End of the year is a great time to take stock on all that transpired, in and out of our running shoes. When I think of 2018, I can measure it in my children’s report cards, smiles from my wife, and medals I collected between January and December, even if my last race was November 4. This is kind of a race guide, diary, and example of my addiction with making lists. Where did you race in 2018? How did you feel? If enough of us do this, we’ll have a pretty good list of what’s out there to explore with an open heart in the new year. These are the races I ran in 2018.
1. The Chilly Half Marathon. I’ve been opening my season with this race in Burlington since I first started running in 2008. I’ve also been setting unrealistic expectations for myself at this race in Burlington since I first started running in 2008. I did the same thing on March 4. The race has a cozy atmosphere and I went with my BlackToe Race Team to try and hang with someone younger than me who was shooting for something like 1:25. I can tell you I was feeling sick. I can tell you I was in a weird head space. I almost got teary-eyed before the start line when I met my friend’s pregnant wife. (Congrats Doyle, by the way). Lots goes into our racing, mental and physical and vibe. But mostly I just wasn’t in shape and each step I landed felt like my brittle bones would crack. I gutted it out, but I never smiled, and clocked 1:31:17, shivering all the way home on the bus. I raced. Caught a fever. And then didn’t run again for three weeks.
2. Around the Bay. Nothing I can tell you about this race in Hamilton that you don’t already know. This March, the event will be celebrating its 125th year (older than Boston). It’s hilly. It’s cold. And it belongs on every racer’s bucket list. I drove to the race with my best man, reset expectations (got real), and enjoyed myself, once again catching my groove. I ran a lot of it with Jeff Moyle, from the Army Run, and ran a lot of it listening to Tom Petty, who died toward the end of 2017. I passed some people from BlackToe (not that one speedy bastard who I wouldn’t catch all year), but I kept my head in the game and increased my speed around 17K (it has a 30K option). This was a tactical misfire because there’s a mountain around 27K, and by the time I crested it, I was finished. Even Tom Petty couldn’t help. But the course has a fantastic finish and after you pass the Reaper, you wind up in First Ontario Centre and crossing the line I felt like Tom Longboat, who won in 1906. (Maybe the mountain had made me delirious). I never miss the Chilly and I never miss Around the Bay. I finished in 2:12:52 if anyone in the world possibly cares, and then we had a party at Merit Brewery and Reid came and I felt like the king of the world.
3. Race Roster Spring Run-Off. By now I had my groove on and this race was the first one in 2018 that I ran with my kids. It’s important for a runner to keep racing, it helps keep you motivated, and this was my final tune-up before Boston. The event is held in High Park in early April and I spent some time before and after with Neil Whitlock, and let’s never, ever forget Ed. I did the 8K before meeting up with my family and surprised myself and ran well, though I hadn’t competed at this event before and didn’t realize how close to the finish line the final hill is. Perhaps, and it’s easy to say this in retrospect listening to Two Gunslingers from the comfort of my EZ chair, but perhaps I left something in the tank. A friend of mine beat me by four-tenths of a second and I never even saw him, Sam Heath, sneaky bastard. I found my wife and kids and we ran wild—everyone split up and disregarded the race plan, and it was my second time running with Matthew and first time running with Esme and afterwards we went for sushi and both kids fell asleep in the booth while my wife and I clinked our beers. I scored 32:19 and Sam Heath got 32:15. I’ll get you next year, Sam.
4. The Boston Marathon. My runner’s high last from the moment I started to the second I crossed the finish line. I can’t explain it: the weather was awful, cold, howling and sopping wet, and I was laughing in my sneakers like a teenager at a nudist colony. Each step I took felt appreciative—this is the last time I’ll have this distance to travel at the Boston Marathon, soak it in (Literally, let it soak in your socks and your sneakers). It’s one thing to race in horrible weather. But could you imagine cheering in a hurricane? And yet there they were: tens of thousands of Boston faithful screaming their heads off, offering high fives, kisses and beers, and it seemed like I was the luckiest kid in the world to be there in the muck, throwing my arms in the air.
Of course, after the finish, I shivered my way back to the hotel and thought I’d catch shingles or whatever’s the worst thing you can do to yourself, but you know what? I ambled back to the Sheraton and people clapped for me and pat me on the back as I shook and after I called my mother, I wore my medal to the bar—just like everyone else and we applauded each new person who joined us, strangers, for a beer. It took me 3:15:44. And my friend Krista got third and would go on to drop the puck on Hockey Night in Canada for her accomplishment.
5. The Waterloo Marathon. The Ed Whitlock Half Marathon celebrated its inaugural event at the end of April, and I couldn’t miss that. No way. My wife and I spent the night in Waterloo and had a date night, a terrific excuse to get out of town. By now I was tired and didn’t even pack the right stuff. I was sentimental about Ed and didn’t respect the work of running a half marathon and I struggled, even though there were Amish people passing us in buggies and you traverse streams and it has a real down home touch which should have brought me inspiration, but really just brought me chafing injuries because I didn’t use Vaseline. At the finish line, there was homemade jam and my favourite medal of the year: which my daughter immediately lost. My best man beat me (which is fine, really) and I scored 1:37:53. Run the Ed Whitlock Half Marathon. Have a date night with your wife. Just space it out a little better if you just ran Boston. And always pack your Vaseline.
6. The Ottawa Marathon. This is Canada’s Boston. I wonder what percentage of iRun readers who’ve done this, 60, 75? Before the race, my friends from the Niagara Marathon and I saw a Tom Petty tribute band and during the race I ran with JP Bedard. The plan was: go slow. That’s always the plan. Go slow and negative split if there’s anything at the end. Then, adrenaline, and kids with their hands out, and you think, Go slow? What are you, nuts? Let’s race this thing!! That worked, on a gorgeous day on a perfect course at the mecca of Canadian racing—until 28K, at which point I realized I’m a moron. Walking is sobering during a marathon. A time to reflect on how a person can edit a running magazine and still not know how to run. I got my groove back, eventually, and shuffled, shuffled, shuffled my way across the finish line. Racing teaches us nothing shy of humility, and I have a master’s degree. I scored 3:26:26 and took up smoking.
7. Shakespeare Runs the Night. I hope it doesn’t feel like a marathon making it through this list because friends, here I got my groove back. A 30K race at the end of August out in the Beach put on by the great Dave Emilio and I was BACK! Still, I couldn’t beat that pesky Chris Rivera, but can you believe your narrator scored tenth? I ran most of the last bit with the winning female racer who dusted me in the end but was so cool, that Erin Eastman of Mount Albert, Ontario, this one’s for you. And just like that, the thought of breaking three hours in October became a thing! My 30K time was 2:08:58, but more importantly, my confidence was one million and fifty five. I wanted to run more. Race again. And train harder. You have to believe in this stuff and keep doing it and you can. Maybe there’s a metaphor there: somehow you have to enjoy life and find your edge and keep at it and maybe I was rested, maybe the flat course and the double out and back helped, or maybe it was the rainbow over the lake in the mist that did it: I felt lifted at this sunset run. You gotta run this race in 2019. Even if you have no chance of catching me. Not on a day like today.
8. The Super Power 5K. A run on the island with my wife and my kids in costumes for charity? Yes, please! Here, my guys were supposed to run 2K, and ended up doing the full five, and when my daughter got tired and wanted to walk, she needed no inspiration from me to keep running. It was one of the gutsiest, coolest things I’d seen, and actually reminded me of my mom running one of the Shakespeare races in which she practically needed to be carried off of the course. (About nine months later, her limp was almost totally gone). When Esme finished, it was important to her that we walk back to the race announcer and tell him that she didn’t run the 2K, but ran the 5K. The people on the course cheered for her, “Go, Super Pink!” This race more than any is what got her to sign up for her cross country team. Here’s my kids at the race.
9. The Canada Army Run. The goal was to run under 1:30 to see if it made sense to try and break three hours in October and I ran 1:25:39, even though I ate too much pizza the night before. I wore those snazzy new Nikes which I immediately gave to Terry Lake and I ignored my watch and got tired a little bit and didn’t think I was running anything special until I saw the clock above the finish line. You just never know and now I started to feel like I was on the verge of doing something special. Plus, Canada Army Run. Money raised helps mental health issues for the armed forces, and you see people with their amputations on the course and people cheering and you just have to run this race. You just have to. I left Ottawa ready to run the fastest marathon of my life.
11. The Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. My first marathon. The race of my adopted hometown. The people who I work closest with and a course that’s flat and where I know lots of people and yet. . . this year it became the first race where I took my bib off and walked off the course and hailed a cab. Some of it is that I walked into a wall the week earlier and gave myself a black eye. (Long story). Some of it is that I went out too quickly and there was no pacer for under three hours and we set out around 2:55 and I couldn’t hold it around 25K and my heart sank. (Short story). Some of it is that I knew I was running New York the following month and figured I’d save myself for that. But really? Know what? I honestly just gave up. I couldn’t summon the will to push through the pain. The marathon is far and it’s hard to run 42.2K as fast as you can. It’s funny that sometimes surprises me. What was hoped to become my fastest marathon became the first marathon I ever quit.
12. The New York Marathon. I’ve already written about this so I won’t wax poetic, but let’s say it crossed my mind to retire again, and that I felt the urge to walk tugging on my shoulders like Matthew when he wants to go to the arcade, but I resisted temptation and, despite turning green, summoned my strength. New York is New York, nothing I need to say to convince you to run the New York Marathon—you see everything, the crowds are divine. I was a guest of New Balance and probably wore $500 worth of gear and my weather was gorgeous, and still the race was still super, super hard. I’m proud of myself for this one: 3:14:19. My fastest marathon of the year and, while I didn’t score a personal best, I saw my cousin’s kid on the course, my uncle—people I love applauding me for doing what I love to do.
When I look back on my Year in Racing, I look back on my Year of Life. Whether it was by myself, with my friends, with my team or with my family, the races, even when I bonked, when I walked, when I quit, were still something I feel grateful for having the opportunity to do. All of these races tested me and gave me a chance of achieving something, made me smile, made me hurt, and sometimes, the strangest thing happened: I surprised myself.
The runner’s high is real. You just have to run to achieve it.