It has taken a couple of days for the experience of Sundays Toronto Yonge St 10K to really sink in for me as a runner, ambassador to the race and as someone that ran this as my first road race ever in 2011 after years of inactivity.

The first time I ran this race I was very nervous and heavier. I did not know what to expect and ultimately I arrived at the race feeling somewhat alone knowing that I was participating in a race with the running and fitness community but did not really feel like I was part of it despite training for the race for months.

Now entering my third year of running I returned to Toronto Yonge St 10K and the experience was surreal in terms of where I stood personally and fitness wise between then and now as fitness is now a regular part of daily routine. It makes me wonder how I could not have been running my entire life.

Sunday morning entering the race area started very different for me, I was not alone as I arrived with my friend Mike Lobsinger who was running Yonge St 10K for the first time and was so exited to go he locked his keys in the house on the way out the door.

We were on site about an hour before the start to meet up with other local runners I have had the pleasure of meeting, sharing and training with both on and offline as “Digital Champions” for Canadian Running Series.

The digital champions are local runners and fitness enthusiasts that have shared their excitement and experience supporting local runners during training for the race on social media with the tag #TYS10K and at some very inspirational tune up runs leading up to the race hosted by CRS and the running room.

Meeting a group of dedicated runners with shared stories and interests and having the realization that you are one of them was a special moment for me in contrast to the feeling unsure I should even be at a race as a new runner when I had walked up to the race start for the first time in 2011.

Given the recent tragic events at the Boston Marathon leading up to the race as well the running community was showing a tremendous outpouring of support for Boston. This being the first race in the area since the Boston Marathon runners everywhere wore blue and yellow, signs and face paint in support of Boston as the running community is a global one united in our sorrows, traditions and victories.

This outpouring of goodwill and community from seasoned and new runners alike combined with a sunny and cool morning made for the perfect race conditions. I have never been so relaxed or had a sense of belonging in a race starting corral as I did on Sunday morning as I chatted with Andrew Chak in the moments leading up to the start of the race.

I would like to be able to say that the down hill course makes your run effortless, but that would be a lie, it makes it fast, but pushes you to go hard.

Everyone was pushing as we started out, and for any number of reasons or goals. Mine was to test my limits and see how far I had come since my first race where I just hoped I would finish. This was made easier by the personal supporters that I had going in to the race and the great spectators that were cheering along the route.

Pushing my pace as the run progressed my mind flashed with thoughts of Boston as I looked at runners shirts and signs, my training all coming in to play right now and how today felt so different from my first time on this course.

True to what I tell all runners, no matter how your race goes or skill level, finish strong! So I took my own advice and as I rounded the last downhill bend on Fort York Blvd and sprinted to the finish.

I was greeted in the finishing chute by some of our most speedy digital champions already tweeting of course. I laughed later to read a tweet from Jeremy Foreshew (@jeremyforeshew) sharing with the world that “@stevewlayton nearly puked at the finish line — gave 150% for the last 100m!” this look is a common side effect of my finish strong philosophy.

The result of pushing my limits and changing my lifestyle that started with #TYS10K years ago resulted in a new personal best on Sunday of 44:00.03 for the 10K. A happy improvement from my struggle to hit 48:45.1 my first time around.

The post race area lead to great conversations, photos and laughs as runners kept finishing in search of well deserved post run food and drink. This is really the highlight of the run when you get to share your accomplishments with like minded individuals and form friendships that will no doubt have you seeing familiar faces at your next running event. You might even get to snap a photo with race winner Kip Kangogo.

As the first race I ever did years ago starting my fitness journey and now my 10K PB this race will always be a special one for me. I encourage first timers to run Yonge St 10K as it is fun and supportive as a great introduction to the Toronto running community.

To seasoned race vets it’s the fastest 10K route that I know of and the wide roads make for a open fields suited for hitting a personal best or having a friendly winner takes all side bet with a running buddy.

I hope by now you can tell I had a great time. This race now a fresh and fond memory until next year. So now I set my focus on the hopefully sunny summer and the long runs that will take me to Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (#STWM) this fall.

I hope you join me and become part of the running community, there is lots of time to train for your first 5K, 10K, Half or Full Marathon this season so take the first step.

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