The taiko drums rang and I could feel their beat in my chest, their sound vibrating through my limbs, those legs that were about to carry me 13.1 miles.
The course of the Thelma and Louise Half Marathon stretched out before me, before us, curving and squirreling its way down Highway 313, around the red rock vistas and down, down back toward town.
The runners stretched and talked and ran to the desert trees for last-minute bladder relief. They talked and laughed and smiled and cheered and listened.
I looked around.
There is something amazing about a group of runners, a group of women, about to do the same thing, about to embark on the same journey, about to undertake the same challenge. There is something magical about the scene before a race begins.
But this one especially.
As the gun went off and we began the long journey of one foot in front of the other, I actually said out loud, “Wow, this is amazing.”
It wasn’t just the wave of nearly 400 runners all setting off together. It was the landscape, absolutely stunning in its grandeur. It was the sunrise. It was the feeling, however slight, of invincibility. Of utter possibility.
I moved to Moab in mid-March, from Omaha, Neb. I came here to write for this newspaper. I also came here to make a home with my family, my husband and our children.
We came here to carve out a life for ourselves, one that involves not only work but play. We like adventure. We like the outdoors. We like to explore and climb and run and make music.
I was signed up for a half marathon back home on April 22, but when this job offer came and we decided to take a chance on Moab, that race registration fee turned into a donation. We simply wouldn’t be there when that race’s gun went off.
So I looked ahead to the fall for another half I might be able to run here – after I’d had time to get my mileage back up, to get my legs back under me, to get settled.
You know, to take things one at a time.
But I heard about this inaugural race for women, called the Thelma and Louise Half Marathon, put on by the folks who do Canyonlands and The Other Half and the Winter Sun 10K.
Moab Half Marathon, Inc., had organized a race for women.
I knew right away I wanted to do it.
But we’d just gotten here. I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t done a long run in at least a month. I couldn’t run this ladies-only race with my husband. I had this new job to figure out. I couldn’t spend any more time away from the kids … the excuses flowed like a river.
I pushed the race from my mind.
But then I interviewed race director Ranna Bieschke for an article I wrote for this paper. I went to their office and fell instantly in love. The Steve Prefontaine posters on one wall, the bib numbers on another, the couch, the energy… yeah, I was once again thinking about that race.
Maybe I could do it, I thought. Maybe if I just quickly built up my mileage over the next three weeks…
I ran six miles a few mornings later. I was out of breath and tired but exhilarated. I felt good. I sat on the front porch with my husband afterward and he said, “You should sign up for that race.”
So I did.
After that starting gun fired, I kept my eyes up. I looked around – at the beautiful Moab desert, at the other women running with me. Some wore tutus, others (in the spirit of the Hollywood characters played by Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon) wore jean shorts and bandanas. Most of us wore running shorts or skirts.
I pushed my pace a bit after a slower-than-I-wanted first mile and settled in.
The miles clicked by. Before I knew it, we were at mile seven and I was flying down a long, downhill curve. I love running downhill, which was good because this course took us from 5,500 feet at the start to 4,600 feet at the finish, at the Bar-M Chuckwagon.
At one point halfway through, I watched a woman ahead of me clutch her hamstring and fall to the ground. Her friends stopped. She got up and literally pushed them on. “Go!” I imagined her telling them, as I was too far back to hear. They eventually did. She walked on, smiling.
The race had everything – those goosebump-inducing taiko drums again at mile nine, water and Gatorade every two miles, firefighters misting runners with a hose, local beer at the post-race party.
Camaraderie. Support. The feeling of accomplishment.
I literally loved every second. And I did just fine, too, finishing 72nd overall.
“Let’s keep goin’!” Thelma tells Louise at the end of the movie.
It’s how I feel, too.
So here’s to running and bravery and never giving up and taking a chance.
Here’s to finding a home in this desert, to being happy, to the next race for us all. Whatever that may be.
Veronica Daehn Harvey is a wife, mother and writer/editor/blogger, who likes running, coffee, cats and acoustic guitars.