In case you hadn’t figured it out, I’m a sucker for punishment. As my last blog post pointed out, I shouldn’t have even started the last race I did. Well, surprise surprise, I’m now here writing about yet another race that I potentially should never have started. However, I went in with eyes wide open, knowing it would be a PW (personal worst), and that I would likely need to walk a good chunk of it (or limp, as the case may be). The race in question? The Gatineau Parc Marathon. Why was I insisting on participating? Pride. And a silly award that I had my mind set to pick up this year.
I can say one thing for this race. I wasn’t forcing myself to run based on sunk costs. The total cost for me to race in this event ? $25. No shirt, no medal, no swag bag, just a grass roots marathon through the parc. I wasn’t covering it for the magazine either, I was just doing it for me, and for a Rudy Award. In fact, it would be the second time that I clinch this local endurance award. It is given to those brave few that in a single calendar year complete the Winterlude Triathlon, either the CSM or a Gatineau Loppett (in fact, I complete all 3!), participated in the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour (or another double century official ride), an Ironman triathlon (full), and an officially sanctioned marathon. Since I’d already done all the other events, and then some, I figured I’d pay the $25, trot my way around Gatineau Parc, and collect my Rudy Award later in November.
At the time of my original registration, things were going pretty well for me physically, so I figured it would be a piece of cake. In fact, I had secretly hoped that after my strong summer of racing, and spending nearly a month at elevation in Nepal, I might come back to crush the course. Instead, I arrived badly broken, and the course crushed me. But then again, as I said, I knew it would be by the time it rolled around. However, since we already had company coming that weekend to stay with us and take part in the race, and because lots of other people I knew were taking part, I decided what the hell. Of course, I only found out later that most of the people I knew were doing the HALF marathon, not full. D’oh!
There really isn’t too much to say about this event overall. If you’ve ever biked a loop in the park, or skied the parkways in the winter, then you are already quite familiar with the course. Last year, it was listed by Get Out There Magazine as the toughest [road] marathon in Canada, thanks to the rolling hills that add up to some decent altitude gain/loss. Thankfully, at the time of the year that it is put on, the roads are closed to traffic, so we have wide, smooth, traffic-free roads for most of the race. For those interested, the actual course starts on the north loop near the P9 connector trail, winds around to P8, then follows the parkway back through past Penguin and Pink, all the way to Gamelin. From there, you make your way all the way back up Pink, left onto Champlain Parkway, and run all the way to Champlain Lookout, around the turnaround, down Fortune Parkway, then loop up from P10 to finish at Camp Fortune. Plenty of rolling fun there, right?
The race took place on Halloween, so some racers actually dressed up. I had toyed with the idea or wearing all black spandex, using my Hydra-Quiver double barrel, and carrying a plastic sword, thereby being a ninja. However, I opted to go as a straightforward injured runner. Great costume, right? The morning ended up being pretty damn cold. Somewhere around -8C I think. The race was set to start promptly at 8am, and since the clocks weren’t changing until that night, it still wasn’t light yet. That all added up to a chilly start. Before race start, I huddled around with Deanna, and wore a giant down parka, knowing I’d be cold at the start on account of dressing for slightly warmer temps. I knew I’d warm up a bit.
I believe there was originally 150 or so marathon runners registered, but when we actually lined up and started running, the numbers were more like 60! Not sure if it was the cold, or mass change of plans, but it was quite odd. I think it probably had to do with the fact that the race only cost $25. At that low price point, if you weren’t feeling good on race day, it was easy to just scrub it at the last second. For my part, I did recognize a few other runners. Annie Jean was there (and of course won the women’s field) in addition, my friends Laco and Dave were running. Although I got out ahead of them at the start, they’d make they’re way past me in due course.
I tested the foot right before the start, and could tell right away running would be very tough. I was in pain after about 50m of warming up. Damn! So much for the hope of a miraculous recovery! In spite of this, I put on a brave face and started the race at a reasonable running pace. I was in the top 20% and wondered if endorphins might kick in and keep me going. The first 5k weren’t terrible. Up to 10k still not terrible. At the 15k mark, I made a mental note that I was now quite obviously limping, and the pain was much more distinct with every footfall. I should note that I was doing everything I could to improve my chance of success. Namely, I was running 100% in the grass on the shoulder rather than the pavement. It was wryly noted by one runner that I would probably be the only participant that ran fully in the grass. I took no solace in this fact. It helped, but really nowhere near the point I wished.
From 15k onwards, the battle intensified, as did the pain. I was now getting passed by many people, and started taking walking breaks on occasion as needed. I decided to plaster a ridiculously large grin on my face, reasoning with myself that smiling would lessen the pain. Once again, good thought, but vastly ineffectual. But at least I looked happy, and in my mind, I reminded myself that I was still incredibly fortunate to be able to do these things. As I slowly ground my way up the hills of Champlain Parkway, stopped at every aid station to thank volunteers, take in some nutrition and drinks, and rest a bit. By now, at most of those stops, I got concerned looks and comments from the first aid people. I simply assured them that I’d make it, albeit at my slow pace. I did eventually give into the desire to get some pain killers and bummed some Advil from one aid station. It, too, did little to alleviate my discomfort.
By the next 1/2 marathon peel off point (where they had 5k to go, and we had about 16k to go), I briefly considered throwing in the towel. However, I’d already come so far, I decided that even if I DID have to walk most of the way (or powerwalk), I’d get it done, and get that damned Rudy Award. That put me on track, and even got me to dig a little deeper and develop a new hobble run technique that limited the impact on my left foot. By now, I had been passed by most runners, including Laco and David, who had both cheered me on and complimented me on my perseverance in the obvious pain I was running in. 33k in, and there was no way I’d be quitting. 9k is honestly chump change to me in most circumstances, but at this moment, it felt like a ridiculous way to go still.
Thankfully, the terrain was mostly flat or down hill now until the final 1.5k of the course, so I let gravity ever so gently work its’ magic on me. I finally got to the bottom of Fortune Parkway, at P10, when I spotted my dear wife waiting for me. She knew it would be bad, based on the overall time it had taken me to make it that far, and was there to lend whatever support she could (or give me distance). Since I had expected the worst, I wasn’t actually in a bad mood, just a resigned mood. The worst part was that even though I thought I was ‘running’, she was just walking along beside me. Lol indeed. She snapped a few pictures of me, followed me to the finish line, and hung back to let me cross the line in peace.
It had been, by far, my slowest ever marathon. And that includes the marathons I’ve had to run at the END of Ironman races! By some twist of fate, my timing chip didn’t even trigger at the finish mat, so there is no official record of my time, but I did it. The finish line was also rather anticlimatic. Just some volunteers and timing folks. I basically walked through, and just kept walking, heading back to the lodge to pick up the one thing I had been looking forward to. My pre-paid post-race poutine! It was as amazing as you might expect. I could have eaten 5 of them I think, but limited myself to drowing my sorrows in a single bucket of gravy, cheese curds, and fries. After all, it was Halloween, we had company, and there were parties to dress up for and drink at! The day ended up on a very high note on account of those last few things, culminating in sitting in the hot tub at around 2:30am with one final drink before a peaceful sleep.
That concludes my story of how lightening struck twice, I made another bad call, but at least finished what I set out to finish this time. And for what? A little local recognition, and a nice little plaque to put up on my ‘I love me’ wall with my other shiny trinkets from the many races I’d taken part in. I have now sworn off all forms of racing until I can get this issue sorted. I’ll be seeing podiatrists, sports doctors, medical technicians, and even chiropactors on my road to recovery. Rest assured, I’m taking it VERY seriously at this point and WILL come back as strong as before. I’ll be giving it the time it needs, and in the meantime, still doing low-impact training and dreaming about what’s next for me. Stay tuned for all that exciting stuff in the future. Till then, keep getting out there, and embracing whatever passions you have!