Until Sunday, I had never been to the Manitoba Marathon.
There seemed to be nothing to learn or enjoy about watching people go through that much pain for seemingly so little gain.
Then my wife Athina gave me a reason to be there.
In so doing, I learned something about her and about the woman who motivated her to compete in the 13-mile half marathon.
Her name is Susan Jaworski.
She's a teacher at Charleswood Junior High, and the quintessential Winnipeg woman. Intelligent, attractive, thoughtful, still married to high-school boyfriend Jim Jaworski and still in regular touch with her lifelong girlfriend, Marcia Bucholz.
In fact, the night before the marathon Susan, Jim, Marcia and her husband David Bucholz dined on pre-race pasta on the patio at Monviso on Corydon.
They were fuelling up for what would be Susan's third half-marathon and, amazingly, David's 25th marathon.
Meanwhile, Athina and I polished off our pasta at home and by 8:30 we were both asleep.
It wasn't supposed to happen this way.
Just a week earlier, Athina had run close to 10 miles for the first time.
What's an extra three miles, she thought, as the idea of attempting the half marathon came up in the endorphin-induced euphoria. If Susan was with her -- and they were talking, the way they always do -- the time and the miles would fly by.
As I was saying, it wasn't supposed to be this way.
Last fall, when Athina began taking what amounts to her first running baby steps at The Running Room on Grant Avenue, I was jogging beside her, and she didn't even know Susan.
At that point, neither of us had any grandiose intentions. At least I didn't.
Each week, though, right through the worst of the winter, Athina faithfully followed the prescribed routine -- run 10 minutes, walk one -- gradually building up her endurance while I kept pace beside her.
Then a foot gave out and I wasn't there any more.
But Athina kept going alone.
One day, just a few weeks before the marathon, she found a new running mate, a neighbour and soul sister of sorts, Susan Jaworski.
* * *
...We now join the marathon in progress.
Susan, Athina and their last-minute running partner, Sanae Murakami, are at the six-mile mark -- about half-way through the half-marathon -- when a new race begins.
Athina's legs begin seizing up.
"I've never been in so much pain," she would recall later.
Sanae understood. A year ago she was in tears, struggling to finish third-last out of more than 200 in a Running Room half-marathon.
Susan could see Athina was having trouble, slowed her pace and waited for her to catch up. Sacrificing her own best time in an effort to pull Athina along with her.
Susan's support, and all the shouts of encouragement from the volunteers and spectators, kept Athina's cramped legs moving.
With two miles to go, she didn't care about the rush of entering Bison Stadium and the cheers from the stands.
She was in so much pain she wanted to quit.
Susan wouldn't let her, though.
Something else wouldn't let her quit. The same invisible, indefinable something that kept thousands of other runners going on Sunday.
Then, right near the finish line, Susan did something that almost numbed all the hurt.
She took Athina by the hand.
And all three women crossed the finish line together.
Their time: Two hours, 43 minutes and two seconds.
Later, at home, Susan's husband Jim, the Kenaston Wine Market merchant and Sanae's husband Tony, the chef at the St. Charles Country Club, prepared a champagne and orange juice brunch to celebrate.
It was yesterday morning, when she saw her name in the Free Press beside her running mates, before Athina really understood what she had accomplished.
"I didn't finish last," she said.
Actually, nobody finishes last in the Manitoba Marathon.
That's one of the things I learned about the marathon on Sunday.
That it's like life.
It's about doing the best you can on that day.
And it's about making the long, solitary and sometimes painful journey easier, by offering a helping hand.
That's what Susan did.
She eased the loneliness of one long-distance runner.