Sunday, January 15, 2012

What’s Your Number?

The Niagara Falls International Marathon is the only marathon in the world that starts in one country and finishes in another. So, naturally we absolutely must run it. And, by we, I mean Karen, Lyndsay and myself.
Since this is Karen’s inaugural marathon, her excitement and anticipation is bubbling over. And, since she is a people manager, and a very good one I might add, she makes all the arrangements for our accommodation and ‘night before’ meal.
Although I can operate high powered, top of the line graphic programs and know the difference between an eps, psd, pdf, png jpeg and ai file, have had my work appear in national newspapers, and designed billboards larger than my living room, I cannot, for the life of me, operate a cell phone. Since my running buddies are my juniors and very phone savvy, I make an honest attempt to learn to ‘text’ on my very old, number-pad only phone.
I’m so excited. My phone sings. I open it and there is a text message.
Ohhhh, what to do next?
I panic and press random buttons. It makes a strange noise and up pops a message, “Where are you?”
This is good. I can answer this one. We are on Highway 400. Oh, wait. This involves numbers. A cell phone only has to be 5 minutes old to be outdated. Like dogs, cell phones have their entirely own division of time. If a dog is two years old, we say he’s 14 in dog years. Well, my phone is probably a few years old…but in reality it’s at least a few millennia old in cell phone years. Fly backwards, skip the renaissance and land it in a puddle of dark ages. It has no key pad for typing, only numbers. Which is a little ironic because I can only make those numbers spell letters. I have no idea how to tell my numbers to spell, well, numbers. I begin that painful task of spelling out “h-i-g-h-w-a-y f-o-u-r h-u-n-d-r-e-d”. It takes me about 15 minutes, but I am able to press ‘send’. It is a horrible experience, but I take solace in the fact there is a slim to none chance there will be anymore text questions that require me to give a number in the answer. Phew. Relief.
In less than the tiniest micro-second, I get a response. “So r we. What time do you think you will get to the expo?”
Double darn, there’s even punctuation in this one.
I sigh and painfully spell out ‘a-b-o-r-t t-v-o t-h-i-r-t-y.’
I know it’s misspelled but I am beyond caring. I press ‘send’.
I am now definitely sure I won’t have to spell out any more numbers.
I arrive at the hotel and settle in. The room is absolutely stunning. It is on the eighteenth floor, overlooking the falls. I jump on the bed, gawk at the Jacuzzi tub in the bathroom and I hear my phone again.
This time from Lyndsay.
“What’s your room number?”
I growl.
“E-i-g-h u (backspace) t-e-e-n o-h e-i-g-h-t u”
“1807” Miss Lightening Fingers responds. I am now jealous of her phone’s obvious superior capabilities. She’s next door.
I could text back, but it is quicker to go knock.

The morning of the run, we’re all up early and are chipper. One by one we appear in the hallway outside our rooms. Karen, me, then Lyndsay.
Our ‘people’ will be along course to offer fuel such as peanut butter sandwiches. We leave our entourage behind in their rooms, counting on seeing them en route.
“Guess what? My ipod didn’t charge. I had it plugged into my computer and nothing happened.” Lyndsay says.
“Is it completely dead?” Karen asks.
“No, there’s about half on it.”
“You’ll be fine.”
“You think?”
“Absolutely,” I say out loud. Inside I freak out. I can’t believe she won’t have an ipod. She’ll be lucky to last 5 minutes. I would die without an ipod in a marathon. I hope she doesn’t jump over the falls, driven to distraction by the lack of motivating music. How will she survive? This is absolutely the worse thing to happen ever!
So naturally I say, “It won’t be a problem at all, Lyndsay.”
Off to the bus. Karen’s mother, Jane, is kind enough to drive us to the meeting spot. We board. The girls head for the back. I feel like I’m in grade 5 going on a field trip all over again. Part of me wants to break out into a chorus of “The Wheels on the Bus”. But I refrain.
“So, what’s your word?” I ask Lyndsay.
“My word? What do you mean? You have a word?”
“Yes, my word is ‘believe’ and Karen’s is ‘fearless’.”
“It helps?” she asks.
“It helps me.”
“Hmmm,” she contemplates.
“What about ‘hope’?” I offer.
I can tell by her face that offer is refused. She wants something a little more raw, edgy and young like she is.
Karen comes to the rescue, “How about ‘toughen…..up’. Since this is a child-friendly blog I won’t give you the unedited version. But, Lyndsay obvious likes it. Now, we all have a word, or in Lyndsay’s case words.
The bus keeps driving and driving and driving...and driving some more.
“We’ve been on here a long time,” Karen notes.
Then it occurs to me. We’ve been on the bus for probably a half hour, headed to another country and the only way home is by running. Suddenly I’m terrified.
We get to the border and two customs officers enter the bus. I don’t know what was in their cereal this morning because they are actually pleasant, polite and somewhat cheerful. I could be wrong but I think one guy even smiled. After checking all our passports we head off to our point of destination—the Albright/Knox Art Gallery because isn’t that where all stretching, nervous marathon runners should hang out for two hours? A gallery filled with precious art that can easily be damaged if you fell against the wall.
We walk by a painting of a side of beef only to be upstaged by a picture of a whole bunch of Campbell’s soup tins. There seems to be a theme. However, one good thing that the Albright/Knox art gallery has is flush toilets, a serious upgrade from port-a-potties so we all take advantage of this creature comfort. Lyndsay is the last to return. She leans against the wall between two roped off areas and starts to stretch her quads. Now I don’t know how many art galleries there are in North Bay, but I’m pretty confident that the Mona Lisa doesn’t hang out there so I’m sure it never occurred to Lyndsay that a little pre-run stretch would be an issue.
“Mam, Mam,” a rotund scary looking woman who obviously hadn’t cracked a smile since the early 70s is coming after Lyndsay. I think she showed up at the wrong job location this morning – she should work for customs.
“Don’t lean on the walls.”
“Oh, oh…sorry.” Lyndsay moves forward. “You can’t touch the walls?” she whispers to us.
Eventually we head to the start. We’re off.
All three of us are together, taking in the sights and sounds of Buffalo. And, to my utter surprise, it is beautiful. The temperature is perfect, the sun is shining, and we’re winding through really pretty neighbourhoods. Who knew Buffalo has such pretty parts?
At about 900 meters in, a friendly American yells, “Great work, you’re almost there.”  I suddenly worry about the U.S. educational system. Apparently it is in more of a mess than I thought. Maybe they need to pour a little more money into their Math curriculum.
Before we know it we’re hitting the Peace Bridge. Shania is wailing “Today is Your Day” on my ipod. And, it is amazing. All three of us cross over. The view (and the run) is breath taking and it is hard to believe we are granted the opportunity to run over this border crossing—legally!
A man running with a “Running for Japan” t-shirt keeps stopping to take pictures of a stuffed animal.
“Look at that bear,” I yell to Lyndsay. He’s chronicling its run.
“It’s a moose,” he yells back to me. I didn’t realize he heard me!
Pardon me. I can’t believe I, of all people, did not notice that it was a moose!
Eventually we all lose each other, settling into our own paces. After the half way mark I am getting hungry. I keep looking for my peeps but I don’t see them anywhere. I want my peanut butter sandwich. I imagine they got lost,  over slept or had to park so far away they couldn't make it. I almost shed a tear for the sandwich I will never have. Then I spot Karen’s relatives.  I wave and keep running. Then I realize I can give them my gloves as I don’t need them anymore. I turn around and start running back to them and stop. Not only am I tired, but I am stupid. Who back tracks in a marathon?? I lay the gloves down and ask them to come and pick them up.
Several kilometers later I spot my entourage. I should be saying I am happy to see them but truthfully I was all about the peanut butter sandwich at that point. As I approach they start running, backwards, away from me, holding the sandwich out in front. I am a greyhound chasing the rabbit skin. I think it is funnier for them than me but eventually I get to eat my sandwich!
I pass a sign that makes me giggle “Chafing lasts for a day, bragging rights last for a lifetime.” After kilometer 30 I notice a dude with Isaiah 40:31 written on the back of his shirt, “…they shall run and not get tired.” Obviously I wasn’t consulted when this was written.
It is now a mental game. I look down at my watch, I am slowing. It hurts. I speed up. It hurts.  However, if I go faster, this will finish quicker so I keep my pace up.
I see Karen up ahead. I pass her. Now, normally I would stop to see how things are going but if I stop I probably won’t start again. She says something about stomach upset and gives me one of her eload discs. It isn’t long before she recovers and breezes by me again.
I finish. I am happy. Karen is already there with her family.
 Apparently it is supposed to speed recovery. People are kind of staring at me but nothing in me cares in the least. Lyndsay joins us soon sans tunes. The ipod had died quickly after she turned it on. Even without music, she managed her personal best for the half marathon split. Must have been her ‘word’.
We head home. Now, there are some things I know for sure. I know with certainly that gravity keeps us planted on earth, the sun gives us life and oxygen is necessary for breath. I also know, with the same conviction and certainty that after running 42 kilometers, I will throw up. What I don’t know for sure, however, is how many times.
Seven. It is seven. I throw up seven times. And, we have to pick up a friend in Toronto along the way home. I am stuffed in the back seat with my head in a bag. It is noted that I somewhat resemble a horse in a feed bag. I never regretted buying a car with standard transmission so much before in my life as I am lurched with each gear change.
“I hope you don’t mind,” it is said to the new passenger, “but she’s a little sick.”

That's the understatement of the century.
“I don’t mind,” Marcus answers, “as long as she doesn’t throw up on my bass guitar.”
Marcus plunks the guitar beside me. I put my head back in the bag and promise not to defile it.
“Turn up the music,” I yell from the comfort of my plastic bag.
Why? They have to ask? Here comes number eight.
Eventually back at home I recover. We all do in our own way. It is a great weekend. Certainly one for the memory books. Congratulations to Karen who is now part of the 42.2 km club! Something in her facebook quote the following week strikes me as being so true, and I paraphrase from whoever she is quoting:
The person who finishes the marathon is not the same person who started it.
So true! In my case, she’s a much sicker one!
*By the way, no bass guitars were harmed in the creation of this blog.

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