Thursday, January 12, 2012

Marathon Part 8: With Malice Toward None

This is part of a series on my first Marathon. It starts here. The previous installment (intended as Part 7 but previously published out of context) is here.


Tramway Boulevard belongs to me. I own it. It’s mine. 

A place can never truly belong to anyone and no one can be attached to a place fully until they have covered it with their own feet. This occurred to me in Santana do Livramento, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil when I was driven around town in the mission assistants’ little red Volkswagen. As we puttered up the street, while not at racetrack speeds, it was still so much faster and we covered so much more ground than my missionary companions and I were used to walking. It was way too easy. We zipped past a blur of colonial baroque house fronts, each one worthy of its own lingering look with its individual pastel hue and unique metalwork around its tall windows. No such luck in the Volkswagen.

Walking has always come to me naturally. I earned the towns and cities I have wandered through my miles of tread: the wet, evergreen-lined streets of Seattle and Kirkland, Washington; the sideways snow and summer mud of Rock Springs, Wyoming; the college life of Provo, Utah; the row houses and monuments of Baltimore and Washington D.C.; the wide streets of Salt Lake City and the narrow ones of Santa Fe. Now that I am a runner, I purchase my locales at greater cost through my more strenuous and perhaps more enjoyable strides. 

Washington, D.C. is a little different at the faster pace if only for covering more ground. The town is pretty familiar to me having worked there for four years in the mid-1980’s. The commute into the city through the northwest corridor challenged me with every conceivable mode of transportation, bus, metro, car-pool. Then I finally gave up and moved out West. The old walk from Metro Center was good because it took me by the General Sherman monument, marching as I whistled through Georgia. Then I would cross the grass on the Ellipse south of the White House and onto E Street to Main Interior at 18th Street. At lunch breaks I would take walks, frequently in the direction of the Lincoln Memorial which is not too far from Main Interior. Every time I return to D.C. I make a point of visiting the Memorial to read the Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural engraved on the limestone walls and talk things over with Mr. Lincoln in the tradition of Mr. Smith and all those people with Lisa Simpson. 

From a visit with Mr. Lincoln in September, 2010
On a trip to D.C. shortly after starting my running program, I finished my business in the morning and had a couple of hours before I had to catch my plane so I headed out to chat with Mr. Lincoln. Approaching the reflecting pool on a bright sunny day, I noticed the usual crowd of lunchtime runners. They were their regular sweaty selves but there was something different this time. The overwhelming familial joy came over me that these people were not strangers but my brothers and sisters! I only lacked my running clothes and shoes or I would have taken off with them. At that moment I vowed never to travel without my Asics again. 

And I had my shoes on later trips to D.C. The Department of Justice lawyers on the San Ildefonso Indian claim settlement keep calling me back to D.C. as we took each step forward in our negotiations and briefings to tie down this last of the Indian Claims Commission docket. The main difference in running as opposed to walking is that you cover a lot more ground without losing the ability to enjoy your surroundings. In a car you are boxed in and much faster even on busy city streets. Running still lets you breath the air, thick and rich with oxygen at sea level, and the sweat dripping off your body mixes perfectly with the Potomac humidity. With the two-hour change from Mountain to Eastern Time Zone the dark comes earlier and dinner can be delayed until late to get a run in. It helps to get a little exercise in to be tired and go to bed at a reasonable time back east. 

The first time back with my shoes I made a point of running the Monuments, Lincoln to Washington to General Grant in front of the Capitol then back to Washington and around the Tidal Basin to Jefferson and back to Lincoln. On a dark stretch around the Tidal Basin ducking the gnarled cherry tree limbs, I came up to a couple with a huge black dog on a leash. I tried to pass unobtrusively but the dog saw me before its inattentive masters and lunged at me without even a bark. It could have been a friendly gesture but it left a bruise on my thigh where the dog’s claw got me. The owners appeared shocked and apologetic but I just shrugged it off and kept going. Later runs took me up the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath in the pouring cool summer rain. Another followed a pack of runners over the Arlington Bridge down through the Lady Bird Arboretum to National Airport, back over the 14th Street Bridge and down to the giant sculpture climbing out of the ground at Haines Point then back to the Lincoln Memorial. While on that 14th Street Bridge where the airliner crashed into the icy Potomac some twenty years ago there was an flaming red sunset off my left shoulder over Virginia reflecting in windows on the District side. Mr. Lincoln always serves as an end point where we have our late evening talks and I trot back to my regular hotel, the State Plaza, just the other side of the State Department nervous with its heightened security. 

Back at home I was still running the Tramway Trail with an occasional Saturday change to run the Bosque. But Tramway was right there close to my house. I had my regular routes planned out pretty well. The obnoxious 5-K route went up and back from Montgomery to Menaul and backtracking to Candelaria and over the pedestrian bridge. The four-mile route ran up to Spain and back down the big dip past Manitoba where in the dark the asphalt trail disappears. The six-miler turned back at Montgomery over the high ground at Rover and Indian School and dropped all the way to Lomas on the south then back up to Candelaria where the final drop over Menaul helped pick up the pace. Add the extra mile down to Encantado in sight of I-40 and back and you had the eight mile route. And of course there is the 10-miler up to the stop sign at the Tramway turn and back. The ten-mile route easily stretched to 12 when I took the extra mile down to the turn at Juan Tabo picnic area where the road passes over Sandia Pueblo lands. 

The rest of that road down from the Juan Tabo picnic ground got even steeper. It was a five-mile climb all the way from the I-25 exit. Every time our old, now deceased, Ford Escort lumbered up those long, steep five miles we wondered if it would be the last. Frequently we saw cyclists laboring up that road and then coasting speedily down the return trip. Five miles times two equals ten and added on to the ten mile round trip I was already doing was just too perfect. Before my Marathon I would have to run that hill. The downhill stretch would even be good to mimic the elevation drop of the St. George route. 

One Saturday I decided to try it. I drove up and parked at the stop sign so I could change my sports drink after the first ten miles and run a round trip back up to the car. I started down the long hill at an easy but good pace being that it was downhill. It was already a little light at 6 a.m. but the sun was not up yet. I enjoyed the downhill carefully moving as far off the left shoulder as I could when the cars came up. I passed a recent descanso with the fresh tire tracks still heading off the roadway to the death scene now marked by a cross hung with sports jersey and other memorabilia of the young man. 

I arrived near the bottom on the fine graveled landscaping of the new Sandia Indian Casino. I was doing well on time and feeling overconfident. A group of cyclists was coming up from the bottom and as they passed I shouted, “Sure! On a bike it’s easy!” They did not respond. I hoped they would not be coming back down when I was going up. 

As I made the turn at Mile Post 2, reaching up to slap the sign but missing it with a laugh because it was so high, I turned toward the mountain and noted I was still in shadow, the sun had not yet cleared the peak. As I continued on up past the Casino I looked behind to see the sunlight had already reached the valley of the Rio Grande below. I headed on higher up the slope towards the peak and the coming sun behind it. It was right there behind the peak glowing bright into the yellow sky above but not yet a glimmer over the top. I went on further still keeping a pretty good pace and the sun was still there behind the highest crest. Looking back the shadow was receding up the slope behind. We were in a race, the sun and I. Knowing the sun had done its climb up the eastern slope many, many times before my first feeble attempt up the west side, there was no way I could beat it on its bright run. But I kept on. To my surprise and pleasure, we reached the curve past the Juan Tabo Wilderness turn at the same time. The fiery chariot flickered through the crags on the very top of Sandia leaving me in shadow then sunshine until it finally cleared the highest point and brilliantly shown down on me at the stop sign marking the high point of the turn. It was a glorious morning. 

There is camaraderie of runners. It can be a social sport with running clubs and running partners. But even the more common, solitary runners are part of the fellowship. It manifests itself at unexpected times running along side a another runner who suddenly opens up to explain his health situation and his goals for pace time and some upcoming race. Once I was motivated to run ahead of a man exercising his spaniel. There wasn’t much of a threat but I pretended I was Paul Newman outrunning the bloodhounds in “Cool Hand Luke.” There was the older man on the Bosque trail who told me all about his Marathon challenges when he was 45 some twenty years ago. I told him that I hoped I was doing as well as he is twenty years from now. Sometimes the connection is unspoken as you race to stay ahead of the young runner who finally passes with a respectful smile. That is all part of the motivation we get from each other, which I am looking forward to in great quantities at the Marathon.  

It is not all friendly nods and exchanges. The cheerfulness seems to wane as the day passes. The early runners at 5:30 a.m. are the friendliest. “Good Morning! How ya doin’?” changes to “Hi” at the afternoon hour and then grunts and nods later in the evening. After dark, the women runners are especially skittish. They usually run in pairs and are very nervous when a hard-breathing male runs up from behind. I don’t blame them. Not everybody is friendly on the trail. 

My first race prize, just for entering, was the Turkey Run shirt from last Thanksgiving. It was long-sleeved, cotton in an off-white color with an orange-red fluorescent bright turkey design on the front with the race sponsors in turquoise on the back. It was my pride and joy evident in the family Christmas portrait of that year. I used it to run on colder days. 

One cool morning in the spring, I had it on over my short-sleeved running tee as an extra layer. After not quite a mile, it was already too warm and I removed it placing it carefully by the side of the trail at the arroyo bridge below Montgomery to pick up on my way back. It was gone on my return. I looked all around that bridge even going back and parking the car with my daughter later that day on our way to a piano recital. For many days thereafter I kept my eye out on the trail for that shirt. 

And then I saw it. The only problem was that it encased a rather large woman whom I had seen out with her friend before. The two women were walkers, not runners, and while there was a two-mile walk associated with the Turkey Run, they just didn't seem like the type. I saw them a couple more times until I finally got up the nerve at the end of a run to chase them down on the main street through our neighborhood. I casually noted that I had lost a shirt just like that on the trail and asked if they had by chance found it. The woman rather defensively responded that she had had it “for a long time.” Since it hadn't been that long since Thanksgiving and she didn’t really answer my question, I had my doubts. But what could I do? At least I haven’t seen her wearing it since. 

Sometime later in a restless dream she met me on the trail and told me she had seen my shirt back by the bridge. Every time I go by that bridge I keep my eyes out for it. Standing by the bonfire before the start of my Marathon, I laughingly told my brother-in-law, Doug, the story of the lady and my shirt. He told me that he didn't need his and would send it to me. I was most grateful. The next morning we stopped by their hotel to say good bye on our way out of St. George. My sister-in-law walked over to me like a royal knight’s lady holding out her carefully folded Turkey Run shirt and said I could have it. It was a large, the same size as Doug's and she would just take his. With Charity for All.

The Shirt (again)

To continue on to Marathon Part 9: Final Prep, click here.

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