duke city – fourth marathon race report
I woke up at 3:30 am to have breakfast, a novelty embraced following Lora’s suggestion to eat three hours before start time. When the alarm rang I had to convince my boyfriend to stay put – this was not a coffee making opportunity, I would be back, and we still had another hour of sleep afterward. It was eerie to eat in the dim kitchen without being hungry. But bread with butter is my favorite food, and I added just a bit of Jarlsberg cheese for protein, and strawberry preserve – Einstein liked it too – for carbohydrates.
The frigid pre-start half hour chased runners into the lobby of the corner hotel, where Starbucks enjoyed a tide of brisk business. I talked to a bare-chested hero outside who upheld the theory he could prevent his body heat from going up too much before plummeting. I think he accomplished that. I also saw sensible Navajo runners wrapped in blankets, ready for the relay, a sight that in the manifold colors and lights of downtown reminded me of desolate Shiprock.
Then the seconds coalesced into the frenzy of the start, and we stepped over the mat in a long wave. We turned right on Central Avenue, the historic Route 66 of Americana fame, running through that segment of serene buildings that always reminded me of a seaside resort, as if vacation were at arm’s length. Running past the Motel Blue where I spent my first night ever in Albuquerque, not certain that one day I would make this city my own. Running on to reach Tingley Beach with its artificial lakes of improbable blue and its whimsical iron sculptures, where on July 4th last year I ran my first race ever, a 5K that placed me in my age group, unaccountable beginner’s luck.
Leaning over the fence, chatting at leisure, was the director of that race and of my last NM marathon, the one who used to shake his head over me running too much and too little at the same time. We hugged over the wire, and I pointed to the emblem of the Royal Victoria Marathon on my shirt. “Two weeks ago” I said. His eyes widened with understanding, and he shook his head again.
The weathermen lied, they lie here often, it's part of their lifestyle – the day was not cloudy as foreseen. The New Mexico sun rose into a gorgeous vault of pure blue, but the wind see-sawed through any incipient comfort, and I kept my long-sleeve on for the first several miles. We ran on the path along the zoo. I hate zoos, had never been there before. Then we turned into the Bosque bike trail. I felt good and stable, and thought I could go on like this forever.
And I went on like that for a long time, mile after mile, aid station after aid station, they were abnormally frequent enough to confuse one as to distance covered. I did not even take a watch with me, I would run as fast as I could anyhow, a watch would not change that.
I got tired eventually, somewhere close to the half-point, I had taken my shirt off and put it back on innumerable times, in tune with the sun shining brighter and the wind picking up and fading down again. The few miles before and after the turnaround were the hardest, the course winding up and down, the wind blustering, the sun glare blinding, a relentless advance against the grain. Mile markers were for some reason more obvious in the second half. I counted the miles, but I was intent on ignoring their meaning.
I wanted to reproduce in this race the best part of the otherwise gruesome experience of the Royal Victoria Marathon – I wanted to replicate the steady, unperturbed advance of the last 10 or 12 miles. And I did. I ran on and on, without wavering, slowing down at aid stations only, where I always took the time to bend over and embrace my ankles, a reply to stiffness that kept me supple and fresh. I missed the 20-mile marker, so I did not place a timely smile there, but if I had seen it the smile would have been for the first time in my marathon history genuine and supplanted by fact. It did not make any difference whether I was before or after glycogen depletion – I was on track.
The wind picked up, sand filled my eyes, dust settled on my tongue. At slow pace I passed one or two runners pulled forward like puppets on strings, and I wondered if I looked the same, a caricuture of my own being propelled by something stronger than body. All of us engaged in the same stubborn struggle, we were tracing back our morning course, resources exhausted, redemption ahead. The last mile on Central Avenue had a world-end feeling to it, and I realized I had never experienced Route 66 without traffic. The utility poles screeched harsh and metallic in the wind, and the only other sound was my breath, a whimpering orchestrated by the metronome of each step forward. Do you remember the last scene of the movie “On the Beach,” the world awash in radioactive waste?
That is how Central Avenue felt like, deserted on a Sunday morning, a few ghosts shuffling forward. I wanted to finish with grace, this was not the end of the world, just the end of my reserves, I could hold on for a little while longer. I wanted to sprint, as I did in Victoria, but the best of my exertion did not thrust me ahead, only kept me moving. When I finally turned left on 3rd street, the bells of a church starting ringing, and I knew it was noon. 5 hours. Just a little stretch left.
You were fast, my boyfriend told me as I folded on his shoulder and started crying. 5 h 3 min 8 sec, 18 minutes better than my last, 9 minutes better than the one before, a half an hour behind Shiprock.
But this was the marathon I was most in control of. And the beep of the mat as I crossed the finish line certified me as Marathon Maniac #675.