Today is the day we leave for Ottawa and I am more frazzled than a bad perm. I can’t find my shoe. Not just any shoe, but THE shoe. Picking the right shoe for a marathon is as worrisome as picking a life partner or a fulfilling career. There is quite a bit of pressure to get it right. And, if you don’t, there can be dire consequences. I have courted three different pairs of shoes, putting each through the paces during long runs and hill training and finally decided on this pair. But, we’re leaving in about 20 minutes and I have the right one in my right hand but have no clue where its mate is hiding. I had them both about 15 minutes ago but I have been flying through the house like a bee without a queen trying to pack, and in my travels have managed to lose the left shoe.
Okay, people do weird things when they are nervous so I methodically check all three levels of the house—thoroughly search the bedroom, the kitchen, and my studio in the basement. No shoe. I do, however, find my long lost scarf, the old ipod I’ve been looking for and a blouse I had no idea I had lost--but no shoe. I get creative…only 10 minutes to departure…I check the fridge and the freezer. I have heard of people putting weird things in the fridge when they are distracted. Still no shoe. 5 minutes left on the clock and I’m thinking I’ll have to bring along the ‘runner’ up from the farm team when I remember I got some water bottles out of the garage. With a whole 2 minutes to spare I find THE shoe. This is the first victory long before the marathon even begins!
The journey to Ottawa begins the way all journeys should – with a stop at Starbucks. I get my usual soy green tea unsweetened latte and my neighbour, Heather, and her chiropractor boss, Andrea, order their 100 pump, no water, no foam something-or-other, strong enough to put hair on even my chest.
Back in the car, Andrea’s husband, Tom, the American, is the driver. He is driving to Ottawa because he will likely not be able to drive back as he’s running the marathon with me on Sunday. Well, I use the word ‘with’ loosely. A more accurate statement would be he will be running the marathon in front of me. We’re travelling what is often referred to as ‘the back way’ to Ottawa, through Bancroft and Renfrew. About 20 minutes into the scenic route, the American asks, “How much farther?”
It is at this moment I realize he should probably not be permitted to have unstructured time on his hands to think or muse as it soon becomes apparent that unusual observations and very unique statements seem to surface. About half way there, we stop at a little town to use the pubic restrooms in the post office/library.
“Isn’t it funny how all post offices in Canada smell exactly the same?” the American announces loudly as we walk into the lobby. The postal worker at the desk pastes on her small town friendly smile. I can’t tell if she is agreeing with or offended by this statement but she appears to take it all in stride. I inhale deeply and secretly I realize he’s right.
We make it to our downtown hotel on Rideau Street safely. As Heather and I settle into our room, I can’t believe that this weekend has finally arrived. The next day we pick up our race kits at the expo and run into Heather’s co-worker, Aracely, who is here with her family to run the half marathon. She is completely stoked. This will be her first half marathon! How amazing. I empathize with her excitement and apprehension.
When we get to our hotel, I realize that it pays to run fast, literally. It will cost an extra $50 for every hour after 12 o’clock we require the room. The race starts at 7:00 a.m. I do the math and think there is no way I can finish the marathon, get back to the hotel, shower and get out of there by noon. This will be an added incentive to run faster.
Our hotel is great—5 minute walk to the race, close to the Byward Market and no bridges to cross, however, the neighbourhood could use a wee bit of sprucing up, like extreme makeover or maybe something more subtle, like a bulldozer. In fact, so much so, that for the entire weekend I will not walk anywhere by myself. As we walk back from the Byward Market, a random gentleman asks me if I can sell him some drugs, maybe some crack or weed. Now, I’ve given this some thought and I think I was a victim of unjust, criminal ‘profiling’. I mean, doesn’t every clean cut, forty something grandmother, ex-school teacher dressed in running gear sell illicit street drugs?
The next day Heather and Andrea run their 10 km race. Tom and I set up camp about 750 meters from the finish line. It is so much fun to watch and cheer on the runners. As the elite Kenyans run by first, I am in complete awe and wonder. They are truly poetry in motion. I am struck with the energy.
“I’m addicted.” I blurt out without explanation.
“To what?” Tom casually asks.
Now, what I am thinking is, “One day, I would like to volunteer to be a pace rabbit.” (See It Happens Around the Bay for complete explanation), but what I actually say…loudly…is “I aspire to one day be a bunny.”
Tom seems to be a bit more interested in this statement than the first.
“I wouldn’t say that so loudly,” he comments.
I agree and shut up for a while.
Somehow, the day ends and I am left to worry about the morning. I want to leave the hotel at 6:15 a.m. but Tom wants to leave at 6:30 a.m. He doesn’t want to have to use the ‘little blue boxes’ or porta potties as the general public calls them. He figures if he leaves late enough from the hotel, he will be able to make his final bathroom stop in his clean, flush-toilet hotel accomodations. We compromise and agree on 6:22:30.
I don’t sleep much at all. I can’t. I’m nervous, but more excited. I’m here. I’ve trained. I’m ready. I want to do this. Tom wants to complete this run in under 4 hours, I just want to complete it, although secretly, I’d like to do it in under 5 hours.
The race begins. It is raining lightly but warm. I enjoy the run, listening to my ipod, running with this mass of strangers. We head into Little Italy, then to China town and across the bridge into Quebec. I’m feeling a little lonely. I miss my running buddies, Karen, Lyndsay and Denise and then about 5 kilometers into the run, they appear. Not literally. I am not hallucinating, just in my imagination. Karen first shows up on my left and Lyndsay on my right. I replay the conversations and words of encouragement shared on our long runs and I feel their spirit and good wishes travelling with me. I find out later, that as I imagined them with me they were following the stats and progress of my race on the internet!
I pass a man running the race in his wheel chair, pushing the chair up a crazy Gatineau hill. Runners are telling him to keep going and that he is doing a great job. We head over another bridge back into Ottawa. I look over the River and the beauty strikes me so hard, it almost knocks me over with tears. We travel down Sussex, passing number 24. I look for Stephen, but he’s not there. Maybe I’m just not seeing him. I look closer. I see the guards, the gates but can’t find Mr. Harper anywhere. I’m getting a little anxious. After all, I travelled all the way from Barrie to do this race, you think he would have the decency to at least wave at me, especially since I went right by his front door. The nerve!
I see a man in obvious distress near kilometre 32. Two other runners stop to help him and a third hands him some of her electrolyte tablets. “You sure you don’t need them?” the other runners who are helping ask.
“No, I’ve got more. He needs them more than I do.”
I am suddenly struck what a race truly is for a recreation road runner. It isn’t necessarily a race against the clock or a race against other people. It is a race with other people; other people who have a similar passion, other people who want each and everyone to succeed, reach their goals and cross the finish line. We race together. It is a collective goal and truly a team effort. It is so heartening to see the runners encourage, help, and praise each other.
The home made cardboard signs onlookers hold up make for great encouragement and entertainment. I laugh and smile as I see them “Toenails are for wimps” “Why 26.2? Because 26.3 is just crazy” “Believe” and the best advice is “Don’t Poo” at kilometre 37.
Now, I do have a complaint I would like to lodge with the ING Ottawa Marathon organizers. The half marathon runners merge for a short period of time with the marathon runners at approximately kilometre 35, except for the half marathon runners it is probably kilometre 19. As my now tired, unrelenting body stumbles into the merge, the fresh, perky, I’m almost at the finish line half marathon runners are making me angry. I don’t like their snub, energetic gusto at all and am sorely tempted to trip one of them. I resist the urge and soldier on.
My plan for this whole race is to run 10 minutes and walk 1 minute for a recovery period for its entirety. This serves me well for 32 kilometers but now it doesn’t seem like such a good idea. I modify to 9 and 1s, then 7 and 1’s, soon to be 5 and 1s. I am now doing an even split of 1 minute running with 1 minute walking. I am in the last leg of the race and on my last legs along the canal and if you know the area, you will remember the beautiful lamp posts that decorate the sides of the bike trail. I stop and stretch my calves at every single one of them. My calves have contracted one too many times and refuse to release.
Somehow I keep moving forward and I see the 40 kilometer marker. I rejoice and my ipod starts belting out 1986’s song The Final Count Down by the Swedish group Europe. It is corny and full of fake synth sounds but it makes me run faster, and run I do, past Heather waiting in the wings, past the cheering crowds, past other runners, and finally, past the finish line! I even complete it in a qualifying time for Boston (for a 79 year old man).
Now it is time to rush back to the hotel. I remember the $50 charge. However, rushing of any type is easier said than done. I find Heather and we head back at my full speed which is barely moving. I think I say ouch with every step. Sadly, Tom did not complete in the race in under 4 hours but came very close. Stricken with a bad case of shin splints, he said he cried when he watched the 4 hour bunny bop by as he was on the ground holding his shins. There’s always next year, Tom!
In the hotel, pack, shower, rush out…just after the noon cut off! I held us up, but the American is able to talk us out of the charge and back home we head. Things are going well at first until I am overcome with motion sickness mixed in with over exertion.
“Mind if I lower the window a bit? I’m feeling a little sick.” I am lying, of course, because I am feeling violently ill.
Heather spent most of her life working with developmentally delayed people and is not easily fazed by overt bodily functions, however, I can tell by the look on Andrea and Tom’s faces that if my stomach goes, I might start a chain reaction that might no easily be stopped.
Thank goodness for Tim Hortons. I jump out of the car and run--who am I kidding? I fall out of the car and start hobbling painfully towards the bathroom. I am behind a relaxed, slow moving family who obviously don’t feel my sense of urgency. I think, “Let’s get a move on people.” It isn’t until they step to the side that I realize that I didn’t think it, I actually said it out loud! I am a little embarrassed I am so rude, but even more embarrassed I can’t speed up enough to pass them after they make an effort to move to the side.
I’m in the bathroom. Three stalls, two occupied. I take the centre one. What happened next is not pleasant or pleasant sounding for me or the other occupants of the bathroom. I am sure they are in shock because I complete the process, wash my hands and leave and no one dares to emerge from their respective stalls while I’m still there. I must have frightened them.
I feel good now. Heather has gravol and the rest of the trip is a blur until the American pipes up, “I wrote my mother’s eulogy in my head while I was running today.”
I am in shock. His mother had passed away? The poor man. What he doing running a marathon?
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know your mother had passed.”
Okay. I cannot think of any positive outcome, no matter what I ask next. I really don’t know what to do with this information. I mean, does he like his mother or is he just a long term planner? I hope he doesn’t tell his mother about this little incident.
“Four hours is a long time to run. You have a lot of time on your hands and you need to do something with your mind. I wrote the whole thing—planned it all,” the American explains.
I decide to go back to sleep.
I get home and read my first blog about this journey and don’t recognize the person who wrote it. I read with horror my initial motivation for running a marathon:
I just want to say "I did it". Just once in my life.
Will it make me fitter? Will it make me a better person? Will it teach me something about goal setting? Will anyone else care whether I completed the course? Will it improve my self-esteem? Make me better at finishing other tasks in life?
Emphatically, no, no, no!
But, I can say “I completed a marathon.”
The words floor me. I have reached my goal and these were my initial motivating factors, however the by-products of this process are the exact opposite of what I thought they would be. I have no desire to tell strangers at the grocery store that I ran a marathon or do I feel any sense of pride about the events of that one day. In fact, I knew that I would cross the finish line the second I started the race. It was not a surprise and certainly not a big accomplishment that particular date. What I thought would be a great marker, ended up to be only a very small punctuation in this journey.
The true blessings of this experience are the people I’ve met, the habits I’ve developed and unrelenting commitment I’ve nurtured. I have discovered that working towards a goal (whether achieved or not) does make one a better person, does teach you about goal setting, will improve confidence and does translate to other tasks in life. I hate to admit it, but when I started this, I couldn’t be more wrong. I guess you could say I reached my goal. True, I finished, standing, breathing, even--but the real accomplishment occurred every day I turned up for training.
I thought I would end this blog after Ottawa but what began as a novel has turned into a mere chapter and I pray for the strength and health to look forward to many more races. I want to continue running and blogging. After all, I’m still a nutter with an internet connection and a credit card. Next stop, the International Marathon in Niaraga Falls! Please come and join me on this next journey.
The compassion, nurturing,and support shown to me have been truly humbling.
I thank everyone who walked into my life through this experience: Sandra L. and Terry, my clinic leaders are so helpful, encouraging and have a great sense of humour. Betty Ann, you are so positive and full of life—I love you. Sherry, you inspire just by being. Heather, thanks for accidentally getting me hooked into this. Tom and Andrea for being part of this yearly trip. Aracely, for persevering and completing your race with gusto, Lyndsay for your purity of spirit and kindest heart ever, and Denise, you make superwoman look like a lazy slacker. Karen, you keep me on track and are so generous with your organizational skills, conversation and offers of transportation. Saz, Mike and Melissa, thanks for putting me back together and keeping me strong-at my age, it obviously takes a team effort! Thanks to my friends and extended family who have taken such an interest in this project.