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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Mood-Rings and Marathons


I’ve just returned from a four day jaunt up the coast of California. My good friend decided she was going to run in the Monterey Half. She’s no stranger to running, but we often walk together, because that’s more my speed. And at 5”11” (to my 5’3”) Karen’s a gazelle compared to my meerkat like scurry…which is SORT OF like running for me.

Anyway, we packed up the SUV, pulled our daughters out from school at lunch, and headed north on Friday before Sunday’s big race. Road tripping with two tweens and a nine-year old is messy, entertaining and exhausting…but so worth the moments and memories. 

We got to Monterey lickety split, if you call 6 ½ hours fast. In California driving on a Friday, that was pretty quick. After unloading the car and getting situated in our hotel room, we headed downstairs for Snack Time…

You’ve never seen so many adults crammed in a single file line for two hours worth of free booze. As we looked around the room noting all the other parents and kids, and, as we stood in that line, we knew why. At the 7:15 mark, happy hour was ending in 15 minutes, so the two of us left the line double fisted with some relatively good and cheap house chardonnay. 

After dinner in the hotel restaurant, I managed to slice the top of my toe open. Who puts steel on the bottom of a chair leg? I mean, c’mon. It was a bleeder, and I suspect that may have had something to do with the two glasses of wine I had thrown back. The minor injury put a slight damper on the night but prevented a hangover I suppose. We headed back upstairs to call it a night. 

We had a big day ahead of us at the Runners Expo the following morning. 

Saturday, we were up early as usual, and headed back downstairs for another “free” meal at the hotel. I have to say, this breakfast was MUCH better than what a lot of hotels offer. The girls were thrilled to have Fruit Loops, and Karen and I enjoyed the made-to-order omelets. 

After eggs and cereal, we headed downtown. Karen picked up her bib and we checked out all the gadgets, gizmos, socks, and hydration packets on display. I got some sort of electro-magnetic “massage.” They had a great show special…I could buy that handy machine for a thousand bucks and get a second FREE! What a bargain…a las, I passed. I must admit I felt pretty good during the mild electrocution on my shoulders. Maybe there is something to that.

We made our way to the local free trolley that dropped us off at the Aquarium entrance. Boy, was that something to see. I love that place. So does every other tourist in town, as witnessed by the number of people there on Saturday. The girls were in awe, and so were we. After three hours of ogling the otters and observing the octopi, we headed back to the hotel for a rest. 

We ventured back out to the Monterey Wharf for a lovely dinner at a local fish house called Domenico’s. The food was delicious, and the atmosphere welcoming. I highly suggest you go if you get the chance. Kid friendly, and fun. We wrapped up Saturday with a trip to the candy store where I stocked up on taffy in every flavor. When in Rome…

Sunday morning: RACE DAY. The alarm went off at 5:45, and Karen got herself ready. I brushed my teeth, threw on some stretchy pants for good measure, and drove her down to the starting line. I grabbed a coffee at Starbucks at 6:30 and was back to the hotel by 6:45. It was the first time I had been without kids in three days. I breathed it in, slowly. 

I needed to wake those girls and get the day started. I was in charge of the cheer squad. Lord help me.

Back down we went for more fruit loops and eggs, then it was, literally, off to the races…well race. The girls and I got there in plenty of time and found our way to the finish line. I had Karen’s phone, and of course, the tracking app wasn’t working so we just *hoped* we would catch her. As luck would have it, a nice woman next to me was able to locate her and we knew she was headed our way. 

Sure enough, about 15 minutes later, she came into our sight. I was able to video her running toward the finish, while screaming and holding the sign I made…upside down. 

I was surprised at the emotion I felt when I saw my friend run past me. She was a little nervous at the start, but so determined. And here she was, finishing, and with an impressive time no less. This wasn’t her first half marathon (or full), and it probably won’t be her last. 

I was so proud of her, I cried. The girls thought I was nuts, but as a peri-menopausal woman, I’m never sure what emotions are on deck. This time, it was happiness, manifested in tears of joy. 

We ran to the exit staging area and waited 20 minutes, but never spotted her. I finally asked a runner how long it took to get through that area…”About three minutes,” she said. 

Crap. After trekking through thousands of people and keeping three girls close together, much like herding cats, we finally found her at our intended meeting spot. Hugs, smiles, and photos ensued. It was a gorgeous morning with the sun shining on the marina. A perfect day for 13.1. 

I think she was on that runner’s high thing, because we went back to the hotel to get cleaned up then headed down to Carmel for the afternoon. A lovely lunch at The Tree House CafĂ©, then a *short* stroll downhill to the beach followed. About halfway, we realized we had a helluva walk back…all uphill. 

Again, runner’s high must have been the case, and who am I to deny a woman who's just run 13 miles? The walk to the water was worth it. Carmel’s beach is known for its soft white sand, the twisted and curved tree trunks, the clear ocean, and the stellar views. 

The girls played in the water, letting their toes and ankles get wet in the chilly NorCal water. They didn’t mind. Kids usually don’t. We watched them frolic and play, while others did the same. Dogs raced up and down the shoreline, chasing balls and sticks and each other. Moments like those are the ones we remember. 

Tranquil, yet invigorating. 

I'm pretty sure the girls will remember these moments too. 

We hiked back up the sandy hill, then onto the sidewalk, taking in the charming cottages and homes that lined the streets of Carmel by the Sea. We imagined who might live there, what they did, and planned our next trip. 

We stopped in a few galleries, where I thought I might like to buy a painting from Simon Bull. I guessed $6,000. Karen looked up the price and I was slightly off. It was more like $6,000 x 3. Out of my budget, baby. But it sure was nice to look at, and the girls enjoyed the vibrant colors and the installation, asking lots of questions and showing a genuine appreciation for fine art. 

Of course, we found our way to the toy store. After at least 30 minutes of searching, Piper settled on a tube of plastic pandas. Even at almost 12, this kid still loves little toys, and for that I am grateful. 

Then, at the cash register, we found them…MOOD RINGS. Like any mother would, I bought one for each of us. How else are we supposed to know what mood we are in; am I right? 

We left Carmel and drove up the coast, taking in the 17 Mile Drive while heading back to our hotel, sliding in just in time for the highly anticipated “Reception Hour.” We sipped some more wine, ordered some bar food, snacked on carrots with ranch, and discussed the day. 

We finished the night with a few rousing games of UNO. I am happy to report that while I didn’t run the marathon, I did manage to win one of the three games we played, so there’s that. And, my mood ring indicated that I was both happy and relaxed. It seemed to be on target.

We hit the sack early, prepping for the drive home the next day. After a decent night’s sleep, we enjoyed our free breakky once again, then packed up the Tahoe for the ride back down south. 

Opting for the scenic route, we took Hwy 1 through Big Sur. There was a mix of fog and sun, with moments of lush scenery and light peering through the haze that gave us pause. We stopped along the side of the road, searching the coastline and kelp beds for otters, imagining we spotted them among the floating jungle. 

The drive was splendid, so much to see. Until we hit that 405. Oh Los Angeles…how you frustrate me. My mood ring turned black. Not really, but it should have! The two hours of traffic from Calabasas to Huntington wasn't fun, but was so worth it. This adventure was filled with many memories; ones Karen, Ella, Lily, Piper, and I will never forget. We packed in as much as we could in four days-time. 

You know what I say: Life is for living. Experience as much as you can, as often as you can. This month, ten years since my father and my best friend passed away, I am especially grateful for the experiences I’ve had. 

While I’m not a runner per se, I am a marathoner of sorts. I’ve come to realize that life throws us all sorts of challenges and obstacles. We are the ones in charge of how we handle them. Pushing through, and like a world class runner, knowing there is a finish line at the end; I believe that is the key. 

As I reflect on the weekend, I am filled with a sense of calm, and perhaps, new inspiration. One thing I know: I am a marathon writer, having covered thousands of pages in my time. And, I keep entering that race in some small way, every day. 

So, while I may not be making that 8-minute mile, I know that slow and steady gets you there, eventually. You may not win, but you finish. And, today, coming back to the keyboard is equivalent to lacing up my Asics and hitting the pavement. 

For my friend Karen, thank you for inspiring me to get my bib back on.