Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Big Sur International Marathon

The Mario Recap, Marathon #33:

Owned the hills.  Course PR.

The Full Recap, Marathon #33:

This was my fourth consecutive running of the Big Sur Marathon.

My legs have been a little tired and perhaps uninspired since Modesto.  I managed to build back up to an 18 mile long run the week before the race.  I wasn't planning on racing so I figured I didn't need any sort of long run taper and building up was preferable to cutting back.

The course was back to its usual point-to-point self.  My favorite part of this marathon is the stretch between mile 10-13.  I actually love the challenge of Hurricane Point (2 mile hill) and cruising downhill towards Bixby bridge with beautiful piano music is the perfect reward.  These miles were cut out of last year's out-and-back course so I was jazzed to get back to normal business.

I caught a bus at about 4:30 am.  I started to get a little carsick on the windy drive to the start.  Luckily I had two seats to myself so I curled up and tried to take a nap.  Can't say I slept the whole way, but I definitely cat-napped a bit which was nice.  The bus ejected me at the start at 5:45 am, 1 hour before gun time.  The start area was packed out.  People were sitting in areas which were clearly intended for walking traffic, but there was nowhere else to go.  I went over to the portapotty line which was a complete nightmare.  The portapotties are in sort of a horseshoe configuration and you couldn't tell where the end of a line was.  Worse still, lines seemed to merge with other lines further down so there was very little movement.  I even jumped ship from my first line after not budging an inch after 15 minutes.  I spent an hour in the line and was unable to meet up with friends.

Thanks to Keely for a photo of the portapotty "lines."  Sadly meeting up with her was a casualty of this madness.

Waiting at the starting area, this was definitely the warmest Big Sur start I've ever experienced.  It was not hot or even warm by any stretch of the imagination, but I was worried what would happen temperature-wise towards the end of the race.  I was wearing a tank and due to the warmer temps decided arm warmers weren't necessary this year.  I had throwaway gloves but figured I'd chuck them early on.  I saw Layla and Karin at the start and said, "At least it isn't windy this year."  Famous last words.

The downhill start always gives you a false sense of what you think you're capable of this day.  I tried to find a comfortable groove.  I was hoping for a course PR and figured I could probably manage that barring any catastrophe.  I wanted to run at a comfortable pace and was hoping to hold strong up the hills in the latter part of the race.

During the first few miles through Big Sur I started to warm up and worked up a bit of a sweat.  I tossed my gloves at about mile 4.

I was looking forward to the first views of the coast, but once we got there, it was apparent that the 2012 running of Big Sur was going to be slightly lackluster in comparison to those of the past.  There was a thick fog hugging the coastline which obscured all the beautiful views.  Along with the fog, a wicked wind appeared which immediately chilled me to the bone.  I went from worrying about extreme heat at the end to wishing for my arm warmers and really, really wishing that I hadn't tossed my gloves not 10 minutes earlier.

What an amazing ocean view!

When you can't see the awesome views, running at Big Sur devolves into a hilly course with little reward.  I tried not to let this get to me and thought about my favorite miles up ahead.

I love this mile marker

The fog came and went and we were occasionally treated to great vistas that bolstered my spirits.

The start of the 2 mile climb up to Hurricane Point

Taiko drummers to get you moving up the hill.

One stop elevator to Hurricane Point,  you can see the low-lying fog up ahead which came back with a vengeance just around the bend.

I stumbled upon a running friend when I stopped to take a photo of the mile 10 mile marker.  I had missed her at the start due to my portapotty fiasco so was so happy I got to see her for a bit.  I slowed my pace to stick with her for the next mile or so.

This year he was playing a version of the Rocky song.

I met up with Layla right after Bixby and we stuck together the next four miles or so.  That was a nice way to pass the time.  I so look forward to miles 10-13 that I often get into a bit of a rut until mile 20 at this race.  There's so much going on and then you realize that there is a lot of work left to do.

I had planned to walk while eating gels at this race (four of them in total).  I also walked when I needed to drink water at aid stations.  I have always wanted to run Big Sur like it was any other fun marathon.  In other words, walk to eat, walk to drink at stations, but otherwise keep running.  Especially at the end of this race, I usually have to resort to walking up 1/3 or 1/4 of each of the hills.  The walk break for my third gel was very welcome and I didn't think I'd have it in me to not walk up parts of the latter hills.

 Gu Roctane on the course!  Made back $2 of my entry fee.

The wicked head wind came and went and seemed to hit the hardest right as you were running up hills.  At one point, I was trudging up a hill into what felt like hurricane force winds.  I had my head tucked down and was holding onto my hat.  My nose was running terribly with all of the wind.  With the direct draft into my face I was having a hard time catching my breath (and with my runny nose breathing felt near impossible).  Most people were walking and I started to feel like I wasn't really gaining anything by trying to run.  So I walked for a little bit to regroup.  It was horrible, people. I don't hold this walk break against myself at all.

After about mile 17, I started to feel really strong.  I kept tackling hill after hill and told myself to just keep going.  I strategically planned to eat my last gel up part of a soul-crushing hill at mile 21ish and after downing that told myself that barring pre-approved walk breaks, I would run all the way to the finish.

There are some decent climbs at the end of the race but also some pretty decent descents.  I used these to cruise easy and recover.

My hug lady was not out at mile 23 this year :(  But I did grab some yummy strawberries at the strawberry aid station.

I have always wanted to run up the hill at mile 25.  It isn't so long or steep or terrible, but it has always gotten the best of me.  One year I made it up 3/4 of the way before giving up.  As I saw it rise ahead of me I told myself this was the year I would make it up the hill.

I popped up that hill and over and knew I was home free.  There is a slight uphill grade after the mile 25 hill but it isn't as sinister as that last big rise.  I kicked up my pace just one little notch to get myself to the finish.  The last mile and a half were getting pretty warm and I was thankful for the chillier conditions on the coast.

I crossed with an official time of 4:27:xx.  That is a 13 minute course PR and over an hour faster than last year's I-sprained-my-ankle-and-couldn't-run-for-three-weeks-but-I-think-I'll-do-the-marathon-anyway showing.

I am not so proud of my time per se, as much as I am proud with the way I ran. I have always wanted to run Big Sur in such a way that I dictated the terms of my walking.  I wasn't sure it was even possible for me to run the course this way.  I think I have faster Big Sur times in me, but I'm not sure I'll ever run it feeling as strong.

I'm a very different runner than I was at my course debut in 2009 (5:19).  In 2010, I ran three marathons the month before Big Sur and had a marathon to tackle the week after (4:40).  In 2011, I sprained my ankle and had to take 3 weeks off from running before the race (5:29).  So I was pretty sure I could course PR this year but I was fairly surprised at how strong I felt.  This course usually humbles me mentally but I left it this year feeling as if it wasn't so hard. The hills didn't seem as long or as steep as they have in the past.

Love this road sign at the finish.

I've run Big Sur when it was overcast and windy, brilliantly sunny, and now bipolar fog/sun/wind.  Fog is definitely the least desirable of the conditions because I really think the views are the strength of this race.  Even though lots of the views were obscured, I still came away from this race loving it as much as the first time and eager to run again next year.

The shirt this year is a half-fail.  Exact same logo as last year. But I like the snazzy color and the XS WOMEN'S CUT fit, and the v-neck.


Cate said...

Hurricane Point and the bridge were my favorite parts of the course too! I was kind of let down after those miles were over, especially with that crazy wind.
Congratulation on your course PR!

Crafty Green Poet said...

Wow, an amazing place to do a marathon! Mario does an excellent recap!

Rabbits' Guy said...

Great report - I felt the pain!
A good time - that is a killer and I liked your strategy. It must also seem like a really good training run - all those hills!

A said...

Gosh, I am so sad I missed this... you did great! Congrats on the course PR!

Rachel said...

i'm so jealous that you've not only experienced this race, but done so four times! that fact also happens to be quite impressive for such a challenging course.

congrats on the huge course PR! that is definitely a strong finish time considering the course. one day i must get to big sur!!