Tuesday, 11 October 2011

#31: It Won't Be Long

In a few short days, on Sunday 16 October at approximately 9am, I will stand on the starting line on University Ave at Queen St with 42.195km stretched out ahead of me: The Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. The ultimate running challenge. (My first attempt)

I will not be alone. The event is now sold out and there will be 5,000 others attempting the same distance with 10,000 more doing the Half (21.1k) and 6,500 doing a 5k. That’s over 20,000 runners, joggers and walkers taking to the streets of downtown Toronto, all with different goals in mind. Standing on that line will be mostly complete strangers, some familiar faces and thankfully, a small number of good friends and Longboat club members. To all of them who have trained so hard to get to this point as well as directly or indirectly helped me along the way in getting through the trials and tribulations of marathon training: I wish you all the best in your own races and cannot begin to express how grateful I am to you all! To Roger, Rob Campbell, Gerardo, Christian, Melinda, Anne Byrne, Kathleen, and so many more; thank you! A special shout-out to my training partners and close friends: Darren and especially Michael Doyle, to whom I am deeply indebted for the fine fitness and cool confidence I have going forward. No matter what happens on race day, the whole journey (the whole year really!) was a wonderful experience and I owe a great deal of that to the two of you.

It's been a long journey: 14+ weeks, 100+ days, 1600+ kilometers, 110+ hours... and it all comes down to one single, solitary day and 42.2 "short" kilometres. After so much training and preparation, both physical and psychological, I feel I am now ready. I am mostly confident, am certainly excited but am admittedly nervous as well. This is my first ever attempt at the marathon distance and so I am somewhat fortunate for the blissful ignorance I still possess which will protect me from the pain and anguish that I am most certain to experience late in the race.

And if I can push past those tough final km's and come within a minute or two of my goal time (an ambitious 2:48:48. 4:00/km pace), I am quite certain that running this marathon will amount to the greatest accomplishment in my life to this point. An accomplishment that was entirely self-selected, never forced, often enjoyable but occasionally awful. Something no one asked or expected me to do but rather something I envisioned and experienced for myself. All the time, training, energy, and effort was done absolutely autonomously and thus whatever comes as a result, good or bad, is entirely of my own doing (although I do acknowledge those who helped and supported along the way).

For now, I must endure these last few agonizing days of the taper where my body begins to feel fresh and restless (an almost unheard of experience in the past weeks and months) and yet I must hold back and rest as much as possible. I will run only three times this week and always very briefly. ~45k with another 45k to come on race day. Plenty of fluids will be taken and a slightly altered diet that focuses on increased carbohydrates (the infamous "carbo-loading") especially on the 3 days before.

While I can't stop myself from checking the weather forecast several times a day (currently predicting cloudy with showers (70% POP), a high of 16 degrees, and winds at 15km/h; not ideal but not terrible either), I do acknowledge that there is nothing to be done about it and thus must be accepted. There is plenty else (within my control) which can also go wrong (hydration, fuelling, apparel, pacing) and so it's far more important to focus on these things and have a fairly good idea of what should happen on race day (while remaining flexible with plans A, B and C). Sometimes I wonder if it's all worth it; we give so much in training and get so little in return on race day.

I recently read two absolutely amazing novels by one John L. Parker, Jr. 'Once and Runner' and its sequel 'Again to Carthage' follow the journey of a young, ambitious and highly talented young collegiate runner, Quenton Cassidy, as he endures the rigorous and regimented training required to succeed in the mile and then, years later, in the marathon. I won't elaborate because these novels are essential reading for all runners of any level, ability or experience and may help explain and invigorate your own preference and passion for running that we simply don't realize and take for granted.

I mention this because there is a single chapter in 'Again to Carthage,' which I think accurately and elegantly says more about how I am feeling right now, and how I imagine many others in a similar position also feel, than any other explanation I have ever heard, read, seen or imagined.

Chapter 36: 'Otter Springs'.

"What I mean is that someone sees a race, and they think that's what you do. They sort of know you had to train, but they weren't watching then, so they don't understand how incredibly much of it there is. But to us, it's almost the whole thing. Racing is just the little tiny ritual we go through after everything else has been done. It's a hood ornament."

Unless you’ve been there and gone through it, no one can truly understand how or why we push our bodies and our minds to such limits. Why we endure the pain and how we maintain the passion. I still don’t completely understand it and I realize it might not make much sense to others… but I do know that I love it and I know I’ll do it again and again. So regardless of what happens on Sunday, in my mind, I have already succeeded...

For those interested, CBC will be streaming live coverage of the event on it's website (www.cbcsports.ca) starting at 8:30am EST as well as having coverage on CBC BOLD. There will also be a highlights show at 3pm EST on all CBC networks. Good luck to the Canadian guys (Reid, Eric, Rob, Matt and Dylan) looking to qualify for the 2012 Olympics and perhaps even set the Men's Canadian marathon record.

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