Friday, February 15, 2008

Costa Rica Day 6

Race start was before dawn at 0545. Toby had joined up with Simi and Rachel who both decided to walk the last stage together since Rachel's ankle was injured. Simi, although a body builder and personal trainer, is not a cardio man. We all shook our heads and gave the "you're not going to wear that?" look as he pulled on short little all-cotton socks and designer type sneakers that were worn so thin from use. He looked at us staring at him and said, "what?" in his deep Swarzenager accent. "Sai Pei" he said grinning ear to ear. (In Tonga that means: don't worry about it).

The sun was just beginning to rise as we headed off down the beach. I started with a walk trying to loosen up, plugged into my iPod, and only started to jog once I hit the woods coming off the beach. Today my body was having major noncompliance issues in responding to what my heart and mind wanted to do. After we broke through the woods we came upon curvy, very flat and wide dirt roads.Utterly delicious. It was a road runners heaven- smooth and swift. My heart leaped with joy and my mind gave my muscles a pep talk, "all right fellas, this is what's gonna happen...we're gonna hit this thing strong and fly down these pristine roads. You dominate this playground." The iPod clicked into a fast paced, bass pumping song, and a cool breeze came out of no where. I took off. I glided over the road, my mind melting into my subconscious. I reflected on my last several days, all the experiences of the race, all the the pain I had endured, and all the wonderful people I had met. My eyes filled with tears as I reached back and recalled my recent painful struggle and the feelings I repressed in order to cope. Many of those feelings, I had to admit, led me to signing up for this race. Washing my hands of the past, I turned my thoughts on the present and those tears of hurt and anger were replaced by tears of wonder and happiness. I thought about my accomplishments, my family's encouragement, and the amazing and rare love I had finally found when I wasn't looking. I felt like the luckiest person alive to have these people in my life, to be where I was, and to be doing what I loved to do. This was a very spiritual moment for me. I was so grateful to be in this beautiful world and to have all that I have in life.

So. I kept running and contemplating life's mysteries and hidden meanings while in this euphoric state (yes, this is what running does for me). I kept running until slowly a stern voice crept up in the back of my mind, ever so slowly, taking over my pleasant thoughts. My body was screaming bloody murder at me and I was not listening. I noticed I had been limping without realizing it. I was playing the "I can't hear you" game and unfortunately, I was losing. Coming out of my subconscious was like hitting a brick wall going 60 mph. Both of my knees felt like they were grinding bone on bone, my hips were wobbly and painful, the back of my left knee was swollen and tight, my toes were slammed against the tips of my shoes, and my left foot suggested a potential overuse stress fracture. I suddenly felt the pain tenfold. My legs buckled and seized to a crashing halt. My body had given up on me, I was done. I tried in vain to press override. I attempted to walk/run: a minute on, a minute off, thirty seconds on, thirty seconds off, ten seconds was no use. I moaned, fought off the tears, and limped a few feet down the road and around a curve. There, I came to a beautiful field where a small handful of cows (the cute floppy-eared ones) were grazing. They were standing in the midst of a field of tiny purple flowers surrounded by lush greenery. A small volcano posed as a backdrop, the sky was clear blue, and a large bird glided gracefully in the air above me (or was that a buzzard doing circles...hmmm). It was a beautiful, almost out of body, scene. The cows halted their grazing, and stared at me. I stared back. It was there I came to the heartbreaking conclusion that I could not go on any further. I limped over to a fallen log near the aged fence and slowly lowered myself onto it and continued to stare back at the cows. I can conjure many hilarious cartoon captions for what the cows were thinking at that moment, us staring motionless at each other. They returned to their chewing, still keeping their eyes on me. I put my face in my hands and cried. I felt like I had failed myself.

Through the tears I finally came to the acceptance that I was unable to run any further. I decided I wanted to wait for Toby so that we could at least finish this race together and enjoy each other's company. I was determined to finish, even if I had to gimp it. I massaged my muscles and waited.

Simi, with Tica running next to him, Rachel, and Toby appeared awhile later with the "sweepers" in tow. I stood up waiting until they got near and started to walk with them. Toby caught up with me, looking concerned, and all my emotions flooded back. I cried into his shoulder blubbering words of shame and self-loathing, telling him he couldn't even hold my man-hands because they hurt too much. Toby stood in front of me, hands on my shoulders, and said, "you have just run five days straight, do you realize that? You're amazing and I'm proud of you.You have done exactly what you came here to do." I smiled through the everlasting snot and tears, realizing my accomplishment. I was still going to finish this thing and that had been my goal. I just wanted to finish. Toby was going to help me see this through, even if he had to carry me on his back, he said. (Would this disqualify me?)

We continued the walk, arm in arm, snapping pictures and enjoying the views. The heat overwhelmed Tica who would dodge into the shade of a tree for a moment to rest. I picked her up and carried her, taking my mind off the pain. Toby fashioned a sling from my long sleeved white shirt and we stuck Tica in it like a little papoose. She was quite content, her head peaking out of the top. We would stop at the checkpoints, spend some time relaxing and mending Simi's blistering feet, then move on towards the next checkpoint. At one point Rachel and I had gotten ahead of the men and found ourselves in on a secluded overgrown part of the road where a small run-down house stood off to the right. A group of young children were playing outside and brightened when they saw us coming. I noticed two young (five maybe six years old) boys hacking at some weeds with a monstrous machete. The group of children, mostly girls ranged from about 3 to 7 or 8 years old, clustered around Rachel and I smiling. We had gotten accustomed to seeing kids race out of their houses to watch us run by, cheering, clapping, and waving. Our assumption that these kids were here to cheer us on dissipated at their cries for "dineros" with their little palms stretched upward. "No, no dineros, lo siento" I said "no money, I'm sorry". The children continued to beg, clustering closer and closer to us. It started to give us a very eerie feeling. My eyes stayed peeled to the little machete boys in the corner, still whacking at the weeds. The girls started to fondle our packs and touching our arms. We picked up the pace, still saying No. The group broke up and started heading back to the house when suddenly one little girl turned around, ran up to Rachel, and slapped her on the back. The eldest girl's eyes got very wide and she froze, waiting to see how we would react. Rachel and I looked at each other and then kept walking. A little ways down the road we realized compassionate Toby and big hearted Simi were still lagging behind and would have to endure the scary Children of the Corn reenactment. Together, we decided to leg it back up the trail to guide the men through. No sooner had we reached the little shack did we see Toby coming down the hill, giving the little girls hand-outs. The young girl who had hit Rachel was sitting with a scowl on the front stoop of the shack. Obviously someone tattled. When Toby reached us we found out he had been giving the girls the cookies we had scavenged from the last checkpoint. "I was tired of carrying them" he said with a shrug. After we collected the men through the swarm, we finished the last leg of the trail which led us out onto the ocean's reefs.

The reefs were stunning. Big smooth rocks layered upon layers, boulders and stepping stones. The waves crashed foamy water against the rocks then slowly retreated back to sea. If I had fresh legs this would be paradise, I thought. I loved to skip along stones, leaping and jumping rock to rock. Slowly we picked our way through the maze of boulders and stones. A snorkeler surfaced a few feet from us holding up an octopus he just caught. We finally rounded a corner and there was the finish line along the beach. I put Tica down so our little mascot could finish with a good run as people called to her from the finish line. Simi and Toby dropped back as Rachel and I limped our way across the finish line together. We hugged and high fived each other. We made it! Jo, our everlasting cheerleader, met us with hugs and good words and Stephanie tackled me in an embrace. You did it girl! She said and then shared her own tears about hurting her ankle on the rocks and limping to the finish line.

Leaving was bittersweet. We knew the chances of ever seeing these new-found friends again was slim, but the fond memories we have of each other will last for years to come. Toby and I couldn't wait to get home and get a real hot shower and sleep on a soft bed. Our night had been less than plush: cold showers (only a few runners found they had hot water), extremely hard beds, broken air conditioner, cold food, and a severe thrashing by hundreds of mosquitoes that crept through our window during the night. Toby had woken up (closest to the window as we were given two single beds) with his sheets covered in streaks of blood! A closer inspection and we discovered dead mosquitoes mixed with the bloody sheets. Hot from the broken air conditioner, he had stripped to his skivvies. He looked like he was covered in chicken pox! He had snored through the entire feasting of his body. I had slept with my legs propped up on the action packers and draped in a sheet. I had suffered very little compared to Toby.

So...we boarded our bus and headed on a 6hr ride back to the hotel. The thing I remember the most about this trip is that my kidneys finally kicked in and my body began the wonderful task of diuresis. Meaning: my organs were finally starting to pull off the copious amounts of fluid that had accumulating throughout my now chubby little body. It was like scenes from "The Apple Dumpling Gang" as I kept tapping the driver's shoulder and saying, "I gotta pee." My kidneys were on overdrive trying to flush out my system. Slowly I noticed parts of my body started shrinking back to their original size, thank goodness.

The next morning we got up at sunrise and jumped in the hot tub to soak before heading to the airport. Home sweet home!

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