One year ago, Candice Wheeldon qualified for the New York City Marathon, with a personal best time of 4:20:49 at the Boundary Bay Marathon in Delta.
She was finally going to visit the Big Apple, and compete in one of the world’s most popular marathons.
COVID-19 had other plans.
“It is one of the lifelong dreams of runners, to go to one of the major marathons, so to know you are not going to be going to a city you’ve never been to, to do something you absolutely love, was extremely disappointing,” she said. “But you have to move on from that. That’s the world… it’s been full of disappointments this year.”
Disappointed, but never defeated, Wheeldon set out her contingency plan.
“I was always set on running it… once the virtual races were announced and it sat as an official race, it just kept me motivated to keep my training going,” she said.
So, with supporters cheering her on, Wheeldon ran the race virtually, using the Comox Valley as a backdrop, on Sunday, Nov. 1 – the scheduled date of the cancelled NYC Marathon.
“A little bit of an advantage, mapping out your own route, because I hear New York is a little hillier than here,” she said.
She used that home-course advantage to crush her personal best time, completing the 26.2-mile course in 4:10:20.
The support was second-to-none. Friends and family lined the streets at points throughout the race – they all lined up wearing tiaras for Wheeldon’s “entry” into Queens. And dozens of well-wishers were at the finish line just south of Rotary Skypark, on the Courtenay Riverway Heritage Walk, including one dressed as a “Big Apple” and another dressed as the Empire State Building.
Her partner, Ryan Tutte, had nourishment/nutrition booths at regular intervals throughout the course.
“I had so much support and help, and with the nice country roads, with little traffic, there was lots of opportunity for friends and family to support along the way, or join in,” she said. “And with all the costumes… I really feel like I got a piece of New York today. The support was beyond anything I could have imagined. I am pretty blessed with the people I have in my life. ”
Some of them did more than join in. Wheeldon’s regular running partner, Amanda Rideout, ran the entire marathon with her.
“She is my running partner in crime,” said Wheeldon. “We did Chicago (Bank of America Chicago Marathon) together, and we have done a few races together. I call her my little pace buddy. She is just amazing.”
Wheeldon still has plans to run the New York City Marathon in person. Everyone who qualified for the 2020 marathon will be invited back.
“Everybody who was deferred from this year will be drawn again to find out which year we are potentially going to be invited back,” she said. “They are deferring everybody over the next three years and it will be a random draw for your year. So it could be next year, or it could be 2023. But I am definitely going.”
And while crossing that finish line in Central Park will be a thrill, whenever it happens, Wheeldon said Sunday’s finish was one for the ages.
“I have done a lot of travelling for races, so a lot of the times I am on my own, and as much as I love crossing that finish line, nothing beats something like today,” she said. “This was a finish line I will never, ever forget.”