The sun is beating down on my weary body. What time is it? I think it's 11 a.m., but I'm not sure. This is Mesa, where is another one of those fountains that annouce a rich subdivision, a fountain in the middle of the desert where we need to be conserving water, a fountain that says, "We have so much money, we're going to waste it on water that cascades down the stones announcing our subdivision's name, water that evaporates in the hot desert before reaching the bottom of the fountain," water that I can dip my hat in to get wet to cool me off (no matter that it's probably nasty water with mold or mildew or germs or algae or whatnot. It's water and I'm hot, dehydrated and exhausted.) One foot down in front of the other, keep moving, Angie, keep moving. Groovin' it, baby, you can do it. Oops, veering into oncoming traffic, not to smart, stay on the shoulder. How many teams are out here? So many vans now. Not too many vans on the course last night. Boom, boom, boom. Keep it going. The pain is coming back, no, I don't want the pain in my right calf to come back. Think about something else.
My mind drifts to cherry coke. Mmm, regular cherry coke. I'm going to get some real cherry coke when I get to the finish. Only two more miles to go. Two more miles in this heat. You can do it. I am exhausted. I can't do it. Oh look, the buckthorn cholla cactus is flowering; it's your favorite cactus! A smile creeps over my face. I like that. There's comfort in the flower of a buckthorn cholla. There's no comfort in trying to sleep in a minivan with six other people. I wonder how much sleep did I get last night? Maybe three hours? Too bad I missed the massage therapist at exchange six. But I still can't believe he said I wasn't tight when I saw him at exchange 12. My hips feel good though. Maybe I should be getting regular massages to help with the chronic tightness in my hips.
My legs keep turning over. I'm numb, they keep moving. I can't think about the pain, it's better that they are numb. My head is baking; it feels like it's going to explode. I can't keep this up much longer. Just to that palo verde tree. Okay, good. Now to the mailbox. Now to that sign. City of Mesa sewer line, In case of emergency call this number. If I call that number, will they come out and get me? I guess this isn't an emergency. You've done this before, you can do it again. Dig deep, baby, you've got a well of untapped energy inside. Oh, I just want to cry. Good. Use that energy, channel it into your legs.
My legs are heavy. I steer my mind to other thoughts. I can't dwell on the pain, the heat, the fact that I'm so hot but I have the chills. The fact that I'm out of water and want to walk. Instead, I think about the ice cream sundae and beer I had at the bar where my fellow teammates in Van 2 and I hung out while Van 1 did their first six legs. I think about how I ran 4 miles in 38 minutes a few hours later - sub-10-minute miles. I ponder where the water came from that was crossing the road half-way through that leg. Wet shoes! No fair! I'm in the desert; I don't want wet shoes! They'll be wet for the rest of my legs! I think about the orange moon that hung low over the desert. I think about the stars and how amazing they were. I think about how much fun it was to run to music; I mentally thank Kiera yet again for letting me borrow her shuffle so I could have music, even though I couldn't get the earpiece to stay in my left ear and I lost the foam thingies that provide cushioning (oops, sorry, I'll buy you new ones). I am bummed that I don't have my music with me for this, my longest and hottest, leg. But better to have no electronics and to keep myself wet than to have music and overheat.
Oh, that big flat boulder looks good. I wonder if I could stop and sit for a moment. No, my teammates are waiting on me, I can't stop. Besides, that boulder's been baking in the hot sun all morning. It would fry my out-of-shape ass like bacon on a hot griddle.
Back to other thoughts, thoughts to distract me. I smile, thinking of the motorcycle cop Erin and Jen got to follow me earlier on this leg. "Ma'am, the speed limit in the City of Mesa is five miles an hour. I clocked you going six. You need to slow down." I almost start laughing, then remember to channel that energy into my weary legs. I relax, thinking about the cool water they doused me with just a few short miles ago. I am grateful I had the shortest total mileage for this course and the easiest runs.
I am excited that I set a 5k PR on my second leg. Slight downhill in the wee hours of the morning, the hills on the horizon backlit by early morning dawn, pale yellow and orange. The desert air cool and crisp, with the slight scent of water hanging in the air, waiting for me to gulp it down, breath it deep. Politik by Coldplay coming on, slightly upping my cadence for the last four minutes, giving me the energy to pump myself forward, keep it going at that fast rate, going, going, going, there's James, slap! Hand off the bracelet. Holy shit, 29:01.
The pain in my calf pierces my thoughts. My head is pounding, I'm hot and cold and dehydrated and exhausted. How much farther? I pass a sign: One mile to go. Thank god. I imagine Kiera in front of me, keeping me going. "C'mon," she'd say, "it's just too cruel to walk at this point. It would take so much longer." I'm sorry, Kiera, I have to walk. Just for a short moment, just to let this cramp pass and to catch my breath.
I pick up the pace. "Sound of Music," James says in response to hearing Gwen Stafani singing a hip-hop song with a Sound of Music sample. "Now that's a gangsta-ass movie." I smile, thinking of how much laughter I've shared with my teammates over the last 24 hours. How much encouragement they've given me, even though they are so much faster than me. Jen, our team manager and driver, with her utter inability to keep electronics working and who has a penchant for rap music; Erin, the only runner in our van from Phoenix, who's exuberance in my first leg kept me going; James, the fast runner who plays classical piano - is going to school for it! - and who also plays guitar in a local band; Dan, who is fast and quiet; Amy, a friend of a friend, a triathlete who was a last-minute sub for someone who couldn't make it; and Todd, with his wacky hat, who brought us Recovery Socks to use in between legs and who organizes bike races around Arizona.
I drink the last of my water, grateful that I have less than a mile to go. It seems like a lifetime ago we were playing hackey-sack in the parking lot at the first major exchange, waiting for my friend Jen, the one who suckered me into this, to arrive and hand off the bracelet to Erin. I try to remember all this, crystallize it in my brain so I can regurgitate it out for my blog readers. I have so much emotion, so much, and I can't hold it all in.
One final hill, up and over the water canal. Oh, how I wish I could dive in! I give myself permission to walk the short uphill, and when I crest, I see my final exchange. I pick up my pace, I am flying. I hear cheers and speed up even more, which in turn, brings more cheers. I'm almost there, holy shit, I'm almost done. I hit the barricades, hand the bracelet to James and yell, "GO!" He takes off and I stumble around. Where are my teammates? Sit, I need to sit. Shade, where is shade. Vomit, I'm going to vomit. Jen guides me to a chair and hands me water. I sit and a gentleman comes to me and says, "I'm not a doctor, but I stayed at Holiday Inn last night." I spit out my water and laugh. "You must be Jen's dad!" I say. "Nice to meet you!"
It's good to be done. It's good to know that I ran just over a half-marathon - and half that distance at about a 9:30 pace. The other half at just over a 10:30 pace. I didn't know I could run that fast, that far.
I crash in the van. They've switched me to a different van, one with better music (rock, instead of hip-hop). I fall asleep in the back. I am vaguely aware of stopping at an exchange or two, but just let myself drift off. The air conditioning is so cold. I reach for a nearby sweatshirt to warm me up, and it smells of C, the person I've been seeing since February. I wonder how he's doing, what he's up to, and in my state of half-conciousness, I let myself drift into thoughts of a hot bath and arms wrapped around me and comfort and a soft bed. I am so very tired.
We arrive at the finish line and await Dan's arrival so we can all cross together. Woo hoo! We did it! We made it! A picnic at the park gives us all time to chew over the past 24 hours, and then we head back to the shop and pack up our individual cars.
On the 90-minute drive back to Tucson, I finally find the word that best describes this experience: intense. I find myself wanting to cry and laugh all at the same time, and just feeling relief that I'm back in my own car, on the way home. So much stress, so much hurry up and wait, so much exhaustion, so much driving, so many emotions, so much fun. Not enough running during that 24 hours, though. Maybe next year, I'll enter in the ultra division, where there are only six people on a team, and each person runs two legs in a row each time they run.
Back in Tucson, I head to C's house, where my muscles are grateful for the hot bath and chicken-and-broccoli pizza awaiting my return. I try to stay awake to watch Babel, but my eyes close halfway through.
The bed feels like heaven.