Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Tens and Twenties

Off to the race. Thousands and thousands of people.  An army of 10 km runners line up. Heather and I find our corral according to what we estimate our finishing time to be. Andrea is probably miles ahead of us and we’re not bothered. I look at Heather. I think she is going to be sick. I step away just in case. Then I look at the sea of people in front of us. If she does throw up, it would probably clear a path for us. I move closer.

Heather & Me BEFORE the 10 km race
Thousands of people waiting in their corrals

We start, crowds of people cheer, hang out of buildings, whistle, clap and scream. The energy is unlike anything I have experienced. I am in love and there is no turning back. It is that exact moment I turn off Elgin Street in this country’s capital city when I fall in love with running. With racing. With the collective energy.
Running along the canal, I notice a lot of people seem to be calling my name. At first, I think that I am imagining it, but I soon realize people are looking at me, “Go, Heather!” “Way to be, Heather!” “Looking good, Heather.” “You can do it Heather.”
How do they know me? I did make a television appearance back in 1995 for that cable show. I had no idea I was so popular. I guess my notoriety is broader than I thought. Then I hear, “Go, Ben.” “Good work, Corina.” I look beside me at whom I assume to be Ben and Corina. Well, no wonder they are calling to them, they have their names in large letters across their racing numbers…
Oh, wait. I look down at my racing number. H-E-A-T-H-E-R. I see.
We run up one side of the canal, cross over near Carleton University and back the other side, I feel like I am floating; all adrenaline and smiles.
After the race, we meet at our designated spot, tired, proud and filled with accomplishment. Well done. I had run a 10 km before when I was in my twenties. I had even placed, getting a trophy. I wonder exactly when that was? I hadn’t run any race since.
Andrea, Me & Heather AFTER the race

Sleep comes easy that night. Tom’s race is the next morning. I was looking forward to sleeping in a bit when Heather’s cell phone buzzes.  Six o’clock? I didn’t know there were 2 six o’clocks in the same day! It’s Andrea. The elite marathon runners are going by the hotel. Let’s go out a see them. Caught between the desire to sleep and the curiosity to witness human beings who can run 42.2 km, I hold a debate in my mind. Finally, curiosity wins and I go with Heather to watch the action.
It is simply amazing.  All types of people run by but several stand out:  a man pushing a boy in a wheel chair and another man running strong with one prosthetic leg.  For some cosmic reason, the site of this incredible runner sears into my brain. I wonder how many years he has been running. What’s his story?
Time to get Tom to his race.  We go to pack up the car and realize that when Heather and Tom, the American had made their alcoholic Costco run (see previous post), they hadn’t taken into account that we had yet to pack our stuff into the car.  All those years of playing Tetris really paid off for Heather because, somehow she squeezes everything and everybody into the vehicle.
Time to shuttle the American to his race.  All we need to do is cross a bridge to get from Gatineau to downtown Ottawa. How long could this possibly take? Five, ten minutes tops? Heather skilfully starts to navigate us on our way back towards a bridge.
Road block.
“We need to get by,” we explain urgently.
“Non, non, c’est impossible.”
“It’s impossible,” I translate for the American.
Roads are blocked because of the marathon. Which way should we go? We get a set of directions and try again.
Road block. The way to this bridge is now closed to automobiles. You need to try another one. Turn around.
Road block. Sorry, this bridge is closed. Try the previous one. Wasn’t that the one we just came from? Turn around again.
Road block. Turn around.
“Out! Just let me out, I’m getting motion sick.”
By now, Heather is frazzled from driving in circles in an unfamiliar town and Tom, the American is popping like a kernel of corn in hot oil. We are rats in a maze that had no exit, stuck in downtown Gatineau with no visible means of escape. Alcatraz has nothing on this town.
“I’ll walk.” He says.
“You can’t walk.” Heather protests.

"You're right. I don't have time. I'll run," the American replies
“How far to the start of race?” he asks a pleasant gate keeping volunteer who is guarding one of the myriad of road blocks.
“Ummm,” heavy French accent ensues, “may, ah, bee, 4 kilo-metres.”
“I’ll do it.”
By now, it’s about a half hour until his race starts. He’s runs off in the direction of the river yelling, “Meet me at the finish.”
Now what? We need to get to Ontario so we start to drive. Memory serves me correctly and we find a bridge down by a neighbouring town, Aylmer, that will take us over. So, off we go, making the 20 minute trek out looking for our break away.
Phew, on the bridge. What a sense of relief, like we are released hostages, going home for the first time in months, years maybe. Our troubles are over.
Until we try to find a parking spot. I think the closest spot is in Kanata. Heather manages to find a church parking lot. Do you think we’ll be towed? It’s Sunday. How will anybody know we’re not attending the service? The multiple cases of beer visible from the SUVs windows might be a first clue, I mention. At least parking here might lessen the likelihood of a break in. Maybe they hold AA meetings here and it all makes sense? We no longer have time to theorize and off we go. And go. And go some more. We’re probably parked at least 4 km from the finish line.
Despite his not so hectic training schedule and 4 km warm up to the starting line, Tom, the American,  finishes in fine form. All is well until we start walking towards the car. Well, the first 2 km are okay and then he asks, “Where did you park?”
Not too much farther, we assure.
Tom waving as he runs by in the Half Marathon

By the time he gets to the car, Tom has probably travelled close to 30 km by foot for his half marathon race.
“Might as well signed up for the full,” I smile.
He isn’t smiling back.
We’re all subdued on the drive back, Heather at the wheel and Tom restlessly trying to stretch his calves in the front seat.
Once home, I can’t help myself. I want to find my trophy. In the midst of basement boxes, old yearbooks, diplomas and piano recital certificates, I find it, “3rd Place Overall,” it says. “1990”. Twenty years ago, almost to the day.  There were probably only 20 runners in that race, unlike the thousands I raced with in Ottawa, but nonetheless it is still the same, the love of running, racing and the collective energy. 10 kilometres, 20 years.
© 2011 Written by Heather Down

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