I ran my first marathon on October 5, 1980. It was the Labatt’s Toronto Marathon. The legendary Bill Rodgers won the race in a time of 2:14:46. I finished at 4:30 and change.
I’m surprised I finished at all.
1980 was during the first wave of running in North America. There were elite runners like Rodgers and there were competitive runners at the club level. But there were precious few “joggers” like me at races. To prepare for the Labatt’s, I ran during the preceding summer for 45 minutes each weekday and for about an hour and a half each Sunday. I thought that was a lot. I knew nothing about training methods, and knew no other runners. My understanding about running came only from my daily runs and from reading George Sheehan’s “Running and Being”. (Oh, how I loved that book!)
It was 5C at the start of the Labatt’s Marathon, with a really nasty wind. As well as knowing nothing about training, I knew nothing about nutrition and fueling. So I didn’t carbo-load, I didn’t hydrate before the race, and I neither ate nor drank anything during the marathon itself. I stopped at the 30K mark to use a Porta-Potty, and then found that I couldn’t make myself start running again. So I started walking, and pushed myself into a kind of stumbling stroll for the remaining distance. (I’d hit the wall, obviously, but didn’t know what that was at the time.) I remember the world shrinking to a tiny core of pain at the center of my being. But I kept on going, and ran into the old Varsity Stadium just before the organizers shut the race down.
I don’t think I’d ever known such pain. Everything hurt. I went home and lay in a hot bath for hours, refilling it with hot water again and again, longing all the time for the pain to stop. For the next few days, I wandered around in a stupor, crawling up and down stairs on my hands and knees, sleeping curled up in a tight little ball, and eating anything and everything I could get my hands on. I knew that I’d done something important, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what that might be.
Of course, I swore to myself and everyone who’d listen that I’d never attempt anything like that again. And then, a couple of months later, I registered for another marathon, in nearby Hamilton.
I was 32 years old in 1980. I’m now 62. There was a long stretch in between when I didn’t run, much less race. (Life got rather complicated, more than once.) Now, I can’t imagine not running or racing. I’ve come into myself, at long last.