Marni’s Marathons

Canadian Running - - Race Guide - By Madeleine Cum­mings

On Aug. 12, 2001, Lidia Si­mon of Ro­ma­nia ran the women’s marathon in a time of 2:26:01 to win gold at the iaaf World Cham­pi­onships in Ed­mon­ton. It was the great­est vic­tory of her ca­reer. It was also a big mo­ment for Marni Panas, a 45-year-old woman who lives in Ed­mon­ton.

Panas was not a run­ner then, but cared about the race be­cause Si­mon, her hus­band, a physi­cian and a team­mate were all stay­ing at her house. Clearly in­spired, Panas pledged to run a marathon the fol­low­ing year. “I hadn’t run a block in my life,” she re­called. But she did it. She joined a Run­ning Room clinic, fin­ished a few 5ks and 10ks, and broke the four-hour bar­rier at her first marathon in Syd­ney on Sept. 15, 2002.

“The race it­self was hard but it was one of those few mo­ments in life where you fin­ish in tears be­cause I know I had ac­com­plished some­thing and it was all me,” she said.

Up un­til this point, Panas had mostly avoided or­ga­nized sports. She grew up in Cam­rose, a small city in cen­tral Al­berta, and from a young age had a sense that her gen­der iden­tity did not match the male sex she had been as­signed at birth. She had difficulty fit­ting in and liv­ing up to oth­ers’ ex­pec­ta­tions, and kept away from sports be­cause she knew she wasn’t on the path to be­come a star foot­ball or hockey player. “I avoided any op­por­tu­nity to be laughed at,” she said.

Run­ning, how­ever, seemed like a great fit from the start. She could do it alone, when she had time, and could set her own goals. She dis­cov­ered that she was a de­cent run­ner, typ­i­cally fin­ish­ing in the top 10 to 15 per cent of the field in races. In 2005, when the World Mas­ters Games came to Ed­mon­ton, Panas won a bronze medal in the 30–34 age cat­e­gory of the men’s 10,000m. Run­ning also of­fered an ex­cuse to travel, whether for the World Mas­ters Games or bucket list marathons, like New York, which she ran in 2005.

Four marathons later, on Nov. 29, 2006, Panas and her wife wel­comed twins, Alex and An­drew, into the world. But they were born three-and-a-half months pre­ma­ture. Each boy weighed less than 2 lb. This marked the start of a long and chal­leng­ing pe­riod for the fam­ily, as they all spent months in the Stollery Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal neona­tal in­ten­sive care units and the boys un­der­went nu­mer­ous med­i­cal pro­ce­dures. At times, Panas slept on the hos­pi­tal f loor. She didn’t run for months, but started again in Fe­bru­ary. The reg­u­lar runs helped lift her up from what she re­mem­bers was the low­est point of her life so far.

Panas needed all of her strength for the months that fol­lowed. In April, An­drew’s heart stopped beat­ing and he died in his par­ents’ arms. More than 400 peo­ple came to his fu­neral later that month.

That sum­mer, Panas ran the Ed­mon­ton Half-Marathon. About 100 me­tres be­fore the fin­ish line, Panas could see her son Alex in his mother’s arms. She car­ried him across the fin­ish line.

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