Many people in the Saint John running community will recognize the person in today’s profile – Brenda Guitard. Originally, we asked a few questions and Brenda suggested we weave them into a story. But she’s done such an awesome job of detailing her career, her words are perfect.
Here is today’s Running Whys for the Marathon by the Sea, which takes place Aug 12-14 in Saint John.
Brenda in the 2013 Boston Marathon, turning onto Bolyston Street toward the finish line
I was born and raised in Saint John. After graduating from University, I moved to Northern Ontario, where I taught high school for 18 years. In 2008, I returned to Saint John, supply teaching and working at the Running Room. For the last four years, I have been teaching physical education in elementary school – One year at Sussex Elementary School before moving Belleisle Elementary School, where I am in my third year. I continue to work at the Running Room part-time.
In addition, I have also instructed the half and full marathon clinics at the Running Room for the last eight years.
I have been running almost my whole life, beginning in elementary school. Running has always been fun, whether it was a competition, for another sport, or just playing. When I was in elementary school, we had cross country meets at Lily Lake in the fall and we had weekly track meets at the UNBSJ Field House throughout the winter.
I ran purely because it was fun. We had a teacher at Bayview Elementary School (the site of the new addition of the Loch Lomond Villa), Mrs. James, who set up a run club at our school and would often organize races and practices around the school. Eight laps around the school equalled a mile. Sometimes I ran eight laps, other times I wanted to see if I could keep going and would complete 16 laps.
When I started running competitively, I usually placed in the middle or sometimes even at the back. By my last year of elementary school, I started winning races, the competitiveness stuck and I was hooked. In those days, almost all students went home for lunch. Once the bell rang for lunch, I would run home. I was always trying to see if I could run home faster every day. It was me against the clock.
Throughout middle and high school, I continued to run cross country and track and field, as well as participate in other sports – basketball, badminton, field hockey, and softball. I played field hockey for UNB for five years, and our team went to the national championship my first four years. I also ran on the UNB cross country team for one year, also participating in the national championship in 1985.
1985 was also Canada Summer Games in Saint John and I participated as part of the NB Field Hockey Team. When I wasn’t running competitively, I was running to keep up my fitness level for other sports.
Once I started working, running took a bit of a back seat. I ran when I felt like it and when I could fit it in, but it wasn’t consistent. I wasn’t playing competitive sports, so didn’t need to train. I had been playing competitive sports for so long, I didn’t quite know how to run just for fun anymore.
Needing something to strive for and a reason to make running more consistent, I decided to take on the half marathon. I ran my first half marathon in 1998 in Toronto, repeated the same half marathon in 1999 and followed that with my first marathon in 2000, also in Toronto.
It was hard. I was tired, sore, bored from running so long and so far, and told myself I could cross the marathon off my “bucket list”. Five minutes after crossing the finish line, I could think of dozens of ways to improve my performance. I also ran a Boston Qualifying time in my first marathon. I shrugged it off, thinking I would probably never go to Boston anyways.
A year later, I was back in Toronto, looking to run another marathon and qualifying for Boston. I did and I was off to Boston for the first time in 2002.
Since that first half marathon in 1998, I have run 50 half marathons, including many Marathon By The Sea half marathons, 26 full marathons, 10 of them being the Boston Marathon, and countless 5 km and 10 km races. I ran my 10th Boston Marathon on April 18th.
I have run the Marathon By The Sea marathon three times, winning the event in 2009 and finishing second in 2010.
I enjoy running in Marathon By The Sea because it is the main event in my hometown. We also have the opportunity to run over the Harbour Bridge. I will be participating in many races throughout the year and will race some, run some for fun, and will pace some friends in other events. Staying healthy and injury free would be a great goal for 2016, so that I can continue to enjoy running.
A few of my most memorable runs have been:
• Boston because of its history, the crowds cheering all the runners, the energy of the city, and it’s where I have run my fastest marathons, with a 3:11 finish in 2013. This was probably my most memorable marathon because I had taken nine minutes off my best marathon time. After the bombings, there was certainly no celebration, but as time goes on, I appreciate how I was able to run that day and how effortless it felt. I look at the positive things that happened that day.
I feel very fortunate to be able to run the Boston Marathon multiple times. Many people spend years trying to qualify, so I appreciate every step I take along the marathon route and spend some of the running time thinking of everyone who has helped and supported me to make it to the start line.
• Disney – I have participated in the “Goofy Challenge” three times (half marathon on Saturday, full marathon on Sunday) and the “Dopey Challenge” in its inaugural year 2014 (5 km on Thursday, 10 km on Friday, half marathon on Saturday, full marathon on Sunday). This is a great event because I have been able to take my mother and my sister to experience Disney for the first time. I have been able to travel with some great friends! On marathon Sunday, I always carry my phone or a camera and set a goal to take pictures of every Disney character on the course.
• Marathon By the Sea 2009 because it the one time I have won a marathon.
Until I moved back to Saint John, I always trained on my own. Even when I returned every summer to visit family and run at Marathon By The Sea, I trained on my own, usually running at the Irving Nature Park. Once I moved back home and became a Running Room instructor, I have run with the clinic participants and our weekly Wednesday night and Sunday morning Run Clubs.
Running with a group certainly makes running a lot of fun. There are other runners to talk to on long runs – or moan and complain with when it is too cold, too hot, too windy, a blizzard, etc. Running with a group can help runners challenge themselves and push others to keep improving. The running group has helped me complete many of my long runs and provides endless support and encouragement.
We spend a lot of time running along Harbour Passage during the week, but we try to change our routes on Sundays so we run different elevations and see different scenery. Our most popular routes have been running from uptown to Pumpkin Patch on the west side, running around Milledgeville, and running around Rockwood Park.
I also run on my own. When I am training for something such as Boston, I do a lot of tempo runs and interval training on my own. During the late spring, summer, and early fall, there is a group that meets at UNBSJ on Tuesday evenings for track workouts. These workouts are led by Daryl Steeves, one of our local coaches. Daryl is extremely knowledgeable, very motivating, inspirational and makes his workouts lots of fun. Daryl also deserves credit for many of my best races, as he designs my training programs.
One of the best things about running is that anyone can participate. It doesn’t matter how young or how old you are, how tall or short, how big or small. Everyone is cheered, regardless of ability and where they finish. Everyone is congratulated after a training run or after a personal accomplishment – running a PB, running a new distance, running in a race, … It’s a very inclusive sport.
It also doesn’t matter if you haven’t run since you were a kid. Many adults may be reluctant to start running because of their body shape, or don’t feel confident enough to start running with a group, or don’t think they will be successful. But once someone starts running, they will see it can be easy. There may be some rough patches, but stick with it and running can be very rewarding. Going to a race is almost like a social event. We all get to know each other and see each other at many different events. Runners even cheer for other runners during an event. That’s not something you see in other activities.
I am very happy to be part of the running community in Saint John. I enjoy helping others reach their running goals and seeing their success. I have made so many great friends through running.
I am looking forward to running in the 2016 Port City Challenge and running, as the name implies, the “Challenging” half marathon course. This may be a tough course, but the half and full-marathon runners have the chance to run across the Harbour Bridge and there are some very nice views along the course.
We don’t know what the future holds for us, but I am sure, for me, there will be some running involved.