Thursday, 24 December 2015

A Runner’s Look Inside the 2015 Boston Marathon Weekend (part 2)

Boston Marathon Finish Line - Photo Credit Justin Ferguson
Boston Marathon Finish Line - Photo Credit Justin Ferguson
Boston Marathon Expo - Photo Credit Justin Ferguson
Boston Marathon Expo - Photo Credit Justin Ferguson

Boston Marathon Expo - Photo Credit Justin Ferguson
Inside the Boston Marathon Expo - Photo Credit Justin Ferguson

Good morning Boston, it is the day before the most notorious marathon on the planet and I, like, I assume many runners, am excited!  I had experienced the spectacle the year previous and felt better prepared for it this time around.  However, nothing really prepares you for an entire city that is captivated by an event that you are participating in.  With that in mind, there are items on the to do list that must be completed.

Whenever I prepare for a long run (including a race), I am very regimented and focused on completing my tasks.  I had learned the previous year in Boston what could be the outcome by not maintaining strict focus, and despite the overwhelming energy in the city, was committed to not following that same path this time around.

First thing first, start the energy and hydration regime; in this case Cliff Bars, Nature Bars, and Water.  Some may disagree with my methodology, but I tend to overload myself with energy products on the day or two before a long run.  

Next on the schedule was departing for a short 3km run.  I always find these helpful, they get the blood flowing and allow me to become acclimatized to the community, they also take my mind off the race that is to follow the next day.  I never depart trying to set any records on this day but maintain the mindset to take it slow and allow my muscles to get used to the idea of running.  It was a brisk morning in Boston and there were a few other runners out doing similar things.  The run was uneventful and I returned to the hotel feeling ready.  When I returned, the lobby was scattered with other runners and their families, which automatically gave me an energy boost.

Fortunately this hotel had a Starbucks in it, which I took advantage of, grabbing a banana and a porridge.  I also consumed another Cliff Bar, drank some more water, and grabbed a shower.  With these tasks accomplished, I departed in an Uber for the Expo.

When you arrive at the Boston Marathon Expo, the uniqueness that is Boston is not lost, it too is unlike any other expo I have been privy to.  It is extremely well organized, and has clearly marked signs announcing where to go.  When you arrive at the bib pickup, the volunteers are overwhelming, extremely helpful, and efficient.  There is no time wasted and the flow through is seamless.  I arrived at my station, presented my “Runner’s Passport”, was quickly presented my bib package and directed to my shirt pickup location, where again, I was quickly whisked through the process and free to explore the expo or depart.  Having organized events, I have come to appreciate efficient processes that are well planned and have an easy flow, the Boston experience certainly achieved this.

Before I departed the expo, I did permit myself some time to explore it quickly, which included signing the runner’s wall, picking up a few gifts for family and friends, and grabbing a souvenir for myself. I was able to get each of these items from the Official Store.  Getting myself an official hoodie, which marked the second year in a row that I did this and has likely now become a tradition… Again, despite the crowds, the speed at which I was processed was commendable and speaks to the organization of the event and the capabilities that new technology offers.  With these tasks done, I expeditiously explored the rest of the expo and departed onto Boylston Street.

Boylston Street marks the final four blocks of the Marathon.  This was the first time I had been on the stretch since running down it the year previous.  As an aside, the year previous, I had nearly collapsed on Hereford Street, before turning onto Boylston Street and summoning the energy to, in an almost near blackout, run to the finish line.  As I walked down Boylston Street this time, I remember remarking how I did not recognize a single element of the four block stretch from the previous year.  It is truly a beautiful stretch of city street (and in foreshadowing my next post, was tremendous to sprint down as I finished the 119th Boston Marathon the next day).  

As I walked down Boylston Street, I snapped a few photos of the finish line, took a Selfie, grabbed some Powerade (another part of my regiment), and took it all in.  Here I was standing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon for the second year in a row, preparing to run the race that almost every runner dreams of.  If I could, I would describe the thoughts that went through my mind, the whole situation is surreal, and hard to explain.  I literally just found a quiet place to sit and absorbed it all, trying to remember the finish the year before, and more importantly picturing what it could be like the next day.  

After taking a few minutes to absorb it all in - about 25 minutes, I think to be exact.  I ordered an Uber and departed back to the hotel to continue my preparation process for the next day.  

Arriving back at the hotel, I put my bib on my running shirt, ate some more Cliff Bars, drank some more Powerade, prepped a final email to try and raise some last minute funds for my charity, and then relaxed until dinner.

For me, dinner the night before the race is likely one of the two most important elements in preparation for a long run.  As such, I had done a fair amount of research to find a restaurant that had a pasta dish that had the elements I was looking for.  I found this in Mamma Maria with its Frutti di Mare Pasta.  It had an oil based sauce, and tonnes of lean protein with many kinds of seafood.  It also tasted fantastic!  Many people do the pre-marathon meal that the race organizers put on, however, I had done this the year previous and one other time before a race, and for whatever reason it did not suffice.  As I state above, I have a strict regiment I follow the day before a race, including eating a similar type of pasta dish the night before every long run.

With the meal done, I was back in an Uber and on the way back to my hotel, chatting to the friendly driver.  And, as another aside, I always find Uber drivers so friendly and easy to talk to.  

Back at the hotel, I consumed another Cliff Bar, drank some more Powerade, laid out and checked my running gear, and visualized how the morning and race would go.  Having run the race previously, I knew better what to expect this time around - if you have not done Boston before, the morning before the race can be a little overwhelming but that is for the next post.

All in all, a great day, filled with tonnes of excitement, a short run, lots of Cliff Bars, litres of water and Powerade, a fantastic last meal, and wonderful people - now time to try and sleep, which is the other most important element in preparation for a long run.

Justin Ferguson is the Principal of Cosmos Strategies, the Founder of, an avid marathoner, a supporter of charities, including: Wake Up Narcolepsy and Sick Kids Hospital, and a believer that anything is possible.  Follow Justin on Twitter @blueferguson.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Why I Run Marathons

Justin Ferguson Boston Marathon 2015
Justin Ferguson crossing the finish line in the 2015 Boston Marathon
By: Justin Ferguson

I could probably do multiple posts on why I run marathons (and likely will), spanning many different reasons and never fully describe all the reasons I run them but below I will go into a few that spring to mind.

In an article by Chris Simon that ran in the Newmarket Era in the lead-up to the 2015 Boston Marathon, I am quoted as saying: "'What keeps me going is signing up for the next race,' he [Ferguson] said." This still begs the questions, Why run?

Years ago when I started running, the reason was simple, to lose weight, and to be healthier, which was good enough for awhile but I am the type of person who wants to continuously set new goals and achieve them.  When I heard a friend was able to complete a marathon, I set out to do the same, which I did, 4 months later.  After-which I took a hiatus from marathoning until in 2012; I was re-inspired by the tales of another friend who had just finished her first one.  That set the wheels in motion for my renewed love of marathon running.

Over the last couple of years I have trained for and ran four marathons (2013 Toronto Waterfront, 2014 Boston, 2014 Marine Corps, 2015 Boston), the last three for charity - twice for Wake Up Narcolepsy in conjunction with Sick Kids Hospital, and once for the Prostate Care Foundation.  Being able to run for charity is certainly a key factor in why I run races today, to be able to support a cause, gives me the motivation I need on the days I don't want to train, and certainly at those times during the race when I question why I am doing this.

Having the privilege to run marathons is just that, a privilege, we never know when our bodies will say enough is enough or perhaps we will get sick, or perhaps we will no longer be able to persevere through the gruelling training and the race itself.  It is estimated that only about 0.5% [half a percentage] of the U.S. population runs a marathon in any given year, obviously everybody has their reasoning for doing or not doing one but to be part of that elite company is a privilege.  

On top of these factors though, running marathons has taught me so much about myself including, how to persevere, set goals and achieve them, push my body past its limit, and how to overcome.  These are elements that I am able to use in my daily life and for that I am thankful.  However, most importantly it has confirmed my natural belief that anything is possible.  For these reasons, I keep running marathons.

Further, running marathons has allowed me to see why studies find marathon runners make better CEOs; it teaches discipline, perseverance, goal setting, etc. Laura Entis of wrote a story called: Marathon Runners Make Better CEOs, Study Finds.  In the article Laura outlines how, "Companies helmed by marathon runners, the study found, were 5 percent more valuable than those led by non-"fit" executives even after controlling for CEO, firm and governance characteristics, past performance and firm fixed effects."  

Despite all these reasons why I run marathons, one that I did not mention but I will end with, is I run because I can and because I enjoy it.

Justin Ferguson is the Principal of Cosmos Strategies, the Founder of, an avid marathoner, a supporter of charities, including: Wake Up Narcolepsy and Sick Kids Hospital, and a believer that anything is possible.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

A Runner's Look Inside the 2015 Boston Marathon Weekend (part 1)

Sun Setting on Boston as Justin Ferguson Landed at Logan International Airport for the 2015 Boston Marathon
By: Justin Ferguson

For any long-distance runner the Boston Marathon is seen as the pinnacle race one can do.   I have been fortunate to be able to run the last two, which includes running the race the year following the terrorist attacks.  That race was extra special for all so many reasons, some of which I go into in another post.  However, the concentration of these four parts will be the lead up to the 2015 race, the race itself, and the aftermath.

To be able to run the Boston Marathon is the fulfilment of a dream for many runners, this one included. I will save the depiction of the training required to get to the point where you can run the race and only focus on what the weekend is like, specifically in this post, what the lead up to the race is like.

Let me first begin by saying Boston is unlike any other race I have experienced.  There is a vibe in the city that is unparallelled to any other major marathon I have done.  This vibe is one of the many things that makes it unique but it is not the only thing.

For me I am not from Boston and need to travel to get there.  This year I left Toronto on Saturday, arriving in Boston via Air Canada two nights before the race.  The plane was full, with the majority of the people wearing their running shoes, lest they injure themselves before the race - this is one thing I have never done but to each their own and I am sure there are runners out there who would tell me why it is a good idea.  With the plane being full of runners there is already an indescribable atmosphere that starts to emerge.  For me it is an anxious, joyous feeling that encompasses me - the thoughts of the spectacle that is this race.  I also have a nervousness to me, which happens before any race but it is different this time.  Training had been tough this year, with the miles seeming extra long; couple this with the fact I had a tough race in 2014 - to the point of near blackout for the second half.  I don't know what to expect for this year but that doesn't matter because I know on race day my body and my mind will allow me to do the best I can on that day.

The plane lands in Boston as the sun is setting and the race weekend begins for me.  I never check a bag - don't need the hassle of baggage claim and heaven forbid my running shoes get lost, therefore I depart the plane and am quickly outside looking for transit to the hotel.  I had decided to stay down by the harbour this year, outside of the main race area at the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel.  This was only a quick water-taxi from the airport but first I had to find the shuttle to the dock, which turned out to be quite the long ride around what seemed like every inch of the Logan airport.  Alas, I arrived at the water-taxi (definitely worth the shuttle ride to get there) and we were on our way across the harbour, which was followed by a short walk to the hotel.  

Despite being removed from the immediate core of the city and particularly the race area, the hotel was abuzz with runners and their families, each going through their own routines or wandering aimlessly.  I checked in and learnt that I had been upgraded to a wonderful suite - and it was beautiful - thanks Starwood and the Westin.  Upon arriving to my room, I quickly unpacked my race gear, including what seemed like my endless supply of Cliff BarsPower GelsSports Beans, checked the water supply - sure enough the hotel had left extra water, as per my request and I was off to my dinner reservation.

For me I am a big believer in an oil based pasta as the meals for each of the two nights before a race (or a long-run).  I had researched restaurants beforehand and found one for each night that I thought would suffice; neither one disappointed.  

After a quick and wonderful Uber ride I arrived at Antico Forno and it was packed with runners - you could easily tell because they all either had their marathon jackets on and/or their shoes.  I had the linguine con vongole (linguine pasta with sautéed clams, fresh cherry tomatoes in a garlic white wine sauce baked in parchment paper, finished in the brick oven - feel free to check out my Yelp review).  It was nice and light and fulfilled my wish for an oil based pasta that had some protein in it.  The service was quick, polite and terrific, overall a good experience.  With that it was a short Uber ride back to the hotel, where I consumed some more water, ate a Cliff Bar or two, watched some TV and connected with some other runners over social media before retiring for the evening.

All-in-all a busy but great first day at the 2015 Boston Marathon.

Justin Ferguson is the Principal of Cosmos Strategies, the Founder of, an avid marathoner, a supporter of charities, including: Wake Up Narcolepsy and Sick Kids Hospital, and a believer that anything is possible.

Monday, 29 June 2015

The Euphoria of the 2014 Boston Marathon



It did not, however, prepare me for the run of a lifetime. Having previously run two marathons and thousands of kilometers, I thought I had a good understanding of what it takes to run another marathon. Throughout the training and preparation I constantly imagined the experience I was embarking on, but running Boston, particularly this year following the heinous terrorist attacks, my expectations were thrown out the window. The moment I stepped off the plane in Boston it all changed; I was instantly hit with an overwhelming feeling of privilege and honour, which I will hold with me for the rest of my life.

On top of the euphoria that surrounded this year's marathon, what made it that much more special for me was the fact that I was participating as one of 14 members of the Wake Up Narcolepsy team, a charity that works to raise funds and awareness in support of narcolepsy research and awareness across Canada and the United States. In Canada, Wake Up Narcolepsy is currently partnering with Sick Kids Hospital to help achieve these goals.

In the lead-up to the race I was able to meet with doctors and researchers who are working to raise awareness and find a cure for this debilitating neurological disorder. I was also able to meet with and receive support from children and families who have narcolepsy. Their stories were extremely touching and provided strength during moments of incredible pain on training runs and during the race.

Despite the advances that have been made in communication tools, too many people are unaware of what someone with narcolepsy suffers through; people do not understand that individuals who have narcolepsy have brain cells dying, that they cannot control when they sleep or when they are awake, and that every day is a struggle to maintain some form of normalcy in their lives. And, perhaps just as bad, very few actually understand that narcolepsy is an incurable medical condition and instead have negative perceptions of people suffering with narcolepsy or they think it is a joke. It is up to each of us to do our part to educate society, and particularly, our teachers, doctors and parents so they can recognize the signs, and lead children and young adults to a proper diagnosis. Although diagnosis itself will not alleviate all of the struggles an individual with narcolepsy may have, it allows for treatment and support to help them find this semblance of normalcy they seek.

I can say with absolute certainty that being able to raise money to help this charity, being able to cross the start line, being able to run the 42.2 kilometres and being able cross the finish line in Boston on the one year anniversary of the terrorist attacks will be memories that will last a lifetime.

Throughout race weekend there were countless moments I could share but I will try to provide some of the highlights. I have already mentioned the overwhelming feeling of honour and privilege I experienced as I stepped off the plane, but nothing compares to the emotions I felt as I walked up Boylston Street on the Thursday before the race, past the finish line, which was already erected and to the place of the bomb blasts the year before. Standing there, I looked around and felt an indescribable feeling overtake me; at that moment I decided I wasn't going to "race" this run but ensure that no matter what, I soaked up the entire experience. As it turned out this sentiment was shared by a number of the runners I spoke with. This didn't stop me from posting a personal best on the first half of the run, but it likely took a toll over the course of the entirety of the race.

Since the race I have constantly been asked, "What was it like?" I have yet to accurately describe it and I do not think I will ever be able to. What I can say is that it was the most amazing and euphoric experience of my life; the sheer emotion and the atmosphere that surrounded the festivities leading up to race was only surpassed by that of the race itself.

No matter where I went, or who I encountered, whether a race volunteer, a police officer, another runner or their family or friends, waitresses, drivers and so on, the moment I mentioned I was participating in the marathon there was a shared sense of absolute pride accompanied by support, encouragement and well wishes. This certainly was Boston Strong! And, I knew for certain that, yes indeed, We All Run Boston!

The second most frequent question I am asked is whether I was scared or nervous considering the attacks from the year before. Honestly, not for a moment. The race officials did a superb job of ensuring that we felt safe and secure. Beyond that, whether as a result of the police presence or the support in the crowd, we all knew that nobody was going to let something like that happen this time around. Not this time, not this year, not in Boston!

As for the race itself, there is nothing I can say that will ever do justice to the spectacle that is The Boston Marathon. As the race started in Hopkinton, I honestly thought there was something wrong with my headphones because I couldn't hear the music coming out of them - there was nothing wrong - the cheers from the crowd simply overpowered them. This support never ceased. Children, men and women - young and old lined every mile of the course to do their part to show us support - it still brings a tear to the eye to think about the encouragement these people provided – I knew that this was much bigger then simply another race for them. This was a show of force. I knew that, if at any moment, I felt like I couldn't go on, these people would lift me and carry me with their presence. As I ran, I broke many of my own rules and allowed myself to take it all in - giving high fives to children and men and women throughout the race and getting lost in the emotion. Did it hurt my time? Perhaps, but do I care? Absolutely not, it was simply remarkable to be able to participate. I will always have the memories of the crowds of supporters, including times where it felt like I was running for miles in a tunnel because people lined both sides of the street 20-30 deep, going wild in an effort to cheer all of us on.

As I came up to the end of the race I was labouring, dehydration had set in and it was a painful finish. I was certainly pushing my body to its limits; for the first time in my life (and many years of sports and running) I had legitimate "jello leg" on two strides and I thought I was going to collapse. However, there was no way that was going to happen. I channeled the support I received from my friends and family, from all the children and individuals who suffer from narcolepsy, and from the millions around the world who were supporting all of us participants.

Running down Boylston Street, coming up on that finish line and crossing it, I was filled with a sense of accomplishment, as I knew I had left it all out on the course. Despite being extremely dehydrated and in an enormous amount of pain I was left looking forward to the next one. This experience certainly left me wanting more!

Whether I have the privilege to run Boston again or whether it is another marathon, I will never forget the euphoria, the emotions and images of support that were present during this 118th running of the Boston Marathon. For that I am thankful to everybody who helped make this race so special!

Justin Ferguson is the Principal of Cosmos Strategies, the Founder of, an avid marathoner, a supporter of charities, including: Wake Up Narcolepsy and Sick Kids Hospital, and a believer that anything is possible.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

The Importance of Giving to Charity

By: Justin Ferguson

Some question the importance of giving to charity, others give relentlessly, while others do what they can.  There is no necessarily right or wrong answer to the question whether one should give or not but for me, I believe it is important to do what we can.  This can take any shape or form and does not simply need to be monetary; many of us can also donate our time or our abilities.  

What is amazing though, is how far the simplest of gestures can go to helping somebody else's day be a little better.  When you put it in this perspective and you break it down to this level, each of us has the ability to make a better world to live in.  However, it remains our individualistic choice to do such.  

Some argue there is a "moral obligation or moral duty" to give to charity.  I do not follow this mantra; I give what I can because I believe it is the right thing to do, if another person doesn't believe this, then that is their choice.  They have their reasons for believing this, the same as I have for giving.  I give because it makes me feel as though I am helping out, and it makes me feel good, not because I feel I have a responsibility to do so but because I want to do so.

And, as long as we remember this, we will want to give more.  If we follow this mantra we will have given not because we "had to" but because we "wanted to" and giving because we want to will ensure we keep giving.  By continuing to give, we will continue to make the world a better place.

One of the greatest philanthropists the world has ever seen - John D. Rockefeller once said: "Giving should be entered into in just the same way as investing. Giving is investing."  To continue on the idea from the previous paragraph - that we can make the world a better place by giving to charity, and couple this idea with Mr. Rockefeller's thoughts, we begin to see that by giving to charity we are investing in making the world a better place.  This also means that we must choose wisely how we donate our time, money, etc.  We must accept that we cannot be everything to everybody but rather know that by doing what we can, we are contributing to making somebody's life just a little bit better.

It always remains our individual choice to give or not.  From this perspective even the anti-altruistic Ayn Rand would agree that giving to charity is ok.  Because, from this perspective giving to charity is simply the choice of the individual and as long as it remains the choice of the individual for their own reasoning, not out of "moral duty", the individual will find happiness.  Rand in her own words said: "What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue."  Therefore, she does not reject the idea of giving to charity, only the belief that one has to do so because of an obligation to the greater good.

No matter where one falls on the spectrum of why they give, there is no right or wrong answer as long as they are doing it for their own reasons.

If one decides to give or not, it is up to them, but for me I believe that by doing what we can, we can make the world a better place and to me this is a pretty awesome idea.  The thought that the simplest of gestures can have an impact of this magnitude is one that credence must be paid to and why giving to charity is important.

Justin Ferguson is the Principal of Cosmos Strategies, the Founder of, an avid marathoner, a supporter of charities, including: Wake Up Narcolepsy and Sick Kids Hospital, and a believer that anything is possible.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

The Sun Should Set on the Coyotes in the Desert

By: Justin Ferguson

With the 5-2 decision by the Glendale city council, the NHL and the Coyotes need to take the hint that the sun has set on the experiment of hockey in the desert.  Despite a few solid years, the Coyotes have never found their footing in Arizona and it is time to move on.

From the beginning the team has continuously had problems drawing fans, putting a winning team on the ice, and has been in what seems like a constant struggle to find a way to stay in a location that few want them in.  This whole experience gives the NHL a black eye and somebody needs to know when to cut their losses.

Yes, it is unfortunate for the fans who follow the team but these things happen and teams need to move on.  It must not be forgotten that NHL teams are businesses and they must operate as such.  The idea that a government is paying a NHL team $15 million a year to "manage" the arena seems like a substantial amount for taxpayers to be subsidizing.  The people of Glendale must be thinking that $15 million can be spent in better ways.

Any government has a responsibility to the taxpayer to be managing their money wisely.  The fact that the Glendale city council voted decisively 5-2 to cancel this agreement speaks volumes to the point that they no longer felt this was a wise investment of tax money.  With that, it is time for the Coyotes and the NHL to say goodbye to the idea of hockey in Arizona (at least for now) and find a better solution.

There are cities and communities that appear to be begging for NHL hockey, the league would be smart to feverishly explore these opportunities, move the Coyotes and get this franchise back on solid footing.  Quebec City for example have had lobbyists approaching the NHL for years to move a franchise back there, perhaps this is the right time or perhaps another team in Ontario (outside of Toronto) is the answer.  What doesn't seem to be the answer is hockey in Arizona.

As for the city of Glendale, it is smart to be contemplating plans for the arena without the Coyotes, as the hockey experiment should be over.

Justin Ferguson is the Principal of Cosmos Strategies, the Founder of, an avid marathoner, a supporter of charities, including: Wake Up Narcolepsy and Sick Kids Hospital, and a believer that anything is possible.