Thursday, June 3, 2010

The (mostly) Raw Vegan... Marathon Runner?

My apologies to everyone for not posting anything for so long, the last couple of weeks leading up to the Ottawa Marathon were jam packed; but alas, here I am again, all yours.

Before I get started, I want to thank everyone for the questions for my still up-and-coming Q & A post. Please keep the questions coming and don’t be shy, the more interactive my posts are, the less I feel like this is just the rambling of an individual and more like a community. Thank you all for your kind words and support. I debated with myself for almost a year, asking myself if telling my story this way would have any benefit at all, or would it just become a self-promoting propaganda blog. Your support and interaction has been a surprise and delight and my hope is to just tell my story and help others who, like me, need to know that you can do anything you can dream, so dream big!

On Sunday, May 30th, 2010 I became a Marathon Runner! Just saying it puts a smile on my face. For those of you at home who don’t know what a marathon is or where the name comes from, perhaps a little background:

The marathon is a 42 km (26 mile) foot race. It gets it’s name from a town in Greece. Legend tells of a messenger named, Pheidippides, who was sent in 490 B.C. from the Battle of Marathon to Athens to proclaim victory over the Persians. He ran all the way from the town of Marathon to Athens, a 42 km (26 mile) mountain trail, (uphill from around the 10 km mark to the 31 km mark) and died of exhaustion right after proclaiming: Nenik├ękamen, 'We have won'.

I remember hearing about this growing up and at that time I thought, what a great improvement automobiles have been for society! I mean, who sends a man to run 42 km? What puzzled me more was why people would actually pay money to put themselves through that kind of torture, especially when the first guy who did it, died. Never did I ever think of myself as one who would attempt such a thing.

When I started training for my first marathon, I could almost hear a voice inside saying “What the hell are you thinking?” But, stubborn as I am, I just pushed through it and saw it only as a step towards a greater goal: The Iron Man. I don’t really consider myself a cyclist or a runner, and definitely not a swimmer, so, I figured, if you can’t be the best at one, then why not be okay at all of them? And after cycling 194 km form Ottawa to Montreal, a mere year after being almost 400 lbs., I figured there was nothing I couldn’t do.

I found out quickly that running is a lot harder than cycling. When I started running, I felt over-confident having already been cycling and weight training. I figured it was all the same, just a different way to get around.

I was wrong.

Not even a mile into my first run, my knee started burning with pain. I sucked it up and finished a three mile run, but was then practically bed-ridden for three days. Each time I went out after that my knee would hurt after a few hundred yards. I thought I had damaged my knee beyond repair, so I stayed off of it for a couple of weeks. This was not a good start to my marathon training, a couple of weeks lost makes a big difference in the grand scheme of things.

The next hurdle came by the way of extreme weather. Right around ten weeks into my training we got what seemed to be a foot or so of the nastiest, slushy, wet snow you could imagine. I know what you’re thinking, “why didn’t you just run on a treadmill?”. I have to say that I hate treadmills. Something about running to nowhere just drives me mad. On the road I could do a half marathon, no problem, but on a treadmill I’m done after 5 km. I can count on one hand the amount of times I have run on a treadmill throughout my training.

As the weather was finally improving, I got hit by the nastiest cold/flu I have had in two years. It seemed that one thing after another kept piling on and my training was fading into nothing. On top of it all, training was taking away time from my family. After sometime I came up with a solution: I would train by commuting to work. This I had done with cycling for a long while. It originally would take me about one hour to bike the 17 km from my door to the door of my work, a time I have brought down to just over a half-hour. But running this distance proved to be much more difficult. Firstly, it was winter, and bundling up was key. I had to make sure my nose was covered but in doing so, everytime I would exhale my glasses fogged up, then froze there making it impossible to see.

On top of that, I had to wear a backpack with a change of clothes for work and often an extra set for my gym clothes, including two different pairs of shoes, throw into the mix a hearty lunch and a towel for a shower, and you’re looking at an extra 15 lbs.! No joke! I weighed myself with it all on. The worst of it all was the time I had to get up to get to work on time. When I ran to work, I would start at 5:00 am, making my alarm clock set for 2:50 am, giving me just enough time to get up and get ready to leave by 3:00 am. It would take me just about an hour and a half to get to work , then I would take the extra half-hour to do a wind-down run/ brisk walk and stretch. After all of that, I would work an 8 hour day (on my feet), then go to the gym. (My wife says I’m crazy. After writing that out and seeing in black-and-white what I did/do, I am starting to think she is right...)

After about a month of training this way, I found no time for all of the other training I had originally planned to do. In my mind, if I could run that distance at least five times a week, then surely I would be ready for the marathon. Looking back now, I can see that my training in actuality was great if I had planned to train for the half marathon.

The day of the marathon was perfect conditions for running. As late as the day before the race, the forecast was calling for a high of 27 degrees celsius (82 degrees fahrenheit), and sunny. Sunday dawned with a perfect 17 degrees celsius (62 degrees fahrenheit) and cloudy. I got to the athletes area in my running gear and bib pinned to the front of my shirt. My number was 3744. It had no meaning to me but it made me smile all the same. When I walked around the area I could see the quartered off area for the elite athletes. These men and women can run the marathon in just over two hours. I have long thought of them while I was on the road training at three o’clock in the morning, imagining that maybe one day I could count myself as one of their peers. A crazy thought put to rest after laying eyes on them. I mean no disrespect when I say this, but my first impression of them were that they looked sickly. I mean they have absolutely no body fat on them whatsoever, to the point of looking malnourished. On a whole, they seemed very small, and I thought that if I had to look like that to be able to run a two hour marathon then I was fine with just being able to complete one. I will say this though, when I was coming up to the 11.25 km mark, those elite runners were crossing double that at the half way mark. A feat that I can’t even begin to understand.

The greatest surprise about the marathon was of all the people that came out to cheer us runners on. Some had loved ones running and held up signs, or attached them to street lampposts and trees, others just came by to cheer us all on. Some of my favourite signs read:

- “Channel your inner Kenyan”
- “You are my Hero (insert your name here)
- “If your feet are hurting, it’s because you’re kicking ass!”
- “If this were easy, everyone would do it”

At one point, I saw two little girls sitting by the road, just a couple of years older than my two daughters with a sign that read, “Go Daddy Go”. I nearly lost it, breaking down into tears, but I quickly pulled myself together and kept on going. What can I say? Running for many hours can sometimes make you a little emotional.

For me, my greatest encouragement came to me at the 24 km mark when out of nowhere I heard a thunderous shout: “I KNOW THAT GUY! GO ERIC GO!” It was my brother who called me the day before to make sure I would be okay. He has always been worried about me, making sure that I was safe all through grade school, protecting me and chiding me when he thought I was being stupid. I never saw the value in it, until that day. He ran along side of me for about a kilometer encouraging me and telling me I was doing great and to not give up.

He met me again at the 30 km mark, at which point my body was done and I was going purely on mental strength. He ran with me again for maybe 100 meters and marveled that I had been running for three hours. His encouragement helped push me on.

Throughout the race there were plenty of Gatorade stations which were followed by water stations and, up until the 30 km mark, I ran right past the gatorade stations taking only water to drink and some to dump on my head. But after a certain point, when my body was done, I took whatever I could get my hands on to keep going, even resorting to consuming Gatorade and sucking back a PowerGel, a disgusting chocolate paste that is supposedly pure carbohydrates and protein but filled with sugar and chemical additives, to which I didn’t care. To tell you the truth, at that point, if someone told me that eating a 72 ounce steak would help me get to the finish line, then I would have scarfed it down right there. Looking back now, I can see that my attempt to run an “aux naturel” marathon was just straight-up ignorant. I should have planned ahead and bought or made some raw protein bars and electrolyte drink. But, to be fair, I didn’t realize that I could have brought my own refreshments, and the organizers would set it up at various stations for me.

My strategy was to stick through it running ever so slowly but still running, and it paid off. The kilometers finally turned to meters and approaching the finish line about 100 meters out I heard a familiar voice shouting me on. It was my brother again. I couldn’t hear what he was shouting but I could see him jumping up and down egging me on. I took off in a full sprint, my legs burning with each stride, crossing the finish line and yelled at the top of my lungs, startling those around me. My finish time 4:44:57. Not anywhere close to the course record breaking time set by the winner from Japan, Arata Fujiwara, with a time of 2:09:34 or of my hope to run a sub 4:30 marathon, but in the end, I did it! I conquered another milestone in my journey and am in the mood to celebrate. Cheers!!