New Mexico was the only 5K in 50 states that was a 5K race, not just 3.1 miles logged on the clock. Usually I wouldn’t sign up for a race that short but the gals I ran with in Santa Barbara were planning a running trip to Santa Fe for a long weekend. Running in a new state with fun ladies? Sold! Then I decided to up the ante. Like the half marathon in Florida, I decided to run this race for speed. I’d been in good shape and had added barre3 workouts to my routine over the summer. The time was right to go fast. I chose a very aggressive time goal—so aggressive I won’t even name it–, a 12-week training plan, and got going. I felt great. Yes, it was really hard to hit the pace on both tempo runs and speed work, but it was the right time for a challenge. I was happy in my job and relationships. Training was the place where I pushed myself to discomfort. I made it to week 8, right on track, and then I got sick.
The hardest part about being sick wasn’t being absent from and making up work, missing and rescheduling social plans, or vomiting across my living room floor and then picking out grains of rice from my white shag carpeting. It wasn’t even not being able to run. The hardest part was missing the training, knowing that I would have to forfeit my time goal. The ability to meet my goal had been taken away from me. I knew there would be other opportunities to run a fast 5K but the loss of that opportunity made me think about how closely I pay attention to and value time.
As a former teacher, and coming from a family of former teachers, time is often top of mind. Both my mom and I break down household activities, be it cleaning the kitchen or leisurely (on the clock) reading, into 15 minute increments. Even things I do for fun are tracked, which explains why it was so satisfying to train for a time goal. But because I got sick, my training was on-track until it wasn’t. Time is everything to me until it can’t be. As for New Mexico, here’s why time didn’t matter at all.
I’d been so focused on time I hadn’t thought about the time…..the experience…..I would have in New Mexico. The first surprisingly cool thing about the trip was just days before, the photographer who shot my barre3 photo session said she was doing the same Santa Fe race with her girlfriends. All nine of us would also be on the same flight. The scene at the Seattle airport wasn’t just a reunion with my girls in the running group but a meeting with my new photographer friend and her three friends, all of who were named Jane. Even before the plane took off we were gaggle of happy ladies seeking joy and serenity in Santa Fe. By the time race day arrived three days in I was already in awe of the brown adobe houses with blue doors, blissfully appreciative of our hotel’s complimentary kickback (happy hour) with a three drink limit, enchanted by the bundles of purifying dried sage at the farmers’ market and, well, over the moon after gazing upon the harvest moon the first night of the trip. I was convinced there was magic in the air.
But there was nothing magical about the race itself. The four of us running the 5K dropped the two doing the half marathon off first. Just 20 minutes later we had parked our rented minivan in the casino parking lot and lazily sauntered over to the starting line. That took three minutes. There were no lines at the port-o-potties. Chilled by the early morning air, I was still wearing a floral Old Navy blouse over my running shirt. We heard the announcer queue the seven-minute milers and chuckled, “not us.” And then people started running. Not seven-minute milers but everyone. We laughed at how anticlimactic it all was as we tried to weave into the running crowd. I mostly kept pace with Lisa while our friends Helen and Christina popped up ahead and behind us. I don’t know why I hadn’t looked at the course map and elevation during my training but not even half a mile in I was simply elated that I wasn’t running for speed. Instead, I was keeping pace with a friend. I wasn’t listening to music. I heard every scuffle, shuffle, pant, and breath of those around me. The air was incredibly dry and cold yet I was sweating a lot. The course was on a sidewalk so narrow that you could only run two people across. Over-zealous kids pushed past us in a flurry of scuffling shoes and then suddenly stopped to pant and walk. The course was hilly; not rolling hills but out-of-nowhere steep hills. And then there was the small matter of 7,000 feet altitude. It would have the worst possible race to run for speed. But because I’d let that goal go I was thrilled just to be there. So I kept that silly Old Navy blouse on for as long as I wanted because a sleek, streamlined look no longer mattered. Instead of being absorbed in a carefully curated playlist I kept pace and chatted with Lisa the whole way. I never walk hills in a race–it’s usually my time to shine–but I walked those hills without a care in the world. I don’t even remember crossing the finish line.
What I do remember is watching other runners. Us 5K gals cheered like crazy when our friends Carrie and Liz crossed the finish line. Because we’d now made new friends with Sherry and the Janes we also waited for them to finish and gave them our support. We didn’t stop there. While waiting for our troupe of women we saw so many other incredible runners. Lisa and I laughed over how emotional we got. We decided the only way to avoid getting choked up was that no runners who were holding hands, carrying American flags, over 60, or finishing the race with their kids should cross. Each triumph made us tear up. Other than the fact that I had run in my 36th state, none of those triumphs were mine and that felt just right to me.
A few hours after the race I sat in our hotel’s rooftop hot tub alone. I rested my arms on the edge and stared off into the hills while the cathedral bells chimed. Later, a few of us walked a couple blocks to see the oldest house and the oldest church in the country. We couldn’t believe they were here in Santa Fe after remembering all the sites we’d seen in New England. Yet it explained why the area felt so rich in history, colors, textures, and spirituality. That afternoon the whole group went to Ten Thousand Waves, a Japanese spa specializing in Shiatsu. I’d never had Shiatsu before but as soon as I was introduced to my “handsome massage therapist Luke,” I knew I was in for a treat.
Shiatsu cuts the massage “foreplay” as I called it, going right to the muscles from the first touch. I was surprised at first but tried to relax into Luke’s touch. Maybe my body hadn’t needed to go fast. Maybe it needed to receive touch from someone who seemed to know more about it than I did. How did he know the areas that were tight and how far they could stretch? How did he know the parts of my body that had hurt the most when I was sick? When he’d finished he said, “I’ll leave you for a moment and then sit you up.” Then he came back, folded my legs, cradled me and lifted me to sit up right. It was one of the most thoughtful, gentle touches I have ever received.
That last day in Santa Fe I wandered through downtown. I talked travel with an owner of a gem store where I bought a small ball of copper for joint and arthritic health and a piece of raw turquoise because it seemed more beautiful than the polished kind I had seen in the shop windows. I spent a long time in a poster shop looking for a perfect sun-bleached arts festival poster from the 80s like the ones my grandpa used to have. I did find a lithograph of a gorgeous sunset but the “energy of the purchase” didn’t feel right. Lastly I stopped in a fetish store I’d wanted to check out– fetish meaning a small carving by the Zuni native people of New Mexico. I bought a carved stone bear by an emerging artist, the son-in-law of an established artist who happened to be standing right beside me in the shop. I walked out of the shop completely at peace, holding my bear which I learned symbolized both courage and safety of the journey and the power of hibernation and looking within.
When I returned home and went running for the first time in Seattle, I noticed how very different it was from Santa Fe. On that first Seattle run I passed mostly men, most who were in a great hurry and/or looking at their phones. I didn’t see anyone holding their phones on the streets of Santa Fe. In fact, it seemed like there were fewer men in Santa Fe. In techy Seattle the buildings I run by are silver metal and stone, a sheen dulled by the gray skies. In Santa Fe, from the adobe to the dirt to the wood and sagebrush, there were rich textures. My second night home I remembered that Natalie Goldberg, my favorite author on the craft of writing, lived in Taos, New Mexico. I quickly pulled four of her books off my shelves and furiously flipped through for any mention of the New Mexico. There was her home in Taos and the Lone Wolf Café in Santa Fe where she once wrote. Then the two lines that have always stuck with me: “Runners write. Writers run.” In other words, do the thing you don’t always do so that you become better at the other. I had been so focused on running for speed I’d forgotten how rewarding it is to simply be in a new place so that I could write about it. After days of cloud-gazing, margarita drinking, gal pal giggling and wistfully looking a Georgia O’Keeffe paintings I’d found “the other.” Finally I felt like I was both a runner and a writer. I had fourteen more states and a lifetime of travels to be both.