For a time there I considered running a marathon to be an attainable goal.
A marathon would validate the hours I spend running the early morning roads. It would be the achievement that would prove to myself that all my selfish running endeavours might actually be for more than the satisfaction I feel when alone and mindlessly cruising over the pavement. A marathon would mean I am still an athlete after years away from competitive sport. It would prove I have the commitment and dedication to see something through to the finish for once.
So, I set my sights. Registered.
I trained. Hard. With very few lapses (though, most critically, right at the end of the 20-week program).
I felt great.
I was averaging 4:26 per kilometre. I was putting in even more time honing the craft.
I set two goals for race day. One that I shared willingly: finish in 4 hours.
And one I secretly held on to and dared not utter: I can do this in under 3:30! A three and a half hour marathon equates to a 5 minute per kilometre pace. I can keep a 4:30 pace for 30k. So, 5:00 for 42.2k seems like a fair goal. Hell, if I just run my usual average pace, I could qualify for Boston! At age 38 in my first crack at it!!
The Valley Harvest Marathon in Wolfville, Nova Scotia on the shores of the Minas Basin (part of the Bay of Fundy) was my marathon of choice. It takes place on the Thanksgiving long weekend year-after-year. It is a Boston Qualifier.
The good people of Wolfville put on a spectacular event. The kids/family runs were the highlight. My own two athletes destroyed the course with their quick feet and did so with a smile and pure enjoyment. It is always a thrill to see them having fun in competition and in sport, but this run was different. They weren’t just having a good time, getting sweaty, and running around. They were emulating dad. That will stay with me.
The marathon itself, unbeknownst to me at the time of registration, is an event that is well known for two things: first, it is silky smoothly organized by and staffed with great people; second, it is hilly and challenging.
The good news about the fact that it is a hilly and challenging course is… well, there’s the downhills to look forward to? Ok, so running your first ever marathon on a tough course is not the best idea, but it isn’t the worst. At least I had nothing to compare it to so the first marathon was going to be hard no matter what, right?
Another positive to the Valley Harvest Marathon is that it takes place in October in Nova Scotia and most of the run is within view of the ocean’s waters. Those indisputable facts mean the weather would be perfect. Even if it rained, it’d be cool.
And yet it was 25 Celsius and as humid as a sumo wrestler’s armpit after an hour in the sauna post-match!
My first ever marathon was going be run on a challenging but beautiful course on a disgustingly, abnormally hot and humid day. Perfect.
I’m going to skip to the end here. I’ll spare you an hour-by-hour rundown of the race. I’ll withhold some details in order to save myself the embarrassment of sharing the fact that I had to walk many of the k between the 32 and 38 kilometre markers, and of stopping to just chat with the water station volunteers, and of being horribly and dangerously dehydrated, and of needing paramedic attention after the finish due to excessively low blood sugars, and of sobbing my face off into an ocean of tears upon seeing my kids with their cheers and their signs. I’ll not tell you those parts.
Instead, I’ll tell you that the marathon, my first ever marathon, which I completed in 4 hours, 4 minutes, and 6 seconds (4:04:06) to give me a pace of 5:49 per kilometre, and finished with an overall placing of 36th (9th in my category), did not validate myself as a runner nor bring me a sense of pride nor did it leave me feeling like I had accomplished something grand. Shit, it didn’t leave me feeling like I had accomplished anything!
All I felt for weeks on end was failure and disappointment.
Even now, almost two months after my first marathon, I can only say that I finished it. But that’s like being served some funky nasty dish your weird cousin from the country served up at the family gathering and you choked down bite after bite so as not to offend their fragile ego then saying flatly as a matter of fact, after puking it all up at home later on, “well, at least I finished it.” The aftertaste would linger and the feeling in your gut would sting and maybe the thought of it would still make your eyes water.
It really was crushing to be reduced to a blubbering lump with half a cookie hanging out of my mouth, 2 paramedics fussing about my heart rate this or my blood pressure that, and an endless stream of true marathon finishers with their heads held high and a beaming smile leaping from their faces with that really cool ass medal around their neck gawking at the one-who-got-it-wrong.
Running, for me, has always been both an outlet from the stresses of work and parenthood, as well as an inward venture into thought and ideation.
I love running.
I feel alive and energized by running. I feel connected to my town, this land because of running. I feel open to ideas and ready for challenges thanks to running.
The marathon, my first marathon, took most of that from me. The marathon erased the happiness from my runhappiness.
I have spent these weeks since then just running. No schedule, no set goal, no fixed distance or specific pace. Just running.
It’s been a challenge to seek out the positives in the marathon experience. I can easily see what went so wrong for me. But running without the weight of a race lately has given me time to think about more than nutrition, distance, time and pace.
Here’s what the marathon gave me:
- an appreciation for everyone who has finished a marathon
- an opportunity to realize what an incredibly lucky person I am to have the support system of an incredible wife, kids who love life, and a family who picks me up whenever I need the boost
- an understanding of my limitations
- a desire to be better in a number of aspects, not just running
- the confirmation that the marathon isn’t what made me an athlete, running alone does
- the clarity to know that I don’t need anything to validate my running
- a realization that my morning running really is just about morning running
And despite my feelings about my time and experience, I still gained the knowledge that I can finish a marathon.
I did finish a marathon.
So, now, weeks later and with that bitter taste about the race fading, I run with runhappiness. I may not run a marathon again. I don’t need to. Right now, I kinda don’t want to.
But then again, I might want to take another bite. See if the next one is more savoury.