I've learned that finishing a marathon isn't just an athletic achievement. It's a state of mind; a state of mind that says anything is possible.
-- John Hanc
After 117.8km and 12 hours, 44 minutes, and 22 seconds of running, it's come down to this. The final stage, which starts where it all began a mere week ago. The marathon. The longest distance covered in a stage in the ENDURrun, but arguably not the hardest. The route is much like the half marathon that started the ENDURrun; rolling country roads, with a small out and back portion. Even the start and finish line is exactly where the half marathon started. After what we've been through, you would think that this stage is relatively simple. Just straight forward running. No mountains to climb, no trails to traverse, no major hills to contend with. But as anyone who's ever run a marathon will tell you, it is a very unpredictable. Many things can, and do, happen on a marathon, mostly unexpected. Things can go very right, or very wrong.
As is typical of race day, especially a race such as the marathon, I slept terribly the night before, waking up every hour until 5:30am when it was time to get up. The previous evening we had all gathered at Lloyd's house for a BBQ held for all the participants and their families. It was a social event, designed for us to all celebrate what we've accomplished as a group, to socialize, and to enjoy some of the home-cooked food that we'd preferred over the course of the week. The mood was light, but you could see that people were still a bit nervous with what was still coming, me included. After the party we went back to the dorm rooms at Wilfred Laurier University where we were staying and packed up everything; race time was 7:30am, and we would be checking out as we left.
I got to the start line just before 7am. I usually like to get to the race an hour before, but hauling all my stuff down to the car took longer than normal. I was quite nervous; I sent a quick text message to Juli saying so, and telling her that I'd talk to her afterwards. After grabbing all my race essentials (racing belt with gels in the pockets, and bib on the front, MP3 player and headphones, running cap), I headed over to the porta-potty.
The start line takes place just outside a park, which also doubles as the food serving area, so after doing my business, I headed over to the swing set for a swing to try and calm myself down. I did this last year, too. As funny as it sounds, it also helps to do some very light stretching of my legs; it keeps them in motion. Soon I was joined by Mindy, a woman I know from the Running Room and Running Free running groups. We swung like little kids, almost rocking the whole swingset off the foundations (at least it felt like it). Whee!
As I was swinging, I noticed a woman taking our picture, and saw that she looked familiar. When she pulled the camera away from her face, I saw that it was Ivy, my best friend Craig's girlfriend! What a surprise! Turns out they came from Toronto to not only cheer me on, but bike side by side with me on the marathon, to offer gels, gummi bears, and support. I was so overcome with happiness that I almost started blubbering right there and then. One of my worries about the marathon was that it is a long and lonely run, especially the second loop around. I had hoped the MP3 player would help in that regard, but to have company, people to talk to, was even better.
Soon, it was time to get to the start line and start the race. Lloyd did his usual roll call, gave us our last minute instructions, and off we went.
My inner goal for the marathon was to finish in less than 4 hours and 30 minutes. To me, that's a respectable finishing time. Not to take away from anyone who takes longer, it's just what I felt I could accomplish. With the problems I'd had in the last 2 stages with my knee, however, I wasn't sure if I could do it. But I had to try. I fell into my natural pace of 5:30min/km and resovled to use the first few kilometres to warm up. My legs did not want to go; my calves were super-tight and painful, and the knee was throbbing a bit. I had taken some Aleve shortly before the race, so I hoped it would kick in and help with dulling the pain.
The first real hill came at the first water station, and again, like previous races, I resolved to run up it rather than walk them. I wanted to give all the hills my best effort; only in the latter stages of the race would I walk them, if necessary. I ran with Johanne, an ENDURrun Sport competitor for a bit, talking about how good it was to see them back, even if just for the weekend, and that I hoped her race went well. As we reached the second water station, I bid her farewell. Walking through the water stations (which were 3km apart) was also part of my strategy for the run.
Things progressed pretty well from this stage right to the 10km mark, where I took my first gel. Craig talked to me the whole way, about everything but running. He sure knew how to distract me from what was going on. It was great because we don't get to see each other a whole lot, and when we do, we usually spend a good amount of time catching up on what's going on in our lives. Before I knew it, I'd hit the 15km mark, and was heading back to the start line. Ivy would bike ahead of us on the downhills, and stop to take our pictures; Craig on bike, and me trudging along.
I came through the start/finish in 2 hours and 5 minutes, and was shocked. I had no idea I'd be going that fast. I'd hoped, but didn't think it was realistic. My knee was getting more painful, and after walking a bit to suck back another gel, it was time to start running again.
The second loop, for me, is the most difficult, because you're seeing everything you've done before. Mentally, you know how long that loop is, and that you have to do it all over again. I pushed those thoughts out of my mind, and concentrated on the here and now. My gaze was fixed about 10 metres in front of me, and I kept at it. I was starting to struggle getting up the hills, and ended up walking the first big one past the first water station. My frame of mind was sound, though. I was saving myself for the steeper parts which were coming up later on.
On and on I trudged, through to the 8km water station. This one was manned by the MyVO2 team, and a bunch of people I knew from Pickering. One of them, Aaron, was brandishing the "spatula" and waving it at me as I passed through. If you've ever seen the movie "Run Fatboy Run", you'll get the reference. The MyVO2 folks put together 3 relay teams for the ENDURrun, and they were in the running to take the top 3 spots. I was so happy that they were there and participating with such a large contingent, and also helping along the course.
Onward I ran. Soon I'd hit the 30km mark. More gel was injested, although at this point my stomach started to get a bit queasy. I knew I'd need the energy in the coming kilometres, so I forced it down. At about 35km, my roommate and former ENDURrun rival Duff caught up to me. We ran together for a bit, but I needed a recovery walk, so I let him go. He also had been surprised by some of his running friends, who were running the second loop with him.
Things became much more difficult at this stage. My right leg had been going slightly numb for the last 10-15km while I was running, and my knee was getting to the point where I was altering my gait. That's never a good thing; once that happens, other things start hurting because you're over-compensating for it, and it all goes downhill from there (so to speak). Whenver the numbness started to get bad, I'd stop and walk, until it felt better. My legs were dead stumps, my body basically willing them to continue. My pace at this point was a 6min/km pace, still strangely fast considering how I felt.
Finally, I hit the 39km mark, and had 3km (and a bit) to go. Looking at my watch, I realized that even if I walked from here to the end, I'd achieve my goal of a sub 4:30 marathon. Yahoo! But I was not going to give in that easily. this was a running event, and I was going to run into the finish. I had a short walk break at this point, then ran in. The last 3km does have two significant hills, and I ran both of them.
Finally, the home stretch was in sight. The ENDURrunners who'd finished their run, all started to cheer me in, and I broke the tape (yes, they had finisher's tape for EVERY runner) at 4:23. I had DONE IT! Despite feeling inadequately trained, and almost bailing out of the event two weeks prior, I had finished the ENDURrun! It was unbelievable, and I was overcome with emotion. I hugged pretty much everyone in the finishing area, especially Craig and Ivy, who kept me going through the race.
Another ENDURrun finished. I was ONE TOUGH RUNNER (again).
2011: 4:23:21 (unofficial)
Timex Ironman Statistics: TBA
DEDICATION: Today's run is dedicated to my best friend Craig and his girlfriend Ivy, for coming down to the marathon and biking the entire 42.2km with me. It was an immense load off my shoulders, to have them there, keeping me distracted from the pain in my legs, and being so supportive. I am truly blessed to have them as friends. Thank you guys!
NEXT UP: The ENDURrun Epilogue; a look back at this year's event, and what's next for me.