While sports was never a priority for Pace & Mind runner Damara Nickerson, when she picked up a pair of running shoes, she went from zero to qualifying for Boston in only a couple of years. Neither crazy work schedule or career pursuit is stopping her to commit to the sport. Here she talks to us about her running philosophy, dedication to training and love for the #RunTO community.
Kim: When did you start running?
In my mid to late-20s I did a few fun runs, like charity-type runs and maybe one run every other week. It wasn’t until 2013 that I made a conscious decision to start training and have a goal race. That was the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon (#STWM).
I trained for the half and I followed a clinic style program from a local running store and info from a book I picked up. I kind of took the two approaches and formulated something that would fit my schedule. If anything, I didn’t know what I was doing. I just mixed and matched the two programs. When I ran the half marathon, it was such an amazing experience. It was my first race day ever. I loved the festivities and I loved running through all the neighbourhoods.
“The great thing about Scotiabank is that your name is on your bib…”
so as you run down the streets of Toronto, people cheer you on and you kind of feel like a celebrity! There was a memorable moment at one point during the race, at the end of Bay Street when the half marathoners went left to finish and the marathoners continued straight. There was a part of me that kind of wished I was continuing on that journey too! So I did another half marathon the following spring (Niagara Falls Women’s half) and about a week after that I signed up for my first full. I went really far, really fast! And the thing about my athletic history is that it’s non-existent! I was never involved in any sports as a student. So really, I didn’t pick up a sport until I was 31.
Kim: Why did you join a team?
During the spring of 2014 leading up to my second half-marathon, I became active in the running community through Twitter. There were a few people that started inviting me out to different runs: Parkdale, Night Terrors, Tribe Fitness. They were all asking me “Why don’t you come out?” I tried a few different groups and had a great time.
“Running is a different experience once you start connecting with other runners.”
That summer I fell into Night Terrors; their running style at the time meshed with mine. They motivated me to go the distance, go to the full.
In September, my training was going really well, and seasoned runners were noticing that I was picking up quickly. They asked me if I’d ever thought of going for a ‘BQ.’ And I was like, what’s a BQ? They told me about this new group in Toronto [Pace & Mind], saying that their coach was legit and that I should check them out. So towards the end of September, I connected with Coach Rejean and told him that I’d never run a marathon before, but that I wanted to go home the following spring and run the Blue Nose in Nova Scotia and BQ. He was initially apprehensive and said I should just see how the first one goes. I was really honest with him; I told him that I didn’t have running experience, I didn’t have the foundation, but I was willing to make a commitment and do the work. His response was that this was all he could ask for from his runners, and we started training together about a month after that.
Kim: You are a very committed runner. Where does this come from?
I’m a nurse. Specifically, I’m a palliative and oncology nurse, so I work with patients on a daily basis who are facing their own mortality. I see a lot of strength, I see a lot of character.
“I see people in their darkest moments.”
I see people coming together, but then I see some people experience great loneliness and suffering. So when you are faced with dealing with these experiences and connecting with these people on a regular basis, it affects your outlook on life.
So I guess in some ways, it’s always pushed me to commit to the quality of life, the hard work, the journey. There is a quote I love by Diana Nyad – she is the first woman to swim unassisted from Florida to Cuba at age 64 – she said during her TED talk:
“What are we going to do as we go forward to have no regrets looking back?”
I thought that was pretty poignant. So thinking about all these things is what’s driven me to push hard, go for for my goals while learning to value my life and my health.
Before I started running, I remember having this moment at work where I realised, “I don’t eat properly. I don’t exercise regularly. I’m banking on genes and youth to get me through life right now.” And that sounded silly. You never know what the future has in store for you. You never know, day to day, month to month, year to year, what’s going to happen to your life.
“Taking your health for granted is disrespectful to the people who don’t have that option.”
The patients I work with, they’ve had cancer diagnoses, some have had terminal cancer diagnoses and they don’t have the health that I do. So why don’t I respect that and cherish that and do what I can to strengthening my body, because that makes me a better person – not just for myself, but for others. I believe that taking care of my health makes me a better person and I also hope it makes me a better nurse. Because, at the end of the day, running is one of my passions, but being a nurse is my greatest passion and I want to do well by my patients.
Kim: Your schedule as a nurse is all over the place, how do you find time to train?
I don’t make running an option. If I want this goal, then I have to do A, B, C, to get there. I remember some days last winter, the sun was shining, the weather was beautiful and, yes, it was great to go for that run. But then there would be some days where I just finished an evening shift, I didn’t get a break, I was hungry, I was tired and I had to run 32km home and it was midnight, it was -20 and the roads were slippery. But I made a commitment. And it can be more efficient – sometimes it’s faster to commute home running than taking the TTC!
Kim: Since you run on your own, do you still feel connected to the running community?
During my summer running with Night Terrors, there was a lot of camaraderie. I really looked forward to our Monday night, Thursday night and Saturday morning runs. But now I’ve kind of had to step away from that just to reach my own personal goal. I had to take an individual path. So the way I’ve stayed in the running community is through Instagram (@damarathoner). I love the #RunTO Instagram community. I know everything that’s going on! And when I see the same people online at a race, maybe I’ve only met them 2 or 3 times in real life, but it’s like we’ve been friends for months and it’s a reunion!
Kim: How would you describe the running community in Toronto?
It’s filled with many different visions, and many different inspiring people. And I give these people kudos because they take time out of their lives to create communities for people to feel welcomed and included, for people to come out and exercise and enjoy the city. Some groups are more about pace, about socials, about brunch, but overall it’s just a lot of positive people pushing each other to do their best.
Some days I’ll go on my Instagram and see that Kenny or Andrew or Kim already did their runs so I better go out and do mine. It motivates me to go. I find a lot of inspiration through that, from our stories. For example, Mike Post had an injury and it’s been inspiring to see him find his way back. I don’t know any professional runners. I could not name one Olympic athlete at the moment. They are not who I follow; they are not the people who I draw inspiration from. It’s people in our own community that inspire me to run. And it’s not necessarily people who are dropping PBs every week. It’s the people that are doing the work. I mean if they are doing the work, then I can too!
Kim: What is your most memorable moment at a race?
It was nice to run the Blue Nose Marathon back home. I bought my parents Pace & Mind toques and it was a great opportunity to bring them into my new world. When I moved away from Nova Scotia, I wasn’t a runner. I wasn’t an athlete. Then, in the span of two years, whenever they’d call I’d never be home. Whenever they’d ask me where I’ve been, I was usually out for a run! So to include them and let them see what I’d been up to, was very special.
Kim: Do you want to run for a long time, or are you done after Boston?
Yes, this is a new lifestyle. I have long term plans for running; I want to be one of those people who still runs in her 50s and 60s…health permitting, of course. I know that now because last fall I switched to a part-time position at work to pursue my studies, and I made a commitment to academia. To do this I quit training and was barely putting in any kms. I could feel the difference in my body, in my emotions. My stress level increased. It was a mistake. Last December, at the end of the semester, I was at a RunToBeer event, and Réjean and Nathan (Pace & Mind Co-founders) were there. After a few beers, I talked to them about how much I loved running and they urged me to come back. I came back with a new Coach (Nathan) and a new philosophy. Now I don’t fixate necessarily on dropping ‘PBs’, but I focus on how to bring running and training back into my life in a way that compliments everything else that’s going on.
“I found my balance again.”
Kim: Do you have any advice for beginner runners?
I’ll answer that hesitantly because I am relatively new to running. I guess my greatest piece of advice would be to…
“train with your brain and race your pace.”
These are lessons that were handed down to me from other runners. And what that phrase kind of means is what works for me and my body and my goals might not necessarily be what’s right for you. For example, I don’t stretch, I don’t cross train… I don’t recommend that! That’s what’s working for me right now and maybe my tune will change down the road. Also when you are running with other people and training with other people, just because they are laying down a certain pace, doesn’t mean that you should feel obligated to keep up. Listen to your body and find a path that works for you. Don’t be a hero! If you feel a little tweak, don’t ignore it. If your body is experiencing pain, you should listen to it. There is a difference between running through discomfort and running with pain. There is always going to be an element of discomfort, but there really shouldn’t be pain. So just be honest about your training. As soon as I feel a tweak, I back off, I slow down, and I message my coach.
About Kim Bergeron, Writer
Kim Bergeron – Kim started running during the harsh winters of Quebec City to clear her mind from complex law studies. Her hobby evolved to a passion when she started racing in Toronto in 2012; progressing from a half-marathon to marathon. She loves meeting runners and discovering their motivation and passion for the sport. She writes about all things running atpaceandmind.com. Follow her on instagram at: @kiminphotos.
About Koray Salih, Photographer
Koray Salih – Koray’s passion of running and photography are a match made in heaven. He spends race day either running, or capturing the essence of elites driving hard, teammates and friends achieving goals and family and friends celebrating. You’ll find him in one of those places. You can follow Koray’s adventures on Instagram @coreofyoureye or koraysalih.com
Pace & Mind is an advanced ‘tough love’ coaching service for distance runners. We offer advanced and highly customized 5k, 10k, half-marathon and marathon coaching for runners to improve their performance both on and off the road. Our coaching is based on the principles founded by Head Coach and Co-founder Rejean Chiasson, a Canadian marathon champion, 4x half-marathon medalist and NIKE+ NRC Coach. He is supported by our Online Run Coach, Kate Van Buskirk, an internationally accomplished track and field athlete, bronze medalist at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and Brooks Elite Ambassador. Unlike traditional ‘cookie-cutter’ or ‘clinic’ approaches to coaching, our Coaches first assesses, then customizes each runner’s training program based on:
INDIVIDUALITY * PROGRESSION * RECOVERY * MOTIVATION * COMMITMENT * COMMUNITY
Coaching programs are powered by TrainingPeaks software to ensure data accuracy. No runner’s program is the same and it constantly changes season by season, cycle by cycle. Our Coaches review your plan in detail each week, then adjust based on your progression and listens to you in terms of changes in nutrition, mental state and cross training efforts. Each runner also receives a cross-training plan and a racing singlet as part of the program.
You have one life to live. Run for your life