so didn’t plan on sweating too much.  If you’re doing a tempo, you should really be too cold when you just start out in order to be comfortable mid-run.  This will also motivate you to run fast!  What I wore today:

That is a pair of running tights, a pair of windpants, two long-sleeved shirts, a jacket, two pairs of gloves (although I took one off later to bundle my poor cold phone at the expense of one hand’s warmth), one scarf and two hats.  I don’t know why I felt I needed two hats – one of them isn’t even a running hat.  As you can see, I don’t worry too much about fashion sense on days like these.

  • Don’t stray too far from home.  If you’re doing a longer run, do a couple of loops which go near (but not right by) your house.  I don’t like running by my house when I’m planning on continuing because it always makes me feel like stopping.  But if you do need to stop and walk for whatever reason when it’s cold, you will lose heat quickly and could find yourself in trouble if you’re too far from home.
  • Enjoy the different sensations from running in the winter – my run today was silent with just the sound of my feet crunching on snow.  Your routes are all new again with different perspective.  The seasons keep it fresh.  I can’t imagine seeing the exact same scenery on my runs for 12 months of the year (ok, maybe people who are forced to run year-round in California aren’t suffering, but let’s try to look on the bright side).  Here was the sun in all it’s blazing glory today:
  • Finally, when you’re getting out and running in this, you deserve a treat.  I ended my run at Starbucks where my phone came back to life, I got a yummy warm drink, and all was well with the world.


Cross Training

A few words about cross-training.  I like it because:

  1. It helps prevent injury by maintaining a balance in your muscular strength
  2. It adds to your overall “functional fitness” and by this I mean, your ability to perform in other activities in life at a higher level, rather than just being really good at running in a straight line
  3. It burns more calories, which, let’s be honest, is never a negative

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that a lot of my everyday activities involve “cross training” (at least I put them in that category).  Sometimes I think “this has GOT to benefit my running somewhere down the line” and other times I think “thank god I’m a runner or I’d never be able to do this!”  Yesterday was a big cross training day for me.

It started with a regular run.  Then I had the kids in the house all afternoon and no car.  The skating rink right beside our house was booked for the day.  No problem.  There’s one a short mile away – UPHILL.  This is what we looked like heading out:

Then we added the chair which my youngest needs to a) skate and b) be pushed on by me when she gets tired of skating after the first 15 minutes.

This is the view from the top of the hill, and honestly, this photo does not do justice to the grade.  It is a long, STEEP hill and I forced the kids to cheer me on from about halfway to the top  (I completely forgot bike helmets until looking at this photo – the skating helmets, knee pads, gloves, 3 pairs of skates, hockey stick and chair made me incorrectly assume we had enough gear).

I probably shouldn’t count as cross-training (but I will) putting on 3 pairs of skates, helmets and shin-guards.  I use the sweat-barometer test, and I was drenched by the time we hit the ice.  Then it was time to actually skate (the main activity).  For the most part they were fine skating on their own, although I was called on for more than the occasional game of tag, and to push the chair “Really Fast”.  Thank goodness Thing 1 took pity on me and helped out by pushing Thing 2 for a while.

After about 45 minutes it was time to head to our local cafe for hot chocolate.  Luckily I’d done this to them, so I could count on some quiet time later at home:

And what did I do with my “Quiet Time” at home?  Cross trained of course!  The one form of “real” cross training I’ve gotten into is Kettlebell.  My husband and I have a set and a routine which takes 35 minutes.  It is INTENSE and really feels like it’s doing a lot based on the endorphin buzz and muscle shakes it produces and the body soreness the next day.  Here’s a picture of our instruments of torture:

They may look pretty, but they’re killer.  We’ll see if they help my running – I’m trying to get them in once-twice a week.

As for how my run went this morning after yesterday’s workouts: let’s just say I’m glad I was finishing off my easy week and didn’t time my 7 mile route.

Now to gear up for a series of 3 build weeks in the freezing temps!  I’m going to try to build to 70 in one of them.  Stay tuned…