My name is Paulina Maher and I’m an Account Executive at a downtown marketing agency.
Runners joke and say “running is my life.” Well, for me it’s no joke, it truly is. At my agency, Nike Running Canada is my client and I manage Nike+ Run Club Toronto. So seriously, when I’m not doing my own running, I’m talking about how to get other people inspired to run.
Why did you start to run?
I may be biased, but I personally believe running is the greatest sport in the world. It’s so accessible and such a metaphor for life. It has taught me a tremendous amount of life lessons since starting 15 years ago.
Yup, I was a wee baby (9 years old) when I got into running. Being the little sister I am, when my older sister’s soccer was doing a 5K race, I begged to join. I was always a soccer player and loved midfield because I could just run the line to get the ball. Remove the ball, and I still ran my little heart out.
Whenever I get tired in races now, I like to channel the runner I was back then. I had no concept of pace. I had no idea what K markers meant. I just ran. And smiled. And waved to people. And I loved it. I was a free spirit running fast. I loved the idea that in running I had control over everything. I didn’t have to wait to be passed the soccer ball, I just went. So I kept running.
After a few years of having fun & running, I realized the potential I had as a track athlete, so I quit my rep soccer team, joined a local Track & Field club and buckled down.
Fast forward to now, and I could not be more happy with my sport of choice. I have been privileged enough to compete at a very high level. I earned a few National medals, OUA titles & a spot on the track at the Olympic Trials 8 years ago (with a broken arm). I competed in OFSAA 8 times, OUAs 7 times & CIS 5 times. I got to be the Distance Captain at the greatest school in Canada, the University of Toronto, and be a proud Varsity Blue where I’ve made some lifelong friends & met my wonderful boyfriend.
Upon graduation, a track athlete is faced with a challenging choice. To keep going or not? Track takes a lot of time. With physio, weights & intervals, you’re looking at 6 hours of training a day. For me, I loved the sport, but I also loved the idea of advancing my career. So, I had a tearful goodbye to the track and took on the new challenge of road racing. I joined Nicole Stevenson’s Angels, an incredibly talented group of hard working and strong women who are kick ass, fast and BUSY. We train whenever we can, even if that means 5am intervals to get it done. I am blessed to be surrounded by supportive women who have so much going on but can still manage to train at an elite level. And as an aside, Nicole Stevenson is one of the most gifted runners I have ever met. She is pure grit, guts and speed. As a young runner, I looked up to her and wished to be as fast as her. I am so fortunate to be coached by a woman who has had the running career she has (she’s a 2:32 marathoner & the 2002 and 2004 Canadian Champion to name some of her credentials).
When I’m not with my SPR Angels, I’m running with the Nike+ Run Club Toronto, where I’m referred to as Race Mom. My job allows me to manage the programming, the fantastic Pacers & thoughtful Coaches that inspire the Toronto running community and I take on a very maternal role with my team and every runner that comes to run with us. It’s a wonderful community where everyone inspires one another and encourages one another to be the best runner they can be, and I could not be more proud of that and the work I do. As mentioned before, everyone is a runner, it’s just helping them get to be the runner they want to be.
What has been your biggest accomplishment in running?
What I love about the human body is once you find that thing, that one meaning to give to your run, you are invincible. For me, the moment where I realized I could truly do anything if I put my mind to it was during an NCAA cross country meet in Chicago in 3rd year. I fly in for the race on a redeye after a final exam and slept for 2 hours. It was hailing and insanely windy and awful conditions. Cross country starts are gritty races- line 500 people straight across and tell them to all cut in 50m later running at full speed. Elbows out!
The gun went off, I got hit hard, fell, had a spike dig into my leg and I just wanted to lie there. But I didn’t. I got up. I was bleeding & it hurt. The race had us do 2K on wet sand before running up a ski hill. Twice. Between the throbbing of my puncture wound and the pure fatigue I couldn’t even focus. I just wanted it to all be over. But I realized I signed up for this. A switch went off and I dug deep. When I crossed the line I wanted to cry, puke, sleep, clean up my leg but instead I just jumped into my teammates arms. It was the best race of my cross country career. And it hurt the most.
What has running taught you?
This race is a metaphor for life. Sometimes, it’s going to be rough. It’s going to be messy. You’re going to want to lie down and cry. But the greatest triumphs happen once you find reason to keep going and push through the tough times. It’s nice at the end. In Chicago, I finished the race and had deep dish pizza.
Why do you continue to run?
A lot of people ask me why I still run; “Paulina you work such long days, what’s the point of getting up at 4:30am to just run, why do you do it?” Well, simply because I can.
In my life, I have lost many family members to illness. To see loved ones suffer and be so inhibited, it reminds me how fortunate I am to be able to walk, run, live.
A final thought on running
The pain I endure in a race is a frivolous discomfort I put upon myself in order to be the best runner I can be. Before every single race, I write the initials of my angels on my hand instead of race splits and put a quote I made for myself years ago on my arm; “When my legs hurt and I want to quit, I stop running for me and run for you.”
It’s a constant reminder to run with a purpose. Every athlete should find what fuels their fire. For me, it’s to run for those who can’t, because I can.
So everyone pick up your shoes and just go run.
Why do I run? Simply because I can.