On Sunday, October 18th, 2021 I crossed the finish line of my third full marathon.

When I crossed the finish line on Oct 12th, 2017 for my first marathon, I’d thought, “That was the toughest thing I’ve ever done in my whole life!” Boy, was I wrong!

The 2021 PEI Marathon proved to be the toughest physical test I had ever faced in my life. It required me to dig deep and walk the talk of all the lessons I have ever tried to impart to people through the teachings of the Shin Dao.

As a recap, a marathon is running 42.2 km (26 miles).

While the race may be held over the seemingly random distance of 26 miles and 385 yards (or 42.195km), no event in athletics holds quite the same mystic or iconic status as the marathon.

The event was born out of the legend of the Athenian courier, Pheidippides, who in 490BC ran from the site of the battle of Marathon to Athens with the message of Nike (‘Victory’)… before promptly collapsing and dying.

Around 2500 years later, the idea of recreating such a long-distance test was revived by Baron Pierre de Coubertin – the founder of the Modern Olympics. Keen to retain the spirit of Pheidippides, a 40km marathon was held at the first inaugural Modern Games in Athens in 1896 as Greek water-carrier, Spyridon Louis struck gold in a time of 2:58:50 to launch the marathon phenomenon. (Taken from the History of the Marathon)

When I crossed the finish line of my first marathon in 2017 I became part of an elite family of athletes! Less than 1% of the entire North American population has ever completed a marathon. I now have completed three.

Approximately 21 km into the race

As I crossed the finish line in 2021, my third marathon. I was overwhelmed with a huge wave of emotions. Firstly, I am not going to lie, I was disappointed in my posted time. Then, mere seconds later, an immense sense of, “Holy SH$# !! Neil, you did it!” washed over me. I was so freaking happy and proud of myself. Here I was at fifty-nine years of age and I had just run 42.2 km! (Okay, there was some walking 🙂 ) But, “SH$% Neil, you just did your third marathon!”

Lastly, the realization finally sunk in that, yes! I had completed my third marathon, which four weeks prior didn’t look like a possibility. Since late June I struggled in my training due to the smoke in the air from the numerous forest fires in Canada. I missed runs or was not able to complete them. This required my running coach, Scott McDermott, to change my training plan numerous times!

In late August my training effectively collapsed as I was unable to continue with my training. I can still remember the emotional, tear-filled voice message I left on Scott’s voice mail, telling him of my physical condition and that I was going to have to set up some doctor appointments, as all was not right with my body.

Boarding the busses to take us to the start line. I ran the race with my sister Glenda.

After numerous doctor appointments, which included a heart stress test, I was finally cleared to run, with a prescription of Symbicort (a steroidal inhaler). The sports-induced asthma of my youth had returned!

One of the things I love about Scott as my coach is that he takes motivating his clients, and helping them achieve their goals, very seriously. He also doesn’t sugarcoat the facts/truth. We discussed that I had mileage on my feet BUT I was not at the levels of training that we would have liked me to be at! We were both confident I was going to complete the run, but the truth was that there would be no Personal Best for me in this race!

I ran the first 14 km with my sister, Glenda, at a good pace and I was feeling good. Then the wind picked up and we headed directly into the wind. Surprise, surprise, my pace slowed down. Glenda’s pace was faster than mine, so we gradually separated.

Tina and my brother-in-law, Metro, met us at the halfway point of 21.1 km. They saw in my face I was struggling. They both offered words of encouragement to me. At this halfway point we turned onto the PEI Confederation Trail, a beautiful gravel trail that runs the entire width of the province.

Confederation Trail

The kind motivational words from Metro and Tina lifted my spirits and I was off and feeling good! Then at km 24, I hit the infamous wall. (12 km earlier than I historically have had to deal with this issue.)

(In general, hitting the wall refers to depleting your stored glycogen and the feelings of fatigue and negativity that typically accompany it. Glycogen is a carbohydrate that is stored in our muscles and liver for energy. It is the easiest and most readily available fuel source to burn when exercising, so the body prefers it. When you run low on glycogen, even your brain wants to shut down activity as a preservation method, which leads to the negative thinking that comes along with hitting the wall. Runners World)

Note: I was still smiling, cause at this point in time I knew, deep within me, I was going to finish; it just wasn’t going to be for any personal record! I topped up on fuel – Hammer Gels – and moved to a slower walk-run pace. The wind also abated while I was in the trees.

At km 34, I exited the Confederation Trail and came face to face with 20 to 40 km per hour winds. Let’s say, I was not happy with the wind. But I trudged on. I was going to finish this damn race!

At km 36, in exasperation, I said to myself, “Who the hell creates a Boston Marathon Qualifier race and has giant FU%$%^ hills at km 36!?!?” Now, this is where the real personal test began. Giant hills, and 20 to 40 km winds. My body was exhausted, my spirits were struggling, and all I could do was go back to what I was taught in all of my training (and what I try to teach everyone) – Focus on the “GOAL”. Why was I here? What did I want to accomplish?

I was 6.2 km from finishing my third marathon; I was NOT going to give up!.

I adjusted my strategy again! I began walking 200 meters and then running 200 meters. Note: I did pass others on the course with this strategy!

As I got closer to the finish line, my body did respond slightly to the excitement of completing the race. But I was keenly aware that my missed training over the summer was now playing fully into how I was completing my run!

I am happy and proud of my accomplishment. Even more, I am amazed at my body and what it was able to do, in spite of my numerous health issues and not having completed as much training as I would have liked to have had! My amazing body still got me across the finish line!

Stats on My Training

Generally, I ran three times a week – Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, which was my long run day.

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