It’s almost a decade since Mark Kirby formally took up running, unsure if his initial steps in 2007 would lead him much past his five-kilometre training goal.
Fast forward nine years and Kirby has seven marathons to his credit, including the Ottawa Marathon last weekend, where he and 16 other Fredericton area athletes – including 13 marathoners – combated the heat to tackle major personal goals in one of the country’s biggest races.
Through it all, he’s paid tribute to his late sister Suzanne twice – by running his first marathon in 2009 as a touching salute to her memory and again in 2014, when he completed 41 miles as part of his one-man Relay For Life team that generated $5,300 in her honour to support the Canadian Cancer Society.
Now, instead of learning the basics in the Running Room Learn-to-Run clinics, he is the leader, teaming with Andrew Ottens to put eager runners through their training paces, helping them erase doubts and in turn gain confidence so they can accomplish their own various goals.
“The instructing side of things the past six years has been very satisfying,” Kirby said. “Watching people who have come in saying they did not think they could do anything and then going to races, seeing them cross the finish line with beaming smiles or tears of joy because they hit or exceeded their goals is exciting. That is something I find very satisfying.”
In particular, he remembers one mother/daughter team who signed up for his clinic and even as the weeks progressed, lacked confidence to tackle their designated race. Through persistence and overcoming their doubts with Kirby’s encouragement, they finished a demandingcourse in Halifax.
“At the finish line, they wrapped their arms around each other, tears streaming down their faces,” he explained. “That moment is forever etched in my brain in how running can pull people together. It gives me goosebumps.”
Personally, there are two events that stand out for Kirby, both tender displays of love for his late sister. He grew up in Fredericton but had worked in Japan and Vancouver before coming home when Suzanne was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. After she died, he paid tribute to the memory with a run in the 2009 Ottawa Marathon, his first.
“I had a T-shirt with a picture of her on the back and it read ‘In memory of Suzanne,’” he said. “She had my back during the run.”
To mark the fifth anniversary of her passing in 2014, he ran the Fredericton Relay for Life as a team of one – completing five 4.4-kilometre loops three different times inside of 24 hours with a goal of amassing 41 miles – one for each year of Suzanne’s life.
To prepare for that race, he ran the Blue Nose Marathon in Halifax that spring, then followed the next few weekends with a 25k cool down run, a 50-kilometre long-distance effort and finally the Relay for Life 66.64 kilometre run in rainy wet conditions.
“I had a plan but people came and joined me at 3 o’clock in the morning to support me. I thought they were the ones who were crazy. I can honestly say that I am forever grateful to those who came out and encouraged me. ”
In all, he has completed two marathons in Ottawa, Halifax and Charlottetown as well as one in Moncton.
As for the next step, he is going to take a wait and see approach. For now, he is going to serve as an assistant coach with his daughter’s soccer team for the summer and during that time, will consider his next step.
Recently, we featured Ontario’s Jim Willett and his Marathon2Marathon Challenge that started with the Scotiabank Fredericton Marathon on May 8 and concluded with the Ottawa Marathon last weekend.
He ran every day for three weeks from one city to the other, accumulating approximately 1,100 kilometres on the roads of three provinces. His time in Fredericton was 3:15.07 and his clocking on Sunday in Ottawa was 3:13.53, lower than the Boston qualifying time of 3:15.00.
Kevin Barrett’s column appears every other Saturday. If you have a suggestion for a feature story, email him at email@example.com or visit barrettkevin.wordpress.com.