Runner of the Month: Lorena MacKenzie
Whether you’re a long-time runner, a beginner, or a member of the unconverted, you’ve probably heard a story (or two) about the newbie who was instantly hooked. Once they got started it was impossible to stop. Running became a touchstone for a deeper personal connection to mind and body, with each step their life was subtly and profoundly transformed. To some, it may seem hard to believe but it does happen, it happened to Lorena MacKenzie.
An employee of General Dynamics, a long-time sponsor of the Canada Army Run, Lorena was talked into running her first 5K in 2016.
“I wouldn’t really call it running but I made it across the finish line of the 5K,” Lorena laughs. “I didn’t die so that was awesome. The next year I did the half marathon.”
Since then, she’s run multiple races in Ottawa, and while it may sound like a quick start, it’s the benefits she gets from running that keep her going.
“Running for me is my quiet time, my me time,” she says. “Sometimes it’s about not thinking just grooving to music. I love what running has done for my body but it’s not just the physical impact that I appreciate, it’s the mental impact.”
This doesn’t mean running came naturally to Lorena.
“What’s natural for me is sitting on the couch with Netflix,” says the ex-smoker turned runner. “It’s hard to get up three times a week and run. And on those non-running days it’s hard to cross-train even though you know you need to so that you don’t hurt yourself on those long runs.”
To keep her motivation up, Lorena puts her natural skills as a planner to work and writes everything down in a very obvious place so that she can track her progress and keep herself to account.
“There’s something about writing a plan down, making it visible and seeing it materialize. It’s cathartic,” she says. “I have a seven-foot tall chalkboard and it’s mapped out Monday to Saturday for the next six months, it stares at me every day.”
Then comes the feeling of achieving the unthinkable, as Lorena did when she signed up for all the Saturday races – 2K, 5K and 10K – during the 2019 Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend. She thought that she’d back out of one event by the end of the day, but she ran the 2K and felt amazing, then the 5K, and when the 10K rolled around she knew that she had it in her to complete this personal running challenge.
“I got to race weekend and the atmosphere was just so fantastic,” she says. “Between the runner’s high and my streak of competitiveness against myself I knew I could do it.”
And she’s not alone. More runners are chasing challenges and the one Lorena set for herself at Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend has been branded as the Bytown Challenge. Lorena’s excited to run again, plus this year she’ll receive the challenge’s’s signature medal and t-shirt!
As a novice runner, Lorena gets excited about multi-race running events because they’re framed in a way that is attainable for her.
“It feels like running plus,” she explains. “I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I can run a half marathon, and a marathon feels like a mission to Mars. With the Marathon Relay especially, being able to break it down and be part of something bigger, to be part of a collaboration, that’s huge.”
Lorena is adding to her personal challenges this year by taking on her first out-of-town races. Throughout the season she’ll be taking part in the B.A.A. Distance Medley, an event presented by the Boston Marathon organizers that combines three different races.
Building a Running Community
It’s the bigger picture of running which extends beyond events and into community building that Loren loves
“I’m at a stage in my life where I’m an empty nester, that’s why I joined Women in Defence Security (WiDS),” she says, “I’ve become a huge running advocate because anyone can do it, you just have to have a will to get out and do it, and have fun.”
Lorena has built her Marathon Relay team with this enthusiasm and members from WiDS. While she describes them as a motley crew, all three lead active lifestyles and are huge supporters of women in the workforce. There’s Astrid who is a “phenomenal biker” that has taken up running. Joanna, who used to run in the Navy and is taking up the task again. And Greg, a mental health specialist with the Ontario Provincial Police.
Lorena’s team is proof that running – and a few glasses of wine, she likes to joke – brings people together. “Running is a more common thread between people than I thought,” she says.
That’s how she got onto her latest running initiative: a running assessment. At a holiday party (more wine!), she overheard someone saying he was preparing for the Resolution Run and Lorena piped in with how much she loves running.
“We chatted about that and he mentioned that he was able to grow the distance he could run by changing his stride after a running assessment,” Lorena recalls.
She was so intrigued by the idea that she signed up for her own.
“They videotaped me so I could watch myself, and holy Hannah was that fun!” she says. By watching the video, she and her coach were able to uncover two key things:
- She was wearing the wrong shoe for her body – she needs a neutral one instead of a supportive one, and
- She was taking 160 steps per minute and making her stride longer – taking 180 steps per minute with a shorter stride would be optimal for improving her distance and time.
But running isn’t just about the distance or the time for Lorena, it’s also about getting out and exploring.
“Ottawa is absolutely gorgeous, and I’ve discovered some amazing things that you don’t see from a car,” she explains. “When you’re running, you actually get to see this beautiful city, whether it’s running along the river or along Dow’s lake, through the arboretum or your own neighbourhood. It’s never boring.”
That’s why she recommends this running route which goes a little outside the city to explore the Kanata and Stittsville area. “I love that a good chunk is on the Trans Canada Trail and has some paths built into neighborhoods,” she says.
Wondering how you too can catch the insatiable running bug? Lorena has two pieces of advice for you:
- Just do it. Just put one foot in front of the other.
- You’ll never regret the things you accomplish, but you will regret the things you don’t finish.
Don’t let not running Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend be one of your regrets. Join Lorena in running the Bytown Challenge or sign up for any other race that calls your name.