So, I am bringing the blog back just for today to recap my weekend and race experience at the 2013 Big Sur International Marathon. I have not decided if I will be run blogging on a regular basis again or not. On to the weekend…
My wife and I set out for San Francisco on Friday morning. We flew United (what’s up free tickets from frequent flyer miles!!). The flight was early and uneventful. We even got in a little early into San Fran. From there we picked up our rental car and headed down the Pacific Coast Highway to Monterey.
I had made the drive from San Francisco to Santa Cruz once before and this time, it was just as beautiful as I had remembered it. The coastline is gorgeous, which is an understatement. Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz, all of it was very scenic. We arrived in Monterey in about 2 hours and headed for our hotel.
We stayed at the Hotel Abrego. I got a pretty good deal on the rate through the marathon website when I signed up for the race way back in July. The hotel is renovated and our room was very nice and had a fireplace. The hotel also had a heated pool and a hot tub (more on that later). The desk staff was nice enough and the location was ideal as it was only a 10 minute walk to the expo.
After we settled at the hotel, we decided to hit the expo. My wife was soooo excited to go to another running expo! Just kidding, I dragged her along J. I picked up my bib and morning bus ticket and then we browsed the expo.
I didn’t really see anything I wanted to buy except for some new running sunglasses that I couldn’t decide on.
The next morning we decided to drive the course. I was nervous about hurricane point and the course in general and my wife thought it would be a good idea to get a visual on everything. So, we hopped in the car and drove to Carmel, about 10 minutes south of Monterey. We then began to drive the course in reverse starting at the finish in Carmel and heading south towards Big Sur. While breathtaking and beautiful, I quickly realized that driving the course was not making me feel better, but rather quite sick.
The seemingly endless hills and cambered roads offered a sobering view of what I was in for on Sunday.
And then we drove up hurricane point.
Hurricane point is a climb to 560ft beginning at mile 10 of the marathon course and lasts for 2 miles at 5% grade. I was definitely worried at this point, and I quickly re-adjusted my goals for the race.
We had dinner that night at Moulin Bistro with a good friend of mine that I haven’t seen in about 15 years. I continued my carb loading and we had a very nice meal. From there it was off to an early bed-time at 9:30.
The alarm went off at 3:15 am. No, that is not a typo. I had to be at the bus loading area at 4am, so I had to get up quite early. With everything laid out the night before (this wasn’t my first rodeo) I quickly dressed, kissed my wife and walked 10 minutes to the bus loading area.
I’m not gonna lie, the bus ride up to Big Sur was straight up spooky. It was a full moon and here is this huge coach bus navigating these windy cliff roads on the way to Big Sur. I thought I was going to puke thinking about the driver taking a turn too hard and sending us off a cliff. I tried not to look out the window and rest.
We arrived at the start area about an hour later. I found a spot on a curb in the park and tried to stay warm and loose. I ate my bagel with peanut butter and drank a little more water and Gatorade. After waiting about 75 minutes, it was time to walk to the starting line. I lined up with the 3:45 pace group and tried to calm my nerves. We had a moment of silence for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing and then the national anthem. I had goose bumps during both.
Once the gun went off it was game on. The first mile was a little crowded but it spaced out after that due to the first hill. The scenery here was all forest with giant sequoias and all kinds of other beautiful trees. The fog was thick and the air had a nice chill that made running comfortable. The next several miles were uneventful as I settled into my 8:12 or so pace. There was a lot of farmland and several hills, none of which were super difficult. Things got very interesting at mile 7 when we hit the coast and headwinds that were about 15-20 mph. The wind was cold and intense for many of the next few miles.
The support for Boston was great to see. Many people wearing the blue and yellow of the BAA, or like me, had memorial bibs with slogans like “Boston Strong” on the back. One woman had “All in for Boston” written on the backs of her legs.
As we closed out mile 9 on a nice long downhill, I could hear the Taiko drummers at the base of Hurricane Point. I felt like we were all on some kind of death march. The relay runners at the exchange point here were cheering us on, but it felt more like the crowd cheering gladiators on their way into the arena. I tried to psych myself up for what was about to happen. At this point, you just try to take it easy, shorten your stride and put your head down. The next two miles on this hill were, as you would imagine…grueling. The view from the top was unreal. Somehow, I felt that God would be pissed off if we ran past all of that natural beauty and were so focused on the race that we didn’t appreciate it…so I did my best to focus on that and not the pain in my quads and calves. The blue waves of the Pacific crashing into the shoreline and the pristine coast rising and falling in the distance made for quite a scene. We were rewarded with a nice downhill (not too fast) and then crossed the iconic Bixby Bridge and then the halfway mark.
At this point I was still running 8:08 and feeling very good. I made a few pit stops as needed. It was during mile 14 that I was chatting with a guy who had run Big Sur several times. I asked him for tips for the rest of the course. He said that there were “rolling hills from here on in.” Turns out that “rolling hills” means some of the toughest hills you will ever run during the second half of a marathon that just had you summit a 2 mile climb. If I had to liken this marathon to another sport, it would be prize fighting. It’s you against the course and just when you think you are feeling all right…boom! It hits you with a body blow. And then another. And another. And another. There were so many hills over the last few miles that I lost count. All I can say is that my pace was no longer 8:08. I took my time when I had to.
By the time I got to mile 24, I felt like I had nothing left to give. I had no more energy gels left and I was out of Gatorade too. At this point I had really slowed and then a small woman all of about 5 feet tall came running past me on my right. As she did so, she must have seen the Boston Strong bib on my back and she patted me on the back and said, “Come on Boston, we’re almost there.” Well, suffice it to say that woman’s words got me to the end of that race. I had all the energy I needed at that point.
I have never been more excited to see a finish line in any race I’ve done before. Crossing that line was a truly great feeling. I finished in 3:48:45. This was about 9 minutes slower than my personal best, but considering they tell you to add 15 to 20 minutes to your best marathon time at Big Sur, I was very satisfied.
I was sore and exhausted but somehow I felt fantastic. Maybe it was the beer at the finish line? We drove back to the hotel and I had a much-needed shower before we went out for a celebratory cheeseburger and beer.
Back at the hotel, I hung out in the hot tub with some great marathoners from Chicago, as we traded notes on the race and running in general. We all decided that even though an ice bath was probably a better idea from a recovery standpoint, the hot tub was too good to pass up.
Big Sur was definitely one of the greatest outdoor experiences of my life. It was also one of the most challenging experiences I’ve ever had. The 2013 Marine Corps Marathon is next on my horizon in October.
I’ll leave you with one this parting thought: I used to think that running a marathon was difficult (and it is), but then I ran Big Sur and found out what difficult really means. I can’t wait to sign up for next year’s race and see if I have what it takes to go 26.2 rounds with Big Sur again.