“Breathe deeply, until sweet air extinguishes the burn of fear in your lungs and every breath is a beautiful refusal to become anything less than infinite.” ~D. Antoinette Foy

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There’s a split in the sandy pathway down to Garrapata Beach along the ragged coast of Pacific Coast Highway, shortly before Big Sur travels up the rolling hills into the Carmel Highlands. If you don’t know the meaning of your life, one path is just as good as the other. The steps, however, must be deliberate and brave if they are to be truly ours. Step with intention and trust that the meaning will emerge as you go.

As it happens, I took the left path. Where it bends, you know, toward that Frostian undergrowth.

Perhaps this race was a daydream, lived somewhere and somehow in between the sunny palm trees of UCSB and the foggy chill of Monterey, swept in by the San Simeon gusts and carried along by Point Lobos. Perhaps this was the one race every life needs to run. Perhaps these miles reconnected me to the deep reason I run: to know thyself. Surge, break, struggle, breathe: and in the process, see the wonder—the WONDER—everywhere. The miracle of every green leaf. The thermodynamic probability of my existence, of YOUR existence, of all the billions of years of evolution that has brought the human body so close to the flight of a bird, the power of an animal along the plains. I am reminded of those feelings during training a year or more ago, those feelings of awe that here we are in the dark, running toward the morning light. Those feelings of awe to find ourselves alive at all. Those moments when I knew: the struggle of a runner microcosmically captures the struggle of all life. Make ourselves strong, fight against our cellular deterioration, resist the decay and strive for the freedom that makes life worth living. The wildest of dreams…

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“Nothing gold…”, you know. So there are walks down to the beach at 8:45 in the morning, a climb on a rock, and a gaze outward toward the expanse. I can make meaning with but one stare and a memory. I did take a selfie of this moment with my tear-streaked eyes in it, but those eyes are just for myself. What happened between me and those waves crashing onto the sand is a private moment. All waves became a oneness: all energy became almost palpable. I realized that the energy driving those waves and the energy driving my legs were essentially the same: waves of energy coursing through the universe since the hot dense state exploded into more. Whatever pain would shortly come over my legs in the hour to follow would come only in waves. I could use my mind to watch those waves of pain recede. Clear aquamarine water, delicate sand, the sun just up. Whatever comes in on the tide also goes.

Underneath I imagined the yellow fin tuna I saw the day before at the Monterey Aquarium. Majestic, those. There is an open ocean viewing room at the aquarium: you look right against the ocean. Whatever swims there is real and present of its own persuasion. You see underneath it all. And on Sunday morning, I saw it all again vibrantly in my mind as I imagined a similar scene right under the water. I can just run, just run, just run…and I always come back to this: to live in a state of perpetual curiosity and wonder is to be alive, so alive I can feel the life glowing in the dark.

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Perhaps this was the most personal race I shall ever run. I hopped on my bus at 5:45 AM, and then we waited roadside near a plein air colony at the Garrapata relay station. Oh, I should say now this race spanned a marathon distance broken into four relay legs. My mom and dad each ran the first two legs for a total of about 5 + 5 miles, starting at Big Sur Station. My brother ran the third 7-mile leg, up through Hurricane Point and across Bixby Bridge (which, incidentally, featured a GRAND PIANIST on a GRAND PIANO. Yes). I ran the last anchor leg for 9.2 miles total.

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Here’s a course map. Full marathoners ran also.

So the race started at 6:45 AM. My mom had had to be aboard her bus at 3:45 AM to get to the start on time. Once my bus pulled up, I broke out my cell phone with its Kindle App, hooked it up to one of Bill’s battery packs, and spent the first couple of hours or so watching the sunrise and reading all of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row.

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My view from the bus—a big yellow school bus—while reading Cannery Row. This was a highly intentional act of meaning-making, and now probably one of the best memories of my life actually. How many literature lovers get to read the entirety of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row parked on PCH in a school bus in the middle of a road race after walking around Cannery Row the day before? I am not sure what it means that this is a highlight of my life, but there you go. Definitely one of the more unique reading situations…followed by beach meditation and racing the heck out of 9.2 miles after seeing my brother and thinking about my family running all those miles before me. Unreal. One of my favorite lifetime memories…

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As I ran, I made sure to look around me. I wanted to be present, fully. The best part of this race was that there is absolutely NO CELL PHONE RECEPTION at all along the coast there. While this proved a challenge in some practical ways (no way to know for sure when the fam was coming, and hence no way to know for sure when to take a last potty or to complete strides for optimal power), I welcomed it and now wish most races could be this way. In truth, I had experienced the no-cell-before-the-race idea at Butte to Butte in Oregon last summer. For some reason, I had Bill keep my device that morning. I found a huge pine tree and meditated against its roots, felt my power rooted to the ground. It was another powerful and metaphorical moment, a deep connection with Nature. I found that I got my mind into imagining my family, and that the connection was deeper with them than having our cell phones connecting us. It was more magical waiting for the surprise of my brother showing up at our hand off point. (And I was surprised, more on that in a moment). We don’t often get a break from knowing all information with just a button. I like to dwell purely in the imaginary at times. I liked being present in my book and in the waves without distraction.

At 8:45 AM, I started the potty trips. I planned to do one every 15 minutes or so. We predicted David coming in around 9:45 AM or so, and we were just about on top of that…but there was also a possibility of wide variability that morning times three runners before me, and I had to be careful not to get cold. I started striding periodically at 9:15 AM. I kept my sweatshirt on, but otherwise was ready. My dad had made big orange signs so we could find each other easily. I saw the 4-hour marathon pacer go by and got a little nervous, making a mental note that come hell or highwater, I was going to chase that pacer down. So then I got too clever for my own good. I decided I would run down the end of David’s route a bit, see him from afar, sprint back to my place, dash my sweatshirt off, and grab the sign. Well, readers, I DID see him. But right as I was about to dash back to my place, a convoy came through on the right side of the road and I was cut off from the middle line where I needed to be. I grabbed our stuff and hollered David’s name, and we made the exchange.

However, I did not settle into the exchange properly. I had the wrist timer for our team and started to go, remembering at the last second to start my devices. I wear three, and I had already crossed the timing pad when I looked down and discovered that NONE of them appeared to be timing my run. You would think it is no big deal since I would have a chip time, but it was my understanding from the official relay meeting the day before that all of our individual times were going to be dumped at the end of the event. I don’t NEED to have a time, but I also wanted one for my own information since I had trained and tapered specifically for this event. So I pulled off for a moment—yes, to a stop, OUCH!—and got two of the three devices in gear. Ugh, it was SO awkward and I hate that I did it…by I am also glad I was able to get my data after all. I did the best I could do having messed up and crossed the timing pad before I was truly ready to go. Anyway, I told myself to shake off the blip and just fly the rest of the way, get over it, claw back that lost time. As it happened, the third device finally came online, too.

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I am in the blue. It was a strong run. I felt good. The rolling hills of the Carmel Highlands are considered by many to be the craziest stretch of this course (per the course description in the program), with incessant elevation and cambered roads for 9.2 miles. Crazy, indeed. Several days have passed, and my legs are still wrecked. I’ve been training still, but holy moly. I was able to do this stretch in a 6:44 pace. I felt bad at first about being a minute off my 9.2 mi PR, but then again, this was not the easiest course. Hot Chocolate with 5 miles uphill to start is also intense, but this one perhaps more so. The first three miles of my portion were headwinds galore. The wind was SO LOUD that it was all I could hear in my ears. When you figure speed, winds, hills, and slanted road…well, it is okay not to have a PR. In fact, in retrospect I feel this was one of the runs of my life. I have never felt stronger nor more ready to do and accept battle without growing weary. There was no mental fatigue to fight this time, which means I was able to stay present with my body and the race without wishing to be done.

After catching and passing that 4 hour pacer, as well as a few relayers who had left almost 40 minutes before I did, I tried to have fun with it. All along the way were variety acts: choirs, guitarists, DJs, a team of Polynesian dancers, scouts, you name it. When those kids hold out their hands for a high five? Come on, people. They are looking at us, possible inspirations for being healthy someday, struggling against ourselves, being brave, laying it on the line. I pull alongside and give the high five to the kids who ask for it, especially the girls. It means something. I also tried to keep my stride while doing a little Polynesian dancing action with my arms. Why not? Running may be competitive, but at heart, running is freedom to enjoy life. In fact, this whole race for me was about laying down meaning in intentional ways whenever and wherever I could.

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Team Matics-McGaugh. We ended up finishing 11th out of 92 open relay teams. Our time was 3:45:36 for 26.2 miles. At the finish line was hot minestrone soup and Smokey the Bear.

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After the relay on Sunday our little family of four went to Carmel-by-the-Sea for a little macaroon and latte action and to look around.

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This picture, which I found later, makes me chuckle. Here I am in Carmel of all places, in my sweats looking like a bum sleeping on a park bench. Nice, Sarah, nice. I was tired. My allergies had also picked up from inhaling all the pollen while running.
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Nonetheless, I pressed on and took the kiddos to the beach. I had my chance to run around; so should they.

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A happy sight for a tired mama.

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We climbed a tree, also.

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Fearless Katie

Images from Cannery Row on our wander-about-town on Saturday:
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I could spend forever at the Monterey Aquarium. I bought a sand dollar from the store that was the basis for Chong’s Market in Steinbeck’s novel, and I plan to make it into an ornament for our Christmas tree this year.

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My dad and grandchildren at the wharf in Monterey.

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With you, I can fly.

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Coach Husband Bill debriefs me on my data while we sit in a park in Carmel.

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My sis-in-love Ashley not only dropped all of us at our buses that morning, starting with Mom’s drop at 3:45 AM, but she also ran her own 5K at 7:45 that morning, AND COORDINATED THE WHOLE TRIP starting months ago. To say I am grateful would be an understatement. This is a forever memory.

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My loves along the coast: the kiddos especially liked the elephant seals in San Simeon. It’s corny maybe but we have a “Goodnight California” book that we bought at Berkeley in May 2008 the weekend my brother graduated. We keep track of how much we have done that is mentioned in that book—almost all of it at this point. The elephant seals were a necessary addition to our list. Yes, we brought the book in the car with us—are you kidding? We had to read it right after and raise our hands for that page: yes, we’ve done it!! (Confession: we also have a “Goodnight Oregon,” obtained a few months ago on the Kindle).

These children were EXCELLENT travelers as usual. We read off the Kindle primarily, including all of McCloskey’s classic Homer Price.

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Friday: lunch in Isla Vista and a brief look at UCSB as we head up to Monterey along PCH.

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One last shake-off run on Monday morning before heading back to Temecula. I fell head-over-heels with Monterey. Yes, I could move there.

On the way home, Bill suggested we stop in Solvang. Yes, please!
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Getting serious with pastry selection

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Solvang is always so fun. I’d love to take the kiddos up to SLO and just do that area for a weekend. Hearst Castle called to us, but we just couldn’t fit it in this time.

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And one of my favorite pictures of the trip: this was 2:30 AM the morning of the race. It had been a sleep-and-wake-up kind of night, culminating in Eric calling out, “I need my mama!” We three snuggled together, warm and toasty. There is such joy in being a mommy, no matter the time of day. I am used to racing on little sleep during these “away” types of races. I try to stash sleep two nights out, and then the night before just take whatever comes. These are my people: joy.

This had to be one of my favorite race events ever. Next up: Bay to Breakers with best friends of 20+ years. San Francisco, here we come!

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