Who knew that in order to uncover the most succinct way of describing (defending perhaps?) what I’m all about, I’d have to go to Butte, Montana?
But that is in fact where I found myself last Friday evening, a few short hours after landing in Missoula for a long weekend of fun and marathoning. As per the last couple of trips, I was no sooner in the passenger seat of Molly’s car before she said, “So… we have some options tonight.” With an unblemished track record of Johnny Cash cover bands, fire dancers, fascinating conversations with 90 year old men, hot springs, ice fishing and pickle asparagus eating contests, I had no problem trusting that any of Molly’s “options” would lead to a delightful time.
So we chose Butte, and the Montana Folk Festival.
And just a few minutes after that photo was taken, I discovered a previously dormant love of mariachi music. Specifically, the music of the first all-female mariachi band in the United States. The “how” and the “why” and the “wha?!” of it all can be summed up by the way the band leader described mariachi in general. She said that the music touches on the themes of “joy, nostalgia and lament.”
That was the point at which I turned to Molly and hit her (not softly in the least, I fear) and pretty much screamed, “DID YOU HEAR THAT? Did you?! Joy, nostalgia and lament. Those are like my THREE FAVORITE THINGS!” And like the true doll that she is, she totally went with it. Because she knows me and she knew it was true. “I know! They really are!”
I can’t overstate how wild and swirly – and also perfectly still at the same time – it was in my head at that moment. Joy, nostalgia, lament. Pretty much the pillars of me. Those three words made me so happy. And so remembery. And so sad. And they ultimately ended up perfectly encompassing the experience that was the main reason I was in Montana last weekend. The marathon.
Less than a month ago, I was busy imagining immensities. I had some lofty goals for this race and I figured, where better to aim high than Big Sky Country?
Welp folks, I fell flat on my face.
But this is definitely not a woe-is-me kinda race recap because truly, honestly, cross my heart, I loved this marathon. Of the now eight dances with 26.2 that I’ve completed, this was definitely the most challenging, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it or that I didn’t learn something from it. And any missteps were mine and mine alone. The race course was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen and the organizers did a great job on details both small and large – late arrival packet pickup at the airport the night before the race?! Big kudos to whoever thought that kindness up.
So, what happened? Well, it was hot. It was really hot. With the temperature a pleasant and manageable 60ish at the 6 a.m. start, I wildly underestimated the impact of spending 4+ hours in steady sun and increasing heat. The temperature crept up gradually and I think was probably close to 80 by the time I crossed the finish line. There was shade and there was downhill and there were plenty of aid stations and SO MANY blessed sprinklers to run through and all of those things together made finishing the race possible, but even so, the heat and sun just destroyed me. It wasn’t even that the naysaying bitch I shut down last December in Sacramento came out to play. The heat was even too much for her. I didn’t beat myself up when everything started to take its toll, instead I left the prospects of a PR or even a sub-4 in a wilted heap on the side of the road somewhere around mile 16 or 17 and decided that finishing was not only good enough, but probably the smart choice. If you’re interested, you can see where it all sort of fell apart on Strava, here.
And even with the heat and the complete mental decompensation that happened in the last miles, I don’t consider this race a failure and really believe that I couldn’t have run it faster or better than I did. Some days are just hard. And all of this is not to say that there wasn’t joy because there really really was. There was joy at the start when the fireworks began and and I was running and crying a little bit (because OF COURSE I was crying) and trying to watch the fireworks while running and probably just generally looking like a crazy person. There was joy in running at sunrise. There was joy in consciously and optimistically holding myself back for the first several miles because at that point I seriously believed that I was going to experience my very first negative split in a marathon. There was joy in feeling solidly good for the first ten or so miles and coming through the half in less than two hours. There was even joy in climbing a kind of awful hill just after the half because at the top of it was a goddamn breathtaking view of the Bitterroot Valley.
But there was also lament. So much lament. Lament during the things I’ve already mentioned – the heat and the painful abandoning of goals – and also lament in other, smaller moments. I couldn’t even catch a break from my iPod. At a point late in the race, yet with miles enough to go that I really could have used a musical morale boost, my brain decided to zero in on the song that was playing at the exact moment that the lyrics were, “And what’s new, pussycat, is that you were once a lioness; they cut your claws out.” Irrationally, it felt like a very personal attack because I had so little fight left in me and was just barely clawing my way through the race.
And of course, as always, woven in among the joy and the lament was nostalgia. Even though I don’t have a long personal history with Montana, it has been home to some of my very nearest and dearest, so I’ve always kinda loved it a lot. Even before I visited and discovered how great it is and how much it deserves to be loved. And on Sunday, a few of those nearest and dearest ran their first half marathon, which made the whole day that much more special.
There’s not much more to say about the race. I did finish and after a very death marchy last five miles, even managed to find the tiniest kick for a sub-8 push across the line. It wasn’t much, but it was something, and at that point, the fact that I could move my legs with anything approximating speed told me that I was probably going to live to see another day.
The rest of the trip was perfection. Floating on the river, drinking without guilt and spending time with good people rounded out yet another spectacular Montana adventure. And I’ll say again now what I was even able to say with certainty minutes after finishing the race on Sunday. I very much look forward to going back next year and running… the half.
The goals I landed in Missoula with ended up coming home with me on Tuesday. They’re hanging out with my running shoes in the pile of clothes that I haven’t finished unpacking yet. They don’t mind taking a snooze for a while, but I’m pretty sure they’re going to wake up rested and itchy and ready to be joyfully repurposed in December. Number 9 is on the books and wouldn’t you know, 9 just happens to be my favorite number.