U of T alum surges in middle-distance running rankings

Gabriela DeBues-Stafford ascends to fourth in the world shortly before IAAF championships

U of T alum surges in middle-distance running rankings

Former U of T psychology student Gabriela DeBues-Stafford has launched herself to fourth place in the world rankings for middle distance runnners. Stafford is hoping that this rise in prominence will lead to success at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar, which will run from September 27 to October 6.

During her time with the Varsity Blues, Stafford came in first in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Cross Country Championships, and second in the 1,000-metre race at the USPORTS Cross Country Championships, both in 2015. She finished first in seven different OUA track and field competitions, and five USPORTS competitions.

As of September 25, 2019, Stafford has broken five Canadian records, including the mile and 1,500-metre indoor races, and the outdoor mile, 1,500-metre, and 5,000-metre races. She was also the first Canadian woman to break the four minute mark in the 1,500-metre race.

She believes she can medal in the IAAF championships, and now has a very realistic chance to do so. She will be Canada’s most prominent athlete in the competition. Stafford is also hoping that this competition prepares her for tough competition in the Tokyo Olympics.

“I think it’s a reasonable goal to break all my Canadian records again in the lead up to Tokyo,” Stafford wrote in an interview with the CBC. “As for the Olympics themselves, anything is possible. I’m not comfortable saying outright what I want, but everyone on the start line has the same goal in mind. It’s not a secret what our goal is.”

The ultimate summer running playlist

Lace up your runners and put your earphones on, you’ll want to turn up the volume for these hot tracks

The ultimate summer running playlist

We all know Toronto only has two seasons: winter, and construction. So, now that the weather is starting to warm up, try listening to these tunes to block out the city noise when you feel like going for a run.

  1. “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor, 1982

I strongly recommend starting your cardio workout with a light jog transitioning to a sprint with this classic track featured in Rocky III. This song is my go-to warm-up beat and is guaranteed to help you run the distance.

  1. “Run Run Run” by Celeste Buckingham, 2012

In this catchy tune, the artist sings, “You better run, run, run / Nowhere to run / But to me.” If lyrics can contain subliminal messages, then they are sure to get you motivated for the exhilarating run ahead!

  1. “Nonstop” by Drake, 2018

With over 800 million streams on Spotify, Drake’s song “Nonstop” from his 2018 album Scorpion is clearly a popular fan favourite. The Toronto native sings about the fast-paced music industry and his impressive work ethic that evidently paid for his timeless timepiece: a Rolex watch. Cue the beat: “This a Rollie, not a stopwatch, shit don’t ever stop.” If this isn’t a Toronto man’s jam, I don’t know what is.

  1. “Stayin’ Alive” by Bee Gees, 1977

When you feel a runner’s cramp coming on — usually on the right side, just under the ribs — keep your beats per minute (BPM) steady to this tune featured in the 1977 drama/romance movie Saturday Night Fever, featuring a bearded John Travolta. Fun fact: the beat in this song has also been used repeatedly to teach CPR.

  1. “Summertime Sadness” by Lana Del Rey, Cedric Gervais remix, 2012

Summertime is rad, not sad! Especially when you’re listening to the sweet, seductive voice of Lana Del Rey. Her angelic vocals, which are remixed in this up-beat version, are pure serenity. So, enjoy the summer sun heat and feel the beat while the soles of your feet skip through the streets.

  1. “All Day and Night” by Jax Jones, Martin Solveig, and Madison Beer, 2019

The best thing about this song is the continuous melody which makes it a perfect track to run to without interruptions. Hopefully, this trio of artists will collaborate again to make another great running anthem.

  1. “Runnin” by Mike WiLL made-it, feat. A$AP Rocky, A$AP Ferg, and Nicki Minaj, 2018

“Runnin, runnin, runnin, this shit, both legs broke / Runnin, round town, yeah they comin for my head though / Funny thing about it they don’t always see my head though.” The lyrics speak for themselves, but please don’t break your legs for the sake of your run.

  1. “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” by Daft Punk, 2001

I highly recommend blasting this tune to get you pumped for summer. Daft Punk’s songs have an incredibly unique way of engaging the listener, using fool-proof beats that are guaranteed to keep you moving, and maybe even dancing.

  1. “Alors On Danse” by Stromae, DubDogz remix, 2010

Speaking of dancing, this French song “Alors on Dance” — meaning so we dance — is the perfect track. Whether you’re training for a marathon, hitting the treadmill at your local gym, or warming up for a dance-off, this is your tune!

  1. “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, 2013

End your workout on a high — a runner’s high. While cardiovascular exercise increases the release of endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine in your body, this upbeat and feel-good song will similarly leave you feeling euphoric and energized.

Opinion: What counts as fairness in sports?

Caster Semenya and the extent to which sporting will go to exclude athletes who are different

Opinion: What counts as fairness in sports?

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has erred by failing to overturn a series of discriminatory rules that target female athletes who are transgender or have intersex traits.  

By ruling in favour of the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), the CAS has authorized regulations that require female athletes with naturally high testosterone levels — typically found in intersex women — to suppress their hormone levels if they wish to compete in races between 400 metres and a mile.

At the centre of this controversy is South African runner Caster Semenya. Semenya, who issued an appeal against the IAAF rules, has dominated the women’s track and field scene for the past decade. As a two-time Olympic gold medalist and a three-time World Champion in the women’s 800-metre race, Semenya has faced unrelenting scrutiny. Like several other intersex women who will be penalized by the new rules, Semenya identifies and competes as a woman.

In order to race, she has four options: either take hormonal contraceptives up to six months before competing; compete alongside men; compete in other events not subject to the regulations; or cease competing entirely. Even if Semenya gives in and undergoes hormonal treatment to lower her testosterone levels to the IAAF requirements, the possible side effects of the treatment may negatively impact her health and further prevent her from racing against other women in the events of her choosing.

The IAAF has argued that their new rules — which came into effect on May 8 — are intended to ensure fairness in women’s track and field. This argument is supported by the perceived correlation between testosterone and enhanced athletic performance.

It is commonly believed that an increased amount of testosterone can improve strength and speed levels. The IAAF and supporters of this ruling have relied heavily on this perceived correlation to argue that Semenya holds an “unfair advantage” over other women in her sport because of her naturally elevated levels of testosterone.

However, wouldn’t it be fair to argue that many successful athletes possess natural advantages that give them an upper hand in their respective sports? It’s no secret that height is beneficial in sports such as volleyball and basketball. Should the IAAF ban tall women from competing in basketball and volleyball matches to ensure fairness in these sports?

Take 23-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps. Phelps not only possesses an exceptionally long arm span and reportedly double-jointed ankles, but also produces significantly smaller amounts of lactic acid compared to his competitors. Lactic acid build-up contributes to muscle fatigue, and because Phelps produces less while competing, he holds an advantage over his competitors. Yet, Phelps is not required to undergo treatment to elevate his lactic acid. We still continue to praise him for his athletic achievements while discounting Semenya for hers.

The natural testosterone that Semenya produces differs from the exogenous testosterone which has been prohibited in the Olympics since 1976. The correlation between testosterone and enhanced performance is believed to be linked to the use of synthetic testosterone.

It has yet to be proven whether the same correlation exists for its natural counterpart in female sports. There is a possibility that natural testosterone improves performance, but this prospect is offset by the likelihood that it is unrelated to athletic capabilities. As reported by the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, there is “no clear scientific evidence”  of a relationship between the two in female sports.

The argument that women with higher testosterone levels hold an unfair advantage is also based on the outdated association of testosterone with masculinity. Traditionally, it has been understood that there is a crucial distinction between men and women in terms of athletic ability, since it was assumed that men typically have more testosterone than women.

Categorizing testosterone as the sex hormone that exclusively belongs to men not only falsely categorizes women with naturally high levels of testosterone as somehow unwomanly, but also neglects the fact that women produce and rely on testosterone to survive as well.

The preoccupation with the role that testosterone plays in fuelling athletic performance also underestimates the importance of external factors, such as income, which play as much of a role in contributing to athletic success as do physical capabilities alone.

Large income disparities across the globe disadvantage athletes who are the product of lower-income environments. These athletes do not have access to the same quality facilities, coaching staff, treatment, or even the support system that are generally present for athletes living in more affluent areas.

U of T Professor of Kinesiology and Physical Education Bruce Kidd reflects similar sentiments in his article. There, he remarks: “Would Canadians who support the IAAF against Semenya like it if they were required to train under the same conditions as their competitors from the Global South? Of course not.”

The new IAAF rules also draw criticism because it seems to unfairly and unnecessarily target Semenya and other female runners from the Global South. An IAAF study on the effects of natural testosterone reveals that it has a greater influence on performance in events such as the hammer throw and the pole vault.

On the contrary, there is a much weaker correlation between natural testosterone and athletic capabilities in the 1500-metre race. Yet women with higher testosterone levels have not been barred from competing in the hammer throw and the pole vault, but have been banned from competing in the 1500-metre race.

This finding is especially daunting considering the fact that events, such as the hammer throw and the pole vault, have historically been dominated by white women from the West. Black women from the global South have typically been victorious in long-distance running events, thus leading some to believe that the IAAF’s policy may be racially motivated.

In response to the CAS’s rejection of Semenya’s challenge to the IAAF rules, the South African Sports Ministry has declared that their track federation, Athletics South Africa, will appeal the decision. Canadian Minister of Science and Sport, Kirsty Duncan, has condemned the ruling, saying that it exhibits “a total disregard for human dignity.” Furthermore, Semenya has vowed to continue running, even stating that she will not give in to the new rules and take hormone suppressants.  

The unjust IAAF rules call for society to re-examine our traditional beliefs about fairness in sports. Is it fair to publicly humiliate intersex women on the unfounded belief that their genetics give them an unfair advantage over other women? If the goal is to ensure an equal playing field for female athletes, the IAAF should focus on securing equal access to adequate training facilities, coaching staff, and athletic gear, instead of resorting to inhumane measures that single out certain athletes because they are different.

On the hunt for the ‘runner’s high’

Track star-approved trails to convert the anti-runner

On the hunt for the ‘runner’s high’

There are very few pasttimes more controversial than a run.

On one side are the avid dissenters, those who profess that nothing could be more unpleasant than a jog around the block. These are the folks who tend to opt for taking the elevator over the stairs and are big fans of those moving walkways in airports.

The opposing camp, however, raves endlessly about the magic of a run in the park with such uninhibited fervour that you would think scuffed sneakers and blistered feet were addictive.

As such, they often mention the wondrous ‘runner’s high,’ a phenomenon much spoken of but little explained. The runner will enthusiastically describe the euphoric feeling of blood in your cheeks, wind beneath your feet, or any other consequence of running that still fails to exemplify the promised addictive excitement to a staunch opposer.

It seems like the kind of thing you have to feel to believe. So, if you’re an inquiring anti-runner looking to convert, or are just looking to shake up your running routine, we have a few suggestions. The Varsity spoke to U of T alum and former Varsity Blues track star Madeleine Kelly for her advice on some runs that will get you jonesing for your next fix.

“A route is as difficult as you make it,” says Kelly. “So I don’t know which of these is the most difficult. I can tell you a little bit about the surfaces.”

If you’re looking for a scenic, hilly jog, she recommends Riverdale Park: “There’s a track there, and then there’s also a great hill, so you can get hill work in your bag or get some speed training.” The closest major intersection to her favourite running spot in the park is at Broadview and Danforth Avenues.

If you’re interested in testing your endurance, Kelly says that the best place to get in a long run is along the waterfront. “The Martin Goodman Trail goes for [roughly] 30 kilometres, along the bottom of Toronto,” she says, and the views of Lake Ontario don’t hurt either.

Finally, if you’re looking for a calm, “sheltered,” meditative run, she suggests the Beltline Trail, a nine-kilometre scenic route along an old railway line running from west of Allen Road down past Mount Pleasant Cemetery, the latter being a surprisingly peaceful running spot in its own right: “The cemetery is also great if you want a workout: rolling hills, limited traffic.”

Kelly also encourages runners to hop on the ever-dreaded treadmill. “I see it as a training tool if the weather’s brutal, then in my opinion it’s a much better option than potentially wiping out.”

However, it’s never her first choice, and she concedes that she would “always go outdoors if [she] had the option.” The takeaway for discouraged newbies? Try a scenic route instead of a machine, and maybe you’ll find yourself lacing up your running shoes more often than you think.