Beat the Bridge

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I’m loading loose groceries into a tiny, ancient rental convertible and waiting for some guy to bring me paperwork so I can leave. Apples roll into the front passenger side, smooshing a shrink-wrapped pack of sausages. I check the time. 6:45am, the same time I’m supposed to meet my sister for the race. I still have a two-hour drive ahead of me. Where is that guy with the paperwork?

The nice thing about built-in alarm clocks is they have the opposite of a sleep function. At least mine does. That’s when you wake up before the alarm is set because your subconscious doesn’t trust real alarm clocks on account of not using them much. I imagine a mostly unused alarm clock might be passive-aggressive when it comes to big events. Plus I’m not sure I even know how to set mine properly.

There’s no taking chances when you have to meet a group of people two hours away at 6:45am on a Sunday morning and you have the parking pass. The rental car dream was a big red flag, so I got up before the alarm did or didn’t go off and I went downstairs to make coffee and mentally prepare for the big 10K.

A 10K is 6.2 miles, which I’d run a half dozen times since late August. My favorite run was also the first one I did along a flat and shaded roadside to an abandoned watchtower on the Delaware coast. On all my practice runs, I paused my running app so the clock wouldn’t roll while I snapped pictures, a hobby that paired nicely with running this summer.

This was the summer of running for the enjoyment of it. Actually, I forgot that I wasn’t going to call it running anymore. I jog. What happened when I went out for sporadic, leisurely jogs and left the timing gear at home was I got slower. Like, a minute-a-mile slower. I started tracking my pace again around the time I started 6 mile practice runs, but I never got faster.

I was nervous going into this race. The night before, we all got an email from the organizer that basically said “Look, we better tell you right now: expect long lines and delays. In case you didn’t know, you’re not the only one doing this race. You’ll be running with 20,000 other people. Twenty thousand. So take off the crown and just show up and enjoy yourself.” I thought it was the kind of email that might be helpful to get every single morning.

It turns out, the race was extremely well organized. I met my baby sister and her running buddies right on time and we parked at the nearest shuttle stop and were whisked off to the start line. Here I am in the only pair of sunglasses I seem to have left after summer, with the stunning Bay Bridge in the background, plus what looks like an unsuspecting woman getting ready to take a swim.

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The course was 4.35 miles of bridge, plus some mileage before and after to make up the 10K. The bridge part was absolutely amazing. At the midpoint, we were hovering 186 feet above sea. There were telephones and sobering signs for a suicide hotline. My sister said she looked over the side at the top, but I didn’t dare. We were so close to heaven. This is where I hit my peak, the part in the run where I felt strong enough to keep going to the finish line and maybe forevermore.

Then mile 5 came. For some reason, I was still chewing gum I’d had since the drive down. I didn’t want to throw it over the side of the bridge and hit an unsuspecting seagull, and suddenly this old gum felt like an albatross, a real liability I was lugging towards the finish line. My mouth was desert-dry and I a little panicky. This is where I wanted to walk so bad. Then a song came on my playlist that made me keep going.

I’m superstitious about using the shuffle feature during races. One reason is that it’s really hard to get my phone in and out of a running belt (more on that in a bit) to skip songs, but I also think the songs talk to me at various points, and often when I need to hear them the most. Around mile 5.2, when desert mouth hit and I noticed a hill looming in the distance, Ray of Light came on. I don’t even know I’d ever listened to the lyrics before, and then in my about-ready-to-give-up-and-walk state, I heard this:

Faster than the speeding light she’s flying
Trying to remember where it all began
She’s got herself a little piece of heaven

I happened to be jogging alongside an airport with grounded planes that were “flying” faster than me, so I got a case of the chuckles, which are like giggles for delirious, tired people. Then trying to remember where it all began brought it home.

Awhile back, I wrote about how driving across the Bay Bridge in the worst hungover state of my life indirectly, and not until many months later, led me to remove the demon alcohol from my life. Running over it sober, healthy? This was a big deal for me. I did remember where it all began and in that moment I was like “okay Universe, thanks buddy” and kept dragging towards the looming hill and heaven.

I got this when I crossed over. The finish line, I mean, not heaven. Maybe they give medals in heaven too, not that I’ll probably find out.

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a major award

I had the best cup of coffee in my life after the run. I got a space blanket, which I thought they only gave out for marathons, but I took mine because a 10K is as close as I’ll get to running a marathon.

The coffee wasn’t free, but luckily I’d brought a twenty dollar bill in my running belt. Remember the post where I shared the preachy, tragic short story I wrote when I was 11? Well, it almost came true.

While taking out my phone at the 1.5 mile mark to take a blurry picture of my feet or something, my precious $20 fell out! Now, I might let a $5 spot go, but not a $20. I nearly took out two unsuspecting runners in a mad scramble to pick it up. I feel really bad about that part and only later did I make the connection that I very nearly died, just like 11-year old me predicted.

So the run is over and I had such a wonderful time. It was amazing and empowering and all the things I’d hoped it would be, despite the race organizer’s low-expectations email. The best part was getting to spend time with my sister, who I don’t see nearly enough. After the race, we cleaned up and went to lunch at a fun place on the water with her husband and sweet baby boy. These are the precious moments, you know? This is what life is all about.
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Mule

I have another confession to make. I’m gray as a mule. You might not know from the highlighted, touched up version of myself I put out there or because you’re not super tall like my husband, who notices my roots coming in before I do. So much for feminine illusions of dewy youth. I’m tired of the whole process myself.

Every three weeks, I have to do something or my hairline spreads thick with white. I’m like Pepe Le Pew, or more like his bewildered love interest. Why me? I’m sure it has nothing to do with genetics and the fact that my dad was gray since the day we met and my brother is gracefully headed that way. Why are men so much braver in this way? My husband grayed at the temples and sideburns and he truly does look distinguished. Doesn’t it just make you sick?

Do you know I’ve dyed my hair since college? I got my first gray at 14. My mom noticed it while french braiding my hair and plucked it out at my insistence. This must have been my fatal mistake. All the slumbering grays heard the battle cry and rose up. I have a distinct recollection of being described by a drunkard at a bar as having “stringy gray hair”. I was 24. In my memory, he also has stringy, gray hair because my memory is awesome and always has my back.

It’s all coming to a head now. Not only do I feel like I’m constantly dyeing or getting ready to dye, but the texture is all wrong. My poor hair is dry and lifeless, rightly exhausted from pretending to be a fun blonde. The gray hair underneath is wiry and coarse. It brays when I liberally condition and apply product, a word hairdressers are quite fond of in its vague invocation of miracle.

This is my first glimpse into getting older. I’m fighting myself from the root down and I don’t want to do that. I write all of this just before going upstairs to mix another batch of magic potion that will allow me to fool the world for 3 weeks. Then I’ll go online to google articles and tips from others who were brave enough to stop dyeing and transition over. I’ll probably start a Pinterest board with too many pictures of Emmylou Harris and Heloise.

Next month I turn 41. If I start to transition now, I can take advantage of the Steve Martin effect and age minimally over the next 20 years. At my 40 year reunion, people will say “you never seem to age!” They won’t know that even though I was terrified to look old, I was more terrified at the thought of fighting it for the rest of my life.

I think this is an album cover? It's also my new battle cry.
I think this is an album cover? It also makes a nice battle cry.

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