Friday, April 29, 2016

the Big Sur Marathon (Race Review)

The Big Sur International Marathon has been on my list for a couple of years, since reading about it in Runner's World. Multiple times in my life I've tried to go out to California -- but unexpected events always canceled the trip. Back when I entered for the lottery my wife was eight months pregnant, so we ended up having a discussion about how to make this work. My wife was super supportive, and I worked really hard in training.

Big Sur is a race with a really great sense of humor.

The mile markers, the folks all along the course. The humor helps keep the race feeling doable and managable. The climbing is a bit better for it, because you don't feel so much like you'll die. The bands all along the course are really good, too. They add a really positive energy and even add their own sense of humor to the event.

Big Sur is a really emotional experience, at least it was for me.

Many of the views are things I'd thought about all through my training. I would stand at the bottom of good grade hills and think about hurricane point. I would think about the descents cruising to Bixby while cruising down my own local down hills. It made the endorphin highs really big pay offs in the race, which led to me giggling to myself all along the course as I felt like I was really living my dream.

Big Sur is really punishing, and it knows it. It is still really worthwhile.

Those hills, man. That climbing. I wasn't anywhere close to running that whole course. I'd love to try again. It was tough, though. In a way that makes me want to try again. Makes me want to revisit it, to see what I remember of the course, to see if my legs can remember it and outperform my showing this year.

Here is a breakdown of my race day:

Race day started about 3am. Although, still being pretty used to EDT (GMT -5) it really felt like 6 am. Caught the shuttle bus into Big Sur at 3:45 or so. Couldn't really see the course in the dark, but noticed the distance down to the taillights ahead at Hurricane Point.

I planned to run a 4:15-4:30 at Big Sur, knowing full well that I was going to have a rough time with the hills. Really wanted to run Hurricane Point, aiming for a 10:30-11:00/mile pace.

Race went off at 6:45am, and I was feeling pretty good. Decided to dial the pace in for 9:15-9:30/mile in the first few, just to see how I would feel. Didn't want to gun it in the first 10k because I knew they would be mostly downhill. Around mile 4 I felt pretty good, but warm, so I shucked my hoodie.

At about the 10k mark, hit the coast line and some tremendous wind. Like, gusts that made your footsteps land wrong. Decided conditions weren't great to be running in shorts and a singlet, so huddled into the pack and kept moving. Stopped to take a couple photos, and some video of the Taiko drummers. I like to have short clips of waves crashing to put on loop when I'm in a particularly frustrating meeting.

Dug into Hurricane Point and dialed in my planned pace. I was alarmed to see my heart rate hit 180 bpm, but I felt alright even though I was climbing. Ended up cresting the hill with an 11/mile pace. Had a huge endorphin payoff at the top, and got really emotional remembering standing at the foot of my neighborhood climb, and the number of times I climbed it thinking about that very point in the course. I turned around to survey the coastline, and started giggling to myself in absolute joy. I'm sure I looked like a lunatic, but that moment was the realization of years of dreaming of visiting the other coast.

Started listening to Ginger Runner's "Bixby" on loop approaching the Bixby Bridge. Had so much fun that entire segment. It was sheer elation looking at the coast, the mountains, cruising towards the bridge. The endorphin were still rolling in, and so I felt really good, but was consciously trying to not push the pace too hard. Hit the Bixby at 2:09, more or less when I wanted to, and stopped to take some photos.

Heading on I hit the hills that start around mile 15, and became fairly consigned to the fact that I was going to need to work in some walking. I decided since I was on time and well ahead of the time cut off at mile 15.6, I would also work in more photo breaks. The coast line was so lovely, and it would have been easy to just hang out on the course looking and reveling.

Around mile 17 the climbing really started to take it's toll so the walking became slightly longer. I was still cruising the downhills comfortably, and was working really hard to keep the negative thoughts at bay.

The bands along the course were really awesome. Lots of school bands, which played really well, but also some rock bands, blues bands, even accordion players and bag pipers. The folks playing were really awesome, too, and very willing to interact with the runners. That doesn't happen at every race where you have bands.

Mile 24 had strawberries. They were awesome. I spent that time wishing strawberries at mile 24 were a tradition at every marathon. If I ever organize a marathon, that will be a must.

Came into sight of the hill at mile 25, and was overcome with dread. It looked the same grade as the Hurricane point climb. At that point, though, there were lots of folks walking the hill so I wasn't alone at all. I walked up, and cruised the last mile into Carmel and the finish at 4:34. I was really happy with that time and absolutely loved the race.

Overall, had a great time and a really whirlwind trip to California. But I finally got to do it. I really want to go back, want to run again in the Big Sur redwoods, all along the coast to see if the wind this year was really an anomaly. We'll see what running has for me later this year.

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