My first half and the journey to becoming a runner

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Last Updated on September 14, 2020 by Cory Kawa

Coming into 2020, I was riding an extreme high. I had finished 2019 by running my fastest marathon, finishing with a PB of 3:17 at the Toronto Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon. At 3:17, I wondered if it would be possible to shave off another nine minutes and make a qualifying attempt for Boston in 2020.

Well, 2020 threw a few curveballs, first a broken heel, then COVID, so it looks like I will have to find new ways to challenge myself, such as blogging about my training, my past races, and what I learned along the way.

I will start by looking back at where this all began, the 2012 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon. 

Coming into 2012

I was one year into being a new dad. I was overweight, not eating well, and generally not feeling healthy. I had not run since grade 9 cross county, and with knee pain whenever I attempted to run, I assumed I never could.  

Then one day in early May 2012, I had enough of not feeling well, of making excuses, and decided to set a goal of finishing the Terry Fox 10k, whether that meant running, walking, or crawling to the end.

How I trained 

In the previous years, I had tried to run a handful of times, and every time I did, my knees would ache, leaving me in pain for days at a time. I knew I had to change my approach and come up with a plan.  

The plan was to take a slow and structured approach to my running, which could have met hiring a coach, joining a group, or finding a training plan. With children at home, I chose the route I felt would give me the most flexibility and downloaded the “10k Runner, Couch to 10K Run” app from the Apple app store. Personal motivation aside, this app was the key to my success. As I mentioned before, every time I had tried to run in the past not only would my knees would scream and ache for days, but the idea of getting to any sort of distance seemed incredibly daunting.

What this app taught me was the importance of starting slow with a gradual progression in intensity. In the past, I failed because I did too much too soon. That although my legs had the strength to keep running, my knees did not.  The program also created a slow enough progression that enabled me to stretch out my distances to lengths that would have seemed unachievable only a few weeks earlier.

I apply this same philosophy to my training today, whenever there is a prolonged break, I do not rush back, if I do, I will pay for it. My advice to any new or returning runner is to take it slow, be methodical, and you will find success. 

I started running in May, completing 29km of walking and running and finished June with an additional 75km under my belt. By the end of June, I had completed my first activity with a total of 10km or running and walking, feeling great, and realized that it was now time to put a stretch goal in place. With that, I set my sights on the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon.

From what I remember, by the time July rolled around, I was slowly ramping up my distance from 82km in July, 100km in August, and 125km in September. I did not have much focus, other than just getting the kilomentres. The only thing I do recall doing, would be to play Paint it Black by the Rolling Stones during the last five minutes of any run, and go all out.

Today I run without music since most races don’t allow headphones for safety reasons. Back then, music was the motivating factor of every run. Half the fun of every run I did would be planning out my playlist, where I would perfectly time the music to match the run/walk moments in the couch to 10k app.

Looking back through my Garmin Connect account, what I can see is that in general, I put in a solid three runs a week moving from 8 – 10 – 12 km a run as the summer wore on. In September, I started building in some long runs of 15 – 17 – 17 – 20, before a 16k taper two weeks from race day.

As I neared race day I purchasd my first Garmin. Since that time, I don’t think I have done a single run, bike, swim, without a Garmin by my side.

In case you are wondering if using a Garmin helped me get better? Truth be told probably not, since I don’t train by heart rate or train by speed, but I am a geek for data. It does motivate me to notice trends, such as am I running less, cycling slower, swimming faster, etc. Most importantly, my Garmin keeps me accountable, as there is a sense of pride that comes in seeing the consistent effort I’ve logged over the years.

Race Day

I will run a full report on everything I remember about race day later, but for the Coles notes version, the weather was excellent, I hit my goal by breaking 1:50, despite some terrible cramping in the last 2k that brought me to a near walk it went well.  

The big thing is the experience was amazing, if you are considering your first race, or have never done a premier event, then you must try Scotia or something like it. Since that first race, I have competed in all kinds of events, from small scale running events to large scale triathlons. Experience wise, from start to finish, nothing has ever compared to the two Scotiabank races I finished.



Finishing my first half marathon and hitting my goal time was amazing. The day after race day, I had the runners high and was super motivated to keep going, then three runs and a week later, the motivation disappeared. Looking back, at no point in 2012 did I develop the intrinsic desire and need to be a runner. Instead, I was someone who was running to a goal, and once completed, the motivation disappeared.

It took the purchase of my first real mountain bike two years later and signing up for my first adventure race, Logs Rocks and Steel before I started to develop the habits and desire to have running, and forms of triathlon, a welcome part of my life and my identity. It then took two more years before I began to excel and realize that although I will never age group, I am not that bad.

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