I am perpetually late. I hate this about myself, I really do; it’s not an admirable trait to have. Living in the ‘burbs doesn’t help matters either; I never know how much time to allot to reach the city—last night, for example, it took 23 minutes to reach the Haight; this afternoon, an hour and 19 to get to Nob Hill. And my running buddy Autumn is 10 times worse. This will play an important part later on in the story. We ran yet another half marathon in Santa Cruz over the weekend, one that we didn’t really train for but thought “hey! We’re running a full in October. We better get on the mileage.” So I hit up one, Moose, and dragged her kicking and screaming to the beachside hippie enclave. And by kicking and screaming, this is what I mean, i.e. how she could be found 90 percent of the weekend:
(She looks pretty miserable, no?) We would, however, pick the one weekend annually where the mercury in Santa Cruz grazes 98 degrees (yeah, Nick Lachey)—not ideal racing temps, especially if you’re used to training in a mild and manageable 65 degrees, 365 days of the year—and all goes the opposite of planned (I won’t bore you with those mundane details, because there were many). It was surely one of those everything-that-can-go-wrong-will sort of weekends, but Santa Cruz told us, “it’s not you, it’s me,” so I felt a little better and it made it sort of alright. Plus, Moose and Autumn are the most upbeat of travel companions, so they kept my otherwise sour mood in check at times (and fed me ample root beer floats to put the smile back on my face), even when a random dude came up to me on Pacific Avenue and slugged me in the back, unprovoked.
But that’s neither here nor there. At least Santa Cruz was cordial enough to make race time at 8am (as opposed to San Francisco’s ridiculously insane 4:30am marathon start), which means we got to sleep in until the leisurely hour of 6. Well, maybe sleep is too strong of a word, considering half of the night was spent tossing and turning. I never sleep well the night before any sort of contest, but somehow, I drifted right off to dreamland—initially. Around midnight, though—two hours after this trio of grannies passed out, mind you—we were all awakened simultaneously by some eager beavers on the floor above us who were clearly ready to get the race started early. Back and forth they ran, jumping on beds, creaking and doing God knows what. Now, I’m not always the polite Southern belle I try to (somewhat unsuccessfully) pose as, so I marched my pajama-clad booty up to the top floor and knock, knock, knocked. Two Miley Cyrus wannabes answered the door and I, quite cordially given the circumstances if I do say so myself, explained that we had a race to run bright and (not so) early (OK, so I lied, sue me) and demanded asked could they please keep it down. “We’re trying. We told him to shut up,” one of the mouthbreathers said. I don’t know this “he” they spoke of; I couldn’t see who else was in the background.
I returned to my bed and still, it continued, as I tossed and turned in a huff, finally provoked enough to call security on them. Then, hordes of drunk MILFs from a wedding descended upon the building, their cackles echoing in the hallways and only proceeding to up my annoyance ante. I covered my head with two pillows, thus sending me into a I-hope-I-don’t-suffocate-in-the-middle-of-the-night! panic (I didn’t), and sometime after 2am, finally drifted off to sleep. Jemima then texted me a good luck chant at 4am (6 where she was in Chicago), causing more fitful slumber, and the alarm beeped far too early, but at the same time, much too late. I ordered room service—c(r)appucinos, a pre-race necessity for any runner who doesn’t want to take potty breaks at random intervals along the course—and watched VH1 to pump ourselves up (who even knew VH1 still played music videos? I thought it was all Bret Michaels and Flava Flav these days). Our coffee didn’t come, and then it didn’t come some more. The clock ticked closer and closer to gun time. 7:15. 7:21. 7:29. Autumn was still applying her makeup (I have no good answer for why), and I began to panic, as I’m Type A like that and don’t like to leave things to the last minute—heck, we hadn’t even checked in for the race the day before. We finally got our coffee, downed it in one swift gulp. But no daily constitution. This was going to put a slight cramp (no pun intended) in my day, but we had to go.
We arrived at the Boardwalk at 7:48 to standstill traffic, only causing my stress to mount. In the end, we parked on the other side of the river and walked a mile or so to the start. Luckily, there was no real line to get our numbers, but the line for the Porta Potties? Ginormous. Because while no constitution was on the horizon, that coffee, it did stir the bladder (am I borderline TMI for you today? I’m thinking so). We jumped at the end, about 23 people deep, as the gun sounded. Oops. We well missed the start time. No bother, because we were running on a chip anyway, so we’d be timed from the second we crossed the line. But by the time we did our thang, there weren’t any half racers in sight and the 10Kers were already lining up to go.
We took off at an insanely speedy pace, breaking a sweat before the mile 1 marker—it was 85 degrees at 8am after all—and it wasn’t long before we were passing people left and right, but wooboy do Santa Cruz runners not know proper race etiquette. There were walkers blocking both lanes, slow runners in the fast, parents with strollers serving as moving barricades. It was ridiculous. I was scaling cliffs and jumping ravines to get around people, which only added to my annoyance and energy expended (I think I should get a good 10 minutes knocked off because I was polite enough to dodge, as opposed to bulldoze, them over like I well should have). Autumn, East Coast native that she is, was not so polite, and I had to run ahead of her at times out of my embarrassment for her calling others out. She and Stroller Dad nearly got into a fistfight. That was justified, though; who on Earth takes up an entire dirt race lane that’s only three-people wide in the first place, pushing his child in a Kiddie Cadillac?! Not cool, Mr. Santa Cruz Stroller Douche.
My poor tum was sloshing about, and considering we hadn’t eaten prior to the race, thanks to the tardy room service, I was feeling more than a little faint. I tried to choke down a gel—they dispensed Hammer Gel raspberry, which surprisingly was almost as tasty as Gu—but my full belly would not allow a single morsel to pass go and collect $200. The last few miles, I all but terrorized the course out of sheer agony and heat exhaustion. I ran like the wind (or more realistically, sped up to seven-minute miles), just wanting to get it all over with and behind me. (Not to mention, I’m a total sun whore, skin cancer be damned, and the pool was calling my name.) Despite our late start, Autumn and I still crossed the finish line in the the top 20 percent. But instead of sticking around to get our times, we had more pressing things to tend to.
As a Southerner (and Jeanie’s daughter), the most important life lesson you’ll take away with you is that it’s never too early for a margarita.