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Hero in My Own Mind

At 40 kilometers - 2 to go

Infection was not a predicted side effect. I knew that by running two marathons in less than one month I was asking for trouble, but I didn’t expect a brush with flesh eating disease.

Okay, so far it looks like I don’t have flesh eating disease, but I saw the look of worry on my doctor’s face the day after the marathon when he discovered that the leg pain I developed during the marathon wasn’t a muscular injury but a bacterial infection. Nutty.

How did this happen? I do remember banging my shin once in early May when I was prepping for the Toronto Marathon, and apparently the cut or abrasion doesn’t have to be visible in order to allow the little critters a path into one’s flesh.

All I know was that training runs between the two marathons had to be curtailed because of a pain on the front right side of my right leg–something I self-diagnosed as chronic anterior compartment syndrome. Isn’t the internet a wonderful and dangerous place when it comes to medical information? I should have checked with my doctor because I could have saved myself a lot of pain.

It started at 6 kilometers, that ache in my leg. By 10 k I knew I was in trouble, and by 22 k I had serious doubts about whether I’d even finish the marathon. That’s when I became the hero in my own mind, the lead character in one of my novels, suffering through adversity until the end of the story. I know, stupid. I should have stopped at a medical tent and asked for a ride back to the start. My brother-in-law had given me instructions for a couple of short cuts that would allow me to bail from the course and head straight back to his place, but in the haze of pain I couldn’t remember.  So I battled on.

But while my characters were great inspiration, I began thinking of real people who struggled on through great pain. My wife had three children the natural way, and I watched her fight through labor bravely each time. I once joked with her that running a marathon is the closest a man can come to the endurance test that labor is for women, but she reminded me that there is one big difference: a man can stop running. We can just give up on a marathon. My wife is a hero.

I also thought of my dad who, desperately ill with cancer, would refuse morphine when I was coming to visit so that he could be alert when we chatted, even though it meant great discomfort for him. My dad was a hero.

So how could I not finish the marathon in spite of the pain? It was just pain and I could push through it. I was lucky, because the body can fail no matter how positive the runner.

During the marathon I may have been a hero in my own mind, the protagonist of one of my novels, the star of my own film, but the people who truly got me through that race were the real heroes in my life.


Committed, or Should I Be Committed?

I'm the guy kneeling on the left

The second craziest thing I’ve done in my life is to sign up for the Ottawa Marathon, which will be my second marathon race in less than a month. But when I get an idea in my head, it’s like a worm that burrows deep into my brain, chewing up all common sense along the way.

Like when it comes to writing. I got in on the early days of the film industry in Toronto, working my way from office production assistant to unionized camera assistant in less than six months. The smart thing to do would have been to upgrade asap to focus puller, camera operator or director of photography. I know that because I have friends who went that route.

But I had it in my head that I wanted to be a writer. So I shunned opportunities to upgrade and took B-Camera on shows like Due South so that I would only have to work two or three days per week. I spent the other days researching, writing and editing. Most of my friends in film think I should be committed to an insane asylum, and certainly they’re right in that my bank account would be much fatter if I’d gone full throttle in film the way I do for writing.

But that little worm ate away all common sense when it comes to my career, and so here I am, still writing and now publishing. Today I met with a new cover artist, and I’m charged about a concept that can carry across all five books in the 1000 Souls series. The artist is one talented guy and I can’t wait to see what he produces. I’m still excited about my writing, and I can’t wait for my fans to read the next installment because I’ve had so much fun writing it.

So my car may be old, my house only partially renovated, and I don’t have all the latest toys, but I still love writing. When I have doubts about my career choices, I remind myself that most people don’t enjoy their work.

Oh, as for the craziest thing I’ve ever done. I was writing a novel about Afghanistan (before 9/11 changed everything), and I got it into my head that it would be easier if I visited the country to get a feel for it. It was like a worm that got into my head and ate out all common sense.

That’s me kneeling on the left of the photo. Shameless bragging? You bet. How many people can say they traveled with the mujahideen? That’s just crazy.


Totally Off Topic

I just about died yesterday in the Toronto Marathon. At least that’s what one medical study suggests was happening to my heart during the marathon when I went into meltdown mode at 35 kilometers (22 miles).

Up until 30 kilometers, I thought I had a chance of running the marathon in less than three hours. This is one of those weird holy grails for marathon runners, a boundary that seems impenetrable, and yet we all know that people do it, not just the pros, but regular people like us. I know two men who’ve nearly made it on multiple occasions. I was only one minute shy in 2010.

So at the beginning of the marathon we all lined up at the front and started sizing one another up. Who should be there and who shouldn’t? What I like about the Toronto Marathon is that it’s pretty easy going, and the organizers trust runners to line up at the start according to their skill with no qualifying races for proof. For the most part people are good, although usually one or two runners join us three hour guys even though they have no hope of running the race that fast.

But we’re not checking out other runners because we want to be marathon police.  We’re looking for potential pace partners–people you can run beside because they’re going for a three hour marathon too and have a real shot at getting it. I listen to the banter to find that person who says something like, “This time I’ll make it.”

The horn sounded before I could identify my pacer, so I had to run for a few kilometers to see who dropped away early. It’s usually the really young men, the 20-25 crowd, who misjudge just how much training you need to run a marathon. This excludes the pros of course. They know. So do we old guys–anyone over thirty. We all know that our bodies need training and that they will fail us if we aren’t careful.

But searching for a running partner was my undoing in this race. My first 2k I ran way too fast because I wasn’t in with the right people. One marathon expert says that for every minute too fast in your first 5k, you’ll lose two minutes in your last 5k.

By 5k we’d all settled down, and I’d picked out two men and one woman that I felt might go the distance in less than three hours. I even asked one of the guys, and he stated he was shooting for under three hours, but his tone warned me to be wary. It was arrogant. It said, “I’ll see you after you get to the finish line.”

Marathons are one of the most humbling experiences I’ve ever had, and I think that’s why I run them. I like the challenge, and when I fail to run the race I want, I just want to try it again as soon as my body is able.

Yesterday I tucked in with these three runners and went for it. I would crack that three hour nut! But at about 15 k a trickle of sweat ran down my neck, and I knew I was in trouble. The sun was over the trees. I don’t run well in sun. I’ve been lucky so far because a lot of my marathons have been cloud covered, and it makes a hell of a difference. During my first marathon the sun peaked out, and it was as if someone had dropped a wool blanket over my head. Fortunately the clouds came back that time.

This time it was a beautiful blue sky for the whole race, and I cursed that yellow orb. In the Rosedale Valley I lost my second running partner. The woman had already fallen behind, but this would later prove to be temporary. The arrogant man, the one who was sure he would beat me to the finish, suddenly announced that he had a stitch.

“Don’t panic,” I said. “I know it’s hard, but take deep breaths and hold them. Breath slower. It’s just because we’ve been running down hill and you’ve been breathing too fast, essentially hyperventilating. Just slow down your breathing. You’re getting too much air.”

He had the grace to reply, “Good luck. I’ll see you at the finish.” He dropped away and I never saw him again. He had been humbled.

But I was next. The other guy I was running with had been only 30 seconds shy of cracking that 3 hour nut last year in another race, and he said we should stick together, should push each other. But by now we were really feeling the heat. Oh, it was only 16 degrees C (61F) but with the sun it was intense. Runners began throwing water over their heads after a few sips. I saw one guy even do it with Gatorade. I think his brains were already fried.

For a short while downtown saved us. Tall buildings with long shadows provided shade, and my pace picked up. We turned south for the lake and the water front was cool, but the sun was merciless. At 30 k I had to confess to my running partner that I was done in.

“No stay,” he said, and he sounded panicked. It was more like like a guy in a horror movie saying, “Don’t leave me to face this ugly monster alone!”

“Sorry, dude.” I didn’t stop running, but I dropped back at the next water table, taking my time with my pace and my Gatorade. I did my best to keep him in sight, but by 35 k I knew it was hopeless. I wasn’t going to come in under three hours. It just wasn’t in the cards today.

So I had a crazy idea. Why not walk occasionally? I’ve NEVER stopped to walk in a marathon before, and this is my sixth. But today I decided to do something radical because I was at the end of it, and a plan had started forming in the back of my skull. What if I treated this as a training run? What if I got through this and tried again soon, taking a chance on finding a cloudy marathon. You think strange things when you’re at the end.

So I walked occasionally. I ignored the people passing me at speed. The woman I’d counted as one of my running buddies earlier now surged ahead, and I had to just watch her go. I was done.

But I was happy. The last three kilometers were the most fun I’ve ever had in a marathon. The crowd was cheering, and I was alone, other runners way ahead and others way behind. I joked with the crowd, asking questions like, “How long is this race anyway?” My smile proved that I knew the answer, and people would laugh and hoot while others hollered, “Almost there! Almost there!” and, “Go! Go! Go!”

For ten minutes I knew what it was like to be a celebrity. I loved it. And then I came around the corner and there was the clock. I would finish at 3 hours 13 minutes and 56 seconds. Not too shabby. Certainly not my personal best, which is 3:01, but totally respectable.

I didn’t see my wife in kids in the confusion of that last moment, but they saw me, and later they told me I’ve never looked so good at the end of a marathon, so happy. I have to agree. Slowing down worked for me.

But since I didn’t die of a heart attack, I’m thinking about that little voice in my head that said, “Make this a training run.” Now I look at the calender and I see that the Ottawa Marathon is on May 27th. Is this crazy? Have I lost my mind?

Maybe. But if I’m lucky and it’s cloudy…


Where Have I Been?

Corporate year end. Income Taxes. Training for Toronto Marathon (in four days, bib number 49) Hockey with kids.

Enough said 🙂 Will blog again.