Monday, September 19, 2011

The Ottawa Army Run

Well I did it! I can hardly believe I got through it. It was an incredible experience both physically and mentally. Sitting here now, back at home, I realize just how emotional the whole thing was for me. The are a number of very different but all very important feelings and experiences I have come away with.

First, let me tell you a bit about my experience with the race itself. Me standing there looking around, in among 7,000 plus runners. That in itself felt quite unreal. When the howitzer went off (and I mean a HOWITZER) I could see the start of the line begin to move out. It took what seemed like an hour before I finally started walking toward the starting line. Then, there it was. I hit the start button on my Garmin Forerunner and I was off.

At the 1K mark, a funny thought popped into my head. "What the heck are you doing! Quit now while you still can." That was the old me peeking through. I very quickly put this guy back to bed and went on.

3K and things were starting to spread out a bit. I checked my watch and was a bit surprised at my pace. I felt strong and eager and it was showing. I decided that this was going to be too much. I had a race plan that I knew was a very ambitious one so I dropped my pace back to my plan and went on.

Everything was going very nicely up to the 10K mark. It was here that I started to feel the strain on my hips. I started to concentrate on my form. Keep smooth, don't reach out too far, keep your feet under you, mid-foot landing. I kept going knowing I was going to be feeling more of that. I needed to do something to keep my mind distracted and yet focused.

What I came up with was that I started to run this run like I was running at home. At the 12K mark I'm well on my way on the return trip home. 13K, there goes the old cemetery. Here I am, making the turn onto Zealand Road.

At 14K I have to go to a walk. Just for a minute. My knees are now burning. Got to keep going! Back up to running pace. I check my Garmin and I am still ahead of my plan! I can do this! 5K to go. In my mind's eye I can see the horses running across the field to my right. At this pace, maybe 32 minutes to go.

Less than 2K, my knees and hips have all but locked up. I have to go to a walk. I am almost there. On my run at home I would be climbing the last big hill on my route that I nicknamed Heartbreak Hill. I think of a soldier who gave a pep talk to the crowd at the Army Run dinner the night before. He was an amputee. He had lost one of his legs just below the knee. I can see this young man so clearly in my mind. I could see that he was a bit nervous as he shared his experiences with us. He was going to be running the half marathon. Yes, running. At the end of his short talk he said something like, "So if you get a blister or have a bit of a hurt, just think of me." With everything I had left, I dragged myself back up one more time to running pace.

My pace was slow but I was running. I was going to drive through this and do what I came here to do. That was to crossed that finish line, running!

I had set a target time for myself of 2 hours 30 minutes. As I crossed the finish line, I hit the stop button on my Garmin and saw a time of 2 hours 18 minutes 16 seconds. I felt like I didn't just beat my target, I smashed it! I stumbled down to a walk as I approached a line of solders that were passing out our finishing medals. Dog tags. Now, after finally achieving this goal, now, I thought to myself, I can call myself a Runner.

So that is what the run itself was like for me. At the completion of the run, just after the finish line, I and some other runners were walking toward the line of soldiers presenting the dog tags. I walked up to one soldier who held out this dog tag toward me to put it over my head. I removed my hat and as he placed the chain over my head he said, "Thank you for your support." I was bit overwhelmed by this. Here was this young man, a soldier in our army, thanking me! I went to each one of those fine individuals and shook their hands and thanked them for doing what they do.

I now started walking toward the recovery area. An officer walked up to me. He noticed that I was limping badly and that I was wearing a knee support. He smiled at me and said, "You went through the whole race like that? You look like you are hurting quite a bit." I told him that it was worth it in more ways than one. I then patted him on the shoulder with one hand and shook his hand with the other and thanked him.

Yes, I was hurting, but I was smiling. I had done it and in the process I have helped support the brave men and women of our Armed Forces. Nothing could have made me feel and better. Nothing could have made me feel more proud to be a Canadian right there and then. What a small thing to do for such an amazing group of people. THANK YOU!!

I slowly worked my way through the recovery area and started to head toward the spot Sara and I had picked that we would meet. It was just outside of the recovery area. I saw her there standing on a stone wall, camera in hand and a big smile. We made our way over to a grassy spot where I could spread out the towel she had brought for me and try to stretch out my aching hips and knees.

She look very concerned because of how I was moving. I assured her I was okay and I very slowly lowered myself down onto the towel. I spent a few minutes trying to stretch out my legs as best as I could. I was thinking, now what? I'm a runner. What am I going to do next?

I noticed Sara almost staring at me. She said she was so proud of me and that I was a real inspiration to her. Next year she hopes to be ready to run in the annual 8K Kilt Run in Perth, near our home town.

The fact that she finds what I have been doing inspirational really means a lot to me. I think that is what I want to do. I want to inspire people to reach out and do more, to be better than what they are. To do that is simple really. All you have to do is try. Sometimes it my take a few tries, but just the act of trying will help fill you with a new sense of self-worth. And when you make it to that goal, it will feel so good, you just are going to want more.

I know it can be hard. When I think back to where I was just 3 short years ago. Almost 100 pounds heavier, depressed, struggling with work, struggling just to get through the day so I could go home and hide in front of the TV and just turn my mind off. Now here I am, a green belt in karate, and a runner. Sometimes I just can't believe it.

I had many false starts. Many times I would go out and try to run, only to limp back home thinking, this is pointless. Even when I finally got going on a treadmill at home and started getting rid of some of that weight, I came so close to quitting. Then for some strange reason, I started taking karate and I met a person who has been so inspirational to me. Someone who has fought her own battles. Yet here she was, teaching karate. Thank you Sensei Laurie for being who you are, for inspiring me to reach out and do more, for being my cheering section not just when I succeed but when I just try.

So what about the racing part? Is that it? I have reached my goal so I have done it. Now all I have to do is go out for a run every once in awhile. No, I don't think that will do. I am going to need some time to recover but then I need to get right back into training. It is going to take a lot of training if I am going to run the Army Run again next year and hopefully run a full marathon but I can do this. After all, I am Karateka and a RUNNER.

Wish me luck.


  1. So inspirational! I'm a beginner runner training for a 5k at the end of October. I love reading about "real" people who have found the runner within themselves. It gives me hope that I might find that runner, too. I think I'm on my way.

    Congratulations on smashing that goal! Here's good hopes for swift recovery and future PRs!

  2. You are the Half Marathon Man!