Monday, May 3, 2010

Race Report Empúries: Long Version

Part I: Transportation

This story starts on Thursday, April 29th, the day Charles and I drove to Torelló for his grandmother’s funeral. We took the trusty Kangoo, the quintessential little work truck for electricians and plumbers throughout Spain.

That night, as we drove back down to Barcelona, something seemed a little off—the car was swerving in and out of our lane. You all should know that I'm a real nut about cars and car safety. Basically, I live in Europe because I hate driving, so I thought, maybe we're not swerving--maybe, I'm just tired. But, I could tell something rather serious was going on, because Charles is both an excellent driver and a very calm, even-tempered person and he was nervous as hell. Despite some very scary grinding metal sounds and not be able to go from first to second gear, Charles managed to get the Kangoo into its parking space on level minus 6 of our narrow, most likely illegal, parking garage. At 7 am, on Friday morning, the mechanic said it was best to have the car towed in right away since, from the sound of it, the steering column might snap at any given moment.

This caused me to pretty much freak the fuck out: “How,” I asked, “Are we getting to the race?” It seemed to me that Charles’ entire company should stop stressing over the Spanish economic crisis or an eight-storey apartment building full of small children and old people without hot water and start thinking of a way to get me to Empúries by 8 am Sunday morning. I whined and thought only about myself. That’s the kind of selfish behavior runners get accused of, I know. And apparently the accusations are right on. “I’ve been preparing for this for months! There is absolutely no reliable public transportation in that area! You have to get another car!” I shouted at a man who works 40 hours a week, goes to school full time in the evening, and had just buried his grandmother.

Charles, you see he's always right, told me to stop acting like a baby and promptly left for work.

At noon, he called and told me that we had a car for the trip; he’d gotten a hold of the infamous Peugeot Boxer than no one ever wants to drive (or park) in city traffic:

So, Friday evening Charles moved this mofo to a different parking spot every half hour and, on Saturday, we left the city just before the police closed off the main roads for the May Day rallies. Yes, we really should have gone to the May Day protests, especially this year, but then that’s a whole other blog.

Part II: The Race

I could write about the tiny hostel room where we watched a soccer match in black & white or our pasta dinner with the crazy cokehead waiter, but those stories aren't that interesting. What's important is that I--queen of disorganization and general laziness-- packed my own very special breakfast and woke up at 6 am Sunday morning--the first time I've been awake before Charles possibly ever. Not only did I bring my own special granola in a tiny glass jar, I had also prepared my special thermos of American coffee, which was still hot nearly 18 hours after being brewed. 18 hours? Yuck, I know, but all the bars were closed in the sleepy fishing town of L'Escala so I had two delicious cups of coffee while most other runners had none.
By 6:15, I was dressed and lathered up with sunscreen, so I took some blurry pictures out the hotel window, did some half-assed stretching and then took some pictures of Charles until he woke up. It was a short walk to the Roman ruins, where the race was set to begin. There were actually quite a few people at the race whom we know sort of tangentially, so Charles chatted while I waited in the bathroom line. Charles had told me on Saturday morning that he definitely wasn't going to run, not even the 10k. "You don't need me to do that," he said. And I really didn't. It's strange, but I really prefer running alone. I mean yes, sometimes it's easier getting out the door if I talk Charles into coming or if I know I'm meeting Abby for a Thursday night run, but once I'm running I want to be by myself.
So, as we headed to the startline, I didn't try to make any friends, I just concentrated on telling myself to start out slowly. That wasn't easy because even though it was a small race, we were all--full thoners and halvers--squished together on a very narrow path. I put some slow hip-hop on my I-pod and tried to just plod along 1-2, 1-2, 1-2, until the pack thinned out a bit. The first 8 or 9 km of the race were the same out and back for the marathon, the half, and the 10k, which started 5 minutes after us. I must say the first twenty or so minutes were glorious: we were running though beautiful farmland and it was raining, but not cold. At around the 5th or 6th km (the distances were not marked!), it began to really pour and the 10 kers began to blow by me, but I was feeling totally fine. Two guys fom work whizzed by me and called out, "Looking good!" And I sort of laughed thinking, "God, I must look like a drowned rat." But I knew right then that I was going to finish the race.

When I'd been running for 59 minutes, I saw Charles and he took an awful, fat drowned rat picture of me. Then, suddenly, all the 10kers verged off toward their finish line and I thought, "Baby, you better slow down." I didn't have to work too hard on slowing down, because I had a big hill awaiting me. On the other side of that hill was a fantastic stretch: narrow (somewhat slippery) streets through the Old Town. Old Catalan ladies and young Moroccan girls cheered us on from their doorways. Dutch tourists called down from their balconies. I felt like I was famous.

At some point though that high sort of drifted away and I wanted to know, rather desperately, how far I'd run. There were no markers in the street and the policemen I called out to just sort of shrugged and said, "What kilometer? Uh dunno, but good job!" I couldn't find anyone else with a blue number! Everyone around me was wearing the full marathon black bib. A volunteer motioned for me to veer off toward a sign that read, "21.095" and suddenly I was alone, so I just kept running. The full marathoners rejoined me at some point--packs of men passed me and nervously looked back at my number. They smiled, relieved when they saw that I was just a slow halfer and not a girl kicking some serious full marathon ass.

As we passed through a suburban development with beach houses from the 1960s, a small miracle occured: I saw a something spraypainted on the road surface. Yes, it was sort of washing away but it distinctly read: 15 km 1/2. I only had six more kilometers to go! That was nothing! My left knee hurt and I wanted some Gatorade and then...miracle number two occurred: I spotted an aid station and some twevle-year-olds offering water and...sponges? No-orange wedges! I took one and sort of half ate, half smeared it on my face and then, a third--what seemed-to-be miracle happened: I saw Charles! He was wearing a black trashbag, but I still recognized him. I called out "How much longer?" And the woman standing next to him said, very clearly and very confidently, "Tres!" But you see, that didn't sound right because remember I had just recently experienced the first miracle of seeing the 15 km marker? Also, that would have meant that I was on pace to finish in 2:07:00, which really would have been a miracle.

I followed some blue arrows on the pavement and started down a narrow road canopied by pine trees. I was totally alone and I was tired and I had been lied to, in a very cruel way, by Charles' new friend. Also, I was wondering if I was still on the right course. I called out to a man pissing in the woods, "Am I going the right way!" And, he, rather abruptly, zipped up and said, "Yeah! Go! Go!"

So I kept running and other liars along the way called out "You're almost there!" "This is nothing!" or "It's just around the bend!" When I'd been running for 2 hours and 10 minutes, I knew that I wasn't going to achieve any great time and I realized that I had no idea how far I had to go, or how much further I could keep running, but then I did come around the bend and see the sea. It was incredibly beautiful and I remembered why I love the Alt Empordà, and why I fell in love with Catalonia and decided to live here so many years ago, and why I had decided back in January to do this very race. And I thought, "just breathe in and enjoy this." I searched for Van Morrison on my I-pod and decided to just relax. And then, I came around another bend and saw the finish line and the clock that read 2 hr 14-something and I ran like una loca.


  1. Dude, you raced through Spain?! That's awesome! Way better than borning ol' Nebraska. Congrat on a great run!