Where do I start …
On Saturday, May 29 I ran the Ottawa Marathon. The net of it: I got it done; I had the time of my life; and (once again) I was reminded of the power of friends. This post will focus almost entirely on the latter.
But first: I’m delighted to report that I exceeded my fundraising goal for the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health! When I started this journey, I committed to raising $4,220 for the Royal – far exceeding any other amount I’ve raised on my own for a running event. As of the date of this posting, I’ve managed to raise $4,457 (and counting!) to help the Royal help those in our community. Thanks to all those who have sponsored my run and are helping the Royal achieve its mission. For those who might still wish to donate, the donation window is open until June 21, and my fundraising page is here: https://raceroster.com/events/2021/34303/tamarack-ottawa-virtual-race-weekend-2021/pledge/participant/10761112.
And second, for the data nerds: I finished in 4:08:46, which was 1 minute, 14 seconds ahead of my plan. Over 42.2km, that’s not bad. I tried to stay on my target pace of 5:55/km … and managed to finish with an average pace of 5:54/km. My running coach Rick once called me “the metronome” for my consistency; I think I lived up to that moniker on Saturday!
Running a marathon is hard; running it alone with no crowd is far more challenging. I’ve done long runs solo before. Let’s be honest – in COVID times it’s been pretty easy to practice the discipline. And to be truthful, I actually enjoy solo long runs: it’s just me, my breathing and my feet. Running alone for stretches of time helps me shake loose my daily anxieties (I have many) and stressors, and just be in the moment.
But running 42.2km continuously, alone, is much tougher (spoiler: this is the segue to the power of good friends).
In the last few weeks leading up to my run, many friends reached out to me: how are you doing? Do you need any help on race day? Do you want some company? Can I help you with water or fuel? Just let me know! This was a common refrain.
At first, I gratefully declined the offers because I initially planned to run the marathon on my own. But the more I thought about it, I realized that I’d still be doing the running myself; and I reminded myself that my friends were offering because they truly wanted to be there for me.
So I put the ego aside and started accepting my friends’ big-hearted generosity. Which is an excellent segue to my memories from my 2021 Ottawa Marathon. So … here we go:
- 6:45am: I did a final check on my supplies, my GPS watch, setting up a live tracking link etc. I looked outside, and there is Brent Smyth. He had offered to ride his bike with me for the first 5k or so. He schlepped all the way from Blackburn to Carp, to see me off. What a guy.
- 7:00am: go time! I wanted to start at 7:00:00, and managed to do so. If you know me well, this will not surprise you.
- Brent rode alongside me for my first 7.2k or so … he kept me honest to my pace, at one point reminding me that I was running up a “false flat” – an uphill grade that doesn’t feel uphill, yet will tax you if you try to keep your pace up. So I reined it in. Brent: thank you for all that you do, for so many.
- Shortly after Brent and I parted company, I heard a familiar voice to my right on Old Second Line Road … it was Michelle Hughes, pulling up beside me in her vehicle to see how I was doing and ask if I needed any water/Nuun top-ups yet. I was good, so she promised to see me later and went ahead.
- For a while, I ran alone – along Terry Fox Drive, Innovation Drive, and then to Hines Road (where my company’s office is). On Hines Road, there was Michelle again – with a home-made sign that picked me up and promised all sorts of treats (of the sugary variety) if I needed them. Again, I was doing fine at that point (about 11.8k in) but I thanked Michelle and kept going.
- About 100m later, there was Lara Winnemore, cheering me on at the corner of Solandt and March Road. We had a brief exchange across the road as I ran by.
- I then headed southeast on March Road toward the Watts Creek Pathway. Both Michelle and Lara honked as they drove down March Road, to give me a little bit of a lift.
- At the corner of March Road and Herzberg, I crossed over to the west side of March Road to pick up the bike path that would lead me to Penfield Drive and connect to the Watts Creek Pathway. There, waiting for me on their bikes, were my dear friends Peter and Helen Smith. I met Peter in first-year university (gulp – 39 years ago!). Peter and Helen rode with me along the bike path and Penfield, to the Watts Creek Pathway.
- As I ran under March Road and joined up to Watts Creek, there were Michelle and Lara again! Michelle had set up a station with a bottle of Nuun, a bottle of water and undoubtedly a load of other stuff – again, not because I needed it but because I could have (BTW Michelle: if there is ever an apocalypse, I want you in MY corner).
- I continued along Watts Creek for about a kilometre and was delighted to see my old running friend Dennis Jackson waiting for me. We met 10 years ago running together for Team in Training. He is an astoundingly-talented photographer and he was there to capture me at one of the quieter points of the route. As a result, I have some outstanding professional-grade photos from my run. Thanks, Dennis!
- A couple of kilometres later, I passed under the bridge that popped me out onto the Carling Avenue side of the trail, and there waiting for me were my brother Tyler Shouldice and his wife Kim. This was a big surprise to me (in a very good way!) but I should not have been surprised, as Ty & Kim have always made an effort to be on my race routes for the marathons I’ve run. Ty & Kim would pop up at several other places on my route – and every time it was so great to see them!
- Once the Watts Creek got to Moodie Drive, there again were Peter & Helen, Michelle, and Lara. At this point, I took a wee cup of Nuun from Michelle, and also had her top up my bottle. And away I went. I would see Michelle later. Peter, Helen and Lara: thank you so much for mixing up the North Kanata part of my journey!
- Just before I emerged from the Watts Creek Pathway at Acres Road, another surprise: Cathy Christenson and her partner Dale were there to keep me going. Cathy has been my partner-in-crime in raising funds for the Royal for several years, and she and I have run together for even longer. I saw them again on the course, as well. Cathy & Dale – thank you so much!
- And then, about 200m later, I connected with Dan Pak, who really needs no introduction in the Ottawa running community. Dan is ALWAYS there for runners doing their races. You can find him riding around on his bike, taking great photos, and also helping keep runners safe from cyclists and other traffic on the shared pathway. Dan traveled with me the rest of the way – which says a lot for his big heart and generous nature.
- Once I crossed over to the Britannia side of Carling Avenue, the pathway became the Ottawa River Pathway – which would take me all the way downtown. A couple of kilometres later, I would meet up at Britannia Beach with Rob Rashotte. Rob, like Cathy, is a member of our “Sunday Run Club.” He gives me credit for giving him the running bug, and he definitely paid me back in spades during my marathon. At my request, he accompanied me from Britannia to Westboro Beach (this was the loneliest segment of my route, and it was great to have him alongside).
- Around the same time as meeting up with Rob, and with Dan still in tow, we met up with Sammi Walker. I’ve known Sammi for a couple of years now; she is Michelle’s best friend and I liked her the instant I met her. Sammi was on her bike and like Dan, she stuck with me for the balance of my marathon. She kept things light with her humour and infectious enthusiasm – not to mention her amazing selfie-while-looking-backwards-while-riding-her-bike skills.
- Just before Westboro Beach, I saw a smiling Stefanie Kotschwar, who was running her own race that day, but timed it in hopes that she’d see me. It was so great to say hi as we crossed paths. Thanks Stefanie, for keeping an eye open!
- Rob parted with us at the beach – but promised he’d catch up with me later, on his bike. After that, I ran about 2.5km on my own, with Sammi and Dan keeping the path clear for me, taking photos, and offering me any assistance I needed. Fortunately, I was still feeling pretty good, so it was smooth sailing at this point.
- During this interval, Bill McGee – a longtime friend of mine from Nortel/Entrust and Trend Micro, passed by on his bike going the other way. Bill yelled my name so I took notice, which was great; interestingly, this was the second time in three weeks that we crossed paths at that part of the pathway. Later that day, Bill made a very generous donation to the Royal, which I was so very grateful for – thanks, Bill!
- Then, I approached the Island Park Drive bridge … which to me was a key milepost: it meant I was (finally) entering the “core” of Ottawa and I’d start to see more people and other distractions, to help me pass the time and keep the negative self-talk at bay. That’s when I got the biggest surprise of the run: after I emerged from the tunnel under the bridge, there was my 20-year-old son, Reid Shouldice. Unknown to me, Reid had decided to run part of my route with me. He simply smiled, said “hey!” and started running with me. Reid ran from Island Park Drive to the Lemieux Island facility. My heart was singing.
- The next milepost of significance was at Remic Rapids. I had told some folks that his would likely be a good place to top up my water bottle, hopefully one last time. And there, ready to see me, was Michelle again – with her bottle of Nuun, bottle of water and snacks ready and waiting. She offered me all sorts of sugary snacks, but my stomach issued a big nope to those. Michelle had Dixie cups of water & Nuun ready for a quick drink. At this point, I was already sugared out (I was ingesting maple syrup every 6km as fuel) so I chose to drink a bit of water and asked Michelle to top up my bottle with same. Also at Remic, my good Run Ottawa friend Ron McBride was waiting, ready to finish my run with me. I thought he would be on his bike but he came out ready to run. It was welcome company, because I knew from experience that while there was less than 10k to go, it would be the most challenging 10k.
- Also joining me here was my sister-from-another-mister and fellow running ginger Sandy MacLeod. Sandy and I have only known each other since 2015 (we ran the Chicago Marathon together that fall as a fundraiser for Imerman Angels) but she is a kindred spirit and I feel like I’ve known her all of my life. Sandy has made a point of checking in with me throughout my training, and it has meant a lot to me. Sandy was on her bike and ready to go, with cowbells! So off we all went. Dan, Sammi, Ron and Reid stayed on the path with me, and Sandy took the high road on the Parkway for a different vantage point.
- Less than a kilometre later I heard, “hey Tracy – go!” I turned and looked back, and there was Christian Mellows. He works at my company, and in 2019 as part of the Xtra Mile Crew, I helped him finish his first marathon in brutal heat. Christian also gave generously to the Royal. We only spoke for about 5-10 seconds but it was so great to see him!
- Shortly after we saw Christian, Reid got to his finish point – and there waiting for him & me was my amazing wife Bonnie Peebles, along with our dog Karra. It was so good to see Bonnie’s beaming smile (if you know Bonnie, you know what I’m referring to). I thanked Reid for his wonderful surprise, waved to Bonnie and Karra, and Ron and I continued along the pathway.
- Next, as we approached the Prince of Wales railway bridge, we were joined by Clark Carvish. Clark is an amazing guy who is always volunteering at events and helping his running friends. Clark and I went to the same high school back in the late 70s/early 80s! He was on his bike and was ready to see me through to the end. So now I had a pretty impressive entourage: Dan, Sammi, Clark and Sandy on bike, and Ron on foot. Any lingering thoughts I had about running alone were completely gone now – it is SO great to have a crew with you – I highly recommend it!
- Things were starting to get real when we got to the War Museum (36k) – not really surprising as this is when a lot of marathoners hit a wall. I remember as we approached the museum that the bottoms of my feet were starting to complain (I tend to run mid/forefoot so the pads of my feet can get pretty sore). The good news was that other than that, I was feeling pretty good! My calves were a tad tight and my quads were tired, but there was no pain … which was a good thing, because in some of my training runs I had encountered pain in my left quad and IT band.
- Ron and I ran up Wellington Street on the south side (fewer people and, most important, SHADE). When we got to the Terry Fox statue as we approached Metcalfe Street, there were Clark and Sandy, who had gone ahead to set up a photo. While at that point I couldn’t stop (you never, EVER want to stop in the last 10k of a marathon!), I definitely absorbed the meaning of that moment. In my opinion Fox is THE quintessential Canadian hero (I’m still hopeful he’ll end up on the new $5 bill) and thinking about him put any pain/discomfort that I had at the moment on a very distant back burner. It’s amazing how a selfless and courageous young man can still have that kind of impact, 40 years later.
- From there, Ron and I traversed to Elgin, down Elgin Street to the NAC, and then down the NAC ramp to the Rideau Canal. Now we were in the final stretch, with 4km to go. It would be an out-and-back down the Canal to about Linden Terrace, and then back.
- We approached Lisgar Collegiate on the Canal pathway and there were some of my peeps – including Run Ottawa besties Suzanne Robertson, Lisa Georges and Vicki Bencze, cheering me on. I believe Michelle was also there at this time (but to be honest, my memory gets foggy at this point). And rejoining my entourage here was Rob – this time not running, but on his bike.
- My goal at this point was to stay focused on the task at hand. I did the math (note: I am really good at math, but 38.5k into a marathon, even simple arithmetic can be a challenge): I had to run out another 1.85km, turn, and then come home for the finish at Lisgar. I checked the math in my head about five times, to make sure it was right. Sammi, Dan, Clark, Sandy and Rob were offering encouragement from their bikes (apologies now if I seemed oblivious – I was not!). And Ron just kept alongside – respecting my pace, offering gentle encouragement and letting me finish my race the way I wanted to.
- As we approached the Pretoria Bridge, Ron mentioned that he needed to use the porta-potty so he would do that and wait for me to return and finish the run with me. I told him that was a good plan, and he peeled off (note: remember this point, for later). For the next 1.5k or so, I ran on my own on the path, with Dan, Clark, Sammi, Sandy and Rob offering support from their bikes. I got to Linden Terrace – the turnaround point, and ran onto Queen Elizabeth Driveway for the home stretch (it was closed to pedestrian/bike traffic). This way, I would be able to run the same last finishing stretch as I would normally run in the marathon, from the Pretoria Bridge to Lisgar Collegiate. It became clear at this point that I was going to make it – I was still feeling pretty good, all things considered. My strategy of keeping to a moderate pace and hydrating regularly had worked.
- All I remember in the last 1.5km was a montage of: my friends surrounding me and offering encouragement; Sammi and Dan checking on how I was doing physically and using their bikes to keep a bit of a perimeter of space around me; Clark riding behind me and telling me to imagine the crowd screaming; Rob and Sandy yelling out their support; and Sandy ringing her cowbells. And then, the last 300m or so – hearing Lisa, Suzanne, Vicki and Michelle screaming – also with bells and an awesome horn (thanks, Lisa – that horn was AMAZING!). And then, at the Somerset Bridge, Reid again – to finish with me. I tear up as I write this – such amazing, amazing friends and family.
- At the end, we all celebrated under the shade of a beautiful tree, Canal-side. I was joined again by Bonnie and Karra. And one more welcome surprise: my good friend Steve Keenan – whom I’ve literally known since we were toddlers – came out to celebrate the finish. Suzanne – bless her heart – had a cold Sunsplit IPA ready for me (she knows me SO well). Michelle gave me the best blue freezie I ever had. Lisa had SuzyQ donuts (I had to wait a while to eat mine, but it was delicious). Sandy and Suzanne both gave me finisher bags with beer, carbs and salty snacks. And Lisa put my finisher’s medal around my neck (which was really cool, because a week prior I had done the same for her).
- Funny finish anecdote #1: remember Ron? He waited on the Canal pathway for me to return, but I chose to run back on QE Driveway. Oops. By the time he realized I had taken the road, it was too late – he tried his best but couldn’t catch up to me (which I guess means that I finished strong!). Sorry, Ron – I’m an idiot and the brain is a tad foggy at the end of the run.
- Funny finish anecdote #2: as I was right near the end, a car goes by me on my left, pretty closely. I remember saying to Reid, “what the F***?” because QE Driveway is closed. Reid told me after, “Dad, that part of the road wasn’t closed – that was a car going around you.” I was running down the middle of an open roadway. Again, I’ll blame the brain fog.
Done. 42.2k of running. Five months of training, 714km (68 hours) of running logged along the way. Most important: $4,457 raised for the Royal, to help people in our community.
A journey which far exceeded the distance I ran on May 29, thanks to my amazing, generous and giving family, friends and colleagues … and to all those who came out and supported me on race day.
I may well be the luckiest man on this earth. I love you all and I owe you so much.