Runner Stories

#WhyIRun: Tara Lee

Written by Katie

Name: Tara Lee
Hometown: Thunder Bay, Ontario
Occupation: Chef at the Bar Hop
Where I call home now: Toronto, Ontario
Running Crew(s): Food Runners, Nike Run Club


My husband, Dave, and I have lived in Toronto almost 8 years now, and before that we lived in St. Catharine’s. That’s where he’s from, that’s where we met, and that’s where I went to culinary school and started my career in the hospitality industry. That feels like forever ago now!

I’ve been cooking professionally for about 13 years now and I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked in some amazing kitchens and travelled to some amazing places. That being said, it has not come without it’s fair share of challenges. There are long hours, pretty hot working conditions, and a wide range of personalities to navigate….that’s all before the customers are allowed in. No two days are ever the same, so each week I take a look at what my training plan has in store and try to plug it into my calendar based on how I think my week is going to go. Inevitably there are missed workouts, but I think for the most part I’m winning.

When I’m not working or running, we are always trying to get to as many Jays games as we can in the season, and in the winter we have season tickets to the Buffalo Bills. As soon as the water warms up a bit you’ll find me down at Kew Beach with my stand up paddle board. It’s something I just started doing last summer and I’m hooked.

Dave is a brewer, and I’m a chef, so we definitely spend our fair share of time cooking, eating and drinking. Craft beer has been a common interest of ours for a very long time and our dream is to be able to work together in this industry someday.

When and why did you start to run?

whyirun_tara_4 I started running about 5 years ago. My dad and step mom were going to run the Rock and Roll Las Vegas half marathon and challenged all their kids to train for it in exchange for a free trip. Well… Dave and I were the only ones that bit! And now there we were, learning to run and having a goal that was 4 months away. I got the training plan and followed it word for word. I crossed that finish line and I remember saying the phrase: “If anyone asks me to do that again, I’m going to punch them in the face.” Since then I’ve done 7 more half marathons, a handful of 10k’s, a sprint triathlon and I’m now training for my first full marathon. So there’s that.

When did you consider yourself a runner?

whyirun_tara_3 I guess I finally considered myself a runner when people I worked with started asking me advice on running. But even more so when I started running with a run crew. I was super fortunate to be asked to be a part of bad-ass hospitality industry ladies group that was going to train for the Nike Women’s 15km race last year on Toronto Island. Talk about an inspiring group.

There is something about grinding out hot and humid kilometers at 8 am in pursuit of a common goal to bring people together. This also led me to start running with the Food Runners. This group has to be the best part of the last year of running for me. This group is filled with incredibly talented individuals who’ve all worked late shifts and still meet up every Wednesday morning to see what workout we will be subject to.

Everyone’s in the same boat. No excuses. Hill work outs followed by 10 hour shifts, intervals followed my crushing Summerlicious services. This group keeps us all accountable, and I think in this industry it’s so important to have that outlet for healthy habits. I see a lot of similarities between running and cooking professionally.


In the same way I’m always looking at new ingredients, I’m constantly exploring and pushing my limits physically to see what I’m capable of accomplishing.

What has running taught you?

On of my favourite quotes is from Alice in Wonderland:

Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

I’ve always like this approach to running and racing. Pick a goal and figure out how to get there. I’ve learned over the past few years to make several goals and to try to remember to check in with myself once in a while to see if they are still realistic. Sometimes this even happens mid race.


In the spring I ran Around the Bay 30km for the first time. Physically it was tough, and I know with even more training it could have been a bit better race for me, but mentally, it was the toughest I’ve ever been on myself. I had a time goal that I had placed on myself that, 20km in, I knew just wasn’t going to be possible. So my new goal was to just get to that finish line. Although I was disappointed at first, post race I was able to reflect and focus on the real accomplishment: I had just run 30k for the first time ever… and I survived! It made me realize I can still make some incredible improvements in my running. And I think one of the things I love about running the most is that you are always learning new things about yourself. What my body can handle and the results I get from really dialing in and taking care of myself are so impressive. It’s definitely what keeps me going out.

What is your next big goal?

whyirun_Tara_6 The Chicago Marathon in October is my next big goal and I imagine once again I will be in awe of what these legs can do! I have a number of goals for this race, and over the next 15 weeks I will go back to them and adjust as necessary. Before every run, whether it be on the track, active recovery or my long run for the week, I try to set my intent and decide what I want to get out of it. Right now, I’m practicing patience and consistency. I’m constantly fighting myself going out too fast or burning out near the end of a workout. Thinking this way has done wonders for my mental health out of my running shoes as well. Waking up in the morning with a healthy outlook or always looking to take away the positive parts of a tough run has translated a million times over into my professional life.

This is no shortage of decisions to be made in the kitchen on a daily basis, and I truly believe running has helped me approach them in a whole new way. If this rubs off on the staff around me, that’s a bonus too.

Who inspires you?

There’s no shortage of inspiration in the running community. Especially from strong women runners. Kara Goucher, Lauren Fleshman, Shalane Flanagan. The people who inspire me the most are the regular people around us that are choosing to invest in themselves, even if it’s only 30 mins a day. It always reminds that there’s always time.

A final thought on running

So why do I run? By taking time to invest in myself, I can get the very best out of everyone around me.



About the author


Founder and Creator of Why I Run.

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