It was in the wee night-time hours of March 1st. With sleep eluding me, I had flipped through the 100 plus channels on the hotel television for about the umpteenth time, only to return back to the same station again, and again and again….The Weather Channel. Perhaps the forecast has changed in the past 20 minutes. I check my layering system laid out on the other bed, walk to the window, and open the blinds a crack too see what the weather is doing in real time. Then I would lay back down in bed, but my mind was not shutting down, as I was thinking, “I am SOOOOOO NOT READY FOR THIS”.
I had registered for the Chilly Half Marathon 4 months ago, mostly as a training run for Hamilton’s 30k Round the Bay race held on March 29th. But a lot can happen in 4 months. For the most part, I took the first two months off running, to give my sprained ankle time for a compete healing following my full marathon last fall. My goal was to begin training again in earnest, once 2015 came around. But shortly into the New Year, I got a gum infection that spread into the jawbone. The problem was that with the exertion of running, or any cardio workout, it seemed to push the infection deeper into the body. Antibiotics did clear it up, only to have it return worse than ever 2 weeks later. This time antibiotics did not work. Into my 4th course of antibiotics while maxing out my pain killers, I had become a lethargic, depressed, tired and grumpy old fellow. Finally 4 days before my half marathon, my dentist eventfully pulled my tooth, a bottom back molar. What a difference, but with only 4 shorter lacklustre runs completed in the past 8 weeks, this half marathon was going too be a HUGE challenge.
Coming off of the coldest February since 1934, race day temperatures were in our favour, a start time temperature of a more seasonal -8C, with a dampish cold breeze blowing off of the still open waters of Lake Ontario. Though shivering in the starting corral, it does not take long to warm up, once the race began. Even though I was not physically prepared, my goal was simply to complete it , nothing more. I picked a pace that I was comfortable with, one that I figured would carry me the distance, with a time I would be happy with.
At around 5k’s, I had a pleasant surprise. A lady came up beside me and started talking with me. I was very happy, because in times past, races flew by when I had someone running with me and talking with me. She was very fast, and I had to pick up my tempo big time, just to keep pace with her. Time did fly, and at the half way mark, the thought hit me, if I kept this pace to the finish, it will easily be a Personal Best. I was ecstatic. Very soon however, my lack of training was catching up with me. I was fading, and fading very fast. Desperately trying to keep up, I would lag half a stride behind, then a full stride, and I would lunge ahead to catch up. I could only do this a few times, and at the 14k had to say, “Please, go on ahead”. I am glad she did not hesitate. As I pulled back, she was quickly gone and out of sight, as she weaved her way around the other runners. This lady was a 1st time Half Marathoner. She had SO much focus and determination. I knew she was going to finish very, very strong.
As for me, this 9k very fast run from 5k to 14k had taken a toll. I was COMPLETELY out of gas. This was the feeling a runner should have at the END of a race, not with 7 k’s to go. Somehow I knew if I started walking, I would be finished, so mentally I kept pushing forward. While mechanically pushing ahead with each stride, in the corner of my eye, I noticed a runner a half a stride back. Thinking the runner wanted by, I moved over a bit, but the runner did not. She kept pacing with me. I looked over and asked, “How are you managing?”. She replied with a discouraged voice, “These next 6 kilometers are going to be so hard”. Knowing she was probably going through EXACTLY what I was going through, I slipped back to pace with her. We barely talked, but there was no awkwardness at all with our silence. Every stride we were silently receiving strength from each other. The most we did talk in a stretch was maybe about 3 or 4 sentences. I asked if this was her first half marathon. She smiled, and laughed and said she has done numerous ones, including a full marathon last year.
Ironically, her 1st ever half marathon, was the Chilly Half, done 10 years ago, in 2005. Each stride was one stride closer to the finish, 5k’s, 4k’s, 3k’s, 2k’s, 1k. Rounding that final bend the lady told me to go on. I said, “No way, we’re crossing that finish line together”. And we did. After crossing that finish line, we high fived and then spontaneously embraced. What a wonderful feeling to be able to finish. Looking at the final results, my new running friend and I crossed the finish line with a clock time exactly the same. (2:05:45.1).
Life is a lot like running. Sometimes we do make mistakes and have to pay the price. And if we look around hard enough, we will notice people struggling to make it through a bad day, or a bad situation. Our support can make all the difference whether that person will make it or not to the finish. And who knows, maybe some day, WE COULD end up in that situation ourselves.
With these races, there is always lessons learned. I know now I should have paced myself a lot better than I did. But looking back as well, how these 2 complete strangers running and struggling in the same race found each other, then supported and carried each other to the finish line. It just really blows me away, and gives me Goosebumps! Always so amazing how things work out. Thank you my new running friend! And thank you everyone for reading. 🙂