“Well, a guy who dresses up like a bat clearly has issues.”
A line from the 2005 film ‘Batman Begins, and at this point in the film Bruce Wayne has already begun his career as the Batman, so it’s obviously meant to steer any possible indication that he’s the Dark Knight. It’s a line that I remember had me chuckling, thinking to myself “good point.” Funny how time and chance would lead me to be in a similar situation 8 years later.
I won’t recite my full story; I was fortunate to have had some media coverage through TV and print, but for those who don’t know: I ran the 2013 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon dressed as Batman, to not only say thank you to the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto for saving my life 30 years earlier when my appendix ruptured but to help raise funds for the SickKids Foundation for those children who are there right now fighting their own battles (and fighting them very bravely, I might add). My belief is that super heroes are among the best icons we can use to symbolize the potential and hope that I see in humanity, that we all can be a force for good. I wanted to brighten the day of the crowd on race day, simply the sight of Batman running a marathon.
From there, the ball really got rolling – through Twitter and Facebook, a team was formed by interested runners who wanted to help further raise funds, and this team would be called ‘The Justice League Runners’ (ironically – I once told my parents that I would one day be a member of the Justice League). In April, 9 members of the JLR ran the Toronto Yonge Street 10k to help support the SickKids Foundation. That’s when it hit me – the power of social media and what can be done when people connect for a common cause and goal; it still leaves me in awe.
As a group, we surpassed our goal of raising $1500 for the foundation; that was truly, truly amazing. I am now proud to call all these wonderful people my friends and apart of my extended family. Little did I know, that would be the start of a year filled with running (and lots of it) and the best part – making new friends.
Over the course of the spring, Batman was called upon on two more occasions to run (and sweat) for the greater good; there was the GoodLife Half-Marathon in May (which was challenging because I came down with a cold and cough two days before but didn’t want to let people down with a DNF – “Did Not Finish”), and the other race I went to (which turned out to be a favourite of mine) was a nicely titled course called the “KidsAbility Superhero 5K Run”. I was sent a kind invitation from a young lady named Deirdre (@dela_2012) who follows me on Twitter (there’s that social media thing again!). It was literally a race full of people dressed as any hero you can think of – Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, the Hulk, and more. If I had forgotten what the symbol of a super hero can mean, I was given a wonderful reminder on that day in June. This race was practically a dream come true for me – parents, their children and other runners converging in unison with a desire to help, using the positive message that super heroes can give. That race, it’s organizers, the participants and the volunteers will always have a special place in my heart; thank you Deirdre, Graydon and everyone associated with the KidsAbility Superhero run. I can not wait to see you all again in 2015!
My goal race for 2014 was a familiar one – the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, but this time I wanted to be faster, and stand out more. And just like Batman, I needed to take it up a notch, and that required me to do two things: up my training over last year and work on some mechanics, and (the one that was more fun) come back with a new Batsuit.
My commitment to training was a given – I live for it, but I also wanted to help those who were going for their first race. So, I came up with an idea – I volunteered at the High Park location of the Running Room to help pace those running their first half-marathon. “A half-marathon” you say? “But Batman – aren’t you training for the full?” Yes I was training for the full, but I was showing up early before the clinic would start and running the distance we were planning to do that evening. That happened for even the long runs – if we were going to do 15k, then I was going to put in 30k. No excuses; to quote Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson: “Be humble, be hungry, and always be the hardest worker in the room.”
Now, I’m proud of the costume I did for the 2013 STWM, but this year called for something bolder, more authentic. So, I purchased a compression top and bottom set in grey colour. I already knew what I wanted to go for – Batman’s look from a recent TV show. I made it as authentic and functioning as I could. I think the results speak for themselves:
Yes, that is a nylon military-style belt with nylon pouches that wrapped around my waist, that would hold 8 flasks for my hydration and gels. Was it as hard as it looked? Yes. Do I regret it? Not one bit. Why? Again, I remind you of those for whom I’m run for – the kids at the Hospital for Sick Children, who are battling unspeakable illnesses with bravery and super-human strength. Surely, if they can do that, then I can endure something like running for 42.2K with added weight.
So, the big day arrives – time to get this done! I will admit one thing that is really a cool feeling – stepping out of a building, in costume, and seeing the first child you see and his/her eyes light up with astonishment and surprise, and you can just read what their lips have said…”Batman”. Within seconds of stepping out of the building where I changed, I can hear cameras shuttering, and little kids (and their parents) saying “Go Batman”.
As I approach my corral I’m approached by runners, spectators and running friends (with whom I’ve trained with) alike offering words of encouragement and asking to selfies. I get a great rush out of the start, and try to encourage everyone as I can to just simply do their best and everything else will take care of itself. Then the gun goes off, and it’s time! The elites are the first to go – then off we go for the time of our lives!
While running along the route as Batman, the one thing I try to do for every race (and I guess if there is one rule for costume running) is that I always make time for the spectators and volunteers who’ve come out on their free time to cheer and help EVERYONE, and not just me. We runners build a network of support from our fellow running colleagues, family and non-running friends (who think we’re nuts), but it makes such a huge difference when a stranger is shouting your name to keep pressing on, especially when the going gets tough around the 34k mark. I don’t know; I’m not the authority on costume running, but I do my best to say hello and thank everyone, no matter what stage of the race I am at. I will wave as often as possible, no matter if my arms are tired. That’s why the Dark Knight Runner belongs to the citizens of Toronto.
The following are images from the race. Thanks to those who allowed me to share these in this blog:
Was there a moment where I was in pain, given what I had on? Yes, there was – it happened as I approached the Eastern Avenue bridge. I think that was the 34k mark; I was done. Unfortunately by the 8k mark, my hip was in pain, and not long after both my calves sore. As I got to the bridge, I couldn’t run it anymore. I told myself “It’s okay – you’ve given it your best.” In other words, I was telling myself that it was okay to quit before the task was complete.
Then, almost as soon as that thought came in, another popped in immediately – “NO! It’s never okay to quit, it’s never okay to settle! Those kids fighting for their lives – do you think they have a choice?! No, so stop being a whiney little bi**h and finish this!” And, as if God Himself wanted the moment captured, it was:
In this moment, I was getting angry with myself, because I felt like I was going to let the SickKids Foundation down. I would have never been able to forgive myself if I quit – this moment of pain would be worth a lifetime of glory (a quote from the film ‘Unbroken’). So – I put one foot in front of the other, and I finished the marathon, and with a faster time than the previous year – 5:05. Another thought was captured at the finish line, one that had pain on my face, but in my mind I was telling myself “No regrets – period”.
No regrets. None. This has been truly a year I pray I will never forget. I’ve met wonderful new running friends (super friends, if you will) while further engaging with those I’ve known for some time, set and surpassed my goals and expectations, and ran more than I ever have my whole life (as of December 24, I surpassed 2014k in 2014) while doing my best to help inspire a city, because I was inspired. So many people to thank – the clinic instructors at the High Park Running Room (Chris M. & Chris H., Sandy & Paul), Tribe Fitness (led by Heather G.), Night Terrors Run Crew (Toronto leader Bill C.), but most of all, my kids and grandkids – Violeta, Ben, Noah and Selena. You four – at the heart of it, you are the reason I put on that cowl and cape, so that I leave you with something by example. I can’t leave you a fortune – the richness of helping others and doing your part to help make the world a little better is the gift that money cannot put a price on. I love you all.
Thank you for taking the time from your busy day to read my story. I think with all I did this year, I could fill a volume; there are big things planned for 2015 – the Justice League Runners will be back at the Toronto Yonge Street 10k with current and new members, and there are plans to establish a world record for the fastest marathon run by a group dressed as superheroes at the 2015 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.
Always remember – it’s not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you.