A Blinding Wall of Pain

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.

Don’t Defer Your Dreams

Lord help me, I can’t believe I’m about to write this.

I never thought I’d become this kind of guy. The kind of guy who sets hard-core running goals. Who spends more time staring at his Garmin watch than at the passing scenery. Who pays attention to dreary things like splits, heart rate, lactate threshold.

Lord help me. Ten days from now, I’m going to try to run a marathon in less than 3 hours.

Toronto Waterfront Marathon

Toronto Waterfront Marathon

Fun fact: To complete a marathon in less than 3 hours you must run at an average speed of 8.9 miles per hour (14.3 km/h) for – you guessed it – three hours. Not one hour. Not two hours. Three hours. That’s longer than the movie Titanic.

How fast is 8.9 mph? Next time you’re at the gym, climb onto the treadmill and find out. Crank that puppy up to 6.0 mph. Brisk pace, ain’t it? Now dial it up to 7. Starting to sweat? Good! Now push that “up” button another 19 times, until the LED display reads 8.9. Hurts, don’t it? Feels like your heart is going to explode. Now keep running like that for 179 more minutes.


Confession: I don’t actually think I’m capable of a 3-hour marathon.  I’ve run a 3:04 twice. That may sound close to 3:00, but it’s not even in the same ballpark. Those four minutes might as well be four hours, in terms of training. Realistically, I need to invest in six months of hill climbing in order to shave off that kind of time.

Still… If I don’t attempt this now…will I ever?

The odds aren’t in my favour. Physiologically speaking, I’m running out of time. I love going into classrooms and telling kids that Anything is possible! And while I’m not lying when I say these sorts of things, we need to remember, I’m talking to kids. Young people have plenty of time to develop and improve as athletes. For us seasoned runners, the reality is quite different. At a certain point, our bodies start breaking down. After age 39, they really start breaking down.

All this to say, don’t defer your dreams!  In the words of the old folktale: if you will not when you may, you may not when you will.

Still, there’s the little matter of the three stitches in my right shin. And did I mention that I have Shingles? Yeah, that won’t help my cause other.

I’ve got no shortage of excuses. Really, it’d be so easy to put this thing off. To relax until next year, when I’m convinced I’ll be better trained. Statistically speaking, of course, that’s unlikely. The odds suggest I’ll be slower a year from now.

So damn the torpedoes – it’s now or never.  

And if I fail? Well, that wouldn’t be so bad either. In my experience, failures are usually more interesting than successes.  As this attests.

And I figured that if I made my goal public, i.e. HERE ON THIS BLOG, then the threat of public disgrace would help push me to my limit.

So mark the date – Sunday October 20. The more of you who follow me, the greater the pressure I’ll feel to succeed! I don’t want your money; just your misplaced hopes. I’ll be bib #783, and I promise not to let you down. Unless of course I do. In which case, it’ll be a good story too.