Friday, 11 May 2012

2012 Toronto Marathon

2009 Mississauga Marathon 3 Hours 42 Minutes
2010 Mississauga Marathon 3 Hours 19 Minutes
2011 Boston Marathon 3 Hours 25 Minutes
2012 Toronto Marathon

Four years, four full marathons, 109 miles, and more than 14 hours of running on concrete and asphalt. Another year, another marathon finished. Are my days of running marathons finished as well? I truly don’t know. When I crossed the finish line I thought they were, but now I’m not so sure.

I sent the following to a major running magazine, which asked the question, “Why do you run?” I run for many of the same reasons as other Canadian runners. I started running as a form of cross training in my exercise program. However, I believe my reasons for running marathons may be unique, and I would like to share them:
  • I run marathons to help fund a project called the NewSong Center in Cambodia, which is supported by the organization Ratanak International. At the center, sixty girls rescued from the sex trade are counselled, educated, and taught survival skills.
  • I run marathons for these Cambodian girls who are between three and nineteen years old.
  • I run marathons to raise awareness for the two million girls worldwide who are forced into prostitution.
  • I run marathons to show my daughters that nothing is impossible, and that it is never okay to give up. Nothing and no one should stop someone from pursuing a dream.
  • I run marathons because my father always told me, “One man can make a difference.” Running marathons has allowed me to try to be that man.
  • I run marathons because I can. The girls I run for sometimes can’t even walk.
  • I run marathons because even the hills in Boston can’t compare to the hills these girls must overcome in their daily lives.
  • When I run marathons, the pain I experience is temporary, but it reminds me of the pain these girls must bear. And the marathon training, in a very small way, reminds me of the girls’ everyday struggles.
  • I run marathons because I am not smart enough to stop. This year I completed the Toronto GoodLife marathon to help bring new life in Cambodia.
  • I run marathons because now that I’ve started, I can’t see myself stopping.
  • I run marathons because when my life is over, the “thank you” of even one young girl will mean more to me than any title, position, or money I could earn.
In summary, I run marathons because even though they are more demanding than I could have ever dreamed or imagined, when I cross the finish line, I wouldn’t trade my sense of contentment and well-being even to win the races.

At a core group meeting, a friend referred to me as a fundraiser, which I find amusing—nobody likes asking people for money less than I do. I once told Lisa Cheong who is in Cambodia doing work for Ratanak right now that if I worked somewhere for minimum wage instead of putting in hours and hours of marathon training, I would probably raise more money for Ratanak than I do running.

On Sunday, as I ran through downtown Toronto, I passed elaborate displays of wealth and splendour in the business area. The major banks had massive buildings for their headquarters. In my limited time as a fundraiser, I’ve found that small-business owners and average people have been very supportive of my cause. Large businesses have not contributed anything. I wonder why. Do big businesses look at what they can get out of their giving? For example, is the problem of childhood obesity in Canada worse than the plight of young children forced to work in the brothels of Cambodia? As I ran today, I thought that if even one of these corporations were to make a contribution from their wealth, so many more children could be helped.

Today was a first: my former fundraising manager and biggest supporter, my father, did not come to this race. He is recovering from two recent operations. Instead, my family Gloria, Katarina, Isabella, Gloria’s mother (Nona), and I piled into our van at 6:15 a.m., and they dropped me off at the starting line. I was very tired as, in keeping with tradition, I slept fewer hours than I will run.

The first part of the race was uneventful and was a nice course as I ran through parts of downtown Toronto that I rarely get the chance to see. I hit the halfway point and was feeling strong; the time was not my best, but it was something I could live with, and I thought I could keep up the pace for the whole race.

At the 30-km mark, a feeling like an electric current started tingling in my right quadriceps. In the past, this has been a warning signal that severe cramping is about to begin. The current spread to my calf, and I felt the first spasm start. I placed my hand on my leg and said a quick prayer. The pain relented a bit, and I thought back to my longest day of training. On that day, I had the choice to wake up at 5 a.m. to get my long run in, or go to an early church service and run afterward.

The weather report the night before called for heavy rains all day. Crossing my fingers, I decided against the early wake-up and went to church. Wrong move. I could hear the rain pounding on the church roof, and driving home, I knew I had a miserable run ahead of me. Isabella asked many times, “Why do you have to run today?” It was hard to explain, but striking a delicate balance between family time and work requires days when I have to run. At just one month away from the marathon, I couldn’t put off my run until the next day. Sorry, Izzy. Rain or not, I had to run.

I have to be creative and design a training course that allows me to be outside for more than three hours. I ran Centennial hill a few times. In an earlier posting, I wrote that this hill is symbolic of the young girls in Cambodia as they get a fresh start in life.

Later on, as I ran past an empty golf course, I felt a sharp pain start in my right calf. Those who know me well know this is the same problem that almost stopped my marathon career before it even started. I’ve had no problem with my calf all year, and sensing where this attack was coming from, I started yelling angrily at the top of my lungs:

No more auction block for them
No more, no more
No more auction block for them
Many thousands gone
No more strange man’s hands on them
No more, no more
No more beatings for them
Many thousands gone
No more rapes of them
Many thousands gone
No more auction block for them
No more, no more
No more auction block for them

This is a song I came across two marathons ago, it is a song sung by Slaves freed in the United States I changed a few words to make it more appropriate for child slaves, the words sums up why I run marathons and my belief that the exploited children in Cambodia can and will have a new life.

The pain went away and I continued my run. Right after this, a different sort of writing came into my head. I wrote down the words after I finished.

There is a place that I know
That mortal men should fear to go.
It is a place of depravity and shame,
A place where its leader was once called Cain.
The children who are kept in this place
Suffer much disgrace.
They are held against their will
And beaten and made to lie still.

This is a place that should be dark,
Yet I see a tiny spark,
A ray of hope in this domain.
One day the light will surely reign.

I am called to run this race,
And this is where I see God’s face.
I stumble often, He picks me up.
I know this place is my cup.

The voice tells me I am weak and small,
One day I believe this giant will fall.
This giant feeds on fear and wrath.
One day this giant will be snapped in half.

The giant is an awesome beast.
The children are its favourite feast.
The place I see I hate to go,
Yet something draws me, this I know.

I finished the rest of this training run, setting a new record of 3 hours, 46 minutes, and pronounced myself on track for the upcoming marathon.

The pain in my legs brought me back to the reality of the race, and I thought to myself that this was going to be a tough finish. A friend recently told me that God is everywhere. Sometimes I find it hard to believe God is in the brothels of Cambodia, but I have no doubt that He was at the 32-km mark.

Every race has photographers taking pictures of runners during the event, hoping to sell pictures afterward. I always find it amusing when people tell me to smile. I find it hard to smile for a family portrait. But after the first half of the marathon was finished, when the pain had really started up, there was no way I was going to look happy for a picture. But this was an exception. I didn’t smile; I actually laughed. Why? A band by the roadside was playing an old song by the White Animals. It was none other than “Gloria.” A reminder of my most beautiful wife at this point in the race kept me going.

As I ran through a park, the promised water stations weren’t there, a sign of things to come. The cramping had made me change my stride, and I took very small steps trying to continue. At the 35-km mark, there was a huge commotion. Isabella saw me and ran excitedly beside me. (I thought of giving her my racing bib as she was running so much faster than I was.) Then Nona yelled my name and crossed into the path of runners. Katarina was so excited, she ran towards me, leaving her two-year-old niece in the swing by herself. Isabella asked how I was doing. I said, “No good,” and pointed at my right leg, shaking my head.

At the 36-km mark, the water station had plenty of water and Gatorade but no cups. This was my low point. Looking back, I realize that quitting a marathon has never been an option for me. I remember two fellow runners in Boston talking about the $20 they had stashed for cab fare, in case they couldn’t finish. Many times on Sunday, I saw people stop running and head off the course. But I can’t ask people to sponsor me for a full marathon and only run half. In a way, I am offering a pound of my flesh. I believe there is also something deeper at play here. I cannot quit, because if I do, I believe I am giving up on the girls in Cambodia.

Then the toughest moment was upon me. My left quadriceps started to spasm, and I had to stop running to stretch out both legs. I started moving slowly, no longer worried about my time. After walking a bit, I sent out another quick prayer, which seems to be a common part of my marathons: “I ask that I may finish this race running, not walking.” I feel it’s important to finish strong. The first few steps were torture, but I kept going. I said to myself, “NewSong girls, you must carry me now.”

The rest of the race was a blur. I moved slowly, and many runners passed me. Right before the finish line, I saw beautiful Gloria cheering me on, and I crossed the line running. I saw that my time was 3 hours, 35 minutes, and I confess I was disappointed - I thought I should have run much faster. After rehydrating myself, I found Gloria through the mob of people. She hugged me, and a wave of emotion hit me. I couldn’t speak for a few minutes. She thought my disappointment with my time caused this, but when I could speak, I told her I realized this may be my last marathon; what the races have come to mean to me hit me all at once. In my last blog, I posted this picture and wrote about everything that is wrong with it and how it affects me.


These are lyrics from a Mumford & Sons song:

How fickle my heart and how woozy my eyes
I struggle to find any truth in your lies

Lend me your eyes I can change what you see
But your soul you must keep, totally free

To me, the lyrics relate to the picture and mean this: The picture represents the estimated two million children worldwide forced to work as prostitutes. It’s an enormous problem that you and I will never be able to solve in a hundred lifetimes. The “lie” in the song is that we can do nothing. But instead of looking at all that’s wrong with the picture, we can look at it as an opportunity. Look at it and ask yourself what you can do to change the life of one of these children.

A few years ago, I said I wanted to raise enough money to keep a young girl out of a brothel and safe in a place like NewSong for one year. Wednesday, during my last run before the marathon, I felt that this has been accomplished. Think about it. Besides being a father or husband, what greater reward could I receive than the knowledge that my work of the last four years has indeed kept one of these precious children safe?


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