It didn’t take long to realize that Monterey is one of those special places where the forest meets the rugged coastline. Where you can hike in the redwoods and dip your toes into the ocean in the same stride. Wildlife is so casually abundant; sea otters doing flip turns, and seals, the same. Overly intimate seagulls flocked with abandon and brave squirrels did just about anything for a walnut.
As the race director said, Big Sur is more of a state of a mind than an exact destination. And after a salty kiss of tears, sea mist and sweet relief, I could tell Ryan knew exactly what that meant with every muscle fiber of his being.
We drove up the coast with the girls in tote – nearly one and close to three years old – our car, a mobile goldfish dispensary, our destination, the Big Sur marathon. We had been so spoiled with wildflowers recently that I tried looking at the golden hillsides with fresh winter eyes. The old El Camino Real lamp posts and distinct oak trees over rolling hills tipped me off to the approaching central coast. Tears, naps, Elizabeth Mitchell songs and delirium came in waves, but we made it to our Airbnb mostly sane and excited to meet up with our Minnesota family: Ryan’s brother and co-runner, Marcel, his wife, Beth, and their kids Nya and Nash.
We woke up the next day and went straight to the famed Monterey aquarium, the place that inspired me as a kid to want to be a marine biologist when I grow up. After a sea otter feeding and stingray petting, we got notice on Whatsapp that two members of the Dutch family were somehow at the race expo. We looked at each other laughing and confused only to realize they were actually here, in Monterey, right now. What an incredible show of support and love to appear unannounced from Holland to watch their nephews run. The world is small and full of infinite possibilities. What a legendary Big Sur (prise).
After a jam packed day of fun and some misfired nervous energy, we pulled up to our Airbnb for a certain restless night of sleep. Everyone was grumpy. As we stepped out of the car, a beautiful wild deer appeared in front of us, munching on grass in the middle of our neighborhood. It looked up at us for a few seconds and then continued eating, right next to a vibrant birds of paradise plant (his plant). I knew Dad wouldn’t miss the race.
I was anxious and couldn’t sleep, like I was the one getting up to run further and harder than I ever had. I wonder what life is like for non highly sensitive people? This race felt bigger and more emotional than any other. Ryan was nervous, of course, but he was ready and prepared in every way. He would represent America with his American flag socks, Holland and Challenged Athletes Foundation with his orange hat, and best of all, he wore my dad’s “Trails of Memories” sticker on his bib.
In the morning, our eager cheering squad made their way to the 26-mile marker, ready to bring our favorite runners home. Our eyes sat glued on the hundreds of legs in motion as the electric loud speakers drew them in for the final .2 of the race.
First up, we spotted Marcel with his white long sleeve shirt and compression socks. Strong, relieved, a high five. After two months with a groin injury and a lot of questions, he made it, and with a wildly impressive time of 3:49. What a beast!
A few minutes later, I saw the man with the orange hat appear out of the sprinkle of runners. My heart leapt and I started jumping, crying and screaming with joy. He looked at us with fierce determination and relief, blew me a kiss and threw his hand up to salute my dad. Aside from the Sydney airport in 2011, I’ve never been happier to see Ryan in my life.
He did it. From what I heard: The first five miles he was flying. Conquering the two-mile hill at mile 10 was empowering, the huge bongo drums electrifying and mile 14 was deflating. Moments of pause to soak up the scenery were unforgettable. He could hear me cheering his name with my all of my heart at mile 17 (which I was, just in my head) . Mile 18: claw.the.ground. Mile 22 was spent lost in marathon land, tasting the finish line and one too many Clif shot blocks. Seeing us at mile 26 was the ultimate payoff.
All of those moments and the countless others stamped on his sole equate to a goal time of 3:58 and a newfound Big Sur state of mind that will never tire: connection, expansion, freedom and unconditional strength.
We are so proud of you, Ryan.