Sunday, September 27, 2009

My really 'big' run

The day finally arrived. I've been talking about running the 5km race of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon for some time now, and my friends Alison, Lisa and I have been training for it. Last night the three of us got together with Lisa's sister Kim, who was also running with us, for a pre-run dinner. No, we didn't dine on mounds of pasta -- we dined on a scrumptious sushi dinner. A couple of spicy tuna rolls, some veggies, and a tasty rainbow roll later, I felt well loaded with protein and carbs to fuel the next day's run.

Alison drove in yesterday from out of town for today's run, so she stayed at my place. We work early today, had our coffee, tea and breakfast of champions (steel cut oatmeal with raisins, walnuts, and some peanut butter), and watched the start of the marathon on the news while we contemplated what awaited us. As the newscaster spoke of the 20,000 participants (marathon, half-marathon, and 5k), and the approximately 30,000 spectators, we both started to get a bit anxious. You see, we've been training in the peaceful seclusion of a trail system running along a river by our office, so cranking through a run in front of a crowd wasn't something either of us were quite prepared for. But there was no turning back. A few final adjustments to our attire (the weather was pretty great, about 16 degrees Celcius, overcast), we headed out to catch the shuttle bus to the start line.

Alison and I before the race...

The race was to begin at 10:20am, and w
e arrived at around 8:15 or so with plenty of time to spare. As we walked past the finish line towards the shuttle, the announcer proclaimed the fact that the leaders of the marathon (who had started just over an hour earlier) were now at their 19th kilometre, and were well on track to set a Canadian record. In fact, the winner did set a record today, coming in at 2 hours and 8 minutes -- the fastest marathon ever run on Canadian soil. Incredible. As we strolled along the last kilometer of the course, the magnitude of it all began to settle in. And that's when I started a long-line of what was to become a series of 'nervous pees' over the next hour or so.

We met up with Lisa and Kim, and hopped on the shuttle to the start line. And big surprise, I had to pee. Upon arriving at the Canadian National Exhibition, I bolted to the loo, and was instantly relieved. We hung out inside for a bit, and gently stretched in anticipation of the race ahead. What we
quickly realized was that not only was it a 5km run, but it was also a walk for charity. So, it appeared that some of the walkers were to be in the same start corral as us -- this was going to make for an interesting start. Maybe we shouldn't have been as modest in our estimated times (we said it would take 45+ minutes, which put us in the slowest corral with the walkers). And as this was the first year that the organizers had put together a 5km component, the split between walkers and runners wasn't very clear. So after a few more quick visits to the loo (3 more to be exact, thanks to the big mug of coffee I had with breakfast), we headed outside to join the thousands of people who were about to start the course.

As we stood outside, I started to get a bit quiet. I started to think about what I was about to do. I started to realize that what I was about to begin was something that I never ever thought I would do in my lifetime -- run a
road race. Yes, it was a 5k, but you have to remember, that about 19 months ago, I could barely walk on a treadmill. Alison pointed out to me that someone was wearing a shirt that said "I lost 100 pounds." I thought to myself, "Bah! 100? Try 170.... they ain't seen nothin' yet!" But I had to catch myself for a moment there, realizing and remembering that we were all doing this for a wide range of reasons. Some of the walkers who were supporting various charities wore shirts declaring that they were running in support of research on cancer, asperger's syndrome, or other diseases and disabilities. Some local politicians (we have a mayoral race on the horizon) brought their campaign crews. And there were some serious looking runners in among the crowd. As I looked at their shirts, I began to wonder if I should have worn a shirt declaring what I was running for. We joked that we were all running for brunch -- there was a well-planned brunch of Eggs Benedict awaiting us later that day! But, really my shirt would have said one thing and one thing alone:

I'm running for me.

And as I sat in those moments of quiet, making final a
djustments to the playlist on my iPod, I started to fell myself getting a bit choked up. This was a big deal for me. I remembered something Sebastien wrote to me in a note on my Blackberry earlier that morning:
"Take a moment before the race and savour this moment: you can do ANYTHING you want now... you're free. Consider the first steps of this run the passage into your new life, and when you cross the finish line, thank yourself for everything you've done to get to this point. Much respect."
This really was the start of something big. And as big as it felt at that moment in time, it was about to feel a whole lot bigger.

Shortly after that moment, the gun fired, and we began to walk towards the start line. There were throngs of charity walkers ahead o
f us. And I began to worry that I wouldn't actually get to run. I didn't come here to walk. I came here to run. And I started to get kind of frustrated. So, after about 3 1/2 minutes, we approached the start line, and began to run at a very light pace. Before we started, the four of us settled details on where we would meet up at the end of the race -- each of us was going to run his/her own pace, and take this opportunity to do our individual best. So, I turned on my iPod, started my heart rate monitor, and began to run.

My playlist had been designed with the pace of my run in mind. I don't normally run with music, but I figured I would benefit from some
good tunes in my ears. The music would help me focus and not get distracted by everything around me. So the playlist I put together included:
  • September (99 Remix) by Earth Wind & Fire
  • Hide and Seek by Imogen Heap (Tiesto's In Search of Sunrise Mix)
  • Paparazzi by Lady Gaga (Moto Blanco Remix)
  • Sexy Bitch by David Guetta featuring Akon
  • Fame 09 (Reholder Club Mix) by Naturi Naughton
  • My My My by Armand Van Helden (Funktuary Radio Mix)
  • Hung Up by Madonna
  • All Things by Widelife featuring Simone Denny
(Yes. I like the dance music. Get over it. LOL!)

After Andy at Legacy got me thinking about pacing my run, I began to think about how the music could get me through it. I typically run in intervals of running and walking. But today I wanted to split my run into two intervals only. And the music would help carry me through it.

And it did.
Until I realized I had to pee. Again.

So, out of the start line, I tried to get going at a good pace. But I was surrounded by walkers, and found it difficult to get into any sort of stride. The first few hundred metres felt like a very light trot of sorts -- and I found myself weaving between walkers, some of whom strolled along the route in a broad line, bearing banners and signs in support of their respective causes. I think it's great that they were there... but I started to get a bit aggravated about how much 'space' they were taking up. After about 500 or 600 metres, I felt like I finally started to get a bit of a stride and pace, and in looking at my watch, realized that I had just wasted about 5 minutes trying to weave through walkers and actually get started. In order to come close to my 30-minute goal, I knew I'd have to run at a pace of about 6 minutes per kilometer, and given that I was moving at about half that pace, I started to get a bit frustrated.

And then I took a deep breath.
"Focus," I told myself. "Get over yourself. Quit looking for excuses. Just run."

And I did. I set into my stride, and before I kn
ew it, I had run the first three kilometres. I hadn't made up for my lost time at the start, but my pace felt good, and I was quickly passing all of the walkers, and many of the runners. Now, when I drive my car, I tend to drive in the passing lane. Driving fast feels good. Passing slow drivers feels even better. Running the same way was feeling pretty spectacular.

As I approached the 3 1/2 km mark, I kept my eyes out for a portable washroom. Because even with my renewed focus, I still h
ad to pee. So I slowed my pace to a fast walk, thinking that I would find a loo on the horizon. But amid the water stations, I saw no washrooms. So I kept running.

Not only because I was there to run... but also because I still had to pee.

In running along the next stretch of the course, I began to fixate on the fact that I had to go to the washroom. Would I be able
to discretely run to the side of the course and go there? Then I began to think about how grossed out I would be if I saw someone doing the same thing. Maybe I would just wet my pants. I could toss a cup of Gatorade on myself from the water station -- it was lemon/lime flavour, after all -- and claim that I had an 'unfortunate spill'. But no. I wouldn't do that. And then I remembered something that Yvette, a trainer from the gym wrote on my last blog post:
"Mind/ the time if ever one wants to give in, remember the other is ready to KICK IT UP!!!...TUNE INTO yourself....make the switch, take the flip and kick some*ss!!!"
At that moment, I realized that my mind was taking over. I was completely fixated on the fact that I had to go to the washroom. I needed to get that out of my head, because I could my pace begin to slow. I needed to pick it back up.

So, I got back into my groove, and began to really run again. I looked at my watch and realized that I was behind pace -- and likely wouldn't make my goal of 30 minutes or less. And quickly, my mind began to take over again. I had to remind myself of where I was... and from where I came. Getting to this point in my journey was already a big deal. Finishing my first road race was the real goal. The time was irrelevant.

I then dropped my shoulders, took a deep breath, turned up the volume on my iPod and got back to business. And it was going to feel "like buttah" from there on in....

As I turned off Lakeshore Boulevard onto Bay Street, I was searching for the 4-km mark, but didn't see it. I didn't really know where I was at in terms of distance, but in the distance, I could see Toronto's Old City Hall -- just to the left of which was the finish line. I looked at my watch, and it read: 28 minutes. And I looked to my left and saw a 500-meter marker. Could I crank out the last 500 meters in 2 minutes? Could I possibly make my time? I thought about trying to run the last stretch as fast as I could. And as I took a deep breath to pick up my pace, I looked around me and saw throngs of people lining the course. This was the point where the full marathon route and the 5k / half-marathon route merged. So the energy and excitement was much bigger than I had anticipated. And it quickly got more overwhelming than I imagined.

Just as I had taken that breath to pick up my pace and run hard, my breath got caught in my throat, and I started to get choked up. There were people cheering me on. I never thought I would ever feel how incr
edible that was. I was the one who always stood by the sidelines and cheered other people on. And today, they were cheering for all of the runners. Even though they didn't know me, they were still cheering for me.

That's where this experience got really big.

I needed to get back into it. I had no desire to approach the finish line as an emotional mess. I could have my moment to myself later -- I wasn't going to have it in front of thousands of people. But I could feel deep within me that this was a major moment. As much as I had said, and cognitively realized that this was something I never thought I would ever do, that moment -- that moment when the cheering began to blur, the music began to rise, and my stride began to lengthen -- was the first time I had actually felt how really big this was.

And it felt unreal. And I started to giggle. And I knew I was good.

So I got my focus, and began to scan the crowd for my friends Jonathan and Elliot, who were going to try to catch me at the finish line. I found myself scanning left and right, unsure of where I might see them. And realized once again that my brain was taking over. Time to focus again, and let my legs
do their thing.

Turning the corner at the 100 metre mark

I picked up my pace, and approached the 200 meter marker. I thought to myself, "I can't believe this is actually happening." And as I made the slight turn on the course, at the 100 meter mark, the finish line came into sight.
I decided to really run. And just as I did, I looked to my left and saw Jon and Elliot standing at the top of the bleachers cheering me on. I gave them a quick wave, and then began to sprint towards the finish.

Passing by Jon & Elliot en route to the finish...

Moments later, I crossed the line. My time from the official start was 35:57.9. I turned off my iPod and Nike+ sensor, and my watch, and realized that my actual time was closer to 32 minutes. I remember thinking to myself:

32 minutes.
I didn't hit my goal of 30 minutes.

32 minutes.
Friggin' walkers at the start.

32 minutes!
Holy shit, I just ran a 5-k in 32 minutes!
32 minutes!!
Holy shit, I just ran a 5-k!!

32 minutes!!!

My actual chip time was 32:10.3. I figured that with the slow start (yes, I have yet to forgive the walkers...), that I probably would have come in closer to 30 minutes. And after checking the pace of my run on my Nike+ sensor, I ran at a pace of 6 minutes per kilometer. So, I'm adjusting my time to 30:10.3. Yes, I'm adjusting it. Remember, I'm not trying to qualify for Boston here. ;)

My other run stats (yes, this is coming from a guy who doesn't like to deal with the 'numbers' of this whole weight-loss journey):
  • Of 4249 5-km participants, I placed 1659 overall.
  • In my category of men aged 35-39 years, I placed 86th out of 158.
  • Out of all of the men, I placed 769th of 1481.
Not bad for a guy who used to weigh 435 pounds, eh? I think it's pretty friggin' spectacular, if you ask me.

After I turned in my race chip, I made my way to the meet & greet area, and connected with Jon and Elliot. Shortly thereafter, Lisa, Alison and Kim came in... and we had all run our best races! We had trained for this... and it paid off. So we gathered as a small group, and took a moment to soak it in. Something that each of us had thought at one point was going to be difficult or challenging, was finally very real. And very exciting.

Me, Alison, Lisa and Kim, enjoying our accomplishment at Toronto's Nathan Phillips Square
So there you have it. Shortly thereafter, we cleaned up, met up with our friends and had an amazing brunch. Ironically, I didn't have the Eggs Benedict. I had a steak & cheese omelette, home fries, and grilled corn bread. Do you know how much fat is in hollondaise sauce?!?! Oh, I also had a celebratory shooter. ;)

An incredible way to spend a day. Brunch with friends. A road race with training partners. And declaring victory over my own self-doubt and uncertainty, which have been the fuel for my demons for so many years. Again, this wasn't just a race against the clock for my best time. It was a race against myself -- my mind, my body, my soul. And today the three all worked together to leave me with a feeling of excitement and elation that I've never experienced before.

And I hope that one day, all of you who read this experience the same feeling. In whatever way you can.

Kia kaha.
Stay strong.

PS. Yes, I finally went pee. ;)