Feeling Unsteady to Feel Grounded

We all have “ah ha” moments. Sometimes it smacks us right in the face and couldn’t be more obvious, whereas other times this “awakening” is a bit more subtle. My moment came this past weekend at the North Face Endurance Challenge Blue Mountain in Collingwood.

In the days leading up to the trail marathon, I spent a lot of time reflecting on other matters; without going into too much detail, a common thread that I’ve been working on is letting go of always feeling in control. This applies to my work, my parenting style and my relationships. Instead of feeling the need to be in control, I’m working on being ok with feeling unstable. I’m learning to accept that I don’t always need to know what lies ahead, and to have faith that things will work themselves out. I realized that my desire to always seek certainty and predictability was limiting me in many ways. I hadn’t realized until the night before my race that this applied to my running as well.

Normally I race cautiously. I like to run by feel, find my groove and just go. I always hold back a bit, playing it safe. I run with an imaginary yellow bubble around me, shielding myself from my competitors. I’m not usually bothered if someone passes me; after all, they have their pace and I have mine. This approach works well for me, fuelling my passion for trail running rather than getting caught up with the pressure of performance.

As I was journaling in my hotel room the night before the race, I realized that part of my relaxed approach to racing was actually fuelled by fear. The fear of not knowing what type of hills are around the corner; the fear of going out too hard only to bonk; the fear of disappointing myself and others; and the fear of losing the love of running. By racing cautiously, I was in control. I was seeking the familiarity of my reliable running pace, having full confidence that I could sustain the pace. I was reducing the uncertainty, the fear. At the same time, however, this control was limiting my running experience.

I decided it was time to stand up to my fear and to embrace the uncertainty. To even let myself be influenced by my competitors. I started the race with a game plan in mind, knowing that my opportunity to push the pace was between 10-34km. Initial thoughts of “what if I can’t maintain a more aggressive pace for this long?” was replaced with “you don’t know unless you try. You can always slow down if needed” and “take a risk and see what happens”. Half way thru the race, I allowed myself to feel excited about the possibility of beating the boys. Normally men aren’t allowed in my yellow bubble, but this time I thought “wow..it would be really neat to beat the boys”. Although I didn’t know how far back the two lead men were, I leveraged this pressure to keep me going strong and to continue pushing the pace a bit. I got out of my comfort zone and ran instead on shaky ground.

To my surprise, none of this took away the pleasure I always get from racing. I was still in my happy place; I still appreciated the stunning views; and I continued to exchange pleasantries with other runners. But this time, I also felt a different type of excitement, one that was intrinsically driven. It wasn’t just because I had won the entire race (even 15 minutes ahead of the lead man); this excitement would have been there regardless. My winning time was also irrelevant, as it wasn’t about the time on the clock. Rather, this excitement came about from the simple fact that I didn’t let fear stand in my way. That by allowing myself to feel unsteady, I would come out feeling more grounded than ever. A new sense of confidence and satisfaction emerged.

I know that there will be future races that don’t go as well. There will be times that I go out too hard and bonk. At the same time, there will still be races where I won’t want to push myself as hard. In other words, there will still be unknowns, uncertainty and unpredictability. What I do know, however, is that I will be at the start line with a greater level of awareness and self-confidence, making the experience that much more enjoyable.


ok…maybe feeling less grounded here while being body surfed at awards presentation!




Are you in???

Save the Date-2

Next Trail Run Clinic

Jen Faraone Clinic

NEW!!! 5 week series in the heart of Toronto

5 week series-MAY27

How Far Will You Go?


When I tell people that I occasionally drive to Hamilton to do a stair workout, I am usually asked: Are you nuts? Why not just do the Casa Loma or Sunnybrook Stairs? Don’t you have better things to do with time?

 I understand their perplexity; Hamilton is at least an hour drive, usually longer on the way home because of traffic. So why go all that way? Because these are not just any stairs. Locals know them as Kenilworth Stairs. I know them as “the crazy place with 387 stairs”. Three hundred and eighty seven stairs!!!



I first came across these stairs last year while training for a trail race in the French Alpes. I was looking for an alternative hill training workouts while I was nursing a chronic injury. After my first attempt at the stairs, I was hooked. Before explaining the reasons for my obsession, let me describe the workout:

My Stair Workout*

  1. Climb 228 stairs nonstop at a steady pace
  2. Run at a steady pace approximately 600m along the Bruce Trail, while jumping over rocks, roots and a sprinkling of ups and downs
  3. Climb another 159 stairs nonstop at a steady pace (don’t let this lower number excite you; these steps are much steeper!) IMG_4682
  4. At the top, run 50m on the bike path before turning around (in other words, fight every urge to collapse and just keep the legs moving!)
  5. Run down the 159 stairs as fast as possible (without tripping)
  6. Run at a steady pace once again for 600m along Bruce Trail
  7. Run down the remaining 228 stairs as fast as possible (without tripping)
  8. Stop for few seconds, take water, Gulp!
  9. Repeat the cycle as many times as possible in the hour!

*ideally, each step should be done one after the other without any pauses

It goes without saying that this workout is tough! My quads are screaming, my butt is begging for mercy and I’m tired!! So why do I love this workout so much? What makes it so addictive?

First off, I love the training benefits that I reap from this workout, while minimizing the amount of stress to my body. I’m developing wicked strength, power and endurance to my lower body. I’m increasing the threshold at which my body can perform. I’m teaching my body to adapt to multiple demands in a workout. However, the impact to my body is slightly different (compared to hill repeats) and my injury-prone body responds well.

Second, I love that this workout makes me more tough, more resilient. I’m an accomplished athlete and I can run fast, but I’m the first to admit that I like to operate in my comfort zone. This workout is getting me out of my comfort zone. When my legs are screaming for me to stop, I tell my legs to shut up and I keep going. When I run the section along the trail that’s a bit tricky, I try to run a bit faster each time. When I’m quickly running down the stairs and praying that I don’t fall, I try to hold onto the railing with less of a grip.

Despite the above, there is something relaxing about this workout. The repetitive nature of this workout allows me to go into this auto-pilot mode and I just go-go-go. Although I’m not completely “checked-out” as I might otherwise be during an easy trail run, there is part of my brain that shuts off.

And it is for these 3 reasons why I love doing this workout periodically throughout the season. The long commute to get to/from the stairs is worth it for me. How far will you go for a kick-ass workout?

Trail Run Clinics 2016


With the snow melting away and the mud in the trails quickly accumulating, now is the perfect time to start getting ready for 2016 season! Join me on a variety of trail running clinics, something for everyone.


April 16-Terra Cotta Conservation Park (5 Peaks Race April 30)

Great opportunity for a little refresher on trail run technique and/or simply get your feet wet (and dirty) before the first race of the season. 9:30-12:00

Cost: $20

 June 11-Kortright Centre (5Peaks Race September 10)

Hosted by Kortright Centre, this is an excellent venue for those wanting to give trail running a try. 9:30-12:00

Payment and registration directly to Kortright. http://www.kortright.org/whats-on/

July (date to be finalized)-Salomon Store (shops at Don Mills Toronto)

9:30-12:00. More details to be provided soon.

June 18-Rattlesnake Conservation Park (5 Peaks race June25) 


 Part 1 9:00-11:30

One of the most popular trail running scenes in the GTA, this course offers perfect terrain to hone in on your technique, especially hills! Or come see for yourself why this is one of 5Peaks most popular venues.

 Part 2 12:00-2:30

Learn even more about trail running, including how to enhance your training with specific strength training, key workouts and nutrition. Option to add in an extra run afterwards with Jennifer.

Cost: $20 for either Part 1 or 2; $35 for both



Advanced registration & payment is required. Bring a friend and your name will be entered in draw prize. Email me at runningthetrails@yahoo.ca to register  


Finding My Way In Going Long

So when are you going to run a marathon?

Although one of the most commonly asked questions, its words have haunted me! For years, I’ve been asked over and over again when I was going to run a marathon. And time and time again, I would explain that I simply wasn’t interested in running the distance. Physically, I found it hard on my injury-prone body. I actually tried training for a marathon 3 times—but each time I would get injured (disclaimer: looking back, I’m sure that I could have done things differently to avoid injury). Emotionally, I wasn’t very motivated and I worried that I would get bored on the long runs. I liked capping my long runs at 1h30min! Still, it felt like there was this looming unspoken expectation that I should be running longer.

But then at the end of 2014 I had a medical episode that forced me to back-off completely from training. As I started to heal, I found that I could tolerate longer workouts so long as I kept the intensity easy. So I started training longer. And longer. And all on the trails. Before I knew it, I was running for 2h+ most weeks. My long run capped at 3h:45min. I ran a 37K trail race in the French Alpes (which took 5h30min due to the CRAZY elevation) followed by a 50K trail race in NY State (which had me running for just over 5H, due to the crazy but oh-so-fun hills). And I absolutely LOVED IT ALL!!!


All smiles after winning Virgil Crest 50k

So what caused this sudden transformation? First of all, I discovered that my body could handle a larger training volume – distance and intensity, by incorporating trail running. The softer terrain, in comparison to the road or pavement, as well as the ever-changing direction and elevation of the trails, bode well for my body. Second, the time-off forced me to change my training habits and my expectations. Unlike when I was training for my first marathon, where I was gunning for a fast time, my goal this time was to simply finish the race. Plus, I had no choice but to keep the intensity easy, otherwise my symptoms would flare up. Combined, this removed any pressure and made my training much more relaxed, enjoyable and less stressful. I didn’t worry about nailing a certain pace for a particular run; my main consideration was to gradually build the amount of time on my feet regardless of the distance covered (disclaimer: training approach for ultra trail race is slightly different than training for road race). I never monitored my pace, distance or heart rate—in this sense, I was totally carefree! I simply went back to the basics of listening to what my body was telling me and adjusting my run accordingly. Finally, there is the element of timing – I believe that I simply wasn’t ready to run longer prior to now. My mind knew that, and my body was trying to tell me that as well. Trying to force something that you are simply not ready for only ends in disappointment.

To my surprise, I wasn’t bored with the long, solitude runs. I rediscovered a new love and passion for running by embracing the slower pace and longer distance. My weekly long runs became therapeutic and meditative for me. And the two ultra races I did were the perfect distance – I never reached that dark lonely place where I would ask myself “why am I doing this”? Instead, I embraced every KM of the race with a smile on my face.

Its now been a few months since I’ve ran beyond 1h30min..and I’m definitely feeling the itch to go longer again. And I’m starting to plan for my next 50K races. Will I ever run a marathon on the road? At this point, my best guess is “not likely”—except perhaps when I run an Ironman! But who knows, perhaps next year I will be motivated to train again for shorter distances. But at the end of the day, the distance covered is not what’s distinguishes me as a runner. There is NO underlying and unspoken expectation that running longer is better. What makes me a runner, just like all of the athletes I coach or train with is the dedication and commitment that we put into it, and the joy that we derive from it! So whether you are training for a 5K, 10K, 21.1K or marathon this season, road or trail, remember to let your passion, and not your expectations, fuel your runs!


We should all celebrate our victories!