Globetrotting author and elite American marathoner Becky Wade-Firth is ready for the race of her life in Toronto
It’s hard to believe that this Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon will be Becky Wade-Firth’s first race in Canada. The 30-year-old is surely the most travelled entrant on the race’s elite start list.
In July 2012, fresh out of Rice University, the Dallas native travelled the world on a Watson Fellowship to immerse herself in multiple running cultures across countries. The documentation of her year of running abroad is now bound in Run The World: My 3,500-Mile Journey Through Running Cultures Around the Globe, a must-read memoir for runners, published in 2016.
“After college, I wrote a proposal about how I would spend my dream year and how I would pursue it,” says Wade-Firth about her application for the fellowship, which promotes purposeful travel and is granted yearly to 40 graduating seniors across the United States. “I built my proposal on long distance running cultures and training styles because I fell in love with the lifestyle I had in college.”
And so began Wade-Firth’s running pilgrimage to parts of Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania. She ran on the world’s fastest one-mile course in New Zealand, she learned about ancient Midsummer Rituals in Finland, and she tackled punishing tempo runs up the mountains of Switzerland.
“One conversation that resonated with me was when I asked an Ethiopian athlete how much she ran every week and she had no idea.”
In Tokyo, she crammed onto the Namban International Running Club track with thousands of others for weekly practices, followed by a public bath and social drinks. In Ethiopia, she relished the laid-back running culture. “One conversation that resonated with me was when I asked an Ethiopian athlete how much she ran every week and she had no idea,” says Wade-Firth. “She guessed somewhere between 30 and 100 miles.”
The runner had planned to visit nine countries, but that number quickly ballooned when she followed new acquaintances to new land. She wrote several entries in a travel blog entitled Becky Runs Away, and inserted her final statistics on the blog’s landing page.
Countries visited: 22
Pairs of Running Shoes: 11
Miles Run: 3,504 (that’s 5,639 km)
Wade-Firth wrote online so that her mother and sister could follow stories of her adventure, but had little aspiration of turning her entries into a book. Her blog, however, gained so much traction that her high-school friend, who had become a literary agent in New York City, nudged her to take her writings one step further. By 2016, Wade-Firth published with Harper Collins, which led to new opportunities for the now-30-year-old.
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“I realized you can make endless connections through travel and running and the intersection of both,” says Wade-Firth, who now contributes regularly to Runner’s World, among other outlets. “Now people will ask me for running route recommendations, I get to talk at bookstores and expos… it has really opened doors.”
Wade-Firth hopes to write a second book, but is in no rush to publish.
“Writing a book is kind of like running a marathon,” she says. “The first one, I was so naïve, it just happened. The second one, you see it differently. You know the amount of work it takes to succeed – you just want to nail it.”
Wade-Firth has now waited over five years to perfectly nail a second marathon. Her debut in Sacramento in 2013, shortly after her year of travel, remains her best to date: 2:30:41.
Lately, however, training is going well. Wade-Firth now lives in Boulder, CO and just last year reached new heights in the half-marathon, running 1:11:15. This year, she has already raced five times in her marathon build, and has only lost to two of her compatriots in that stretch: 2011 Pan-American steeplechase gold medalist Sara Hall and 2016 10,000m Olympian Emily Infeld. Wade-Firth now brims with confidence, and believes it possible to achieve the IAAF Olympic Standard of 2:29:30.
“I feel like my PR is way overdue for being shattered. I feel like I’ve been ready before – the conditions were off and I haven’t done it. I can talk all I want – Toronto is the day to put it all together.”
“One thing about Toronto is that it likely won’t be hot and humid there,” says Wade-Firth. “I know some people go there to run fast.”
And what does an expert on running cultures have to say about the one in Canada?
“Polite definitely comes to mind. I shared a cab with Cam Levins in Philadelphia once, and cooled down with Emily Setlack (at the Rock and Roll Philly Half-Marathon) and she was speaking so highly of her Canadian competition. It seems like there is an intimate community of runners.
“I also think Canadians are really tough, similar to the Scandinavians. Getting through a cold winter requires a different type of toughness. I’ll have to go up there and see for myself.”