Maritime Race Weekend 2016 – First Marathon

On September 17 (which is also the seventeenth anniversary of R. v. Marshall), I finally did my first marathon at the Maritime Race Weekend in Eastern Passage, Nova Scotia. I signed up for this one back in June once I learned more on how to find and register for races. It was also the only first truly available marathon for me to do that fit my schedule. I also signed up for the Tartan Twosome.

 

The Tartan Twosome is where you do a 5K on Friday evening, and then another race the next day (a 5K, 10K, half marathon, or a full marathon) for three medals. As I wanted to do my first marathon as soon as logistically possible, I signed up for the marathon.

 

In leading up to Maritime Race Weekend, I did the Cobequid half marathon in August as sort of a last race prep. It was a very flat trail, where I did earn a PB. Last weekend before the marathon, I went for another run around the city, intending to do something above 20 kilometres but less than 30. Running with the Run, Zombies app, it turns out that I actually ran just under 20 kilometres in about two hours.

 

Throughout the summer, I was researching on marathon preparation/training. I learned from my Cobequid run what shoes and socks wouldn’t work for me. I wasn’t too worried about my endurance as a whole, given BODYATTACK™ keeps it very strong and I run on occasion. I also learned (from research and experienced runners) to eat/snack on something for marathons, and to carry water, things that I’ve never done in my two half marathons (nor would have thought to do so). The other piece of advice was to not experiment on marathon day, a rule that I did break but didn’t pay for it. Finally, I was repeatedly told to pace myself, and to not go all out.

 

Friday night I went over early, as I’ve read that parking can be a bit challenging. After finding a nice spot that wasn’t a far walk, I went over to Fisherman’s Cove to scout the location. It was a picturesque evening with a full moon, albeit a tad bit chilly (which I knew wouldn’t matter once the race started). Erica (who I’ve been running with since May) was on her way over. While waiting, I bumped into a class regular and we chatted for a bit. Once Erica arrived, we walked around for a bit, and then did our pre-race Facebook Live video. We spoke about the Sunset 5K (the evening race), how Erica wanted a PB, and I was talking of taking it easy as I had a marathon the next morning. But I remembered doing my 5K at the Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Summer Games (NSMSG) just last month, and how I went on to instruct BODYATTACK™ that night. So I figured, “Why not?” Let’s try and win this.”

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Erica and I doing our pre-race photo.

We lined up, and instead of a horn, they used a cannon shot, which was quite unique and fun especially with the pirate theme everywhere. I got into second pretty much right away with another guy (who also took off from the start). There was another guy in the lead, and then he slowly got further and further ahead of us. I kept up with the other guy in second for several minutes, and it was probably the longest that I ever stayed with side by side with another runner. I was asking myself if this was annoying him, although I turned the question onto myself, and answered that I wouldn’t/shouldn’t be annoyed either. Near the turnaround point, I threw off my running buff (which was around my neck), as it was not only annoying, but also even somewhat obstructing my breathing. Eventually, my pace got me ahead of him, and I was in second place solo for a moment until I heard another runner coming up from my left side. I thought it was the original runner I was side by side with, but it was another guy, who said something about the other runner but couldn’t hear him clearly through my music. He got ahead of me, and then a woman caught up and passed me as well. I don’t look behind when running, so I wasn’t sure how close fifth place was. While I drank lots of water the whole day, I stopped before 5:00 p.m., and probably because of the running buff as well, I felt my throat dry up on me. I was coughing for a bit, but given it was a 5K, I decided to keep up the good pace.

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Running back to Fisherman’s Cove. Photo courtesy of Tim Chestnutt.

Running back to Fisherman’s Cove, I saw several friends, giving quick waves and smiles as they were making their way to the halfway point. Soon I was at finish line, and immediately was high-fived/congratulated by the three faster runners. I went to receive my medal, then not sure how far behind Erica was, I started my Facebook Live video and entertained whoever was watching. I also filmed several runners crossing the finish live and cheered them on. Soon enough, Erica crossed, and I went over to congratulate her on the new 5K PB (although she expressed hoping to have finished in under 24 minutes). We went over the tables for water and bananas, and I congratulated several friends that I was able to spot in the massively large crowd. Erica then rang the PB bell (which I think is also unique to Maritime Race Weekend). We finalized plans for the morning (I was pooling with her as my girlfriend needed the car to teach class) and went our separate ways. Once back, I broke the marathon rule of not experimenting with something; I had lasagna for supper with my vegetables and smoothie. I didn’t have time to stop by a grocery store and wanted good carbs but nothing with too much sodium.

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Erica ringing the PB bell for her 5K.

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Massive crowd post Sunset 5K.

The next morning I had my usual breakfast and two litres of water. Erica then picked me up and we went to Fisherman’s Cove. My throat was still somewhat dry from the night before. She loan me her water belt for the marathon, and breaking the marathon rule of not experimenting, I decided to use it. I packed energy gels into the water belt pouch (breaking the rule again, as I never ran and consumed them before). As we were early (which got us great parking), we were talking about our running apps, and she convinced me to use Runkeeper instead. Breaking the rule again, as I wanted to know my kilometres and pace, I decided to use it for the marathon (without having experimented with it before). Throughout the marathon, I found it to be both very useful (as the tracking kept me informed) and super annoying (as Erica set it to update me ever half kilometre, which I didn’t need).

 

We got in the massive lineup to head to the restroom one last time before the race started, spotting various friends here and there. Once done, we tried to get into the lineup. When the warm up began, we were barely able to do anything, so I just sort of hopped up and down to get whatever warm up I could. Missing my shades for a while, Erica also loan me her sunglasses.

 

Once the cannon fired, we were off, and I immediately started telling myself, “Pace! It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Take it easy.” I caught up with Erica and we exchanged a high-five, as we wouldn’t be seeing each other for hours (she was also going to greet me after the finish).

 

The hills started early, and I knew about this. But alas; I was just excited and happy that I was doing my first marathon, hills or not. Around ten or so kilometres, I needed to use the bathroom. Remembering Epic Canadian, while I was barely able to do a half marathon while holding it, a full marathon was out of the question. I knew I had to go. The portable restrooms were spread out once every three kilometres, so I knew the next one wasn’t far (Runkeeper was very helpful, but so annoying with the 500 metre updates). Once I was able to go, I went to the nearby water station and drank some Gatorade. I also learned, from Cobequid, to not run (even slowly) and drink Gatorade, as you end up spilling some on yourself and you get a bit sticky (which I can’t stand).

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Running up one of the many hills. Photo courtesy of John Dube.

A big thing that was on my mind for months in leading up the marathon was finishing it in a Boston qualifier (at 3:10:00 for my age and gender). Either overestimating my own abilities or simply underestimating the race, with the kilometres, time, and pace updates, I started realizing that I wasn’t going to qualify on this marathon. I listened to how I was falling behind, and how my pace was becoming longer. But I wasn’t being hard on myself at all; it was my first marathon and I never even ran above a half marathon until now.

 

One special thing that I liked about Maritime Race Weekend was that, for those doing the full marathon, a custom sign was made and planted for you just after the halfway point. When I got to that sign spot, I tried to find my own, but as the wind must have tiled several signs over, I actually didn’t get to see mine in-person, and I didn’t want to stop to search for it. Nevertheless, I did see it online, and so after I left the sign spot, I imagined reading it again. What made the sign extra special for me was that it was written in Mi’kmaw “Wel-lukwen Jarvis Siewi attakna’sik,” which translates to “You are doing good/great. Keep working hard.” Knowing that Maritime Race went out of their way to make me a Mi’kmaw sign really meant a lot to me.

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My sign that I didn’t see, but still loving it. Photo courtesy of Maritime Race Weekend.

After the sign spot, I decided that it was time to try out the energy gels for the first time ever. Although a tad bit warmer than I would’ve liked (probably due to my body heat and the warm weather), they were so great for the run. I ensured that they went down well with a quick bottle of water from my belt. I held onto the packaging (as I hate to litter) until I came across another garbage can by a water station. Another first for me on this race were Skittles. At one water station, a young girl held out a spoonful. Given I like to chow down on them at a movie, I had a few. The sugar was a nice and different kick of energy.

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Running after the sign spot. Photo courtesy of Rod Dixon and Maritime Race Weekend.

Although I’ve written about being alone a lot during Epic Canadian in the half marathon, to no surprise I was alone even more so in the full marathon. The occasional passing car would beep or wave for encouragement, and sometimes, another runner would catch up and move ahead of me.

 

Throughout the entire marathon, I thought about a lot of things; qualifying for Boston (and how it was more and more likely that I wasn’t going to), various marathon records and statistics, how I was fortunate to have people waiting for me at the finish line (and how I didn’t want to keep them waiting), family, friends, the LesMills classes that I instruct (and how I love to tell participants that BODYATTACK™ is a part of my training), the 5K that I won last month, growing up in We’koqma’q, Clint and how much he has inspired me, how the run was indeed challenging and hard, yet I would finish it, wondering if I would see any Samoyeds or Shelties, thinking/hoping that my marathon would somehow inspire others for their health and fitness goals, Halloween, how the app voice has went from beyond annoying to a point that I cannot describe (it was the same jokes circulated over 80 times), future races, and of course, finishing my first marathon.

 

Eventually, I started recognizing areas near the start of the race. Reading signs and getting updates on the app, I was getting closer and closer to the 40 plus kilometre mark. On my playlist, themes from John Williams’ Superman and Bobby Roode’s Glorious played, causing me to smile and lifting my motivation, despite how tired I was as I picked up the pace a tad little bit. The day was still gorgeous, and when I went around the second last u-turn, I kept thinking about the Sunset 5K from the night before, and how I wish I had the ability to pull off the same speed until the finish line. I slowed down for the last water station for a final Gatorade, and then knew it was time to start picking up speed. I was going to finish above four hours, but I love finishing a race with a blast of energy.

 

Approaching Fisherman’s Cove, I immediately saw and recognized my girlfriend Kerri. She smiled and cheered for me, and then started waving the Mi’kmaw flag. At first I thought about just smiling and running by (as my plan was to wear it after I finished the race), but then I saw that she was trying to hand me the flag. I thought about how beautiful, inspirational, and great it would be to cross the finish line with the flag over my shoulders and back. So I took the flag, corrected it, wrapped it around, then I picked up my speed even more. But suddenly, as I started my final dash, something happened to my right hamstring; a knot. I could feel my muscles freaking out. I don’t think that I ever had such a feeling before, either from prior runs, weight training, and or teaching a class. I could start to feel myself limping. But I was running fast for the finish, and immediately thought that, regardless of what, exactly, was happening to my hamstring, I’m finishing this with some speed. I need to do this, and for the first time ever, albeit the very short distance, I ran with pain to the finish.

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Kerri just handed me the Mi’kmaw flag. Photo courtesy of Anne Marie Ryan

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Final dash towards the finish line with the Mi’kmaw flag around me. Photo courtesy of Kerrianne Ryan.

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So close to the finish line. Photo courtesy of Kerrianne Ryan.

The announcer congratulated me as I crossed the finish line with the Mi’kmaw flag. I cannot express how much that meant to me. Dashing to the finish line with what energy I had left in my body with the Mi’kmaw flag around me was one of the most incredible feelings that I have ever experienced (afterwards, the announcer apologized to me for not pointing out the flag to the crowd. I thanked him for reaching out, and said I may do it again at my next marathon). I didn’t stop and only slowed down to a fast walk. I went over to receive my medals, limping along the way. The pirate placed my finisher’s medals over my head, congratulated me, and I thanked him. I somewhat staggered towards the wooden walkway to my supporters. While I was having some pain from the knotted muscle, I wasn’t exactly in pain. I suspected that the adrenalin flowing through my system neutralized the pain that I should have been feeling in my hamstring. The first person to greet me was Erica (who filmed my finish), and I gave her an exhausted hug, followed by Kerri’s parents. Then my mother (wearing a We’koqma’q NSMSG shirt) was next. She spoke to me in Mi’kmaw, congratulating me for my marathon but simultaneously feeling sorry for what I just put myself through. I replied in Mi’kmaw, saying that I was done for the day and that I was tired. Then Kerri was next. We embraced as she also congratulated me, and I thanked her for handing me the flag so that I could finish the race with it. She passed me my prepared post-race drinks and I chugged them down. I explained to them the hamstring issue, and how I never felt such a thing before. Out of 89 participants, I finished twenty-first at 4:06:42.

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Celebrating a la Rocky in Rocky IV post-race.

Then me, Kerri, and Erica walked to the vendor booths so I can grab some food. Erica and I took our post-race selfie before she left, and I spotted a small portable pool filled with cold water that other runners had their feet in. I joined them as Kerri went to get my sandals from the car. Chatting with the other runners who were from various places while I ate my bananas, bagels, and small oranges, they congratulated me, as it was my first marathon. I thanked them and we all shared running stories. Soon Kerri returned. I said farewell to the other runners in the pool and went over to ring the PB bell (as it’s still a PB for my marathon, despite being my first and so far only one).

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Post-race photo of Erica and me.

We all planned to meet at a restaurant in Dartmouth and I said that I’d be a little late, as I wanted to drop in a GoodLife to shower up. Walking in, a fellow associate (who knew that I just did a marathon) congratulated me, and asked if I was here to workout, to which I smiled and shook my head. I synched my MyZone results (which had an incredible 3,500 plus calorie burn). I showered then went to the restaurant to join our families. Given I ate quite a bit right after the race, I didn’t have a large lunch (by my own standards anyway). We all enjoyed our each other’s company, talked for a bit, then Kerri and I left as I had a massage appointment that afternoon. I informed my massage therapist of what happened to my right hamstring, and she noted that it was definitely much more tender than the left. Afterwards, Kerri dropped me off at the condo as I went to go relax in an Epsom salt bath.

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Me and mom. She drove over 300 kilometres to watch me finish my first marathon.

 

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My three medals from Maritime Race Weekend.

The next day, much like after my 100,000 FitBit steps challenge, was spent mostly resting up. My shins and feet were sorer on Sunday than immediately after the race. While I racked up over 40,000 steps in the marathon, I barely walked 4,000 that Sunday.

 

My first marathon, like anyone else’s, was a multitude of experiences; pride, exhaustion, humbleness, patience, persistence, stubbornness. But I think my BODYATTACK™ mentor (an experienced runner herself) summarized it up for me in a congratulatory email she sent to me later in the day describing a marathon; horrible, but wonderful.

 

Obviously I will do more marathons, here and abroad. I’m excited to beat my PB, and to one day, qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Clint Joseph Bernard Phillips (1982-2006)

Ten years ago tonight, I lost one of my biggest inspirations and best friends in life to suicide. Clint was only 24 when he killed himself.

Our friendship went back a while. After I failed in grade five in the early 1990s, I was in his grade. We got along well (as I did with the other guys), but it was really going into high school that our friendship truly strengthened and shined. We worked together, played floor hockey, joked and teased, drove around, went to the movies, shared ambitions and dreams, and most of all, just always got along so well that we were never on bad terms. Then entering grade 12, our friendship became even greater. Like many First Nations people, we didn’t grow up in luxurious homes or affluent families, but that never mattered. We talked often about making sure that, after high school, we would become successful in life. Before grade 12, I wasn’t the greatest student (I also almost failed grade nine, and even thought about dropping out since that is what a few others were doing too). I think my grades were around in the 50s, 60s, and 70s (nothing special). Then going into grade 12, Clint told me that he was going for the highest average. Listening to this, I too decided to do my absolute best for that year. For the next several months, after assignments, tests, and report cards, we compared each other’s grades to see who was in the lead (I actually had the lead only once in the first term; Clint ended up beating me in the end). Nevertheless, like Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat at WrestleMania III, we both walked away looking great. At graduation, we earned several awards and even had to share a few.

Eventually, the grade 12 fun was over. We had to grow up and we went our separate ways. He enlisted in the Marines and I went to Saint Mary’s University. I always wished that he went straight into university instead. Clint had so much potential and knowledge that I knew that he could have gone further than I ever could have. The two wars (Afghanistan and Iraq) obviously changed him. After he got out and returned home, whenever I would see him, the vigour, ambition, and energy I remembered in him from high school was gone. He was barely the same guy. He became apathetic, uninterested, and depressed. I don’t know if he ever got the mental health/debriefing after the wars/Marines and or when he returned home.

It was September 7 when Clint took his own life. He was missing for just over a month. During that time, there were searches for him back home. I was unable to help, as I was 300 kilometres away and in second year law school. Then one of my cousins came across his body in the woods. While the autopsy had to be performed, we all knew that it was Clint. I was at the law library when I got the news, and oddly enough, my immediate reaction was relief; we finally found him, although only hours later I learned that it was suicide. Him dying did not hit me yet, and when it did, it was like slamming into a brick wall.

In the weeks and days leading up to the funeral, I didn’t cry. I don’t even remember really being that sad. Sometimes things just don’t hit me right away, and it takes time for anything to sink in. At the funeral, I was pleasantly surprised that the Canadian Armed Forces were thoughtful and sent a bagpiper. I did the First Reading. After the funeral and with everyone walking to the graveyard, I carried his only goddaughter (who was just one). At the burial, three Marines (who drove up from the United States) came as Honor Guards. Then, in what was the first wave of it, I finally cried (triggered by my sister crying). It probably was the hardest that I may have ever cried to date. Walking up to his grave, I embraced with several others, and we had to say namultis (Mi’kmaw for telling someone that you will see them again. We don’t have a word for good-bye).

In the weeks and months after his death, things went from bad to worse for me. The second wave of mourning hit me on Remembrance Day. Handling law school and the job hunt didn’t help either, and as a result, my grades went down and I was struggling just to barely pass. At times I found myself calling home at odd hours, crying over how sad I was and how much I missed him. While some in law school reached out to me, I don’t know if many knew what I was going through or how to approach me, given suicide and depression may be an uncomfortable and taboo topic for some. I had dreams and nightmares about Clint, and they both hurt. Dreams reminded me of when he was alive and how much I missed him, and the nightmares were of him killing himself. I kept asking myself about Clint, “Why did you have to die?” Then on January 24, 2007, more or less, I finally broke down and reached out. I resigned and or took time away from law school groups that I was involved with, got in touch with student services, and had folks in the law school administration get me into counseling. I needed someone to talk to, and at that time, I felt alone, lonely, and deeply depressed. Besides low grades, I was overweight (at about 260 pounds). I stopped exercising for months and ate badly. I was somewhat back into jogging, but knew I was unfit, slow, and easily winded. But my priority was my mental health and well-being.

Throughout January until the end of March, I went to counseling once a week. It was my first time ever asking for such help, but I badly needed it. When I think back on the sessions, it was probably me talking for eighty percent of the time and the counselor responding for the remaining amount. Mainly, I expressed how hurt I was. Given what I imagined what he went through, and with what I knew about First Nations suicide rate statistics, it wasn’t supposed to be a mystery as to why Clint took his own life. Yet, I found myself always asking why he did it. Even if he was able to thoroughly explain to me for hours on end or write out hundreds of pages in a detailed suicide note, I was still asking why he did it, why did he have to die. As time and weeks went on with the sessions, I learned that I was angry with him for what he did. I found myself thinking that, if he was killed during the wars, then I couldn’t be mad at him. But by him being the one who took himself away from us by taking his own life, I was only capable of being mad at him. I could’ve been mad at the wars, the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), all the statistics that he fell into, gaps in services for those with PTSD, anything. But I was really just mad at him.

Then in mid-March, I realized what was hurting me. While him being gone via suicide hurt, what was also hurting me was finding myself being mad at him. When he was alive, I was never mad at him. Friends never stay mad at each other. If friends hurt one another, they apologize, and then forgive each other. Clint couldn’t apologize to me or to anyone else for what he did. He’s dead. But as a friend, I forgave him. I forgave him for hurting me and everyone else who loved him when he killed himself. I forgave him for leaving us too soon. I forgave him for all the pain he caused. I forgave him for what he did. I forgave him, and that’s when I started to heal emotionally. By forgiving him, I was no longer mad at him. With that, I finally let go of my own pain and suffering that I carried since I learned what he did.

Life went on. I finished law school, became a lawyer, got a day job, a home, a nice car, and an awesome side job that I’m passionately in love with; instructing LesMills programs (which has opened a whole new world of great times). With that, I’ve been able to travel across the continent and the ocean. I’m finding new adventures (e.g., racing) in life. I’m blessed, and in so many ways, I’m still thinking about Clint (even when I’m travelling for LesMills events, instructing a class, out with friends, or doing a race), and how so many wonderful things in my life are possible because he inspired and motivated me to work hard back in grade 12. That same work ethic is still with me. By inspiring me, he made me a better person, and helped me find my potential, which I doubt I would’ve ever found on my own. At times, I reflect on our friendship as parallel to Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed; through great competition (grade 12, or the fight from Rocky), you can bring out the best in someone, and it was because Clint pushed me to do so, he brought out the best in me. Just like (but also somewhat unlike) Rocky IV, I lost him along the way. We all lost him. Rocky avenged Apollo’s death in Rocky IV, and so I guess I feel like I’m “avenging” Clint’s death by continuing to work hard in life, to give it all I got into anything that I do, and to try and be a positive role model for Mi’kmaw youth. Sometimes I hear, when someone that we love dies, a part of us dies with them. Ten years later, I don’t think any part of me died with him. I was hurt for a while – depressed, emotionally wounded, “knocked down,” – but I have become stronger because of it. Maybe that was one of the great strengths in life I learned through his death, and maybe it was last thing I ever learned from him; to forgive, no matter the pain.

Some of us wonder what we should have told our loved ones before they pass away suddenly. Fortunately, I did tell Clint a few things throughout the latter part of his life that I wanted him to hear. I told him “Thank You!” I thanked him for befriending me back in the day when I felt like a loser for failing. I thanked him for being someone to talk to. I thanked him for his advice, guidance, and wisdom, and I thanked him for my success. Because of Clint, I have carried on that grade 12 work ethic to university, law school, and now, for the rest of my life. I used to thank him every once in a while via e-mail and in-person for what he did for me back in grade 12 because it has helped me get so far in life. While his life has ended, I will always know that my success is also his success. He befriended me, motivated me, and encouraged me to go far in life, and to make something of myself, which is one of the greatest things a friend can ever do for you.

I love you Clint. Your friendship, encouragement, motivation, as well as persona, sense of humor, and guidance, will never be forgotten. Thank you for all that you have done for me, aq namultis.