Meet Lara Penno, personal trainer, runners and triathlon coach.

More than dedicated runners of the BMO Vancouver Marathon, RUNVAN Community Ambassadors are also leaders in Vancouver who embody the Vancouver International Marathon Society’s mission, vision, and valuesElite and recreational runners, business leaders, or local heroes, these superstars find joy in motivating and inspiring others through running. They’re also comfortable with public speaking and tend to be regulars at our running events throughout the year.

Meet Lara Penno, an Ambassador with over 20 years of experience as a personal trainer and run and triathlon coach.

The 2012 Vancouver marathon.

Lara Penno at the 2012 BMO Vancouver Marathon

Lara started her running career at Concordia University, where she led her varsity track and x-country running team, and received Rookie of the Year as well as MVP. Lara has since competed in over 50 triathlons, including Iron Man Canada (1998), and more road races than she can count.

Currently, Lara’s heading up Vancouver’s Right Shoe run clinics, a position she’s held for the past ten years. She continues to be passionate about running and exercise, and strives to share her enthusiasm with others through her work as a personal trainer and coach.

RUNVAN: Take us back to the first time you ran in the Vancouver Marathon or Half Marathon. What was it like? How long ago was it? What do you think has changed since then?

LP: I ran my first Vancouver Marathon in 2001 (I think!). It was a tough course that year, with the halfway point located at the bottom of the hill near Prospect Point in Stanley Park.

I was still relatively new to marathon running and did not pace myself well at all! A nice fellow passed me and told me I was on a solid 3:10 pace, but this was already halfway through the course—as we all know, a lot can happen from halfway on. Needless to say, I had a terrific bonk and finished in 3:29.

My life and experience has changed since then. I am now married and have two wonderful kids. When I was over 40, I surpassed that 3:10 pace with a marathon PB of 3:08. Wisdom pays!

RV:Name a few of your favorite points along the new course. Why do they stand out for you?

LP:I love the new BMO Vancouver Marathon course. I was so excited when I heard each course would be changed [in 2012]. The new point-to-point routes are great, and showcase the whole city. I have always enjoyed a challenging run with more hills than flats, so I like Camosun Street!

Lastly, as hard as it is to finish [the marathon] around Stanley Park, without all the crowds cheering, the quiet atmosphere is lovely and forces a runner to focus inward. This is where the race really happens, within each individual.

RV: Of all the places you’ve traveled to, whether it be for competition or for pleasure, which was your favourite spot to run in and why? 

LP: We are so fortunate in Vancouver to have such amazing running ground in the city itself! I do, however, love trail running, especially when I get the chance to run on the North Shore with my best running mate, Jacquie. She knows the trails, which means I can turn off my coach-mode, let go, and follow along.  Out there, I run foot loose and fancy free.

RV: Tell us about your pre-race routine.

LP: I am pretty meticulous in the hours leading up to a race. Here’s an example of my pre-race routine, broken down into parts:

  • I eat dinner the night before at about 5 or 6 p.m. (that’s early for me), get all my gear ready, and aim to go to bed early to get in seven or eight hours of sleep.
  • I wake up three hours before race time and eat about two-and-a-half hours before my warm up. Breakfast is usually two pieces of rice toast with almond or peanut butter, plus one to two cups of water.
  • I head to the Start Line one hour before the gun. Warm-up starts 30-35 minutes before race time. I do 10-15 minutes of easy jogging, running drills to loosen up, and then several strides to get my legs moving.
  • I try to lineup as close to the start time as possible, so I don’t have to stand around. I love it when the national anthem plays; it gets me all revved up!

RV: Pay it forward: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received from a parent, coach, or mentor about running? 

LP: While I was attending university, I worked as a waitress to support my education. The day before my Varsity Championships cross-country meet, my team’s most important competition of the year, I worked a double shift, spending twelve hours on my feet. Consequently, my legs were dead on race day, and my coach, Suzan Ballmer, was very disappointed in my poor performance.

When I told her I had no choice, that I needed to work the day before, Suzan turned to me and said, “You always have a choice.”

Suzan has been my mentor from the very start of my running career. Her words from that day have stuck with me, and I try to remember them when life feels unsteady or out of control.