The Mario Recap, Marathon #16:
Gorgeous day made for gorgeous views! Gorgeous day also made for warm running conditions. Ran the course almost 40 minutes faster than last year.
The Full Recap, Marathon #16:
I had a great short weekend down in Monterey with lots of great people! I drove down after work Saturday and headed to the expo. I am sad to report that they had run out of women's small shirts by the time I arrived. Man. Story of my running life. I will give the marathon some props because they told me to email and that they would order me a shirt (I have since emailed and it is going to take a few months, but I guess that is better than a men's large). I was starting to feel like tiny people get discriminated against at races, but Alisa's hubby was also out a shirt of his size which made me feel like there was some gender equity in the shirt mismanagement.
The weather this year was absolutely drop dead gorgeous. For tourists. In my humble opinion, not so wonderful for runners. Last year I was a frozen popsicle by the time the gun went off (and remained only slightly thawed for the first 5 miles). This year, I would categorize the pre-race temperature as "brisk" or "crisp" but certainly not "cold." In fact, in the first mile or two I overhead a grizzly veteran-looking runner remark, "I can't remember it ever being this warm here." (RoadBunner inner monologue: "$@&%") Another runner he was talking to replied, "That's great!" The first runner said, "Well... (RoadBunner inner monologue: "Exactly what I'm thinking, buddy) I don't know about that, there is no shade out there." (RoadBunner inner monologue: "$^%#")
My strategy for this race was to run at a comfortable pace until the hills chewed me up and spit me back out. Then I'd resort to some sort of run-walk-trudge-up-the-hills plan. The end-game was to bring this puppy home in 4:59.
This year I took 100 photos and 5 videos while out on the course. Last year I stopped running to capture a lot of the images I collected. This year I tried to not actually stop for photos. So a lot of them aren't well composed or are a little blurry. But I think they capture the day:
The start. One of the nice things about running a race twice is that you are ready to capture all of the little "surprises" you missed the year before.
Early miles in Big Sur. Men were jumping off course to pee in the bushes and a woman yelled out, "Enjoy your penises!" which I thought was hilarious (almost as good as Aron saying, "I hate that sticky feeling in my pants" as we waited for the race to start -- she was talking about Body Glide). Ha ha. Okay, enough gutter runner humor.
Lat year this field was filled with mooing cows. There were a couple further up, but I really missed the comedic herd action from last year. Maybe cows don't like sun, either.
Not a single freakin' cloud in the sky.
A small motorcade always passes in the early miles. I imagine the vehicles are filled with race officials headed to wait for us at the finish. I always wonder what it must feel like to see all the runners along the course of a race you've worked on.
It is hard to tell in the photo, but that is Hurricane Point up ahead. The road winds up along the coast. A 2 mile incline.
Getting revved up for the ascent.
The first mile of Hurricane Point is the hardest. I made it a goal to not walk.
Views like this make the work easier.
Still going up.
They didn't have as many of the fun signs going up Hurricane Point this year, but this lone survivor from last year was out to chuckle us to the top.
The road winds a lot which I actually think is a blessing. I heard some people say the top was the curve up ahead but I knew better. It ends at mile 12. No sooner. Somewhere on Hurricane Point the temperature went from "It's going to be hot soon," to "It just got hot."
More good views. One thing I noticed this year is that the first mile of Hurricane Point is rather soul-crushing in it's grade but the second mile is actually not that bad. It was almost the sort of incline which makes you feel like you can run faster on it than if it was a flat (does this happen to anyone else but me?)
Made it to the top! I am standing here waiting to take a picture with the Mile 12 marker. In retrospect, this is the only photo I regret from the whole race. People in groups kept coming up and cutting in line since they had someone to take their photo and it took me a minute to find another lone runner to swap cameras with. It wasn't even a nice mile marker. At the time I just wanted to celebrate running up that whole damn hill. I think you can look ahead 2+ hours and see where this is going.
Bixby Bridge in the distance. LOVE it! Since it wasn't windy this year you could hear the piano from a mile away.
I was looking at last year's report and realized I took this exact same photo with the exact same funny angle to try to get the bridge and water in one shot.
View off the bridge.
Running across the bridge. I have decided that much like my Perfect Disney Castle Photo (which I actually 95% achieved this year--so can die happy in that regard), I need to keep running this race until "What a Wonderful World" is being played on the grand piano as I cross this bridge. I saw a youtube video someone posted of Big Sur a couple years ago and that song was playing when he ran across the bridge and it made me all teary. Sorry, but "Bridge Over Troubled Water" does not have that same effect on me.
I also regret not talking to Michael Martinez (pianist) at the expo. He was outside the main expo hall this year and I made a mental note to go back and chat with him. I was also planning on buying one of his CD's to support him. But I got so side-tracked meeting up with other runners it totally slipped my mind. He has a website but no link to buy his music. Oh, well. Another reason to go back and run this again.
Another fun part of this race was running a few miles here and there with Ron. We leapfrogged a bit until about mile 15. Ron had just run Boston last week and had the same time goal as me. I cannot imagine running Big Sur as the second marathon in a back-to-back so think he did totally awesome (he got a course PR).
The view never gets old.
I was running better than I thought I would be. Early on I averaged a sub 10:00 pace. It slowly started creeping upward but I was safely in the low-to-mid 10:00's.
Big Sur recently redid all of their mile markers. This one was one of my faves but by the time I was passing it and read it, I was too late to whip out my camera and take a photo. So I stole the image off the Big Sur website. Go check it out. You can see all the mile markers.
God bless water stops which are located on uphill segments. You can walk a little and not feel like a pansy. I sort of feel like most of the water stops were on uphills. Of course, given the nature of this course this perk is not hard to achieve.
Shetland ponies come out to cheer us on. Or to mock us with their lack of saddles to ride them to the finish.
Yeah, that's another uphill.
I took this photo to remind myself of where I was in the course photo-wise. I'm including this rather blurry monstrosity to point out that I was wearing a 5:00 pace band.
Around mile 16ish, the running stopped being fun and started to feel like work. I was still running the course pretty well. In the early part of the race I was thinking it would be cool to one day run Big Sur the way I would any other marathon -- maybe some water stop walking but otherwise just running. I was pretty surprised I had achieved this feat this far into the race (aided of course, by the cleverly placed uphill water stops). Could I possibly keep it up to the end?
I took this photo because you can see the road rising up ahead in the distance. Yep, another uphill. I had told everyone that the course is rarely flat. You are always going up or always going down. And a nice uphill is always followed by a nice downhill (and therefore, vice-versa). In fact, I stand by the statement that the course is only flat at the very top and bottom of hills and these areas last for no more than 20-25 feet. There were times I was enjoying a nice long downhill and actually got kind of nervous because this meant we were due a nice long uphill very soon.
So that whole, "don't take any walking breaks except through water stops idea" died a sudden death at about mile 18 where I started to let myself take some walking breaks up some inclines. Generally I tried to run 1/3 of a hill, walk 1/3, run 1/3.
There was a head wind that developed in the later miles. In some segments it was actually quite gusty. But overall it very welcomed because it helped to cool things down.
The return to trees signals that the end of the race is close.
My hug ladies were out again this year! I thought about how hot the day was and how sweaty everyone was and almost passed it up. But then I figured, what the heck, and gave Green Sweaty Runner Body Condom Lady a hug.
I don't remember there being so much traffic on the course during the later miles last year. Not sure if that was because I was running faster? Just reviewed last year's photos and indeed there was hardly any traffic at all at the end.
The oasis is up ahead!
The strawberries were SO yummy. I took two and they were delicious!
Only three more miles! There was one long, wicked incline around mile 22ish that was really demoralizing. And the road around here had a lot of camber which made the running tough. Or, I should say my 2/3 hill running tough.
Leaving the trees means we're home free! My gosh, it was pretty hot. I think it was probably in the low 70's by the finish time. And sunny. Very, very sunny.
Monterey across the water
I remembered the hill at mile 25. I had even warned people about it. It sort of rises up ahead out of no where and it's placement couldn't be more crappy. It doesn't look so awful in the photos, but trust me, in real life at mile 25, it looks horrible.
I looked down at my time as we neared mile 25 and realized it would be very close, but I had a chance of bringing the race home in 4:39:xx. I also realized I'd have to run sub-10:00 minute miles to do it and that the pesky hill up ahead would probably make it near impossible.
I gave it a good effort but was running so slowly up the hill I let myself walk about 1/4 of it. Goodbye, sub 4:40.
I pushed pretty hard the last rest of the way even though I knew I'd miss the 4:39 finish time.
Turning around to look back at the finish. I crossed in 4:40:35 (Photo with the 12 mile marker, I shake my fist at you!). Really, I still couldn't be happier. I wore that 5 hour pace band because it was truly my A-goal and to come in 20 minutes under that was astonishing to me. I took almost 40 minutes off of my time from last year (about 5 minutes of that was purely from not stopping to take as many photos, but the rest of it was running!).
For a brief couple of moments, I thought I'd wait a year or two to do this race again. But in my heart I know I'll be back next year. The course is tough and humbling, but it is also incredibly beautiful. I enjoy how finishing a race like this makes it easier to stomach the "hills" in other road races. After Big Sur, I often think, "You call that a hill?" during other marathons. I am also really glad I've gotten to run this course on both an overcast year and a sunny one. Though I hate warm weather running I will admit the photos are 100% more beautiful with the sun shining. Perhaps I can put in my order for sunny but COLD for next year :)
I'd like to thank all the wonderful people I was lucky to cross paths with this weekend: Aron, Ron, Alisa & hubby (who freakin' PR'ed with an obnoxiously fast time at Big Sur. Who the heck does that?), Jessica, Katie, Tara (she woke up early for us with none of the finisher's high perks), Betsy and Zoey! You guys made the race so much more special!