Friday, 10 June 2016

My amazing experience at an IAAF Gold Label event, the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend!


I am now back in Kenya after such a wonderful experience at the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend in Ontario, Canada. My special thanks go to Mr. John Halverson, the race director for organizing such a great race; Manny Rodrigues, the elite athletes’ coordinator for getting me the invitation; Annie Boucher, media relations for putting up my articles on their website and all the other officials and staff at the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend for making the weekend such a success.

My adventure started in London, at the Heathrow airport, when I met five other athletes from Kenya also heading to Ottawa as we waited for a connecting flight to Canada. It was a good company that made the long nine hours’ wait bearable.
After a total of 25 hours’ travel, we landed at the international airport in Ottawa and race officials were already there waiting for us. We got into two vehicles and headed to the Ottawa Marriott hotel where we would be hosted for five days. The rooms were already booked for us and we only had to show our passports at the reception in order to be given the keys to our rooms. There was an elite athletes’ hospitality suite on the 28th floor where we went to pick up our race bibs, elite badges, meal cards, maps, water bottles and other items that we would need. The hospitality suite would be open throughout our stay at the hotel and one would go there to schedule a massage session, a course tour, pick some more drinking water or ask for any other information.
Near to the hospitality suite was a dining room set specifically for the elite athletes, race officials and some of the athletes’ agents. This is where I got the rare chance to share the same dining table with many high profile athletes, and one even doubled up as a member of Kenya’s national assembly by the name Wesley Korir. Others were world half marathon champion, Peres Jepchirchir; Canada’s Olympic athlete, Reid Coolsaet and Olympic silver medalist, Isabella Ochichi, among others.
All these were happening like a dream for me. I remember meeting a white lady in the lift as I came up from my room in 15th floor to the hospitality suite in 28th floor and the lady stunned me by asking in Swahili whether I came from Kenya. I affirmed and she went ahead to say, “hata mimi” – me too. The lady turned out to be Tarah Korir, Wesley Korir’s wife. I had heard so much about her and was glad to finally meet her. It was humbling to hear from her that she often enjoys my articles too and follows my posts.
Finally, the day for the marathon came and despite the fact that it was such a tough race for me, it never took away anything from the great experiences that I had in Ottawa.
I still remember when the going got tougher for me in the unusually warm weather conditions and thoughts of giving up crept into my mind, I had looked beside the road and saw many fans cheering me to keep going. Some could read my bib and shout out my name. I saw placards with many positive messages urging me to go on. “Pain is temporary, sport stats are forever.” “Yes you can do it!” “Remember why you are doing this.” Just to sample but a few of the placards beside the road, and inscriptions of white chalk on the tarmac road. There were also many music bands playing at various points on the course. There were many volunteers handing out water at the water stations. Giving up was like letting down all these wonderful people who had turned out to support the runners.
The most challenging section of the marathon for me was not after the 38km mark which usually is for most people. It was around the 15km to the 25km points. Water bottles for elite athletes were being placed after the general water bottles and having passed the water station at the 10km point hoping to pick my bottle at the elite table, I found that another athlete had actually picked my water bottle there. There were still many water bottles, but I just could not pick someone else’s bottle and subject them to the situation I was in. I kept going without taking any fluids. It was a very warm day and by the time I was approaching the next water station, I was feeling strange. The first plastic water cup I tried to grasp just slipped through my trembling fingers. I stopped and took the next one very slowly. I took one more cup of water and kept jogging ahead hoping that my body would soon return to normal as the race progressed, but then also began to feel discomfort on my right big toe. It was only the middle of the race. But, now that I was wiser to make sure I take some water at every station, I decided to forget about the time and to try and have fun running through the remaining part of the course.
It was all about experience. I had come a long way from Kenya and I was definitely not going to go back without finishing what I had come to do. So, I just kept going as I enjoyed the great sceneries at the forested area after the 30km mark, the cheering groups and the music bands. At around the 39km mark, I knew that the finish line was near and I was then sure I was going to finish the race. I had run the 5km race the previous day for fun, and to get to know the city more and I was now at exactly the same point where I had been the previous day. The half marathon route also met here with the full marathon and the number of athletes increased as we headed towards the finish line.
Nearer to the finish line, I saw a small kid holding a placard that read, “I am proud of you dad!” I just hoped his dad got to finish the race as I went to cross the finish line. I was happy to have completed yet another marathon in my life. Well, if you ask me I can tell you that the pain was temporary and the fact will remain forever that I finished the 2016 Scotiabank Ottawa marathon despite the fact that it was run in unusually warm weather conditions!
It will be a great privilege to run this marathon again next year.
After the marathon, the Kenyan community in Canada was happy to meet with the athletes from Kenya and a luncheon was prepared for us courtesy of Kenya’s high commission to Canada led by Amb. Joh Lanyasunya.  Speaker after speaker spoke of the warm reception and hospitality of the Canadian people.
I experienced the same feeling of being at home when Peggy Taillon, the founder of Hera mission, a charity that empowers women and children in western Kenya, in the company of her Kenyan-born son, Devlin Taillon, took me for a short tour of the Ottawa city and the race expo.
At the end of it all, I learned that marathon is much more than the 42km alone. It is about meeting people from different parts of the world and learning that we are all more closely related than we thought.