"Stop running with Wilson," she said, "I'm not kidding. Don't be stupid."
Tamara doesn't want me stomping on the asphalt on PCH for seven miles every Saturday. She says that my body is not ready yet because I have never run before. "Develop your base first. Run three miles three times per week. Do this for a month, then increase your mileage gradually," she tells me. But she doesn't understand. She doesn't know Wilson.
Wilson starts at 5:50am every Saturday and Sunday at Mugu Rock. He doesn't carry water or breakfast in his stomach. A tiny flashlight in his right hand, a cell phone with MapMyRun in his left. Seven miles later along the coast, at 6:45am, he turns around at Neptune's Net. Here is where Malibu meets Ventura, and also where I begin.
A few Saturdays ago, I went to the surf break across from Neptune's to take pictures of the waves. While I waited for the sun to rise, I noticed a flickering light approaching from the northwest, slowly and steadily. It turned around and receded until it vanished.
The next morning, the episode repeated. It gave me an idea.
In my adolescent quest for fitness at 40, I had focused on strength, control, high-intensity cardio, and had postponed running. This was the opportunity to start: follow the flashlight.
The following Saturday, the runner didn't disappoint. I caught up and began running next to him. We exchanged a few words and was a little disoriented when I heard a Spanish accent on this Irish-looking redhead. "I'm Wilson, from Bogota," he said.
At each mile, he increased his pace slightly. After a couple of miles, he took off. He never told me, but weekends are his slow runs. I was now alone, with the silent ocean on my left and a tall sand dune on my right. A few cars passed by; their drivers making fleeting eye contact with me. I kept running and pushing through a winding incline on PCH until the landscape opened up again and revealed the Big Rock. Wilson was there, waiting.
He dropped me off at Neptune's and said I should do it again.
I went back a week later and did it again. This time we went for a swim in the Pacific after our run. The water was painfully cold but running makes me invincible. Then I bought running shoes. Always fast to purchase gear whenever I begin a new activity.
Each week I'd increase my average pace and run a little longer distance. We'd go for a swim and a cup of coffee and a Clif bar at the Trancas Starbucks afterwards. There I learned that Wilson couldn't stop running.
"In Colombia, back in the 1980s, marathons were something people watched on TV during the Olympics." He explained, "I did some track and field in high school, but it wasn't until I moved to New York to work at JP Morgan that I started running longer distances. I found a group of runners and we'd go through Central Park every weekend. I also started competing in 10Ks and half marathons once every other while. It was all good fun for a couple of years."
"Then the accident happen, you know, mis papás, and I had to go back to Bogota for a while." He barely touched the incident as if I knew what had happened. I didn't. "I could've stayed in Colombia for good, but I had to make a decision and I chose to go back to New York. It wasn't easy, you know, to leave family behind and all that. You hear a constant buzz of guilt and, all of a sudden, find yourself running two hours every day. Not very intuitive because people associate running with thinking, with reflection. Not me. When I run, I think of nothing. I never wear earbuds either."
"Two hours of daily running... did you have a goal? Like a marathon or a triathlon?"
"Not really, but you know what? One day I decided to run the New York marathon and it was a disgrace. I thought of it as two back-to-back half-marathons but on mile 17 my body broke down and I had to walk the last 6 miles. I was so pissed that that very same night I signed up for Phoenix... it's been over 30 marathons since then. Thirty four to be precise."
"When is the next one? Have you run in L.A.?"
"I stopped six years ago when I got married and had children. I moved to L.A. three years ago so, no, I haven't run it. I'm not in shape for one. I used to take month-long vacations when I was in JP Morgan and train in Bogota. That's 8,500 feet above sea level."
"Do you feel that you'd be disappointed with your performance if you ran L.A.?"
"Six or seven years ago, I would've said yes. There was an expectation to finish within certain time limits. Now, I've learned to enjoy the process and forget about the outcome."
Shortly after that conversation, Wilson decided to try the Malibu half-marathon. This past weekend, he ran the Surf City half in Huntington Beach. His own words caught him by surprise: "enjoy the process and forget about the outcome." He's signed up for number 35: Chicago.
See you at Grant Park, October 8, 2017.