Sunday, May 3, 2009

Nothin' But a 10k Road Race at High Altitude on a Sunday Mornin'

I've never had any wild ambition to run in a road race, and in fact, up until recently I tried to do everything I could to avoid running. Not for me, I thought. I'll just take a nice leisurely pace. But in the last month or two in Cuenca I decided to start running, and realizing that the altitude wasn't a problem and I was actually able to run, I continued to keep it up when the weather permitted. And just last week I heard about a 10k road race in Cuenca that was taking place on Sunday. It was the "45 Edicion Circuito Internacional de Las Cruces de Cuenca," a race to all of the crosses of the city. Some friends from Quito wanted to come down and race, and it got me thinking about trying it. Then my host mom kept egging me on, and suddenly I was motivated like never before.

It's almost weird to suddenly be motivated to run when it was never a factor in my life before, but even when my friends from Quito said they couldn't come, I still wanted to do it. I dragged my friend Jamie into signing up with me, and after paying the $10 fee to enter, there wasn't much else to do but dread and fear, second guess, and wonder at which kilometer I'd keel over and die. Cuenca is, after all, at high altitude. We sit at 2,500 meters, or 8,200 feet. So it's pretty high up, but I guess after months of walking all over the place and recently walking around, I'm well acclimated.

On Tuesday I prepared by running about 4 kilometers, and after my legs were hurting for a couple of days, I was dubious about how well I'd come out. But Jamie and I agreed to go slowly, pacing ourselves and not over doing it. We also came up with signals in case we needed to speed up, slow down, or drop out. But after last night, waking up every couple of hours anxiously, I woke up this morning tired but ready to go. I didn't really train for it, but I was ready to take on 10 kilometers, or about 6.2 miles. Not much in the long run, but much more than I'd ever run.

It was cold this morning as I jogged down to the starting line, and after meeting up with Jamie, we attached our numbers, mine being 0920, and I felt like a real runner. Though of course that was just a facade. We ran into another, older teacher who had run in the New York Marathon once, and started out the race with him. Just before the gun shot went off the sun came out and it got hotter, and I realized that I would be burning by the end. For once the weather was actually nice. I wanted to start asap.

As we started people pushed and scooted past, but we took our time and joked around, making our way around the bend and easily passing the first couple of kilometers. By the third kilometer we said goodbye to the other teacher as he ran ahead to go at his chosen speed, and Jamie and I ran with music in our ears to keep us going. The sun was shining on us and when we could we hid under the cover of shade. As we ran by, supporters on the side of the road cheered us on and passed out little pouches of water that, when we bit into to open, would explode half of the contents on us. But it felt good.

And still I didn't feel tired or out of breath. We were trotting, and honestly some speed walkers probably could have passed us, but we were doing well. And as we progressed we passed other people who obviously wore themselves out too early. We were doing it well. It wasn't the Boston Marathon by any means, but it felt good to be accomplishing something and seeing the people waving. Most of the people were surprised to see me in there and would instantly cheer louder, not expecting me to be able to handle the altitude.

Finally we arrived at the street that was one long hill. It wasn't "heartbreak hill" but it was enough to cause runners to stop and walk. We tackled it steadily and went up slower than before, but we soon reached the crest and had passed many other runners. We were nearing the halfway point and I felt great, knowing I could keep going for a while. Jamie was a little behind and we didn't want to get split up, so I slowed down occasionally for us to stick together. Back through the center of the city with more onlookers, my host mom and sister were waiting on a corner to cheer me on.

We passed a couple of police and army bands and more supporters, unsure of how many kilometers we'd passed, but knowing that we were close to the end. I wasn't breathing heavily or even sweating all that much, a fact that shocked me as I ran and realized that I was running further than I ever had. Music will definitely help with it. Finally we started nearing the end, and I could recognize the area where we'd started, and since I wasn't tired, I told Jamie I was just going to run all out, so I turned on the jets for probably the last half kilometer and arrived to a huge crowd about an hour and 5 minutes or so after we left. The official time will be posted later.

By the time I decided to run all out my legs were feeling numb, rocks were in my shoes, and blisters were forming. But it felt good to get it done, and once I was finished and I was deep into the crowd, I didn't really know what else to do besides wait for Jamie. We met up and had to get into a long line to return the chips that tracked our time, pick up shirts and a medal that everyone got.

So that about completed the 180* for me. As someone who never used to enjoy running, I actually really enjoyed the race. I took it easy and was able to accomplish it, and now I'm even thinking of trying a 15k in Quito in June. And I owe it all to one game of Frisbee. Back in February we played Frisbee in the park, and after running around for a couple of hours I realized that I wasn't really tired. I decided after that to start running and take advantage of my situation, and to get in better shape. It feels good to have done it, and with that being said, it's now time to rest up my legs and take it easy for the rest of the day.

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