marathon #7 complete! it was by far the most challenging course i have ran, and was definitely not my fastest time, but it was an amazing experience. it’s going to be a long one, but here is the report!
i decided to run the big sur marathon pretty soon after my BQ at CIM. after a year full of self-imposed time goal pressure, i was ready for a break mentally. at that time i was still exhausted from that race and didn’t even want to think about pushing it that hard again for a while. since boston was already full, i figured big sur would be a great race to do, since it’s supposed to be on the of the most scenic in the country, as well as being a very tough course where i wouldn’t really even consider going out for a PR.
as i got back into training i kicked myself a couple times for signing up for this race so soon after CIM. i had the craving to race another marathon and run fast, and there were a couple temper tantrums this training cycle wishing i wouldn’t have signed up for this race. why didn’t i just sign up for a fast course so i could try to PR? each time i collected myself and looked back on 2010 and knew this was the right race for me to be running. it was going to be my victory lap, my no pressure race, where i could really try to enjoy it for what it was.
as training went on i set some time goals for myself for this race. i had heard you should add 20 minutes onto your “normal time” for this course because of the difficulty, then i had also heard 10 and 30 minutes, so who really knew. i have a nemesis time of 3:57, so i decided i wanted to beat that. if not, sub 4 would definitely make me happy, and if i could go faster than 3:50 i would be thrilled.
most of all i wanted to really be in tune with myself. i wanted to check in at certain points of the race and see how i was feeling. if i started to feel bad, i wanted to recognize that and slow down a bit so i wouldn’t crash too hard and start hating life. i just really didn’t want to have any “i don’t want to finish this race” thoughts in my head, i wanted to be happy and enjoy the race and finish strong. i kept thinking of big sur as a “zen” marathon, and that’s what i was hoping to achieve.
this was going to be a girls weekend race! my friend from high school, jessica, had signed up for it as well, so we had a weekend full of fun planned. after a good night’s sleep on friday, i packed up my car and headed to monterey. i stopped half way and had lunch with one of my best friends and then continued on the road, taking a more scenic route that i had never taken. it was a beautiful day and i was enjoying the drive down the coast listening to my music and just thinking about the race.
i arrived in monterey just before 2, checked in and waited for jessica to arrive. soon after we walked to the expo, picked up our packets, very early bus tickets and wandered around for a bit. i was actually a little surprised by the size of the expo. it wasn’t huge, but much bigger than i anticipated for a smaller race. there are only about 3,000 full marathoners, along with a relay, 21 miler and 9 miler. it was very well organized and they did a great job.
one thing i loved about this race is instead of giving you a bag full of papers and coupons, they emailed all the race participants a link of pdf forms of the paper so we could print out what we wanted, rather than waste paper. they were definitely doing things along the way to be more “green” and you could tell.
sandra was staying in our hotel as well and she arrived just as we got back. she headed over to the expo and we went down to meet up with her, alisa, and alisa’s husband for an early dinner. we talked about the race and got tips from sandra since she ran it last year, and then headed back to the hotel to get some relaxing and sleep in before our early wake up call.
tara arrived a little bit later – she came all the way down to spectate and cheer us on! after she got there, we turned off the lights and had the alarm clocks set for 2:45am.
the alarm went off all too early as it always does, but i popped out of bed and started getting ready. the hour flew by and before we knew it, it was time to head to the buses. big sur is a point to point course that starts in big sur, runs up highway one, and finishes in carmel. in order to do this, you HAVE to be bussed to the start, unless you are one of the few that stays in big sur. tara got up and dropped us off (isn’t she the best?!?).
we got to the busses right around 4, found katie, and got in line. pretty soon we were on the bus driving the course backwards in the dark! you could see the mile markers from the bus, but i was trying not to pay attention to them. you could also feel the constant up and down of the bus, but i just kept telling myself that all the ups were really downs since we would be running the other way and there had to be more downs than ups.
we arrived at the start with over an hour to spare so we hit the porta potties and found a spot to wait. it was chilly but actually not that bad which made me a little nervous. the weather forecast was sunny with high temps in the low 70s, so i was hoping it would stay cool for most of the race and was hoping being near the ocean would help as well.
pretty soon they were calling all the runners to the start, we stripped off our sweats, checked our bags and made our way to the start line. since it wasn’t that cold, i decided not to wear my arm warmers or gloves. i also really didn’t want to wear anything around me (interfering with my zen state), so i decided to shove gu all over me (my shorts pocket, sports bra, etc, which i would later regret since they cut me up nicely) rather than wear a belt to carry it. i also carried my small handheld water bottle since they had “byob” stops at every water stop where people were going to be ready with pitchers to refill water bottles.
we got up to the start and there was tons of room up front, so katie and i decided to line up closer to the start while sandra and jessica wanted to go further back. we said our good byes and good lucks and parted ways. as we were standing there waiting we spotted dean karnazes right in front of us. he had tons of people around talking to him so we didn’t say hi but it was still fun to see him there. pretty soon the gun went off and we were on our way to carmel!
miles 1-5 – through the woods
the race starts off winding through redwoods. i immediately got a little cold and thought maybe i should have brought my gloves with me, but that was only for a minute. we were trying to find a comfortable pace, i didn’t want to start off too fast, but not too slow either. i was under the impression that the first few miles were downhill (and they were in net) but there were definitely some ups to go with the downs. we cruised along chatting about her boston experience and were having a good time enjoying the scenery. it was so beautiful through this part and i felt my legs definitely starting to warm up as we went, but it took a couple miles.
mile 1 – 8:36
mile 2 – 8:39
mile 3 – 8:24
mile 4 – 8:17 (gu)
mile 5 – 8:19
miles 6-10 – to the coast
around mile 6 you come out of the forest and into the open. i have heard this is typically where you can tell if it’s going to be a windy day (this marathon is notorious for being very windy) but there wasn’t much wind at all. miles 6-8 were straight down the highway and there were big beautiful green hills on the side. i was really focusing on taking all the scenery in. around mile 6 katie had to stop to go to the bathroom so we said bye and i hoped i would see her again. i was feeling really good and just cruising along enjoying the scenery.
around mile 8 you come out to the coast and the point sur lighthouse is in view and you have your first views of the ocean. you make some climbs and get your first views of hurricane point (which is the longest climb of the marathon). it’s pretty crazy to see it and think that in just a few miles you will be up top! first though, during mile 10 you have to drop to the lowest point on the course before you start climbing. the views continued to be amazing and i kept making sure to turn around and look back and where i had just come from. the taiko drummers were out here and you definitely knew they were coming from a ways away.
mile 6 – 8:19 (salt)
mile 7 – 8:27
mile 8 – 8:30 (gu)
mile 9 – 8:39
mile 10 – 8:07
miles 11-15 – hurricane point and bixby bridge
mile 11 starts the climb up to hurricane point. this is a steady 2 mile climb where you gain 500 feet. i have been prepared for this and just told myself to shorten my stride, pump my arms and get up the hill. it was obvious i was going to be much slower going up, so i didn’t bother to look at my watch, i just went up. the first mile was definitely harder than the second. i made it to the top feeling pretty good but the legs were burning a little from the climb. i turned around for a look back and was in awe. it seriously looks like a painting and words could never do it justice.
after you climb all the way up, then you get to go all the way back down to the bixby bridge. as you were coming down the hill you could hear the pianist that always plays on the bridge. it was a beautiful sound and it was a pretty awesome feeling to be running across that bridge. i got choked up here and the eyes got watery, it was just an indescribable experience. i thought about how far i have come, what i accomplished last year, how i have so much to look forward to, and how lucky i was to be on such a beautiful course that day.
the half way mark is exactly in the middle of the bridge. i crossed around 1:53 and was feeling really good. after the bridge you start climbing again. i made sure to check in with myself around mile 14 and i was feeling really good so i just kept on cruising along thinking i might actually get a sub 3:50 today! it wasn’t long after that i started getting pretty tired and noticed myself slowing down. the hills just didn’t stop coming.
mile 11 – 10:02 (hurricane point)
mile 12 – 9:35 (hurricane point & gu)
mile 13 – 8:12
mile 14 – 8:28 (salt)
mile 15 – 9:01
miles 16 – 20 – the hills keep coming and the wall
we kept running along the coast and it continued to be beautiful, but the sun was really heating me up at this point. the hills just didn’t stop, there hadn’t been a single section of the course yet that was just flat, it was either up or down. i had filled up my water bottles more times already then i had planned (i think i filled them up 6 times total?) but i just kept needing more water since it was warm out. i would also grab a cup of water at the stations to dump on my head to cool down.
i was trying to take in the sites and keep the rhythm going with my running. every hill i saw i would get a little defeated but i just kept saying to myself “get up this one and you can walk on the next one.” this kept working for me and i kept not walking. around mile 19 there was a pretty strong headwind all of a sudden but i welcomed the air since i was getting really warm and it helped cool me off.
my stomach gave me a couple of warning signs that it might get angry, and i burped up a gu one time, i just really hoped i wouldn’t be getting sick out on the course and luckily i didn’t. mile 20 is exactly between these two large rock walls, so it literally feels like you are at the wall and i was pretty much hitting it.
mile 16 – 9:03 (gu)
mile 17 – 8:46
mile 18 – 9:19
mile 19 – 9:17
mile 20 – 9:41 (gu)
miles 21-26.2 – march to the finish
somewhere in here we started heading inland and there were more people around (this race is not spectator friendly and doesn’t have many at all). i kept up my deal with myself about walking the hills until around mile 22 when there was a bigger one and i just couldn’t go anymore, i needed a break. so i walked up the hill, but started running as soon as i would get to the top. i did this a few times through the next few miles and it helped me get through.
there had been many stretches of cambered road throughout the race but i reallllly was noticing it now. it was sending pain through my foot and up my leg and i kept going back and forth on the road trying to find the flattest spots. at this point i was pretty much ready to be done running, but it was never a question of if i was going to finish. i knew i was, there was no doubt, i just didn’t know if i was going to beat 4 hours or not. i knew it was going to be close and i tried to use that to get me going a couple times, and it would help, but really when you are in the moment you don’t seem to care about those things.
at mile 25 there was another big hill and it just makes you want to cry seeing it. luckily there was a photographer sitting right in the middle of it, and i have a thing about walking in front of photographers – i just won’t do it. so i got up that last hill and knew i was almost there.
there were more people around and i saw ari, katie’s husband and it was nice to see a familiar face. the crowds were getting thicker and i knew the finish had to be close! finally i could see it ahead of me and i picked up the pace and gave it my all to get there. i could see the clock and knew i was going to be under 4 hours… just missing my nemesis time of 3:57 but i didn’t care at that point. i saw alisa and tara and waved at them and crossed the line so happy to be done!
mile 21 – 9:22
mile 22 – 11:01
mile 23 – 9:56
mile 24 – 10:17
mile 25 – 8:54
mile 26 – 9:36
last .34 – 2:48 (8:10 avg)
garmin: 26.34 miles/3:57:54/9:01 avg pace
(i realized late in the race that my watch had been auto-pausing when i would stop to refill my bottles – so annoying, but i only lost 33 seconds total when comparing to my official time, not bad)
official results: 26.2 miles/3:58:27/9:06 avg pace
age group: 36/242
i grabbed some water because i was so thirsty then happily got my medal and posed for a pic. then i went through the food line and loaded up with stuff which i ended up wanting none of. i started getting kind of light headed and really needed to sit down so i found a spot and sat for a minute. then tara came over and found me and we went to the finish to watch for our friends. we all found each other and recapped our races and eventually made our way to the car where we ran into ron who is awesome and did the boston to big sur challenge! see those two medals he has? *jealous*
we made it back to the hotel, got ready and went to get mexican food and a much earned margarita! then tara, jessica and i went and spent a couple hours in the monterey aquarium walking around looking at all the fishies. we did a bunch of walking that afternoon, and it was a little slow, but we felt pretty good and i think it really helped me out since i am really not very sore today!
post race thoughts
overall it was such an amazing and pretty much indescribable experience. this course is tough and it will humble you, not only from the hills but from the beauty that you are running in. you feel so small and insignificant at times among these towering cliffs and huge crashing waves below, but at the same time, you know you are leaving a small impact, at least on yourself, by running 26+ miles along the “ragged edge of the western world.” you are leaving your mark by being one of the few people in the world who have actually done it.
it is truly a course everyone should run someday and i really want to go back. they had the boston to big sur challenge this year for the first time, and i have to say i was definitely jealous of the double medals and jacket they got… it put some crazy ideas into my head :)
***next up will be a post full of pics!***