The Final Lap
These are some thoughts for my dearly beloved little brother who passed away 3 weeks ago due to a stroke. His name is Ken Arnott, and he was an extraordinary athlete. He was a beautiful giving person, who always thought of others before himself. He was married to Janie and had 2 loving children, Jeff and Emily. My children and Ken’s are exactly the same age. Our youngest kids are only 2 days apart and our oldest are only one month apart. Ken lived a very healthy lifestyle. He didn’t drink or smoke. He ate healthy and went to the doctor’s regularly. He loved the gym and the spin classes. He suffered a massive stroke on June 1/13, and succumbed to this stroke on June 6/ 13. There was no warning. Strokes are definitely ‘the silent killer’.
Ken and I knew each other for almost 51 years. He passed away 3 weeks shy of his 51st birthday. I have many stories of our growing up together in Scarborough, Ontario, but this short story is dedicated to our last race together.
Ken did his first marathon in 1988, one year after I did mine. I ran him in for the last 10K (6 miles in those days). After he got home and puked and slept for numerous hours, he said to me that he will never do that again. Oh boy, was he wrong. He did many more races and graduated up to Ultra Marathons.
Ken and I were pretty prolific runners in our day. We both have done sub 3 hour marathons in our prime. Ken was a much better runner than I. He won many races and awards in his career. He was the Ontario 50K Champion in 2010 and holds the 50K course record at the Seaton Trail race. He ran half marathons in under 1:20 and did the 30K Around the Bay race every year and usually finished around the 2 hour mark. He has done dozens of marathons. His PB was a 2.55.
The Final Lap
My little brother Ken and I have been running together for the better part of 25 years. He was at the finish line for my first marathon in 1987, and I ran him in at his first marathon in 1988. We have been training and running together ever since.
Throughout the years we celebrated our notable running accomplishments together. Our first marathon, our first ‘sub 3’, our 1st age group, our first 50k, 100k, 100 miler. This is a little ode to Ken and our last race together. It was the Sulphur Springs 100 mile in May 2012. I don’t know why I am writing this. I hated essays in school and haven’t written one since I left over 35 years ago. For some reason I feel I owe this to him, or maybe it’s therapy for myself as I struggle with his loss. Regardless, here it is………..
May 25, 2012
Ken and I arrive in the parking lot of the Sulphur Springs 100 mile race. This is the night before the race starts. You have to be there the night before to attend the mandatory meeting prior to the race and have your pasta dinner. It was a beautiful warm night. Ken and I met in the parking lot. We brought camping gear, but decided we were just going to sleep in our own vehicles. We proceeded to check in to get our bibs and goodie bags. Here’s where the freaky part starts.
Our mother, Bev passed away on Sept. 14, 2004. Her birthday was June 29, 1939. We have always considered ‘29’ a lucky number. I play it in lotteries, draws and always at the roulette table. Now there are 1,100 people registered in this race. Ken receives his goodie bag and opens it up. His bib number for the Sulphur Springs 100 miler is # 29…Freaky. We have the pasta dinner with our friends Garth and Veronique, and assorted other very nervous ultra marathoners. Garth is attempting to finish his first, Ken has done one before and I have done two. You get very nervous the night before any race, but that is multiplied tenfold before a 100 miler.
Anyways, we finish our dinner, have some idle chit chat with people we really don’t know and proceed to the back of my SUV where we set up a couple of lawn chairs. We are waiting for the darkness to set in so we can go to bed. The start time is 6:00 A:M:, so we know we have to be up by at least 4: 00 to eat and let the bodily functions occur.
I will never forget that night. Ken and I sat there and the conversation just flowed. There wasn’t an idle minute or awkward silence. We were like a couple of schoolgirls who hadn’t seen each other for weeks. We talked about everything, the kids, our relationships, our parents, anything and everything that came to our minds, simply rolled off our tongues. It was a magical night, and it is one I will always treasure. I didn’t know how much I would treasure till this month.
As darkness arrives, we decide to call it a night. I say to Kenny, I’d love to have a coffee in the morning, but we have some premium parking spots which we will definitely lose if we leave to get a coffee. We were planning on having these spots, so we can use them as fuel stations during the 8 x 20K loops we will be doing tomorrow. Ken says, I would love a coffee in the morning too. We say good night to each other, and hope we can sleep in the front seat of our vehicles….
May 26, 2012
The day of the race, I wake up to a knock on my window at 4:30. It’s Ken. He took off to Tim Hortons, and got us some x-Large coffees. That is just the type of guy he was. Always loving to do something for you. I thanked him graciously for this noble errand. He of course thought nothing of it. We proceed to our pre-race rituals. Ken tapes every toe. I put on Vaseline and body glide in parts you really don’t want to know about. The 50 milers start to arrive. (the 100 milers spend the night at the start line) and the runners who are doing the 50 mile race arrive in the morning. After greeting a few friends, we head off to the start line with nervous anticipation.
You have no idea how you are going to make out as you are on the brink of running for 100 miles. I believe that is what Ken and I desired so much in these races. After running so many half marathons, marathons, and 50k’s, you know what to expect and how to deal with it. The 100 mile race is a totally different animal. Running for 24 plus straight hours is a test in endurance which is unparalleled in pretty much any sport. It is the ‘unkown’ that endeared us to this. Will we finish? What will I feel like? Is my stomach going to keep it together? What will my time be? Can I make the cutoffs? So many unkowns……
At the start line we run in to our friend, Garth. He is nervous, as so are we. Ken and I say to each other we are going to do 3 hour loops. (Sulphur Springs is a 162K race which is made up of 8 x 20 K loops). 3 hour loops will get us back in 24 hours. 24 hours is the magical number most ultra marathoners strive to achieve. Much like a sub 3 or sub 4 marathon or a BQ (Boston Qualifier).
6:00 A:M:, the horn sounds and we are off and running. Ken and I stick together. He has stated to me many times before at races that we will stick together. What usually happens is he puts up with my pace for 5 minutes and then says, ‘I’ll see you at the finish’. This is fine for me and for most runners. Come race day, you run your own race. Though this day, Ken and I stuck together. The conversation was still flowing. We made it through the first 20k in just over 2 hours. Wow that was quick? Time flies when you’re having fun. And we were…..
As the race proceeded, we ended up running with different people, as you always do in almost every race. During this race though, runners we never knew were joining us and saying ‘hey, the Arnott brothers’, how you guys making out? As they would leave, or we would leave them, I would say to Ken… Who was that? He said, ‘I have no idea’. We were making a name for ourselves and didn’t even realize it. Probably due to Ken winning many races the year before, and then they saw my name down the list……It was nice to get the recognition. Even though I owe pretty much all of it to Ken’s accomplishments….
2nd loop done in just over 4 hours. Still running easy and feeling fine. Just yakking up a storm. Our buddy Garth see us and says ‘Hey, nice 3 hour loops you sandbaggers’. We laugh and give him the thumbs up. It’s getting hot, so we change clothes and re-hydrate. I’m at my van and get word that Kenny is waiting for me at the start to run again. I hurry to the start line and we proceed for lap 3. Time is flying by and the running is fluid. We are seeing lots of our friends now out on the course doing their particular races. Some are doing the 50K, some 25K and some the 50 mile. It is nice seeing them. Ken and I are still flying along. We get to the end of the 3rd loop, 60K, and Ken says, I’m going to take off for a while. This means ‘See ya later’. I know it, and am fine with it. I am just grateful that we were able to run 60K together. It is one of the most memorable runs I will ever have.
As the race goes along, I see Ken numerous times out on the trails. He always has a smile and a wave for me. He didn’t have this just for me, he had it for everyone. I will miss that so much.
Always smiling, waving and genuinely asking how you are making out…
This is the other freaky thing I have to tell you. I referred to our mother passing away earlier. Well, at her funeral, we played an Avril Lavigne song, ‘I Miss You’. As I was heading out on my 7th loop, 120K done, it was getting dark. I decided to throw my IPOD on to keep me company as I proceeded on the trails in the dark. My IPOD has 1500 songs on it. I am over 50, and therefore always put my IPOD on shuffle, cause I don’t know how the other buttons work. Anyhow, as I put the IPOD on and head on to the trails, the very first song that comes on is the Avril Lavigne song. ‘I Miss You’. With Ken getting bib # 29 and this song playing, we knew our mother was with us that day. It was very comforting.
Ken and I both completed the 100 miler that day. He did a 20:31 and I did a 20:46. It was personal bests for both of us. At the end of the race, his daughter Emily, who was at each of his races was screaming the loudest for us. I knew I was near the finish when I heard her. It was 2:00 in the A:M: when we both were done and gave each other a huge hug. Thankful that it was over, but I think more thankful that we were together and could share in our accomplishment.
After about 1 hour we decided we need a shower. Ken’s wife Janie drove us the 200 metres to the shower cause we couldn’t walk. While in the shower we were comparing war wounds. Ken’s toes were hideous. I had chafing that was so bad, it was bleeding. We checked each other out and had a silent respect for each other. We had come a long way since that first marathon 25 years ago.
It was time to try and get some sleep. After about 2 hours, I got up to see if our friend Garth had made it. Who did I meet at the finish line but Ken. He was curious as well. We each grabbed a lawn chair and watched as Garth completed his first 100 miler. We were still comparing our races with each other ‘shooting the breeze’ till the sun came up.
I have a whole life time of stories about my brother and I, but this is just a quick blurb on our very last race together. I didn’t know it at the time, but this will be etched in my mind forever.
Ken was a very compassionate soul who put everyone before himself. He has only been gone 3 weeks and I miss him more than I ever thought I would.
I love you little brother…