While eating quite improvable pasta in the hotel restaurant the night before I did not know whether I would go on to attempt 50 miles or if next day’s marathon would be my last. But I did not need to decide right then. I could feel only pure, bubbly happiness. I would run Shiprock, again.
I like the numbers 3 and 8 (or 11, 12, 24, 5, any combination thereof). Have so since childhood. Last year, in the 24th Annual Shiprock Marathon, upon discovering I had bib number 24, I could not contain my exaltation. Superstition flared up again when I found that in my second Shiprock race, at the 25th edition, my bib number turned out to be 50. I was meant to be here, again.
I could not avoid comparing everything to last year. Last year I left my sports bra at home, and we turned around on the highway to get it. This time I forgot my fuel belt, but we kept going. Even before we checked into the hotel, we went shopping at the Farmington Walmart. The belt packs were bulky and I hated the sheer sight of them. But a little fist-size thing called first aid kit drew my attention. Yellow, it would match the maniac shirt, and the yellow socks with the NM Zia sun symbol I had just bought. My boyfriend objected I had nothing to attach it to, but I took some straps off the camera pack and improvised a belt. So there.
The most striking difference was the start line. The race started both times at 7 am, but last year the sun was just rising over a wall of clouds, unveiling the mysterious desert. This time the sun was up, the moon was gone, it did not snow. There was no chanting to the beat of drums, and no Indian idiom blessing set us on the trail. I thought they did that every year. By the time the race ended I was convinced it happened only last year, solely for me, so my first marathon could be magical.
We took off without ceremony. I didn’t pace myself. For the last month, sick, I had taken walking breaks at every mile, so that I covered the first half running, a couple of aid stations aside, was a big win. But I struggled. I still had to cough until my chest hurt. The weakness in my right ankle, an on-and-off annoyance I had forever, way before running, never bothered me in a race before but was present this time. My tummy was upset. I inferred this had nothing to do with fueling, and starting chewing with caution on the Margarita Cliff Blocs early on, spacing them apart, one at a time, so I could keep doing it without becoming nauseous.
I looked at my watch once. It seemed I was slow, so I did not look at it again. Beyond the halfway point, I ran as much as I could, and walked when I could not help it. I had promised my boyfriend to call him at the 20-mile-point, and give him a timeframe as to when to pick me up. He had to drive the 30 miles between Farmington and Shiprock. My cell phone died en route (although fully charged the night before), and I spent a few restless miles agonizing about how to get in touch with him. He knew I was weak. He would be worried.
I hate cell phones and felt mortified about asking to borrow one in a race, but I tried once, with a friendly runner who struck up a conversation. He did not have his on. I held hopes high for mile 20, it was the last relay station and the point where the course turned onto highway and traffic again. There would be aids and vehicles. There would be a cell phone.
A proud Indian – I recognized him from last year, he had helped me track down my time – offered me his when I started to explain, and I took it with gratitude. I got mired in hotel voice mail, and was too embarrassed to try a second approach. I thanked him and set off again. This was the point where I nearly collapsed a year before, but now I just took a left and kept running. I talked myself into serenity. The volcanic cone of Shiprock was watching over us. My boyfriend would figure it out, set out on his own. We had mastered this three or four times before without wireless connection. He would be at the finish line.
I negotiated the last six miles with an even mindset. Something is different in every marathon. This time it was availability. I did not yearn for the finish line. The last few hundreds of yards were sand and gravel, hardly the terrain for sprinting. I always doubted the value of sprinting at the end of a 5h+ marathon, and always forced a strong finish nevertheless. This time quickening emerged on its own, at the last turn, effortless and elegant. Seven times before I felt I could not take a step beyond 26.2. For the first time I had more to give. Not much. A couple of miles maybe. I didn’t realize until much later how helpless of a wreck I was, but I could have still gone on for a couple of miles
My beautiful Indian showed up again. “You made it,” he said.
“My boyfriend didn’t,” I replied. The only thing I could think of was he had an accident.
I was hanging out with Marathon Maniac #558, a truly generous soul, trying to figure what was the smartest thing to do: call the hotel again, wait around a bit more, get a ride into Farmington, go for the maniac gold level...
When my boyfriend appeared he was quite calm. Relief notwithstanding, so was I. We meandered around with great composure. I offered him some water from my plastic cup. He looked a bit dehydrated. We checked the posted results, mine was not in yet. He mentioned something had happened that day, but was reluctant to say what. Good or bad? I asked. Not good, he indicated. The car? I asked.
He hit a coyote after dropping me off in the am, while driving through the dark, somewhere between Shiprock and Farmington. Or a dog, or a wolf, some animal coming in from the median. He was too rattled to go check it out. The man has not had an accident in 35 years.
The car was brand-new. It had about 50 miles on board when we left home. The old one was falling apart after fourteen years, but suffered a dent only once, and it was me who put it there.
Between dealing with all that and waiting for my call (I had told him I might have to walk half the race) my boyfriend missed the finish line. Only after he called me twice and failed to reach me did he set out. By then he was worried I was lying in a ditch somewhere. I was not exactly in shape to run a marathon.
We eventually got to the car. The golden Honda looked as if someone had taken a bite out of it. I looked at it for a while. “When were you going to tell me?”
It could have been much worse. Some wires were dangling down,close to the ground. “What are these?” I asked. My boyfriend shrugged. I stuffed them back in, one by one, amazed the machinery was still working. I took a picture or two. Must have been one feisty animal. On the way back to Farmington, my boyfriend pointed out the place where it happened. Big pieces of car were lying around on the shoulder. The animal carcass was not there anymore.
5h 26min 17sec. I would not have minded if it lasted longer. It was a good day to run.
I still wonder what hit the car.