We sat down with M2M Athlete Pawan Sumra to get to know her better and her journey into running. Pawan has been an active member of our Tuesday Night Workouts in Vancouver led by Coach Laurel. Pawan is an incredibly inspirational woman and we hope you are moved by her story as much as we are.
My name is Pawan (rhymes with ‘oven’). I’m a teacher, mom of two young kids and I love to run. I started running cross-country and track in school – mainly because my brother did it. My copycat tendencies grew as I got older. My brother, Sandy, who also runs with Mile2Marathon, started running half marathons and marathons and it wasn’t until I started travelling with him for some races that the love for running became entrenched. I remember cheering him on in Chicago and New York and thinking it was just the best way to see a city — running through streets lined with spectators standing on their tippy-toes to catch a glimpse of their loved ones accomplish such a tremendous goal. The gravity of those goals are never lost on me. That’s why crossing the finish line is so exhilarating. I was hooked. I tried a few 10k races and then ran my first half marathon around 20 years ago. The idea of turning around and doing that exact distance again for a marathon was laughable and ridiculous and the thought of it made me want to vomit. So of course, I’ve done two. I ran the BMO Vancouver Marathon on a sunny morning in May, and then the NYC marathon, both in 2008.
My brother, Sandy, has always been my biggest supporter. He urges me to get off the couch, calls me after (and sometimes during) my runs, and even missed a flight home from New York to watch me finish my race. He’s an accomplished runner with an inspiring work ethic. His positivity is genuine and he’s my hero, on and off the track.
A short time after having kids, getting out for runs became far more challenging. My runs felt soulless as I lumbered through them like chores, sleep-deprived and exhausted. They were random, sporadic and despite setting some goals and running a couple of races, I was going through the motions and almost always disappointed myself. That’s a horrible feeling. Looking back, it was inevitable. I struggled with the image I used to hold of myself as a runner and couldn’t reconcile it with my new reality. I wasn’t as fast, I wasn’t as fit and I just wasn’t able to devote the time and energy I once had.
It wasn’t until I met an amazing group of women that I felt like I was able to see myself as a runner again. We met at a running clinic tailored for women at Van Run Co called, “Women in Flight”. The clinic only lasted six weeks but we’ve now been running together for about three years. The group has grown and morphed into all sorts of awesome, and the routine of running regularly with them has been invaluable to me. It’s a close-knit, supportive group that is connected by our love for running. We had all been curious about M2M, but initially felt pretty intimidated. Together, we took the plunge on a summery Tuesday night and we haven’t looked back.
Joining Mile2Marathon was a real turning point. It was exactly the push I needed. Tuesday nights have such a friendly, fun, and supportive atmosphere.
Joining Mile2Marathon was a real turning point. It was exactly the push I needed. Tuesday nights have such a friendly, fun, and supportive atmosphere. We’re a chatty bunch, but we also manage to get in a kick-ass track workout that I just never would do on my own. It feels good to run fast! I like the variety of pyramids or reverse ladders – 600s, on the other hand are totally pukeworthy. The coaches are all so encouraging and knowledgeable. Coach Laurel seamlessly lays the groundwork and leads with heart. I feel so fortunate to be part of such a cool running community.
In March, Covid knocked me off my feet. Literally. A few days after doing the NYRR NYC Virtual Half with my group, we went into lockdown. Simultaneously, I was diagnosed with having the early stages of breast cancer. Within two months I underwent a mastectomy. I have yet to fully process how that experience has impacted me. I do know that I am one of the lucky ones as it was caught early. Walking around the block tuckered me out, I couldn’t open the refrigerator door and I was loaded up on meds. Running was out of the question, and that took a toll on me both mentally and physically. I missed the rush and the mental clarity from my runs, and sorely missed the companionship of my group.
Six weeks later, with the date highlighted on my calendar, my beloved running group joined me for my first run back. I was overjoyed and so grateful to be doing something so “normal” again. My return to Mile2Marathon over the summer was a humbling experience; the hill workout actually brought me to tears because the workout felt so foreign to my body. Three months later, I’m pleased to say that with patience and consistently showing up on Tuesday nights, I am getting stronger and faster. I no longer compare myself to what kind of runner I used to be, I’m truly just happy to run.
In two weeks, I will be facing what is hopefully, one last surgery followed by another six weeks of recovery. I’ve been here before. Much like the familiar feeling of thinking I could never turn around and do the half marathon distance again – I’ll cross this finish line, too. For now, I’ll savour the experience of feeling like I’m flying around ol’ Blue, with my friends on a Tuesday evening under the lights. I already can’t wait to be back.
A few fun additional Q & A’s…
How do you fit running into your lifestyle?
Wherever I can. It’s hard to plan them! If I have a brief window, I’ll just go. I find it’s easiest first thing in the morning – sometimes I’m back before my kids are even awake. Other times, I’ll go while my husband is prepping dinner. Weekends, I often go with my Dad and brother first thing.
Best running advice
I think I heard Rob Watson once say that you just have to “put in the damn work”. There are no shortcuts. That made sense to me — progress requires putting in the time.
Recovering from surgery and training for the United Airlines NYC Half in March. There’s a strong likelihood it will be virtual again, but my group and I all got guaranteed entry because we ran it virtually last year.
I have so many… Lately I feel like the mantra in my head is, “Let it go, love your crew and go for a run – because you can.”