“I saw eternity the other night/Like a great ring of pure and endless light.”
I got this Henry Vaughan poem in my head like a song while lying on the beach in Carmel, Calif., as my husband and I watched shooting stars zoom through the great starry awesomeness of the night sky above us. It was right about then that I decided: I will find a way to run the Big Sur Marathon.
Let me explain. It’s not that I’m so obsessed with running that I let thoughts about my favorite hobby ruin this most romantic of moments. It’s just that we’d spent the day driving through Big Sur, and I felt wistful rather than warm and fuzzy. That’s the kind of beautiful Monterey, Calif., and the surrounding area is: I truly felt unable to absorb it all in one viewing, no matter how thoughtfully I tried to observe. In Big Sur especially, as much as I tried to drink in the ribbon of rocky coastline above a deep turquoise-blue Pacific Ocean, I felt barely able to grasp the surface. This reminded me of one of my favorite parts about running: the way it can be part sightseeing, part exercise in meditation, forcing you to slow down and appreciate the tiny things — the smell of wild sage growing on the roadside, the otters and sea lions barely visible in the surf — as well as the giant ones.
That was basically the whole idea behind our trip, which included four full days in Monterey and the surrounding area, then two full days in San Francisco, including an afternoon trip to Sonoma. It didn’t hurt that the friends we were visiting are all about the running-hiking-biking lifestyle; Sarah is my rock-star runner-friend who coached me through my first (and so far, only) marathon in 2007, and she just kicked butt in the San Francisco Marathon last month. My first day in town included a Sarah-guided six-mile run on the Monterey Bay Rec Trail, which winds along the most beautiful stretch of coastline I’ve ever seen. Next up: a nice recovery ride through Pebble Beach. Well, for me it was a recovery ride; Sarah towed a toddler and a baby in the bike trailer, making it a bike ride and a hard-core strength workout all in one. We even hung out at the Monterey Sports Center, a bright, sunny gym where Sarah joined me in my tedious-but-necessary core workout.
Even without a workout buddy, Monterey begs for physical activity and general good health, with its miles of gorgeous running trails and its bounty of fresh produce. On Monday night, we went to the Pacific Grove Farmers Market for fresh halibut and berries for dessert. Tuesday night, we ate at the Monterey Farmers Market, where I could have made a dinner from the free fruit samples alone.
The sightseeing by foot and bike continued in San Francisco, where we started our trip by renting bikes to cross the Golden Gate Bridge, truly one of the most awesome and beautiful experiences of my life. Then, on our last day in town, we started the morning with one of the most memorable runs I’ve ever been on.
We headed out from our hotel downtown hoping to get in a quick 30-minute jog. An hour and ten minutes later, we had run up Lombard Street, famous for its steep, hairpin twists and turns (SFTravel.com declares that if not for the switchbacks, the road is so steep “people would be killed rolling down.” Yikes!); along Fisherman’s Wharf and through another awesome-looking farmers market; by The Embarcadero; past AT&T Park and McCovey Cove; and through a couple more cool neighborhoods we wouldn’t have seen if not for that run.
Now that I’m back home, I miss Monterey as if it were a person. I’m meeting my husband for our regular Monday afternoon swim date later, and without him being there, I’m not sure I’d be able to tolerate a workout that doesn’t include stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. Good thing I’m planning to go back, huh?
Incidentally, if you like my other amped-up core workout, check out today’s Examiner.com post listing every IT band exercise and stretch known to man (or at least known to me). My new motivation to do these exercises? I want to be strong enough to run the Big Sur Marathon sometime sooner rather than later!