Keep going, the poster read. Your legs will forgive you…eventually.
On Sunday, I ran my first half-marathon. It might not seem like a big deal, but there were hills and it was hot. So hot in fact that the announcer mediating the start of the race reminded everyone that June 28th was NOT the day to try to set personal records.
He went on, “We are proud to host an event that has grown five percent since last year. In other running events around the world, runners drop out of races. But not in this beautiful city! No sir! In this city, runners keep running because running is cool. I speak metaphorically, of course, because today is pretty hot!”
The crowd of runners at the starting line laughed nervously.
“Fourteen different countries are represented here today. Way to go us! But,” the announcer paused somberly, “we want everyone to have a fun and safe event, so stay hydrated and finish the race with a smile. Take lots of pictures. Speaking of pictures: listen up! As you approach the finish line, make yourself look better. Wipe that snot off you face! Adjust your hair! And straighten your bib!”
4:00 am. The day dawns muggy and warm. You get out of bed and kiss your daughter. You whisper in her ear, “I will see you at the finish line. I hope.”
5:30 am. You dress, pack nutrition gels, and load your iPod with cheerful music. You don your running watch, lock the front door, and walk downtown.
6:00 am. Everyone on the shuttle bus seems much fitter than you are. The bus ride will whisk you twenty plus kilometers away. The idea is to run home to your family.
6:05 am. At the intersection of Burrard and Georgia Street, the bus comes to a screeching halt. All the windows are open. Outside, you hear a man scream: “F&*%!” at the top of his lungs.
6:06 am. “F&*%!” you hear the same scream again as everyone cranes their necks for a look. When the man scream “F&*%!” the third time, someone says, “Relax, dude.”
A woman to your right says, “Maybe he’s upset that Canada lost last night?” [Women’s FIFA World Cup, June 27, 2015. Semi-final game at the BC Stadium in Vancouver. England 2. Canada 1]. The bus chortles and lurches forward.
6:25 am. You arrive at UBC Thunderbird Arena. The fact that it took the bus nearly half an hour to get here is not lost on you.
6:26 am. You check in your gear. The other runners are stretching and slapping sunblock on their legs. The race starts at 730. You realize that you got here way too early. You are a rookie. You make rookie mistakes.
6:40 am. You had too much coffee and need to pee. In line for the porta-potty, you ask the guy in front of you if he knows when people are supposed to go to their corral. He gives you a pitying smile. “It’s my first time,” you tell him. He seems unimpressed and shrugs his shoulders.
7:05 am. You can’t stand waiting around any longer and head to your corral. When other runners look at you funny, you pretend to be interested in the sky.
7:15 am. You imagine your daughter is still sleeping, and suddenly feel overcome. With emotion. Not because you’re sad but because you’re happy. This is your second rookie mistake.
7:28 am. Wheel-chair athletes and a blind runner are brought out in front. They set off. Everyone cheers. Everyone is on the edge.
7:29 am. The elite runners come out of a special VIP tent and get set. The announcer says, “Well, folks. Here we go!”
7:30 am. The countdown begins. You can’t believe it’s actually happening. You can’t believe you’re standing in this coral, surrounded by much fitter people. “F&*%!”
The announcer hollers, “10-9-8-7-help me count down, people!-6-5-4-3-2-1.”
7:32 am. You think you are running now. All you see is flexing legs. Legs that look like they know what they are doing. Your legs do not look like that.
7:40 am. Downhill! Easy. Wait! Why are you running so fast?
7:45 am. You decide you should slow down, or at the very least moderate your pace.
7:48 am. There is a woman in front of you wearing a bright orange tank top. On the back of her tank top, spelled in white letters, is the word GRIND. You are grateful for her choice of clothes: it is easy to spot her in a sea of other shirts. You guestimate she runs at about your pace and figure if you stick with her you should be okay. Because all you have to do from now on is not let her get away.
7:55 am. What goes up must come down. It’s a natural law. You have not trained to run uphill, but it’s uphill you must go.
8:00 am. You let the GRIND woman get away, after all. She’s too good. And you have forgotten the most basic rule of long-distance running: Start slow and build up speed. Fool.
8:20 am. Somehow you find yourself on the corner of Alma and West 2nd Avenue, where you see young kids with water guns lined up along the street. You open your arms wide to invite them to drench you from head to toe.
8:30 am. People, strangers high-five you along the way. They are cheering you on with cow bells and whistles. You’re so grateful to them for it.
8:40 am. A little kid in a Superman cape holds a poster. On it, a large circle is colored red. Touch here for power. You touch and feel recharged.
8:50 am. Sprinklers! The residents of Point Grey Road have left their sprinklers on for you. You run under them and feel invigorated. Woo-hoo!
8:55 am. Another hill! God almighty! You have not trained for this.
9:02 am. On the Burrard Street Bridge. How long have you been running? You can’t care less. You look up at the sky, at the sea, at the sun, and then...you see the orange tank top again.
9:04 am. Half-way through the bridge, she’s stopped running. She’s walking now. You run up to her and say, “Thank you for helping me pace at the start of the race. Don’t quit on me now. Come on, you can do it. Let’s go. Stick with me!”
9:05 am. You run side-by-side with the orange tank top for a while, and then she overtakes you (!!!)
9:10 am. English Bay is lovely this time of year. Why not take the ferry from UBC next time?
9:12 am. People are lined up in droves along the streets. You think you can see the finish line.
9:14 am. Where are they? Where are they? Where are they? You can't believe what is happening. It's early and they overslept.
9:15:30 am. But the alarm must've gone off, after all, because they are here. They stand up and cheer for you. They see you. You see them. You could’ve run here from Newfoundland. Of this you're certain. Happy Canada, everyone! I love you all!
9:15:42 am. They are your Newfoundland, you realize as you step on the finish mat. Your home and native land. You swoon a little. Because you are overcome with emotion. And you've forgotten to wipe your snot.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Irina Kovalyova has a Master’s degree in Chemistry from Brown University, a doctoral degree in Microbiology from Queen’s University, and an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC. She is currently a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Simon Fraser University. She has previously interned for NASA and worked for two years as a forensic analyst in New York City. She was born in Russia and currently lives in Vancouver.