Tamsin McMahon is a true endurance athlete. When I was a rookie intern at the Waterloo Region Record, Tamsin – an award-winning investigative reporter – shocked the newsroom when she announced she was going to quit and take a hike, literally. In the midst of the 2008 recession, Tamsin dropped everything, sold her car, de-cluttered her life, and took six months to hike the Pacific Coast Trail.
It all worked out for her: she met the love of her life, then moved home, and after taking a couple reporting gigs – including stints at the Telegraph-Journal and the National Post – she landed a sweet job at Maclean’s magazine.
All of this, while keeping fit, and making running a regular part of her life. This 34-year-old girl has got it goin’ on. Read on to find out more about how running makes her tick.
What is your day job?
I’m a writer at Maclean’s magazine, mainly for the business section. My official title is Associate Editor.
How long have you been running?
Since around 2005.
How did you get into it?
I had a roommate who was completely fit and a total athlete. She had a running partner who would come to the apartment a lot and the two would go train. I was jealous, frankly. There was a Running Room within walking distance of my place and I signed up for a 5K clinic. I found the clinic was mostly full of people who hated running and would complain the entire time, so I switched to a 10k, which was great for me because most of the people in the clinic actually wanted to be there. My first race was the Beat Beethoven in Kingston in 2005 and then I did a 10k on Wolf Island. It was so exciting to finish my first real race. Then I signed up for a half-marathon clinic. I did a couple of those, actually and finally ran my first (so far only) marathon in 2006 in Chicago.
How many half marathons have you run? What is your personal best? What is your goal?
I’ve run maybe seven or eight half-marathons, if you count Around the Bay, which is a 30km and a 25km off-road trail race. I’ve run one marathon and trained for a second, but injured myself because I tried to train too hard and didn’t stretch enough. I took some time off running after that and just got back into it this past winter, so I was happy that this past half-marathon, the Goodlife Toronto Half-Marathon, on May 6 was my personal best at 1:53:03. I’d like to break 1:50 some day, maybe even hit 1:45. I don’t know if that’s just me dreaming though. I’d like to run another marathon and do it in under 4 hours. I did the last one in 4:08.
Tell me about your big hike of 2009, and your recent 100km hiking challenge.
My big hike of 2009 was an epic. I walked around 4,700 kilometres in six months from the California/Mexico border to British Columbia on the Pacific Crest Trail. It was a lot of fun and a lot of hard work. I met my husband while hiking on the trail. It was more of a lifestyle than a race or a physical challenge, but it was definitely an endurance test. This summer, in mid-July, myself and three teammates did the Oxfam Trailwalker 100km hike. It’s a fundraising race, mostly off-road, through central Ontario. You have to walk/run 100km in 48 hours or less. It was really tough on the feet (blisters!) but it was a lot of fun. If I do it again, I’d like to try to go all through the night and do the 100km in one go.
What advice do you have for people attempting the half for the first time?
My first advice would be to just enjoy yourself and not to worry about your racing time. You’ll finish when you finish and if you have fun that might motivate you to train harder to beat your time for the next race. I’d also say that you should be mindful of the weather as it has a big impact on how you feel on race day and how you perform. For instance, I ran a half-marathon in Waterloo when it was cool and rainy. It was a hard course, hilly, and the runners were forced to run some parts on the gravel shoulder of the road. I ran it in 1:53:56. Maybe a month or so later, I ran another half-marathon in Ottawa. It was a really nice, flat course but it was blazing hot and very humid. I ran it in a few seconds shy of two hours, so I added nearly seven minutes to my time. But that’s life.
With fuelling, I’d recommend trying out different things on your long runs to see how your body adapts to them. Some people can’t tolerate Gatorade, for instance, while other people love it. Some people find those gels to be amazing, but I have a hard time stomaching them. I personally avoid any eggs or dairy on the day of the race because I find it gives me stitches. I love coffee and always drink it before a race because it wakes me up, so if you’re a caffeine addict, don’t assume you should avoid coffee on race day. Test it out on a long run first and see how it goes. For the most recent half, I ran with these candies that you can buy at the Running Room and popped one every few kilometres or so. (It was my little treat!)
How do you get through the final few km?
I like to break down the race mentally into smaller sections, usually based on the kilometre or mile markers. I mentally tell myself to run from one kilometre market to the next and never contemplate the race as an entire 21km route because that can seem so long. When I hit the 18km mark I start counting down (only 3 km to go!) because I find 3km is a short enough distance to motivate me to pick up the pace. I also occupy my time by looking at people in front of me and concentrating on which ones I can pass, which helps keep my mind off how I’m feeling and probably helps me move a bit faster. I push it for the last KM or so and then push it again when the crowds start forming around the finish line. I like sprinting to the finish line because you feel like a real racer!
What inspires you to run?
I find I really need a goal to keep me running and it’s usually a race. I like to pick a race because then I can set a running schedule around the race and it gives me something to work toward. I like to challenge myself and try to beat my personal best, or sometimes pick a goal time and try to reach it. I love running with music. Some songs can really push me to run faster while others help me get lost in my thoughts so that the kilometres just fly by. I like the high of the races. Even though I could never hope to win a race, I still always feel like I accomplished something. Races are big celebrations and everyone gets a medal so no matter how fast or slow you are you feel like you have accomplished something significant.