In preparation for the Big Sur Marathon, I did many hill workouts on the treadmill and the 17th Street Bridge. Man, was I ever glad I did.
Salome & I flew out to San Francisco on Friday, getting in around 11 AM. We drove down to Monterey and after a quick lunch on Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf, we headed to the expo. Not a bad mid-sized expo. I met Bart Yasso and bought his new book. He gave me some pointers on the course. Salome & I stopped by the Marathon Tours booth and spoke with one of the guys who will be on the Berlin trip in September. Jeff Galloway was to speak the next day, but was not at the expo on Friday as hoped.
Saturday morning we drove the Pacific Coast Highway down to the Hearst Castle in San Simeon. Salome immediately starts thinking of ways she could have improve on her plans for our now completed house. Fellows, I don’t recommend taking the misses on this tour if you are considering any house remodeling. The drive over the marathon course didn’t look so bad on the outbound trip, which was the reverse of what I would run Sunday, but it sure gave me concern on the return drive. While I was aware of and had proper concern about the climb to Hurricane Point with its 2 mile continuous climb, I had no idea of all the hills included in the stretch from miles 18 onward. Knowing I was a flat-lander in hill country, I had expectations of running this course for the views and forgetting about time. Now, seeing the course, I’m adjusting my expectations to at best a 4:30 marathon time and hoping I don’t just blow up on the hills in the later miles. After a nice seafood pasta dinner at the Monterey Fish House, it off to bed early for a 3:15 wake-up. This is another of those early wake-up marathons since everyone has to be bused out to Big Sur from Monterey before the start.
In order to try to not go out too fast, I place myself about 2/3rds back in the pace of 3,200 marathoners, plus who knows how many other runners doing the relay. Big mistake. There are no corrals for this race and as usual for such situations, the less experienced (or perhaps just less considerate) runners line up way too far ahead in the lineup. It take me 3 minutes to get to the start. I also spend the first couple of miles working my way past slower runners. Though these first couple of miles run primarily downhill or flat, I clock a 9:10 and 8:57 miles. By mile 3, I’m where I should be. With some nice down-hills in this part of the course, I’m able to make up some lost time with some 8:15ish miles. The first 5 miles are though the lush forest of Big Sur. Shaded and cool, with the wind blocked by the trees. A very sweet start.
As we come out of the trees to open fields and breathtaking views of the Pacific after mile 5, I realize the winds are in our face and are gusting pretty good. Too bad Garmin hasn’t figured out a way to register wind speeds yet. Trying to avoid the crowd at the start of the 2nd water stop at mile 6, I mistakenly blow by the water thinking they would have more than two tables. I’m forced to down my goo sans water which leaves a nice dry sticky coating in my throat that the wind starts to rub raw. But surprisingly, I’m feeling pretty darn good. I’m starting to reel runners in and keep moving ahead to the next set big guy I can find to try and block some wind. This strategy is not really effective in that the winds tend to swirl at these heights and there is no real draft effect.
From miles 6 to 9 the hills start. Unexpectedly, I’m actually enjoying the terrain variation. The up-hills are off-set by the down-hills. I find I do pretty well on climbs. I also focus on trying to glide on the down-hills and not over-break. My mile in the stretch between miles 5 to 8 are in the mid 8:30. Mile 9 contains a pretty good climb, which slows me to a 8:55 mile, but mile 10 gives a nice decline giving me an off-setting 8:01 mile. However, I know it will get worse with the 2 mile climb starting at mile 11. The imposing start is highlighted by ten Japanese Taiko Drummers pounding away at their drums.
What can you say about a 2 mile climb? It seems to go on forever. Lots of folks start to walk. My strategy is shorten the stride and just keep at it to get to the end of the two miles. Passing people helps to put me in a positive mood, and at last I crest the top. I stop to look back on the climb and take a photo. I’m glad this hill isn’t later on the course. The sign at the top says “Let it Fly” for the downhill to the Bixby Bridge. In relative terms, I do just that for my fastest mile of the marathon in 7:41. The half marathon point is midway across the Bixby Bridge, a visual highlight of the course. At the top of the opposite climb off the bridge is the grand piano player. He plays the Vince Guaraldi Peanut’s tune, Linus and Lucy, which I could hear all the way back from about half way down the descent to the Bixby Bridge. As one of my favorite piano pieces, I cheer on piano player who is dressed in full tuxedo.
From here on out, the music is pretty interesting. There had been a harp player early on, but the music was too ethereal to appreciate. Now, we start getting high school bands, some jazz bands, and even a Greek guy on a keyboard. At one point, there was a guy in Irish garb playing a flute. Ah, reminds me of the Dublin Marathon trip. Nice distraction. Any chance you’ve got a pint of Guinness on you? Around mile 23, one of the jazz groups was playing “Fool on the Hill.” I got it right away. This was probably the best marathon for music on the course.
I am feeling good and keep up the pace. From mile 14 to 17, I go from a couple of 8:30s to a couple of 8:15s. I am somewhat psychologically assisted by a course marshal on a bike that keeps runners on the left side of the two lane highway. He tells me I’m looking strong and we joke back and fourth whenever he comes back to my part of the course.
Starting at mile 18, the hills start getting serious again. These are no longer rolling hills, but about one serious hill climb per mile. My pace slows to an average of 8:42. A woman runner I’m running with comments on the beauty. I say, “It’s drop dead gorgeous; I just hope I don’t drop dead.” Mile 22 has what seems like a killer hill, but that may be due to the shear cumulative effect of hill after hill on each mile. I take a short walk break on the excuse that I need to call Salome to correct her on my expected finish time. One of the nice things about the event is that they have two volunteers at each mile split. The first calls out the cumulative time, the second calls out your expected finish time based on where you are on the course. This helps in that my expected finish time kept getting lower from the start to about mile 22. In the early part of the race, my projected finish time was 4 hours plus. By mile 22, they were calling out a 3:50. As Salome & I had projected a 4:30ish finish, I called to make sure she could be at the finish line when I arrived.
From mile 22 on in, the hills are starting to beat me up. None of my famous cramping, but my leg muscles are just fatigued. Now, not only is the road going up and down, it’s also twisting at pretty good alternating left and right slopes. I begin to feel like a drunken sailor walking around on deck during a storm. It’s hard to find level ground. To add to the confusion, they have a walkers division that starts about 9 mile out from the finish. Now, I have no idea how I’m doing relative to other runners. Are they walkers or wiped out marathoners I’m passing? Kind of confusing, and by this point, I’m not thinking my clearest for the day. I’m slipping into the high 9:00s for miles 22 to 25 and force myself though my slowest mile at 26 with a 10:54. By now, I see the finish line. The road straightens out and flattens for the finish. I cross just after the official clock strikes 3:57. I think I’ve run a 3:56, but later find out my chip time is 3:54:21. I am thrilled with my time and see Salome just before the finish.
A woman runner says to me at the finish that she’ll never do that again. I tend to agree after those last hilly, twisty miles, but reconsider immediately upon entering the refreshment tent. The food line is full of fresh California fruit. I take extra strawberries and grapes, knowing Salome will be pilfering from my take. With ten minutes of recovery and sharing some fresh fruit with Salome, I reflect on the better than expected day I had. Yeah, I’d come back. Given that the men’s and women’s winning times are about 20 and 30 minutes slower than most winning times at marathons, I’m quite pleased with my result.
After showering and chilling at our hotel, we did the 17 mile drive in Pebble Beach to get a final glimpse of the beauty of the Monterey peninsula. This was clearly the most challenging marathon topography I’ve ever run, but the course beauty can’t be beat. We had near perfect conditions, except for the winds in the first half of the course. My philosophy of running is to “run in beautiful places,” and this is probably the most beautiful place I’ll ever run. I highly recommend you consider running the Big Sur Marathon. Just be sure to let me know, so I can consider doing it again myself.