Thursday, October 20, 2016

Climbing My Own Mount Everest - My Marathon Story

Everybody has their own Mount Everest they were put on this earth to climb." - Seth Godin

As I walked my way through the crowd to reach my corral, I was strangely calm knowing that during the night I had made peace with myself and had decided just to complete the race.  I saw people chatting, laughing, excited, some jumping up and down, some dancing to the music, some extremely nervous, some pushing their way to the very front. I stayed in my spot and thought about the finish line. I had battled a cold for the last five days and had not had much sleep and a lot had happened in the past 24 hours that was out of my control (details maybe in another blog!)

As the crowd started moving closer to the start line, I tuned everyone out. I focused on my mantra: You’re mental game is strong. You can finish this race. I reminded myself that I have done all the training, my body may decide to fail, but my mind will keep me going. As the gun went off, the rain started coming down.

There was a sea of people running. Some were trying to run the tangents and I got elbowed a few times. I moved to the left side of the road and stayed there. I love running trails more than roads. That’s where I can find peace and tranquility. I realized running with a huge crowd makes me a bit claustrophobic. I need space to breath. I then shifted my thoughts from the racers to the crowd on the side of the road. I settled in to my run and rhythm.  It was impressive to see people of all ages cheering for us. They could have easily stayed home on a rainy Saturday morning. You couldn’t help but smile, nod, give a thumbs up, wave, and say thank you. Thank you Toronto and the unbelievable crowd!

Four New Black Toes!

At 6K I spotted the Black Toe Running crowd cheering station. I had told Mark at the expo I would be wearing my singlet I got from him during the 2014 expo. He promised they’d cheer louder when they saw me and they DID! This gave me a renewed sense of hope that I may actually meet my goal of a sub 4 hour marathon. Thank you Black Toe Running family for cheering louder!

I spotted from afar the Pace and Mind family cheering their hearts out. But as I got closer, they turned around to cheer for the elites who were on their way back. Then I saw the elite athletes coming back and couldn’t help calling their names out and cheering them on too. Seeing female elite runners being so focused and running so hard reminded me of "Everybody has their own Mount Everest they were put on this earth to climb." I felt a bit stronger and kept moving forward.

I saw Andrew, one of the digital champions of the 2014 STWM. I called out his name; he looked up and gave me a big smile. We reached out our hands but alas, were fast moving in different directions, it was more of an act of comradeship and unspoken words of wishing each other good luck.

A bit further down, a volunteer with a megaphone was singing which I couldn’t really understand the words, and then she would inform runners about Gatorade ahead.  Her out of tune singing reminded of me and Sia’s lyrics:

And I don't care if I sing off key
I find myself in my melodies
I sing for love, I sing for me
I shout it out like a bird set free.

I smiled and kept moving forward. I appreciated some quiet moments to re-focus and stay strong. Then I saw a familiar face that I had chatted with the night before. She was cheering with a big smile. I called out here name: "Heather! Heather!" She made eye contact and we smiled. She had run her fast 5K and now was cheering with her tribe! I was happy to have met her in person the night before at the expo! An inspirational athlete.

Then I saw Aries. We had chatted a bit prior to my race. I told him I was struggling and he feast pumped saying “Keep going strong”. I was happy to see him even though he was heading back with his runner. Got a bit of energy and kept going.

I made sure all the cheering stations got a smile and thumbs up. I made sure all the volunteers got a thank you and a smile. It is very hard being a volunteer at a hydration stations with runners splashing and throwing their cups all over the place. Thank you so much for doing one of the hardest volunteer jobs during a race for several hours!

Thank You Toronto!

Along the way saw many runners who were struggling. Some were lying down with paramedics attending to them. Some were holding to whatever they could find and holding on to their cramped muscles cringing with pain. I kept taking my salt tabs and reminding myself that my mental game is stronger than my body. I quickly asked a couple of runners if they needed help and they shook their head. I kept going.

On the bridge, I quickly looked at my phone and saw I had a few text messages. My daughter who was tracking me online seeing I had done well for the first half and offering encouragement. My son had texted me to find out how I was doing. I got teary eyes. I had told him I will text him as soon as I cross the finish line. But now the finish line seemed so far away and I felt I had let him down.

At the super friendly neighborhood of Beaches, kids were handing out small pieces of banana.  It was very satisfying and renewed my energy once again.
I realized I had only 9 more kilometers to go and I remembered my training knowing exactly from my house to where and back would make 9K. I reminded myself I could do this. I’m almost there. 

As I was more focused and not looking around, I heard from behind me someone with excitement calling Jean Paul! JP! I quickly turned around and saw my beautiful friend JP on the opposite side! I turned around and ran back calling out his name. The third time, he heard me and turned around.  I told him give me a hug! We embraced and met face to face for the first time. If you haven’t heard of JP, I suggest visiting his website to learn about his advocacy, activism and relentless effort to increase awareness of childhood sexual abuse and to help survivors finding their voice. We connected in 2014 through running and specifically through the Canadian Running Series, where JP was a digital champion. Like many of you who know JP and have bonded with him, I also share a special bond with him. I told him I love him and with a kiss I started to turn around and I saw Mary-Ann, JP’s faithful partner on a bike smiling. I waved at her saying “I love you!” and kept going. My heart was happy but I had teary eyes while I had smile on my face. I kept going. I reminded myself why I decided to run in the first place!

The last few kilometers were really tough. Then I saw from my corner of eye someone coming close to me calling my name. It was my good friend, Darren. He also was one of digital champions in 2014 I befriended on Twitter. I was so happy to see him. We quickly embraced and I told him I was dying. I had a severe back spasm that I had never had before during any of my runs. He said “YOU’RE F***ING ROCKING IT!” hahaha! Two other tall guys running alongside me echoed Darren’s sentiment! I couldn’t help but smile and say, “Thank you!”. He ran with me for a bit while we chatted. I told him to be mindful of his injury as he’s recovering. He said he was able to track me for a while online. His words of support and encouragement meant a lot to me. I was really dying but him believing in my strength gave me a renewed sense of hope and courage to get my mental game stronger. I parted with my friend and the two tall guys said stick with us, we’re going to cross the finish line together. I said thank you! You keep going; I have my eyes on you. I’m coming. I’m right behind you. 

The last kilometers…loud cheers…..the crowd is pumping people not to give up…and my back…severe pain…my mind: “straighten yourself up; chest forward; smile; you are stronger than your body; you came all this way and your back can’t stop you….then I spotted Brandon, one of my Pace and Mind running friends who I got to know through Twitter. He had the biggest smile, clapping, cheering, and came closer and I said “Brandon! Thank you! OMG!” He was so inspiring that I got a good boost of energy from his genuine cheers. I was so happy to have seen him there. What a big difference familiar faces make.

During the last 100 meters or so, I heard a loud cheer behind me and I thought to myself, the crowd must have spotted someone they know. That is really nice. And I kept going. I was happy for all the cheers from all the supporters on the street. Later, on Ingstagram I learned the loud cheer was for me from my friends Cathy and Melly!!!! So much love from the running community. I hope you all know how much those cheers meant to me even though sometimes I did not see you or recognized you in the crowd!

Then I saw the bend. I had made it. I relaxed a bit more and smiled. I crossed the finish line. I thanked the tall boys and turned to volunteers saying “You guys are AWESOME!” “ALL OF YOU!” One of the volunteers said “We love you too!” 

I did not have a PB (Personal Best) or a BQ (Boston Qualifying Time). I was much slower than my previous marathon. It was raining. It was humid. I had battled a cold. I was wet. I had two big blisters on the ball of each foot. And oh so many other reasons that made me not go faster! I wish things had worked out that day but some things are not under our control. What mattered was the fact; I completed the race and had done it with lots of support and love from my friends. I had received so much love that day. It humbled me. It was about gratitude and being thankful to have received so much love and courage from all these people today. My heart was filled with love. I was a winner that day.
We all have our own Mount Everest to climb. Running is a common thread that has connected us. We belong. We share. We understand. We support. Runners do this even during grueling marathon races through meaningful eye contact moving at opposite directions, reaching out hands that don’t meet, teary eyes, twinkling eyes, big smiles, triumphant looks, hugs, kisses, and we tell each other how much they mean to us, we are constantly inspired by runners and their stories. They’re not necessarily about paces and times but rather about how they have overcome challenges in their own personal lives. 

Running Community ♥ Caring Community 

Thank you Alan Brooks of the Canadian Running Series for making it possible for runners to connect and develop meaningful friendships.

Thank you my Running Room family for your support during our training. We were a great group of runners! A special thank you to Jeff and lovely Karen, the husband and wife team who helped us with fueling and hydration throughout our training this past summer, THANK YOU! You were an integral part of our training and we won’t forget your kindness. Thank you Jeff for texting me saying I was rocking my first half. That meant a lot. 

Thank you my London Community Foundation family for all your love and support during my training, before my race, and during my recovery for past two days. I am really blessed to have great support system in place.

Thank you to all my supporters on Twitter, Instagram and Strava. Thank you to all of my supporters from around the world. I appreciate you and your support.
Special thank you from this mama bear to my cubs for their unconditional love and support.

“Most people run a race to see who is fastest.  I run a race to see who has the most guts.” – Steve Prefontaine

Top Left: My Exhausted Face before the Race!

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