There is a great picture at the finish line of the 2015 Emera Marathon by the Sea.
Andrée Germain of Granby, Que. and her new partner Michel Trottier of St. Lambert, Que., stand arm-in-arm, clutching a New Brunswick Flag, beaming with smiles of satisfaction and accomplishment.
Michel crossed the line seventh overall in 3:19.08 over the at-times hilly layout. Andrée was right behind in ninth in 3:25.22 in her first-ever marathon, which also qualified her for the Boston Marathon. More importantly, she won the women’s race by almost two minutes.
The results and the smiles at the jubilant scene symbolized a great experience.
But it only told part of the story.
Two years earlier, Andrée was in the midst of a living hell. Her then 22-year marriage soured, she was abused and left wondering about her purpose in life and if she would ever have contact with her five children again.
“Running was what kept me alive,” said the 41-year-old Andrée, who is returning to Saint John this summer for the Port City Challenge.
“With no professional background to rely on, running became the only thing that allowed me to set goals, meet them and gain confidence. I never thought I had it in me what it would take to complete a marathon. It seemed so unattainable then.”
She endured, eventually met Michel and, by chance, they took on the challenge of Marathon By The Sea in 2015. She calls the race a defining point in her life.
“It is very personal,” she says of recounting her story for this year’s Running Whys. “But I’ve come to think that spousal abuse, or any other abuse has to be named and talked about in order to make changes in the way we think about it or how we see it and what to do in such situations.”
She has five children, ranging in age from 21 to 8, and it was a fight for custody during a difficult divorce that tore at her emotions.
“For a long time, I was ashamed to say I had to leave my children behind in order to save my own life,” she said. “When I think about this today, I’m stunned by the fact that I didn’t see how strong I was to do so.”
Eventually, she was awarded joint custody and is with the three youngest ones every second week. Several of her children race on weekends, including her 10-year-old daughter, who she calls a natural.
As she recovered, she started a relationship with Michel, who she met on a trail run, and ultimately, he persuaded her to attempt MBTS last year.
Now, in addition to Saint John, they have run the Quebec and Philadelphia marathons together. However, the Saint John event in 2015 transformed into a life experience few others gained that August weekend.
“He believed in me and encouraged me when I was full of doubt,” Andrée said of Michel. “We trained together before Marathon by the Sea – hard.
“I did cry on several occasions, but kept pushing because I just couldn’t let him down! On race day, my goal was to complete it, but on the way, every memory of what I had endured came up and I found it in me to crush the marathon and win the women’s division – a PB and BQ all in one!”
A native of Toronto, she lived there until she was 16 and she has called Granby home for more than 20 years.
She ran track in middle school, ranging from 100m to 800m until Grade 8. Running was a requirement during her Infantry years in the Armed Forces and after her youngest child was born, she picked it up again, running twice a week.
It did not take long to get back into the routine as she won a local 5k in Tremblant. That win led to more training, intensive workouts, nine times a week and numerous wins in the 5K distance races.
That led to 10k, half-marathons and, ultimately, the marathon. Since training for her first marathon, training has been steady at five training days a week, varying from small 50k weeks up to 110k weeks, doing track/speed, hills, long runs, trail runs and intervals and mixing it with cycling and tennis.
Yet, it all comes back to Saint John.
“For me, Saint John is the beginning of my new life,” she said. “While running that race, I cut my chains and set myself free of my past and rediscovered the confident and strong woman that I am, that I always have been.
“I found myself in Saint John. I still tear up thinking of this – it was such a powerful moment! And I do reflect a lot on it too, it makes my day, every time.”
As for this year, she ran Boston (on a tender ankle) in April, the Toronto Marathon two weeks later and now is gearing up for her return trip to the Port City.
“I have been recovering from a stress fracture in my heel bone, but I’m training on my bike meanwhile and will gradually start running again in a few weeks,” she said. “The Port City challenge will be my recovery race.”