I don’t know if it’s just me, but I feel my head is playing with me when I run. It makes passing time painstakingly slow or starts wandering off in daydreams and stupid ideas while my body loses the pace down to a slow jog. It makes things harder, you know, having to keep your brain on a leash.
I was finishing a long stretch of track by a large basin when the rain finally stopped. KM14. The harm was done, though; large puddles of water were everywhere, mud had poured from the surrounding trails. At that point, I wasn’t even trying to avoid them; it just ruined my stride and I was soaked nonetheless.
The race starts now, I thought to myself, climbing the first upward slope of the course. I’d started seeing some disappointed, suffering runners abandoning. Blue-lipped, shivering. I’d want to help them, put them back in the race, give them the energy they needed to pull it off. It makes me sad, but it also reminds me that this could be my fate at any point if I lose my focus. Nobody wants another Nike run like we did back in 2005.
One of the most emotional days of my whole life. A 21K ran on a knee and a half. As I recall the suffering and the living hell we went through to cross that finish line, my heart warms up. I think of Joel, Erin. I reach to the back pocket of my running tights and feel through. It sits right there. My Terry Fox dollar coin. I don’t hold dear many material things in this world, but this gift, received in the nick of time, is a personal treasure.
I’d clenched my jaws. Oooh that feeling, I know it so well. I just visualized; I reached inside of my mind to gather some strength and motivation, and did I ever find some. I come out of the hill strong, and I start picking up speed again. This time, I try to save some of the energy for the last stretch. My confidence is rising.
A pair of cops are under a bridge. They’re cheering as I pass, and I’m surprised to think this is probably the first time in my life I’m happy to see them.
Then I start to wonder, after all that “head time”, where in the course I might be now. I’d stopped looking at the markers a while ago and for some reason, I refused to take a single look at my stopwatch the whole race. I’m not gonna start now. Instead, I take this as something to look forward to. Soon enough, a big orange marker appears. Could it be? It says 17.
There’s a sharp turn and a bridge to cross, and a small crowd is gathered there. As I close in, I see a friendly face; Humberto is standing there in his rain gear, brave against the elements. I’d seen him two times already, in the distance, but this time I would pass right next to him. I look up. He’s smiling. He knows. As he raises his hand up for a much welcome high-five, a jolt of energy zaps my entire body. Hands clap. I roar. I feel like I’m flying. Thanks, brother, and can’t wait to be side by side in Ottawa :)
I stay in this moment for as long as I can. My legs are starting to stiffen and I know I shouldn’t be pushing at this point, but the energy’s overwhelming. This is something I’m gonna need to learn to control. It makes my stride uneven and my overall effort level curve look like a strip of bacon. Ooohhh, bacon.
I’m approaching a set of curves. I’m not recognizing the specific section of the track and I’m thinking it’s bad to have designed the last kilometers of the course to be so curvy. How the hell am I supposed to gauge my remaining effort if I can’t see the finish line?
There’s another orange flag. I get my head up. Oh my god. It says 1! This is it. I’ve done it. I’ve not only completed the course, I’ve got just enough energy in store to finish strong. I reach for my belt, grab my last squirt of gel – been saving it – and switch to my Rage Playlist. I’m gonna give it all.
Every step I take is longer, stronger. My arms start to swing frantically as I pass every single runner who’d passed me over the last couple minutes. This is going so well. The end is curvy and filled with large muddy puddles, gravel and loose crap all over and the runners are slowing down, afraid to slip or take a bad fall. I’m not slowing. I’m not afraid. I’m a fucking tiger.
Last curve. The asphalt resumes right beyond it. I expect the finish line to be standing right there, almost at arm’s reach. And then it hits me. Right there, all alone, another long, orange, stupid, motherfucking marker. Says 20. Like a 2x4 to the face, I come to the devastating realization that the “1” flag I mistook for the last marker was a wet, shriveled “19”.
It’s over. My lungs are burning, I don’t have a single ounce of energy anymore, and there’s still a kilometer to go. I think I’m about to cry. As I slow down to a mere jog, every single runner I’d passed so proudly flies by me, cranking up their last bit of energy to finish strong. I, on the other hand, is going to cross that line looking like a wet hungover zombie with concrete shoes.
Funny how thoughts of despair can carry you just enough hundred meters to make you see the finish line. As soon as it came in sight, I emptied of everything but the increasing stomp of my feet frantically rushing forward. One last look up, the arch is there. And a big surprise.
There’s a “gun time” display at the finish line. As I cross, it says 1h54!
At the summit of my adrenaline, after the hugs of victory and the satisfied smiles of fellow runners finishing their challenge, my day gets even better. I get my “chip time”. I double-check it, in disbelief. It says 1h51:30. I just achieved what I hope to be the first of a long series of personal records.
And I haven’t felt so alive in a long, long time.
I'll see you in Ottawa.