14 June, 2010

Paris and Team Accidental Pawnstars

My heart was pounding as the slow drizzle started coming down. Having turned my ankle earlier in the day, pain shot through with each step I took. First I tried singing old rugby songs from my university days. When that didn't work, my mind drifted to conjugating Spanish and French verbs.

It has been six months since I left Argentina and returned to the United States. I left Argentina with hopes, but no plans. I knew I wanted to pursue graduate degrees, but when I left South America I had no offers from universities yet. I knew I wanted no part of returning to politics and living in Washington, DC again, but didn't know where I would like to be. Although I adored Buenos Aires, it wasn't home. The trouble is, I don't know where home is.

* * *

I first heard about the Laurel Highlands Ultra Race just three weeks ago. While I have never considered myself a runner, the thought of racing around in the woods with buddies appealed to me. So, with less than two months' training, I joined two friends from college to run the 77-mile (124km) relay race on 12 June, 2010.

With very limited time to achieve a very specific goal, I set myself to train. I ran a few miles everyday, at times with friends, but mostly solo. Meanwhile, I waited for answers from graduate schools I applied to. With possible destinations like Paris, Brussels, or Brooklyn for next year, I grew increasingly excited and anxious as days passed without news.

At approximately 00h00 on race day, we the three members of Team Accidental Pawnstars set out from Washington, DC for southwestern Pennsylvania. By 04h00, we pulled into the starting line of the Laurel Highlands Ultra Race at Ohiopyle, PA. At 05h30, without any sleep the previous night, the first leg of the race kicked off.

It wasn't until my teammate finished the first leg and tagged me in for my part that my heart started racing. Time and distance passed quickly - much faster than I anticipated. It was an hour before I realized that I needed to hydrate.

Me at my first aid station

Feeling pretty good and still energetic after the 13 miles (21km) of my first leg, my second leg of the relay quickly turned into an exercise in pain management. The trail was fairly technical, with rocks hidden under heavy vegetation. Not able to see where I was stepping, I twisted my left ankle several times and my pace slowed to a crawl. For almost 10 miles (16km), my run was reduced to a wobble, with only my heart willing me onto the finish line. Nothing sounded sweeter than the sight of my last aid station and the erupting cheers from waiting crew teams as someone shouted "RUNNER COMING IN!" By the time Team Accidental Pawnstars finished all 77-miles, 15 hours, 59 minutes, and 30 seconds had passed.

Even I as write two days after the race, I am still reliving fond memories of the Laurel Highlands. I have found similar feelings amongst other runners I met on Saturday. The lovely images of running in the woods, most of it alone and among wild rhododendron, laurel, and fern, continue to flash in my head. The cheerful companionship of my two friends, and other runners and spectators, who constantly urged on all competitors, was like nothing I have experienced before in other athletic events. I may have discovered a new addiction.

Damn you Dave and Joe!

* * *

In late August, my life will take another turn as I move to Paris, France for my graduate studies. So, in eight short months after I left Argentina for the United States, I will move once again to live the happy life of an expatriate.