All three races - 5K, 10K, 20K - shared the same starting point, with the 20K taking off the earliest. For the first half a mile, while winding our way through the uphill casino parking lot, everybody passed me. Well, not quite everybody. A couple of 70-year-olds passed me just a bit further.
The course, marked by tiny orange flags, was easy to identify, but running is was a whole different proposition. Off it went, along track tires and ravines, across ditches and arroyos, over gravel and rock, left and right, up and down, incessently. The first mile marker I noticed was the 5K turnaround. It was incomprehensible to me I was just 1.5 miles into the nightmare.
At mile 3 two boys passed by with such velocity I inferred they could not have just lagged behind, they were the winners of the 10K, striving for the turnaround. Seconds later I saw them again flying by from the opposite direction, God bless them, they had half of their thing behind them. I never envied anybody as much.
An endless ordeal later, I crossed paths again with a few lonely figures, and I computed, shocked, these were the winners of my 20K, their turnaround already behind them. One of them was familiar - a guy with dark shades I had encountered repeatedly on my week-end runs on the Academy track. We always exchanged glances before, but never said hello. This time we did. It was a kind of highpoint.
Next I saw the five mile marker, and I could have sworn I saw it before, one mile behind, but I had no way to prove it. A pebble had nestled in my shoe. I did not feel like sitting down in the desert convening with rattle snakes while I fished it out. Actually, to say the truth, I did not mind the rattle snakes as much. I feared that, if I sat down, I would not have the strength to get up again.
By mile six I was done, ready to lie down and forget about everything. But I was already on one of the turnaround loops, halfway through, and it occurred to me, no matter what I did, I could not just hang out there, in the middle of nowhere. Some way or another I had to find my way back, whatever it took. The right knee had started to bother me, but at that time every ounce of me was so immersed in discomfort, it did not make any difference anymore.
I was so far behind the contingent in front of me, I could not spot anybody on the entwined loops. Long ago, the city had fallen silent behind me, and the distant roar of the highway had died. I could hear my own ragged breath, and the cries of birds splintering thin air. The range of the mountains glittered in refracted light, and nothing existed besides the desert and me.
I do not know how I made my way back. It was easier than the first half, since the gist of return was downhill, but here we went again, across arroyos and ditches, right and left, down and up, endless miles. The heat was burning in my face, and I could not understand why I would ever want to run a marathon again.
I was one of the last to cross the finish line. They had already dismantled the triumphant gate of grape-colored balloons in burgungy and green. I even had a hard time finding a bottle of water. I finished in 2 h 25 min 20 something seconds, didn't even bother to check out my time, overall pace between 11.5 and 12, my worst race ever.
But I ended up feeling good. I do not mean simply the phsysical part. My limbs were still loose, and I laughed with my boyfriend at the pathetic performance, amazed and grateful I didn't break an ankle or twisted my spine, with all those ravines. Besides and beyond all that, I was happy about the cruel exertion.