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Not Impossible: The Providence Marathon 2014 (Race) Report. Part B

May 30, 2015

Also read Not Impossible: The Providence Marathon 2014 (Race) Report. Part A or whatever.

The half-marathoners dominated the porta potty lines when the anthem was sung, and I stood among them.

Shit. I missed the start.

Who cares, I have the best legs in New England. I start when I want to start.

I’ll start with the half-marathoners.

I’d be the only one wearing a green bib.

Eh. Better than starting the race 3 minutes late, by myself.

I quit the bathroom line and started the race 3 minutes late, by myself. A helicopter was filming an aerial close-up to embarrass me to death. Bewildered, I ran in denial for 16.5 miles, then I started to drip. We cool. Black spandex. No one can see that my pants are wet. A woman called out to me: “Nice and steady. Looking Great.” I waved to her and nodded. Am I right?! Then I entered a deeper stage of denial. Think of the big picture: a 4-hour finish. A guy on a bicycle came toward us as I made a left turn onto Vintner. “Way to pee!” he cheered. I’m not sure that was what he said, but I saw porta potties at the corner on Wannisett and I went in. My race was over.

At Mile 18, at the start of an unshaded stretch of the bike path, I decided to not stop to refill my bottle. I quickly ran out of water. Sunday was a sunny day, unlike when I ran there on Friday. The wind was stronger on Sunday too — a 29.90 MPH northeast headwind — which rendered my sunscreen insufficient. I often bet against the sun and the wind; sunscreen feels like wearing another layer of clothing and I don’t like it. I miscalculated, and I was also wrong about not getting water at Mile 18. There was no water until Mile 21 and the promised hills did not exist either. Instead there was an undocumented hill, a more severe hill, at Mile 21. And there was Mile 23: an undisclosed cobblestone promenade, hidden from street traffic and obscured from the satellite imagery of Google Earth. Are you fucking kidding me?! Who puts cobblestones on a race course? Everything was terrible and I lost clarity, but the real victims were the spectators.

At Mile 21, where the bike path meets Veterans Memorial, a bunch of college-type brethren were watching me ascend the Goliath slope; they had wit and hotness and words for my nipples. “It’s getting cold,” one of them said. It wasn’t getting cold. I didn’t look back or laugh. I was sandblasted, I was thirsty, I was sun-washed. I’m sorry.

I saw you somersault in your front yard, little girl. You are making the world a better place. I’m sorry I ignored you.

Sir, I saw you sitting on the curb, strapped to a baby, monitoring the wheels of a stroller and another baby. You looked optimistic. I’m sorry I didn’t say hi, or smile. I’m sorry I didn’t hug you.

Ma’am, I saw you calling out, “2-1-9-7! You look great!” I was dumbly apathetic. I’m sorry I didn’t thank you.

I heard you at Mile 24: “Two and a quarter! It will be shorter! You will be surprised!” Seriously, girlfriend, I don’t know what that means. What a thing to say.

There was an accident. A man and a bicycle were lying in the grass and an ambulance had arrived and parked on the median between the highway and the trail. I kept running, forcing the sight to fade away, thinking of the uncanny biker who had been following me. I saw him every two miles; every two miles, I would run past him where he would be standing by his bike, in his helmet, biding his time, acting as if he hadn’t been following me. I didn’t see him after my bathroom break at Mile 17.

“Because people look at the clouds,” his ex girlfriend, Abigail, said to Dr. Thackery on The Knick. “Don’t look at the clouds, John.”

I hated the romantic cobblestones.

Randy Pierce (left) and Thor Kirleis
Photo © TomTom / Cox Providence Rhode Races

The last five miles were familiar. There, on Valley Street, was the other side of the Dare Devil Dive where I ran in Mile 4 behind the blind runner and his guide. “SLOWING,” the guide said. “MANHOLE COVER in three… two… one…” Then: “CONES,” he announced. “Don’t push, just let it pull you.” They were holding the ends of a 2-foot tether, keeping an invariable constancy between them. I had just passed them and stepped on a bump in the asphalt when the guide said, “A little BUMP.” The blind man recited the names of the streets as though he was reading a map to someone on the phone. “Valley Street,” he said, “highway underpass.” They were focused, they were ready. I was awestruck. I turned to them and sneaked a smile and a ‘good job,’ and the blind runner said, “Left turn in 400 yards. And that’s Mile 4.”

“You’re the best guide I had,” he said to his guide. “You’re the first guide I had.”

“Tell me at Mile 20 if I’m a good guide,” the guide said.

That hill was steeper than a ramp in a parking garage underneath a high-rise building, and on the way back, in Mile 23, my legs refused to run it. I felt very small.

But I didn’t go to New England to break four hours. I wanted to go to the museum at ‘Risdee,’ the Rhode Island School of Design, where people who have artistic ability go to learn, like David Sedaris’s sister Gretchen. I also had to buy a new t-shirt at the Boston University Bookstore, a red-on-white short-sleeve to match my car sticker. And I needed to have an espresso at Dwelltime in Cambridge — the best coffee in New England.

I didn’t do any of that. I went for a drive and observed the user experience of motorcyclists across three states. Rhode Island riders, unlike moto heads in New Hampshire, don’t wear helmets and they don’t communicate in turn signals; in Rhode Island, safe distance is for losers. Boom.

The American Classic Arcade Museum, Laconia, New Hampshire

I listened to Marketplace on NHPR and drove north to the American Classic Arcade Museum in Laconia, where I spent all my tokens on PAC-MAN. A little boy was pacing behind me. You can play when I die, I told him in my head. Then his dad said, “Let’s find something else,” steering his son away; a sturdy lad from New Hampshire, he understands. For in my work of genius he recognizes his own rejected thoughts, for we abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility. On the way south from heaven, I stopped at a gas station in Manchester to buy a lottery ticket for the Mega Millions. I haven’t checked my ticket yet. I still can.

On Sunday I had dinner at North on Carpenter Street. I was able to find parking in Luongo Square, the hub of a residential neighborhood, where houses wear wood molding and layers of trim in contrast colors. North was in the blue house, across from the purple house, next door to the red house. I reached for the door handle when a guy clad in all-black rushed to block my way with a clipboard in his hand.

“You have to sign a release,” he said.

He was repping for the BBC’s Million Dollar Critic — a new reality show. They would be filming me chewing, they might say things, I might mutter about things. You can’t have any pudding if you don’t sign our release. Inside, everyone was acting natural, talking into their phones and not making eye contact. The bar area in the front was chock-full of diners. In the dark I could see a mobile spotlight on a stick following a man with a fuzzy field microphone through a disjointed arrangement of tables. The back room is the size of a living room; there was nowhere to stand comfortably without getting in someone’s way.

“It’s an hour wait,” someone called in my direction. I said okay. “Maybe less for one,” he added.

The Avery

I bartered my phone number for his name and advice to wait across the street at The Avery — a local hangout with a melancholy theme. I walked over, sat at the bar, gawked at the nude art that bedecked the wall, and ordered a ginger ale every time the man on my left ordered a beer. In the corner, a tattooed woman with a lackluster voice was telling her boyfriend that her girlfriend was moving to Los Angeles, then John from North called and interrupted the misery; he said I should go over, they had an open seat.

There were six cramped, wooden barstools; whoever sat down first would pilfer a few inches of space, until the last two wiggly chairs remained inaccessible. John waved to me and in the direction of the two open seats. The BBC camera was rolling. It then moved outside to zoom in on the bar area through the front window.

Million Dollar Critic’s filming crew in Providence at North

By the time I made it onto the chair, the seat on my right had an occupant — another solo diner, whom I didn’t see enter the restaurant, or wait by the door, or struggle to climb the barstool. He greeted me and immediately started a conversation from the middle. I soon discerned that he was God. His name is Richard. He is an accountant. He works from home. He always comes to North when his friends are in town. His voice is deep and slow and mildly accented; he sounds like John Koudounis from Mizuho Securities or someone who has a podcast about tuning of upright pianos. His skin color is dark maple and his thick hair is wavy and black.

Richard told me that he imported a Thermomix from Canada in his suitcase and I said I ran a marathon — what you should say when you talk with God. We both ordered Dan Dan Noodles: the freshest wide noodles, dancing in a red sauce with ground goat meat and chunks of squid and chilies. I also ordered a warm mushroom dish: beech mushrooms, which were roasted, then dressed in thai basil and buttermilk egg yolk sauce. North could have saved that sauce had they dared to break the law of small plates and bring out the mushroom dish by itself. I described its phenomenal sauciness to Richard as I was witnessing the buttermilk suddenly coagulate and cool and die.

Small plates are a boon to eaters. They outdo big plates, they keep you focused, they let you eat cheesecake and oysters side by side and optimize your good time. The best bite is the first bite, everyone knows that. Pickled ginger — the artificer of sushi brilliancy — knows that, tricking our palates into deeming each piece of sushi the first piece of sushi. But the best bite is the second bite, of course. Seconds are taken for love, and love bests everything.

The buttermilk mushroom dish does not belong on a small-plate menu, I’m just saying.

Richard doesn’t like runny eggs and doesn’t eat fish and shellfish often. He grew up in Trinidad; he wasn’t exposed to seafood as a child and hasn’t grown into liking it. We talked about our love for espresso.

“No good coffee in Providence,” Richard said, “nothing like Cafe Intelli-hentsia,” he mispronounced the name.

“You know about Intelligentsia!” I was entranced. “They make a good espresso.” We agreed.

“Yes,” he said, “my daughter studied art at Columbia College. Dwelltime in Cambridge,” he went on, “the best espresso in Boston. Better than Intelli-hentsia,” Richard said.

I ordered a pineapple coffee cake, which was ill-fated. It had roasted pineapple and coffee and ice cream and almond streusel — it was materially confused. I told Richard that the other night I ate pastries for dinner.

“Pastiche.” He knew.

“Yes,” I confessed.

Pastiche Fine Desserts & Café

I waited twenty minutes for a table at Pastiche, sitting outside on Spruce Street on the lovers’ bench, watching the after-party throng of Federal Hill. I wanted hot chocolate but I didn’t want to lose the bench. Therefore I started an unmemorable conversation with a standby couple on a first date. She had coffee in a paper cup, he had three unbuttoned buttons in his shirt, I had the bench. I read to them from the menu of Cakes and Tarts and Cookies by the Pound, and when my table was ready, I was ready too. The hostess removed utensils and glassware to set up the scene for a single diner who wasn’t going to share. Then a waiter brought carrot cake and hot chocolate and a Russian teacake with pecans, a rugelach with currants and walnuts, and also a lemon curd square that was half-baked, and a chocolate truffle.

Chocolate truffle, Russian teacake with pecans, lemon curd square, and rugelach with currants and walnuts at Pastiche Fine Desserts & Café

It was past midnight when I finished at Pastiche and I wanted dessert. I asked the hostess where I could get a decent slice of pizza. “Oh, wow. Sicilia’s,” she said. She was falling in love with me. “The. Best.” she added. I strode to the other side of DePasquale Square, as she directed, turned left and crossed the street. “Sicilia’s,” the sign read, “Stuffed Pizza Chicago Style.” Because Providence is uncompromising.

“These things have a reason,” Richard said and launched a browser on his phone. He waxed ardently about the existence of mobile search tools, “the enablers of productive conversations,” he theorized. He sent me to visit a book shop on Plympton Street devoted entirely to poetry. “Go to Grolier,” he said. “Every time you’re in Boston.” Then, rhetorically, he added, “and the Harvard Book Store.”

Four hours in marathoning is mothafucka badass, like 100 IBU’s in beer and Windows 10 in Windows. People who can’t run a 4-hour marathon are irrelevant to society. My training data put me at a 3:55 finish; “Not impossible,” they said. And I believed them. Because failing is good for me. Failing has made me give up on things and quit them forever, like that time when I wanted to be a stained-glass artist.

Wearing winter layers and half-finger training gloves, I stood on the balcony of my apartment holding a wheel cutter. I scored piece after piece of one-of-a-kind glass, snapped it like a useless princess, turning it into trash. And after quitting stained glass for good, I now cut glass like a boss. I control where the break happens, I copper foil the curves, flux the seams, run my soldering iron on the other side; I grind, I fine-tune, I readjust, and I don’t use gloves. I own stained glass.

The day before the race, I watched Born to Explore on Discovery Channel. Richard Wiese followed a craftsman in India through his process of block printing on fabric. “It is good to know,” Wiese said, “there are places in the world people care to do work with passion.” And later that day, at the marathon expo, I met Mike and Dave, the founders of Janji. They make v-neck t-shirts, which are the hardest kind of t-shirts to make. Their fabrics aren’t spineless, their shapes are not trying to slim or lengthen. Their graphics flirt their way from the fronts to the sides. Mike and Dave bring water to people who love water, and they bring t-shirts to people who love t-shirts.

It’s all craft. Running is a craft. I decided to run a 3:55 marathon when the Dumbass Partners came on ESPN after the Kentucky Derby and talked about their decision to win the Triple Crown. They didn’t win. We all didn’t win.

Federal Hill, Providence

I had one chance to get this right — one pre-race dinner. I rarely eat dinner at 6 p.m. in the afternoon, all the same, what would Jordan Belfort do? I sat by the window at the NYLO hotel with my back to the river and interpreted the couple that walked into the dining room. The girl repeatedly flattened her flat hair with her hand, mindlessly; she was obsessing on how steadily she walked in her new platform sandals. It was their first getaway weekend — a checklist item on her to-do. This is fun. It’s fun, right? she rephrased an answer as a question in her head. The boyfriend seemed impatient, his plaid shirt untucked, his hair wet; he wanted to stay in bed, he didn’t want to take a shower. He put his hands in his front jean pockets and pulled them out as he was eyeing the TV behind the bar. She was deciding what time they would finish dinner, if to wear the white short-sleeve for lunch tomorrow or the pink tank top. He asked the waitress to change the channel; the Pacers were playing the Hawks at home, it was Game 7.

I perused the menu, making mental bookmarks. I doubted they would have anything fermented. The table on my left clinked their four glasses of wine. The world needs more kombucha, more sauerkraut, a better tofu. I ordered my legumes, protein, greens, and chocolate milk; the waitress walked to the kitchen to place my order and before long, she walked back. “Just making sure,” she said, revealing the lack of congruence in my food order, “you also wanted the hummus, correct?” She was tall and pretty, with long, brown hair with wavy, copper hues. Polite reticence washed over her and softened her frame with gracious aplomb. I said yes, I also wanted the hummus.

“I’m running a marathon in the morning,” I gave her an explanation. “Covering all the food groups.”

She was relieved. “Absolutely,” she said and stayed standing by my side. “I don’t run,” she said. She paused, and then added, “I can run 3 miles.”

“I love running here,” I said.

“I volunteered at a mud race this morning,” she told me.

“Ah, fun,” I was hooked. “Where was it?” I asked.

“Scarborough Beach. I helped with the waves, it was a lot of fun. I’m all sunburnt now.”

“Yes. The wind and the clouds, it’s deceiving,” I said. I worried about my sunscreen.

“Would you like a straw for the chocolate milk?” she asked. Then she went to brief the kitchen.

She brought the pasta, she brought the Brussels sprouts, she brought the black beans.

“And just checking,” she said, “you still want the hummus, yes?”

I relished the shrimp and the pesto and penne; I left the pita chips uneaten and the olives in the bowl. Someone else’s waitress sauntered by my table, looking, then finally turned to me and said: “You go loading up.” I was famous.

I didn’t want anything on the dessert menu. I wanted more fiber and more dairy and I wanted strawberries.

“Hold on,” my pretty waitress said. She said she’d be right back.

She walked to the other side of the room and leaned through the opening in the wall to talk with Chef David about me. I unfolded the course map that I brought to dinner and read it one more time. My waitress came back.

“Okay,” she reported. “We can make fresh strawberries with custard…” She tilted her head and narrowed her eyes, that is to say, personally, she would have definitely picked fresh strawberries with custard. I said nothing. I wanted to know what Chef David had said next. Professional chefs, like advertising creatives, use this technique when they pitch an idea: The last item they present is an extemporaneous disclosure, a sliver of their heart, it’s what they love. The last article is not there to sate the desire — it’s their biometric signature.

“Or…” she continued, “we can do strawberries and whipped cream.”

“That,” I said. “Strawberries and cream.”

Not Impossible: The Providence Marathon 2014 (Race) Report. Part A


Run The Jewels – 36″ Chain
Nirvana – Come As You Are
Eminem – Lose Yourself
Joey Bada$$ – No. 99
SomeKindaWonderful – Reverse
Pink Floyd – Another Brick in the Wall
Kendrick Lamar – The Blacker the Berry
Laurie Berkner – Victor Vito
The Return of the Blue and Gold by Dan Sweeney. American Way, May 2014, Vol. 47 No. 09
The Chicken Sisters! by Cathy Booth Thomas. American Way, May 2014, Vol. 47 No. 09
The Wolf of Wall Street / screenplay by Terence Winter
Audrey Niffenegger
Me Talk Pretty One Day / David Sedaris
Self-Reliance / Ralph Waldo Emerson
Six Amazing Foods for Cleansing your Colon Naturally by Ethan A. Huff

Photos © Nurit Pazner or respective owner.

Not Impossible: The Providence Marathon 2014 (Race) Report. Part A

May 28, 2015


In his underwear, Jordan kneels over the toilet, sticking his fingers down his throat to make himself vomit.



That night I cleared my schedule and rid my body of anything that could fuck with my high. It was celebration time.


He takes a box off the counter marked ‘Active Enema.’ He squats and administers it…

Um, rid my body of anything that could fuck with my marathon high. I looked up ‘enema’ and found a life hack. Not enema — foods. Better than enema, I soliloquized. Strawberries, high-green greens, raw oats. Play with these, let the good times roll from the inside. Legumes, fermented vegetables, salt. I like this game.

Pontiac Mills, Warwick, Rhode Island

From the airport, I drove to Warwick, Rhode Island, the coastland of fishing and offloading marijuana, and checked in at the NYLO hotel. I saw two women in the lobby with Target bags in their hands and a bevy of flight crew — a shagadelic pilot and a cohort of stewardesses in outdated parade uniforms. The Captain asked the hotel lady for Wi-Fi instructions, then he turned to his fembots and repeated what she said in a British accent.

The main level of the hotel had no interior walls. A northern draft shimmied around the exposed ducting and concrete columns, from the collaged panels behind the reception desk to the dining room in the offing; spinning the bubble chair in the library lounge, flirting with the books, dimming the wooden ball chandelier, it rushed to the Pawtuxet River through a wall of windows. I followed. The deck at the NYLO hotel was cut organically to shadow the course of the river. I moseyed along the naked glass fence toward the Pontiac Mills complex next door, where the Knight Brothers founded Fruit of the Loom in the 1850s, where they created the first patented fabric in the US. Where later during the Civil War, they sewed uniforms for the Union Army there, inside that orange-brick building.

At the end of the deck was a patch of dirt and a bit of construction mess. An invisible door opened and a man dressed in a chef’s apron came out to greet me.

“Hi, I’m David,” he said. He was planting a garden there.

“I’ll have herbs and tomatoes.”

We talked about the seasons and I told him I was from Chicago. I said that Rick Bayless had a container garden in his house with climate control and grow lights and that he grew vegetables on rotation year-round for his restaurants. I had to say that; when I meet someone nice, I get excited and I say the douchiest things. Chef David said I should come eat at his restaurant. He had fresh local seafood, local vegetables. He said he was making fettuccine that night and shrimp with basil. I didn’t have to pick from the menu, he said. He would make me what I liked. Just come in and tell him what I liked.

“What do you like?” he asked. He’s a giver. I wasn’t dreaming, I had found a backdoor to a farm-to-table chef, to my pre-race New England dinner.

There is something to be said for marathon racing. Marathoning isn’t about the finish time. Marathoning is about how it makes you feel. The first marathon I ran was the Chicago Marathon, and now I want to reenact the euphoric high that it gave me. The training machine was moshing in my head, swaddling my virginity in a coat of mystique, enticing my readiness, painting my limits with wide strokes of starry sky and fireworks. I know how that made me feel. Now I must take myself there again.

On Friday, after breakfast, I put on my running shoes and went out to drive the course. I put ice in the ice bucket liner before I left the hotel, put it in the trunk, and went to Target. I bought bottled water and bananas. I bought oversized blackberries, a box of raspberries, strawberries, and a 4-pack of blueberry Chobani. My next stop was at a gas station in East Providence; I needed a plastic spoon.

“Only forks and knives,” the attendant said.

“I’ll take two forks,” I said.

I used Google Maps to navigate the unpaved parts of the course, instead of a proper navigation app, which may exist — I don’t know. One time, on another out-of-town trip in a shiny rental on a dirty road, I came to a stop in front of a barrier gate. I looked up into a camera and said, “Google Maps sent me,” like Jodie Foster did in Contact when she was pitching for a research grant. I was turning the car around when a man came out and approached my window. He took my phone and enlarged the map.

“This isn’t the gas station,” he said. “You need gas?” He had all the right questions.

“No,” I said, “I’m meeting someone.”

He dragged the map to the left and circled with his finger above a blank space on the screen. “This is the gas station,” he smiled. “Use Waze next time.”

Barrington, Rhode Island

I drove up Gano Street in Mile 2 in a slow moving traffic, which gave me time to embrace the hold my foot had on the gas pedal. The pastel colors of the houses wrapped the harshness of the hill in cotton candy softness. What does this mean? Quickly the course turned right and left and right again — down on Pitman, up on Butler, down on Waterman — and onto the Henderson Expressway. The course stayed on Gano for just a half of a mile, from India Point to Pitman, which was archetypal for the Providence Marathon: The hills were tough, yet they were ephemeral; after the turn, when you didn’t expect it, there was an incline, or at least a distraction. Those hills were friendlier than other marathon hills I had run. In Montreal, the hills sneak up on you and punch you in the face. Canadiens. In Austin, the hills go up to hell, where a seething driver is sitting in a car, plotting with a police officer how to run you over. The hills in Cape Cod are hallucinatory. You enter a forest in Mile 16 and run up a hilly trail for 5 miles forever. Nobody comes out of there alive.

Driving in Riverside felt like driving in Skokie, Illinois: a rangy two-lane highway with simple houses on both sides of the road, large empty lawns, party supplies; flowers and balloons, an auto service shop, Honey Dew Donuts, a bus stop. Continuing south on Terrace Avenue, the trees became denser, the road became one-way, the houses accreted levels and decorative trim; two- and three-car garages, porches and fences. The front yards turned smaller, kids’ toys marked the territories. Grander boats, a marina and a boatyard, I saw the ocean water and I was not in Skokie anymore. I kept south to the open plains of Barrington, to Nayatt Road, the south-most part of the course at Mile 14. The houses grew absurdly more enormous and hid behind prettified shrubs; backyard basketball hoops transitioned to a country club, a golf course, and a supersize patch of the ocean.

Somewhere around Star Avenue, I set a course for the Alpha Quadrant at Mile 15 and Mile 16 of the marathon course. I was driving on a dirt road alongside a lone runner, matching my speed to his pace. I said hi. It didn’t seem to bother him to remove his earbud to talk with me during his speed work.

“Training for the marathon Sunday?” I asked.

“No. Too hard,” he laughed. “I’m running a Half Marathon in Cape Cod,” he said.

I told him I was running the Providence Marathon. “I’m from Chicago,” I explained.

“It’s a hard course,” he warned me. “Hilly.”

“Yes,” I said.

We said good luck and I drove off to suss out the way out of the woods.

The last five miles of the course were the first five miles in reverse, which was some kinda wonderful. Running the first miles in the last miles is better than repeating other miles. In Montreal, for example, you run the rolling hills of Kilometer 26, where fast runners wrap up their Kilometer 32. Their Kilometer 32 now is your Kilometer 32 in fifty minutes from now. Nobody likes that. Fast runners high-five slow runners on a marathon course like Republicans friend black people on Facebook. Fuck team spirit, I run my own race, and I walk around like I got a 36″ chain. I want my last miles to be my first miles in reverse.

Five more miles. Quit now, you’re never gonna make it. But then you run the same five miles again and you remember: up on Gano, down on Pitman, up on Butler, down on Waterman. And you do what Des Ficker said in Austin at the expo, “Let gravity increase your speed naturally. Don’t push it.” You run downhill and you lose yourself in the moment, you own it. Because going down is so much fun.

East Bay Bike Path

I drove up to Mile 21, where a skinny trail laid atop the water. In the distance, a row of windmills bejeweled the riverbank. I parked in a small lot abutting on the East Bay Bike Path and went to run my 3-miler. Graffiti enlivened a skeleton of a house at Watchemoket Cove and small oak trees curled their branches over the Providence River, as if wanting to swim. I stopped to examine the chain-link fencing around the water treatment plant and the large pebbles that blackened the shore. I took pictures, ran past the Pomham Rocks lighthouse, and ran back to the car.

That night, I had the best night’s sleep — the night before the night before the race. The last time I slept that well was on a work trip to Milan. “Four countries in five days!” my boss’s assistant reveled in my itinerary, pretending it was easy. The hotel in Milan upgraded me when I checked in; they put me in the suite where they shoot the porn. I removed the pillows from the bed — red lip-shaped pillows. How do you even wash wool velvet? I didn’t have to have pillows, I was exhausted. I slid into the pink silken sheets and slept so tight. Faustino Asprilla would have appreciated that hotel room. That room was good for romancing. My hotel in Warwick, Rhode Island didn’t have all that. In Warwick I didn’t wake up an hour late for a morning meeting; but in Milan I did. I hit the shower hysterically in Milan, unbelieving. Fuck. There was something in the grappa?? Is that a camera on the ceiling in the shower?? Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. In Warwick, at the NYLO hotel, I had a genuine good night’s sleep and I wasn’t late for anything. I dreamed of a bowl of oranges and single-serve bags of chips just before my alarms went off.

Shannon View Inn, Warwick

On Thursday I went to Shannon View Inn to pay heed to the Warwick bar scene — men that come in fives after work to drink light beers and watch the Red Sox on NESN. Shannon View Inn was a TripAdvisor recommendation. When I studied TripAdvisor and Yelp and their tickers and fundamentals, I figured out that TripAdvisor is a snapshot of strangers’ first impressions, it’s a living catalog of opinions from visitors who don’t live in the area. And that’s what I want in New England. I don’t want Yelp in New England; Yelp is for locals, by locals, it portrays the behavior of the locals, the deep frying of everything, and frying oysters is just wrong.

The kitchen was on my right, at the open end of the U-shaped bar where I sat. On my left was a line of tap handles. Across from me was a group of men in khakis and graphic tees who had walked in, one man at a time until they were five, glanced at me, looked at the TV, and ordered draft lagers. It was a day-night game day at Fenway on Thursday. The Sox played the Rays and lost on all seven TV screens, after losing the opener of that doubleheader earlier in the afternoon. The bartender dispensed iced tea into my plastic cup. I asked if it was unsweetened and immediately regretted asking that. That was New England — of course it wasn’t unsweetened. Soon Five Guys were judging me, and the bartender was judging me — she started calling me ‘Hon.’ I finished reading the menu, then started reading it again. The only non-fried item at Shannon View Inn was a Reuben sandwich that was deep-fried. It came with Swiss cheese and Russian sauce and German Sauerkraut.

“No Russian sauce,” I said.

“No Russian sauce,” the bartender said.

“No Russian sauce,” I said.

She already hated me so I asked for tap water. I had the best legs in New England but what an asshole I was.

Burnside Park, Providence

They changed the marathon course once or twice in the last three years. There was no official notice but I saw clues for that in the reviews. Runners have been complaining on that the course was hillier than expected. The marathon’s website belied the elevation map, as if it was not updated when the organizers rerouted the course. After the finish I went to find water and bananas at the skating rink in Burnside Park and I ran into a spread of mini sandwiches. A willowy runner in a finisher’s medal walked over to stare at the sandwiches and stand by my side. I congratulated him.

“I ran 168 marathons,” he said.

“One hundred and sixty eight,” I replied. “Not in Providence, all of them.”

“Four in Providence,” he said.

“They changed the course, someone said.” I must get to the bottom of this.

“Yeah. They wanted to make it easier,” he corroborated. “It’s different. It’s harder, I think.”

I agreed. It was a hard course. “Big hills,” I offered.

“That wind today was brutal. Wow,” he said.

I didn’t want an open-face sandwich that bathed in the sun. Why aren’t they covered? Why are the trays so full? On a scale of consuming official sandwiches after a marathon to consuming raw shellfish before a marathon, I was a hypocrite. Therefore on Friday night before the race I drove to Island Creek Oyster Bar in Boston, which was open until 1 a.m. and also had valet parking. As if I were ever going to see my car again. I told the valet attendant that I would put the charge on my dinner check and walked away when he started bickering. The restaurant’s interior was grand, what I could not guess from its facade. Light fixtures sprouted from the industrial ceiling and burly tables filled the floor from the front door to the back of the hall. A bubbly chatter permeated the air. The population was embellished with emptying bottles of wine and segmented into parties of two, parties of four, parties of six.

“For one,” I said, and asked to be seated at the bar.

“Yes, absolutely,” the hostess said exuberantly, as if I had solved a complex math equation.

On the other side of the bar was the prep counter. I watched the oyster shucker collaborate with a waitress on an appetizer project under a special light — he, in a white chef coat and blue magic gloves, she, in a black bistro apron and a dark gray t-shirt that was in tune with the decor. I asked the bartender for a nonalcoholic drink. She asked what I liked.

“Fruit. Salt,” I said.

She nodded intently and proceeded to pour mushes into a tumbler, then into a glass, which she put in front of me. She took a small step back and stood at attention position, watching me take the first sip. DISMISSED, I wanted to say. I liked her work.

“Mmm.” I said. “What’s in it?”

Before long there were a man and a woman at the bar on my right flirting with a man, and on my left, a third man by himself, drinking.

“What would you like to eat?” the bartender asked.

“Oysters,” I said.

“Absolutely,” she said, then hunkered down and pulled out a notebook from under the counter.

She tore out a page and folded it crosswise. Leaning forward, she walked me through my options, massaging the printed words with her finger; she marked a virtual X in the box with the Beach Point oysters by Mark Begley — they were out of those. That ripped menu belonged to the moment. Those raw instances of oyster were unique instantiations and they belonged to me forever.

Island Creek Oyster Bar

I had Massachusetts oysters from four locations, two of each kind. I go around the platter and eat the number ones, eat them naked, I don’t add lemon or sauce. I pick up the meat and nibble on it, then slurp the ocean juice from the shell, the sweet briny liquor, and swallow. The number two oysters — if it wasn’t a banner oyster, I would squeeze lemon on it and eat it with horseradish. Or instead, I might troubleshoot it with mignonette — shallots in wine vinegar. I would hardly ever put hot sauce or cocktail sauce on a freshly shucked oyster. Dipping sauces — like wearables and upholstery — are overrated. Oysters should come as they are, as I want them to be, doused in nectar, propped in a hard shell, ready for nirvana.

The man on my right introduced a friend to the woman with whom he was sharing good food. “We’re just having sex,” he qualified their relationship, and invited the man to join them.

Really, there are no bad oysters. There are only bad waitresses. And one time, at Kinmont, I told my waitress that I loved Kumamoto oysters, and I said they were cute and buttery, and she said, “Yeah, they are mild. It’s an introductory oyster.” And then she won.

My favorite oyster at Island Creek Oyster Bar was its flagship oyster — Island Creek, which is made in Duxbury by Skip Bennett. It was salty, but not too salty. It was sweet. It had a smooth, sexy resistance that sprang against my bite. It was beautiful. Davy said that the perfect oyster was Northern Cross by Tim Rapine from Smith Island. Davy dined by himself at the bar, two chairs down on my left. He drank whiskey. I told him what I liked about my Massachusetts oysters and he told me about his years at the CIA. Later, he spilled his drink, stood up and apologized and we exchanged Twitter handles. He should have had gin with that slider, not whiskey, but I’m not judging him.

Fluke crudo with chile, sesame, and lime at Island Creek Oyster Bar

My second-favorite oyster there was by Stephen Wright from Chatham. It had just enough sea, just enough salt. The other two kinds I had were sharp and edgy: Ichabod Flat by Don Wilkinson from Plymouth and oysters from Wellfleet by Chopper Young. I learned that all my Massachusetts oysters were the same species of oyster — Virginica — that grows up and down the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico. The newsletter subscription card at the restaurant said that. “Because you need more random oyster trivia to impress your friends,” it read.

There was no chocolate milk at the Providence Marathon. I left the scene and walked across the street to my car. Level 5 in the Omni hotel garage was the best place to park. On Level 5 you don’t use the elevator; you follow the ramp to the convention center, take the escalator down one level and walk out to the street. I had never driven to a marathon before — I prefer to take the train or walk. I drove because I wanted to stay at that suave hotel in Warwick, which was 14 minutes away, or 35 minutes, if you have a thing for speed limits. Driving fast is great. You take a deep breath when you leave and you exhale when you arrive. You can’t do that on a train. But because I drove, I overlooked the logistics of having money on my person for chocolate milk.

After the marathon, I took Exit 12A from I-95 South to Route 113; I went to Target to buy ice cream and chips before I went to my room. I let the door slam, stripped out of my clothes in puddles of sunshine, gathered the plastic fork from the desk, the not-really-a-pint of coffee Häagen-Dazs, the party-size bag of classic Lay’s. Melding with the big bed, with the crisp whiteness of its five pillows, I tweeted this:

“Also awesome–my 11-minute PR in marathoning. Providence Marathon in 4:03. Winds! Hills! Rivers! The best.”

I ran my fastest first half in Providence — in 1:57 — which put me on pace to finish in 4 hours. I didn’t make 4 hours. At Mile 25 my time was 3:52. I was so pissed. I stopped running, bemoaning the sub-8-minute mile I was about to run, which would place me over 4 hours, again. I ate four Shot Bloks and chewed and chewed and chewed, and started a post-mortem analysis in my head. I looked around for a trash can. Then I ran the last mile.

What do the pros do? Really, Pros, what do you do? I lament the dearth of virtue in Brands Instagram, the mendacity of Brands Twitter. Oui, I bought the French spandex pants you are talking about and the Hindu energy water. It reeks of chemicals, it is impotent buulshit. The seams are bulky, the elastic band construction is of the olden days. I returned the pants. I don’t drink the water. Tell the truth: are you not wearing thongs under your run shorts?

After his New York City Marathon, Ryan Vail said, “It’s brutal for everyone out there.” He said we should keep in mind that everyone is going through the same thing. When I run past another runner on the path, and he nods, and I nod, and we check out each other’s gloves, then I know that it’s brutal for everyone out there, and we are not alone, and we are alone. It’s magic.

On the plane to Boston, I drank a water-no-ice and the man sitting next to me did too. We both read the American Way magazine. I fixated on a photo of Julia Child’s kitchen, comparing it to the replica at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History; he was reading about the Blue Angels — the most capable pilots in the US Navy and their full-time employment in show business. The wood cabinetry and the blue paint in the exhibit matched her original kitchen, but the creators had the pans wrong: Julia’s copper bottom pans were hard-core, they were sternly loved, they were uncompromising. Lieutenant commander David Tickle, the lead solo pilot of the Blue Angels said they are “just normal folks, like anyone else.” But they are not, they are the best precision flight pilots. Yet they don’t have a real job; they are utilized twice yearly to demonstrate sneak pass maneuvers at air shows with modified F-18s. Julia Child hung pans on the wall only as high as she could reach, and she laid out the heavier pans on the bottom. The collection at the Smithsonian is a nonsensical mess. Clearly, Paula Johnson, the curator, doesn’t cook or wash dishes by hand. “The linoleum is the same one my mom had,” she said about the display. Exactly.

I have changed the makeup of my food. I wanted to have an abiding sense of deftness. I have only changed one thing — my diet — and that was my mistake. Audrey Niffenegger said in an interview that she was attracted to settings in which one thing is changed and everything else is normal reality. What if Henry time-traveled and saw Clare in the park in real-time? What if Elspeth texted Julia on a Ouija board after she died? “You just change that one thing,” Niffenegger said, “and everything else changes accordingly.” I obviously wasn’t listening. When I put sauerkraut in my sandwich I didn’t rethink the Shot Bloks, the going to the bathroom. That oversight cost 3 minutes in Providence.

Riverside, East Providence

Not Impossible: The Providence Marathon 2014 (Race) Report. Part B


Run The Jewels – 36″ Chain
Nirvana – Come As You Are
Eminem – Lose Yourself
Joey Bada$$ – No. 99
SomeKindaWonderful – Reverse
Pink Floyd – Another Brick in the Wall
Kendrick Lamar – The Blacker the Berry
Laurie Berkner – Victor Vito
The Return of the Blue and Gold by Dan Sweeney. American Way, May 2014, Vol. 47 No. 09
The Chicken Sisters! by Cathy Booth Thomas. American Way, May 2014, Vol. 47 No. 09
The Wolf of Wall Street / screenplay by Terence Winter
Audrey Niffenegger
Me Talk Pretty One Day / David Sedaris
Self-Reliance / Ralph Waldo Emerson
Six Amazing Foods for Cleansing your Colon Naturally by Ethan A. Huff

Photos © Nurit Pazner or respective owner.

Twenty-Six Songs: May 2015

May 28, 2015

Twenty-six songs. Run with it.

36″ Chain [Hip-Hop] Run the Jewels

Budapest [Singer/Songwriter] George Ezra

Icky Thump [Alternative] The White Stripes

Hold Back the River [Alternative] James Bay

Controversy [R&B/Soul] Prince

Spill the Wine [R&B/Soul] War & Eric Burdon

Murder by Numbers [Rock] The Police

Hurt [Alternative] Nine Inch Nails

Lover Sister [Alternative] Lindy Vopnfjord

Black Sun [Alternative] Death Cab for Cutie

Get Off This [Pop] Cracker

Gimme Shelter [Rock] The Rolling Stones

Big Sky Country [Rock] Chris Whitley

No. 99 [Hip-Hop/Rap] Joey Bada$$

Changing [Alternative] The Airborne Toxic Event

Stand by Me [Rock] John Lennon

Crazy [R&B/Soul] Seal

What Is and What Should Never Be [Rock] Led Zeppelin

From Eden [Alternative] Hozier

All the Time [Alternative] Bahamas

Woke Up This Morning [Alternative] Alabama 3

U Get Me High [Rock] Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Believe [Alternative] Mumford & Sons

True Love, Pt. 2 [Rock] X

Panic Switch [Alternative] Silversun Pickups

Lose Yourself [Soundtrack] Eminem

Marathon de Montréal 2013: My Race Report. A Novel

November 25, 2013

[ MAR-uh-toh doo mor-eh-AHL ]

When the Universe is Broken
I Didn’t Drive the Course
Montreal This
Surrender to Serious Tourist Fun
The Bedtime Checklist
The Start
The Islands
Men Using Their Penises
The Hills
The Half
The Spectators
The Last 7 Kilometers
The Numbers
Celebrate Poutine
What’s Next

Marathon de Montréal 2010 start
Photo © Pierre R. Chantelois. Used with permission.

I don’t hate you, last 7 kilometers. But I do.

When the Universe is Broken
My flight to Montreal was cancelled when I arrived at O’Hare in the morning. There was weather in Chicago, and also weather in Montreal, naturally. I sat on the blue casino carpet, holding a doppio latte with both hands like a refugee, plugged in my phone, and stared at people. What is this language? Is your skirt inside out? I miss my leather jacket. I was put on standby for a flight that would be delayed, and then cancelled around noon. And after that, I was standing by on the blue carpet with lattes in my hands until 6:30 p.m.
A tall man was sitting across from me. He was wearing a LIVESTRONG wristband and technical clothes and no-show socks. A runner. Are you running my marathon? His North Face trail running shoes were brand new. His new travel shoes. He had a silver band on his pinkie. Married a long time. Or gay. His luggage was an overstuffed backpack and a duffel bag. It was all his luggage, I knew that. Because otherwise he wouldn’t have had two carry-on items, only one. He stretched out on the floor and shut his eyes. I would never have done that. Later he got a standby seat to Toronto. Mr. Patterson. Not running my marathon, probably.
I thought of what I would eat for dinner. I thought of my hotel bed in Montreal. I thought of eating pizza in bed in Montreal.
The gate agent picked up the phone receiver, turned away and looked down at the floor. “Isn’t a good time, my dear,” he said to the phone. I gave him my name. He continued to talk to the phone despite the badness of the time, “Good news and bad news.” Afterwards he looked up and told me, “You’re so low on the list, you don’t have a chance.”
Le Petit Hôtel on Rue St. Paul in Old Montreal—the antithesis of my sky trek affair—was surrounded by modern art galleries built inside historic buildings. I knew I wouldn’t have time to visit them but I needed them to be there, to feed my muse as I walked by their windows. The hotel had abstract art on the walls and minimalist furniture in colors and textures envisioned by a website designer, or so it seemed. My room had exposed brick and hardwood floors, and ceramic tile that looked like wood planks, and jets in the shower in every direction, a yoga mat, and an alarm clock that I could not figure out. Sharpie doodles covered the walls in the breakfast room at the end of the hall in the lobby, where a waiter would lean by my side tomorrow and ask if he could bring me an espresso or orange juice, and I would smile at his Frenchness and say, “Just water, thanks.”
In the morning I went running along the St. Lawrence River and Canal de Lachine, following an endless path of calm, when I missed the underpass at Rue Mill. I stopped and looked around and a woman in the park stood up from her picnic blanket and waved at me with a book in her hand, then pointed the book to the trail. I stayed on the path all the way south to Verdun, and on the way back, I deviated from the trail for the purpose of getting lost. Getting lost had routinely been my way of learning a new city. I watched a group of schoolchildren cross an intersection on bicycles underneath the expressway by the Canada Malting factory. One counselor rode in the front and a second counselor stopped the traffic. The light changed from green, to red, to green to red again, as the cars accumulated quietly; everyone kept cool like in a music video.
When I returned to the hotel I saw a skinny runner by the elevator, wearing all sorts of happy colors and dripping sweat. He is running my marathon. I knew his story by looking at him.
“You running the marathon on Sunday?” I asked to be polite, I already knew the answer.
“No,” he said in French English, “I just found out yesterday there is a marathon.”
“Oh. You look like you’re training for a marathon,” I explained.

I Didn’t Drive the Course
On Friday afternoon, two days before the marathon, I headed out to drive the race course. And that wasn’t going to happen. I made it to Pont Jacques-Cartier, going east on the five-lane highway bridge to the exit ramp onto St. Helen’s Island. The corrals were to line up on the bridge under the blue steel truss, over the St. Lawrence River, and immediately after the start we were to run down the ramp onto the island. The highway traffic was furious and I missed my exit. I drove to the other end of the bridge where I could turn around. The ramps on the eastbound and the westbound didn’t align—it would have taken me forever to find the exact spot on the course. My Plan B was to not worry about the course, rather to get on the islands and get a feel of the place. We were to run 6 kilometers on St. Helen’s Island, cross a tiny bridge at Passerelle Du Cosmos onto Notre Dame Island, run 4 kilometers, and eventually head west for 2 kilometers on Concorde Bridge to the main land of Montreal.
There was no car traffic on the island and no one around, only quiet greens and curly roads. I kept losing my orientation until directions stopped making sense. Then I accidentally drove by the Biosphère, a 250-foot white steel open-structure dome, an actual landmark on the marathon course. I was in awe of my accomplishment; it was time to quit driving the islands, come out on top.
I typed in an address into Google Maps and it popped up a message, “Seriously, bro, there’s no way to get there with a car.” Before long, the low battery alert on my phone came on, as I was making a U-turn on a hillside in front of a No Trespassing sign. I forgot the USB cable for the phone charger in the hotel—I found out—and had to rely on my training in getting lost to escape the forbidden island. I made it within one block of my hotel; it was near, I could feel it, but I couldn’t see it. I was pushing my luck cutting in front of police during Friday night’s rush hour; I wasn’t looking for trouble so I decided to park the car. I pulled up behind a man in a suit holding a helmet who was standing by a motorcycle. I asked him to please describe the Canadian parking meters to me, after apologizing for being an idiot. The man was extremely helpful—as motorcyclists tend to be—and the Big Brother system is fantastic; it is all wired, there are no paper stubs. I hopped on a taxi, which took me to my hotel, which was around the corner, where I knew it would be.

Montreal This
I trained in metric for this marathon—it was a shift in mindset. Once I switched my Garmin to count in kilometers I immediately went from a 9-minute pace to running a 5:30-minute pace. Still in my head I kept converting the numbers to miles every time I ran. It was exhausting. Instead of thinking, “Boat house to Ohio Street Beach: 2.6 kilometers,” I was thinking, “1.6 miles—15 minutes, or too slow.” In reality, there were mile markers in the race, but they were in black & white. They were smaller signs, lonely signs. The kilometer signs were loud and clear: big red signs for the marathon, big green signs for the Half.
I didn’t factor in the hills when I signed up for Montreal. Hilly marathons stopped scaring me after running in Austin; I wish they hadn’t. Austin is known to be hilly, yet I broke my best marathon time there. Montreal happened for a reason, it punched me in the face with its hills. I let the course reveal itself to me in real time, determined to be surprised. It was sheer incompetence.

Surrender to Serious Tourist Fun
I wasn’t brought to Montreal to freak out about the course—I was there to be a tourist. Van Houtte Café-Bistro, the coffee shop across the street was my introduction, where it takes them hours to make an espresso while you stand in line. It was perfect. I looked at the menu and recited my order in my head. un petit café latte, s’il vous plaît… un… un petit.. café latte… petit… merci. I ordered my coffee in English. Because I chickened out. And also because I wanted a wrap with that, with diced chicken and baby herbs, and there was no way to learn how to order that in French in four hours. What I love about European cafés is the size of things: Everything is smaller, yet it is big enough.
After coffee I went to get a massage at Scandinave Spa. When I was training for my fourth marathon, I added deep-tissue massages to my cross-training regimen. A good massage should keep you present, I believe, not let you drift away; it should hurt you, hurt you good. Though if they hurt you and break you then you won’t be able to run your marathon in the morning. So there’s this risk when you trust a stranger to hurt you.
Scandinave Spa was out of this world. When I booked with them on the phone, they asked if I would like to add “the baths” to my service. I said no. I didn’t know what “the baths” meant, but it didn’t matter. Whatever it was, it wouldn’t be grammatically correct. When I checked in, I signed an obligation to take a hot shower before and after my service and they issued me a thin ID bracelet to keep me secure, purportedly. The lotions in the locker room were organized by body parts. The juice bar had a bartender and a menu without prices. I exited the locker room into a communal hall that was dim and coed. I tightened the sash on my robe, poured myself a glass of cucumber water, and looked for an open seat in one of the Museum of Modern Art type chairs. Every chair was different: the colors, the curves, the textures, the sizes. It was delicious. I sat in the cluster in the corner by the juice bar across from two men; it was like having a corporate meeting with out-of-town contractors, only we were wearing robes and I couldn’t uncross my legs.
Sylva, my masseuse, came out to get me. She was phenomenal. You know she is a professional when she tells you there was only so much she could do in 60 minutes. I gave her a green light to learn me, to work her art, to infuse magic into my muscles, into my mind.
When I came out, I went back to sit in the corner to drink more water and read on my phone. Two women in bras and panties shared an oversized chaise on my left, cuddling. Behind me, on my right, there was a blackened glass door with a sign “Relaxation Room.” People went in and didn’t come out. When I finished staring I went hunting for pasta.
I went to see a man about a takeout behind the bar at Bevo Bar + Pizzeria. He poured me a skinny glass of water with no ice—because Canadians know what they are doing—and handed me a menu, inviting me to sit and ask questions. Luckily I asked all my questions before I realized the backside of the menu was in English. My barman described the sauces with hand gestures, then touched my shoulder so I tipped him. My friend with the pretty breasts used to do that when she was a waitress—touch people’s shoulders to get the good tips. When my pasta was ready to go, my barman said it might be too hot to carry. Therefore I stayed seated until it reached room temperature.
I scraped the heels of my oxfords on the cobblestone pavement of Rue St. Paul as I walked back to my hotel, opposite the party traffic. I ran into a bachelorette with plastic boobs over her shirt; she offered me a condom and I offered her a stick of gum in exchange. I was at one with that scene. The street engraved its Montreal in the soles of my shoes, its chaotic drunks amused my spirit, and soon its pasta would pacify my hunger. I was ready for tomorrow.

The Bedtime Checklist
Other than eating pasta in bed, I had no race strategy. I ran through my checklist to distract me from thinking about the truth, about how unready I was. I scheduled a taxi to pick me up in the morning and laid my clothes on a towel on the floor in the reverse order I would wear them. I set up two alarm clocks and struggled with the hotel’s clock radio, then left it unset. I pulled up the course map and blind tested myself. I memorized the turns and the distances, looking at the elevation profile, studying the two charts side by side. The hills were to linger until Kilometer 33, where it would stay elevated and flat until the finish. My favorite part of the course was between Kilometer 16 and 17, where I ran every morning, where I discovered L’Assommoir Mobile—the tapas food truck on Rue Prince. It’s pretty flat over there. How can Montreal be hilly? Le Mont Royal?? None of this makes sense.

The Start
The weather forecast was accurate: It was sunny and warm through Saturday, then temperatures dropped from the upper 70s to the lower 40s—a historic low—and it rained for two days. I packed winter layers and a fleece blanket in the gear bag. The cold air hit me hard at the finish line, where I started to shake uncontrollably and had to scarf down all the foods in the finisher bag to warm up a bit, to manage to walk to the buses to pick up my gear. The blanket remained at the start, tossed over the fence. Many words of lust and desire were spoken to my blanket on that icy, rainy morning—words neither me nor my blanket could understand.
My wake-up taxi was on time. I informed my driver of the course and the itinerary as we rode to the Papineau metro station. He must know all this already. It’s his job to know this. He’s nice. I like him. My driver immigrated to Canada from Lebanon. He ran a marathon in Beirut when he was 25; now he could not possibly fit the training in his life, there was just not enough time.
The start moved slower than we planned. Gear Check opened an hour later than scheduled. A volunteer was explaining the holdup to the French people, while I observed them. There was a massive amount of police cars and bomb-sniffing dogs and officers in bulletproof vests touring the grounds which made me feel safe and worried. I stood behind a TV reporter and snapped pictures of her photographer.
Gear Check consisted of a fleet of school buses parked atop the Jacques-Cartier Bridge, each marked with a range of bib numbers. After we all had started running and cleared the bridge, the buses were to transport to Parc La Fontaine—the finish line area. It was a neat setup, even though it wasn’t consistent with how I do things. When I get to the start I like to rid myself of the gear and the pee and get in the zone of freaking out as fast as possible. Setting up the Gear Check buses behind the security checkpoint slowed me down; it softened the security fears but it interfered with my happy flow: Gear Check, porta potties, start corrals. The porta potties were at the bottom of the bridge and Gear Check was 10 minutes away at the top of the bridge. I walked 10 minutes to Gear Check, walked back 10 minutes to the bathroom, then walked up the bridge a second time to get to the corral.
The official start was at 8:30 a.m. and I stepped on the start mat at 9:06 a.m. I was in Corral 14 and the plan was to release the corrals 1 to 2 minutes apart. It only fell slightly behind schedule but it felt as if we were waiting there longer. Rain was accumulating in the steel truss above us, then falling on our heads and shoulders in big, freezing blobs of water. I hid my whole self in my blanket. The other runners had plastic bags, inverted over their short shirts, with holes torn in them for the head and the arms. They moved their arms inside to warm up. They planned for rain, not for freezing rain, not for shivers and goose bumps. I felt sad and lonely. I wasn’t in a hurry to start, I wasn’t in a hurry to do anything at all.
Something was up with the green bibs in the corral—the Half marathoners. They formed a line along the side rope and turned to face the other way, away from the start line. There was something I was missing. Seeding inside the corral? Why? We all run the same pace, this can’t be it. This has nothing to do with me, I have a red bib. No one here has a red bib. Oh God, what is going on?
When the horn blasted and the ropes were pulled away, our corral spilled into the other four lanes on the bridge and into the corral before us. It got loud. People were jumping up and down and dancing. To warm up? To dance? It felt like an after party. We became a conjoint layer of runners coating the bridge, gliding down the asphalt pavement together, synchronizing to the beat. Let’s not make sense. A steep downhill led to the start line, then we turned right sharply onto Tour de L’Isle Road on St. Helen’s Island. Let’s run a marathon. And I was on my own.

The Islands
It was logical that there would be puddles on the islands—the lowest section of the course—after raining for two days. My escape strategy was civilized at first, weaving through the pack, not elbowing people, keeping my shoes clean. The roads were narrow and wholly flooded. There were patches of grass along the edge of the road in a few spots and chain-link fences, where runners, instinctively, came to a halt and proceeded to cross the swamp in a single file. It was ridiculous. I had to run faster. I started using my hands more and skipping sideways to get ahead of people. I plunged into puddles, letting the mud mess up my shoes and their shoes. Yeah, I’m that person. It was the dance of shame but it got me out of the islands and to the fast lane on Concorde Bridge and from there to the other, less offensive side of Montreal.

Men Using Their Penises
Canadian men are fun and they are not afraid to show it. Minutes into the race, dudes started pulling up on the side of the road, left and right, to pee in broad daylight. I counted them to occupy my brain but after a while they became too hard to track—they were everywhere. I began to feel resentment; I felt disadvantaged. It wasn’t that I needed to pee, it was my mechanical ineptness that bothered me; the playing field wasn’t level. I would likely support a penalty for marathoners who use their penises during a race. To be fair, I would also include a clause to grant extra credits to runners such as that perky man I saw in the bathroom line before the start.
He came over from the line adjacent to ours when the woman in front of me called out to him. She introduced him to her friends. He was wearing spandex shorts, mid-thigh length, which were a bit loose, perhaps a size too big for him. The fabric seemed lightweight, the kind that would make one feel comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time. They were all shaking hands in French and bouncing around. Everyone was excited, clearly. Later on, they were kissing their good-byes and good lucks and the man spread out his arms and went in for a hug. No! Don’t hug her now! You’re wearing the pants! And I looked away until their reunion was over. The peeing rule should exclude runners in loose-fitting spandex shorts from the penalty. It would be a winning synergy, the same way my bank will waive the transfer fees when my account balance reaches $15,000.

The Hills
It took work—12 kilometers—to break free from the islands and get to my neighborhood and the places from my morning runs that I loved: Riverside Street, Rue Mill, the food trucks, the park, Rue de la Commune, the Old Port. It felt romantic and it lasted 4 kilometers. Then the hills started with an ass of a hill at Place Jacques Cartier—it was the end of the world as I knew it. I was thrown into a state of infinite bewilderment with zero mental preparation. I decided to push up my water stop and walk the hill to get my act together, to not break down.
The next award-winning hills were the sons of bitches roller-coaster streets around Christophe Colomb Avenue and Rue de la Roche, from Kilometer 23 to Kilometer 32. As we started west on Christophe Colomb, the fast runners came down the other side of the street, completing their 32nd kilometer, side-fiving our slow runners across the lane divider. It was epic.
The psychology of that two-way dynamic was powerful. Every climb we made, we saw fast runners several kilometers ahead of us on the course. Every time we rolled downhill, we saw fast runners struggle through a brutal uphill on the other side. Every hard hill we ran, we knew we would have to run it again in 5, 6, 8 kilometers. I didn’t know when the next hill was coming and how hard it would be and I was having an anxiety attack that I needed to fix. I started tracking my effort, qualifying each segment—how hard it felt running up, how fast it went running down—imprinting the information in my brain, being ready to pull it out when I reached the other side. The other side was physically easier to run. The climbing was not the challenge; the not knowing what the hell was going on—that piece was ruthless.

The Half
One kilometer from the finish line, on the south corner of Parc La Fontaine, I was to turn away and start west for 22 more kilometers; the Half marathoners were to run their final meters heading north-east to the finish. The roar of the crowd at Kilometer 20 was overwhelming, I teared up. I invented translations in my head. Go, Sexy! Looking good! Nice legs! So close, almost there! Aller! Aller! But I wasn’t almost there. I looked around me and didn’t see any red bibs, only green bibs; I only saw Half marathoners. I could hear the finish line music, I heard the announcer. Where is everyone? I panicked. What just happened? I missed the course? I was trying to remember the last time I saw a red mile marker. The red and green markers were always atop each other. What if I’m confused by the mountain and now I’m on the Half marathon course? Can I qualify? Please give me a sign, tell me I’m on track. Show me a red bib.
I knew it. There was—wasn’t there—something going on with the halfers and the fullers in the corral. I wasn’t imagining it. They were facing the wrong way for a reason. I’m such a loser.
I didn’t see anyone in red. I couldn’t breathe. I had a total meltdown that lasted 2 hours in my head, 90 seconds on my Garmin, and then I saw a big sign directing the marathoners to turn left. Oh God. Thank you, God.

Spectators at the Montreal Marathon 2012
Photo © lululemon athletica Used with permission.

The Spectators
The spectators’ signs were not helping at all—they were in French. The only sign I could interpret was a yellow poster board with palm prints in each corner. I touched my hand to the hand in the poster and the people shouted back at me. Their energy boost lasted a few seconds after which I gave up on spectators entirely. Until I turned onto Rue Villeray at Kilometer 29 and saw a man in a cowboy hat who looked at me and hailed, “Yeehaw!” in American. You made me laugh out loud, I love you forever.
Somewhere on Boulevard Saint-Joseph, around Kilometer 38, I gazed at a woman in the distance as she was riding a bike on the side of the road against our runner traffic. There weren’t a lot of runners in front of me, not a lot of spectators either. It was quiet and monotonous and she seemed the only one who didn’t keep pace with the street. She was wearing all black, except for a pop of white in her right hand. I thought it was a white glove at first, but I dismissed the idea since wearing a single white glove was rare. I fixated on her right hand as I ran closer, as she rode toward me. When we were side by side, I saw it—a half eaten apple. She caught me looking at her apple, then we both looked up. She looked at me as if I was judging her and I felt a rush of embarrassment. I made her feel guilty for eating an apple in front of us.
She can’t offer me her apple; it is half eaten and she is a stranger, I wouldn’t accept it from her. She thought of how it felt to see an apple after running for three, four hours, to need to bite into its succulent flesh. She will not do this again. She is the worst spectator in the world.
I felt awful for staring at her apple, causing her to suffer all that remorse. She did nothing wrong. I didn’t want an apple, I wasn’t hungry. I wasn’t even thirsty.

The Last 7 Kilometers
The last 7 kilometers were bullshit. I hate them, they are liars.
The night before the race, I ripped the page with the course map out of the event guide, folded it three times and tossed it in my gear bag. I wasn’t going to look at it again. I wanted it to bounce in my bag and radiate, to disseminate the map information onto my hat, my gel blocks, my belt. And then it wouldn’t matter that I hadn’t driven the course.
The second half of the course was shaped like the letter X. We were to run from the center of the X to one of the ends, then U-turn and run back to the center, then run out to the next endpoint. To be accurate, there was a detour at each endpoint; we were to execute the detour before turning around toward the center. Also, the last leg of the X was to be run in the opposite direction—run to the center first, then run back out.
The X-shaped course meant we had two-way runner traffic: Slower runners go up as faster runners come down in the opposite lane. It was pretty straight forward: All I had to do to keep track of my position was to pay attention to traffic across the street, to remember if I was heading out on the X or back into the center. Maybe also count the turns, and not get distracted by the detours.
But the hills happened. The detour at Kilometer 35 seemed longer than what I had memorized and it threw off my counting. I thought I was somewhere else on the course. I thought I was going east on Route 125. I thought I had one more U-turn before I turned south onto Boulevard Saint-Joseph—the final stretch. I slowed myself down, holding out for the turn, readying myself for my sprint finish. This made the runners in the opposite lane seem as if they were the faster runners—it all made sense. But they were not the faster runners and I was already running Saint-Joseph. When the mile markers registered in my head, it hit me—my mistake. Please feel free to run faster now. Fire at will, you nitwit. It was too damn late for that. I sprinted to the finish and fell 4 minutes short of my goal. I had energy left in me, still, gaining 4 minutes in the last 7 kilometers might have been unrealistic, I don’t know.

The Numbers
My finish time was 4:14, which was 3 minutes faster than my previous best marathon time in Austin earlier this year. I slowed down in the second half, although my time at the Half was on track for a 4:10 finish: 2:05 at 21.1 kilometers. My fastest pace was between Kilometer 10 and Kilometer 21—not at the start—because the first 10 kilometers weren’t about running, they were about survival and mud. The last 7 kilometers were troubled. I don’t want to talk about it.
The winner of the Montreal Marathon, David Savard-Gagnon, had the same 4-minute deficit as I did between the second half and the first half. He hit the Half at 1:13 with a marathon finish of 2:30. He was 4 minutes too slow, like me. Knowing this makes me feel better. Savard-Gagnon should be feeling awful about losing 4 minutes because he had everything working for him in that race. He is Canadian, he knew about the hills; he speaks French and he could use the spectators’ force. And he has a penis. He had all the things that I lacked in Montreal, the things that guaranteed a winning pace. I am not the biggest loser here.

Celebrate Poutine
People who know what they are talking about say you can’t have poutine, unless you are happy with your finish time. Whatever. I had two kinds of poutine within four hours of my finish. I went back to Bevo Bar + Pizzeria for a fancy poutine—it wasn’t really poutine. The beer I had with it was amazing—Grimbergen Dubbel in its original chalice glass. Tasting a new beer is best when it starts virtually, engaging the other senses to ready the mouth: relishing the words on the label, looking at the browns in the light, gauging the thickness of the rim, tracing its curves, inhaling its perfume. Then completely having it.
The fancy poutine had veal braised in red wine and sheep’s milk cheese over a bed of roasted potatoes and it was brought to the table in a hissing skillet. It wasn’t poutine. Though Canada regulates that every restaurant must name an item on its menu “Poutine;” it is likely something to do with the public healthcare system.
Later in the afternoon, I had poutine to go from Montreal Poutine on Rue St. Paul, packed in a styrofoam container that couldn’t contain its passion. I found a good bench and sat down to eat it with a plastic fork. That poutine was pure and true—the honest kind—the kind that doesn’t try to impress you but will knock your pants off, if you let it.

What’s Next
I ran this marathon like Alice in Wonderland. I didn’t learn French, I didn’t know the course. “Curiouser and curiouser!” cried Alice, she was so much surprised. I wanted to be surprised, but not like that.
My favorite part of running a marathon is how miserable I feel the minute after I step on the finish mat. That ultimate sadness, the self-examination, the regret. I have a knot in my chest and aches in my stomach, like the ones I get when I break my heart. I caused this intense euphoria, I trained to make it happen. I am responsible for my addiction. I’ve done that and now I want more. I want better. I want to succeed and then redefine success until I fail. And then succeed again and feel deeply alive.

Photos © Nurit Pazner or respective owner.

Twenty-Six Songs: November 2013

November 21, 2013

Twenty-six songs. Run with it.

Wanna Be On Your Mind [Singer/Songwriter] Valerie June

Need You Tonight (Single Version) [Alternative] INXS

Purple Yellow Red and Blue [Alternative] Portugal. The Man

Come to My Party [Rock] Black Joe Lewis

Most People [Alternative] Dawes

Pretty Green [Alternative] White Denim

Busload of Faith [Rock] Lou Reed

I’m Amazed [Alternative] My Morning Jacket

Team [Alternative] Lorde

All Things All At Once [Alternative] Tired Pony

This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody) [Singer/Songwriter] The Lumineers

You Get What You Give [Pop] New Radicals

Shake [Alternative] The Head and the Heart

Open Ended Life [Rock] The Avett Brothers

Get Lucky [Pop] Daft Punk

Just Like Heaven [Alternative] The Cure

Lovesong [Alternative] The Cure

Shot At the Night [Alternative] The Killers

Champagne & Reefer [Blues] Muddy Waters

Hello, I Love You [Rock] The Doors

It’s Bad You Know [Blues] R.L. Burnside

Think I’m In Love [Alternative] Beck

Sympathy for the Devil [Rock] The Rolling Stones

Thirsty Man [Alternative] Blitzen Trapper

Are You Gonna Be My Girl [Rock] Jet

Wicked Game [Rock] Chris Isaak

Twenty-Six Songs: August 2013

August 2, 2013

Twenty-six songs. Run with it.

Man [Alternative] Neko Case

Timeless [Alternative] The Airborne Toxic Event

I’m Alive (Life Sounds Like) [Pop] Michael Franti & Spearhead

Crush [Rock] Dave Matthews Band

Where Can I Go? [Singer/Songwriter] Laura Marling

Look Around [Alternative] Red Hot Chili Peppers

Shattered (Turn the Car Around) [Rock] O.A.R.

Elevation [Rock] U2

God, Pt. 2 [Rock] U2

I Know What Boys Like [Rock] The Waitresses

Tongue Tied [Alternative] Grouplove

Evil Urges [Alternative] My Morning Jacket

Sleep Alone [Alternative] Two Door Cinema Club

Sunny Afternoon [Rock] The Kinks

Peace, Love and Happiness [Rock] G. Love & Special Sauce

King and Lionheart [Alternative] Of Monsters and Men

A Tattered Line of String [Electronic] The Postal Service

You Are the Best Thing [Alternative] Ray LaMontagne

Fresh Feeling [Pop] Eels

All the Beautiful Things [Alternative] Eels

Reptile [Rock] The Church

Shadow Days [Rock] John Mayer

Ceiling of Plankton [Alternative] Givers

Cruel [Alternative] St. Vincent

I’ve Been to Memphis [Country] Lyle Lovett

All My Friends [Electronic] LCD Soundsystem

When in Austin

March 11, 2013
tags: , , ,

What I did on my Austin vacation.

Lady Bird Lake trail.

Lamberts Downtown Barbecue.

Coffee rubbed brisket at Lamberts, slow smoked, with baked beans and a jícama slaw.

Chocolate Pot De Crème at Lamberts Downtown Barbecue: The chocolate pudding of Gods topped with whipped cream from heaven, the crunchiest hazelnut meringue cookie, and sprinkles of sea salt. The only thing not perfect about this place was the shaky wood floor.

Kitchen at Lamberts on 2nd Street.

Holy Cacao truck at South Austin Trailer Park & Eatery.

Damn good tacos at Torchy’s Tacos.

Two AWESOME tacos from Torchy’s Tacos. Beef Fajita taco: Skirt steak, grilled vegetables, pico de gallo and cheese; and Mr. Orange taco: Blackened salmon, corn and black bean salsa, cotija cheese and avocado sauce.

South Austin Trailer Park & Eatery.

The walk-in beer cooler at Whole Foods Market on Lamar.

Brass tubing wall art by Michelle Bayer and Joyce Rosner at Milk + Honey spa.

New love: Mixed metal jewelry by Jamie Kelsch

Jo’s Hot Coffee and Good Food on South Congress.

Coffee line at Jo’s on South Congress.

Hotate at Uchiko: A raw diver scallop, a sliver of avocado, and an outrageous secret sauce tied together with a piece of nori. THIS. THE BEST DISH.

Loup de mer sashimi at Uchiko: Mediterranean sea bass, shredded myoga, served over a bowl of ice chips with ponzu sauce on the side. Meh. Flavorless. Nothing to write home about.

Uchiko on North Lamar.

Kanpachi crudo at Uchiko: Amberjack, turnip, mini dollops of yogurt, mushrooms soaked in sake, and a dusting of wasabi powder. Good and creative.

Tobacco cream at Uchiko: Tobacco-infused cream made into custard tubes, served with chocolate sorbet, glazed pecans, maple sauce, huckleberry purée, and shreds of some edible brown paper. High in creativity. The tobacco flavor was too intense for my palate, I did not finish the dish.

Sushi bar at Uchiko.

Stay Fresh under the bridge at 1st and Cesar Chavez.

Mini dried fruit treats in the locker room at the W.

The terrace at the W.

Mosasaur bones picnic chairs at Texas Natural Science Center at UT Austin.

Cutter’s Choice brisket at Rudy’s Bar-B-Q.

Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q.

Rudy’s Bar-B-Q, The Worst Bar-B-Q in Texas.

Key lime pie at Woodland Austin.

The #HootBus.

Flying dinosaur at Texas Natural Science Center.

T-shirt goodness from Luke’s Locker.

Statue of Stevie Ray Voughan on the Lady Bird Lake trail.

Canopy warehouse space, renovated for artist studios and art galleries in East Austin.

One of the few houses in Austin that was not painted all green.

Bowie, not Bowie. “This is Ground Control to Major Tom” at Lady Bird Lake trail.

Kitchen at Taverna on 2nd street.

Taverna Pizzeria Risotteria by Lombardi.

Blue Theater structure by the new Canopy space in East Austin.

Photos © Nurit Pazner or respective owner.

Austin Marathon 2013: My Race Report

March 3, 2013

John Conley, the race director, said at the expo that if you were from Denver, you would be fine running Austin. Denver, he said, not Chicago. Because there are no hills in Chicago, other than the 10-foot mound by the pedestrian underpass at Diversey Harbor. Something about this marathon though, made me dismiss the hills. To register I had to sign the Green Runner Pledge, where I would promise to throw my gel wrappers in designated containers rather than throwing them in the street. THE HELL IS THIS. Chicago marathoners must rely on government workers to clean up after them. I signed the pledge, then I dug it, then I thought, Whoa, creative, Austin is a pretty awesome place.

Troy Campbell at Mile 3 on South Congress Avenue
Photo © Troy Campbell. Used with permission.

Three miles into the race I discovered that the painted yellow lines that marked the center of the road in Austin were not flat; they were sculptured bumps in the asphalt, with bulky yellow lines pasted onto them. It made it hard to run on the sidelines; if I wanted to pick up speed and pass some runners, I would run in the opposite lane facing car traffic. Only after the race I realized that the yellow lines and the hills and the Green Runner Pledge were not there to slow me down—they were there to distract me, to change my focus, to skip the race forward.

Usually the first challenge in marathons is to resist the adrenaline rush and not start too fast. The energy burst at the kickoff made the San Jacinto hill in Mile 1 feel flat as an Olympic track. When I ran the same hill again in Mile 26, it was as if I were transported to a mountain on a high-gravity planet. Starting too fast was beside the point because it was a cold morning—32 degrees and windy at 7 a.m.—and I was not a VIP runner. If I were a VIP runner, I would have my people put up a heated tent at the start of the start line. I would have a steam shower inside and a mini running track where I would run four laps. And while I waited for the gun, Rebecca the masseuse from Milk + Honey would be there to give me her magic upper-back stretch. In reality I did not have a tent and a masseuse—I had a fleece blanket—and my warm-up consisted of running Mile 1 and Mile 2 in the race. At Mile 2, I picked up my pace to make up for lost time. At Mile 8, I slowed down to my target pace, although marathons rarely go according to plan. After Mile 10, I began to fall behind my goal. I lost one minute, then two, then three minutes. I kept trying to make up time but after Mile 13—it was what it was—what was lost, was lost. Exposition Boulevard shut me down at the top of the hill, then the hill at Mile 26 drained my power again. I had to stop and pull myself together. I managed to make up for one out of the three lost minutes—I finished at 4:17:06 and set a new personal best, 12 minutes and 44 seconds faster than my Chicago Marathon time in 2009.

Course talk with Desirée Ficker and John Conley.

Chicago had snow and ice when I trained for Austin, and I ran many of my 5- and 6-milers indoors on a track. I tried to gauge how it would feel to climb 250 feet over three miles. The first 17 miles, the course gained 14 feet of elevation per mile, then it dropped 33 feet per mile over the next 9 miles. I pictured the Mountain of Texas where I would run 17 miles to the top of the mountain and 9 miles down to the other side where the medals were located. Before the race, I drove to South Congress and to Exposition. I watched the RPM dial when the car kicked down a gear. I saw a cyclist crinkle her face and push hard up the hill. Later I went to the marathon expo to learn how to make hills disappear. Desirée Ficker—Des—was on stage, a pretty blonde woman in dark jeans and a white track jacket. Ficker finished second in Austin Marathon in 2007 and came in second place in Kona Ironman 2006. This year she was running the Half Marathon in Austin and she was pregnant. Desirée Ficker had a calming effect on the room, she reminded me of Andrea—the running club’s coach who trained me for my first marathon in 2008. Ficker was as genuine as the oracle in The Matrix—what she said was what was going to happen. After her speech I ditched my theory about the Mountain of Texas. There was no Mountain of Texas.

The three miles going south on South Congress felt like a continuous stretch of running uphill; the end part—in spite of the steeper incline—did not feel more difficult than the three miles leading to it. When Ficker talked about South Congress, she said that right there—when we reached Ben White—was where we should check ourselves. We should not feel tired, the run up to that point should feel like a warm-up, not a workout. That was my big test: Get to the 5.5-mile mark, make the U-turn onto 1st Street, do not feel tired. I felt good. And the next three miles on 1st Street also progressed exactly as Ficker described it, mostly downhill. I let gravity increase my speed naturally without pushing it and a band was jamming Sweet Home Chicago at Mile 7, although the last part was not in Ficker’s talk.

The road turned hilly again at Mile 9 and Mile 10 on Cesar Chavez Street and the pack became tighter. It was a mix of blue bibs and green bibs, marathoners and Half marathoners—the Half marathoners were to stick around until Mile 11 and then turn east toward downtown. A tall person in a big blue shirt was flailing his arms wide, pulling his knees up high, pushing his feet out far. I did not want to run next to him but he was running my pace and I could not get away. The runner on my left was breathing loudly and scuffing his shoes on the road. Seeing people in terrible running forms did not make me feel powerful—it made me anxious. It was a matter of time before my own kryptonite was activated. Normally in marathons, by the time I got to Mile 10, the paces would have settled; the faster runners would have moved on, the slower runners would have lagged behind, my close pack would have become a gang of familiar strangers. Normally, I would have stopped checking my watch and blindly stuck with the gang. But the paces were unbalanced and the people I followed—if their bibs were green—would not be there in two miles.





I wanted to split up from the 13.1ers and move ahead but the bumpy yellow road marks kept me trapped. I followed the girl with the spiky bleached hair and a couple in neon blue and pink t-shirts. Another couple in long pants and jackets shared a cup of water every mile; she drank from it first, then she handed it to him. Behind me on my right a woman picked up a call on her hands-free phone. She was talking to a man on the other side of the line—it sounded like a work-related conversation. She was answering questions: “I left it there with the books,” she told him. We were running the same pace through Mile 10 and I was listening in on her side of the dialogue and forming a background story. I wondered if that was a planned phone call or an emergency call, I tried to guess her profession. I liked that woman, I liked how she rolled with ultimate coolness. Before she hung up, she said that she was feeling good and that it was too early to judge. I did not know if she was referring to her running of a marathon but I felt the same way. It was all good. At Mile 11, a guy on Winsted Lane shouted out, “Free high-fives! Guaranteed power!” His friend was standing next to him, holding up his hand. He had on a dark glove spotted with bright grip dots. I crossed the road to get one. It was real—those pointy silicon dots had powers.

Photo © Rick Kern. Used with permission.

I wanted to split up from the 13.1ers already because there was too much spitting and statistically, after breaking up from them, there would be less spitters in the field. A little sign on Winsted read: 13.1 Right Lane. 26.2 Left Lane. That sign was little. What if they missed it? Then more signs came up—small signs, big signs, yellow signs, green signs. They could not have missed it. One of the right-laners said, “Next year,” and someone replied, “Yeah, that’s right. Next year.” It was sad but there was closure. The crowd separated down the center like the Red Sea where we—the Marathonites—made our exodus with a left turn to Mount Enfield. Running while climbing while turning left sharply was our test, and a bright sign confirmed it: 13.1 WRONG WAY. TURN BACK. I was going the right way; I was following the leaders to fifteen miles of wilderness.

The second half of the course was set in roads that were interweaved with car traffic—one road contained the marathon, another road had people sitting in cars, waiting to cross. Every main intersection had policemen standing between the cars and the runners, making hard judgment calls. I was running behind a girl who slowed down significantly at the top of Bull Creek Road. The police saw her winding down and signaled two cars to enter the intersection. It pissed her off—clearly not an Austinite—she waved both hands at the police and stopped running. The runners behind me—clearly locals—called out: “Thank you, officer! Thank you!” I realized that if I did not want to yield to cars, I should keep up my act and not look tired when the police were watching. I ran through the next major intersections with no incidents, except for one time on Woodrow Avenue when I tried to catch up with a skinny runner dude who obviously had more energy in his tank than I did. He made it through the intersection, then two cars passed, and I went out of my way to not get run over and die.

Desirée Ficker warned us at the expo to not get cocky before we reached Mile 19. I passed Mile 16 and I was almost at the point where mathematically, the course turned mostly downhill. It never really turned downhill, only the change in elevation, on average, became negative after Mile 17. I began to feel hopeful—as if I would be able to run faster soon—and thought about the three minutes I lost at Exposition and Bull Creek. The band at Mile 17 brought me down to earth with their wit. They were singing the Beatles: “Well she was just seventeen. You know what I mean.” It was a beautiful way to break the news to me. THERE WILL BE NO RUNNING FASTER IN THIS MARATHON.

I spelled my name phonetically on my bib so that spectators would know how to pronounce it, otherwise I might not have known they were calling my name. It worked out well—that, and my decision to run in the yellow shirt. Three guys on Northcross Drive were reading my name out loud—one syllable at a time—almost as fast as I was running by them. A woman sitting on the ground on Guadalupe announced it like an expert, “noo-REET,” I was humbled. And there was the group on Duval who yelled out everyone’s name in a sequence. They did not make out my name but they were resourceful and they improvised on the spot: “Go Julie! Go Justin! Go… yellow shirt… WHOO!! Go Robert!”

I made it to Mile 19 and did not feel more tired or less tired, the course did not feel easier, the hills were still in existence. I was checking my watch impatiently looking for the next mile markers. I wanted it to be over. Ficker spoke about the dreaded last seven miles. She said to think of our own, everyday 6- 7-mile run, to make it seem easy. I did that. I thought about the Lakefront trail in Chicago. I placed myself at the totem pole at Addison Street, then I ran south to the dog beach at Belmont Harbor. I climbed the bridge at Diversey, passed Fullerton and was able to see the boathouse from there and North Avenue Beach. That was where I was headed—to my Mile 26 mark.

Lunatic Theory at Mile 21 on Woodrow Avenue
Photo © Lunatic Theory. Used with permission.

With every hill I climbed I wanted it to be the last hill. It was not. Nobody said, “It’s all downhill from here,” because he would be lying. After Mile 23, every climb had a self-designated cheerleader standing at the top and instilling positive thoughts in the runners. “Great job, y’all. Great job,” she said. “Way to stick it out.” It hurts. Suck it up. “You make it look easy!” Bloody blisters. Not the end of the world. Two more miles.

The band at Mile 25 was reciting words of assurance into a microphone, like a mantra. There were no musical instruments, only broken sentences on repeat. It was soothing, like hearing the voice of God. “Almost there… So close… Little bit more… Keep going…” I felt a ball of energy rolling down all the hills in Texas, sweeping me with it. All I needed was to stay in the zone, to keep moving like a machine, to let my wheels spin and take me there. I checked my time, I was two minutes behind my goal. But that was it—it was over.

Photo © Rick Kern. Used with permission.

The sprint to the finish was glorious. Once I passed the hardest part—the hill on San Jacinto at Mile 26—everything was moving faster than fast and the signs turned to metric. I doubt many knew what 100 meters meant in terms of distance, nevertheless it was a good sign. An official announcer was standing inside the course at the first of the three finish lines. He said something about Chicago and then he said “Her first one,” and looked at me and smiled. It was confusing why there were three timing mats. The first mat was placed yards away from the other two and I did not know whether I should keep running after I had been announced. It was my first Austin Marathon and it was my best marathon time, because Austin is a pretty awesome place.

Photos © Nurit Pazner or respective owner.