by Annie Tiffin
Baldish Toor started with the Whitby Running Room in 1999, joining the Learn to Run program primarily to impress a runner she had her eye on dating. She fell in love with him, and after tackling the impossible task and unbearable pain of one minute of running, she fell in love with running. She still detests the first few kilometres of every run, but once she settles in, she can keep putting one foot in front of the other for, as it turns out, a very long time.
From terrified Learn to Run participant to marathon training program leader, Baldish has always been a steady and inspiring presence at the Running Room. She feels a special empathy for runners embarking on a new challenge, because it reminds her of how far she has come in her own running. She loves seeing the participants blossom over the course of the program. In Baldish’s words, “the energy of the group keeps running fun for me and keeps me honest with my own training, so I teach purely for selfish reasons!” Her program participants, who have experienced personal successes under her guidance, are all very glad she is so “selfish.”
Having conquered many 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons and full marathons, along with an ultra or two, Baldish decided to take things to an epic level to celebrate her milestone 50th year. After hearing a friend talk about the Marathon Des Sables in southern Morocco, she was sold. What better way to celebrate half a century of being alive, than to run 250 kilometres across the Sahara Desert?
In December 2015, Baldish cranked up her training under the supervision of her coach, Derrick Spafford. During the peak training months of January to March, she ran in the morning and evening a couple of times a week, plus back-to-back long runs on the weekends. She wore a heavy backpack during training and travelled to Ottawa’s Gatineau Park to run in the snow, to mimic the challenge of running in the sand.
In April 2017, Baldish embarked on her multi-day trek across the desert, sleeping in a rudimentary tent and rationing her water allowance of 12 litres per day (the only provisions supplied and carried by the race organization). In her pack she hefted everything else, including food, a pocketknife, an anti-venom kit, a sleeping pack, an aluminum survival blanket, sunscreen, an emergency whistle, a blister treatment kit and her Running Room technical underwear.
Self-sufficient races across the Sahara Desert allow the runner no room for error. She had no means of contacting her loved ones at home and had to rely on e-mails, hand-delivered to her tent at the end of each stage, sent to her by family, friends, and her running community oceans away.
Back in Whitby, we anxiously waited for updates. A popular question—“Is she ahead of the camel?”—referenced the fact that a camel brings up the rear of the race, and runners passed by the camel are disqualified. We’re proud to report that Baldish did stay in front of the camel and completed the entire six-stage journey, along with just over 1,000 other finishers.
Wondering what the follow-up to the world’s toughest footrace is? Well, Baldish is looking forward to leading our spring marathon training program, she still has her eye on a trail 100-miler one day, and she wants to qualify for the Boston Marathon. She never stops dreaming about what comes next. In the meantime, she’ll keep humbly blushing at the well-deserved accolades, preparing for her next adventure, and inspiring many athletes along the way.
Oh, and remember her original plan to impress that runner? As usual, Baldish executed her plan perfectly. He became her husband and remains her biggest fan.