This story ran in the Daily Gleaner on Aug. 22
It started on Grand Manan Island when she was a teenager, morphed into evening runs that served part fitness, part de-stressor and now, distance running has developed into a setting for Allyson MacDonald to continue a cherished bond with some of her closest friends.
In between her 27 full marathons, several full Ironmans and half Ironmans and countless kilometres of training that’s been supported by her husband Doug, Allyson equates running with her peaceful time, sessions just for her amid life and its various challenges.
“When I started running on Grand Manan, it was also time for me and Mom (Shelley Cook) to be together,” said Allyson, who last weekend set a personal best in the 70.3 Ironman (half Ironman) event in New Hampshire. That comes on the heels of two appearances at the full Ironman in Mont Tremblant, Que., in 2013 and 2014.
“Then, when I had kids and they were in bed, I’d go out and run five or six kilometres at night to end the day.
“The kids got older and life was busy. Then, I found the 6 a.m. runs were the only way I could connect with my friends. Those morning runs – they are my psychotherapy. We solve a lot of issues.”
Those jaunts, whether it was training for an Ironman, a marathon or just getting together, are gold these days for MacDonald, who treasures the time with running mates such as Kathy Wilson, Michelle Audus and Adam Douthwright.
Sometimes they wake at 4:30 a.m. Other times 4:50 and, usually, they are running somewhere in Fredericton or New Maryland.
“In that hour-and-half, we just hammer out life, and when I am finished, it is like I can tackle anything,” said MacDonald, a financial advisor at Scotiabank.
While the sport was part of her life at a reasonably early age, she did not start marathon distances until 1999, when her husband wondered for all the running she did, why the 42.2 km distance was not on her resume.
At the time, she felt that longest distance – she had completed some half marathons but never a full – was reserved for the elite of the elite, the “Olympic gods,” she thought.
That all changed when she raced in the half at the 1999 Marathon by the Sea. That year, the marathoners were identified with a tag on the back of their shirts, making them easily distinguishable from the rest of the field.
As Allyson ran that morning, she felt more and more confident those runners were just like her. Armed with new confidence, she trained for and ultimately completed her first full marathon.
“I got looking at the people running the marathon and felt they were just regular people like me,” she said. “So I got a book on how to run a marathon by Joe Henderson and ran my first marathon in August 2000. After that, I was hooked.”
Since then, she’s ran one or two, and sometimes three, marathons per year, as well as many other events, such as the Fredericton Fall Classic, which she plans on racing again next month.
There have been many memorable moments, such as the Not For Honolulu race in 2003, an event conducted in -20 C temperatures that saw her post a qualifying time for her first Boston Marathon in 2004.
There was the occasion in Belgium – the Flanders Fields Marathon – when she gathered with other Canadians to sing O Canada under an arch as part of a monument commemorating sacrifices made in World War II that led to the country’s liberation.
Or the time in Saint John, when her mother surprised her with an appearance at the finish line when Allyson ran the full marathon. It was a gesture to celebrate Allyson’s 40th birthday, and she never forgot it.
But topping her list is the 2005 Marathon by the Sea, which came about a month after her nephew Max was born. It was not an easy time for Max and the entire family: he suffered seizures that required a lengthy hospital stay in Saint John. Allyson visited him shortly after he was born and again a month later, the day before her race.
“I saw him as he was getting out of the hospital and after I went to the race Expo, I got my bib and wrote, ‘For Max, you are the reason for this marathon.’”
She raced to a 3:31:38 clocking that day and was the top female, part of an unforgettable few days, one accentuated recently as Max celebrated his 10th birthday.
“He was going through so much and it was all very emotional,” Allyson said.
Last weekend in Gilford, N.H., she fought hot and humid conditions to record a personal best of 5:57.54 in the Ironman 70.3 event, eclipsing her previous mark in the 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile cycle leg and a 13.1-mile run.
With her extensive running, a dip into triathlons seemed like a logical progression with its various challenges.
“It is a great way to cross train, stay healthy and not get injured from running all of the time,” she said.
It is another physical avenue that brings so much to MacDonald.
“It is just the friendships you make,” she explained. “It is people from all walks of life, but when you are on the road, all of those things do not matter. You are just people in sneakers who want to be happy.”
Kevin Barrett Kevin’s column appears every other Saturday. If you have a suggestion for a feature story, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit barrettkevin.wordpress.com.