It was a teary eyed walk from my daughter’s Toronto apartment to get to the starting line of the Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Why was I even still in Toronto? I should have got right back on the bus and headed home to be with my wife. This was after she texted me the previous day that her dad had just died.
Yet I knew if I did go back home, my wife would be insisting I get right back on the bus to run this thing. The months of training, the eight previous events this year alone in my conditioning process. There was a lot of commitment involved here. She knew I would have regrets. Yet did I even have the strength within myself to run this full marathon? With my own father dying when I was 15, in the years I knew him, my wife’s dad became like a father figure to me. So shivering in the starting corral, with temperatures right at the freezing mark, I knew I had to run these 42.2 kilometers…..somehow. And then my swirling thoughts were interrupted by the blast of the starting horn, and the race was on.
The date was January 30th, 1929, and 20,000 kilometers from Canada, in a small obscure country called New Zealand, a new life began. The parents named this baby boy Desmond William Worrall. Who would have thought that with Trans Pacific commercial air passenger service being 35 years away in the far future, that this baby boy would eventually become my father-in-law.
The possibilities became even more remote when in his 20’s, Desmond landed in India to begin a lifetime of missionary service there. Not long after, a young lady from Canada landed off an ocean freighter in India. But Desmond showed little interest. He thought she was a rich Canadian, because she owned a typewriter. Eventually he became to show some interest, then he liked her, then he loved her and then he married this Canadian lady named Dorothy. They would be married for 57 1/2 years. They together had three children, all born in India. After 21 years in India, Des and Dorothy settled in New Zealand.
And in 1985, a free spirited 19 year old, the youngest child of Des and Dorothy Worrall came to Canada. She went to visit the country where her mother originated from. I met her, and was instantly smitten and captivated. Thirty months later, I called Desmond in New Zealand to ask permission to marry his daughter. He had never met me, and really did not know me. But without hesitation, the answer was a resounding…YES!!
In the New Zealand spring of 1988, I met my future in laws for the very first time at Auckland International Airport. They instantly accepted me as a son. Two weeks later on October 16th, this youngest daughter and I were married., exactly three years to the day when we first met. For the most part of the 27 years my wife Lynne and I have been married, it has been a very different from the norm son-in-law and mother and father-in-law relationship. Most of that time we have been separated by those 20,000 kilometers from New Zealand to Canada. You just can’t call up and ask them to babysit. Yet my in laws gave us something far more valuable. As keen Christians, they prayed for us daily. I so appreciated those prayers, as well as chats, witty and encouraging letters, and mentoring. Lynne’s parents never did have a computer, but over the years there has been probably thousands of phone calls, and many, many hundreds of hand written letters sent back and forth. I really cherish those letters, knowing they were written with such care and love.
Every five or so years, my in-laws would “drop by” for a visit, that would last in our home for two months. It could not have been easy living out of a suitcase for that length of time. But Des made the most of every second here. He played tirelessly with his grandchildren, he did all my work around the house and yard while I was at work, so that would free up time to invest himself in me. And we would spend time together after I got home from work. Some weekends we went on long, long hikes together in the hardwood forests. Other times we went to hockey games and stock car races together. He always wore a smile, always cheerful and had such keen sense of humour. I loved this man. To me, he was an adopted father. He was such a Man of God. In fact when our first son was immediately born, my wife called out, what will we call him? Without hesitation my answer was Desmond.
The last couple of years, the chatting on the phone, and the letters in the mail came entirely from my dear mother-in-law. Sadly dementia afflicted my father-in-law, and he could no longer communicate like he used to. Just over a week before his death, Des was struck with pneumonia, but with antibiotics he was on the rebound. Such great news as I started to mentally prepare for this race. A couple days before I headed to Toronto, Lynne and I got the news that Des took a turn for the worse. He was not eating, could not swallow, and in a near comatose state. It was a matter of making him comfortable in the hospital until he passed away. Just after I left the expo with my race kit the day before the race, I got the text….my father-in-law was gone. Absent from the body, and into the presence of the Lord. I knew the time was coming, but something about that finality, it still hits very hard.
Way back in January 2015, I set a personal goal for myself to try and qualify for the Boston Marathon. It is an elite race, and the qualifying standards are tough for a reason. According to this article, only 10.4% of marathon finishers ever achieve their Boston qualifying time. The qualifying time I needed to propel my aging 57 year old, 6’4″ 219 pound body across 42.2 kilometers was 3:40. It meant I needed to shave off an hour and fifteen minutes off my time of 4:55, which I ran in Toronto in 2014. As the running season progressed this year, I found myself achieving several personal bests, but as the Toronto marathon loomed closer and closer, in my heart of hearts I knew I was getting close, very close. But didn’t feel I was quite there yet. Unless, just unless I ran the race of my life in Toronto!
As the starting horn sounded, my mind was not all that focused on this marathon. I just wanted to get out of this city and back home to my wife. As this mass of thousands of runners moved together forward across the starting line, my goal was this….just finish this Carl. Then as the kilometers started to fade behind me, my mind started to calm and settle down. Finding my rhythm, and listening to my body. The breathing, the cadence, finding that “sweet spot” became very calming and relaxing. I was in my zone. It felt SO good to be alive!
Even though I don’t run with any timing devices, I had a good grasp on my positioning, by being aware where the pace bunnies were. I was basically keeping the same pace as my half marathons and long runs. If I kept this same pace up, I would indeed qualify for Boston. But a few kilometers into the 2nd half of the marathon, the 3:40 pace bunny slipped past me. It was then I knew I was losing steam. I tried to push myself to keep up, but there was just nothing there. The harder I was pushing, the rougher I was feeling. My body was getting chills, and flu like aches. I was feeling nauseous and sick. This was different from any long distance bonk I’ve experienced in precious races. I knew I had to pull back, if I was to ever finish this marathon. I really felt a gut instinct in this situation. My safety and my health was far more important than my finishing time.
Looking at my stats, I ran the final fifteen kilometers about a minute slower per kilometer, than my 1st half of the race. I finished off at 3:50:57. What went wrong that 2nd half, I’ll never know. Whether it was my trying a new dish at a restaurant the night before. Perhaps not the proper fueling during the race. Possibly just the emotional turmoil from the past few days manifesting itself with flu like symptoms within my worn down mortal runner’s body in the 2nd half of the race. Boston was not meant to be, but I was at peace and okay with that. I did my very best, and raised funds and awareness for my charity Dekpor School Development Organization. When I read this link after I arrived home, of other runners who had medical issues FAR worse than me, I realized how fortunate I was. Looking back in perspective, how happy I was to finish, and have a strong time.
Life is so much like running a race. There is a starting line, and there is a finish line. And we really don’t know what we are going to encounter along the course. But we continuously, and steadfastly run the race until we reach that finish line. This is “The Race Of My Life.” My father-in-law ran his life in such an inspiring way. He finished strong. And he left a legacy for the generations to come.
A golden heart stopped beating, two smiling eyes at rest, God broke our hearts to tell us, He only takes the best, He put his arms around you, And said, “Come home and rest”.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so you will not grow weary and lose heart” Hebrews 12:1-3
Thank you for reading, 🙂