The First Last Marathon

Posted on October 2, 2016. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , |

What makes you think you can run a marathon?

I ask myself this question during every half marathon, somewhere around mile 9.

When my legs feel alternately like lead and pudding.

When my mental endurance is wearing thin. (Who’s the %#$*& genius that put a hill here?)

When my throat is constricted from repressing the threat of vomit, the result of accidently chugging Gatorade when I’d asked for water at the stop.

What makes me think I can run a marathon?

I don’t ask myself kindly. Not around mile 9. The question is, instead, peppered with expletives I wouldn’t dream of repeating in public.


“Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.”   Henry Thoreau

I wouldn’t dream, in fact, of asking this question, however kindly, to anyone else who’d tell me she was going to run a marathon. Just one. Her first. Maybe only. Going to at least, at last, try.

I would simply nod and say, of course. Of course you will. And mean it.

You’ve decided, I would say, and so you will.

First, you decide. Second, you do.

It’s as simple as making up your mind.

As difficult as finally, absolutely, irrevocably deciding. The doing, then, is comparatively easy.

And so I have decided. I will run a marathon. My first. Perhaps my only.

The Austin Marathon, on Sunday, February 19, 2017.

I decided finally on May 1. Planned and posted my training schedule on my refrigerator on August 1.  Registered, irrevocably, last month.  Now it is time to do.

Comparatively easy.

But I’ve decided to run a marathon twice before. Both times ended in training around mile 18 with injuries that would keep me from running for a year, longer.

Six years passed between the first and second attempt. Another six between then and now. And with them the shifting of time and place and focus. The anxiety and pain of starting over. Again. Not running. Barely walking. Not making it even one quarter mile, and surely not up that hill. And then the slow and steady progress, the readjusting of goals.

But not the determination to reach this goal, a marathon. Just once.

So I am ready to try again. The only failure in not trying at all.

And I am ready to write again. Because this marathon training is about more than running.





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Where’s the Margarita Stop? (Part 2)

Posted on August 9, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

pickled jalapenos

There was no margarita stop, but we survived last weekend’s Tour de Jalapeno anyway. Although this was a 26-mile race, the event lasted 2 days—at least for us.

Day 1

Saturday morning 4:15 am my alarm rattles me out of bed.  It’s the morning of my very first bike race, and I am moderately excited.  It is difficult to be extremely excited about much of anything but coffee at this very early hour, so I pour myself a cup and sit on the dining room floor with my dogs, staring vacantly into the kitchen until cup #1 kicks in.

Robert, moderately excited upon arising at 4:45 am, completely misses the fact that there is a fresh pot of coffee waiting to help him kickstart his morning.  He sees it at 5:25 am, as we are walking out the door.

We’re on the road at 5:45. Our excitement meter has moved up a notch from moderate but has not yet landed on extreme.  We at least smile but are not yet ready to chat.

We approach San Marcos.  The race day instruction sheet is in my hand, and I am reading the directions to Robert.   They are very clearly marked.  As we head east to Martindale, we both comment on how strange it is that there is not much traffic. Not one other car with bikes. We’d think by now—it’s 6:45 and start time is 7:30—there’d be a steady stream of cars down the country roads and into the parking area. There is none.

We follow the directions on the race day instruction sheet, still firmly gripped in my hand, turning left and left and finally right—and pull up to a gate. It is closed and locked.  We are confused. This is the place. Why is it vacant?

Robert slaps his hand to his forehead and swears.  I look down at the paper in my hand, very clearly marked.  The race is tomorrow.

Day 2

I wake up at 4:13 am, minutes before my alarm.  Today my excitement jolts me out of bed.  On Saturday we made the best of the day and took the opportunity to drive the route.  It is beautiful. Rolling hills, cows, mist settling on the sunflowers at daybreak.  We even spot a Mexican eagle standing in a field.  My excitement level is bordering on extreme from the get-go. CaracaraEatingSnakeTX309JT1

Now that we’re old hands at pre-race prep (even though yesterday was a false positive, it still counts), we shave 5 minutes off our prep time and hit the road at 5:40.  Before we get on the highway, we see vehicles loaded with bikes.  This is a good sign.

We chat excitedly for most of the drive and arrive at the race site 10 minutes earlier than yesterday.  A line of headlights thread through the country roads behind us as we park the car. We are in the right place, and on the right day.

We finish assembling our gear from the back of the car.  Since neither of us has been in a bike race, we watch others to see how it’s done.  I am used to pinning my race bib on the front of my shirt.  Slapping a sticker on my bike. Getting body marked.  The guy parked next to us is clearly an experienced cyclist. He is as sleek as his bike, unpacks his stuff confidently.  He is kind enough to tell me where to put things.

As we gather near the start line, I realize how different I am than real cyclists.  Like the guy parked next to us, most of the people here are sleek and have colorful clothing that inevitably match each other and their bikes.  I do not.  I survey feet and notice that I am the only person wearing bike shoes with laces.  Anxiety curls my stomach and I wonder if I should take Alka Seltzer now instead of later.

Redemption Race Productions runs unique and fun races.  This one has 4 events:  26-mile race, 26-mile jalapeno race, 26 mile tour, and 50 mile tour.  An orange wristband distinguishes the jalapeno racers from the smart racers.  We get one minute deducted from our race time for each jalapeno we eat.  We start in waves according to event—smart racers, jalapeno racers, 26 tour, and 50 tour—and I quickly fall to the back of the pack.  The first aid stop is 8 miles out.  Before I reach it I am passed by some of the tourers, including a six-pack.  I am briefly sucked along behind them as they pass me and disappear into the horizon.

When I get to the first stop, many of the other jalapeno racers are still there.  A ripple of excitement stirs the crowd.  Some brave person has already stopped in, devoured 20 jalapenos, and moved on.  Volunteers meet each of us with a cup of 5 pickled jalapenos. I quickly consume the first cup and ask for a second. To my surprise, it’s not that bad, even if there are no margaritas. I pause after the 2nd cup and wonder if I should take another.  Although I feel fine right now, we have 10 miles to ride to the next stop and I have never eaten anything hot before riding. My stomach may be OK now but may very well rebel somewhere between here and there.  I drink water, get my wristband marked, forget to wash my sticky hands, and ride on.

The jalapeno heat actually feels good as I ride and probably makes me pedal faster.  My stomach is holding out just fine.  I cruise past the sunflowers and try to remember which field we saw the eagle in.  But somewhere around mile 13 the pickled part of pickled jalapenos gets my attention.  I don’t feel sick, but I can taste pickledness.  I push on to the next stop, just before mile 18.

The brave racer-eater has cruised through long before I get there, devouring 15 more jalapenos.  That’s 35 jalapenos he has eaten. I bow my head in admiration and take 1 cup.  I try to calculate my pace, the number of cyclists I’ve passed, those who have passed me, and realize that racing, jalapenos, and math do not mix.  I stop at 1 cup—5 jalapenos—and move on, happy that I can eat 15 jalapenos and still ride my bike in the hot sun, up the rolling hills we now face.

Before this race, the longest distance I have ridden is somewhere between 22 and 23 miles.  I hit mile 23 at the bottom of a very big hill, which I whiz down so fast smiling so big that a bug may be lodged in my teeth. It is difficult to tell.  It might very well be a jalapeno seed I feel instead. I am so excited when I reach this point—rolling into uncharted territory on my bike—that I forget about the jalapenos and the race and the eagle and simply ride.

The race ends in the gated community where we started.  It’s a long haul around the lake to the back of the neighborhood, about 1.5 miles with a headwind.  I am pedaling as fast as I can and out of the corner of my eye notice someone not too far behind me.  I pedal harder. I can’t let whoever this is pass me at the finish line!  I push myself as hard as I can, the taste of pickled-sourness rising in my throat, and cross the finish line first at 19 mph. I am stunned and wonder if I should eat jalapenos every time I ride.

Robert is waiting, smiling, having finished at least 10 minutes and 20 jalapenos before me.  We rack our bikes, rummage for the bottle of precautionary Pepto Bismol, and mingle at the after-race party, fully stocked with jalapeno kielbasa.  We are incredibly excited to find that we both medaled in our age group.

We are determined to be back next year. At least now we have a jalapeno training plan—and a year to find a portable margarita machine.

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