Nobody Looks for you in Mexico - Page 6
From Mexico City, our road trip brought us to the base of Xinantecatl (15,354 feet), or the Old Naked Man, as he is known in Nahuatl, in the valley of Toluca. I did not attempt to make out the figure of the volcano’s namesake as I had for La Malinche. The mountain’s simple beauty was enough. From the obliterated and spread-out summit of the volcano, ridgelines and valleys descended lazily to the valley floor. A wreath of pine enveloped the base of the mountain as would a skirt around a Christmas tree. “She seems to resolve her surrounding landscape rather than dominate it,” wrote John Brant in a 1996 article “The Volcano”. “She is a volcano to revere, but also one to use.”
As we drove up a winding road for several thousand vertical feet through pine trees and volcanic alpine grasslands, I explained to Jon what I knew about this mountain.
Xinantecatl’s significance to the running world began over five decades ago. At the time it was one of the first, and certainly highest, venue to be utilized as a high-altitude training center. For decades, runners from Mexico and beyond made pilgrimages to the volcano’s rim to reap the benefits of training in the thin, clean air. The list included two-time NYC Marathon winner Germán Silva of Mexico, Marathon World Champion Mark Plaatjes of Boulder, Colorado, Japanese marathoner Kenjiro Jitsui and several others.
We pulled the rental up to a small cement refuge at nearly 13,000 feet, still a vertical half-mile beneath the summit. All of Mexico appeared to spread out beneath us. The roar of cars, industry and bustle that had filled our ears, eyes and brains only hours before provided us with all the more contrast. Dark clouds came and went like passing thoughts.
Something about this building, I thought, is at the magical root of running. These simple concrete walls that have sheltered hundreds of runners over several decades have a story to tell—perhaps that running is a thing so simple and pure it is only the monks that truly understand it. They come to this mountain to suffer and grow stronger. It happens on a physiological level, where red blood cells are forced to increase in number to carry sufficient oxygen throughout the body. A scientist can tell you that. What is more, though, is the cold, quiet solitude. It is a “bitter communion with rock, water, wind, and sky,” as Brant noted.
An evening run took us a thousand vertical feet up and over the volcano’s rim to an elevation where running fast is not difficult—it is impossible. We descended a smooth, cinder trail into the crater where the Lake of the Sun and the smaller Lake of the Moon stand off against each other on opposite sides of the large bowl. The distinct sound of volcanic earth crunched beneath each step. Snow fell, shrouding the top of the mountain in white. We returned to the hostel and contented ourselves with the only rations available to us from the hostel office—Snickers bars, potato chips and tea cookies.
That night we talked with a drunkenness provided by the thin air and lack of oxygen to our brains. I suggested that there exists a connection between runners across time and culture.
“Like a thread,” I said, though I wasn’t exactly sure what I meant. “Something that is wordless and shared—an understanding.”
“That means that I’m connected to a whole lot of dorks, Chapo.”
“It also means,” I replied, “that you’re connected to Zatopek, Aztec runners and a million others that have suffered for the sake of running faster.”
“Sounds kinda pointless,” Jon said. “I don’t know, man. Isn’t running just running?”