When Toronto Mayor Rob Ford begin running in order to lose weight, the Mayor was outspoken and ambitious. He wanted to lose 50 pounds and called his journey: “Cut the Waist.” At the time, I was a reporter with the National Post and had just started a running column, and I wanted to understand what Mayor Ford’s training looked like. I went to Scarlett Heights High School, near his home in Etobicoke in the winter of 2012, and randomly found him there. He was aiming to run 20 laps around the football field. He was wearing cotton sweatpants and a hooded sweatshirt and, though snow was on the ground, his face was red and he was sweating.
“Gotta get it done,” he said when I caught up with. He was out of breath.
Mayor Rob Ford was a lot of things, but this isn’t a political column. This is a running column and plenty of new people have come to our sport during COVID-19. There’s lessons to be learned from the Mayor’s earnest attempt at losing weight and running; an attempt which, ultimately, failed. But why did it fail? For new runners getting into the sport, or even continuing runners looking to keep up their training in pursuit of a spring PB, here’s some takeaways from reviewing my running days with Mayor Rob Ford.
First, what worked.
Mayor Ford publicized his goals. It’s well known that if you have a goal, and announce it to the world, that goal is more likely to be achieved than if you keep it quiet. The Mayor announced that he’d lose 50 pounds in a City Hall press conference, and then scheduled weekly weigh-ins to publicly hold himself to the fire. These are good ideas. What’s your goal for the spring? Tell people. And this is why apps like Strava or RunKeeper are addictive—document your progress. You can’t get to a half marathon in Ottawa in late May without first getting a 10K under your belt next month. Make a goal, and document your progress.
The running worked adjacent with his dieting goals. Running doesn’t exist in a vacuum. If you really want to achieve something in your running shoes this spring, make sure your diet corresponds. It’s not just long runs and speed work, but also work in massage. Stretching. Do the little things. So often runners run and just run—it’s what we love to do and it takes up lots of time. But if you can also watch your diet, cut out junk food, avoid late nights, get a good night’s sleep, your running will simultaneously improve. Run, but also do the other stuff. Take the stairs.
Train where you’re comfortable. When I went to find Mayor Ford, I found him in the first place I looked: the track closest to his home. This is a good thing. You don’t want to make your running overly elaborate, and so it’s a chore just to begin. Set yourself up for success. Running blocks around your home is where I began running, and it’s still where I run today. Make the work the stuff you do in your sneakers, make everything else as simple as can be. This starts with where you’re running. The Mayor ran outside his home. Run where it’s easy to run, and keep it consistent. Run close to home.
Now, what didn’t work.
The Mayor was soaking wet in his cottons. It was 2012 when the Mayor started running. But running technology was already much more advanced than dressing like a work-from-home day on Zoom. Lycra and poly-blend running-specific clothing are no longer very expensive and, when spending a few dollars on the proper gear, you’re much more likely to stick with the sport. Mayor Ford didn’t look like a runner when I saw him outside hustling. He looked like a football coach, which he was. Dress for the sport and it will help put you in the mindset of successfully completing your goal—it’s not only more comfortable and more effective, but it will give you a psychological edge. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but get the proper running gear. You won’t like swimming either if your bathing suit keeps falling off.
The Mayor was running all alone. What if the Mayor had someone on staff who he was running with, and the two of them had signed up for the Sporting Life 10K? What if he trained with the Running Room or, where I run, BlackToe? Just like how announcing your goal makes it more likely to happen, so does training with a group of people for a common race. Having teammates keeps you accountable, plus it makes it more fun. It turns makes running, something physical, also something social: accomplishing two intrinsic human needs. Wherever you are in the country, there’s likely a run club. Difficult things are harder when we’re on our own. Seek out a group or team in your training. Running is an individual sport, but it’s better achieved when you’re not on your own. Run with a crew or a friend.
Don’t make your goal too massive. Mayor Rob Ford rarely went for half-measures. But, I’d argue, he would’ve had a better success ratio if he bit off as much as he chewed. Instead of trying to lose 50 pounds, he could’ve shot for losing ten-pounds five times. Before giving up on his weight loss program, he’d lost 22 pounds. Mayor Ford could’ve celebrated his success. I always tell people shooting for the marathon, run a 10K first. Make your goals achievable. And celebrate each one. Create your own momentum. Before you run a marathon, get your running consistent. We shouldn’t be in a race to achieve change, we want to create a sustainable new way of life. Set yourself goals you can likely achieve. Celebrate your journey. If the goal is miserable, you’re likely only to achieve it once.
Mayor Rob Ford is a divisive figure from a chaotic period of time. But when I think back of our run together, I wish I could’ve helped him, like I’m sure so many people have thought about his life. As a runner, the Mayor had so much potential. For all the new people entering our sport, there’s things you can learn from, and mistakes to avoid, from Mayor Rob Ford.
Photograph of Ben Kaplan with Mayor Rob Ford on January 22, 2012. Photo by CJ Baek.