This post was written by my sweet husband, and captures our experience at the 2013 Mexico City Marathon.
This is my wife’s blog, however I’m stepping in this week with a post of my own. I am not a runner in the same sense that she is, but I did just run my first marathon two weeks ago, and I thought I could give a more accurate description of what transpired. My wife is far too humble to write honestly about how tough and courageous she was. It will be a long time before I forget the grit and determination that she displayed in completing the 2013 Mexico City Marathon. Here are some observations of the day from a novice runner.
Deena and I arrived in Mexico City on Friday, August 23, just as a teacher’s union was successfully putting the capital into chaos. The teachers staged demonstrations throughout the city in protest of new reforms, forcing politicians to move their meetings to hotels, shutting down the main road to the airport, and in general wreaking havoc for the 25 million people who live there. By Saturday the race had been rerouted, which was just one of many surprises to come.
When we arrived at the Olympic Stadium for the packet pick-up the next day we were told that they didn’t have any more race shirts for us even though we registered in May. We took it in stride and gave the volunteer our contact information to send us the T-shirts later. We managed to wrestle away a few swag bags, which included two bottles of Strongbow Hard Cider, a copy of Runner’s World from January 2012, and a map of the marathon that had since changed.
That night we went to sleep with so many questions: Will the race be organized? Will the 7,900 feet in elevation affect us? Will anyone actually show up to watch the race? These questions fell to the wayside around 11 pm when a band began its jam session next door. The horrible rock music pulsated through the building making it impossible to sleep. We went downstairs to talk to the security guard, but he said it was someone in another building, so he couldn’t do anything about it. Calling the police wasn’t an option either — they don’t enforce noise ordinances in Mexico. Luckily, the band called it a night around 11:45 pm and we dozed off with dreams of the finish line.
The morning came early, but I jumped out of a bed and had an easy time preparing in the darkness. We got dressed, ate some bananas and a bagel, and called a cab to pick us up at 5:45 am. Our start time was 7:15 am, but we weren’t sure how long it would take to get downtown or what streets would already be closed. The taxi driver was right on time, but he proceeded to weave in and out of traffic as though we were being chased by the police. The experience was unsettling for me (maybe it was car sickness) and suddenly I became nervous about this whole marathon thing. Would I actually survive? How much was this really going to hurt? I wondered.
The race began in front of the Bellas Artes, a beautiful building famous for housing murals by Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco. As the light slowly crept across the sky the Mexican national anthem commenced. The crowd proudly sang along and a lone Mexican flag waved in the wind. Soon we were off and running through the streets of one of the largest cities on the planet. People packed the sidewalks, waving banners and flags and urging us on by yelling ¡Sí, se puede! (You can do it!) or ¡Vamos! (Let’s go!). We would hear these phrases for the next five hours.
We cruised through the first 10k with ease. Deena kept a five- to 10-meter lead on me, but kept checking to see where I was. I was in no hurry; I still feared how I would feel in a few hours. The course continued through the heart of the city on Avenida de la Reforma, a beautiful boulevard with skyscrapers, palm trees, and magnificent statues and fountains. We passed the U.S. Embassy and grabbed an American flag from an embassy volunteer. Our show of patriotism lasted only a few kilometers as holding a flag proved cumbersome. We meandered through Polanco, a posh neighborhood featuring high-end shops such as Louis Vuitton and Saks Fifth Avenue. Even though I wasn’t tired, fear was starting to take over. I was fatiguing just a little and I still couldn’t wrap my mind around finishing in another three hours. Deena was cruising, and I knew that I was holding her back. I stopped to go to the bathroom and refused to talk to her. I felt ashamed and frustrated.
Despite my pouting, we kept going and found ourselves in the gorgeous Chapultepec Park, a mini Central Park with an enormous castle that overlooks the city. We hit the 13.1 mark around 2:12, which wasn’t too bad, we thought. Our goal had been to finish somewhere under four hours, 30 minutes, and we were right on schedule. I recall taking a deep breath and promising myself that I would finish. That moment seemed to put a bounce in my step. Around that time, Deena felt some cramps and darted toward some park bathrooms. She told me to keep going and she would catch up. With the way she was running, I had no doubt that she would easily catch me in a few minutes. However, after 25 minutes I still had not seen her. I began to worry. I stopped to walk and kept looking back. Within minutes I saw her blue shirt and Ironman visor. A stingy woman guarding the public bathrooms had caused her delay. Deena didn’t have the requisite four pesos (25 cents) to enter. A man nearby heard Deena pleading with the woman and gave her the money. Acts of kindness like this from locals continued throughout the day.
Music blared and people screamed as the route turned west, setting the stage for the long road toward the finish line in the Olympic Stadium. My legs felt OK, but I was feeling a bit light-headed. I kept moving, but soon I noticed that Deena had fallen behind. At kilometer 30, Deena stopped. Her face was white, eyes were dilated. She put her hands on her head and bent over a bit. Soon it was obvious that she was going to vomit. She was suffering from altitude sickness. A runner stopped and offered her some water. Another offered his can of Coke. Both runners and spectators seemed genuinely worried about her as we tried to keep going. We started running again, but the nausea kept returning every few minutes. Finally, Deena sat down on the sidewalk and cried. She was disappointed. It had been a difficult summer of training in the sweltering heat in Matamoros. Despite the weather and our restrictive conditions (there is a curfew in place in Matamoros for State employees and their families because of the high level of crime, violence, and kidnappings in the region), we had done our best to prepare for this race. All of her frustration was on display in that moment.
With her inability to keep anything down and the way she looked, I didn’t think she could finish the final eight miles. But I suggested we just keep moving. And she did. For the next five miles we walked with hundreds of people still cheering us on. Slowly, but surely both of us started to feel better. We started to jog gingerly and soon we were starting to pass people again. For me, the final five kilometers were the longest of the day. It seemed liked we were so close but I still couldn’t see the stadium. People on the side of the road still yelled, ¡Vamos! or ¡Animo!, but several screamed, ¡Ya llagaste! (You’ve already made it!). After hearing that a few times I wanted to yell back, No, we still have 20 minutes left!
The throngs of people appeared to be getting bigger as we closed in on the stadium. Deena and I picked up the pace as we sensed the finish line was close. The course snaked through the crowd and then finally took a turn toward the tunnel that led into the Olympic Stadium. We ran through the darkness and popped out onto the track of what was pretty much an empty stadium. There was a small crowd near the finish line where we crossed together. Deena gave me a hug and I told her how proud I was of her. I’m quite certain that 99 of 100 people who felt like she did would have quit the race right on the spot. Of course, she was disappointed with our time of five hours, 32 minutes, but considering what she battled, I thought it was a success. For me, I was pleased with just finishing. I realized that a marathon is more of a challenge of the mind than the body.
We climbed up the long, steep ramp to exit the stadium and tried to call our friend, Alice, who had finished the half-marathon. I used my trusty Mexican cellphone serviced by Telcel to make the call. After all, they were official sponsors of the race and had a huge customer service center in the parking lot. Unfortunately, my Telcel phone didn’t get any reception, so we spent the next 10 minutes trying to find a place that had reception. We received Gatorade, a finisher’s T-shirt, and a medal on our way out. We found our friend and now came the challenge of getting home. There was no public transportation available. A metro stop was about 20 blocks away, but I quickly vetoed the plan to walk there. About 30 minutes later we found a taxi that took us home.
Deena and I only had a few more hours together that day. I flew back to Guadalajara to return to my work and she flew back to Matamoros that night. It had been a day that tested my fortitude and mental toughness and it gave me an opportunity to see how tough my wife actually is. The Mexicans who participated were incredibly friendly and courteous. According to my wife, the turnout and support of the community was as big as anything she has ever seen in the United States. We’ll both remember this race for a long time, and I look forward to my next marathon. But perhaps I’ll try to find a race at or near sea level next time.
Thank you for reading!