By Gary Poignant
As I took the final step into the driveway in front of our Sherwood Park home, the Ride GPS app map on my iPhone7 hit the 26.2-mile mark. My long, quiet walk was over, and I had accomplished my goal.
After almost five years of excuses, I finally completed another marathon.
And unlike the first 30, this ‘virtual’ marathon was different in every way.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, everyone entering the 2021 Servus Edmonton Marathon was required to complete the distance between August 15 and 31 and enter their time online.
There was no marathon route to follow, no aid stations and no cheering crowd.
But I was not deterred, thanks to a remarkable octogenarian whose inspiring comments provided the only motivation I needed.
I met Fort Saskatchewan’s Roger MacMillan in 2019 while writing a story for a seniors’ publication as he prepared to enter his 112th marathon in Edmonton.
I made an off-hand comment during the interview that I used to run marathons but had stopped due to damaged, arthritic knees.
“You can do it. You don’t even have to run,” said Roger, an easygoing man who often walked more than he jogged.
As someone almost 20 years his junior, his remarks resonated.
So I decided to sign up online for the 2021 Servus Edmonton Marathon. I mapped out a circuitous three-lap route around my neighbourhood on my bike, planning it so I could complete the distance while staying close enough to home for water and bathroom breaks. (I trained by walking and cycling about 50 miles per week.)
While there would be no cheering crowd or a visible finish line, I would have more than enough support from my wife, Linda, and dog, Harley.
On August 15, I was ready. I was nervous and only slept for about four hours, waking up to the radio alarm at 4 a.m.
I ate a bowl of cereal with a banana, had a cup of coffee and drank a large bottle of water before heading out with another two full water bottles. I grabbed one over-the-counter pain killer in case my knees caused too much discomfort.
Over the course of the next seven hours, 15 minutes and 26 seconds, I did not see a single runner or jogger, but I did count 15 people walking their dogs and five other folks out for a stroll. I also saw four wild hares – which I called my personal pace bunnies.
I stopped at home for two bathrooms breaks and water refills. I also got a boost from Linda and Harley, who came out to visit at the 13-mile mark.
At about the 20-mile mark, I chatted with a woman walking her four-year-old poodle mix named Arnie. I told her I had a dog named Harley, and he was 11. She ended the exchange with, “Enjoy your walk.”
During the last mile, Linda escorted me home on her bicycle, ringing a handbell and chanting ‘Go, Gary Go.’ A few neighbours looked up and smiled.
I only needed one pain killer to ease the knee discomfort. As expected, my quads were a bit sore, but otherwise, I felt great.
With hopes of a crowd at the following Edmonton Marathon, I’m sure I’ll be back for No. 32.
A few days later, I called Roger and thanked him for pushing me to complete another marathon.
“I knew you could do it. I’m glad I inspired you,” said the 83-year-old, who has been forced to put the 26.2-mile event on hold due to health issues but still walks every day.