ENDURrun 2010: Stage 7 - The Marathon

The marathon is kind of like the Ph.D. of public fitness accomplishments. There are very few times as an adult that you can go out and do something that’s authentically difficult and be publicly lauded for it. – Marcy in Cate Terwilliger’s “Marathon Woman”

Ever since I’ve started running and entering races, I noticed that I have two interesting quirks that occur on race day. Firstly, I never sleep well, if at all, the night before a race. I’ve come to just accept that as par for the course, and just roll with it. The second quirk is that I have the uncanny ability to wake up within five minutes of the alarm clock going off, no matter what time it is set for. Today was no exception; the alarm was set for 5am, and I was awake at 4:55. Wide awake. Tired, mind you, but still awake. At least the marathon was starting out like every other one I’ve done.

I tested my legs a bit after getting out of bed, and found that they ached. Badly. Not a good sign. You’re probably thinking: duh, you’ve run almost 120km in 7 days on them, if they don’t feel a bit sore, then there’s bigger problems afoot. Yes, I agree. But it didn’t bode well for being able to complete this last stage. I knew my time would not even be close to last year’s 4:05 time (how the $#@% did I even get that last year?) but still, I was hoping for a 4:30 or better. You never know what could happen in the marathon… it’s an unpredictable beast. The best, most prepared athletes have been humbled by it, and others have been surprised by it. In May 2009, I ran a 3:27 marathon, where I was shooting for a 3:45. Everything clicked on that day. Maybe it will today as well. The morning was a bit more hectic than most, as I had to not only eat breakfast, but also pack my remaining belongings, empty the fridge, and pack my car. We were checking out of the residence and not coming back after the race. I also had to make sure the car had room for April, Melanie, and Duff’s stuff, as they were in the same boat. It all got done, and at 6:35am I was on my way to pick my car-mates up at their residence.

We made decent time and got to the start line at 6:50am. I did my usual ritual pacing around, have another few gulps of water, and chat with my fellow runners. Everyone was in a kind of subdued mood; they obviously felt tired, as I did, and were a bit anxious about how today’s race would go. Most people train for weeks just to do the marathon; we were all doing it after running events the whole week. At least we were all more or less on the same playing field. Eventually I got a bit bored waiting for the start, and made my way over to the kids playground (in the park next to the start) and started swinging on the swings. Soon I was joined by April and Mel, and we swung like kids for a while before we moved to the see-saw. Yes, I think they were trying to break the pre-race stress as I was.

The weather forecast for the day was thunderstorms and rain, but not much of it. The skies were overcast and a tad cool, but the humidity was still very high. Hopefully it would rain, and break the humidity, and make the race more tolerable. It even started to sprinkle rain a bit as we were gathering in the start area. Sweet, I thought, things are working out well for today.

Lloyd Schmidt the race director did his customary pre-race roll call, and gave his last minute instructions. As we did before the half marathon exactly a week ago, we all sang the national anthem together. He counted us off, and we were off and running.

From the first steps, I knew I was in trouble. My legs were super sore, and the Advil I’d taken an hour before the race start wasn’t doing anything to dull the pain. The plan was to just take it easy; 42.2km is a long way to go; just take it one km at a time. I also figured I’d walk any severe uphills on the course, of which there really were two, and do my best to run the rest. I started out running with my buddy Andy, who also roomed with me in the residence suite. We ran together for the first few km, then he stopped to walk and I soldiered on ahead. The course was a rolling hill course, with some very flat sections, and some not-so flat. It was also very picturesque, as were all the stages. I managed to run to approximately the 12km point without a whole lot of walking. I’d abandoned the run 10 minutes, walk 1 minute philosophy in favour of just walking the water stations, which were 3km apart. It had worked for me all week, no reason why it wouldn’t now. 

At 12km things started to take a downwards turn. I was finding that I just had flat-out no energy. When I started running, they were super sore, but eventually they warmed up and weren’t much of a factor. But I was barely breaking out a shuffle. I started eating my fuel (gummi bears) and taking in some Gatorade at the water stations; I was also sweating profusely due to the high humidity, and needed some electrolytes. Things progressed this way pretty much to the half way point, with me walking the up hills and running pretty much everything else. 

As I ran through the start/finish area, I saw Mel and April walking, with one of them in civvies! I called to them and they said they were done; April had foot issues plaguing her earlier in the week, and they got worse to the point where she could no longer go on. Melanie had a bad blister that gave her problems as well. My heart went out to the two of them; they’d worked so hard to get to today, it must have been very upsetting to have to give up so close to the end. But on I soldiered.

The marathon was two loops of 21.1km exactly. and I’d just finished the first loop. As I started the second loop, my legs grew more and more fatigued, and I was starting to get those mental demons, you know, the ones that say “Go ahead, have a walk. Take it easy! No problem!” I fought with them for the first 10km of the second loop, until the 30km mark. At that point, I was so tired, and my stomach was so upset, that I just had to walk for a bit. I did not feel like one tough runner at this point. I felt like some wimpy yellow pile of goo that couldn’t even run for 10 minutes without bailing to a walk. In my head my thoughts were something like this:

“C’mon, you can do it. Run to that sign up ahead; it’s a kilometre marker sign. Road is nice and flat, just do it.” “But I’m soooooo tired……. I can’t…..” “Yes you CAN! SUCK IT UP, PRINCESS!” “I’m a wimp, a wuss. Some tough runner. More like a wimpy walker…” “NO! I am NOT a wimp! I will run and get through to the sign, then walk!”

On and on this went, from the 30km mark to pretty much 38km. I walked a lot, probably over 50% of the time. Some runner I was turning out to be. I wasn’t even power walking anymore; more like a tired schlep. Once I hit the 38km marker, I could really taste the end. I was already way over my predicted finish time, so I just trudged through it. At times, I looked at the ground, looked around at the scenery, anything to take my mind off the pain in my legs. My gait was a lame man’s shuffle at this point; everything from the waist down was in pain, as well as my upper back and shoulders. The sun had now come out and was baking me like a roast in the oven. The humidity still hadn’t broken, and there was no sign of the thunderstorms promised in the weather forecasts. Stupid Waterloo weathermen!

I walk/ran/hobbled my way through kilometre 39, 40, and 41. At this point I could see the finish. I resolved to myself to run to the end; no more walking, as people could now see me on the road. I sucked every ounce of strength up, and off I went. Up the hill, past the 42km sign, past the people cheering my name, all those people who had finished hours ahead of me and were changed and dry, and probably well fed. Around the corner, and I could see the finish line. The crowds were going crazy! And look, my dear wife Juli and my kids were standing there cheering wildly for me. The volunteers held some orange tape over the finish line, like I was some sort of elite athlete; how nice! I ran in, and broke the tape, and stopped running. The marathon was over, the ENDURrun complete.

The relief I felt was overwhelming. I grabbed Juli and Katie and Jonny and gave them all a big hug, despite the fact I was very wet and sweaty, and probably grimy too. I had been thinking about them the whole last 10km; hopefully they were okay with a little (ok a lot) of my salty sweat. Katie handed me a water bottle which I downed in one shot. Other ENDURrunners who’d finished were saying their congratulations. I had run 160km over 8 days, with very little training, and done it. Done the impossible, in my book. My times were terrible compared to last year, but I didn’t care too much. I finished the event, and can now call myself ONE TOUGH RUNNER!