by Annabelle DeGouveia
My marathon story began in 2003. As a mother of two boys under 4, I was a casual runner. I would run for fitness, run when I was stressed and sometimes when I really just felt like running away! In 2002, my husband who was also a casual runner told me he was going to run a half-marathon. “Damn, I’m jealous “, I thought. But later changed that to, “Why can’t I do that? Before I knew it, we had both completed two half-marathons that year, Toronto and Scotiabank.
By spring 2003, I was ready to try again and ran the Burlington Half. Despite my love of running and of the excitement of race day, I remember looking at the marathoners, still running long after I had finished my post race bagel and thought, “Damn, they’re crazy!. But, that soon changed.
At my local running store, I found myself perusing the brochures and flyers of upcoming races when a young staff member asked if I needed help. “Oh, not me, these marathons aren’t for me.” He looked at me and simply asked the right question, “Why can’t you do that?” And before I knew it, (and after a few glasses of red wine), I was registering for the Scotiabank Marathon that September.
There is nothing like the first marathon, it was an exhilarating experience. I embraced the training; I visited the Running Room store to get my fix and to just be around other runners. I clutched my “Running Start to Finish” book by John Stanton like it was my Bible. One of my first post race runs looped past the store so I could thank that employee personally. Sometimes you just need someone to ask you, “Why can’t you do that?”
By spring 2007 and now a mother of four young boys, my brother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease at the young age of 49. I decided to run another marathon to raise funds for the Canadian Parkinson’s Society. My youngest son was only 9 month olds old when I crossed the finish line at the GoodLife Toronto Marathon that October, raising over $3000 for and shaving a few minutes off my PR to finish at 4:21.
The staff at the running store was always helpful during my training, offering advice and support, and answering questions about staying hydrated as a nursing mother while training during Toronto’s humid summer weather.
The marathon bug hadn’t left me yet. Early in 2010, a dear friend’s 7 yr old daughter Emma was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma—a rare and inoperable form of brain cancer. The prognosis for her is poor. Median survival is less than 1 year and the 2-year survival rate is less than 20 percent. Needless to say, this has been devastating for her and her family, but the courage and strength she has shown coupled with the support from Toronto Sick Children’s Hospital motivated me to run the Toronto Marathon and raise funds for Sick Kids Foundation. I also set a new goal to break 4:00. I thought, with Emma as my motivation, what have I got to lose? Again, that infamous question came to mind, “Why can’t I?”
As my mileage increased week by week, I heard stories of Emma’s strength, her progress, and her setbacks. In a matter of weeks after diagnosis, she was wheelchair bound. Now more than ever, I knew I was running because she no longer could. I set a goal to raise $5000 and come race day, I was overwhelmed by the support I received in Emma’s name as the total reached over $6300.
Race day October 17, 2010 was perfect. The sun was shining, it was a comfortable temperature and Emma was well enough to be at the finish line waiting for me. I ran a hard race, too fast at first, hit a wall of wind down by the lake, but kept plugging on. When my calves were screaming at me at about 35K, I decided that they were in fact chanting, “Emma! Emma! and the pain subsided (somewhat).
As I made my way up University Ave passing Sick Children’s Hospital, I sent out a special wave of gratitude. Shortly after that, near the Queen’s Park Circle, was Emma in her wheelchair clutching her special blankie and cheering with her amazing parents at her side. With so much to run for, how can I stop now? I knew my 4 hour marathon goal was long gone, but I was sure I accomplished so much more that day. I finished in 4:07 with my 11 yr old son running along side. It was a great day. I couldn’t wait to see Emma and give her my finisher’s medal. No one deserved it more than she did.
Now, several months later, I am still running to be fit, to escape, to find peace, and sometimes to run away. Emma continues her fight with cancer. So to my list, I now include that I run to find hope.
Bennett Cohen (the Savvy Runner) and Gail Gould are the Founders and Presidents of the International Association of Women Runners (IAWR). To learn more about this global community of women who share a passion for running, visit www.iawr-connect.com.