Facing south, at the very end of PR 701, on the Carribean coast at the Marina de Salinas in Playa de Salinas, Puerto Rico. People come here by boat.
I looked north to San Juan:
And left Playa de Salinas on foot at 7AM local time. I entered San Juan at 7:28PM and was in a beachside hotel and off my feet by 9.
What an amazing run.
(@ mile 13, looking south)
(@ mile 13, looking north.)
After 5 miles of flat I started climbing the mountains that run across Puerto Rico from East to West. The pass I crossed was at about 2,400 feet. As I climbed the weather went from about 85 and humid on the plain (@ 8AM!) to about 65, very windy and raining at the summit. From the summit to SJ it became hot and humid again.
I left Salinas before shops opened so I was running on little food and no pain killers, both of which slowed me down considerably and had me wondering if I could make it all the way to San Juan. Puerto Rico is close to the equator and night falls fast here. By 6PM local time the sky is black. I knew I'd be running in the dark and was very worried about being on twisty two-lane roads in the forest at night. I figured I needed to get to Aguas Buenas (thought to be 13 miles from SJ, but in fact 18) by 5PM to have a chance of getting to Route 1 - a straight, presumably lit, divided 4-lane surface street before nightfall.
The town of Cayey was not the expected 16 miles from Salinas and it wasn't until mile 18 that I passed a sign welcoming me to "Everyone's Favorite City in the Americas". (Downtown turned out to be @ mile 23.)
I was slow, tired, hungry, in pain, and running very, very late.
On the bright side, and temporarily putting an end to my irritation with Google,
I finally figured out why it kept telling me distances that were miles short of reality. The towns in Puerto Rico are deceptively large - they seem small but city limits are miles from the center of town, even when the town seems to have a population of 10 dogs and 20 people. Sometimes city-limits are nothing more than a sign on the road on the middle of the forest.
Google thinks when you see a sign welcoming you someplace you've arrived. Very binary. And wrong.
I'd been running thirsty, hot and sore in Cayey for miles before I saw the first house and finally @ mile 20 a groceria where I bought candy bars and cold drinks.
I was sitting on a concrete wall drinking Gatorade and eating peanut-butter bars (i.e. satisfying my addiction) exhausted by and icing down my sharply throbbing knee with another bottle of Gatorade (knowing it wouldn't help, but it did feel good) and considering that I had miles more pain to deal with when I found what I'd come looking for in Puerto Rico.
At mile 214 on this trip I could stop, hitch-hike, find a bus or a cab to San Juan and be okay with it. After 214 miles running, 33 of them on a painfully injured leg, I had nothing to be ashamed of and felt fine with the idea of quitting.
And that's when I found it - or it found me, I don't know which - but I knew this was it because of the emotion it provoked:
The voice in my head reminded me that the past two years I've been telling myself I am never going back to how I was - to who I was - before.
I started to cry as I recognized I would get to San Juan that day on my feet unless something I could neither foresee nor control stopped me.
I was crying as I admitted to myself that throughout my life I had stopped when it mattered and that two years ago I wanted to stop with finality (yes, you read that right). The decision I made to go on meant I could never again allow myself to stop when it mattered.
In the past when I didn't want to do what was needed or make the investments or sacrifices that come with realizing my human potential I'd stop trying and rationalize that what felt like failure was only the consequence of living in an imperfect world.
When frustrated by not attaining not getting or not having what I thought mattered most I'd stop believing in my responsibility and ability to create happiness and fulfillment in my life.
When in the throes of pain from losing relationships with people I loved I'd stop believing in the goodness of my character and upbringing to learn from the loss, put it behind me, love myself, move forward and bravely go on alone.
And - most painful of all - because of always stopping when it mattered I felt weak and ashamed that the people in my life - the people who loved me - believed in me more than I believed in myself.
I sat on a concrete wall somewhere in the thousand-or-so square miles of metropolitan Cayey, eyed by a mangy dog waiting for something to chase and ignored by three locals unimpressed by a grown man in tights and bright orange shirt crying, and I thought about how often in my life I have stopped for one reason or another, accepted less than I wanted, less than my dreams, less than I'm capable of, less than I am responsible for and less than I know I have it in me to do for myself and others.
And I realized I have everything I need within me to never stop myself again. Things will happen in life as they do to set me back or off my plan but I'll no longer let the opportunities that come with life - or the hardships they include - pass me by because I'm afraid or lazy or doubtful.
I don't stop.
As I came to terms with who I aspire to be - with who I now admit I am - there was no decision to make. Not anymore because I don't stop anymore. Not when it matters. On the way something could happen that would make me stop running and I would have to quit before San Juan, but I was not going to be that something.
Having found that I have within myself all I need to to keep going in the face of adversity matters more than anything else because being willing to stop means I can not be the father, son, husband, lover, partner or friend I want and am able to be.
And you can't live happily that way.
So. There is no decision to make. Not anymore. I don't stop anymore. Not when it matters.
But what did stop was my tears.
In the end I didn't make it out of the forest before nightfall.
In the end Rt.1 was not well lit when I got to it and because of construction there was neither sidewalk nor break-down lane. This run very nearly ended then and there, but I found a solution and gingerly walked on the top of a concrete retaining wall for about a mile before reaching sidewalk. (I guess people liked the orange shirt look 'cause I got a lot of honks and yells.)
I kept running all the way to San Juan.
Wilfredo, the counter clerk at the hotel in San Juan thought I was joking when I told him I didn't have a car. I walked behind the counter and showed him my legs. He laughed, "You ran from Playa Salinas?! Sorry, but we haven't got an elevator and your room is on the third floor."
I smiled and said, "Perfect."
Yesterday I ran 53.26 miles. I covered 250 miles over the last 9 days - far enough to reach what I came here to find.
It is something I've always known is in me but never counted on to overcome doubt, uncertainty or adversity the way this trip insisted I do. Now I know I will do what I am here to do.
I'm never stopping again - don't you either.
Happy New Year. :).
Condado Beach, San Juan, PR.
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Location:San Juan, PR.