Trying is the operative word here. San Antonio was HOT – very hot – as well as intensely humid, even in the wee hours of the morning. Still, because I usually prefer warm weather to cold, the temptation to sign up for the I Ran Marathons Majestic August Double (with a last-minute triple added on Friday) was something I couldn’t resist.
The mastermind behind the I Ran Marathon races is Parvaneh Moayedi, an inspirational runner who just a few weeks ago successfully completed the Badwater 135 (reputed to be the world’s most difficult footrace). I had met Parvaneh in Grapevine last November when we were both doing the UltraCentric and we later saw each other again at the End of the World Marathons in December. Later I discovered that – in addition to being an avid runner herself – Parvaneh also is race director for a number of marathons in San Antonio. The races all take place on the same certified marathon course, the Leon Creek Greenway, a paved ‘trail’ that is open to walkers, runners, and cyclists. Pedestrians have right of way and, for the most part, the many bicyclists who use the greenway are polite and careful (of course, there are always a few who are pains in the butt).
After I signed up for the Saturday and Sunday marathons and made our plane and hotel reservations for Friday through Monday, I learned that Parvaneh had added another marathon to the weekend, this one for Friday. Well, it was too late to change our plans, so I decided this would be a double weekend rather than a triple. I think that was probably wise, considering the high temperatures and the difficulties I had with completing these races.
My husband and I flew to Texas via Atlanta and arrived in San Antonio around 1 pm. After picking up our luggage and rental car, we headed to our hotel, the Residence Inn, located in the new Stone Oak neighborhood north of Loop 1604. Although we had visited San Antonio several times over the past 24 years, we hadn’t driven extensively around the area during those brief trips and so we were very surprised to see how the city had expanded, especially along the northern edge. There were so many new stores, hotels, and restaurants as well as hospitals and businesses. Darcy and I first met in San Antonio 26 years ago, so the city has lots of memories for us and it was fun to be back in the area again. Of course, the temptation of fajitas was another positive reason for traveling back to the city.
We dropped our bags in the hotel room and drove to the Drury Inn several miles down the road. This Drury Inn was in fact the host hotel, but because I don’t belong to a loyalty program for that hotel, we decided to stay at one of the close-by Marriott hotels. Since we didn’t stay there, I can’t vouch for whether the Drury Inn was a clean and comfortable place to stay but it certainly was convenient for people who did decide to stay there. The trailhead is located directly behind the hotel; it was possible to leave your room and walk less than a minute to the start and finish line of the race.
Packet pickup was set for Friday from 1 to 4 pm at the Drury Inn. Parvaneh had a table set up with all the bags arranged by name and bib number. In addition to a bib, there was a cotton tee shirt and several Snickers Marathon Energy bars. It was great to visit with Parvaneh for a while, and I had an opportunity to ask her some questions and take a look at the trail itself. By this time, both Darcy and I were famished. We hadn’t eaten all day and it was now around 3 pm. We wanted fajitas so a lunch stop at Taco Cabana was definitely in order. After eating our fill, we headed back to the hotel so I could get my stuff ready and try to calm my nerves.
I was planning to do the double marathon, but this race series included more options than a marathon. In addition to signing up for one, two, or three marathons, a person could opt for a 10k, a half marathon, a 50k, or a 50 mile race on one, two, or three days. The distance was determined by the number of times the runner or walker did the certified loops, and the loops could be short or long (two short loops equaled one long loop). It was a bit confusing at first (all that arithmetic!) but I figured it out beforehand and knew exactly what my plan would be each day. There were three aid stations, with water, soda, and Gatorade, plus real food and energy bars. Patient and cheerful volunteers staffed the aid stations and were unfailingly pleasant despite having to sit in the heat all day.
Time limits were amazingly generous and forgiving. The races officially started at 6 am, with a 5 am early start (and that turned out to be flexible) and ended at 9 pm every day (although I believe everyone finished well before that deadline). I opted to take the early start each day. When I arrived on Saturday morning at 4:35 am, Parvaneh said that some people had already started, so I turned on my headlamp and took off. I couldn’t see any reason to just hang around waiting if I could be moving. This turned out to be a great idea. In fact, on Sunday I started at 4:15, so I could try to ‘beat the heat’ before the sun came up.
Although it was dark and I definitely needed my headlamp during those early hours, the course was paved and smooth. I was very careful with my footing on the first couple of loops because I was uncertain about where I was going and what kind of barriers and obstacles might stand in my way. By the second day, I was much more familiar with and confident about the course. There was wildlife aplenty (but no snakes, thank goodness, dead or alive). On Saturday, I saw at least a dozen small cottontails by the side of the trail as well as a huge porcupine. On Sunday, I heard a loud thrashing in the brush on the side of the trail and was greeted by an enormous buck that crossed the trail right in front of me and literally stopped me in my tracks. I waited to see if any more deer would follow but none did.
Temperatures were extremely high, 75 degrees at night with about 80% humidity. During the day the temperatures rose to 100-101 degrees and the humidity kept pace. Even before the sun came up, I was sweating profusely and my hair, skin, and clothes were soaked. Fortunately, I was wearing some shorts and shirts that were light and airy, with an SPF of 50 embedded into the fabric, and I was slathered in Blue Lizard sunscreen. I drank water and Gatorade as necessary, supplementing frequently with peanut butter crackers, energy bars, and S-caps.
While the heat was to be expected, one thing I didn’t prepare for was shin splints. For some reason, maybe because the course was so flat (there were only a few minor changes in elevation), my shins took a real beating and I could feel the pain very early on the first day. Rather than dissipating after a night of rest, my shins seemed to be even worse on Sunday, so my finishing times on both days were pitiful. They were not my worst finishing times, and I wasn’t last in either race, but still – I was a little disappointed to finish in 6:25 and 6:30. My excuses were the heat and humidity (naturally), the unexpected shin problems, and the energy I expended talking to other runners during the race. So, big deal – these races were pure fun! At the end of each race, Parvaneh greeted everyone by name, placed a medal around our necks, and posed for a photo with finishers. Volunteers rang bells and cheered for finishers. This series of races is definitely recommended for walkers who can take the heat. And for those who prefer cooler weather, Parvaneh offers other races year-round in San Antonio (see her website http://www.iranmarathon.com).
We did manage to successfully achieve our fajita fix for at least a couple of months. On Saturday afternoon, we lunched at Alamo Café with Darcy’s college friend Ernesto and his significant other Anna. We finished our journey with another fajita meal at Taco Cabana on Sunday. That should last us for awhile at least.