Things were a little different this time. I usually go for the races in the heart of the city, where every turn is the chance to see something or someone new or fun. Or frankly, funny. (I’m looking at you, Thongman of LA, and you, drum lady of San Francisco.)
But a weird phase of my life started last fall, when I suddenly found myself with an abundance of time on my hands, but not a lot of money. Yes, I got fired. I wouldn’t have done anything differently and was out with my dignity intact, so it certainly wasn’t the end of the world, but it’s a strange place in which to be.
Sure, I started looking for a gig right away, worked on some things I’d been putting off, hosted a baller Thanksgiving, and read a bunch of books. I’d initially wanted to do the Santa Cruz Marathon, but figured I shouldn’t be signing up for things that required plane tickets until I was back to getting a direct deposit on the regular.
So as I cruised around the internet one day last winter, I decided that I couldn’t just put my whole life on hold until I found another job. Plus, something about putting together a training calendar for a marathon makes me stupid happy.
So I took the leap of faith and charged the hundred and sixty bucks to my credit card. (Sidebar: I am a super-fortunate SOB. I have an amazing partner who keeps a roof over my head and food in my stomach. I’m sure he would have given me the money if I asked for it. Also, I have a credit card. I kind of feel like a whiny douche in retrospect, but you only know what you know when you know it. I just feel like I needed to acknowledge that I live in a pretty privileged situation in which getting fired had a soft landing.)
And that charge bought me entrance to the REVEL Mt. Charleston Marathon. No plane tickets AND being able to sleep in my bed the night before and the night of a marathon for the first time since 2012. It’s marketed as fast and beautiful, which I think is true. In fact, I was feeling pretty amazing the first 10 miles. But they’ve already decided to move the race up three weeks next year. Why, you ask?
It’s like we forgot that we live in the desert.
Actually, we didn’t. It was kinda cool this winter and then all of a sudden in got super hot at the end of April. No body really saw that coming.
So my point in telling you all this is that it was a completely different kind of run for me. Notably because the downhill action destroyed my quads. Destroyed like sign me up for the toilet booster seats. Like hundreds of tiny men a la the travels of Gulliver are stabbing my thighs. Like I was howling on the foam roller.
But it was also a different kind of run because it was out in the country and I wouldn’t have my normal people and dogs to distract me and get me through. I don’t have mile by mile memories like I usually do. It’s all sort of one giant emotional dump.
I did get to sleep in my bed, as previously stated, although the 2AM wake-up call to be out the door by 2:30AM to get up north and grab the bus at 3AM was a whole other thing. I forgot how dark it is when you get just a bit out of Las Vegas and how much brighter the stars are when you’re in a low-light pollution area.
Lots of folks on the bus, including the dude next to me, were focused on getting a qualifying time for Boston. I don’t know why that competitive bit hasn’t caught me—I think I’m just a stubborn old fat girl who wants to prove I can still do it.
There were around 2,200 of us who did the marathon last Saturday. I think we were all in line to pee at the same time.
The actual race didn’t start until 5:30AM, so there was plenty of time to mill around and talk to random strangers.
Once we got going, there was a little hill right out of the gate, which I appreciated, because it keeps you in check from going out too fast. So I settled into a nice mid-10 minute pace, determined to meet my two goals I always have with a marathon: 1) Finish and 2) Have fun.
And it was pretty great. There were some horses out chilling by the road in the second mile. We were still up about 7,000 feet or so, so it was a little chilly. I kept my gloves on and my sleeves up for several miles. I got in a groove and decided to push my pace a little, dropping down to 945 after mile six. I was feeling really good and strong, so I figured I should get after it. Maybe it would be the day I would finish under five hours?
These are the thoughts that run through your mind in a race. It’s constant bits of math. Where will I end up today? I just hit mile six, do that three more times and I’m almost finished. At nine, not even two more of those are left.
It’s a constant engagement of my brain gauging what it thinks my body can do, my body thinking my brain is a sadistic shit, and then my brain actually convincing my body that it’ll all work out.
And I was feeling fabulous until mile 10. Six to 10 is my sweet spot and 15 usually doesn’t feel like much, so this one surprised me. It was the heat. That sun was fully up and we were coming down through the canyon without cover. It had NOTHING to do with the race support—they had well-stocked aid stations every two miles.
I just couldn’t keep the tank full in the heat. I was cramping, even though I doubled the amount of fluids I normally take every couple of miles.
I had the moments of, Just flag down the cop and have them cart you away. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone.
And I almost feel stupid admitting this, but I’ve told you all plenty of dumb shit over the years, but I starting thinking that I wanted Vonnegut to be proud of me. I didn’t want him to ever see his momma as a quitter. Joey and Alli trained me for all sorts of races and our, “We are Brownheads, Brownheads don’t quit,” mantra kept playing in my head. Be the person your dog wants you to be, right?
So I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. And I thought about how hard something is is always about perspective. I lost a dear friend on April 15 and my mom lost a dear friend the week of the race. Both had been dealing with medical issues and both were too young. And I knew my little bullshit of being temporarily uncomfortable was nonsense compared to the battles the fought.
I hung with a gal from Atlanta for a while. We straight up walked mile 22 and chatted. She was funny and kind. She was the boost I needed.
Something about getting to mile 23 always makes my mind go, “It’s a 5K, you can shuffle that in in your sleep.”
And shuffle, I did.
Pretty much everyone was walking at this point, it was so hot. So I tried to do what felt like jogging and nobody passed me the last three miles.
It was mid-80s at this point, with a high UV and a real feel of 92.
“It’s a 5K, you can shuffle that in your sleep.”
“You’re a Brownhead, Brownheads don’t quit.”
“Vonnegut will be so proud of you.”
And when I made the last turn and could see the finish, I thought of my friend, and my mom and her friend. I thought about how people never really leave us, they leave a part of themselves with us. They leave their humor, their grace, their music, and their kindness.
(Note In Case Anyone Was Worried: I started a full-time gig in January and got a regular part-time freelancing gig in February. And now I was just approached about some additional freelancing work because of some volunteering I do. So the point is, keep your head down and keep working. It’ll work itself out eventually, even if it’s not exactly what you had in mind. You just can’t give up hope in yourself, even when you feel like a giant turd. Sort of like almost everything in life.)