By the time you read this, I will hopefully have completed my first marathon.
I say “hopefully” because finishing a whole marathon still seems like an impossible dream for me.
Back in February, fed up with cabin fever, I strapped on a pair of low-cut hiking shoes and headed up the Black Street stairs and along the airport trail for my first run in over a year.
Though I’d done some running in the past, including three half-marathons, it was the first time I’d laced up since moving to the Yukon. Put bluntly, I did not do well that first day, and was able to crank out just two kilometres.
Stubbornly, I set out again a few days later with more layers and a better attitude, and was surprised to find myself managing six kilometres. It was all the encouragement I needed.
Eventually, I found a small group that ran during lunch hour, comprised of some casual joggers and a few veteran marathoners.
I’ve never been a joiner when it comes to athletics, so I was surprised at how much I enjoyed running with a group. They were friendly and non-competitive, and went at a pace that allowed for conversation. I felt welcomed, and when I learned the crew had a long tradition of running the half-marathon in Mayo each summer, I was eager to come along.
Shortly after my first group outing, I found myself running alongside Keith Thaxter, president of the Boreal Adventure Running Association, and designated motivator for the lunch hour crew.
Thaxter, who competes in several marathons and ultra-marathons a year, has a coaching style that recalls a scene from Full Metal Jacket, though that day he was going easy.
Slowing down to join me at my fastest sprint, Thaxter offered tips and corrections, all the while making me feel that, if I just tried hard enough, I could run the full 26.2 miles at Mayo.
A week later, he presented me with my 12-week marathon training plan, and informed me that he, too, had a new challenge — a 100-kilometre race, taking place in Edmonton. I felt tremendously guilty, knowing as I did that I was secretly planning on running just the half-marathon come Mayo time.
Setting the groundwork for my upcoming switcheroo, I lamely complained of knee pains.
Drill Sergeant Thaxter looked down at my feet. “Your shoes are awful. You need shoes meant for running.”
“I’m afraid those aren’t in the budget right now,” I whined, hoping relative poverty was my ticket out.
The next day, there was a knock at my door. I extinguished my once-a-week cigarette, hurriedly sprayed my room with Febreeze, and opened up. There he stood, my new running guru, a fitness missionary who so deeply believed I could run a marathon that he had scrounged up two pairs of like-new runners for me to train in.
What could I do but commit to the 26.2-mile race? When someone has so much faith in you, and shows you that much kindness, good grace demands that you rise to the occasion.
I signed up for the full race that very day.