I almost don’t know where to start with this one, guys. Sunday was practically a religious experience for me. Actually, it was more of a “faith experience.” I much prefer “faith” to “religion.”
Last Thursday night, after lots and lots of waffling, I decided that I would actually get on my early flight the next morning and go to Big Sur. I would go, but only with zero expectations. To say that I had not trained to run a marathon is the understatement of the century. I had not run more than 5 miles in 3 months. This is not an exaggeration. But, not wanting to miss the incredible views of the coastline from Big Sur to Carmel, I decided I would stay registered for the marathon and run as far as I felt like running the morning of the race, and then, I would walk. And once I was done walking, I would stop. And then I would catch the sag bus and meet my friends at the finish line. This was my plan. And it took a WHOLE lot of self-coaching to be even a little ok with just taking it as it comes.
My original crack at this post ended up being all about expectations… and I’ll post that one later (because I got a little long-winded and I didn’t even get to the part about the race), but let’s just say that I received some phenomenal advice on Thursday: Great, go to Big Sur, try to enjoy the weekend with your friends, and run however much you feel like running. Just do one thing: Have no expectations for yourself. Don’t just say you have no expectations, but really, truly have no expectations for yourself.
There are no words for how fortunate I feel to have been in a house full of people who told me to do whatever the hell I felt like doing. People who undersand how hard it is to hold yourself to no expectations. People who just get that you’ve been through hell lately. These people gave me a room with a door and literally handed me a bell and told me to “ring for carrot cake and/or wine.” These are good, good people. People who let me have a meltdown within 15 minutes of meeting me and then immediately took me for tequila. People who greeted me with real hugs and told me to do my thing and let them know what I needed. People who said that the last time they were in Big Sur, they didn’t run the marathon because they straight up just didn’t feel like it. They were exactly the people I needed.
I tried (really, really tried) to have no expectations. But I learned this weekend that it is actually impossible for me to do that kind of thing through trying alone. So, to ensure that I went into that run with absolutely nothing left, everything (every SINGLE thing) that could have possibly gone wrong leading up the start line, went wrong.
It started with this, and went on to involve me missing the Monterey Airbus shuttle and eventually being dropped off multiple hours later at the Marina shuttle shop. Apparently, “Marina” did NOT mean the “Monterey Marina” (two miles away from the house we were renting) but instead meant “the Wal-mart parking lot in Marina, California” which was another town over. I was the only person to have arrived to Monterey that early, so I found myself with 3 hours to kill, a dead cell phone and low blood sugar in the Wal-Mart parking lot. I walked for a hour, with a 35-pound pack to try to find a coffee shop in the middle of BF-nowhere (or WT-central), California.
Fortunately, two of those really good people described above thought to go out of their way to come get me. For the record, they too thought they were picking me up at the Monterey Marina and were shocked to find me 20 miles away, in the middle of BF/WT, CA. These good, good people got me to the nearest happy hour, and not too shortly thereafter, it was as though we had known each other for years.
Fast forward through tears and tequila to Sunday morning. I had gone to bed (with my bell) at 6 pm the night before with the explicit instructions to the rest of the marathon group that if I was not in the kitchen, ready to go at 3:30 am (yes, seriously) for our departure, that meant I was not going to the race, and I was not to be disturbed. It had been a rough
month weekend, and they really, really understood.
Shockingly, I woke up just before my 3:15 alarm. I laid there long enough to decide that I might as well do this (whatever “this” was), so I dragged myself from bed and repeated the same prayer/mantra I had been chanting all weekend: No expectations. Run until you’re done and then be done. That is enough.
It was nothing like marathons past. I didn’t have my stuff laid out. I didn’t have a “race outfit.” I hadn’t given any thought to what I would eat that morning or if I would get coffee. I really, really just didn’t give a sh*t. After everything that had happened up until then, I didn’t really even have a sh*t left to give.
The lack of sh*t-giving also resulted in me being ridiculously unprepared. Apparently, it’s cold in California in April. And it’s super cold at 4 in the morning. I had shown up with a tank top, running shorts and my shoes. That’s it. Lucky for me, the good people of the house donated clothes to my cause. I ended up looking absolutely ridiculous in my multiple layers of mismatched attire, the llama hat some ex-boyfriend had given Carrie many moons before and my pajamas pants. Nevertheless, I got myself “together,” grabbed my leftover brunch and a coconut water from the fridge and off we went.
After riding on the FREEZING cold bus for over an hour to the starting line, we arrived an hour and half before the start. It was 35 degrees and we had to wait outside. This is all pretty much my idea of torture. So, our group staked out a spot and made ourselves “comfortable.” I chowed down on my leftover bacon and eggs (yup, seriously) and started to assemble my totally discombobulated self.
At that time, I realized I didn’t have my running belt. Dammit. This meant, I had no way of carrying my phone (translation: my music/camera) or my energy gels. Forgetting your running belt is every marathoner’s worst nightmare. Whatever, I told myself, I’ll pack that stuff in my sports bra. Who cares at this point? Certainly not me.
Marathoners also understand the importance of getting in line early and often for the porta-potties. My porta-potty line position was one thing I could actually do something about, so I grabbed a cup of hot coffee and prepared to wait it out.
I arrived to the bathroom area and was pleasantly surprised to see that there was actually no line at all. I walked right in and quickly realized that I was still holding my coffee… which, I most certainly was not going to put on that disgusting floor. So, instead I balanced it on the top of the toilet paper holder and got on with it. With running shorts and pajama pants at my ankles, I sat* on the FREEZING cold toilet seat.
Almost immediately, the neighboring porta-potty occupant aggressively exited, slamming his stall door and sending my cup of steaming hot coffee FLYING… In. To. My. Shorts. and scalding my frozen legs. Let me be very, very clear here: the coffee cup landed upside down in my shorts. I was totally, and completely drenched.
If I had had ANY expectations left for the run… any small hope that maybe I would surprise myself and run a respectable distance… really ANY expectations AT ALL for f*cking ANYTHING good to happen… they were most certainly gone as I pulled up my soaked bottoms and walked out of the porta-potty covered in brown liquid.
So, with absolutely nothing left of my ego, and my expectations in the toilet (ironically, yet figuratively), the only thing I could do was run…
I have never in my life had an experience like the following 4 hours and 39 minutes (because people ALWAYS want to know how long a marathon took you… even when you tell them you had absolutely zero intention of actually finishing the race. That almost makes them want to know more. So there you go, you nosey people. Now you don’t have to marathon-stalk me).
It was the most peaceful, fulfilling, exhilarating and heavenly experience I believe I’ve ever had. Every turn was magical. There were no imaginary walls. My legs just carried me. I laughed and cried and TALKED to people. I NEVER talk to people during marathons. Not out loud anyway. I actually usually swear at them (beginning right around mile 18) or judge them intensely (um… you wore THAT to a marathon. You have GOT to be kidding me). Maybe it was because I was wearing a llama hat and a jingle bell t-shirt and I had my phone between my boobs. Maybe it was because I really Did. Not. Care. about anything but the beauty of the experience and the feeling of the ground beneath my feet.
The hills and the miles melted by, and I found myself continually surprised to look up and see that I was at mile 7 – 15 - 22, and I wasn’t ready to be done yet. From the opening miles in the morning fog, to the turn when you first see the ocean, to the infamous bridge, to the taiko drumming as we climbed hurricane hill… all of it was absolutely breathtaking.
I chatted with God quite a bit over those miles. It was impossible not to. I understand now that each and every one of those terrible incidents leading up to and culminating in “coffee crotch” was absolutely necessary to prepare me for one of the best days of my life. I simply couldn’t be trusted to appropriately level-set my expectations on my own volition alone.
No matter how much I told myself that I would be ok (really, truly ok) with only running 1/8 of a marathon or even not running it at all, there was still a little part of me that hoped for a miracle. Every time I told myself or someone else that I was just going to take it as it comes, there was a whisper in my head saying:
Fine, but what a waste of a trip (and the MONEY!) if you’re not even going to run… You’re going to feel really left out when you wake up in the empty house by yourself… Think how lazy you’re going to feel when everyone else is out there running… You’ll regret this… Maybe you should have just trained and you wouldn’t be missing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity… Fine don’t do it, but if you don’t run, then you don’t get to eat sugar ALL WEEKEND, and Carrie makes that awesome gluten-free carrot you love. No running? Then, no carrot cake… You know what, you really suck, and you shouldn’t have even come this weekend.
If I’m honest, that whisper didn’t shut up until I found myself covered in coffee with my pants around my ankles and absolutely nothing left to lose.
*Yes, I actually sat on it… for two reasons: (1) it was early, so the porta-potty was still clean-ish, and (2) I needed to save whatever strength my quads had in them… so yes, I sat. Try to get over it.