El Paso started out somewhat confusing. Pre-race the website stated packet pick-up at the convention center (I am almost sure), and race start in front of the museum of fine arts (I am quite certain). What the website says now is unmistakebly different. I could not have overlooked it if it were there before.
No one at the convention center knew a marathon was going on the next day, and when I asked about the near-by sponsoring Hilton, they could not place that either. The only Hilton in town, they said, was at the airport. For a twilight moment I wondered whether I was in the right place, on the right day, or if the El Paso marathon was just a trick, some sort of momentous illusion.
After some fumbling around I got my chip and bib, #124, adding up to seven, very apt for my seventh marathon. The race started at the Lynx Exhibit Halls, around the block from the arts museum.
The sky was clear, and the high for the day still loomed in the seventies. I have always started out slow attempting to preserve strength for the late miles, but I was so terrified by oncoming heat, I decided for a change in strategy. I would cover as much ground as I could while the air was still cool. Four of the first five miles were uphill, enough in itself to render me exhausted. It felt counterintuitive, but I could think of nothing else to do.
So I pushed on, relentless, through downtown El Paso and beyond, up and down, up and down, not giving in to the temptation to walk the upward slopes. I covered six miles in just a bit over an hour, and calculated this was the best pace achieved in a marathon so far. It was downhill from there, in all senses of the word.
My average pace went down, but the momentum carried me forward. I did not walk during the whole race, a few aid stations and the two calls to my boyfriend excluded. The first to tell him I'll show up at the finish late, the second, much later, to alert him I'll show up much sooner. In a dismal industrial landscape the half-marthoners veered away, and I found myself alone, advancing against sun and wind. The wind was a blessing. It kept the skin cool.
Most of the course wounded through residential areas, at first pretty little homes, then ranches and mansions. I passed a house with white walls like sails on a ship. I do not remember the miles, I just ran. The residents, way ahead of the convention center, lounge chairs on lawns, music blasting, gave us enthusiastic cheers. A toddler offered me water over the fence. A young girl belly-danced, harem costume and all, in the blast of her boyfriend's loudpeakers.
The Margarita Cliff Bloks worked out, to a point. After a while, well beneath the recommended ration, I felt I could not take it anymore, salt content notwithstanding. I just kept running, running and running, until the running itself resembled a caricature of running.
The New Mexico loop was a mere three miles of utter poverty. They mark the border on highways, but not on humble streets. Only election advertisements alerted me we had switched states - the plackards carried the Zia symbol of the New Mexican flag.
We were back in industrial landscape again. My legs hurt, but otherwise advancing was a given, step after step, with no stop. The course ran somehow parallel to the highway, slighlty uphill. When I left mile 25 behind I started to get worried. I knew the race ended where it started, downtown. But I could see none of the high-rise buildings, and I wondered if this was some momentous trick that would go on forever.
Then I reached the top of the ramp, and the cauldron of downtown opened up in front of me. It was easy to sprint, less than one mile to go, the slope inviting, the end in sight. At the bottom of the ramp a volunteer motioned me to the left. I took the corner, and there was the finish line, so close it took my breath away. The bells of a church started ringing - noon, but I knew they were late. The race had started at 7am sharp. For the first time in absolute clarity about timing, I knew I had not done this in five hours. But I sprinted ahead, as in the last moment on earth. They say finishing strong is the thing to do.
5h 5min 1 sec. Of course, they were out of burritos. I am not much of a beer drinker, but I took a few cold sips from the fancy Michelob Ultra bottle. I never knew a sponsor so adamant his name is engraved on the medal.
I had so much energy left, in the afternoon I shlepped my boyfriend along to the Lynx Exhibit Halls, to see a mesmerizing reconstruction of the tomb of Tutankhamon. The faked gold of the reproductions looked a bit tacky, a tad gaudy, but this was the price to pay - it would have been quasi-impossible to assemble in one place the genuine artifacts housed in museums on three continents.
What was genuine and convincing was the ultimate margarita in the Dome Bar of the El Camino Real hotel.
What was genuine and convincing was the Dome Bar itself, with its Tiffany glass ceiling.
Perhaps the best part of El Paso. No, the best part was the finish line. It was easier to get from start to finish, than it was to get from wherever I was before to the start.