By Jeremiah Reardon
My wife, Belinda, and I ran an errand on a recent Saturday afternoon to purchase plywood in one of Cuenca’s supply shops. She was excited about her latest tiled mirror commission for friends. I do the carpentry including the wire support. We grabbed the bus on Avenida 10 de Agosto, a half block from our home. We exited two stops too soon, my fault for not paying attention. With a four block walk to the next bus, Belinda tired on the uphill trek under a bright sun. “I don’t know why you got off the bus so soon,” she said.
While we walked, keeping close to the walls which line properties in our Ecuadorian city and provide shade, I thought of the remark made by my friend, Richard Morris. “I was surprised by how long a stretch uphill we ran on 10 de Agosto. It was tough!” he told me after competing in a ten kilometer night run. Held in November, over 5,000 people competed in the 10th annual event.
On the day of the race, Richard visited his girlfriend’s apartment while I worked. Bobette had asked me to hang pictures and a bedroom curtain rod. “So, what’s new, Richard?” I asked as I drilled into the living room’s masonry wall.
“I’m in a race this evening. It’s a 10 K, and the first race in Cuenca for which I officially registered,” he said with a smile.
“Great, Richard. I’m sure you’re gonna do well,” I replied.
“Be sure you get plenty of rest,” Bobette added.
Acquainted with Richard for over three years, I’ve learned how he began running to lose weight on his thirtieth birthday. Over four decades, he’s competed in marathons and other events around the world.
What I like about living in Cuenca is how walkable a city it is. Without a car Belinda and I use the bus and take taxis. To keep in shape I walk whenever I can, even shouldering lumber on occasion to save the $5 fare for a light truck transport, to Belinda’s dismay. The afternoon of the race, Belinda and I treated ourselves to ice cream before shopping for groceries. I borrowed the shop newspaper and read the sports section. El Mercurio had a story about the night run with streets listed for its route through the city.
It began and ended in Parque El Paraiso. Food service and entertainment preceded the start time of 7 p.m. Hmmm, I thought, maybe I’ll get to see Richard when he passes our neighborhood. That’d be cool!
I had run in street races in my thirties, including 5 and 10 K events in the Philadelphia suburbs with my younger brother Francis and his wife, Nancy. I know how exciting it is to compete with large crowds cheering you on. I joined Nancy and brothers Francis and Denis to run through Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park in the 1978 Half Marathon in front of thousands of spectators. They provided water and inspiration for the focused runners.
In preparation to support my friend Richard, I would glance out at 10 de Agosto from our fifth floor apartment window. Under street lights, I saw the lead runners accompanied by a police escort. I grabbed my jacket and headed up the street to be engulfed by waves of runners who raced under the dark sky. Behind them, a waxing moon ascended over our tranquil city.
To thwart the chilly air, many wore long sleeved shirts and leggings. Most wore the official Nocturna Ruta cap and jersey, “NR 10K” displayed on a background of colors yellow, blue and red representing Ecuador’s flag. Runners’ arms pumped in rhythm with their steps. Not a sound was heard as they labored past, save for the pounding of shoes on concrete. Some paired with buddies for support. They charged the ascent or slowed to conserve energy. Others walked to regain strength.
The course had abruptly narrowed due to the south lane closure. At the intersection with my street, 10 de Agosto features a grass-filled median which divides the two-way traffic. Flashing lights of a police vehicle blocked the far side of the street. To deal with the bottleneck, younger racers opted to slip past me on the sidewalk. Damn! I thought. That’s close.
Witnessing the varied ages of the competitors impressed me. Teenagers in shorts and t-shirts passed adults. One father pushed his daughter in a stroller. Years from now, he may use that shared experience as motivation to encourage her when she’s older and feeling adrift.
I had my camera ready for Richard’s appearance. I didn’t have long to wait as he ran with the first quarter of the field. I spotted him at the far side of the street. Tall and light haired, he maintained a comfortable pace. He stood out in his non-official outfit, white cap and t-shirt. “Hey, Richard!” I shouted.
Hey!” he greeted me back, doffing his cap in my direction. He smiled for his picture and ran on. I admired his erect posture and relaxed gait.
Competitors continued to surge uphill like leaping salmon. Unlike fish triggered by instinctual urges, Cuenca’s Catholic runners had spiritual motivation. At the foot of the hill, the statue of the Virgen de Bronce stood prominently on a stone pedestal at the corner of a Catholic complex which includes a church, monastery and its chapel.
Back home I followed the race from the window. I emailed Bobette, “Just saw Richard. He’s running great. Came by at about 7:20 p.m. in the middle of the pack. I’d say, ten minutes behind the leaders.”
Belinda and I reached that plywood shop after two buses and the four block walk. What impressed me was her positive attitude to get there without flagging a taxi. Later she put her arms around me as I sat at the dining table. “I couldn’t have done it without you, today, Jeremiah.” Truth be told, that’s how I feel about her as I pursue my projects in our neighborhood. We make a damn good team!