Today was possibly the hardest run I’ve ever had to do.
And not because of the freezing cold temperature and winds of Geelong Victoria.
Nor was it because of the 10 Corona’s I smashed down with some of my best mates and family the night before… or the crappy 4 hours sleep I had.
Today was tough because “Heaven Called”.
It was tough because it had been 36 hours since Mum had died.
The last thing I felt like doing was running a 21 km half marathon. But I spoke with Mum about it during the week and she wanted me to do it. And sometimes we are driven to do more for others than we would often do for ourselves.
So a few of us gathered around the old wooden table where just a few weeks ago, my sister Jodie and I sat with Mum discussing the morbid details of how she wanted to handle her last days. Who knew it would come round just 3 weeks later.
So the table became a kind of symbolic place as we grabbed out a marker pen. We made some plans to attend the morning signup for a last minute entry and what happened next even I couldn’t believe.
I arrived around 7am and walked straight to the entry table to fill out my details. With $50 and entry form in hand, I headed to the counter. The man at the counter was ready with bib number 605. Before I could even think about what I was saying, I asked him for number 611. A number that will no doubt affect me for the rest of my life as the 6th of November rolls around each year and I think of Mum’s birthdate. The nice man asked, “Is it a special number?” Choking back the tears, all I could muster was a half hearted “Yeah it is” as he generously handed it over.
My goal as I approach this years Gold Coast Marathon again is or was to run with a personal best time of sub 3 hours and 15 minutes. That’s the qualifying time for the Boston Marathon. The world’s most famous and long standing marathon that can only be entered by first qualifying according to your age.
So the goal was simple. Half marathon in 1:35:00 averaging 4 mins and 30 seconds per kilometer.
My intention was to be at the 10km mark in 45 minutes. 20km in 1hr 30mins and make it home from there.
About 30 minutes before the starters gun, my sister and her new beau Joe, rocked up to add some support. It always feels better having someone there but today meant even more.
9am – and the race is on. The cold quickly gave way to the warming of the pack as we headed south along the Barwon River. The pace was solid enough but being stuck being a few as I huddled around bodies in the beginning meant I now needed to get a riggle on and move through the pack at the pace I wanted to hold.
My hangover quickly subsided in the cold and the cold wind woke into an alert state. Who knows… maybe I was still hungover enough that this wasn’t going to hurt so bad after all…
At the 10km mark I was bang on 45 mins and 11 seconds. Half way done. On track so far.
But with the last 7 kms into a 20 to 30 knot headwind and another 10km straight into before the loop turned for the short side of the river home, the trudge was on.
The pack thinned. My brain somehow was able to calculate my pace with each kilometer. In between, all I could think about was Mum. I was comfortable enough but pushing to stay on pace. I was certain my beer induced dehydration would kick in any minute and slam we into the wall all runners know so well.
At the 15km mark, I picked it up. I felt like I was slipping behind schedule a little but today was not optional. All runners knows the excuses that run through your heads from time to time, but today, only one thing mattered. I knew Mum would never know. Or maybe she would – who knows. One thing was for sure, I was doing this to honour her so no words or thoughts would ever soothe my soul, let alone hers.
My breathing deepened as I began moving past people I had been watching for several kms.
I knew I had to hit to 20 km mark at 1:30 or as close as to be within shot. I hit it at 1:31 almost exactly. The last 2 km I had been spinning the legs over at a much faster rate and it was all a matter of holding it now. My breathing must have sounded like an asthmatic steam train from the 1850’s to runners I began choofing past in those final couple of km’s.
I know what 4 mins/kms feels like and this was it. With one kilometer to go, the headwind that had belted the field for 16 kms had now become our tailwind. I thought of Mum again. I whispered, “Get me home!” With that thought, the wind blew harder. A rye smile peeked out of the corner of my mouth.
The finish line was within distance. And so was the crowd. With 50 meters to go, my sister Jodie and wife Lisa jumped out of the crowd and join my side. We ran the last 50 meters together. My sister and I holding hands as we crossed the line. With Jodie and Lisa jumping in joy, the tears rolled from my eyes.
The comforting hugs soon gave way for my need for oxygen. I escaped their embrace to come up for air. Together we walked through to the recovery area where we were joined by Joe and my Uncle Graham.
In all the emotion of the finish I forgot the stop my stop watch. I would have to wait until the next day to see my official time. There it was – 1 hour, 35 minutes and 8 seconds. Mum and I achieved a new personal best amongst the worst of circumstances. The human spirit lives beyond circumstances. It lives beyond what we imagine and think we know.
Rest in peace Mum. I will always love you. I will always miss you. And I will always have days where I run with you beside me.