Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Comedy of errors and an amazing race

Hmmmm, where to begin.  I'll try to shorten the story a little because there is a lot I could say about my trip to California to run Big Sur.  I could probably write a book, but I'll just share the highlights.

Before I left last Wednesday after work I met my Reach the Beach - Massachusetts Ultra team at a bar near work for some drinks, introductions, and a little logistical talk.  I'm going to be spending 24+ hours in a van sweaty and stinky with 5 dudes I don't really know so it was nice to meet them informally first.  We had a few beers and before I knew it I had to leave to drive home and pack for my flight out the next morning to California.  My mom was meeting me at my house and I was running late so I rushed home as fast as I could, but she still got there 30 minutes before me.  I still had not even packed anything for the trip.

I frantically threw things in a bag and checked and double checked that I at least had the critical things I needed for running the marathon.  I got a back bib from my friend Patty that said "I run for Boston", I had my running hat that I embroidered with "Boston Strong", and a whole bunch of blue and yellow ribbons.  All my gels, clif shots powder, fuel belt, garmin and charger, iPod and charger, road ID, running clothes, and of course my shoes.  Checked the weather one more time and threw some shirts and jeans in my bag.  Got my mom all squared away on my couch and went to bed.

We got up in the morning and drove into Cambridge to park and took a cab to the airport and we were off.  Boston to San Francisco, then San Francisco to Monterey.  We had about 3 hours to kill in the SFO airport, good thing because our connecting flight was in a different terminal and there was some weird construction going on so we couldn't walk from one to the next, we had to take a special shuttle that was impossible to find.  There was a tiny little sign for it that we walked past 4 or 5 times before we found it.  We got to the correct terminal and there were not that many options for lunch.  I picked a small sandwich place and was going to get a grilled veggie sandwich until I realized it hads eggplant which I am allergic to and get violently ill if I eat it.  Switched my order to a plain grilled cheese.  They made it on two slices of bread on the griddle separately each with 4 slices of cheese so by the time they assembled the sandwich it had 8 slices of cheese oozing out of it.  It was disgusting and it cost me $12!

Anyway, I'm getting sidetracked, we made it to Monterey and picked up the rental car - A 2013 Chevy Camaro.  Pretty sweet ride except for the super tiny windows and giant blindspots.  Drove 5 minutes from the little local airport to the hotel and checked in.  The room was small - one bed for me and my mom to share.  Overall, pretty decent and the woman at the front desk was very helpful in recommending places to see and where to eat.  After we put our things in the room we decided to explore a little and then get dinner. 
We found downtown Monterey and the fishermans wharf.  It's a tourist attraction so we checked it out.  Not a whole lot going on there, a few souvenir shops and 4 or 5 seafood restaurants.  All of them were giving out free samples of their chowder to try and persuade people to eat there.  The deserted strip and desparate ploys to get customers were a red flag to me that this was not a good place to get dinner.  My mom on the other hand was thoroughly enjoying all the free samples slurping each one down and practically licking the sample cups before discarding them and telling me what she thought of each one.

We walked away from the wharf and towards the 'historic downtown' area and found a lovely Italian place for dinner.  As we looked over the menu my mom discussed the options and with limited vegetarian items my meal was pretty much pre-determined by what was available.  My mom ordered some sort of seafood special and mentioned she wanted to try my meal although trying her meal was not an option for me because I do not eat fish/meat.  So, I explained to her that I ordered what I wanted to eat and planned to eat it ALL.  This would be the case all weekend.  Especially preparing for the race, with a three hour time change messing with my internal clock and adding to the usual crankiness I get when I do not eat at regular intervals.  I told her to stay away from my food unless she wanted me to stab her or bite her hand.  We finished dinner and returned to the hotel to wind down.

Back at the hotel, my mom turned on the TV and tried to find CNN.  I explained I couldn't watch the news.  I had been at the epicenter of the most horrible experience in Boston and at the marathon for the entire history of the city and the event.  I needed to focus on preparing for the race I was about to run without the added stress and trauma of watching the same video coverage of the bombings over and over again.  She protested and totally did not understand.  We finally agreed on watching something else.  Eventually, tried to go to sleep.  She dozed off instantly and I struggled.......then she started SNORING.  So loud I wouldn't be surprised it the people in the next room heard her.  I didn't sleep at all and in the brief moments when I did nod off I had a nightmare about a bomb at the race - thanks Mom.

Friday we got up and got breakfast, did some shopping (I got some ear plugs), then went to downtown Monterey to get on the Trolley wine tasting tour that I had arranged.  It was a 4-5hour tour of Carmel Valley and a bunch of different tasting rooms.  A small cheese plate was included and we got souvenir glasses and a corkscrew and a 'free' bottle of wine.  The group was an interesting bunch.  Three girls there for a birthday, one couple also in town for the marathon, a random guy from South Africa just visiting and another small group of three that kept to themselves.  The tasting tour was fun and made the day go by fast.  Before we knew it we were back in Monterey and the trolley happened to drop us off right in front of the expo so we went in to get my bib# and shirt and look at the expo.
I had told my mom before the trip that the expo was one of my favorite parts of running marathons.  It's like runner heaven.  All the vendors, free stuff, gadgets, and gear and things you didn't even know existed but you could be convinced that you needed.  I LOVE IT.  Well, we got my bib number and ticket for the bus and my mom asked if we could go eat.  The expo was only open until 6pm so I said no, I wanted to look around.  She was like a little kid wandering off and asking over and over if we could leave.  Annoyed, I agreed thinking maybe we could come back the next day.  We went to dinner at a small french american bistro that the wine trolley tour guide recommended and gave us a coupon for a free appetizer.

There was only one veggie option for the appetizer and my mom grumbled about it because she wanted calamari.  We got the artichoke and she complained about it the whole time.  I ordered a grilled portabello mushroom and she commented on not liking mushrooms, as if I was going to order something to share again.  I enjoyed my meal without the threat of a roaming fork invading my plate.  We both got some wine during the tour and she began suggesting the I put her wine in my bag.  I had 4 bottles to try and fit in my bag already.  If she didn't want to check her bag she shouldn't have bought the wine.  Anyway, back to the room and she wanted to watch the news AGAIN!

Little to no sleep again, Saturday we got up and drove the marathon course so that my mom could see all the amazing views that I would get to see while running.  She wasn't really paying much attention so I just took it upon myself to stop along the road and take as many pictures as possible to capture the incredible views.  Most of the time she didn't even get out of the car.  We got back to the finish area around lunch time and went to a little cafe in the shopping plaza next to the finish tents.  I ordered a small salad, a grilled cheese sandwich and some fries.  She ordered a salad and said she wanted to have some of my fries.  I explained AGAIN that I planned to eat ALL of the food I ordered and if she wanted fries she should just order them.  Food came and I finished it all, upset that I didn't leave any fries for her she ordered her own after we had finished eating.  We waited and she got her fries and ate them all.
From the finish we went to Cannery Row in Monterey, another tourist attraction, but a lot more to see than the wharf.  Parked the car and walked around a bit.  In and out of a few shops, got a souvenir coffee mug and some Ghirardelli Chocolate squares.  She found a candy shop and wanted some fudge.  They had a display of half pound chunks of fudge, she picked up each one and 'weighed' it in her hands, balancing each one to try and find the biggest chunk - they were all half a pound!  We picked up take out pizza on the way back to the hotel, I set out all my stuff to be ready to run in the morning and she wanted to watch the news AGAIN!  I said no.  Anything but the news.

OK, RACE DAY FINALLY!!!!  Buses to the start left at 3:30am so I had to get up and scramble super early after another night of no sleep.  The hotel offered free breakfast for runners starting at 3:00am, one of the reasons I chose it, so we went to the cafeteria area and there were 3 or 4 runners milling about and no breakfast set up yet.  The guy never showed up, so the front desk clerk started to put things out, but didn't unlock the door.  He left us all standing in the cold starring at him slowly one thing at a time placing all the items out.  Finally he let us in and I grabbed a plain bagel and a few peanut butters and a plastic knife.  Drove to the bus drop off and made my way to the start.  It was a little more than an hour on a school bus in the dark on a scary narrow road on the edge of the west coast.

Got to the start line and found a warm spot to stand with a few other runners for 2 hours waiting for the race to start.  Met a girl from Sweden, and a woman that grew up in Boston but now lived in Southern California, then another woman, I forget where she was from.  Anyway, it was nice to chat with the runners and trade stories of training and races and other marathon experiences.  They called all the runners to the start by self seeded corrals, once everyone was in the road they introduced someone from the Boston Althletic Association and he did a very nice speech and moment of silence for the victims, plus a very loud cheer for the first responders.  And we were off!
I ran with my camera on the advice of other runners and race officials and I am glad I did.  I got some great pictures along the way.  For the first 8-10 miles I stayed right with the 4:30 pacer and then we got to the Hurricane Point hill.  Two miles and 500 feet in elevation change.  It was brutal, but absolutely beautiful.
After the hill the course weaved a winding curvy path along the coast and into a ridiculous headwind that wouldn't let up.  The roads were rolling hills and all of them were banked so it was very difficult to run on.  I kept on moving though and I felt really good.  Each mile marker had volunteers yelling out your pace and projected finish time and I was still well within my goal of being under 5 hours.  The miles went by pretty fast despite the difficulty of the course and the conditions.  Each view we came across even more spectacular than the previous one.  Here are just a few:

The strawberries were a little after mile 23 and they were the best strawberries I have ever eaten.  For that last few miles I thought about all my friends in Boston that didn't get to finish and I thought about all the runners that were stopped just short of reaching their goals and I pushed just a little harder to try and finish strong for all of them.  I picked up my pace a little, then there was one last cruel hill from mile 25 to mile 26.  Just evil, but I gutted it out and got to the last point two.  Just then my iPod shuffled to the next song, "beam me up" by Pink.  She performed a special version for the victims of the Newtown School shooting and it is just an incredible song.  At the same time I looked up and saw not just the finish line but also a line of flags very similar to the ones along Boylston Street in Boston and I was overcome with emotion.  I started sobbing, tried to breathe and finish strong with tears streaming down my face.  I DID IT!  Crossed the line in 4:58, just under 5 hours as planned and felt great the whole time. 
That's pretty much where the awesomeness of the day ended.  I made my way through the finish area, got a mylar blanket and some water, looked around for my mom and she was nowhere to be found.  I asked a volunteer where to get my bag and got my things so I could get my phone and call my mom and text friends to let them know how it went.  I found a spot in the shade and sat down.  Got my mom on the phone and she was near the finish I told her where I was and gave her instructions how to find me.  She finally got to me and without a congrats, great job, so proud of you, amazing accomplishment, or anything she launched right into "guess what I've been doing all day?"  SERIOUSLY?!?!?!  My moment in the sun, my finish line glory, my runners high from completing an incredible journey of 26.2 miles, the pain and joy of doing something that few people can say they have done - GONE in an instant.

Then, I was over it and just wanted to get out of there and go take a shower because she had ruined it and I didn't want to be there anymore.  She couldn't remember where she parked the damn car!  I found a spot on the ground again and told her to figure it out, I wasn't going to wander around looking for it with her after running a friggin marathon!  Got the car and made it back to the hotel and she went to the pool while I showered.  When I got out of the shower and got dressed I just wanted to take the car and go celebrate by myself and get a cupcake, but she took the car keys with her!  Eventually she came back and we went to the cupcake place together and then to dinner.  I could barely stay awake at the restaurant, completely exhausted physically and emotionally, I was ready to just crash and get ready to leave the next day.

We went back to the hotel and put my PJs on and got into bed.  Just as my head hit the pillow the phone rang.  It was the airline, our flight the next morning was CANCELED.  UGH!!!!  Had to call them and try to rearrange our trip home.  Best they could do was a jumbled bunch of connections hopping across the country over the next TWO DAYS!  I just wanted to cry at this point.  I hung up on the service rep because she was completely useless and rude.  Had an automated voicemail message from the airline giving me new flights completely different from the ones the service rep told me.  Frustrated and exhausted, I told my mom to pack up her things, we were only 5 minutes from the airport, we could go directly there and talk to a person face to face.  Worst case scenario we can't get home until Tuesday, but we still have the hotel for the night and we come back and go to sleep.  Best case scenario we get on the next flight out and get home early, but have to take the redeye immediately after I ran a marathon (not exactly ideal).

We got to the airport and we were not the only ones trying to rebook our flights.  We managed after some finagling to get new flights from Monterey to LA to Chicago to Boston.  Our flight was boarding in 30 minutes.  I checked my bag and watched it go away on the conveyor hoping that I would see it again in Boston.  We got through security and onto the plane, then I noticed my first boarding pass had someone elses name on it AND our connecting flights were totally different.  The airline agent came on the plane to fix the mistake, took ALL of my boarding passes and left.  While waiting for him to return with new boarding passes the Flight Attendant closed the door of the plane and we took off!

So, I'm in limbo now, I do not exist.  I don't know what my next flight is and I don't even know at this point if I will get home or how the heck I can even explain all of this to the gate agent at the next airport.  We arrive late to LA and figure that we missed the connection because we were more than 10 minutes after it was supposed to take off.  The board said "CLOSED" next to the flight.  We started to walk to the customer service desk and I heard them page one more passenger to the flight we were supposed to be on and the gate was two down from where we were standing.  I turned around and started to shuffle/run my mom stopped in her tracks and just looked at me, I yelled at her to run we could still make it.

Got to the gate, showed them my mom's boarding pass and quickly explained the issues.  They didn't have either of us on the manifest.  And there was another guy trying to fly stand by because his wife was having a baby.  We all stared panicked at the agents and begged them to figure it out, meanwhile the pilot comes off the plane and asks what was the hold up.  The gate guy comes out and says there are 6 empty seats, GREAT - 6 seats and 3 people, seems like a simple solution to me.  Put us on the damn plane!  But no.....our names weren't in the computer so they couldn't do it.  After several minutes of arguing they finally let us board and we were on our way to Chicago.

We land in Chicago and our connecting flight is boarding and my mom decides she needs to use the restroom.  I'm thinking NO, go on the plane, we cannot miss this flight.  I just want to get home!!!!!  We made it just barely and got on the flight.  Landed in Boston and by some small miracle my bag made it there too by a completely different route, but I didn't care.  I had my things and I was HOME.  We took a cab to my car and drove to my house.  My mom said by and left.  I went inside, didn't even change out of my PJs, made some breakfast/early lunch and then crashed on the couch and took a nap for the rest of the day.

So, in summary, 5 hours of the trip while I was running the pacific coast highway along the most beautiful marathon course in the world were AWESOME, the rest not so much, but it was all worth it because I can check this one off my bucket list and feel great about it because it means so much to ME and will in the long run help me heal and move on from the events of the past few weeks.  And I learned once again that sometimes blood relatives are not really the best 'family' - my family runs with me for 26.2 miles, during local 5Ks, on early Saturday morning training runs, and after work therapy sessions we call '5 at 5:00'.  I got more text messages, emails, and facebook comments of congrats, love, great job, and hugs from friends than any blood relatives.  Even ended the day after returning to work yesterday with a great acupuncture recovery session and then got home to find a box of chocolate covered fruit and an awesome note from my friend Jen and a 'B Strong' shirt I had ordered before the trip in my mail.  Adding another medal to my wall and lots of memories and lessons learned from the journey to collect it.

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