A transformative time

Running transforms you. It changes you physically, and mentally. Running can cause losses as well as gains and is a catalyst for transformations of many kinds. Running has transformed these three Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend participants. Their stories may be different, but they all share a common thread of gaining a sense of self, a community, and friends. 

A new beginning

Nadya Stewart started running in 2011. She was living in Ottawa at the end of her university career and felt no closer to any of the goals she had set for herself at the beginning of it. In addition, a long-term relationship came to an abrupt end. She felt she really didn’t have control over the things in her life that were most important to her at that time.

That’s where running came in. Stewart didn’t consider herself a “runner” by any means. She ran track in elementary school, and liked it but that was the extent of her running ambitions. Stewart was active on and off in boot camps and gyms but never thought she could RUN. So when she started, that was her only goal. To see if she could. Stewart also didn’t see a lot of people who looked like her running and by the standards of who she DID see running, she definitely didn’t feel like she fit in. 

She began running after work. Many of the friends she’d made during university had left Ottawa and moved back to their hometowns so she really had nothing else to do with her time. Stewart lived in an apartment on a long street and would just run up and down that street whenever she went out. She started to have something that felt good and that she was kind of good at. She continued running once she returned home to Mississauga but as life rolled on running was left by the wayside. 

Once Stewart had her son in 2018, she began to deal with all that comes with being a first time mom, and her anxiety kicked itself into overdrive. Becoming a mother comes with many changes both mentally and physically. Stewart discovered she wasn’t fully prepared for those changes and the toll it would take on her mental health. She also had two pregnancy losses which brought new sets of challenges. Stewart again, felt her life was out of control and turned back to running. It served as a mental health break and a time for herself to reflect. 

These days, she feels her running journey is the best it’s been. Stewart has created an Instagram account dedicated to her running and becoming a part of the running community has taught her so much about running and life. 

Registering for Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend 2022 was a big deal for Stewart in many ways. The last time she was in Ottawa she felt her life was all over the place and didn’t have much direction. To her, running was her biggest accomplishment despite just graduating from university. Since then she has had the opportunity to grow personally and professionally. Completing her first in-person half marathon in Ottawa was a full circle moment for Stewart. A culmination of over a decade of stumbles, triumphs and learning hard lessons that have helped her grow her confidence and bring her to where she is today in running and life. 

When asked, Stewart says her first Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend “was in short… EVERYTHING! I now understand why I was told countless times that this race weekend is a favourite amongst so many runners. It was incredibly amazing and so overwhelming in the best of ways.” 

Stewart is positive every single Ottawa resident was either running, cheering, ringing a cowbell, playing an instrument or volunteering during that weekend. 

“The views, the landmarks, the PEOPLE all made this run so very special to me. A half marathon is a daunting task but when it feels like you have an entire city behind you, cheering you on, it helps.”

Stewart has so much appreciation for and wants to thank all the volunteers in every capacity who helped make this weekend amazing for her and she believes the residents of Ottawa were truly the real MVPs.

Hard work pays off

Sandeep Kancharla was 245 pounds in December 2020 when a  five-year relationship ended. He felt alone and in a lot of pain both emotionally and mentally. Since Kancharla was a new immigrant to Canada at the time, he did not have any friends or family close by to share or talk to. He contracted COVID, almost lost his job and thought of giving up and going back to India. For Kancharla, it did not start with running, it all started with a walk in the park. His walks turned into brisk walks, then slow pace jogs and eventually, one day he ran. Kancharla felt a sense of accomplishment.

Kancharla’s first goal was to finish a 5K in under 30 minutes. He achieved that in one month and then never looked back. Since then he joined the Whitby Running Group (WRG) and ran his first 10 km with them. At that time he was happy with 10 km, but it didn’t stop there. Kancharla pushed and pushed to 15 km, 21 km, 25 km, 30 km and is now running the 32 km distances. His 5k PR is now 21 minutes and has a 1 hr 38 minute PR for the half marathon distance. Kancharla’s goal is to run 5 km in under 18 minutes, a half marathon in under 1 hr 20 minutes and eventually qualify for the Boston Marathon. 

Kancharla has been lucky and has fortunately not had any setbacks on his journey. He has had amazing support from his running buddies Amy, Brandon and Angela who have always supported and helped him choose the best running gear and given him the best advice. 

He feels his running journey has been incredible so far. He took his fitness levels and running pace to a whole new level after he joined the Whitby Running Group. Doing group runs, long runs, speed drills, hill repeats, recovery runs, sharing fitness and running tips and learning from each other. A proper diet, strength training and cross training has helped him quickly boost his endurance and pace.

A few days after Kancharla completed the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront 10km race in 2021, his buddies were talking about the Tartan Ottawa International Marathon. He thought they were joking about running the marathon, but they weren’t. They signed up and so did he. Then Kancharla knew he had some serious targets ahead.

Kancharla aimed to finish the Tartan Ottawa International Marathon, in under 3hr 40 minutes. He crossed the finish line in 3:42 and calls it “an amazing experience”. He felt that the atmosphere on Sunday was simply electrifying. He says he struggled after 32km and if it wasn’t for the cheers of the spectators, he would not have completed the race. He plans to return in 2023 with his running buddies from the Whitby Running Group.

Kancharla feels there are some serious life lessons he has learned from running: how to be consistent, patient, resilient, disciplined, what proper nutrition looks like, and how to be empathetic to his fellow runners. Running has given him not only physical endurance and fitness, but mental well-being and self confidence. It has also given him a sense that if he can do this, he can do a lot of other things that he thought were impossible. He is thankful to his running group, and believes that without them, he probably would not have come this far. 

Kancharla wants other runners to remember how good it feels to successfully complete a run and to keep doing the hard work.

Digging deep

Mayoori Malankov turned to running on and off over the years but her most consistent and intentional stretch started about one year into the pandemic when she felt her body signaled to her that she needed to prioritize movement. Her daily walks slowly turned into short runs and she was reminded of her love of running. It requires her to dig deep, and she loves the feeling of her heart pounding in her chest as a reminder that her body is a whole machine of little miracles that can do hard things!

Malankov’s only goal was to show up and be consistent. She initially did not have a target pace, distance, or race in mind. She just wanted to cement the habit of lacing up and getting out there.

She has learned that life never really goes according to plan, so rather than thinking of disruptive life events as setbacks, Malankov tries to view them as detours. She still gets to her destination, even if it takes a little longer to get there. As a rookie runner, she thinks she has experienced some of the textbook growing pains, like shin splits and an achy knee but thankfully nothing that has stopped her from running. Malankov also has a life outside of running, which can be demanding. For her, sometimes that means skipping runs because she does not have the time or energy. But she believes there is an opportunity to be taken in the detours she has to take as well, which is the opportunity to practice extending grace and compassion inward.

Malankov feels her Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend experience was incredible “I am still processing it all, not to mention that I am officially a half marathoner!” As a new runner, a half marathon was not on her radar this time last year, but when she heard the news that Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend was gearing up to resume in-person racing, she became inspired. “I ran this race in honor of my father and the values that he instilled in me. Kindness, dedication, hard work and a positive outlook, even when the going gets tough.” 

Malankov decided to register for Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend 2022 because it is connected to a significant time and place in her life. 

It was in Ottawa that she last saw her father who drove all the way from Toronto just to drop off home-cooked food to her, giving Malankov one less thing to worry about during the exam season to conclude her first year of law school. She didn’t know that visit would be her final opportunity to tell him how much he meant to her and she feels there’s nothing that could have prepared her for his sudden passing just a few weeks later. 

This was Malankov’s first attempt at a half marathon. Her goal was simply to complete it. For her, everything about the weekend was invigorating. “From picking up my race kit, meeting my fellow Otto’s Ottawa Power Crew Members, and checking out the Health & Fitness Expo, I felt the excitement bubbling in the air and was in awe of how much time and thoughtful planning it must have taken to bring this event to life.”

When she closes her eyes and thinks back to her experience on race day, Malankov is still overwhelmed with the gorgeous views along the course and the hundreds of people who came out to cheer on their family, friends and strangers. “It was a hot day and a tough run for me but I fed off the energy from the crowd and broke out into a big smile every time I saw a clever sign or when I passed the man who brought his entire drum kit onto the lawn to cheer people on! It made me think – isn’t this what we all want? To be seen and to be celebrated? For people to witness our efforts and help us believe in ourselves?”

Malankov began her weekend knowing she had a lot to look forward to. “I walked away with an unforgettable experience, not to mention a gorgeous medal! My only focus and goal for this race was to enjoy myself and to do something special in memory of my father, and I did just that. 

I’m so thankful for my friends and family who made the trek to Ottawa to support me in-person and those cheering in spirit – their ongoing support helped me to stay committed to the course, literally and figuratively. 

I was honoured to be a part of the Otto’s Ottawa Power Crew, I ran with friends and basked in the good vibes of the many people cheering us all on. I think the fact that once my fellow Otto’s Ottawa Power Crew member Nadya and I found each other at the end of the race and both said “We’re doing this again next year!” is testament to a very memorable experience. Thank you and congratulations to the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend organizers and  volunteers”

Through running, Malankov has gained self-confidence, a more well-rounded wellness regimen and most importantly community. She is so grateful for the many running pals she has connected with so far as they are a huge part of her inspiration and motivation.

Thank you to Nadya Stewart, Sandeep Kancharla and Mayoori Malankov for sharing their inspiring stories and updates with us. We can’t wait to see you next year for Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend 2023 on May 27-28!