“I’m not expecting to grow flowers in the desert
But I can live and breathe and see the sun in wintertime.”
— “Big Country” by the aptly named Big Country
I feel like I’ve written about this song before (but google isn’t helping) so skip ahead if you’ve already heard this. One of my formative memories of my freshman year at college was dancing a little drunkenly on a low table belting out this song with my new (and still) friend Callie at a fraternity party in 1989.
So many details in this sentence are decidedly not me, both before that moment and after. That was the first and only frat party I’ve been to. I was sorta drunk, which isn’t really my m.o. I was dancing (!) on a table (!!) and singing (!!!). And, yet, it is one of those moments where I was completely convinced the world was vast and wonderful and that I belonged someplace in it.
In the 30 years (!!!!) since, that wash of well-being crashes over me again every single time I hear “Big Country,” which is why I put it on my running playlist. It seems to randomly come up whenever I most need to hear it. This time around, it was in the middle of mile four in the (incredibly well organized) Revel Mt. Lemmon half.
The run was going well enough that I didn't need the song to give me a boost. The 5,000 feet of downhill was still super fun. I was flying and nothing hurt. (Yet.) The view was simply spectacular and I was taking it all in, if only because a saguaro-filled landscape is so far beyond my daily existence that it will always be a wonder.
When the opening bars hit my Aftershokz, I knew I was right where I was supposed to be.
Getting to Tucson from Oneonta had been, at best, a test of endurance. One of the first storms of the winter was parked over Chicago. Planes were delayed or canceled or both. Lisa and Carol, my roomies for this adventure, spent 18 hours getting from New Hampshire to Arizona, via lovely ports of call like Baltimore, Nashville, and Las Vegas. I arrived more or less on time — but my luggage did not. Because it never does.
Once all were rested, reunited with luggage, and showered, we took in the Desert Museum, which is amazing. Seriously. If you are in the area, go. We also commenced to eat our way across the city, based solely on suggestions in my last post. Seis is a delight. Again, if you are in the area, go.
We hooked up with Natalie, one of my OG Little Rock crew who was running the marathon, and Laura, my best acupuncturist friend from Oneonta who came down on a lark to run 13.1. We carpooled to the race finish, just to fix it in our minds before the next morning. After a quick trip to Whole Foods to pick up provisions, we went to bed.
The upside to traveling west is that a 3:45 wake-up feels like a perfectly reasonable 6:45. It wasn’t until we were on the bus riding up to the starting line that it began to sink in that we were about to run down the very, very steep road we were climbing. Our bus driver’s jokes — dude’s joy in his work was infectious, frankly — kept the mood light. Then, after a short wait and a port-a-john visit, we were off.
Running downhill feels amazing until it doesn’t. For me, that point was around mile eight, as we made the transition from mountain amazingness to flat suburban meh-ness. Also: the sun came all the way up and there was nearly no shade. The arch of my left foot developed a stabby pain. It traveled up my left calf, which became an unhappy slab of granite, and into my left hip. My right side compensated as best it could. The hitches in my get-a-long grew from there to the finish. I did, however, find a dime. Upside.
Did I spend the next 24 hours feeling worse than I did after running a marathon? You bet. Would I do the same thing again? You bet. Believe it or not, I'm looking at other Revel runs because this one was so wonderful, despite the pain.
Running down a mountain in the desert that includes a weekend with running friends will always be worth several different sorts of pains in the heinie. A week later, my body is starting to feel like my own again. I’ve finally unpacked and caught up on most of life’s requirements, like grocery shopping and bill paying. The winter gloom is settling into my part of the country but a couple of days in the sun makes the grey skies almost enjoyable.
One of the reasons why I'm on this 50 states quest is to have these little breaks from my routine where I do something sort of epic someplace new. These races are like postcards when the everyday-ness of every day gets me down. They are that out-of-character moment singing at the top of my lungs just because I can.
They are also a reminder that this is, indeed, a big country. I want to see as much of it as I can -- and the best way to see a isn't through a car window.