Every other Tuesday, Svveat Stories brings you Svveatspiration: an inspiring series of first-person narratives from our fitness community’s unsung heroes. This week, Dutch runner Merel van der Wouden opens up about deciding to tackle her first marathon on a whim, and how Toronto’s fitness community welcomed her with open arms.

In the winter of 2014, my boyfriend, Robin, and I were in a local coffee shop when an article about the Rotterdam Marathon caught our attention. Even though I had quit my track and field/heptathlon career 11 years before and Robin only played soccer, we got really excited thinking about the possibility of running a marathon. We were up for a new challenge and decided to register even though the race was a mere four months away.

Nike Home Run
Robin and Merel (front row, centre) at their last Nike+ Toronto Run Club meetup before moving back home.
Photo courtesy Nike Toronto, by Tobias Wang

At that point, seven kilometres was my longest run ever, so I trained my butt off. Painful long runs and injuries were all a part of the “plan.” I don’t remember much from the last four kilometres of the marathon, but I do remember the feeling of crossing that finish line—it’s indescribable!

To be honest, I wouldn’t recommend running a marathon with such a short period of training like I did, but I’ve learned a lot about how not to train for a marathon.

Adidas Runners Toronto interval session
Merel at an Adidas Runners Toronto interval session

Two years ago, the two of us moved to Toronto. Little did we know that this city and its running community would change our lives.

When we moved to Toronto we were surprised by the amount of free fitness the city has to offer. I still remember the first time I went to the Nike+ Run Club (NRC). The coaches, the pacers and the community made me feel like part of the club immediately.

Manic Run Club soon became our Saturday morning ritual with friends, and in February 2016 I joined Pace & Mind for its customized coaching. Shortly after joining and experiencing all the benefits of great coaching, the PBs started to come. One year later, Adidas Runners Toronto was born and a lot of my friends became Run Leaders, so I started to join their Tuesday night interval sessions.

2016 Pride & Remembrance Run
Merel running the 2016 Pride & Remembrance Run

Inspired by all the amazing runners in the Toronto community, I ran two more marathons: Toronto and Chicago. My Chicago Marathon even made me a “Boston qualifier.” Before moving to North America, I had never heard of a “BQ,” but I’m happy that I will be running my first Boston Marathon in 2018.

From running the 5K Pride & Remembrance Run in Toronto and the Toronto Beer Mile (I don’t even drink beer) to a 10K in Ottawa, a marathon in Chicago and cheering my friends on at the Boston Marathon, it has all been an incredible experience.

Chicago Marathon
Merel running the 2016 Chicago Marathon

If you’re a new runner, an elite runner or anything in between, there is a group for you in Toronto. Running in a group is so much fun and it helps you to push yourself just a little bit more. One of the greatest benefits of being part of a running community—besides the friendships, inspiration and support—is the knowledge of the group. I now better understand the importance of cross-training and strength training.

I feel lucky to have met so many great people who have inspired me during the past two years. Thank you to the entire Toronto running community! I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been so happy and healthy without you.

Keep up with Merel’s fitness adventures abroad by following her on Instagram @merel_blackbird.

Check out Svveat’s run club listings to find a group to call your own.

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