It was an emotional race for me all the way round. I started the year with a solid base of long slow miles, perhaps the best chunk of training I have been able to string together since the accident. I managed another post-accident PB at the First Half in February. Things were looking up.
Then came the months of March and April… 10k hurt… even walking hurt. Things were looking down.
I went into this race scared. John treated me every day leading up with a combination of massage and acupuncture. I was seemingly always stretching or foam rolling, some times twice a day.
I went for my typical pre-race shake out jog the day before and was hobbling before even hitting the exit ramp from the hotel. I could hardly run 400m. How was I ever going to make it 42.2k?
In the elevator post shake out run, a man was on his cellphone and I could hear one end of what sounded like an interesting conversation.
“Yes, I’m going to watch the marathon”
“You have to see it”
“These people… they run so far and are in so much pain, but at the same time they’re happy”
“Yeah, either that or they’ve got something figured out.”
I resolved that no matter how sore I was, I could move forwards. I could always walk – or if my foot gave out, I could always hop. I could find a way. That’s what the marathon is all about.
The race atmosphere was just as super-charged and awesome as you might imagine. I was so glad to have my good friend Tim with me. He’s just the right mix of calm and enthusiasm. But even after Tim took off, I clearly was not alone.
Usually the marathon is a lone endeavour. Battling demons and overcoming that voice that gnaws at you to quit. The voice of reason. That very loud and convincing voice that has gotten you this far in life. The one you must pay no credence to if you want to run 26.2 miles.
There were make shift booths offering runners whatever they thought they might need: oranges, gatorade, bananas, band-aids, water, vaseline. Free. Just out of the goodness of their hearts.
We loaded the corrals and the gun went off while the volunteers joked with us, encouraged us and collected our garbage.
My friend Tim told me that you could slap the hands of the spectators for 26.2 miles straight. This was, surprisingly, not the exaggeration it sounds like.
I had on my Canada singlet. So for the next 3 hours, I would hear an endless string of anthem singing and various forms of, “Go Canada!”
The people that lined the streets cheered for each and every person with such passion that you would think you were the only one out there. I slapped hands. So many hands my palms were blotchy.
I would want to walk many times. I had a cramp in my foot, pelvic floor and back. I would get a surprise zinger just-often-enough-to-not-know-it-was-coming above my left hip. I would want to stop, I would want to walk. But I wouldn’t.
I stopped to stretch every few K near the end, and on every occasion, someone would jump to help me: offering me orange slices, encouragement or a pat on the back. Usually all three.
“You can do this,” they said. And I decided to believe them. Despite everything my body was saying. “I can do this.”
I dug so deep in that final stretch to the finish line. Not so I could run fast. Just so that I could keep running. My time was almost 20 minutes off of my PR – but it was the hardest race I have ever run.
At the finish line, people were dropping to their knees and kissing the floor. They were embracing with such passion. Complete strangers. Tears flowed. People hobbled down the chute, exhausted and yet elated.
My eyes welled under my sun glasses. I was making an odd noise… maybe considered a heave. The whole right side of my body was cramped up from my hip to my shoulder. It was making breathing very difficult. The man beside me threw his arm around me, rubbed my shoulder and walked me down the chute in silence.
Volunteers stepped out to congratulate me with articulate and sincere gestures. My eyes welled some more. I thought about every person that had been there along the route. Every one of them was so sincere. So many connections, brief but powerful. The human spirit.
We met up at the end and hoped the train. This is when the mayhem started.
The marathon is one hell of a boring event to watch. There is hardly any real competition. No body checks. No pushing. No ref. Just people slowing coming unraveled at the seam, trying to find the strength to press on. The sport requires almost no talent save for at it’s highest levels. All it takes is human spirit and the desire to struggle.
And humans are not meant to struggle on their own.
Those spectators were there with us, literally every step of the way, to support us in that struggle, each one driving us closer to the finish line with everything they had. To help us find that strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Complete strangers. There, only to support people in their own personal struggle to finish what is often the most difficult journey of their’s lives. Inspired by that struggle. In this busy competitive world. It is as if the world stopped for that day and we were all there to feel the essence of the human spirit in it’s persistence and connection to one another.
In a world where people feel so removed, where community feels so fragmented – people join up like this every year to embrace someone else’s personal struggle. There is something so deeply touching about that concept. And in that, something so profoundly painful about what happened next.