It's a good day to be alive,
The full moon, the prickly pear and lucky number 13.
Phoenix in December couldn't be more different than the snowy, cold Winnipeg. The warmth embraced me and my first sight of a saguaro cactus with it's outreached, friendly, albeit prickly arms made me smile. I drove to the Superstition mountains, drawn there by the intriguing name and having several hours to hike before meeting my friend Lisa at the airport. She was flying in from London and we were running the Tuscon marathon. I hiked up the Peralta trail and although my hamstrings hurt afterwards, the views and close ups of the desert flora made every step worth it. I was surprised to see holly and a small waterfall that trickled down a black path it had carved in the red rock. The hillside was sprinkled with various pink, purple, orange and yellow flowers. The trail wasn't busy and when I passed a couple, they mentioned that I was as quiet as a deer and very hardcore for hiking in Converse All*stars. The view of the mountains and Weaver's Needle from the Freemont Saddle was incredible. On the faster trip downhill I marveled at the contrast between the lime green lichen, red rock and blue-grey shrubs. I saw a tiny fern with perfect minute deep green-leaflets that made my heart swell.
|Bridget, such a fine ladybug.|
Later that evening we took a short drive to Catalina State Park and walked along a sandy river trail admiring the many different "family" groupings of Saguaros. Our waitress at breakfast had joked about "tree huggers" in Arizona not being able to hug their trees and I got a photo of Lisa pretending to hug a huge cactus. We gingerly balanced on precarious river rocks crossing a stream in an otherwise largely dry riverbed. The bright yellow autumn leaves were splashes of colour against the sand and the various red, greens and browns of the mountainside. Just when we thought it was impossible to be any more beautiful the sun began to set and and illuminated the red rock mountains. The colour in the whispy clouds deepened from a blush pink to a deep red and the full moon brightened; a witness to and a participant in the grandeur. The light and beauty was uplifting and energizing, it was impossible to believe anything but that all was right with the world.
We woke at morning to prepare for the marathon. I felt strangely lethargic and achey, but was quickly cured by a large dark roast coffee. We drove to the start in the dark in a school bus, our common passion for running ignited a camaraderie between strangers. People shared stories of their many running adventures and different running clubs including "50 States", "Globe Trotters", "Marathon Maniacs" and "Fat Ass". The start was on a remote mountain top and as the full moon faded, dawn gently revealed the desert beauty around us. We chatted to a young first time marathoner from the mile-high city hoping to qualify for Boston. It was cool at the start and for the first several miles I ran by lonely, empty gloves that had been discarded as the sun climbed the brilliant blue sky. The course began with rolling hills followed by a gentle decline until a hilly out and back section along the Biosphere road. At mile four my calf protested having been hurt a couple of weeks earlier on an icy Winnipeg run. For a split second I considered stopping to avoid injuring it further, but remembered what my friend Kim had said about being able to do it and fortunately decided to soldier on. At one difficult point, as if he knew I needed encouragement a friendly man turned from his companions and told me I was doing great. I normally run with a well stocked fuel belt with pain killers, energy products and endurolytes but had decided on a more minimalist approach for this run and was mainly relying on the aid stations for sustenance. I was dressed in a green sparkly skirt over compression tights with rainbow striped calf sleeves and silver wings on my shoes. Lisa, always more flamboyant, sported an elaborate bright pink flamingo hat, the flamingo in turn wore yellow slip slops and had a lei around it's neck. I had managed to squeeze two prickly pear bars into a minute pocket in the compression tights. Having no other pocket space I had stuffed some emergency toilet paper into my sports bra knowing that the porta potties en route often ran out. The toilet paper later disintegrated into a sweaty mess.
Although the gradual downhill was conducive to opening up and cruising, I nursed my calf putting into practice what Kim had taught me about the chi style of lifting ankles as opposed to pushing off on the balls of your feet. It hurt but I was determined to finish. Gradually I noticed the friendly man running towards me as if he'd materialized from a mirage. He laughed and said "cat's out of the bag, I'm part of a relay team, you're doing great, you're ahead of them", once again I was encouraged by his kind words. At mile 10 I rewarded myself with a prickly pear bar and savored the taste while running by the multitude of live prickly pears scattered at the foot of the mountains we were running by. A volunteer passed on a bike, he didn't have painkillers but kindly gave me a half bottle of water which I ran with the rest of the way, refilling it with a mixture of water and gatorade at each aid station. At mile 17 my spirit lifted and I was filled with energy, possibly from the endurolytes and pain killers a kind volunteer had given me, but it seemed more like the stunning desert landscape empowered me and added a figurative spring to my step. I almost didn't want the run to end . . . .. almost. At mile 19 I traded a GU for a caffeinated one, and in turn traded that for a protein bar, recalling that after lengthy activity your body sources protein from your muscles, failing an external supply. I relished the bar, somewhat repulsed by the thought of the alternative. At one aid station the volunteers literally applauded my sparkly skirt and not long after a traffic cop cheerfully asked "How's it going sparkly?". There was one last uphill trudge and then I rounded the corner and happily made it to the fire station finish. We were rewarded with giant salty pretzels and peanut butter tortillas. Lisa, myself and Eddie "Barefoot Bandito" got a ride to our shuttle bus on a golf cart. As we left I said "adios" and the bus driver playfully said "adios chiquitas" and we all laughed with endorphin fueled bliss en route to El Conquistador having conquering the Tuscon marathon.
My 13th marathon was a lucky one, filled with good fortune, warm exchanges and many kindnesses.
Long may we run!