The Niagara Falls International Marathon was yesterday so the entire weekend seemed to revolve around a race that I was not running. But one that I was determined to experience in whatever way I could.
First stop, the race expo on Saturday. I wanted my damn shirt but that meant that I had to go through the entire rigamarole of clearing customs (it's an international race so they check your passport before you get your bib number) and picking up my race number. I couldn't just sneak in, grab the shirt and sneak out. I had to face everything. The excitement of all the runners, the words of encouragement from all the volunteers, the endless "Are you running the marathon" questions - to which I answered 'yes' because I didn't know what else to say. And all the jackets, hats and shirts that I was going to buy but didn't because I hadn't earned the right to...yet.
Doug went with me and we didn't get there until around noon. I figured that, by then, most of the people I knew would have already come and gone. Not that I don't love them, I just didn't think I could hold it together if I had to face the "I'm so sad for you" look. As it was we had to make several detours into quiet corners so I could get the emotions back under control.
My race number would have been 244 which, for anyone who knows me, is about as perfect as it can get. My name was spelled right but, as usual, they forgot the accent. It's Céline!
I got my race shirt and my crazy black and neon yellow toque and we headed home.
I had texted Scully earlier to offer her a ride to the start. I figured she'd appreciate not having to take the bus PLUS having someone counting on a ride would mean that I could not back out of going to the race if I had second thoughts.
Race morning dawned cool, crisp and beautiful. Scully, Dan and Steve met me at 7:15am and we headed off Buffalo. I had declared myself the unofficial official Runners' Edge photographer and, from 8:00am until 3:45pm, I chased runners around and tried my best to document their day....
...and live the race through them.
It was everything a good race should be.
It was fun and full of energy.
It was emotional.
It broke my heart to see people I cared for struggling. Yet it was amazing to watch the troops rally around a struggling runner, give some words of encouragement and send them off again.
I didn't see everyone on the route but I heard the stories. The story of Geoff who ran out to find some of the last runners and run them in, holding their hands and kicking their asses.
Angie and Alain, who planned to run together but, after 30k, knew they would have to finish it alone. Angie was running a great race and went on ahead in tears. Alain struggled through his own tears as his body and spirit broke. Then he put the pieces back together and finished the race on his own terms, beating down some pretty tough demons to do it.
Scully got to the start line after a nasty night fighting the diabetic gods. She was already in trouble before the gun even went off. She ran the entire race on her own and we saw her go through every emotion. We saw her focused, happy, in tears and completely nauseated and exhausted. And we screamed and cheered as she crossed the finish line - rocking her insulin pump and looking no worse for wear.
I'm so glad I went.
Being on the route and being part of it all was cathartic.
The moment that got me?
When Mike rounded the last corner, saw the finish line and was overcome.
I was proud, I was honoured to be a witness and I tried my best to capture it for him...
I shed tears of joy and of solidarity...
...and a few for what might have been.