Morning in El Refugio comes too quickly. By 5:00 a.m., when the town stirs and the highway is already roaring with buses, trucks, cars, and farty little motorcycles, I am awake. My beautiful wife is in a deep sleep. It is so tempting to roll over and gently feel her warm body as it curls up in my arm. But it’s a running day and I must pass on this delight this morning.
By 5:30 I am in front of the house in my Rutgers running gear. I am El Caballero Escarlata, the Scarlet Knight. I do my stretching using the wall of our flower box to support my leg while I touch my nose to my knees. I feel loose though not 100% awake. I adjust my watch to “Chronograph” and push the start button.
There is no one on the street until I’ve run two or three blocks to the main east-west street leading to the highway. The sun is not yet visible but its light stretching over the hills is enough to see the rocks and potholes and to read my watch. I ignore the few passers-by as I begin my morning conversation with God. I round the corner where Joanna’s mom has the fire going in her barrel stove where she makes and sells tortillas. The bolos, the homeless guys who live on cheap alcohol and door-to-door begging, are sitting on a bench or the curb across from the roofless abandoned house in which they sleep. But apart from the cook fire smoke, the air is sweet and cool. This is the best time of the day for me.
My legs feel heavy from Tuesday’s run. It was my first in a month. I entertain thoughts of an abbreviated run between giving God praise for who He is and what He’s done for me, and thanking him for treating me much better than I deserve. But this is about my health and longevity. He has more for me to do and learn. I am not alone anymore. I have a wife and family. I love them and they depend on me to be around and to be strong enough to help the little ones grow. I know I’ll complete my run. How quickly is not as important as finishing.
The highway is still in shadow as I turn toward Chalchuapa. A couple with two kids and a dog give me room to pass in the “bike lane”. An older man carrying his machete glances at me as we pass. I wonder if he’s my age and what he thinks of his contemporary running in the cool morning air while he’s going to do some work he’s done all his life and will do until he can’t. I tell God how thankful I am that I can retire and live modestly without worrying about earning my next meal. Men on bicycles pass on my right. One honors me with a greeting and a blessing as he heads toward El Refugio. Does he know who I am? Or is he just a courteous gentleman?
I check my watch at each of the four landmarks on my out-and-back course. It seems my times are about the same or a little faster than Tuesday’s but I feel like I’m working harder and not really at the same pace. Oh, well. I’ll compare my times when I’m home and showered as is my custom. I have all my times since I lived in Thousand Oaks, CA on the computer. There are no races here, so I just have practice times. It’s one of my obsessions.
I make it to the turn-around at las fabricas, the factory and am surprised at a slight improvement over Tuesday’s time for the first half of my run. The return is mostly uphill. My task now becomes psychological as I know it’s going to be even harder to run. My goal for the first of four legs is to bring my uphill time closer to my downhill time. Usually, there’s about a minute’s difference. So, again I’m pleased that I am only about 45 seconds slower. Can I maintain the pace? Again, I remind myself that the goal is to complete the run. It’s only my second outing and I can’t think about personal bests.
The second leg continues on an incline. The highway turns a bit ahead and I can’t see the second landmark until I’m a couple of blocks from it. By that time my legs feel like lead. My gluteal muscles are tightening. A bus is picking up passengers. I hope they get on and the bus leaves before I reach them so I don’t have to detour from my lane and run on the highway. There is only a ditch to my right. They go, but another bus pulls up just ahead. Only one passenger boards so that bus leaves quickly.
Now I have a bit of a downhill and a straight-away until I have to climb across the border between Chalchuapa in the Department of Santa Ana and El Refugio in Ahuachapán. I try to pretend the incline is flat to give me a psychological edge. As I approach my turn-off I glance at my watch. If I put on some speed here I’ll cross the third landmark ahead of yesterday’s time. I succeed. Now I just have one more short but steep hill to climb before I descend into town. There is a comfort in knowing I’m on the last leg, but a fear that I’ll allow myself to get comfortable and just coast to the house. I keep that in mind as I get a fresh wind and fight the hill. At the top, I’m somewhat elated but conscious of the eight blocks I’ve yet to cover.
I pass the bolos and the tortilla stove. I round the corner where the pupusa vendor is sweeping the street. A quiet block and another turn. Children are walking toward the Catholic school. They look at me in a curious way. I keep moving. Two blocks to the next turn. Then the next two blocks of broken street and puddles. I bid good morning to a dear friend and her companion. Some people I can’t ignore. The second block is a bit smoother and I start my kick. I round the corner toward our house feeling fairly strong. It’s all good. I reach the house and push the stop button on my watch. I’m panting heavily. My glasses want to fog up, but I can read my time. It’s about a minute faster than Tuesday. I offer thanks to God for allowing this 75-year old man the joy of a morning run and a little bit of a reduction in time.
The front steps are not a challenge. I laugh to myself. I open the door and enter my darkened bedroom. I drop off my watch and glasses at my desk and repair to the patio to wash my face. Margarita greets her sweaty husband with a loving kiss. I tell her my time and she seems proud and happy for me. How wonderful to have a wife so interested in her husband’s unusual (for El Refugio) pastime! But I’m not done. I change my shoes after drying my face a bit and head for the park. I leave my glasses at home so I can see. They get fogged and sweat covered once my run is over and my body temperature adjusts. The sun is coming up but there is plenty of shade on the streets. It’s still cool but the flies, miniature mosquitoes, and gnats are starting to gather to drink from my sweat. I walk swatting them from in front of my eyes and nose. They’ll get worse.
At the park I am at peace. A few people use the park to cross from the main street in front to the side street along side it. The Catholic school is gathering its children. The junk jewelry vendor on the sidewalk opposite has a small crowd of tween girls checking out her stock. The coconut vendor is hacking his fruit with his machete. The microbus stops to pick up passengers. I have cooled down some from my walk and I’m ready for my workout.
I do my stretches. I bend forward and grab my ankles until I can touch my head to my knees. Then I slowly arise and stretch left and right. I feel loose. I walk to the faucetless cement water fountain and lift one leg 90° placing my foot in its basin. Again I stretch forward to touch my knee with my forehead. I repeat with the other leg. I follow this with 25 knee bends. Lacking flexibility in my right ankle I use a crossbar on the swing for balance, but my legs do all the lifting of my body. I do some calf-stretches for my left leg. I can’t bend my right ankle forward to stretch my right calf. Oh, well. I finish my exercises with pull-ups on the horizontal ladder apparatus. I do at least 25. I feel good.
The walk home is comfortable. I bid good morning to some children and neighbors on their way to school and work. In a few moments I’m in the house. The kids are not really up yet. Margarita is getting the washing machine ready to do some laundry. She’s still in her camisole. Her hair is out of its night-time braid and streaming down her back. To me, she is a beautiful vision. She smiles a knowing smile. I ask about the kids and that’s when she tells me they’ll be home for the day due to a teacher’s meeting. Once again, oh well!
The water in the shower is just right. There’s plenty of pressure and it’s neither too warm or too cold. For me, there is never “too cold”. It relaxes me as I wash the sweat and dust from my body. It’s going to be a good day today. I can’t wait to get on the scale and see if I’m about the same as after my run on Tuesday.
One pound more. Not to worry. I dress and open the computer. Margarita brings me a bowl of hot oatmeal to go with my orange juice. I tell her I love her and she smiles. She goes back to the kitchen and to the patio singing in her sweet but off-key voice, “Somos el pueblo de Dios“, “We are the people of God”.
Life has never been so good. I can’t help feel it will only get better.