" It’s an accomplishment, not a race.…"
-‘It’s an accomplishment, not a race.…’
Those were the words my dad said to me on Sunday afternoon as I started to come back down to earth after completing my first marathon here in Ottawa at the National Capital Race Weekend. Over four months ago I thought I was signing up for a running clinic that would prepare me to complete a ‘race’. Yet the second I crossed that finish line I knew that it was not just the 4 hours 10 minutes and 19 seconds that I had just spent running that counted, but the four months of training, stretching, eating (oh, all that eating!), preparing, and learning that really mattered.
At this point I can’t quite remember what prompted me to try and run a marathon. After all I had only done my first race of 8km in the past summer. In fact I had only seriously started running a few months before that first race thanks to a great new friend who showed me that I really could run for 45 minutes without passing out at the end of it!
I don’t think I had ever told myself that running a marathon is one of those things that you should do during your life (although I would now recommend it to everyone!). I pretty much signed up for my running clinic not really having a clue what I was getting myself into and jumped in completely with my whole head, heart, and a fresh pair of legs to see what I could accomplish.
Flash forward 4 months or so and I wasn’t completely a naďve rookie any more! Come race day I think I was as prepared as I ever was going to be. I was one of the lucky ones who had remained injury free after running through snow, ice, pouring rain, sunshine and heat. Some running buddies called me ‘the happy one’ because I thought heading outside at 8:30 on a Sunday to run 20-plus kilometers was a great way to spend a morning! When I awoke at 5am I had my outfit laid out and ready to go, along with my fuel belt, and my backpack with all my post-race necessities. I put everything on, including my race bib and trotted down the street and back to make sure that it was pinned on comfortably and that everything was good to go. I had my last pre-race potty break and knew from that point on it was just nerves I was feeling so a visit to the port-a-potties would probably not be very productive!
For some reason I didn’t feel too nervous before the race. I had heard time and time again that if you made it to the start line you had succeeded, so I was feeling pretty good about myself at that point! As the race started I told myself to try and remember that if I got into trouble I had to remind myself- ‘you are confident, strong, beautiful, and you’ve trained for this’, and also to enjoy this experience of a lifetime! Some people looked heavy-hearted right from the start of the race. Like it was a huge burden, or they were fearing the pain and sore legs that would start to come in short while. But I looked at it as an opportunity to prove to myself, and no one else, that I would cross that finish line running as fast as I could with the biggest, goofiest smile on my face that I could muster!
The first half of the race went off without a hitch. I clapped for all the performers at the entertainment stations, cheered on the elite runners (as they ran by the majority of us in the other direction!), and enjoyed a beautiful morning run as the weather could not have been more perfect. I even got to see my dad a number of times as we headed past the start line, past the National Art Gallery and back, and in front of the Château Laurier. I gave him a big smile and thumbs up every time I passed (which translated into great photo opportunities!). I loved when kids would shout out ‘Go 383!’, and was grateful for having a bib number that was easy to cheer for! I crossed the ‘Halfway Home’ banner in under 2 hours and even had a few minutes to spare if I wanted to make my race goal time of 4 hours.
Heading back into downtown felt great because I knew that all I had to do was run the canal and I was home free. I had run the canal time and time again, it was my stomping grounds, I knew I would own it! Well I did, part of the way…I remember that kilometers 23 and 24 weren’t so bad, but 25 came and my stomach decided it wasn’t happy and overall I started to feel sluggish. It was at that point when the 4-hour pace bunny hopped by and I realized that I’d better get my butt in gear if I wanted to keep up. At first it wasn’t so bad, the group was never more than 50 yards ahead of me. But after awhile they seemed to be running at light speed! At that point I had to re-evaluate where I was in the race and why I was really there. Was I there to finish in some absolute time, or was I there to finish it in the first place? Would I be disappointed if I was slower than I had wanted to be, or deep down does it even matter? Initially I thought that it would matter to me. I’ve participated in a lot of team sports and like a good competition. But then I realized that I wasn’t really competing with anyone but me and how silly it would be to think I had been defeated by myself! It was at the 33km mark when I looked at my pace band, realized it wasn’t worth worrying over for the last 9km and tore it off. At that point I had turned and was now heading in the direction of downtown again and the finish line.
I had been told that the last 10km of the race would be the hardest 10km that I will ever run, and that it’s gut-check time, you just have to keep pushing, one step after the next. I took several extra walk breaks, dumped a lot of water on my head to perk myself up, and had two women with moose-hats on run by me, but just kept going. There was never a doubt in my mind that I would actually cross the finish line, I just didn’t know in what state I would be in when I got there! At 39km I was finishing a walk break and tried to get going again. But my right leg had other ideas- it didn’t want to run! So I though that was it, I’d be hobbling the rest of the way in, but really, I thought, it wouldn’t be that bad, just a few more kilometers to go. I had already told myself that my time didn’t matter. But then what I did remember was the promise I had made to myself to cross the finish line as strong as I could, with that big goofy grin on my face. So I walked for 30 more seconds, then basically willed my legs to get going again. A few steps, then a few more, then my legs got back into a groove and I knew that I would not be stopping for anymore walk breaks until the end, this was it! At the 40km mark I spotted my cousin and his wife, and shortly after a co-worker and her boyfriend, and I credit all of them for giving me that last boost I needed heading into the finish. I could see that the crowds were getting bigger so that meant I was getting close, I could hear the cheering getting louder and louder. Then that marvelous sign- 1km to go, then 750m to go, then 500m to go. Now one would think that after 4 hours and change of running that you wouldn’t be able to speed up, but again I surprised myself and started pushing with all my might, faster and faster. I spotted my dad to the left waving his hat and of course snapping away with his camera. I pumped my arms in the air with 100 metres to go and sprinted (well what I considered sprinting at that point!) to that glorious finish line with my hands above my head.
We spent the next while resting as I gingerly walked around the grounds, got my medal engraved with my very proud finishing time of 4:10:19, and then made my way to Dairy Queen for the sweetest reward I had been promising myself for months! It was later in the day when we got the pictures developed from the race. As I looked through them I couldn’t believe how fast it was all over, and could hardly believe that I could tell myself (and everyone else that I know) that I had run a marathon. Just saying it gives me goosebumps! The second I crossed that finish line all of the pain, tiredness, uncertainty, and stress vanished and all I remembered was that last kilometer, the cheers from the crowd, heading into the finishing chute, and realizing what I had achieved.
‘It’s an accomplishment, not a race….’ said
my dad. And I understood what he meant. For me, unless I was one of those
totally cool elite runners who do this as a profession and travel the
world to run, this was my first time attempting such a feat and I did it
with every ounce of courage and strength that I had. Would I do it again
you ask? After receiving my medal I ran into one of our group leaders from
my clinic and she asked me how it went, and I replied ‘When’s the next
one?!’ For me it will be New York City, November 2005. The next clinic
starts next week and I intend to be there front and centre, always with a
smile on my face  But this time I have the added bonus of knowing
beforehand how the good days will be followed by bad days (but a good day
will always come back), how the weather can change five times during any
given run, how I will meet absolutely fantastic, energetic people who all
are in the same boat as I am, and, best of all, I can look forward to all
of that good eating as I fuel both my body and mind to reach that finish
line for the second time.
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