Monday, October 31, 2011

A Season for New Promises

Toronto Waterfront Marathon and Beyond

All men should strive to learn before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why.
James Thurber

Although most of the leaves are still clinging stubbornly to the trees and serious snow is still more than a month off, it is finally time to admit that my racing season is over. It’s a funny feeling; since last January I have given myself something specific to train for every day, and now I’m running in place for a while. I managed an 80-minute spinning workout and a 10K run this weekend, but these are maintenance activities only. It’s really time for a rest.

As always, I had some unexpected challenges thrown at me this year: blistering headwinds in Death Valley and mechanical problems and dehydration at Ironman. I really do try to allow these curves and speedbumps to add to the richness of the experience. After all, what’s the point in entering one of these things if I know beforehand exactly how it's going to turn out? It would be like starting to read a mystery when I already knew who done it. I subscribe to the truism that a success is deeper in proportion to how well you maintain your focus after sudden changes in fortune.

I finished my year by setting an unplanned goal; because I was slowed down so much in the marathon at Ironman in August, I was determined to run a more satisfying one, so I entered the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on October 16. Having spent all summer training at Ironman pace (i.e. slow) I was under no illusion that I would set any personal records for speed. Nor would I try; I just wanted one more chance to run the distance.

The Waterfront Marathon is a beautifully organized event and offers one of the best race routes I can think of. Not only is it flat and fast, it nicely limits the runners’ exposure to the snarly entitled automotive element that even on a Sunday morning clogs and cheapens our city. This year the route looped through the Beach area; this is a great addition as the Beachers are refreshingly welcoming and supportive of special events that take over their streets.

After battling the wind in Death Valley and the cold at Blue Mountain this year, I was provided with a brisk mixture of both at the Waterfront marathon, with a few raindrops thrown in. Bundled up in running tights, gloves and a jacket I was nicely buffered from the unfriendly weather, although some people showed up in just a singlet and shorts. I hope they survived; I am not nearly that tough.

I seeded myself toward the back of the field of 4,000 marathoners, crossing the starting line about twelve minutes after the gun went off. To me there is a mystique and a romance to a marathon and I always start out suffused with uncertainty and anticipation. No matter how many I have finished, and no matter how well-prepared I am there is a sense each time that I am running into unknown territory and that the outcome will remain a mystery until the last few steps. After having run this distance for a quarter of a century, I still regard every step as an adventure and a gift.

I trotted comfortably westward along Lakeshore Boulevard and back along Queen’s Quay and at the half-marathon point I joined a Pace Bunny and his group. I’ve never done this before and it felt good to have someone else keep track of the time and speed for a while. In the Comrades Marathon in South Africa this is known as ‘hopping on the bus’ and the simple act of falling in with a group has helped many runners to complete that 89-kilometre distance. By the time I joined these Bunny folks there was not a lot of casual chatter occurring; at this point most runners are in conversation with their bodies, feeling the accumulated kilometres and negotiating with their pounded feet the distance to the next aid station.

At about 39 km I was becoming tired and sore myself, but decided I wanted to push myself a bit harder, so I left the Bunny bunch and dashed toward the finish. (Actually the official splits for the last few kilometres show that my speed wasn’t really much faster than it had been all along, but I felt like I was dashing). I flew through the final blocks and hopped across the finish line. I had run at a strong, even pace and I finished feeling wearily refreshed. By my count this was my twentieth marathon; each one is uniquely remembered and treasured by me.

So after two marathons, two cycling centuries and an Ironman, I am calling this season complete. I gratefully managed to avoid serious injury, either from overuse or accidental trauma. I set goals and achieved them and I kept the promises I made to myself. Now the cold months ahead will be a time for resting, for reflecting and for dreaming of new promises.