Devil’s Throne

  Jerome Shea       March 3, 2007      Weekend Wonk

Dear Readers, An oldie for you this weekend. But I hope you’ll also take it as a goodie. Enjoy.
- Shea

The thing about Devil’s Throne is, you can’t keep hold of the truth, from one year to the next, of just how tough it is. Oh, you always have a good picture of that absurd hill in your mind and you remember the dozens who don’t make it to the top without breaking into a walk. You have a decent memory of the heat or the headwind. But during a good training run in the flatlands on a cool morning, or after the evening’s second or third beer, a lively assurance overtakes you: next time you are—by strong will and good conditioning—going to bound up Devil’s throne with balletic grace and, of course, set a new record for that 15k.

And the next weekend you are going to take out Mike Tyson in the second round.

Here we are then, Lord knows how many strong, in front of His house, the starting point in the middle of Cerrilllos (“little hills”: hah!). My friend Ed Green is sporting a havelock to shield his tender nape from the sun and so, stretching history and geography a bit, I dub him “Ed of Arabia.” He takes that in good spirit (he also took in good spirit my recording in an essay a while back the fact that I had beaten him in the Jemez Half-Marathon. But the tables could turn. But I’m getting ahead of myself.)

Off we go then, down the dusty street, across the railroad tracks, hard to the left and through the first little roller coaster dips, sidestepping the cattle guards. So far, so good. Some old friends push ahead. I wish them well.

Then the Throne, and all those Dos Equis dreams availeth not. I realize again that the long, gradual build-up to the Throne is what sets you up for near failure: you are half-spent when the grueling part really starts. But I steel myself and, one more time, one more year, don’t stop. My old legs are screaming but I make it still running, however slowly. At the crest and for twenty yards after, I note how rubbery my legs are and that they weren’t a few years ago. But they recover themselves. I lope down the long backside of the Throne and settle in confidently, just pushing mindlessly into the wind and thinking of cheery alternatives (I could be lost and snow-blind in the arctic; I could be trudging toward the gas chamber, the priest murmuring at my side; I could be locked in a honeymoon suite with a yeti—hey, this little jaunt is a piece of cake!).

So, then, up gritty hill and down dusty dale, one foot in front of the other, two or three of us shifting places in my little group, now one ahead, now another, or another. The talking lamp is evidently not lit, but we grin at each other now and then. The long flat through downtown Waldo, NM (now just two or three bare foundations) stretches out in front of us, reminding me of cultivating corn all afternoon on an ancient Farmall, chugging along and hoping the beast doesn’t backfire in my face.

At some point we begin to see the 5k hotshots coming back, runners so much faster that envy would be silly. Then there are more and more of them and then there is the little orange turn-around cone which, in it for the long haul, we pass grimly.

Now it’s just more work to do, more trying to divert the mind. There is a long uphill around mile whatever. Think about vacation plans. Think of a good joke. Now think of telling it to a friend (like Ed Green). Now add extra touches to it and tell it again. With that and just a bit of pain, you’ve crested the hill. And started down another.

Finally, at the top of a pure little stinker of a hill, the 15k turnaround and the blessed water station appear. Most of us stop for a few seconds (“So the water doesn’t go down the wrong pipe” is always a workable excuse). I haven’t got down three gulps when up comes “Tom Day from Santa Fe” and right on his heels, by golly, is Ed of Arabia.

“Yo,” says Tom.

“Wouldn’t be a race without you,” says I.

The two of us push off, catching up on things. As it happens, the last time I saw Tom was at last year’s Jemez Half, where we ran together for a good six miles or so, just as Ed and I had done years before. Looks like the Jemez Old Boys Club reconvened. Looks ominous.

After a couple of miles, Tom pushes ahead for good and I know that Ed is somewhere close behind me. Sure enough, we are just hitting the Waldo flats and there he is at my side. I know we’re both getting tired. At least I hope to heaven that Ed is, but his pace doesn’t show it. Slowly, yard by excruciating yard, he moves ahead. Ten yards, now twenty, now thirty and I’m fixated on that stupid neck flap bouncing in the breeze, taunting me. Fair enough, I think; this one’s Ed’s.

Ah, but the Throne, Part 2! Now push is coming to shove. Or, rather, wobble is coming to stagger as we fight up the long backside. All of a sudden I’ve caught up with Ed and we are both doing the Old Man Shuffle, like fugitives from a rest home. We could spend days at this cartoon pace. I inch ahead. At the very top, me doing a shuffle that sure looks like a walk, Ed inches ahead, and he is stretching out down the frontside.

Ok, ok! I think—enough! Good! This geriatric cat and mouse game is killing me. And then—somewhere in the final dips and God only knows how—I’ve caught up with him again!

“Dammit all, Green, do your worst or get out of my way!”

Well. I guess that was all that Ed of Arabia was waiting for. He grinned, got up on this invisible camel, and humped off, more at a float than a gallop, a man without a care or a rival in the world. I couldn’t have caught him on a bicycle to save my life.

Good show, Ed Green. Of course, I’ll be back. After I’ve taken care of Tyson.

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