This is the 17th story in a series profiling runners who will compete in the 20th anniversary running of Emera Marathon By the Sea Marathon in Saint John. The stories are also running on the MBTS Facebook page and MBTS website.
Editor’s note: A lifelong baseball fan, Mark Leger was introduced to distance running as he watched his sister and his friend compete at the Boston Marathon. One of the rewards for making the trip was taking in a few games at Fenway Park. However, after receiving plenty of suggestions, encouragement and personal challenges, he ultimately tackled and succeeded in completing the marathon distance. Now, he has further expanded his interests and is a triathlete. Here is his story on running, fitness, his motivation and that one goal he still covets.
For years, I made an annual pilgrimage to the Boston Marathon – as a spectator, not a runner though. My sister Allie and my friend Rami ran the race nearly every year. I was a big Boston Red Sox fan, so I made the trip to catch a few games and watch Allie and Rami finish the race on Boylston Street.
After the marathon in 2005, Rami said I should run a marathon myself. “I can’t run that far,” I said.
Rami waved me off, and reminded me of our long-distance cycling trips to Toronto in the early 1990s. “If you can bike 1,500 kilometres, you can run 42,” he said.
Of course, those biking trips were really quite a slog. I hadn’t trained for the first one, and Rami had to, literally, drag me out of the tent in the morning for the first few days, because my knees had locked up from overuse. They’d really hurt for a few kilometers before the muscles had stretched out. A doctor in Fredericton told us I couldn’t go on; Rami told him we would anyway, and asked him to recommend a pain killer and an anti-inflammatory.
I had long forgotten those painful memories and set myself on a course to run the Chicago Marathon in fall of 2005. Rami recommended that race because it was relatively flat and he would be running it as well.
I printed a training schedule from the Internet and placed it on the fridge. Over the course of 18 weeks, I completed every training run, short and long, crossing them off with a pen each time I finished one.
Looking back, that first marathon was (relatively) easy for someone who hadn’t really exercised in more than a decade. I didn’t get an injury during training, and I ran the marathon itself without ever hitting a wall.
Then, I began training for the Boston Marathon the following spring. I didn’t actually qualify; I received a media pass because I promised to do a story afterwards. The winter training regimen turned out to be much harder. I did many long runs on very cold, early Sunday mornings when it was still dark. Just as it began to warm up, I did my last long run, and woke up the next day with severe shin splints.
I stopped running, hoping they’d heal by race day. I made it a mile down the course before collapsing in pain on the side of the road. I rode the “injury bus” back into town, and spent the next few weeks on crutches.
I had recurring shin-splint problems for the next few years that kept me from running full marathons. I’d always make it to the late stages of a training program and they’d come back again. While training for the New York City Marathon, I also got a nasty heal injury.
I was then 40, and a friend told me I was too old for marathon running.
The injury healed after a period of rest and physiotherapy. I ran the New York Marathon, the whole time waiting for the pain to come back. It didn’t and I completed the race in my personal best time.
I’ve run three marathons since then – injury free – the last one in May in Toronto. My forties have been good to me so far.
Looking ahead to a time when my knees will begin wearing down, I’ve begun swimming and biking too. Two weeks before Marathon by the Sea, I’ll compete in my first triathlon, the Rockwood Park Triathlon by the Bay.
I can’t fully explain why I love to run – and now bike and swim too. I do know the long runs are the ones that keep me going. I love the entire ritual – the preparation, the run itself, and the feeling afterwards. At our cottage in the summertime, I get up before sunrise on Sundays. I make a coffee and toast, head out for the run, and return most times just as my family is getting out of bed.
I still consider myself a sedentary person, someone who’d rather have his feet up on a deck chair at the cottage, enjoying a coffee with breakfast. But it sure feels better after those same feet pounded pavement for 20 miles.
I’m still not over the disappointment of my failed Boston run in 2006. One day, though, I will qualify for, and complete, the Boston Marathon, and erase that bitter memory. The beer and hot dog at the ball game will taste so much better too.
Mark Leger is a journalist in Saint John. He is participating in Marathon by the Sea and the Rockwood Park Triathlon by the Sea in support of the Safe Harbour transitional house for homeless youth that is under construction in Saint John. To learn more or make a donation, please visit https://www.giveffect.org/participants/77-mark-leger. To make a donation offline, contact Mark at 634-1070. E-mail: email@example.com