For those of you that not familiar with marathons, the bulk of races in North America are in the shoulder seasons of April and May and September and October where weather and temperatures are better suited for running, so not a lot of races in the summer. I knew I wanted to take advantage of my training base but I also needed some rest to avoid injury. I knew of a small race in Northern Ontario in early July approximately 6 weeks out, because of its northern location and an early morning start, temperatures are usually good for running. I had run this race 11 years ago, this event is a small community run with lots of happy volunteers, very few spectators along the route and lots of nature. As an aside as I mentioned in past blogs running can be very therapeutic, 11 years ago my father passed away just before this race, so while it was a sad time in my life the way the race helped me deal with my loss left positive memories for me.
Race day came and so did a record heat wave and forest fires in the area. When I woke up I thought the race might get cancelled at 6 am it was 100% humidity and a temperature with humidex in the high 30s (degrees Celsius). I have never sweat so much in my life, by the half way mark of the race it felt like I had been swimming, by the end I squeezed moisture out of my socks like I had been swimming. Despite my best efforts I was unable to deal with the heat and it zapped my energy, kept my heart rate too high. I finished the marathon but my time was worst than Ottawa. Disappointing, but I had to give myself a let, these were extreme conditions. As I look back I am proud I hung in until the end. Congratulations to the runners that day.
After my July marathon it was time to focus on Berlin. Endurance training is a long process both mentally and physically. Your ability to visualize your goal is important on those days when your training is not coming easily. Berlin was now 10 weeks out, I could start to get excited, see myself crossing the finish line. My sister visited during the summer and we got to do a few training runs together which added to the excitement! The rest of the summer was training and more training many days in the heat, some good some challenging but I have never been more ready.
I met my sister and some of her running friends who were also in running in the Berlin Airport on Wednesday before the Sunday marathon. For the next few days we dealt with jet lag, we took short runs to keep our legs limber, we carbo loaded, did some sightseeing, we napped, we were prepared.
Race day came, we had a few logistic errors, and disappointingly I did not see my sister before the race. I got to the crowded starting line filled with excitement and from the first kilometre I did not feel right. Even as I write this blog I can not tell you what went wrong. I felt off from the start and was having trouble taking on water and nutrient which is deadly in endurance sports. It may have been something I ate some “bug” I picked up travelling, who knows. This did not improve over the next 4 plus hours. It was a struggle.
The overall event itself can best be described as weird. I had run 27 marathons, big and small, most were very positive events. Thousand of people running for a variety of reasons, fundraising for a cause close to their hearts, personal challenge, celebrating weight loss or overcoming illness, and many more positive reasons. Generally runners are positive, encouraging, friendly and happy people. The atmosphere however in Berlin was not as friendly as the majority of the other races I have participated in. There was excitement at the start line however as the race began the mood changed. I got pushed several times during the race I saw runners push each other as they passed, some runners yelled at each other, just not the positive vibe. I saw little camaraderie with fellow runners, perhaps it was all the languages and different cultures this was not possible, maybe because logistics were not great and runners were stressed, perhaps it was the number of runners, who knows? Whatever the case just not a positive vibe. As you can probably tell I did not a good day. As I crossed the finish line medical staff came to ask if I was ok suggesting “I did not look well and I looked pale”. Probably accurate because I felt terrible.
Berlin is a great city the route was nice and flat, but it just was not my day. As frustrating as it was not to have performed well after 9 months of training, I can still say I completed the Berlin marathon. I met my sister at the end of the race she had just missed her goal time but had the best performance to her target time of her running group. I was happy for her. Despite my poor performance I am pleased I participated and overall the trip was a great experience. There was also a new men’s marathon world record of 2:01.39. I ran in a world record race very cool. I believe Eliud Kipchoge from Kenya may have been home by the time I finished the race!
After the marathon we had a great dinner and then we went on to have a great vacation with my sister, brother in law, our friend, and my wife and daughter, we travelled around Germany, Czech Republic and Italy.
Back home I did feel a little empty about my overall marathon experience(s) for the year. Mostly the Berlin experience I racked my brain to think what I could have done differently so that I would not have had stomach issues. The reality is that when you go to an event especially overseas it is difficult to control your meals as much as you research, plan, avoid exotic foods and local cuisine, you may still eat something that does not agree with you. Bad Luck.
I figured I had one more shot to end the year on a positive note. I did not want to spend a lot of money travelling to another marathon, after all Berlin was my big trip this year. I was able to find a marathon about a 7 hour drive away in Harrisburg Pennsylvania. I decided to go for it. I went alone followed many of my old habits that had brought me success in the past, same chain restaurant for meals, stay off my feet the day before, and buy new socks, don’t ask, I was all business. I was as boring as I could be. The day of the race came and it was perfect running weather. My body and stomach felt great. There was a happy community feel at the start line. The race started and I felt good. Half way through things were still going well, I had a plan and I was sticking to it. 30 ks in things were still good and I had banked some time should I slow. 32 ks my legs started cramping slowing my pace dramatically, spectators were giving me encouragement and I powered on. Leg cramps continued, but this time so did I . I turned the final corner and saw the finish line I picked up my pace with my cramped distorted stride, I was something to behold! As I crossed the finish line medical staff and volunteers came over to ensure I was ok. I felt spent and I knew there was not much left in me, just the way I wanted to feel. When I looked at the clock I saw my best time of the year over 30 minutes better than Berlin. A great way to end the year just 3 minutes off my goal time, I had a great feeling of accomplishment. I don’t expect to run four marathons in 2019, but maybe one or two as I like the discipline required to train for a marathon. Overall I am proud of my running accomplishments for 2018.
I view myself as a “back of the pack” type. We talk about retirement rebels in this blog and see lots of examples across the web, with lots of extraordinary stories of their accomplishments. But let’s not forget we can all be everyday rebels, those who volunteer, who are “back of the packers” marathoners, bikers or tri athletes, who downhill ski into their 80s, who take up painting, woodworking, etc. after they leave their primary career. All of us are capable of being rebels and lets celebrate everyone that tries even when things don’t go as planned. Life can be hard and does not always go our way, try and find joy and accomplishment in the planning, training, trying, learning and the journey not just the race, test, event or painting itself. Even if things do not go as planned there is always something to learn and help us grow. So get out and be a rebel go find your passion.
This will be my last blog before the holidays thanks for reading and following us. We wish you a healthy holiday and hopefully 2019 we see a happier, healthier and more peaceful world.