Monday, September 27, 2010

My impaired 79-year-old heart takes me, very slowly, on my first matathon

My 79-year-old impaired heart took me on my first marathon on Sunday. I did the entire distance, I think. I’ll explain that later.
     The Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon is one of the big ones. It attracted 22,000 runners and walkers from 40 countries for three races: a 5-km race, the 21.2 km half marathon, and the 42.2 km marathon. The flat terrain is described as ideal for slow runners and faster walkers. I created a new category for myself: slow walker.
     The marathon raised $2.7 million for more than 100 charities. That included a modest amount my walk raised for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario.
     Thirty-seven-year-old Kenneth Mungara of Kenya won the full marathon with a time of 2.07.58, less time than in took many runners to do the half marathon. My daughter Carol placed fourth among women in her age group for the half marathon, and seventh among all women for that event.
     My own performance was placed in its proper insignificance by another 79-year-old. Ed Whitlock, of Milton, Ontario set a world record for 79-year-olds by finishing the half marathon in 1:34.27 hours.
     I noted several well-overweight half marathoners (some of whom were among those who didn’t finish), and two handicapped people: a young man pushing himself in a wheelchair, and a young blind woman. A short leash tethered the blind woman to another young woman, her guide and running partner. I hope the blind woman and the young man met their goals. The young man was almost the only person I left in my wake.
There is still time to join my sponsors for this marathon, with a donation of just $5, or $10, or even more, to the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Your support will be greatly appreciated. To make your donation directly to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, click here. Thank you.
     Start time was 7:30, under a cloudless sky and a cool 10 C—a perfect day for running or walking. The staging area on Queen Street was thronged shortly after 6:30 when Carol, my son-in-law Brian, and I arrived. The street was cordoned off into “corals,” designated by red, purple, yellow, green and white balloons, each for the different races and different racers and walkers. Fast, elite runners went first. Someone was smart enough to figure out that I belonged in the last group. It was almost 7:45 before our group was really moving. Kenneth Mungara, Ed Whitlock, and others had already finished.
     As I neared the halfway mark, I had a police escort for a few kilometres. He was a sweeper, following in his police car the last marathoner. Me. He called me over at one point and admonished me not to walk in the curb lane, which some marathon-support vehicles were starting to use as they packed things up in this section of the route. “Walk in front of me,” he said. I did, and then decide it might be good to walk on the sidewalk. He called me over again. “Don’t walk on the sidewalk unless you’re dropping out,” he said. I think that’s what he hoped. “If you’re still in the marathon, walk on the lane in front of me.” Later, he called me over a third time. “They are starting to open this section of the route to all the traffic. Do me a big favour. Walk on the sidewalk for the rest of the route.”
     For the final 25 kilometres or so, I had the route to myself, “Far from the Madding Crowd.” The watering stations, the portable toilets, the route markers, were all being carted off.
     That caused a few problems. When I got to the far eastern end of the route, I walked a couple of extra, very-long blocks because I think I might have missed a very short stub, which I suspect was added to make the distance precisely 42.2 km. I didn’t want to cheat on the distance.
     There were more problems walking back. After the few minutes it took Carol to run the half marathon, she and Brian drove home, then drove back because they wanted to walk with the old man on a final section. I certainly didn’t mind; I enjoy the company. Besides, Brian and his vehicle were my transportation for almost an hour-long drive to their house where my car was parked.
     Communicating by cell phone, we mapped a plan. While I walked west for the final 10 kilometres or so they would walk east. I suggested we walk on the sunny side of the street so that we would be sure to meet. But we didn’t meet.
     While they walked east on Eastern Avenue, I walked west on Queen Street. I blame the route map. It shows the return route going west on Queen Street for an unknown distance before switching to Eastern Avenue. But it doesn’t show where it switches, and the markers along the route were long gone. Before realizing it I had walked too far west. After asking directions, I finally walked to Eastern Avenue—too late. Carol and Brian had already passed by.
     The marathon route crosses over the Don Valley expressway and a railway on a bridge on Eastern Avenue dubbed “the flyway.” For the benefit of the marathoners, the flyway was closed to traffic until 2 p.m., well before I got there. There is no sidewalk on the flyway. I walked back to Queen Street, where the bridge does have a sidewalk.
     We finally met on Queen Street, at a point that the map indicates is two km from the finish. It was 4 p.m., about the time I had estimated I would finish. Carol’s legs ached from her half marathon and a couple of hours walking, and so did mine. Although I could have managed that final little bit, with the off-route diversions I figured I had already walked the full 42-kilometres, or very close to it. Brian and Carol were also pressed for time. Brian hailed a taxi back to his car, parked in his office building.
     So that is how I walked the full marathon without reaching the finishing line.
The marathon confirmed a couple of things I already knew. I knew I could not complete it in the qualifying time of 6.5 hours. I knew I could walk 42 km; in nearly 1,500 kilometres of training this year, I had made numerous 30- and 35-km walks, and one 48-km walk.
     Will I go on another marathon? Probably not. The goal of a marathoner is to go as fast as possible. My goal is to go as far as possible. The marathon demonstrated that, for me, the two are not compatible. The top walking speed I can sustain for any significant distance, slow though it is, is about 5-1/4-km-per-hour. The marathon showed that after about 15 or 20 kilometres at that pace, my legs begin to increasingly ache. That’s fine for a marathon, after which I can rest my legs for a day or two while the muscles heal and, hopefully, grow stronger.
     Next week, however, I face a bigger, and for me, a more important challenge: a four-day, 120-km fund-raising walk for Ross Memorial Hospital: three approximately-35-km days and one short 15-km day. I won’t have off days to rest aching legs, so I’ll slow to a hiking pace of no more than 5-km-per-hour, perhaps slightly less. And I hope to stop and click a few photos along the way.
I’m looking forward to starting on the rail trails from Bethany to Haliburton on October 7.
TAGS. Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Heart and Stroke Foundation. Ross Memorial Hospitall. Marathons. Running. Walking. Muscle strength. Muscle pain. Physical training.

1 comment:

  1. You're an amazing person for a 79-year old, Earle! Walking and running seem to be a good healthy exercise to carry out. They truly help fight against aging. =)