Monday, November 15, 2010

Thirteen More Miles

For a November, we’re having unusually warm weather. Summer is stubborn in her persistence, it seems. It's easy to imagine her, a woman demanding her equal share in the spotlight. Spring did have a long showing this year. And why so? Somehow you feel that Summer has cajoled Winter to share his days and she’s succeeded. Since for a week now, the weather in the city has been magical, temperate mornings, summer afternoons and cold evenings arriving as early as 5pm.

I’m happy that it’s a t-shirt kind of morning. My grey cable sweater feels too heavy on my back. I take it off and leave it lying on the patio chair. I feel free and at ease. An ice pack rests on my left foot. I’m having breakfast and journaling in the backyard ---a luxurious experience for a Monday. I take my time to enjoy stillness and study the surroundings that is always dynamic and changing.

Manly, his brown coat is glistening; gleaming as he sleeps, “sunbathing” on the stairs that lead to our backyard, while Biela, my arctic fox, rests under the shade of my chair. A blue jay makes an appearance. I can see his blue form behind the solitary calla lily that stands proudly. His belly is round filled with the lovely insects he’s caught this morning. There’s another blue jay, its mate perhaps, sitting silently, incognito on the branch of our yellow trumpet tree. Behind the yellow-green leaves, I can see her head cocking several times from side to side as she’s focusing in my direction. Does she see me watching her?

I shift the weight of my hip to a more comfortable position, every movement lets outs a sound, as the bones creak and pop like the sound of steps on an old wooden floor.

I breathe in the delicious air. It’s sweet, the same as yesterday’s but less salty on my skin.


Saturday, November 13, 2010. The day before the Big Sur ½ marathon. I’m not sure where the decision came from to enter the race. I’d registered several weeks after coming home from Oxford and Spain, back in August this year, itching perhaps for something to look forward to, a new challenge.

On our ride down to Monterey, the day before the race with my love, behind the wheel and the smell of strawberries in the fields, I find a 2010 list of goals on my iphone, a list I’d made earlier this year. Listing all the things I wanted to accomplish…a souvenir from the old me.

Reading the list, it felt fake and almost pretentious, as if what I envisioned for myself can be so easily attainable and simplified like a possession.

Open mic/have a reading
Act in a film/theater piece
Trip to Peru, Vietnam
½ marathon or full

This list doesn’t feel like it belongs to me. Things have changed over the course of the year. Why not dream bigger, I ask myself? Does this list truly define me?

The truth is, I haven’t decided yet if I really want to do the race.

Three days earlier I’d sprained my left foot on an 8 mile run. I’d been limping and icing the foot, telling myself if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. Why force it?

We arrive in Monterey, late afternoon. To avoid the crowds, we quickly pick up our race packets that contain a race shirt and bib number at the Monterey Conference Center. As we cross the street making our way back to the car, getting lost somehow, a man our age walks parallel to us. He has long hair and is walking a German shepherd mix.

“Alvarado is the street on your right, if you keep walking straight through this street.”

His words don’t reach me immediately, I’m too stuck in my own mind to pay attention, trying to remember where the car was parked.

Finally, I look up in his direction and smile. We follow him.

“Are you both in the race tomorrow?”

My love immediately lights up and smiles yes and I say something to the affect of I hope so, will try.

“At least it’s not a full marathon. You know that miner from Peru, he did the New York Marathon. He took his time icing his knee, but he finished the race. Can you believe it?”

“Where are you folks from?”

“San Francisco.”

“You guys are probably still celebrating up there. Man, I’m glad the last game [world series] was in Texas, otherwise, if it was in the city, that would have been a major disaster if the team lost…like a big earthquake. Its sweet revenge to win in Texas, you know, much safer and it just shows the Bushes, up yours.”

We both are laughing out loud at his refreshing openness.

“Well, have a good race tomorrow.”

We thank him and find our way to the car. I think about the miners. I’ve been so out of the media frenzy-filled news that I ask my love about the story. I later learn that 33 men were trapped in a Peruvian mine for 2 months but later saved.

I wonder how it could have been possible to survive 2 months in darkness without hope or food. I’m overcome with admiration for the miner who finished the marathon even amidst knee complications. It makes my injury look like nothing. I make up my mind then that if he can do it, then I have no excuse to try. Mind over matter.


Race day. November 14, 2010. We wake up at 5:45AM. My love is already up and about preparing his version of strong hotel coffee and oatmeal.

He’s already showered and is in the process of preparing his gear. The morning is a blur. I take out newly bought clothes from a Sports Basement bag, removing the price tags still attached. I squirt a big glob of biofreeze and take 2 ibuprofens. I swallow down breakfast as best as I can at such an early time. Coffee and a wheat bagel (extra fiber, as it turns out) with cream cheese.

The race is no longer a desire or a goal. Some how it’s transformed into a force of will power; I feel it permeating my entire body.

Trust your body, it is stronger than you know.

The rest of the morning is captured like Polaroids snapped too quickly. 2 eaten bananas, bus shuttle, last port-a-potty trip, line up in respective corrals, start line, GO!

We’re separated, into holding blocks, like young bulls making their debut at the rodeo. I’m in a corral behind my love. Corral H. Slowly, the groups in alphabetical order make their way to the starting line.

60% of the people in the race are women. We’re in a group of 5 thousand that day. I check my watch, 7:15. I hear the last words from the announcer.

“Ok guys, are you ready?? Let me hear you guys!... H stands for HOT. Have a great race and ENJOOOOOOOOOY.”

I start off slowly but firmly. I have a black visor on, a birthday gift from a friend. I can still remember her words when she gave it to me along with the gym bag and other sports essentials. You’ll need it trust me, especially when the sun is out. I’ve kept it for 2 years now and today I put it into use. It helps me focus. It keeps me shielded like a protective armor. I tighten the band and wear the rim close down to my eyes.

I look up every now and then when I need to take in the course and moving landscapes around me.

First, downtown Monterey, there’s a young man in a tux, keyboard, playing a song from Santana, I cut through the crowd and move my body close to him receiving the vibrations of the music like a sacrament.

Then the tunnel. This is the most exhilarating part as all the runners scream, the echos of their voices fill the tunnel. The chaos, undoctored. There’s the sound of a bag pipe. I scream, first in a high pitch…then a more primal lower pitch. Every time I let out a scream, I hear the people around me, their energy, amplifies into something greater. We sound like a whale inside its belly. The sound passes and moves backward to the runners behind, who add to the chorus.

Every now and then when I feel slightly tired, I drift off of someone close to me. I match their fast pace. I don’t know who these people are but I take in their energy.

I hear heavy footsteps. A woman in her fifties, short hair. She’s bulky but working hard. She has arm warmers the color of flames. I call her the fire lady. I pass her several times but I am amazed that she catches up to me. I hear the shortness of her breath, struggling. Yet, she is determined. Regardless of age or body, that defines too easily, today, she is out to conquer the mind.

I leave her behind and find another pair of moving feet. I drift along to their rhythm until we pass Cannery Row and the Aquarium. I can smell the ocean now and can see its vast body, awakening before me.

We go through a residential area, up a hill. People are out of their homes and cheering on the runners. A woman with bells, a man beating his drums that looks like a trash can. My feet syncopate to each slap of the drum, the bounce of the palm, matches the bounce of my heel against the concrete.

By mile marker 5, I feel good in my body. I try and avoid negative energy around me. It’s around people who talk too loudly, forcing too much of a good time. They keep their conversations loud, although deep down, what they want is for the race to be over and done with. Their voices drown out their fear or boredom perhaps.

Then there are those with the head phones, lost in their own world.

I hear a man cursing; he’s battling with his legs. He’s fighting off the pain. I move faster, avoiding his form.

“Shit. Fuck!” He yells at himself.

The lead pack of runners is already making their way back to the finish line, not even an hour into the race. I cheer on a woman, she’s over taking a man. She looks like a greek goddess with her wavy hair. She looks utterly still like a statue.

The fastest can easily finish sub 1:05.

I try and keep present in my body, finding my own stillness. I sense my mind, drifting, the ego making its presence known. It’s trying to play mind games again.

You’re injured it reminds me. You can take a little break.

I tell my ego to fuckoff.

I’m almost at the half way mark when I hear a voice.

“Come on Mai!!”

It’s my love; he’s already making his way back.

I yell back. “Run fat boy run!” A line from one of our favorite movie.

I look ahead and I see the serpentine shape of the runners ahead of me. The poka dot colors moving like a conveyer belt.

Breathe. Let go.

I try to keep balance to avoid putting too much weight on my left foot. Finally the halfway point.

On the way back, the ocean guides me. She's managed to seduce and lull several people to stop, rest and drink in her serene views. But I try not to look too much at her because she is so mesmerizing. Instead, I breathe her perfume and look above to watch the birds gliding, playfully on the wind.

By now, I hear Taiko drums. Ancestral drums. There is a row of women, beating the drums with wooden sticks releasing healing vibrations as it strikes. It evokes something in me that comes from another life. Something in my soul. A feeling from the womb or a battle cry of the warrior. It feels like a mix of both and temporarily, I feel the lightness in my body.

I pass them and make my way to the 9 mile marker.

“Are you Hmong?”

I lift me visor and look up.

“No, Vietnamese.”

“My mother has the same name, Mai.”

My bib number which rested in front of my waist at the start line, has now traveled around my back, easily readable to runners behind me.

I look up at a young woman in a pink race shirt. I smile at her and wish her a good race.

Strange, but I feel like her mother is with her. I can feel her spirit. She moves quickly ahead of me until her body disappears and I can no longer find her pink back.

Marker 10. Only 3 more miles now.

Every now and then I hear the cheers from the crowd. Their words arrive right when I need them most.

“You’re got this. You can do it”

I clap my hands exchanging my optimism with theirs.

I see people slowing down. Exhaustion. We’re moving down hill back to Cannery Row. I try and quicken my pace. By now my sole feels like it’s on fire.

Surprisingly, I see fire lady again. She managed to get ahead of me. Unbelievable.

You’re injured. Have a little rest at the next mile.

Another mind fuck. I tell my ego to fuckoff again for good! Regardless of what happens, I will finish even if it takes me longer. I will not stop.

Passing the Bubba Gump restaurant, I see Forest Gump. He’s on a bench.

“Run Susan run!” He yells at the woman in front of me.

By now, the sun is hot above me, so grateful for my visor, I pull it tighter over my eyes.

Another flare on my sole. This time, I’m hopping slightly. I think of Manly and Biela. I picture them before a walk and their infectious excitement. I hear Biela’s high pitched whining, her tail wagging. I see Manly howling. Both images of them are exaggerated giving me hope.

And then from a distance, I hear the barking of the sea lions. Their voices getting louder as if somehow they heard my prayers.

The last mile is the hardest. People are starting to walk. Self-sabotage. So close to the finish. Don’t give up, I want to yell out.

“Come on, finish strong. Heel toe, heel toe. You’re almost there.” A man yells.

I pick up the pace slightly.

“Only a quarter of a mile left guys. You are almost there.” A blonde woman cheers on.

I pick up speed.

Finally, I see it. I hear the crowds, the sound of music. The announcer’s voice.

“Come on runners. Oh, looks like we have some strong finishers. Looks like we have one, she’s coming from behind, she’s sneaking in...”

I give everything I have left. I can no longer feel my feet. With all my trust, my exhilaration, I allow my body to take over and glide, further, stronger, passing bodies around me, reaching to cross over, to the other side of the line, finally arriving. 

By Mai Brehaut

Big Sur (taken by

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