The alarm went off too early on Saturday morning. Kierstin shook me as I drifted back to sleep. It was before 7 am on a Saturday, time to sleep in, I tried to argue, but she insisted. Her family was leaving in a couple of hours from Merced, and we had to move with a spring in our step if we wanted to arrive in Santa Cruz around the same time as them. Last weekend was the annual Wharf-to-Wharf 10K race that winds through the busy coastal tourist attraction that is Santa Cruz and ends in the quaint and quiet hideaway of Capitola, only 6 miles away. Kierstin and I, joined by some of her aunts, cousins, and friends, were signed up (along with 16000 other runners) to navigate along the Pacific coast in the Wharf-to-Wharf race.
I want to preface this by saying that I love physical activity. There are lots of excellent reasons to maintain good fitness. You could listen to the spiritual gurus: your body is a temple; good fitness is a duty; you have to take care of your body since it’s the only place you have to live; etc. You could also cite the numerous studies that have shown the benefits of regular physical activity: exercise can lower your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, adult-onset diabetes, and arthritis; exercise boosts your self-efficacy and improves your mood, sometimes even fighting depression; and exercise can paradoxically increase your energy. But to put it plainly, running, jumping, catching, throwing, pushing, pulling, and lifting is just fun, and there’s nothing like aching muscles, tiny fibers torn and rebuilding stronger, to prove that you worked hard.
I used to just run to supplement my wrestling training. I can remember rainy spring breaks, where I’d throw on a hooded jacket and take off around the block. With my age barely in the double digits, the run around the block felt too long; a product of my pre-teen attention span, despite the run probably being less than a mile. In high school, the wrestling season would start with short jogs around the campus and the surrounding area with stops at parks and street corners to do push-ups and jump squats. Occasionally, I’d wake up before the sun rose, 6 am and earlier, to try to improve my conditioning and get a competitive advantage.
Wrestling finally ended for me after my senior year, but I remained active. My friend and I would run trails along a creek near my house and talk about signing up for races in the summer; we even almost ran the Wharf-to-Wharf race, but none of our future plans ever materialized. I would run occasionally on my own throughout college, but I didn’t run my first race until I started dating Kierstin. For her, running has been a chance to connect with family – a veritable family reunion. Aunts, uncles, and cousins sacrifice their weekends and drive north, south, east, and west to participate in various races, and I was easily sucked into it as well. I was already hooked on physical activity, and so it wasn’t hard to convince me to run a couple of races.
The first race we ran together was the Warrior Dash. The Warrior Dash is a 3-mile obstacle course, complete with a water slide and a barbed wire mud crawl. Since then, we’ve done a few more races together, like the 3 mile Turkey Trot that aided our appetite on Thanksgiving Day, the short run through Kierstin’s undergraduate campus, and the 13.1 mile course in the state capital, with every mile featuring live bands on the streets. This year’s run through Santa Cruz adds another racing bib to our small but growing collection.
We drove up the day before and spent the day in Santa Cruz, playing in the ocean and enjoying our beachside hotel. We booked a room right on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, an extravagant touristy arcade and amusement park right on the beach. With 16,000 people in town for the run, plus the regular visitors who unfortunately might have been unaware of the race and subsequent influx of people, the beach was packed; some might even say like a thin, oily fish that is shoved tightly into rectangular tins. For dinner, we sought the help of Yelp; Kierstin’s cousin listed the top three restaurants in our area, and we randomly chose one: Kianti’s Pizza and Pasta Bar.
Dinner was incredible in a surprising way. The food was pretty good, and Kierstin and I, still qualifying as the “poor, starving college students” scored the leftovers. There was one thing unexpected about dinner, though, and it made the entire night. The lights went off suddenly, flickering first, and then shutting off completely. Santa Barbara has blackouts every once in a while when it’s warm out, and so I thought it was just another outage. Then, they flickered back on; red, yellow, blue, and orange lights lit the room. Music blared over speakers, and the entire wait staff came out. Grease music played, Footloose songs boomed, the staff performed choreographed routines. Pizza dough flew through the air, went under legs and backs, and was juggled by some of the employees. Even the cooks lined the kitchen and were dancing to the beat. We had no idea that this would happen, but apparently it’s a regular show to complement the nice dinner. The restaurant went from good Italian food in my mind to an absolutely amazing place for dinner.
The race was the next morning. We woke up early and gathered with the rest of the runners near the starting line. The gun sounded, and we were off, pushing through the crowd like cattle or kindergartners on their first day. I sidestepped between runners and zigged and zagged my way through the race. Locals lined the streets, cheering us on. Just like for our Sacramento half-marathon, various bands were scattered through the streets. There were kids who were not even in high school posing as rock and roll bands, well-aged rockers, jazz bands, giant temple drums, and soloists belting their music. People had hoses and water guns and sprayed hot and exhausted runners. The run winded along the coast, passing beautiful sandy beaches and quiet lagoons. By the last mile, we reached the top of a beachside cliff, and the vantage point enabled us to watch the surfers enjoying the morning waves. The race finished on a downhill slope, which allowed for an easy sprint to the finish line. We left Capitola after scarfing down some delicious post-race burgers and guzzling refreshing beer. The Wharf-to-Wharf race was a perfect way to spend the weekend.