I remember the day I set this weekend as a goal. I had just finished running 10 miles out on the road and I noticed something unique… I didn’t have any chronic pain like I use to have. I had trained to run with a different running gait, but was told by several doctors it would be short lived and a knee replacement would be needed this past summer. Yet, there I was at the end of Summer, running long distances and as I made my way back home, I had this thought… What if I went 3 more miles? And if I went 3 more miles, could I race in a half marathon again? A smile emerged and the question escaped my mind and was quickly replaced with a resounding “Yes!”, as if a choir of angels surrounded me to sing in celebration of my revelation! Several months later and I found myself packing for a trip that I never thought would ever come to be, but I was as ready as could be!
My bags were packed and with Siri as my guide, I simply asked her very kindly to take me to Monterey Bay, CA. In her sweetest voice, she returned with directions that had this once shy and sheltered girl heading west on I-80 chasing the sun in search of sand, surf and hopefully in time for the sunset.
As I arrived to the hotel in Aptos, CA, I could see the sunset as I checked in. So I ran to the edge of the cliff to catch whatever remaining view I could. When I arrived at the cliff’s edge, the sky was muted with the fog that had begun to roll in, but it was as if the harmonious sound of the waves and the sea breeze aroma tried to place me under a beach spell. I realized at that moment that I succumbed to its power. I stood for what seemed like hours, but were only minutes, and as I became chilled in the nighttime air, I decided to head to my room. In this sleeping beauty state, I settled into my room and then melted into my bed after a long day of travel, with only the sound of the waves lulling me off to dreamland. This runner girl began to dream of the 13 miles she hoped to traverse in the next couple days… and just like that the day had ended.
The next morning, I slept in just a tad from my usual 3am wake-up and made a fresh pot of coffee. I grabbed a coffee cup, opened the patio door and in the darkness I could hear the waves hitting the beach in the near distance. I sat and just was. No real thoughts, just heard myself breathe in between the warm sips of coffee that anxiously met my soft lips.
I was wearing a pair of soft pj bottoms and a cami and quickly noticed I was chilled. I went to my suitcase and pulled out my Dad’s sweater I was given after he had passed. When I received it, I had it tucked away as I was a bit fearful of what my reaction would be to hold it. As I packed for the trip, I felt compelled to pull it out and take it with. There I stood every so still and I held his sweater close for just a moment… I had never been in this position before. That is, holding something so precious from someone no longer living. I felt conflicted at that point… I wanted to just wrap it around my shoulders and yet I feared my response to that feeling. And then I decided, I needed to experience that closeness with my Dad if only through a sweater.
I placed my tiny arms in the large black XL sleeves and the sweater felt warm as if he were giving me a hug. And like a flash from a camera, that quickly, I saw him wearing this sweater the last time we were together when he was still well. I remember saying goodbye to him that day and wondering if I would see him again as his health had begun to falter. It was just a feeling I had that I may never see him as independent as he was at that moment. He kissed my cheek and held me as if he didn’t want me to leave and I held onto him ever so tight in return. And then, we both knew it was time to let go… It was a long and tearful flight back that day. Well, the last time we spoke, as he lay in an end-stage state in bed, I told him about my hopes, dreams and goals… running again in a race was on that list and he wanted that for me… he wanted me to accomplish all the goals I had shared with him…most importantly, he just wanted me to do whatever made me smile. At the time I was told I wouldn’t run in a race again and he encouraged me to do whatever was necessary to do what I loved with anything and everything. Wise and loving words, from a man who never had the opportunity to simply do what made him happy. I had hoped I could share the story of a comeback with him while he was alive, but as I sat and drank my coffee I thought about all the things he gets to see now… not limited to geography or time zones. He is with me all the time, I just knew this much. I pulled the sweater just a little tighter as I felt a cool breeze blow through the door. An hour of meditative reminiscing had passed and I decided to head to the beach to watch the sunrise and find my smile.
As I made my way down the trail to the beach, I had saved all my thoughts for this walk. There is something about the ocean and how it naturally incites deep thought that had me looking forward to this morning adventure. And yet on this walk, I simply felt grateful for the opportunity to run again, to be able to go on this Quest, to learn new things, to enjoy every simple thing I can, to travel and take on challenges, to be able to say at the end of every day that I have done something that made me feel like I was truly living and not just existing… Yes, I thanked the powers that be for the changes in my life that have made me view everything in a more appreciative state… Grateful for all things both good and bad that come my way.
As I walked the air temperature was a cool 50 degrees. I suddenly noticed that my toes were feeling ice-cold as I walked over the very cold soft sand… so without hesitation, I stepped into the ocean and the water felt warmer than the sand! So, I rolled up my pant legs and made sure to catch each wave as it rolled up onto shore. I felt like a little girl again, playing in the puddles… and dare I admit I couldn’t help but smile as I frolicked in the waves!
And then just over the seaside cliff came a brilliant beam of light that began to appear. The grey waves turned a magical blue and the sand turned into a deep brown and the sea-foam was a stark white, a canvas of color to please the eyes. Quite simply magical! I stood to feel the warmth on my cheeks as if to be kissed gently by the sun reminding me of the way my Dad kissed my cheek the last time we said “Goodbye”. I had to keep walking, as if I were trying to escape those raw memories…
It was then, that I realized I had walked close to 2 miles and although there were only a couple of people I had seen on the beach, the one thing I wanted to find was a sand dollar. This stretch of beach always has sand dollars and yet at that moment I found it peculiar I had not seen one. Two steps were taken and there in the sand in front of me lay partially hidden and in perfect condition, a sand dollar. I simply said, “Of course”, as I don’t believe that anything happens by coincidence. I took some pics as it was in perfect placement in nature and then picked it up as it was no longer alive. I held it in my hand and turned to make my way back.
I had some occasional aches in the knee from the walk in the sand and doubt began to set into my mind. Could I really complete this race at the speed I have to maintain? Could I take on the hills even though I knew there would be pain in running them? Could I have the strength to go the distance and finish well? The questions seemed to multiply and I could feel my brow begin to furrow with the worry that flooded my veins.
I stopped as I arrived at the walking path that led up to the hotel and I saw the twists and turns as I began to climb to the top… there were no easy steps on the climb, but I knew this much, so I tucked the pain away and felt compelled to whisper the words, “Everything is gonna be alright.” And as if someone heard me utter that thought, there in front of me, the sky lit the path up with rays of light that seemed all too unreal. I quickly took some pics and stood and watched… and as quickly as the light had graced me with its presence, it had begun to fade and I made my way back to my room.
I had to head to Monterey to pick up my race packet and although that would only take a short amount of time, I decided I would take in the ocean views wherever that might be… and there on the Monterey Peninsula I found a bench calling out to me to rest my body and fuel my mind and I accepted that invitation without hesitation. As I sat there on that weathered bench, the song by Otis Redding, “Sittin’ on” the Dock of the Bay” came to mind….
There on the rocky shore with seagulls watching me from close by, I sat and watched the waves roll in one at a time. The fury that they carried reminded me of the determination that I possessed to get to this very point. The journey was about being relentless and not accepting “No” for an answer, fighting through the pain, and teaching my body what rest really is. So, there I sat and simply enjoyed the sea breeze, and the sound of seagulls…. just as a message in a bottle floats to sea, I stood and tossed a list of dreams into the ocean, hoping, praying that they would use the energy of the sea to help bring them to life… time will tell.
I made my way back up the coast to the hotel, watched the sunset from high up on the cliff, and as the sun bid its last ray of farewell, I decided it was time to fuel this body with the energy needed to go the distance for tomorrow’s race… I gladly indulged in a good dinner, with a simple pleasure to remind myself that this was meant to be enjoyed. I then prepared for the race the following morning. My gear was ready, my shoes laid out, my race bib properly pinned in place, my music playlist carefully chosen, and my courage…. There embedded in every fiber of every article that lay in front of me were memories of miles run. There in front of me was the pain left out on the road replaced by determination to push forward. Some think I am crazy to put these legs to the test, I think they are crazy for not trying… And with those thoughts, it was time to slip into bed, close my eyes and dream of crossing that finish line…
The journey, thus far, has taken this once shy and sheltered girl to borrow some of her Dad’s fierce bravery in pursuit of what she loves to do. She will let nothing and no one stand in her way of accomplishing her dreams, however big or small they might seem. The memories of her father, like distant waves, are calling her toward the starting gate.
Feeling excited about a race that was never meant to be, comforted by the feeling of her Dad’s love from afar, and ready to rest her mind and body in preparation for the distance she hopes will be nothing short of miles full of smiles… Wondering how tomorrow will go..