Wet and Wild – Tough Ass Half Marathon

ToughAss-Collis01Team Rocket at the start of the Burlington Tough Ass Half Marathon held May 2, 2004 .  Amanda is looking and laughing at her dad. She’s was real trouble maker that day.

 As Amanda and I are unofficially sponsored runners for the VRPro races in Burlington, Ontario (mostly because Kelly Arnott, the race director, likes Amanda and won’t take my money), I arranged registration for us in the half marathon. We have a full marathon in two weeks, so I figured that Team Rocket would do the Tough Ass Half as a “training run”. We’d take it easy and run to finish rather than run for time. Besides, I was still in recovery mode from that nasty can of whoop-ass that the 2004 Boston Marathon opened up on all us unsuspecting runners, almost two weeks previous.

First, let me explain why we are known as Team Rocket and why we run together. My daughter Amanda is severely handicapped and can’t do a heck of a lot by herself, but we found out a number of years ago that she really likes to go running with her dad (that’s me). We can be seen running together during warmer months and participating area races together, Amanda seated in her “Special Needs” Baby Jogger and me pushing. We are just a young lady and her dad enjoying some fresh air and exercise together.

I watched both the weather web pages and the UPS tracking pages for the week prior to the race. I was checking the weather pages for conditions (all predicting variations on damp weather) and the UPS pages because Baby Jogger had shipped a “test” buggy to us on that Tuesday. The predicted weather was all over the place, but as we got closer to the weekend it became uniformly wet. The UPS shipment was somewhere between here and Redmond Washington, exactly where it was on Tuesday. It wasn’t looking propitious for race day.

Sunday morning I awoke at 6:30 AM to get ready for an 8:30 AM start. Through the bathroom window I can hear the disturbing sound of RAIN. Not the gentle pitter-pat of accumulation on leaves, but the subdued roar of a downpour. I stuck my head out the front door and confirmed that it was seriously wet out there. Yuck, I hate wet feet.

There is nothing for it but to get ready. Rosie and I had discussed this the night before and she thought I was crazy. I thought that Amanda and I should be ready for anything that the running gods would throw at us. Better to test out a rainy day run on a race that doesn’t really matter, than to have a nasty surprise on our target spring race. So, while I gathered the gear together, Rosie got Amanda ready to roll.

As I started to load up the van with our racing stuff, the rain let up. “A good sign,” I said to myself as I put the racing buggy and clothing bag in the back of the van. “Maybe I’ll extend my ‘no racing in the rain’ streak by one more race.” It’s happened before, maybe it will happen again.

I get the rest of the gear loaded, then Amanda, into our trusty, rusty Aerostar without further wetness. I cross my fingers and ask Amanda to do the same as we drive to the start area at Burlington’s Beachway Park. I take a route that we will run in an hour or so to check out the preparations.

Along the way we see signs of a race about to happen. There are no cops or volunteer traffic directors along the route, but lots of orange traffic cones, and the odd “Race In Progress” signs. The one police officer we did see, waved us through the pylons to the park after stopping us to tell us about the race. A handicapped parking permit has gotten us through a lot of roadblocks in the past and it works this time too.

Parking is a pain but we manage to find and squeeze into a spot right next to the registration tent. Bonus. And it still hasn’t restarted to rain yet, double bonus!

I see a couple of fellow Burlington Runners club members and invite them to join us in the warm van after they register. Grant Baxter, alumni member, returns with his bib and bag and keeps Amanda entertained while I get registered. Unfortunately, it’s at this time that the rain begins again. There’s still about forty-five minutes to the start, so maybe the Gods are just toying with us and it will all stop just before we begin our 13.1-mile run.

I see Kelly and thank her for letting us run yet another race, I grab my race packet and head back to the warm, dry vehicle. Time to get chips on shoes and think about assembling Amanda’s jogger. Grant, Amanda and I decide to luxuriate in the warmth of the truck and put off heading out in the rain until just twenty minutes before race time.

Unwilling, I leave the comfortable confines of our warm cocoon, and head to the back to put the wheels on Amanda’s race buggy. Under the shelter of the back door, I insert a few tabs in a couple slots and put in some pins to hold it all in place then snap the wheels on and it’s ready to go. I place a sheet of plastic on the seat so Amanda will stay dry, and put her Highness into her Royal Carriage, strap her in and put the clear plastic cover over the seating section of the chair. A couple of pieces of duct tape to hold the sides in place and we are off. Now, if I could only figure out how I can get under that shelter and I’d be warm and dry just like Amanda. Nope, Dad is relegated to his waterproof running jacket and the weather.

We hustle down to the start line. With only a few people milling around, Amanda and I join the few runners who were hiding out in a conveniently located bus shelter. Great idea, dry, no wind and lots of other bodies to heat it up. A bicycle cop rides by and jokingly attempts to commandeer the shelter for a “police investigation”. After a series of hoots and laughs from the current occupants, he wishes us all good luck before he wheels off.

Just before the start, the rain stops. A fellow runner comments that our rain-free streak might still hold, and it does. Well, for the first eight kilometres at least. Then the rain starts again in earnest, accompanied by wind.

As for the rest of the race… Well, let’s just say that the course and weather lived up to the name. With eleven hills (part of the course is on the Around the Bay route) and all that rain and wind, it was a challenge not just of lungs and legs, but of willpower and determination as well.

Afterword: I don’t think I’ve seen a race were Amanda was as talkative or was having as much fun. All the way through the race, she kept looking up through the plastic cover and laughing. I’m not sure why, but I have a feeling that that she was trying to say, “Ha-ha Dad, I’m warm and dry and you’re not!”

The new Baby Jogger didn’t make it in time, but it did arrive later that week. As it turned out, our Special Needs III was better suited for us than the current model. We never did run in it, but I did fill out an evaluation report for them before I shipped it back. We’re hoping to test drive a Special Needs 6 by the end of the summer.


About five kilometres into the race, it’s fairly dry and I’m still having fun.

ToughAss-Collis03It’s the final push to the finish line, in the rain. You can’t see Amanda’s face thought the plastic, but she’s laughing her butt off, probably at all the huffing and puffing I’m doing.


By Mark G. Collis
May 16, 2004