In case you’re new to my running story, let me catch you up. Last spring I became single after 12 years and was sad. As a newly solo dog mom, I endeavoured to tire out my high-energy Labrador retriever/border collie mix (cute, isn’t she?) by taking up running again after a very long hiatus. It changed my life. I ran my first half-marathon, began training for a full marathon, and realized the joy and confidence I feel on the running trail applies to everyday life. Running makes me happy, keeps me sane, and lets me believe anything is possible.
After a year of training, the race has come and gone. On Sunday, October 20, in the year I turned 40, I ran my first marathon.
My A-goals were ambitious for a first-timer. I wanted to run between 3:30:00 and 3:40:00 and qualify for the 2015 Boston Marathon. I crossed the line in 3:39:43, qualifying for Boston with 0:5:17 to spare.
Training for, and racing, 42.2 kilometres is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It took every ounce of physical and mental fortitude I had. But I did it. And it proved to me that I am capable, strong, and committed. That I can do extraordinary things. Where life circumstances left me doubting my self-worth a year and a half ago, the marathon has showed me who I really am: Someone to be proud of.
En route to the marathon, only you can log the kilometres. The training road is long, and the race road is gruelling. Nonetheless, no one really runs alone. For such an individual sport, running offers so many ways to connect — with the world you run through, with the community that runs with you, and with the people who support you.
And to all the people who support me, this post is for you. You helped me achieve what I did on Sunday at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. I want to say thank you.
The thank-yous start with a dog named Tilda. Neither she nor I really knew what we were in for that day at the Humane Society when she cocked her head to the side, looked at me with those big brown eyes, and put her one grey paw through the bars and rested it on my knee. She got a newbie; I got a live wire. We figured it out, and both of us have been transformed. I might never have taken up distance running in any serious way had she been a different dog. But she’s happiest when she’s outside and on the move, and as it turns out, so am I. She ran by my side through 75 percent of my marathon training, and the medal hung around my neck on Sunday in the finish chute is as much hers as it is mine.
A first marathon is always special, but thanks to the Canada Running Series, the extremely hard-working STWM organizer, my first marathon was an unforgettable experience. CRS, in particular Jenna Pettinato, welcomed me into its online community, shared my writing with its blog readers, and gave me the opportunity not just to attend, but to participate in the race Expo as a guest speaker. As well, the 2013 Digital Champions reached out via Twitter and kept me optimistic through a late-season injury, cheered for me after tough training runs, and gave me a profound sense of belonging. Christa, Myron, and Elaine (honorary champ!) — your encouraging words will never be forgotten.
The first distance race I ran was a CRS event: The Oasis Zoo Run in 2012. I never would have entered it — or any other race, for that matter — if not for my friend Nancy. After following my running progress with Tilda over the course of last summer, she suggested I might want to try a 10K with her. My immediate response was “No.” A million doubts ran through my mind: What if I’m slow? What if I can’t finish? What if I look like a total putz amongst experienced distance runners? Nancy assured me that the event was a fun one and I’d do just fine. I hemmed and hawed, but it was Nancy’s patient encouragement that convinced me to try. By the time I was done that first 54-minute race, I was completely hooked. Nancy likes to tell me that the running was there inside me all along. I like to tell Nancy that thanks to her I was able to find it. She’s either run with or cheered me on at every race I ran this year. I can never say it enough: Thank you, Nancy.
I had two race mentors this year, Deborah and Catherine. Both are multiple marathoners, and both shared wisdom and advice with me that would shape my running experience. Deborah reminds me often that gratitude is the best running partner. It’s important to be thankful — first and foremost for the ability and freedom to run. It’s also critical to remember the huge network, most of it volunteer, that allows runners the glory of a race day. There are people who give up their weekend to work baggage check, water stations, the finish chute, and the food tent. There are police officers who keep the course safe and medics who wait on standby for emergencies. There are spectators who cheer. Drivers who detour. It behooves the racer to smile and thank as many of them as possible. When they beam back at you and say “You’re welcome” with warm sincerity, it enriches the race experience immeasurably.
Catherine told me something early on in my training that stuck with me the entire year: “The race starts at 30K,” she said. Thanks to that piece of advice, I took the mental preparations for the marathon as seriously as the physical ones. No matter who you are, elite or amateur, your legs will be tired for the final stretch of the race. It’s important to have practised mental strategies for keeping your stride turning over when every muscle fibre in your body is begging you to stop moving. My mantra this year was “Believe,” and I wrote it in indelible ink on the inside of my wrist the morning of the marathon. I looked at that temporary tattoo frequently in the final 10K, willing myself to believe I could keep going. Catherine kept tabs on my training all year to make sure I was doing the right things at the right times, shared inspirational books, referred me to a top-notch physiotherapist when I got injured, and never missed an opportunity to tell me, after hearing my race times and rankings, that I was an awesome runner.
For non-runners, following someone’s marathon training for an entire year probably isn’t on the top of any list for things to do for fun. But you’d never know it for the support I’ve had from the people who love me. It was perhaps easiest on my parents, who spent countless hours at track meets and soccer, volleyball, and basketball games when I was young — they’ve trained to be my biggest fans. Still, I wonder what went through their minds when I announced I was going to run a marathon the year I turned 40. My mom was as nervous for every race I ran this year as she was for every race I ran and game I played 25 years ago. In fact, I think she was more nervous than I was the night before my marathon. I like to think that in the special bond that connects mothers and their children, she takes on the nervous energy for me so that I can remain focused and calm on the way to the start line. And no matter how early my race-day starts, my dad is always up earlier and delivers a good-luck greeting by email so that it’s waiting for me when my alarm goes off. He watched the entire race on the CBC livestream and his patience was rewarded nearly three-and-three-quarters hours into the broadcast when he saw my pink singlet enter the viewing frame and watched as I crossed the finish line of my first marathon.
My oldest and dearest friend, Melissa, and my Aquarian sisters Rachel and Marisa reminded me all year long that what I was doing was important and that they were proud of me. Each of them sent impeccably timed messages of support in the days and hours leading up to races, particularly Sunday’s marathon, and it made me feel like I had a team running with me in spirit, cheering every single one of the thousands of steps it took to carry me over 42.2K.
And how do I even begin to thank Team Jodi, the wonderful people who gave up part of their weekend to stand behind a barricade, waiting for those few moments when they could shout encouragement to me as I ran the final metres to my goal? My mom travelled all the way from Windsor to be there at the finish line, having just become fully mobile again after breaking her ankle in late summer. There are no words describe how it felt to have her witness what is perhaps the proudest accomplishment of my life to date. Nick made time to be there, as he has for nearly every race (and the time in between races) I ran this year; there’s a reason we’ve been friends since high school. Despite a busy day of family commitments, Lisa and Kevin joined in the finish-line festivities, and have been supporters all year. Nancy and Catherine, both celebrated above, were also in attendance, and having two people so instrumental in the development of my running life at the finish line made the day complete.
This post would become impossibly long if I catalogued every in-person and social-media well-wish I received from colleagues, friends, and family. But please know that every time each of you took the time to chat with me about training, respond to a post or photo or tweet, send good luck (or an expertly executed gif — looking at you, Alan!), or come down to witness some part of a race, your support fuelled my determination to reach my marathon goal.
This weekend’s success is not just mine. It’s yours, too.