I’ve said it before: in every race there is a surprise. Today, the surprise came early. Before the race even began.
Set the scene, Dave – set the scene!
Right! The Toronto marathon. I had this goal of running it in less than 3 hours. First thing this morning, that still seemed possible.
I was sitting on the streetcar, heading downtown to the starting line. It was a convivial ride, with dozens of runners all about me, and we were all chatting about running shoes and pace bunnies and goals. But then something awful happened. The streetcar stopped, then, unexpectedly, went south. It sat still on King Street for a while, then slowly crawled east.
Okay, no big deal – right? But five minutes later, the streetcar stopped again. This time, it stopped for good..
Dead streetcar. On marathon morning. And we were 4 kilometers from the starting line.
We had twenty-two minutes left until the starting gun. There wasn’t a taxi in sight. There was only one option: RUN.
This upset me. I’m a person who likes order. I have my pre-race rituals. I like to get to the starting chute early, burn incense and sweet grass, recite some poetry, do some sun salutations. Maybe do a bit of twerking.
All that was thrown out the window! I didn’t even have time to hit the porta-potty. I barely made it into my corral before the announcer said “THIRTY SECONDS!”
Fine, I thought. I’m suing the Toronto Transit Commission. I was out of breath and I hadn’t even started the race!
On the bright side, race conditions were perfect. Sunshine, 8 degrees, no wind. Lots of records got broken on this day. Lanni Merchant set a new Canadian woman’s marathon record. Deressa Chimsa, a 26-year-old runner from Ethiopia, clocked the fastest marathon time ever on Canadian soil.
I ran fast too. Faster than I’d ever run before. Instead of feeling drained by my 4k warm-up, I actually felt full of juice. The kilometer markers and the aid stations whizzed by. I think I may have caused a sonic boom at the corner of Bathurst and College.
This is not to say, however, that I wasn’t in pain. It hurts to run fast. And this race hurt a lot.
Somehow, I wasn’t expecting this. I’ve run a half-dozen 100-mile races, but that pain was nothing compared to this. In a 100-mile race you run at a pace of maybe 7 km/h. In this marathon we averaged double that. This race hurt more than anything I can ever remember hurting. It hurt more than the escalator accident I had in university, when half my leg got grated off by those sharp, silver steps. It hurt more than the time I caught H1N1. Hurt more than when Jennifer Bent dumped me in grade 10.
It really was a blinding wall of pain. And I want to apologize to the thousands of spectators who cheered me on, and got absolutely nothing from me in return. I didn’t smile back, didn’t wave, didn’t high-five. I couldn’t focus on anything but KEEPING THE LEGS MOVING!
On the upside, I made my goal. Oh yeah, that’s right – I broke the 3-hour barrier.
I only broke it by ninety seconds, but still. I now own a finishing time that starts with the number two.
It’s funny though. Goals, when you reach them, have a way of surprising you.
There were 10 bands scattered along the course, but I can’t recall hearing a single note. Also – there were dancing Chinese dragons somewhere in the Beach, but I missed seeing them completely. How is that possible?
Worst of all – there were zillions of cute little kids, high-fiving everyone that passed by. I didn’t slap a single hand, and didn’t look a single one of those kidlings in the eye.
Why? Because I was obsessed with the number two.
Silly when you think of it. That we can bypass what truly matters in pursuit of a number that, let’s face it, no one really cares about anyway.
This was the second surprise of the race. And it was by far the better of the two.