Wednesday, December 25, 2013



The Year of the Marathon has become one of THE Downing dates.
Every family has a special calendar warmly etched in their memories. It starts with Mom and Dad but then the kids no longer sluff events off and start circling dates in their growing nostalgia too.
The first time you saw her or him. The day you married. The day of the first real job. The day you moved to your house. When you found the cottage. The birthday of the first child, then the special days of Number Two and Number Three (who you never refer to that way if you're smart.)  The days they made you proud.
 Then the birthdays of the grandkids. And the great circle of life begins again.
And of course you mark the good years and, sadly, the disastrous ones.
As 2013 slips into the memory banks, which occasionally are more memory blanks, I remember the Marathon. Boston, of course, because it has always been THE race for me. And my oldest son who ran   in memory of my mother, which brings tears twice. And the bloody finish this year which is bludgeoned into the calendar  of the world too.
On April 15, two makeshift but deadly pressure-cooker bombs exploded there, killing three and maiming more than 250, many standing near my daughter-in-law Marie and grandson John Henry Francis waiting for my son to finish.
My family will not believe what I write now, because they claim I never miss a chance to tell a story again. My defence is I used to get paid to do exactly that. There was the time my son Mark wrote in a Toronto Sun feature on me that the family don't mind listening to the good old stories because they want to hear how they turn out this time. (I thought that hilarious but the editor wondered whether he should cut it.)
 So instead of waxing eloquent here in case you don't have the time right now,  I direct you to what I wrote about John Henry training for the race and then the awful time as he approached the finish line and the bombs. I think you will find them interesting whenever you get around to it, no matter what the family thinks.
 On Jan. 18, I wrote, nostalgically, a blog/column titled Marathon of a Vanished Life. And then, sadly, on April 20, Surviving The Bloody Marathon.
John Henry has decided to run again. He didn't finish Boston in the conventional way but he got the medal and organizers want him back. So he's training, when the 2013 race was supposed to have been his grand finale at 51 to all the marathons he has run, the proof of which is shown above
The Boston medal is in the centre, as unique as the unicorn on blue, one I can cherish since John Henry gave it to me.  Maybe in memory of the first great adventure when he and brother Brett and I walked further than a marathon in the second of the great charity ordeals that started it all in Toronto, Miles for Millions.
The "finisher" medals start in January, 2007, and include 30 events:  5 marathons, 7 half marathons,  5 century bike rides, 5 triathlons, including the Iron Vineman and the St. George Ironman.  The legendary iron endurances total 140.6 miles in one brutal day . That is a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride and then the 26.2 mile marathon.
As John Henry recalled the other day, with a touch of irritation,  only a few of those events were in ideal weather. You always hope that the weather is not going to be an added problem to the question of your endurance.. He did have ideal weather for his Vineman in Sonoma Valley, California, and that would have been his best overall time but he broke his big toe and that became a big problem over 140.6 miles. But he finished.
Then came the great crush of Boston. The weather was great. The cause of leukemia research was a grand one. His family was with him. It was going to be his best marathon until those bombs sent a wave of anguish and police to block his official finish. So he went to next street over from the chaos, because there was nothing he could do there, and painfully finished, then made his way, shivering, some distance to the hotel to be reunited with a terrified Marie.
Since January, 2007, John Henry had trained over a distance equal to most of the way around the world. That's 18,153 miles in swimming, running, walking and spin/biking. That  means in the last five years, his time out there pounding the streets while I'm shifting to a new position as a couch potato has averaged just over 65 miles a week.
And now he hopes to break four hours in Boston "if I don't injure anything else."  John Henry and his charity team have to buy their "bibs' for the Marathon, which is something now done around the world to keep out the phonies and pretend runners. If you would like to help, the link is

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