9 Miles

Shiprock is a lava plug – the throat of an old volcano now eroded – that rises 1,500-feet out of the northwestern New Mexico desert. It’s a very important place, religiously and culturally, for the Navajo people here. In the Diné language, it is called Tsé Bit’a'í, which translates to something like “winged rock,” I think.  It is an amazing sight, and the image and presence of it sticks with you as you fly down NM 64. All at once, it lifts out of the ground, floating strong and sharp above the horizon. The bilagáanas (that’s us white folk) are the ones that thought it looked like a ship, which is ironic considering its dead-dry – however beautiful – location. The poor guys must have been hallucinating, seeing mirages.

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At Camp Mighty, we had to choose five things from our life list (or six, in my case) that we wanted to focus on and accomplish throughout the next year. One of my to-do items was to run another half-marathon.

T-minus three weeks until it happens, and Shiprock is where I’ll be running it.

Today was my nine-mile run. I’ve been trying to practice on asphalt - the Shiprock half being a road race when I am used to dirt and rocks and gravel – and so I’ve been taking my weekly long runs along NM 124, old Route 66. From the steps of my trailer to the defunct, abandoned Whiting Brothers’ complex near McCartys is three miles. The pavement runs towards the sunset at the bottom of the mesas at the foot of Mount Taylor. There isn’t much traffic, there are no feral dogs in that direction, and it’s pretty.

Unless, of course, your particular stretch of highway is experiencing wind speeds up to 55 mph. Then – running into a headwind, uphill, dirt and sand blasting your shins – it’s rather unpleasant.

The sign to the Whiting Brothers’ gas station near McCartys – most of what is left.

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I’ve been running off and on since middle school (let’s face it: mostly off), and I am loathe to consider myself a “runner.” I just don’t have that drive, the one that compels you to be faster faster faster, going longer longer longer, as you grit your teeth and try to maintain even a minimal sex appeal while sweating buckets in clothes that are shiny and spandex. I’m not in that league, not yet, anyway.

The first half-marathon I completed was two summers ago, and that was it – I completed it. No bells, no whistles, no great aplomb, only shin splints, blisters, and the knowledge that if necessary, I could move 13.1 miles between two points without dropping dead.

This time, my life is totally different, I am totally different, and it means more to me. I’m not sure why.

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At mile 4, the wall of oncoming white blown from the west overtook the big mesa south of Acomita. It was at this point that I realized the cold spittle intermittently hitting my cheeks and chest was not, in fact, a funky spray flung at me by the wind from the mouths of rancid beer bottles all along the road, but was, in fact, snow.

I gave up trying to figure out the weather patterns of this desert I love long ago, but tiny, stinging chunks of bitter crystals of ice – zooming straight into your face at 35 miles per hour when you’re not even halfway through a nine-mile run – will always be an unpleasant realization, I think. I was living for the little, blaring ring from my watch telling me that another mile was complete, that I had one less mile to go.

Near the five-mile turnaround, a bunch of horses grazing on brown grass in a field all looked up at me with expressions of seeming sympathy, us being in the same rocking, windy boat. Until I did the 180 to head back east, the wind was so strong that certain gusts would literally stop me from moving. “Huh,” I would think. “This is weird – my legs and arms are pumping, but I’m not technically going anywhere . . .”

The relief of having the breeze at my back once I turned around was such a sweet sensation. Miles 6, 7, and 8 went by in the pleasant thought that I was almost done, I was no longer running towards freezing weather, but away from it, and the sun was shining and glowing everywhere. With the whiteness all around and the bright flecks of snow blazing past from behind me, it seemed like I was in a photograph all blown out – bright and consumed by light.

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No matter if you are slow, round, and have a defeatist inner monologue that pathetically advises you to just “Lie down, why don’t you? – at the top of that next hill .. . Just do it. You’ll never make it nine whole miles anyway, and plus, it’s really windy. Nobody will blame you. Just give up, OK? – We’re square. You tried, A+ for effort, yadda yadda . . . WHO ARE YOU KIDDING? – JUST TURN AROUND! I WANT TO DIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEE” . . .

Just ignore it, and keep going, because eventually, when your watch beeps for nine miles, you will realize that you have run nine miles, and the quiet elation you feel trumps the fact that once you stop – stiff and jerky – you look like a straight-legged Barbie learning to walk and bend her knees for the first time.

Be well.

- SAWK

 

SAWK - HEEEYYY YOUUUU GUYYYYSSS . . . XOXO.4/15/2012 – 9:16pm

Jen - GOOOOOOD LUCK! So awesome and exciting. :) 4/15/2012 – 6:54am

Annie - Your photos are amazing, as is the story my dear!4/14/2012 – 5:45pm

Leslie - You go girl. Beautiful, as always. Good luck on the marathon. xo4/14/2012 – 4:49pm

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