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The Ottawa Marathon Preamble

A decision to run another marathon might include mulling the details of fitness, nutrition, volume running, long runs, speed-work, hill work, the course layout — is it flat? hilly? urban?  oh-natural? —  all of which require dedicated planning and training for 16 weeks prior to showing up.  Or, the decision might evolve from a chance meet at a running Expo, where two lovely Canadians sitting at a booth in Corning, New York, describe the views along the course, surrounded by the Ottawa River and the Rideau Canal,  the friendly spectators that line the course; while speaking with that pleasing French-Fargo  twang.  The ladies behind the Ottawa Marathon booth multi-tasked, handing out brochures, patiently explaining geography to Americans who were unclear if Ottawa was a city or a province, greeting other runners with more Bon Jour, and then describing croissants at the finish line.  I found myself mesmerized by their friendly Canadian vibe, losing all need to weigh the pros and cons of marathon training, and saying ‘why not? sign me up’.

Part two of this plan, was to elicit a running partner.  After a few “definitely not’s”,  from my running inner circle, I finally received the affirmative nod from Jill who has never run longer than a half-marathon.  I explained over coffee and cranberry scones that our training program would be perfectly sane, injury-free, include plenty of time to ramp-up the mileage, and I had a secret plan that sprinkled the way with weekends of road races, cheering spectators, water stops, pit stops and some itsy-bitsy mileage extensions to be added before and after, until we had reached the maximum training distance of 20 miles.   Of course there was an emphasis on post-running treats – leading to a google search for french bakeries to amp up our taste buds on croissants.   Jill, with a mouthful of scone, went along with this plan, chewing, not saying a word, and that non-verbal was as good as confirmation gets.   For 10 weeks, our long runs included thousands of friendly runners.  We arrived at running races an hour early and ran.   Then, ran to the start of the event — usually a half marathon — and ran with comrades on roads closed to vehicle traffic.  Crossing each finish line, we grabbed another water bottle, another goo, and ran another 2-3 miles, to finish the last portion of that same running event for a second time.  Then, and only then, was it time to cease moving.  Sit down, sip coffee, eat something that didn’t squeeze out of a tiny package, and re-hash the happy.   Mostly, happy to be sitting.  And if we were lucky, the cafes were still serving breakfast that late in the day.

Sixteen weeks later, hubby and I — the first of our duo caravan on a 10 hour road trip to run 26.2 miles — crossed the Canadian border, explaining to Canadian customs the need to run a marathon in Ottawa, and the lovely agent and I chatted about running before she waved us through and wished me good luck.   Within minutes, our good luck ran out when we realized our phones no longer worked. Apparently, I am not a worldly traveler.  Despite sharing a continent, Canada is considered international territory by Sprint, and we braced ourselves for days of no phone, no social media and no emails – except for the occasional check-in via wi-fi.  It took an hour of checking and re-checking to realize we had gone dark in a world of constant connections, and perhaps we could embrace this new world?

Two hours from the border-crossing, we arrived in Ottawa — early in the day on Friday — for Ottawa Race Weekend.  We checked into our hotel in the heart of downtown — the Albert at Bay — and met Bernadette, a hotel employee – who greeted us with ‘Bon Jour’ and we returned the ‘Bon Jour’ though it sounded better coming from Bernadette.   Bernadette is all about keeping alive the old-school-art of customer service, and within minutes we were swapping running stories (she prefers the 5K), running injuries (she had knee pain, but wasn’t going to let that stop her) and always having treats after a run (she prefers latte’s) — my kind of gal.   I mentioned I might be hungry, and coffee would be a bonus.  She beamed, leaned in close and whispered — “You must visit ‘Good Eats‘ — the best food and coffee, the finest in Ottawa”, and before I had a chance to whip out my phone to map the location forgetting I had no cell service in Canada, Bernadette put her hand on mine.   “Out the door and to the left.  One block.  Go now.”   Bernadette and I had formed a special Canadian-American bond – a runner’s need for food.   Constantly.   Forget checking into the hotel.  We turned and headed toward ‘Good Eats’!

The name ‘Good Eats’, conjured up an image of a diner, retro of course with a metallic facade, metallic bar-stools, Formica counter-tops, a jukebox at each table, where the daily special is topped with gravy.  In Canada, this place called ‘Good Eats’ resembled none of that.  We arrived at the entrance, with a small hand-painted sign resting on the sidewalk in front of an equally small row-house.   The four steps leading toward the front door were painted purple, with some pink, and turquoise splashed about and I knew I was about to enter a food place stoked by creativity.   Inside the bakery-cafe-coffee bar, I closed my eyes to fully absorb a distinctly fine aroma of fresh baked breads and earthy coffee.  Executives dressed in pinstripe suits sat in bright colored miniature stools more suitable for preschoolers and carried on conversations with mates at other tables oblivious to practically sitting on the floor.   I walked up to the counter, and my eyes bulged at the display of possibilities — large puff croissants, cookies that oozed of chocolate, vegan brownies that overflowed with nutmeats, oh, and there was a menu of breakfast items, all with a serving of fresh baked bread.

The cashier-slash-barista — a gent from Australia greeted us with a ‘G’day mate’ and an accent so delightfully charming, that when he asked if I wanted to hear the specials, I certainly did, and he could repeat them too, if he liked.  His favorite was the yogurt parfait topped with home-made granola, dusted with coffee bean, chocolate and honey and when you add an Australian accent describing this delicacy, the food choice was irresistible.  He asked if I wanted a latte to go along with my parfait, clearly skilled at reading my tastes, and yes, I did, to which he replied was a fantastic choice for a Friday morning,  and then asked the size, and I went all out and said a medium to which he replied Fridays don’t get any better than a medium latte, and no matter what I requested – a little sugar perhaps, he confirmed my order as the best it can possibly be, on a Friday and all.  Hubby ordered a sammy, loaded with egg and Canadian bacon on fresh baked bread, all of which the cashier noted the fantastic choices we had made, and we sat down on the tiny stools to some of the most delicious treats at Good Eats and not feeling one bit of indulgence guilt.  That marathon will get run, eventually.

With bellies filled with good eats and waiting for the arrival of my running partner,  our next stop was a trip to the Ottawa Running Expo.   We headed toward downtown, and walked a good two miles before it was clear we were heading away from the tall buildings that marked the Ottawa skyline.   Without a working phone and gps, I was confident we could retrace our steps and walk in the opposite direction, but a friendly Canadian who observed our confusion, insisted that downtown was too far of a walk, and we needed to take a bus.  In my world — as a marathoner — unless the terrain was impassable, there will be no riding of a bus.  However, hubby didn’t feel the need to walk more than necessary, so I pretended to go along with the notion of riding a bus, which brought us to a bus stop, with many people, including an elderly man in a wheelchair — waiting for the bus to arrive.   Two buses arrived at the same time, and not knowing which, if either, was the bus heading to downtown Ottawa, I convinced the hubby it was better to simply walk toward the tall buildings rather than risk more confusion via bus.

He agreed, and we stood, watching the passengers board, waiting for the buses to depart, pretending to wait for the third bus, when the elderly man attempting to board in his electric wheelchair got his wheels stuck in the mud.   We were the only persons standing near the man — everyone else had boarded — and I nudged hubby with a we-need-to-help-him look, not realizing that electric wheelchairs weigh 500 pounds without the rider.   Hubby and I got behind the man, and did our best to push and shove his chair toward dry ground and the bus lift, while the man jostled with his hand controls.  Just when all hope of moving the man and chair seemed lost, the wheelchair gained traction and moved away from the mud.  We waved goodbye to our new elderly mate, and waved to the Canadian bus riders as the bus pulled away, hoping we had set a fine example for proper humanity, not knowing for sure if the elderly man had the situation completely under control via those hand controls.

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