"A few kilometers further, and I heard the familiar sound of the Miami Vice theme emanating from my waist pouch. Someone was calling me! I answered the phone, and it was Juli. She just wanted to wish me well, and didn't get a chance to call me before the race had started."
Sept. 10, 2006
The morning of the marathon actually started off pretty much like every long Sunday run I'd done in the 18 weeks prior: in a panic. I usually wake up late, have to get up, dressed, find my water bottle and belt, and wolf down either a peanut butter sandwich or a couple of Pop Tarts in the span of about 10 minutes. Being the most important run, and the culmination of the Running Room marathon clinic didn't really change it all that much. Thank goodness Juli (my awesome wife) had helped me get everything together the night before, and thank goodness Juli's Uncle Billy had the good sense to come in at 5:15am and wake me up. I'm actually not surprised I slept in, since I hadn't had a good night's sleep in at least 2 days. The anticipation of this race had been building steadily, and I always sleep poorly the days leading up to an event of importance. I hastily made myself a peanut butter sandwich (my intended breakfast of oatmeal was not possible anymore) and gathered my things. Juli had written me a wonderful good luck note, which I stuffed into my waist pouch. I knew that I'd be drawing on it for inspiration and support before the end of the race. As we drove downtown to meet up with Cheryl, my running partner, I went over my mental checklists. First, the gear I was to bring. From what I could tell, it was all there, and if it wasn't, well, i'd have to do without. Second, my race strategy. Above all else, two mantras kept repeating themselves in my head: do not start too fast, and it's just another long Sunday run. Uncle Billy talked to me about the clinic and program I'd completed to prepare for this race, and that was good, because it took my mind off of the actual race. Talking about the people I sweated, cursed, and ran with for 18 weeks helped me relax.
It was a 30 minute drive from where we were staying in Manotick to downtown Ottawa. The night before we looked at the list of road closures posted in the Ottawa Citizen so we'd know which route to take. Uncle Billy got me within one block of the Marriot hotel, where I was to meet Cheryl and her husband Craig, by 6:15am. Heading down to the hotel, I tried to calm my nerves, which were starting to go nuts again. I felt this overwhelming sense of excitement, dread, and happiness. As I approached the hotel, right on cue, Craig & Cheryl came out. Craig looked a bit grumpy, probably in part because of the ungodly hour that it was. I'm sure he wasn't impressed that I was late, either. So, after our good mornings, off we went to meet our group at the Lord Elgin hotel. Most of the clinic group was already there, looking pretty happy, but nervous. Everyone seemed to be bouncy and jittery with excitement. The hotel is right across from the starting line, and waiting for our turn to go, we watched the wheel chair marathon start. Seeing them tear uphill towards the parliament buildings was awe-inspiring. Someone standing next to me said “I can't imagine running a marathon on my arms alone, pushing a wheelchair.” Amen to that". I quietly wished these incredible athletes the best of luck.
After a last bathroom pit stop, we walked to the start. The sun was shining, and not a cloud was in the sky. Our clinic instructor Jack was attempting to qualify for Boston, and we dropped him off at the 3:30 corral. The rest of us headed for the 4:15 coral. One of the Pickering Running Room veteran runners, Chris Gates, had volunteered to be an informal 4:15 pace bunny, and Cheryl and I decided to stick with him as long as we could. Some last minute well wishes and hugs for good luck, we took our place. Before the race, we sang the national anthem, which I thought was a nice touch. It reminded me of elementary school (and Toronto Rock lacrosse games). We counted down the seconds to start, and with a blast of the horn, we were off! With my first steps across the start, my right knee began to twinge. I had injured it three weeks prior, and despite my massaging it, slathering it with Deep Cold, and stretching it out before and after runs, it hadn't improved much. I just hoped that it would get better once I'd run a few kilometers, and that the knee brace I'd borrowed from Juli would help. Pushing the throbbing out of my mind, I focused on my surroundings... the thousands of people I was running with, and the whole experience of it all.. The Ottawa Marathon is known for it's beautiful course, and the start took us down Wellington St. right by the Parliament Buildings. There's something about the sight of those old buildings that gives me goose bumps, and this was no exception. The crowd thinned out almost immediately, which was great. No need to jostle elbows or step on feet, which usually happens at the start of races.
Soon we were past downtown Ottawa, and heading over the Chaudiere Bridge into Gatineau, PQ. This part of the course was short; after around a kilometer we crossed back into Ottawa over the Alexandria Bridge. I was feeling pretty good; the knee was starting to settle down, and people were chit-chatting all around me. I thought to myself, this will be a great run, if this keeps up. Soon we were heading into an area of Ottawa where various consulates and ministers' homes were located. We had seen part of this area on the route bus tour the day before; it consisted of winding through various residential streets. As is typical with me when I run, I find myself paying more attention to the surroundings than the actual running. Many people were lining the route already, cheering us on. Cheryl, Chris, and I had written our names on our arms with markers, and a few people yelled our names as we passed. It does make a huge difference hearing “Come on PAUL! You can do it!”; I wouldn't know just how much until much later. (Not e to self: next time use a fatter marker, and write it down the arm starting at the shoulder, NOT the elbow!) Our pace-bunny Chris was a very friendly runner; and enjoyed talking to people on the route. He routinely called out “Way to go, insert name here!” for anyone who had their names on their arms or backs. At one point he called out “Go Kathleen”. That stirred me out of my running trance... my boss Kathleen was running the race as well, and perhaps out of the thousands of runners, it might actually be her. I looked, and sure enough it was! She looked so strong and happy, motoring by us with her running partner, who was dressed in an identical running outfit. We wished each other good luck, and she was gone. Earlier that week she joked that that she'd call me on my cell phone once she'd finished the race and talk me through the last 10K (yeah, I thought it was nasty too). I hoped that I would look as strong as she did when I finished.
A few kilometers further, and I heard the familiar sound of the Miami Vice theme emanating from my waist pouch. Someone was calling me! I answered the phone, and it was Juli. She just wanted to wish me well, and didn't get a chance to call me before the race had started. I told her we were at the 13th kilometer, just about on our way back to downtown Ottawa. Of course, I got lots of ribbing from the people around me, for talking on the phone while I was running, but I was very grateful for the call. Juli then put Jonathan and Katie (my kids) on the phone, and I spoke with them. As soon as I said hello, everyone around me screamed “HI KATIE!!!” I'm sure she didn't know what the heck was going on, but it made for a very funny moment. There's nothing like well wishes from loved ones to give you that extra boost.. On we went. We were running the race in the traditional Running Room style: using “10 and 1's”; run for 10 minutes, walk for 1 minute. This method is designed to build the endurance you need to run 42.2km, and since we'd done this since the start of the clinic in January, we figured we'd stick to it. It also gives you a chance to take some gels (GU Chocolate Outrage rules!), drink fluids (water or GU2O Orange), eat some food (gummi bears), and take a bit of a breather. I remember starting the clinic and thinking that I wouldn't be able to do 10-1s, that they were “wimpy”. Now I was glad for it, because it really makes a difference once the distance increases past the 20km mark.
Back over the Alexandria Bridge to Gatineau, then back again into downtown Ottawa. We were now approaching the 20K mark. The knee was holding out; not really getting better or worse, but still sore. I had been checking my 4:15 pace band like clockwork against my Garmin, and we were right on schedule practically down to the second. It was almost time for the bottle drop. Craig was to meet us around this time and switch one of our bottles for a full one. We ended up seeing him right outside the Marriott. He did the swap like a pro, and yelled some encouraging things to me and Cheryl, which I didn't quite hear. Then, we ran under the 20K arch, again, right on schedule. I was feeling tired but good. We took an extended walk break at this point, with me attempting to mix another couple of gels into my gel flask with some water I had obtained from a water station. Trying to pour water into a flask with a 2.5cm opening, then squeezing the contents of two gel packs into it was not the easiest thing to do. We also stopped running with Chris; he went on ahead on his 4:15 pace. I figured we weren't too far off, and we would go it on our own from here on in. The weather forecast for marathon day was sun, partly cloudy, and a high of 29. I remember in our last official “clinic” the Tuesday before, talking about the weather predictions. Our instructors were full of good advice; dress for the weather, and make sure to hydrate properly in the days leading up to the race. Some people expressed concern that we had never really run any kind of long distances in the heat. Personally, I never had problems with heat; I actually enjoy running in the warmth rather than the cold. The theory I kept thinking was that it wouldn't get to 29 until we were pretty much finished, so it wasn't anything to worry about. Yeah, right. With the humidity, the temperature at the half way point was probably closer to 35, and it was only 9am! For the first half, it wasn't as noticeable because a lot of the route had ample shade in it. But the second half would not be quite as nice. In hind sight, I should have realized it by looking at the route map a little closer. The first half had 4 water stations; the second half, including the sponge stations, had twice that number. The second half of the route runs down Colonel By Drive, following the Rideau Canal. The road is wide open, and the heat and sun beat down on us. It's a good thing I remembered to put on the SPF 30 sunscreen before I left, and not the SPF 15 stuff I usually wear. It was at this point that my knee, which had been relatively quiet, started to wake up and announce its presence by stabbing me with what felt like little knives. Still, I am ever the trooper (or idiot, depending on how you look at it), and didn't say anything; I figured that I could last until the next walk break. My partner Cheryl looked like she was having some discomfort as well, so we took an impromptu walk break. Out of what seemed like nowhere, we happened upon Dave Taylor, a friend of ours who was also running the race. He ran with us a bit, then continued on while we took a walk break.
The route continued down the side of the Rideau to Dows Lake, and by Carleton University, where we'd been the day before picking up the race kit and checking out the run expo. It all seemed so far away... almost another lifetime ago. We hit the first sponge station, and I managed to score two sponges; one for my neck and back, and one I put under my hat and squished out all over my head. The water was cold, and man, did it feel good! Leaving the sponge station, I realized that I didn't remember this part of the route from the bus tour... probably because the bus moved a lot faster than we were going... and also because I had my sleeping son on my lap, and couldn't look around all that much. All of a sudden, I started to get a cramp on my right side, in the ribs. A side stich, perhaps? All I know is that it hurt like hell, and I ended up almost running doubled over. Cheryl noticed something was up (hard not to, I guess) and gave me some stretching tips. That, coupled by some deep breathing, helped get rid of it in about 5 or so minutes.
We were now approaching the 30km point, and I recalled that this is where the route's lone “hill” was supposed to turn up. Everyone I had spoken to prior to the race always said how flat the route was, and that there was one hill which was an overpass. At the time, I thought that would be perfect, since I had run the Around the Bay Road Race, which had quite a number of hills, including a very steep one at the 25km mark. Sure enough, there loomed the overpass. But first, we had to go through the Arboretum, a small loop through a parking lot and park. There was a first aid station here, and one of the volunteers was yelling out “Vaseline! Ibuprofen! Tylenol! You name it, we got it!” I gasped “Ibuprofin, please” and she gave me two little yellow pills, which I downed in a hurry. My knee was in serious pain now, and I hoped that those little yellow pills would dull it enough to let me finish.
As we exited the parking lot and proceeded up the overpass, I started to feel nauseous. Not wanting to throw up on the course, I decided to stop drinking the sport drink and gels and just stick with water, which was available every 3K or so. I think I dumped as much water on my head as I drank in an attempt to keep cool. We were now running on yet another open road with no shade, by the experimental farm. Cheryl needed to stop and stretch out her leg (right one, left one, both?) I wanted to do mine as well, since they were pretty sore, but I was afraid I'd pull my muscles and really hurt myself. I just walked back and forth, not wanting to stop moving. I had no idea how I could survive another 10K. The heat and humidity were intense. No amount of water or sponges were helping me to feel better. The people around us were pretty quiet; not much happy banter like the first half. In fact, most people looked pretty zombie-like, just willing themselves to keep going. Cheryl and I resolved to stick together and see this thing through; I needed all the help I could get. I started thinking of all the people who had helped me get to this point. A few months prior to the race, Cheryl had told me about this idea of dedicating sections to the race to the different people who had supported her. I hadn't done anything formal like that (she had), but we started telling each other who this particular stretch was dedicated to. That actually helped me a lot; took my focus away from the pain and discomfort, and the overwhelming desire to just STOP. With about 5K to go, we were walking more and more, and running less and less. Cheryl came up with the idea of abandoning the 10-1s we were doing for 2-1s... run for 2 lamp-posts, and walk for one. I was game for anything at this point. The number of race spectators was getting higher, and many of them were cheering us on, either by name or just in general. I suppose we looked like we needed it.
Soon we saw a sign that said “750 meters”. Could it be? The end was that
close? I looked at Cheryl, and she said we should run it in; no more lamp-post walking. I mumbled something, we clasped hands for support,
and off we went. Running down that last kilometer of the finish was incredible; there were literally thousands of people cheering us on. I desperately scanned the crowd for Juli and the kids, hoping I'd get to
see them. I managed to see Craig, Cheryl's husband, in the bleachers, and
waved to him. Then, just like that, we crossed the line, and were done.
I looked at the clock as we crossed, and it said 4:48-something. I figured
that it took us about 2-3 minutes to cross the start line, so we likely
finished in around 4:45 or so (the actual chip time ended up being 4:46:51, but I wouldn't find that out until later). The first thought that went through my head was “THANK GOD IT'S OVER!” I
stopped and just stood there. My knee, and pretty much everything below
the waist was on fire. I gave Cheryl a huge hug and mumbled some words
of congratulations, trying not to break down. Then I walked a bit further, and some race volunteer handed me a bottle of cold water. A little further, and I heard some screaming from the left side... there was Juli
and the kids, complete with signs and thunder sticks. I made my way over there and gave Juli a big hug... man, was I glad t o see them! Jonathan wanted me to pick him up, so I did (how, I don't
know), and Katie gave me a hand-made gold medal with “Way to go daddy”
written on it. Again, I had to fight to keep calm and collected. Out of
nowhere appeared Kurt, a clinic member, and our friend Dave, and we gave
each other congrats. Cheryl then found Craig, and more congrats were in
order. The marathon was over, and I had completed it. All the work; the 18
weeks of blood and sweat, the sunburns, the chafing, the gear purchases, the
diet alterations, the runs in the snow, sleet, wind, rain and cold all
came down to this. I walked a bit further, then stopped in front of a
race volunteer. She said “Congratulations” and placed a medal around my neck,
and at that moment, I became a marathoner.
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