Matamoros Half (?) Marathon

It’s not every day that I wake up, run part of a half marathon – at a pretty good clip, in fact (for me, anyway) – and then am sidelined for the rest of the day with the stomach flu. This is the reason why I did not write yesterday.

I had a feeling I was in for an interesting turn of events yesterday morning when I had to take a dose of Immodium right before the race. That’s never a good sign. I considered not running, but in the end that was a fleeting thought. I’d had stomach cramps the day before, presumably from overdoing it a little bit on the salsa at our favorite restaurant, but I hadn’t expected them to carry over into Sunday. I hoped that the Immodium would keep things at bay for at least a couple of hours.

M. and I had been planning to run Matamoros’ first-ever half marathon for the last couple of months. We thought it would not only be a good entry back into training, but also a fun way to support the city and its attempt to create positive experiences for its residents. We also thought there would be a strong chance of cool temperatures and great running weather (we were right!).

The race started at 7:00 at Parque Olimpico, just two blocks from our house. As I told M., I’ve never lived that close to a race start before. It was wonderfully convenient to leave the house twenty minutes before the start, without worry of where to park or how to avoid traffic.

Following some welcoming remarks by the race organizer and Lety Salazar, the newly elected Mayor of Matamoros, strips of confetti flew and we were off. The race route was more or a less a huge circle around the entire city. It went through parts of the city that we are not allowed to visit for security reasons, so our participation in the race required approval from our Regional Security Officer. Assuming that because it was a rather large event and a happy occasion, we couldn’t imagine there would be any security issues. What would people want with a bunch of runners, anyway? Well, you know what they say about assuming….

Another (accurate) assumption we made was that the course would be marked in kilometers, so we had calculated the night before that a five-minute kilometer equates to an eight-minute mile, and a 5:30 kilometer to an 8:52 mile. We wanted to be somewhere in between, so our plan was to keep our eyes on our watches. We passed the first kilometer in 5:25… right on pace.

Though I felt us pick up the pace a bit, each of the next three kilometers seemed to be farther and farther apart. I passed kilometer four in 22:55, which I knew could not possibly be correct. M. and I had split up at this point, so I wasn’t able to ask him if he, too, felt that the kilometers were off. I decided just to keep running and hope that somewhere along the route, the extra distance would be made up with “shorter” kilometers.

What I did not expect was to jump from kilometer four to eleven within about eight minutes. I looked around to see if any of my fellow runners were equally confused, and no one seemed to bat an eye. We kept going… kilometers 12, 13, 14… was I the only one in the Twilight Zone? A few minutes after passing kilometer fourteen, I heard a guy in front of me ask one of the volunteers how many kilometers we had run so far. The volunteer didn’t know, but another runner answered him, “Quince (fifteen)!”  I spoke up in my broken Spanish and said that I thought we were more likely between kilometers nine and ten. He insisted we were at fifteen. I looked at my watch: 50:23. Unless I had suddenly started running four minute miles, there was no way we were at kilometer fifteen. I didn’t have the energy to argue; I just kept running. What I really began to wonder was whether the extra kilometers would be made up at some point (were the markers simply misplaced?), or whether the course would actually end up being about six-and-a-half kilometers short. Either way, I was annoyed… I had no idea how much farther we had to go and thus wasn’t sure if I should push the pace or continue running as though I had another hour to go.

As it turns out, none of that mattered, because a few minutes later, I ran down the exit ramp from the highway to see that the runners ahead of me had stopped. Race officials and police officers had stepped out of their trucks and were urging the runners to stop. One man explained to me that the race was being suspended for security reasons – “they’re shooting the city,” he said. Just behind me was one of M.’s colleagues from the Consulate. He, too, explained to me what was going on. He said that we had the choice either to keep running at our own risk, or to get in the truck with the police for a ride back toward the finish line. I waited for M. to come down the hill, and we decided it best to get in the truck.

During our brief ride, the police officer confirmed that several vehicles with armed men were seen in the city, including on parts of the race course. I shuddered.

The police dropped us off along the border, about a mile and a half from the finish line. We ran the rest of the “half marathon” and crossed the finish line. Our watches showed about an hour and twelve minutes of running time – about eight and a half miles, by our estimation. A good workout to be sure, but definitely a strange one, and certainly not a half marathon. We received our medals and walked the short two blocks home. At least the Immodium had done its job.

But not for long….

About twenty-five minutes later, I started to feel what would become possibly the worst stomach illness I have ever experienced. Perhaps I will elaborate more on that tomorrow. Suffice it to say for now that I spent the rest of the day either in bed or in the bathroom. We decided that it must be the flu, because we both have it and today has been only marginally better (worse for M., actually).

Tonight, we are on a bit of an unofficial lockdown. The mayor’s office has advised all residents to stay inside their homes due to continuing violence throughout the city. Since we’re both pretty ill, we have no desire to go anywhere, but this advisory certainly does not put us at ease. I think the best word we can use to describe the last 36 hours would be… bizarre.

Thank you for reading!

4 thoughts on “Matamoros Half (?) Marathon

  1. I had a bad feeling when you wrote, “What would people want with a bunch of runners, anyway?” Shades of Boston. Quite a story, and I'm glad you came out OK as far as the threat of violence was concerned. You still did more running (and mental math) than I'd ever accomplish. As for the bug that got you, sorry and I hope you got over it quickly.

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  2. Thanks so much, everyone, for your comments and for reading. Yes, I am glad we were safe as well. We learned later that the course was actually marked properly, but they re-routed the leaders because some of the shooting was happening near the course. They just didn't tell us that. We were grateful to be safe!

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