As I prepared to leave Portland I had much on my mind in way of packing and planning for our visit. My biggest concern, the one that literally weighed me down, was my marathon training plan. I was scheduled to have my longest runs EVER while on vacation. I had figured out a route that would take me 13+ miles, literally leaving from the front door. I figured out where to stash water, friends home along the way in case I needed a pit stop. The majority of the route was familiar to me. I was mentally prepared. My first long run, a 13-14 miler was set for Sunday, 3 days after we arrived. I was thrilled to connect with a friend's friend who was willing to not only run the distance with me, but the early hour I suggested we start. I was set. We went out fast, I loved her speed, I loved pushing myself, I loved the confidence that comes at the beginning of a long run; I can do this. Then, maybe I can't. It was hot, I was dehydrated, my feet were swollen, my steam was running out. I slowed way down. I stretched, took one Gu, then that old familiar unwelcome pain in my right leg showed up. I ignored it for a bit, tried to up my conversation, take my mind off it, but finally I just had to say 11.77 miles was enough. Less than I wanted but keep my eye on the prize, my all too familiar phrase these days.
After a less than stellar 5 mile run a few days later I sent an email to my BRF's, sharing with them my discouragement. I had serious thoughts that I would make my fundraising goal for Team EMC, but not the physical one. I had visions of crossing the NYC marathon as a walker, not a runner. I was dejected.
I continued to do the work though and stretched and rolled and hydrated like nobody's business. Saturday morning approached and I was ready once again. As good fortune would have it, another friend said she'd start my run with me. The night before I had mapped a new course, one that would take me at least 12, but giving me an out around mile 10. We hit the pavement at 6:30am and made our way through her neighborhood. There is beauty to beheld at that hour, as the sun rises above the hills and the birds are singing their songs. Hope grew as my feet struck the pavement. I can do this.
We weaved through streets that were not as familiar to me. We ran by her Elementary school, and she pointed out her Kindergarten classroom as we spoke about AB preparing to start his own Kindergarten year. She is my sister from another mister so conversation was true and easy and welcome, as was the pace. We reached First Street - the main drag, the one I spent countless nights cruising, both on foot and later in cars, the street where I'd stop at the last payphone to call home, let it ring twice to let my parents know I was on my way. She gave me a cheerful go get it and I was off. 12 more miles to reach my true goal.
My route was different than I had planned but I went with it. I ran by the new condos which used to be the grocery store; where baggers walked us to our car, not because we needed help but because it was what they did. The store where I'd sigh deeply and get annoyed because mom was visiting with yet another friend. The store in which I can still close my eyes and see the aisles; the produce, the frozen food, the butcher counter, the mechanical horses out front. Houses looked different, no familiar faces passed me on the sidewalk but I was flooded with memories. I turned down Third Street, past the home where the Richards, our dear family friends, once lived. I smelled the juniper bushes that lined their walkway and remember my sister pushing me into them long ago when she was either mad at me or just being a big sister. I ran on. Past my friend Todd's house, to the spot on the street where my VW Bug was parked when my crush C, actually, and finally first kissed me. El Roble School- my first playground, the building I walked to for speech therapy (I couldn't say my R's and to this day, don't ask me to say rural. I can't and I won't). I made my way up to Sixth Street, remembering the route we'd take to drive by the party we weren't invited to and really didn't want to be at, but still wanted to know who was there. I ran on. I joined the levy at this point and saw the preparations for Garlic Festival taking place. The festival that brought his little town together, made us know, and brings people back today. I could smell the garlic, and I smiled knowing all that was waiting for me later that day. The levy was quiet, and I soaked it in. I weaved around the back of the old high school, spied the track, the football field - my year as a cheerleader, the seasons spent in the bleachers, our one and only powder puff game, graduation. Moving on, I ran on. I looped around the new sports park, marveling at the facilities, noting that AB would love it, add it to our must-do list. Mile 8-ish and dear friends had set water out for me. I often get turned around while running and this was true to form. I ran West when I should have gone East and found myself on Kensington Place, where my sister's high school boyfriend lived, where we spent many days, hanging, laughing, and learning. I made it to my friends porch where the water greeted me, I filled my bottle and was off again, memories of their backyard parties filling my spirit. I turned South to face the sun-exposed part of my run along a dusty path. They were preparing the road and empty fields for Garlic Festival parking. I flashed upon my Dad being a shuttle bus ambassador, riding along, sharing every imaginable Gilroy fact with everyone who loaded the bus. I've said it before, my Dad knew no strangers, only friends he hadn't met yet. I ran on.
I was coming up on 10 miles, the usual point where my pain flared up. I took a few walk breaks, stretched, slowed down a bit. I continued down Santa Theresa, I felt myself soar. It's on the outskirts of town but not so far that you feel alone. It was the route that Mr. Tomesello, football coach, ran for years and years. Every time we'd drive past him running I felt a bit of admiration, more so now in hindsight, his dedication and consistency. I ran in the dust and kept my eye on my Garmin as it ticked away. I felt good. No really, I felt great. I had a 5k, 3.1 miles to go. I ran on.
The sign read HWY 152 one mile ahead, I felt like I was in the home stretch. I can do this. I paused, sent a text to both my husband and my sister, "Mile 12, no pain, two more!" I turned East on First, ran past the dentist office where my sister worked after hours- I helped her clean, sterilize instruments, vacuum, refresh the toilet paper rolls, we read through the trashy magazines in the waiting room. Past the strip mall, Togos, oh man, what I'd do for a Turkey and Avocado right then. I turned left on Westwood, the old Straw Hat to my right - after game gatherings, surprise parties, quarters in the jukebox, endless games of Pacman. I ran on.
Down Welburn making my way back to my start I came upon Gaunt Street, where my childhood best friend Heidi lived. I can remember to this day the heartbreak I felt when she told me in third grade she was moving over to the valley. She was so excited and I didn't know how to reconcile her joy with my sadness.That can be a difficult reconciliation still.The long wait for the crosswalk was welcome, I stretched and took some deep breaths. I can do this.
I was on the West side of Santa Theresa now and I really didn't know my route. I weaved right, then left and a few times turned back to where I came from. It was a new neighborhood to me, one that was built up as I was leaving town. I had a general sense, but nothing was clear. My Garmin chimed, 13 miles. Left then right then left again, all new territory, the streets and the mile. I ran on. There were no memories of days gone by to carry me on at this point. I had to be present and present I was. One foot in front of the other. Finally, for the 14th time that morning, my Garmin chimed. I did it. 14 miles. I let out a joyous YES, gave a few fist pumps, felt tears fill my eyes as my throat choked up. I didn't want to stop, and truth be told, I wasn't exactly sure where I was. I turned a corner onto Longmeadow and it was all clear. I was soon back to where I started. I did it.
Later that day I stood in the middle of a dusty field at the Garlic Festival, sipping a wine cooler, eating scampi and garlic bread drenched in garlicky butter sauce.The faces around me were the faces of my childhood; my best friend since sixth grade, a neighbor who first taught me to ride a horse, a friend who bugged me on the bus each and every day. It was a perfect way to follow-up the morning.
It was the memories of my childhood, my upbringing, of being from a small town that powered me through my run. It is community, and belonging and being known and loved that move me forward. I am 14.2 miles stronger, and an abundance of memories fuller. I run on.