Philadelphia Marathon–To see a city at it’s best run a marathon there!

I just ran the Philadelphia marathon. Every race is unique, here’s my take on Philly.

  • The city as a race destination
  • The people
  • The start
  • The course
  • The finish chute
  • What could have been better
  • The best part of the Philadelphia Marathon
  • Thank yous

The city as a race destination

Philadelphia is a fantastic destination city for a race. The Terminal Reading Market with it’s decadent Beiler donuts (freshly made maple bacon donuts, no wonder this place always has a line up!), Flying Monkey whoopee pies and pumpple cake (apple pie in vanilla cake on top of pumpkin pie in a chocolate cake! I think I would have to run a marathon to burn of the calories from that! Philly cheese steaks, lots of tasty ways to get your calories.

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Philadelphia is also home of the Liberty Bell, lots of street art and beautiful buildings. Perhaps the busiest tourist attraction for a group of racers who have been training for 4 months is the front steps of the Art Gallery made famous by Rocky! (they were easier to run up than I expected, even if you take them two at a time, but I still can’t do one armed pushups like he does in the movie). The statue of Rocky Balboa at the bottom of the steps was even wearing a Philadelphia marathon shirt. There was a line up of runners waiting to pose with the statue.  The rocky theme music runs through the head of many a runner at some point in a race or training, so he holds a special place in our hearts. And best of all, lots of hop on/off bus tours to get you between all the attractions without spending too much time on your feet and lots of hotels an easy walk from the start line. Both important details for anyone running a marathon.

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The people

I don’t know if hosting a big race brings out the best in people, but we met some wonderful people during our visit. Whether it was random locals like the trio we met at dinner Saturday night at Gran Caffe L’Aquila (amazing food and service there btw!) who generously offered to buy us drinks, and when we informed them we had a marathon to run the next day so we were only having one glass of wine, they apparently asked the waiter to put those drinks on his bill.  To the fantastic fan support through downtown on race day. Lots of people holding up signs, cheering us on, ringing cow bells, reading the names off our bibs and cheering us on by name (which I LOVE by the way, every time a complete stranger yells out ‘Go Susan’ I get a little burst of energy.  Several fans were obviously cheering on family or friends in the race as I saw them two or three times on the course (the guy with the Dr Who sign and the couple with the giant cat and dog signs). So it’s also good to know that from a spectator perspective you can see someone more than once on the race course. There was one stretch through downtown about a mile long where the crowds were incredible!

The start

The start on race day had its ups and downs. anyone entering the start area had to clear security. I completely understand the need for security. This race was only one week after the attacks in Paris, and ever since the bombings in Boston, we all recognize that a big race is a potential target. Unfortunately the security was not organized as efficiently as possible to get runners into the start. Some runners waited in line 30 minutes and then discovered they could have walked 2 minutes to another entrance with a 5 minute line. Some runners did end up starting late. So hopefully this is something that will improve in future years.  Perhaps better signage, more volunteers letting people know about alternate entrances, better separation in the line ups of runners with bags/without bags/ spectators. Again, I appreciate the need for security and thank the volunteer who turned back the spectator who tried to enter the start area with pepper spray in his bag. But arriving at 6 AM for the 7 AM start was a mistake on our part and several other thousand runners, so room for improvement there.

WP_20151121_14_53_00_ProOnce inside the race start area, things improved, there were lines for the port-a- potties but there always are. The line ups were typical. The bag check was well organized. Participants bib numbers were based on expected finish times (faster runners lower bib numbers, slower runners higher bib numbers), so they had the bag check doen by last name which means shorter lines for pick up at the finish. They also provided nice big clear bags for the race check as part of our race kits, I had lots of room for warm clothes to wear post race.

There were entrances to corrals where bibs were checked, I appreciate the effort to keep racers in their assigned corrals. Those of us out for a PB can be frustrated by casual runners who think it’s cool to be closer to the front and don’t realize that it’s a trial for faster runners to be zigging and zagging around those who run a slower pace. Don’t get me wrong, I love having racers of all abilities at a race, but if you and a friend are planning to chit chat walk/jog the entire race and have never run a race before, please go to a corral with other people going a similar speed. It’s a great system when everyone follows the rules.

Unfortunately or fortunately the start was delayed because a car needed to be towed. Worked out for me because it meant I got to get through the port-a-pottie line, but frustrated others who had gone to their corrals and had to wait longer. But, not really something within control of the race, they were ready to start on time.

The course

The first 2 miles

The gun went off, and about 7 minutes later I crossed the start, perfectly reasonable given my corral. But the Rocky music was playing, and the deputy mayor and Bill Rogers were high fiving runners as they crossed the start (I high fived the deputy mayor). So I was in good spirits.  It is fairly narrow at the start of the course, so it was very difficult to set your own pace. Honestly until you turned down Columbus Boulevard along the Delaware river you frequently got stuck behind other runners, also the buildings threw off my GPS which would tell me I was running a 1:45/km pace one moment and 6:15/km pace the next.

Miles 2-8

Definitely the most fun part of the course, even it was a little narrow and the road was somewhat uneven. But I loved it because the crowds were awesome!  I had my fastest mile along this stretch.

Miles 9-13

After you leave the crowds you hit the hills. Now let’s be clear for those who train in Vermont, you probably would call this course flat, for those who run in New Orleans, you would call miles 9-26 hilly Smile. There were some hills along the way, but that’s true of most marathons. There was also quite a headwind on the toughest hill, but that was just our luck on race day. A few stretches of road had quite the camber which was a little tough on the legs, but the view as we ran along Schuykill river back towards the Art Museum was nice (and we had a tail wind for that Smile)

Mile 13-20

This was the toughest stretch of the course in my opinion. Those running the half marathon peel off to the finish line and you turn around and head back into the wind along the river. There are very few crowds cheering you, and because it’s an out and back you see the faster runners headed back to the finish line. It was great to have a chance to wave to the other runners I knew in the race, but knowing that they had 3 miles to go and I still had 10 was tough mentally. There is also a very odd little out and back at Mile 17, I was rather miserable here since I had just spent 4 miles running into the wind and my IT band was not happy.

Mile 20-25

Just past mile 20 you turn around and head back towards the start. This felt good on so many levels. 1 – there is a good crowd along that half mile stretch before the turnaround point. 2 – you switch from head wind to tail wind. 3 – You are now the runner with 3 miles to go watching runners going the other way who still had 10 miles left. As tired as I was, I knew I was going to make it. 4 – I didn’t have to run that little out and back on the way back, so the distance back to the finish line from the turaround point was shorter! I’ve decided I liked that little out and back Smile, also my IT band settled down around mile 19, so aside from some very sore quads I was doing okay.

Mile 25 – 26.2

There is a slight uphill around 25 miles, but that’s also where the crowds start to build again cheering you to the finish. When you pass the 26 mile marker it’s downhill to the finish line. You can’t see it until you are quite close, but the crowds were great and I really enjoyed the high five from the mayor because a high five capture my emotions perfectly as I cross the finish line of a marathon. I did it, it’s done, I did it, yes! I can’t imagine how long he was standing there high fiving runners, but I will tell you I deliberately went over to get my high five and loved it.

The finish chute

Blankets and medals appeared very quickly and it took me a few minutes before I started to notice the sound of jingle bells ringing. It must have been another minute or so before I realized I was jingling as well. The race medal had a liberty bell that rang. So whenever you took a step there was a gentle jingling noise. The end result was this wonderful symphony of jingling all around you at the finish line. Best race medal ever!



What could have been better?

Not all races are perfect, there are a couple of things I would love to see improved at the race aside from the security screening process I mentioned earlier.

Water stations

Not all water stations were on both sides of the road and some of the water stations were very short, since they were not at consistent distances this sometimes made it difficult to get water withough breaking pace. Having some big flags at each water station would help so we can see them coming. Having water stations on both sides of the roads would help, having water stations at consistent distances would help so we know when to expect them. They did show us on th emap where water stations would be, but I didn’t memorize every water station location.  I was very glad I brought my own water so I could skip some of the stations and take my gels without worrying about where I would find the next stop.  I did appreciate having gatorade and water at each station and the volunteers who were shouting out where to get water vs gatorade (their voices must have been completely hoarse by the end of the day)

Snacks at the finish

When I cross a finish line, I am spent, anything I have in the tank I use up in the last mile. I need to keep walking. If I stop walking, I get very light headed and sometimes nauseous. So when I saw the line up for the post race food (bananas and bagels usually) I had to walk past. I could not physically stand in that line up. I had no trouble getting water and the snacks themselves were fine, the pretzel I managed to snag as I walked past was like mana from heaven (salt!!!!) and I appreciated Macy’s donating bags to carry the post race nibbles. But perhaps I am spoiled by the National Capital Marathon and Army Run in Ottawa where they set up a tent and have about 15 different lines you can go to to get your post race nibbles so you never stop moving even when you are grabbing your food.

The best part of the Philadelphia Marathon

The spirit!

mayorhighfiveThe Philadelphia marathon is run by the city, not one of the big race companies. Hey I run Rock N Roll races too. But the fact it’s run by the city changes the spirit of the event. Toronto, Canada had a mayor who sees big races as a nuisance instead of an opportunity. 30,000 runners raced this weekend. We came, we ran, we also spent a fair bit of money at restaurants, hotels, stores, tourist attractions. We got to know your beautiful city, and may return as tourists with our families because we just didn’t have enough time to appreciate all the city has to offer. Not only that it’s nice to think that any profits from the race can go to help the city itself. Mr. Mayor (and Mr Deputy Mayor I know he was there at the start giving high fives) we weren’t just accepting a high five for finishing the marathon, we were also giving you a high five for being such a wonderful host!

Thank yous

I may be running the marathon alone, but you have a lot of time to think over 4 hours of running and endless hours training before hand. In no particular order, because you can’t rank a list like this…

Thank you K2J for all your help with the training. That’s a PB for me and a BQ!

Thank you to all my fellow runners, you know who you are, for helping me stay sane, motivated, and healthy throughout the training and on race weekend. Every call, every cheer, every word of support makes a difference.

Thank you Run Ottawa for organizing the bus trip from Ottawa. That was a fantastic way to get to and from the race and meet runners from other Ottawa race groups. Thanks Jon for the donuts on the bus too Smile.

Thank you to my family for putting up with my constant disappearances for runs and my frequent naps after the long runs and the chores I didn’t do because I was running.

Running Boston – don’t underestimate YOUR impact

Boston – to a runner that single word can conjure up just about every emotion: hope,  disappointment, excitement, fear, courage, misery, elation.

I just completed my first Boston Marathon. I wanted to take a moment to sit down (and not just because my legs are so sore I am not sure I can get up again) and pay tribute to those who make Boston such an amazing experience!

In alphabetical order, because I can’t possibly rank them by importance

  • Boston
  • Boston Strong
  • Course
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Random people you meet after the race
  • Runners
  • Spectators
  • Volunteers


As we drove into Boston Friday night, we caught the weather forecast on the local radio station. (for non-runners – many runners are obsessed with the weather forecast for race day). They announced the forecast for Saturday, Sunday, and Marathon day.  When we arrived downtown, our hotel had a runners information booth. When we walked down Boyleston to pick up our race kits, stores all along the street had signs and displays cheering on the runners. You couldn’t help but smile and feel welcome. Pretty amazing considering we are completely disrupting the city. I wish all marathon cities were so welcoming!


Boston Strong

In 2013 two bombs were placed near the finish of the Boston marathon. Spectators and runners were killed and injured. The daffodil is a symbol of remembrance. Pots of daffodils can be found at store fronts everywhere. A blue and yellow ribbon of crochet daffodils is wrapped around the posts where the two bombs detonated. Every runner stops and pauses for a moment. The Boston marathon has actually become more popular since the bombing. Whenever I saw the phrase Boston Strong I thought of the day I was tracking my sister and several friends at the Boston Marathon and the hours following as we waited to find out if everyone was okay.  Runners who were there, quietly retold stories. Some runners, volunteers and spectators never returned. There are actually more runners who try and register for Boston now than before the bombing. It’s as though running Boston is a small way for runners to pay tribute to those affected.




The Boston Marathon course has a lot of hills. Enough said!


You cannot run the Boston marathon without support from family. Family could be your spouse, kids, parents, siblings, cousin, or those friends who are like family. Whether they are with you in person on race day or not, family gets you there and family gets you through it! Calling to wish you good luck or to congratulate you when you finish. Listening to you talk incessantly about the race before and after. Giving you the time to pound the pavement during your training and the time to nap when you get home from that long run. Around the six mile mark I met a rummer carrying a carefully folded american flag. I asked her who it was for. She immediately rattled off four names. There are many types of family, and there are many ways to run with them.

I had my sister Judy on the course with me. Having my sister there to coach, mentor, and support me made the entire weekend easier and more special. My other sister Robin and her husband Paul stood on the roadside in the cold cheering and got me through that last 2 miles when I was struggling. My mom ran her first Boston at the age of 65. My dad qualified but never had a chance to run. His knees don’t allow him to run anymore, but I still love telling other runners about his rmarathon refuelling strategy : a beer every 6 miles! Add to that a spouse and two boys who don’t understand my urge to run marathons but still support me and you can can understand why I am smiling in this picture with my sister (and yes that is a sling, my sister broke her elbow the Sunday before Boston, and yes she did still run, very carefully, with her arm well paddde and protected, with a cell phone and cash in case she needed to bail, she finished! So a memorable year for both of us!)



My friends will probably be happy that Boston is over, because maybe now I will stop talking about it! I don’t know if other runners do this, but every time I run over one of the tracking pads which updates my results, I think of my friends who are tracking me online. Every friend who liked my Facebook post, posted to my wall, called, emailed, tweeted, or wished me luck in person helped me qualify, train and run that race! Thank you so much!

Most of us have a running partner or two who hold a special place in our hearts when we get to a big race like this! Not everyone is insane enough to run a marathon. Not everyone understands what drives you to drag yourself out to run four hours in cold rain and wind. When you have the chance to run a race like Boston and your training partner isn’t there with you, you still hear their voice cheering you on as you contemplate the next hill and wonder how long you can keep going. I look forward to the day I board the bus to Hopkington with my training partner! So keep up the physio Jersey! We need an updated race pic!


Random people you meet after the race

After you run Boston, you can wear “the” jacket. I bought my jacket Friday night so I could make sure I could get a jacket in my size. For two days it sat there in my room taunting me. I was at the race with K2J Fitness, my running group. To wear the jacket before I finished would be a major faux pas.

When you finally don the jacket (and once you finally put it on you don’t care it it’s blue & yellow or bright orange, pink or purple!) random strangers will congratulate you and even thank you for running the race! The lady at the toll booth on the freeway said congratulations. When I stopped to fill the tank in Vermont on the drive home, another driver walked over to ask if I had run, then congratulated me and gave me an actual pat on the back. Thank you complete strangers! Those little moments made my day! So don’t be shy, if you see someone wearing a race medal or jacket, if you think that race was an accomplishment tell them!


A speedo? really? There was a guy in the athlete’s village wearing nothing but a speedo. Wouldn’t that chafe? Not to mention it was cold, rainy, and windy!

If you train with a running group they are a big part of your support network. When you get injured, you need to talk to other runners who have been injured and recovered. Heck, after a while you start exchanging names of physiotherapists, and comparing stretches you’ve been assigned to treat your IT band. When the weather sucks, you need other runners to motivate you to get in your miles. When you skip a run, you need another runner to tell you, it’s okay to skip the occasional work out. I appreciated all the experienced Boston runners telling me about Boston races when they completely bonked. If ound it oddly comforting to discover runners I respect have had terrible runs in Boston. I can’t count how many people told me “Don’t expect to BQ on your first Boston” or “Don’t go out too fast!”. Your fellow runners get you to the start line.

At Boston, 60% of those running were first time Boston runners. We met each other on the buses, in the athlete’s village, in the start corral, on the course, after the race in our jackets, in the road side Liquor super store in New Hampshire where all the Canadians stop to pick up cheap booze on the drive home. I passed a runner with a red bib (which means he left in wave one well before I started in wave three). He had crutches and a walking cast! I met runners from Texas, Alaska, Quebec City, Vermont, Florida, Ottawa, Brazil, Korea. 30,000 runners registered for Boston (and I think they were all in line for the port-a-potty at the athlete’s village when I needed to go). There were runners walking, jogging, smiling, crying, stretching out cramped calves an dbacks, giving high fives to the crowd, waving their arms to get the crowds cheering, and sometimes just slogging along trying to drag themselves to the finish line. A shared day of ups and downs both emotinally and physically (did I mention the Boston course has a lot of hills?). I am proud to have my name listed with yours on the poster!



It was lousy weather on race day. It was cold, windy, and rainy. yet there were thousands and thousands of people out there cheering! Little kids offering orange slices, licorice, and high fives. The Wellesley college girls offering free kisses. People on their front lawns calling out ‘thank you for running’. When all I could think was thank you for standing outside to cheers us on. I was in the last corral of wave three. I left a solid hour after the first wave. There were fans out in that miserable weather for hours on end!

I put a sticker on my jacket with my name, so I heard many cries of “Go Susan” or chants of “Susan Susan Susan” which made me smile. I admit like many runners when I had to stop and walk those same cries can feel more like salt in a wound. I prefered the high fives and quieter encouragement when I had to stop and walk. But as you got closer to the finish the crowds got bigger and louder. I ran 26.2 miles to the sound of cowbells, bagpipes, drums, Elvis, rock bands, and so much cheering I assume that Boston must be sold out of throat lozenges today as everyone tries to treat their  laryngitis. I think there should be a Boston spectator jacket you can purchase if you have cheered at Boston. When I think Boston Strong, it’s not just about the runners, it’s about the spectators too!


There were volunteers handing out race kits, setting up the course, setting up the athlete’s village, handing out water and gatorade, raking up empty cups at the water stops, directing us, cheering us, taking care of those who needed medical help, handing out our medals, and helping us into our capes to keep us from getting hypothermia when we crossed the finish. Some of those volunteers stood in the cold for hours shouting out ‘gatorade gatorade gatorade, water water water’ and yet they still found time to yell out ‘Go Susan’ as I snatched a cup from their hands. A canadian volunteer was handing out medals and called over some of my friends when she saw their maple leafs and was so excited to have the opportunity to place the medal over their heads. The volunteers do get their own Boston jackets and they are well earned. Another Boston Strong team!

Now what?

Well I didn’t BQ at Boston, so I won’t be back next year. But I hope to return one day. Regardless this was a weekend to remember. I will happily regale anyone who is willing to listen with tales of Boston. Thank you once more to my amazing friends, fellow runners, my family, my kids, and my husband for all your support. I can honestly say I could NEVER have done this without you.

Ten Tips for writing better blogs posts

This post will share ten specific things you can do to imrpove your blog posts.

  1. Make sure your post is worth reading
  2. Use a summary sentence
  3. Use lists to summarize content of long posts
  4. Use screenshots and pictures
  5. Complement your post with video
  6. Include hyperlinks
  7. Open links in a separate tab or window
  8. Let your personality come through
  9. It’s all in the title
  10. Go back and edit your post

1. Make sure your post is worth reading

Abandon the philosophy “I blog therefore I am”. Writing a blog post can be a selfish act, you may be really happy about something, or really angry about something or maybe you just figured something out and you want to show the world ‘look what I figured out”.

Ask yourself – What will the reader get out of reading this post?

There is too much “stuff’ on the internt. When you add to that collection of stuff, make sure it’s worth someone’s time to read it.  Are there successful blogs that rant constantly? Yes, but the successful ones are deliberately written to entertain or inform. Make sure you have a take away for your reader in mind. What will I learn from your post?  ‘how to install node.js’ ‘how to make a healthy snack your kids will actually eat’ or ‘how to avoid overspending on a laptop’

imageHere’s an example, this Imagine Cup post is a first person story by a student who won first place in a competition. What’s notable is the content helps a student understand the value of participating in the competition. It’s not just a brag about winning.

2. Use a summary sentence

When you search online for ‘what laptop should I buy?’, you get two thousand matches. How do you decide which search results is worth clicking?

The average user spends about 5 seconds glancing at a page before they decide whether it’s worth staying to read that page. Remember point #1 make sure your post is worth reading! The user wlil take about 5 seconds to decide if your post is worth reading. So, provide a single sentence to tell me what I learn if I take the time to read your post.

It helps to make your summary sentence stand out visually by using italics or a different colour.


Another advantage to the summary sentence: Your summary will appear in the details of the search results soI know what I wil learn from the search results page as well. I wrote this post two years ago and it still gets hits (Mental note: go update this post so people aren’t finding out of date information…)


3. Use lists to summarize content of long posts

Sadly some of the best blog posts are the least read.

Why? Because when someone takes the time to write out all the details to explain something, the end result can be a very long blog post.

Your reader may be looking for something very specific. You may provide that information half way through your post, but they are unlikely to read through 4 pages to see if you cover that one topic. If you break your post into sections, you can provide a list at the top listing all the sections. If you really want to make the user happy, add hyperlinks so your reader can click on a topic and go straight to the section of interest to them.


4. Use screenshots and pictures

A picture is worth a thousand words!

If you are going to try and show me how to use a piece of software, or how to bake a cake, please include pictures and screenshots.  It is visually appealing and can be more effective than describing with text. Pictures also break up the endless text in a longer blog post. If I see a really long post with nothing but text I am less likely to read it.

If you are going to share screenshots, invest in software that will let you capture delayed screenshots so you can show pop-up menus. It helps to have an editor so you can add boxes, arrows, and highlights to your screenshots.

All the screenshots in this post are captured and edited with Snagit.


5. Complement your post with video

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video can be worth a million!

Whether you are showing me how to apply a compression bandage, how to cook an omelet or how to deploy an Azure website, video can be a great complement to your blog post. But keep it short. If you embed a 57 minute video in your blog post, chances are your video will go to the ‘when I have time’ list along with a number of other excellent recordings that I really want to watch when I have the chance. I find somewhere in the 4-9 minute range is about the longest video I will watch when it is embedded in a blog post. You are better off creating 4×5 minute videos than one 20 mintute video if you can find a way to break up the content.

As with screenshots, take the time to invest in some software for recording your video and a microphone to improve the audio quality of your recordings. The other advantage to short recordings is they take less time to redo when you make a mistake. If you are doing a software demo, increase the font sizes and consider a tool like Zoomit to help highlight and zoom in on the important parts of the screen during your demo.

Watch the video below and try to imagine writing a blog post to explain how to use this feature instead of using video. FYI, I used Zoomit to zoom in and draw a few arrows. (my Zoomit skills pale in comparison to @GeekTrainer who uses it really effectively in his Microsoft Virtual Academy videos). FYI, I used my headset instead of my Snowball Microphone for this recording and I did get feedback from a viewer saying the audio was hard to hear.

Sample video using Zoomit and headset microphone

6. Include links!

When you recommend a tool or resource, please provide a hyperlink!

I LOVE bloggers who include links to related resources. If you are showing me a recipe for a cocktail and the recipe calls has an ingredient of “ginger simple syrup” please give me the link to a recipe for ginger simple syrup, that’s not somethig I can just pick up at the store! If you are writing a technical post and you start tell me I need to have a Microsoft account and Visual Studio installed, give me links on where to create a Microsoft account and where I go to install Visual Studio! Please!

I suspect one of the people who read this post has already clicked on a link in this post. If not here’s one for you to click now.

7. Open links in a separate tab or window

Don’t lose your reader!

You’ve added links to your blog post, but what happens when your reader clicks on them? Do they leave your post? Will they ever come back?

If you don’t open links in a new window or tab, I may click on that link in and never return. You put time and effort into the post, you convinced me to start reading it. Increase your chances of me reading the whole thing by opening links in a new tab or window.

8. Let your personality come through

This is your blog post! You have a personal style, let it come through in your post. 

Whether it’s a  tradition of including a picture of your cat in each blog post, links to random silly videos, song parodies, or a tendancy to write run on sentences, something I have been accused of doing from time to time even though that goes against best practices when writing blog posts.

9. It’s all in the title!

You may have written the best explanation of how to change a tire ever! But if you gave it the title “I figured it out and so can you” Chances are I will never find your post when I am searching for tips on how to change a tire.

Your title needs to give me an indication of what I will learn or at least catch my attention so I am curious enough to visit your post and read your summary sentence.

Personally I despise titles with hyperbole such as “The most amazing unbelievably scrumptions chocolate sauce ever” I find them too much and they actually turn me away. So do be careful with adjectives in your title. I prefer a simple descriptive title “An easy dark chocolate sauce recipe” is more likely to get my attention especially when you add a nice photo of a slice of chocolate cake draped in your velvety sauce… hmmm hungry now.

When in doubt, a popular title is Top Ten <fill in the blank>, people often search for top laptops, top video games, top new features, top attractions, so it’s a good fallback title, of course it does force you to come up with 5 – 10 good points to cover in your post!

10. Go back and edit your post!

Edit and then edit again!

Re-read your post and look for spelling mistakes. Spell check won’t catch everything! I recommend reading the post from bottom to top to look for spelling mistakes. After all their mite bee some words that spell check says are syntactically valid but inn you’re post are used inn the wrong context.

A good friend of mine writes short stories and has had several published. She told me when you finish a store or chapter, you should go back and edit it with the goal of removing sentences and words that do not add to the story. When you are finished your edit, your story should be about one third shorter! The result is a cleaner, faster paced story. You would be amazed how much you can remove while still delivering the same message sharper and cleaner!

Go forth and write!

There are many other ways to write great blog posts, but hopefully this helps! Apologies  to all my readers for all the posts I have written where I didn’t folllow my own rules!

Fear–let it help you not hurt you!

Fear isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if you use it wisely it might even help you!

I am a runner. I loved running 5 km races. Occasionally I would run a 10 km race, but they seemed really long. Somewhere along the way I decided I should try a half marathon. The furthest I had run at that point was a 16 km run which was part of my training plan to run 10 km faster. I figured I could likely manage 5 more km.

I asked my sister (a running coach and talented runner) for a training plan. I followed it and picked my goal race. I set myself a goal of completing the race in 1 hour and 50 minutes. Race day arrived and I felt great. I ran my first 10 km at a pace that would have had me finishing at nearly 1:45! I was ahead of pace! Somewhere around 17 km I hit the wall. Most people hit the wall when they run their first marathon, I guess I am an overachiever because I did it on a half. My knee and hips were screaming, I was completely miserable. A combination of walking and jogging took me to the finish line, and I felt every single step. That night, I was so sore I remember contemplating stealing a walker from a lady walking across the parking lot (if I could catch her) and wondering why street curbs were so high!

Fast forward two years, I registered for my first marathon. The marathon is infamous for testing the limits of runners. At this point I had successfully completed four half marathons but the marathon was more than a little intimidating. Could I do it? Preparing for a marathon reminded me of pregnancy: Anyone who had been through it themselves either had advice or a horror story to share! 42 km! 4 + hours non-stop running, I had bombed my first attempt at 21 km, how would I finish 42 km!

I had a training plan, a running group and coach, and amazing family and friends cheering me on. They gave me the tools and support, but it was fear that gave me the motivation to prepare. I followed my training plan, when the running conditions were bad, I drove to the gym and paid to use a treadmill. I was terrified of repeating my experience with my first half marathon. I listened and considered all the advice fellow runners shared. On race day, I started out feeling good. I got to 21 km feeling pretty good. But, when you train for a marathon your longest run is 32 km, so I knew the last 10 km was the real test. The best description I ever heard for a marathon was a 32 km warm up for a 10 km race. I got to 32 km and felt okay. I reached 35 km where my husband and son were waiting with signs to cheer me on and I was tired of course, but I was able to maintain my pace. At 40 km I realized I was going to make it. My first marathon was a race I could be proud of!

NationalCapitalMarathonIt was fear of failing that motivated me to do my training runs. It was fear that had me dragging myself out in the dark, through the cold, through the snow and sleet. It was that fear that led to my success

I’ve had the same experience when preparing for big presentations. Fear of failing drives me to prepare, to research, to practice my presentation, my demos. Fear is what motivates me to do the groundwork I need to do to succeed!

I am not the most disciplined worker. I’m the person who forgets to get something done. I am the person who says ‘I am going to do sit-ups every day’ does it for three days and then gets distracted. One of the reasons I decided to register for a marathon was because I wanted to prove to myself that I was capable of doing something that required discipline. You can’t fake your way through a marathon. If you skip the runs, you will feel it on race day. The fear of falling apart after 32 km helped me do what I needed to do and allowed me to achieve my goal.

So what is it you want to achieve? are you afraid you can’t do it? Maybe that very fear is what will help YOU reach YOUR goal!

Ranking priorities is easier than you think

Whether you are prioritizing your to-do list or requirements for an application. It helps to have a simple way to prioritize, in this post I’ll share my favorite method.

I’ve seen many different methods to rank items on a requirements list or to-do list. Priority High/Medium/Low,  ranking priority from 1-5.  When doing everything isn’t an option (and it never is!) somehow you have to decide what comes first.

When I taught Business Analysis, I came across a wonderful and simple way of ranking priorities: Must, Should, Could, Would. What I love about this method is the fact it is self describing. However, I still find it helpful to describe each category to co-workers when we are trying to decide what to do first.


For requirements

When I am considering requirements for an application, anything identified as a MUST is a feature that is worth delaying the release to get. Put simply, the application MUST have this feature or it is not worth building the application at all!

For my to-do list

If I don’t do this I am not doing my job! I am not talking about forgetting to file an expense report, I mean my core reponsibilities, what I was hired to do! Sometimes there is a MUST on my to-do list that I dread doing, but when I acknowledge to myself it’s a MUST do, I have to set aside time to do it.

For exercise

We all know we should get some exercise. Some weeks it is easier than others. Did you know that as long as you exercise every third day you are improving? If you exercise the 4th day you are at least maintaining. So for me, a MUST exercise day is when I’ve gone 3 days and haven’t done anything. On Day 4 I MUST do something, otherwise I am actually getting less fit. Of course a must varies depending on your goals.  When I am training for a marathon, the MUST is the long run because that’s the run that you will regret skipping race day)


For requirements

Anything identified as a SHOULD that is not included in a release is going to make users unhappy and may even make them mad! They will be able to use the application but you had better give them a date when the SHOULD requirements will be added. Some of the SHOULD features may be pushed back a release or two but you know the users are going to be complaining until the SHOULD requirements are released.

For my to-do list

If I don’t do this task, one of my co-workers or maybe even my boss is going to be unhappy. Maybe it’s data I promised to try and put together so they could complete a plan. Maybe it’s something I promised to follow up on. My boss isn’t going to start yelling at me because I didn’t do it, but somebody out there will be unhappy if this doesn’t get done.  I certainly try to do all the SHOULD items on my to-do list. But during a crisis, they may get pushed back until everything is under control.

For exercise

If you get exercise every third day, then you are improving. Shouldn’t we all strive to get fitter rather than just maintain our current level of fitness? Getting in a workout at least once every three days is something we SHOULD all do. When I am training for a marathon, hill work falls into the SHOULD category. I know if I do my hill work it will pay off on race day (there are very few marathon courses out there without hills). But if I don’t do my hill work I’ll still finish, it’s just going to be a lot tougher.



For requirements

This is how you make users happy! When you start adding the features a system COULD have the result is a feature that will make the users happy. Something the old system perhaps couldn’t do and caused them frustration. Something taht will make the users lives easier

For my to-do list

When I get to the COULD items on my to-do list I am making the people I work with happy. Perhaps even going a little bit above and beyond. Maybe it’s taking the time to write a little email to their manager thanking them for helping with a task. Maybe it’s taking the time to put together a really awesome graph or report that summarizes the work we’ve done in the past year or the work to do in the coming year. When you manage to get a few COULD items on your to-do list completed you may start to get a little recognition for your effort, even if it’s just a ‘Thank you this is really helpful’ email from a co-worker.

For exercise

Ahhh, now if you can get to the COULD do items on your exercise strategy you should actually start to notice improvements. You could take a few minutes each day to do some situps or push ups. You could add some cardio to your routine, or if you do cardio maybe add a little strength training to your routine.  But, if you want to make it a habit to get to the COULD items on your exercise routine, I strongly recommend doing it with a friend, or making sure it’s something you can turn into a routine. When I am training for a marathon I COULD add some strength training to improve my core and some stretching. I can run a marathon without doing situps, but I’m going to look much stronger in that finish line photo if I can fit it in. Hmmm, since stretching will help me prevent injury, I guess I should really bump that up to the SHOULD list!


For requirements

When you interview users and ask them for their list of requirements for a new system, every now and then they will say something like ‘you know what would really be nice’ . These are the WOULD like to have priorities. These are feature we will include if it turns out we can do them without really spending any serious amount of money or time doing it. Every now and then the users request a change that will take very little time to implement,  it may be a feature that already exists in the software but wasn’t implemented or well understood. We don’t often get to add a WOULD to a system, but when you do, the users smile and you get the satisfaction of knowing you made them happier without a big investment of resources.

For my to-do list

Ahhh, I have so many WOULD like to do items on my to-do list. You know all those articles you want to get around to reading, or the things you want to sit down and learn when you have time. When you do have the opportunity to tackle a WOULD item on your to-do list, the result is YOU are happier. You had a little time to tackle something that you wanted to do for you. Keep an eye out for easy WOULD like to do items that won’t take much time. Once in a while you may find a little window at the end of the day, when you really don’t have the energy to tackle the big to-do items and giving yourself 30 minutes to work on a WOULD like to do can re-energize you and remind you why you like your job!

For exercise

What exercise do you actually enjoy? Is it yoga? kickboxing? (I love kickboxing) cross country skiing? A walk along the river? Find a little time here and there to do something you enjoy that happens to be exercise, rather than doing it because it is exercise. When I am training for a marathon, going for a run wiht no goal pace or distance is such a pleasure especially with a friend! Itgives me a break from the gruelling training runs and reminds me why I took up running in the first place.

Women in Tech–10 Tips for balancing family and business travel

ViewFromAPlaneAfter twenty years of working in high tech and just about every one of those years involving business travel, I won’t even pretend to have perfected the family/work balance but, if you are about to embark on a job that involves travel, I have a few tips that might help.

1 – Accept you may catch some moments in reruns

First steps, losing a tooth, scoring a goal at the hockey game, as a parent you will get to witness many amazing moments in your child’s life. If you travel for work, you are going to miss some of those moments.  It’s not the end of the world, find pleasure in listening to your spouse or child tell you all about that awesome moment. They will be thrilled to have an opportunity to relive it with you when you call or get home.

2 – Find a farewell routine

Life is easier when you have a routine. It helps to have a routine when you leave on a trip. My routine is fairly simple, when I leave town I give the kids (and my husband) a bedtime kiss and hug for each night I will be gone (a little tougher now the boys are teenagers). This is my way of letting them know that even though I am not home, I am still thinking of them. It also gives them a sense of how long I will be gone. A 3 year old doesnt really understand the difference between a 2 day and a 5 day trip. But, kids figure out quickly that only one extra hug meant a short trip. I still remember the night before a two week trip, my 7 year old son stepped back and looked at me and said ‘that’s a lot of extra hugs mom.’  Some people count sleeps until mom or dad gets home. You could make a countdown with post it notes or tear out pages from a day by day calendar and leave them behind one per day. Whatever works for you. Just make sure it doesn’t require too much work beforehand, if you are travelling regularly, you won’t always have the time and energy for complicated rituals.

3 – Do what you can to make your time away easier for your spouse

Leaving for a week? maybe you should call a cleaning service to come and clean the house while you are away, or arrange for someone to mow the lawn. Maybe, the best way to help is by getting someone to help get the kids to and from their various activities. I try to make arrangements for someone to drive my son to his hockey practices so my husband has doesn’t have to manage supper, dishes and driving to and from the arena. Sometimes I can make his life easier by doing something as simple as baking the kids favorite cookies before I leave, so there are peanut free snacks to put in the kids lunches. When I had a two week trip I made arrangements for a friend to come to the house and take the kids to dinner and a movie over the weekend, so dad could have a night off. (We don’t have the luxury of grandparents in town to help out, but if you do, they could also be a great resource to give your spouse a break when you are away)

4 – Set expectations on when you will call home

In this world of text messages and Skype, there are lots of ways to stay in touch when you are on the road. But, it’s still a good idea to just have a quick chat with your spouse to manage expectations. Will you be available during the work day to exchange a text message or an email? A call may take some planning. What nights will your spouse be busy with kids activities?  When will they be busy with bath time?  When will you have privacy for a voice call? a video chat? Are there nights when you have evening commitments on your trip? Are you going to talk every night? Are you caliing to talk to your spouse at one time and your kids at a different time? In my early days of business travel (pre cell phones) my husband used to call my hotel room in the evening, on my first couple of trips I missed the calls and came back to my hotel room to a blinking light and it was too late to call back (don’t forget to factor in time changes as part of your planning). You may be busy on your trip, but your spouse is still at home dealing with all the day to day activities and may be craving some adult conversation, or a chance to unload after a bad day. Sometimes you can just call on the spur of the moment, but it’s good to have a couple of pre-planned times just in case!

5 – Don’t buy everyone presents on every business trip

If travel is going to be a regular occurence, you don’t want the kids to expect a gift every time you go away. Don’t hesitate to bring home a little something from time to time, but you don’t need to be rushing around the airport gift shop every time you have a flight. Like everything else you need to find a balance. My approach was to pick up a gift when I am visiting somewhere new or out of the ordinary. Of course, sometimes you stumble across something you just can’t get at home, a favorite brand of chocolate bar, an interesting bottle of wine, a cool pair of socks (no seriously, my son loves wearing funky socks, and I never know when I will find a cool pair). When it’s unexpected it’s a bigger treat.

6 – Share your travel perks and points with your family

If you have status on the airline, make a point of going to the airport with enough time to visit the lounge with the family (assuming your kids are old enough to get a kick out of the free cookies and drinks). Can you cash in some air miles to get free admission to the zoo? How about using your hotel points to stay at a fancy hotel for one night, cash in your upgrade coupons on a family trip and give your spouse a turn in first class. If your kids are older and are well behaved travellers, consider giving them a turn in first class as well. Please remember that smaller children should not be sent up to first class on their own, I have a friend who when upgraded ended up sitting next to a 3 year old (not sure of the age, but he got my friend to cut his meat up for him so we are going to guess the 3 year old range) this boy was providing his own loud commentary as he watched the in flight tv, was rude to the staff, kicked the seat in front of him, and was generally loud and disruptive. Meanwhile his father was somewhere in economy oblivious to the whole thing. My friend was getting the dirty looks because they thought he was the parent. So while I applaud taking kids on trips and giving them the opportunity to experience first class, with younger kids that should only be done supervised by mom or dad. But I digress, the main point here is your family is affected by your business travel, it’s stressful for them, so if you get a few perks try to share the benefits with them.

7 – Listen and ask questions

When you come home from a trip or you call home during a trip, chances are your spouse or kids will have news to share. Even if you had an exciting day/trip listen before you tell your story. Ask about the science test, the doctor’s appointment, recess, bath time.

8 – Try to be home before bedtime

I’ve discovered that if my kids see me before bed, they don’t consider that a day away. So sacrifice a little sleep in the hotel bed to catch that early morning flight so you can be home by suppertime. When going on your trip, try to avoid those early morning flights so you at least have breakfast with the family before you take off. 

9 – Set limits on your travel

How much travel is too much? Best to discuss that with your spouse before it happens. You should also ask yourself which family events should not be missed. Sometimes the answer when the boss says ‘can you do this trip’ is no. I call it my domestic air miles balance. When I take a trip I am cashing in domestic air miles, and when I get home I need to earn them back. Occasionally, if I am travelling somewhere really interesting or in a city where I have friends or family to visit, I cash in a few extra domestic air miles and spend an extra day in the city to explore. If I have had a few trips back to back and another one comes up I might tell my boss that I have cashed in all my domestic air miles and need some time to earn them back before I travel again (If you do turn down a trip, tell your spouse you did it, I’ve discovered letting them know I said no to a trip helps me earn back a few more of those domestic air miles). Saying no from time to time is not going to hurt your career. If you have accepted a job with very heavy travel, then it’s important to stop from time to time and discuss with your family if the job is worth that much time apart. 

10 – Give your spouse a chance to be an awesome parent

When you are away, the household routine may vary. maybe the kids get ice cream as a bedtime snack instead of fruit. Maybe they get to watch a tv show you normally don’t let them watch, or they get more video game time than you would normally allow. A little rule stretching can actually help the kids feel a little closer to dad. Maybe there is a restaurant, tv show, or movie that you don’t like but they do, what better time to do it then when you are out of town! They will still want to spend time with mom, and tell you about their days and adventures when you get home. If the kids get a little quality time with dad and bond doing something you wouldn’t normally do, even some minor rule breaking, maybe that’s okay. I honestly believe that my kids are a little closer to their dad because I am occasionally out of town.

Jobs which require business travel can be exciting and great opportunities, but they will absolutely impact your life at home. A little foresight and planning will make it easier on everyone! Safe travels and share your tips as well!

How do you help someone discover coding?

One hour at a time!

HourOfCodeNEwsletterImageI am very excited to be a part of the Hour of Code. Hour of Code was created by as a way of getting kids interested in coding.

“more than 50% of today’s jobs require some degree of technology skills”

Did you know more than 50% of today’s jobs require some degree of technology skills? That number is likely to increase not decrease! Some of the greatest innovations in technology seem to occur when someone in a field that is not necessarily viewed as technical (e.g. music, fashion, journalism, healthcare) learns how you can leverage computers and technology to solve problems and applies those tools to solve problems in their field.

Let me give you a couple of specific examples


When a musician wants to compose a piece of music on a piano, they typically start by playing the piece, and then they have to transcribe it. This can be done using a midi keyboard so you can generate a midi file that captures the music as you play. But what about the concert pianist on the grand piano, who finds themselves having to record the music and then listen to it afterwards and transcribe it. transcribing the music is a tedious process. There is software out there that tries to convert audio to midi file or sheet music but no-one has really nailed it yet. Enter ClaVision, students from Lethbridge Alberta who were inspired by Beethoven to create software that could analyze a video of someone playing a keyboard and generate a midi file which can then be used to create the sheet music!


Nonny de la Pena has taken the technology used for virtual reality game to find an entirely new way to share stories. This could really change the way we think of learning history or journalism. Storytelling becomes more powerful than ever. You can learn more here. (warning the video at that link contains recreated footage of a bombing and a beating that may be  unsuitable for young viewers)


Fashion is a multimillion dollar industry, obviously technology is used during the manufacturing, but how about technology being part of the finished product? Here’s a neat little story by Sage Franch (@TheTrendyTechie) that talks about a wearable display you can integrate into clothing! Or what about the girls from Oman d=who saw their sister carrying a huge pile of nail polish bottles trying to find ‘the perfect color’ and designed an app and printer that would allow you to design and print a single application of your own custom nail color.

New people bring new ideas!

When we break down the barrier that technology and coding is for ‘geeks’ we invite people with different ideas and different problems to solve to explore the capabilities of technology. That’s why the hour of code is so important! If we can get kids to explore coding before they develop the mindset ‘Coding is for geeks, I am not a geek so therefore I am not a coder’ then perhaps a 10 year old with a passion for drawing and painting will find a new way to share art with the world. perhaps a 14 year old who dreams of trying to solve world hunger will find a better way to feed the world! The more people we have with different backgrounds and different interests learning the capabilities of technology, the more problems we can solve with technology.

Monday December 8th, 2014, I will be co-presenting a webcast on how to get started coding with Sage Franch. You can see it here
I am also presenting it to a grade 8 class, to a group of kids at Pathways to Education, and last year I presented it to a grade 5 and a grade 6 class. Anyone can do an hour of code, and that includes you! Just deliver your own hour of code at a school or community group near you, or maybe just share it with a son or daughter, niece or nephew, one of my coworkers shared it with her parents! Who would you like to introduce to coding?

Here’s a few resources to get you started:

  • Check out for a self guided tutorial
  • You can also visit to find other courses aimed at helping kids explore the world of coding (Warning: you may be subjected to me as a presenter in a couple of those courses Smile, there are few things I love more than helping people discover the power of code!)
  • You can also visit and find more tutorials for kids young and old!

If you have discovered the joys of coding, consider introducing it to a new generation! You might even have a little fun on the way!

Not convinced yet? Check out this great little video and see if it inspires you to share an hour of code!


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