Monday, September 12, 2016

Big Sur International Marathon

Marathon #41:

This was my sixth running of the Big Sur Marathon.  After Modesto my body needed a break and I wasn't able to give it one due to the timing between the races.  Modesto was a little too far out to count as a last long run for Big Sur.  I caught a nasty bug from my son immediately after the race.  Modesto was on Sunday and by Tuesday I had a fever for the first time in years.  This forced me to take a week off from running entirely.  For 2-3 weeks after that I still felt extremely sluggish when running. I am not sure if it was Modesto or being sick or a combo but if I could have taken time off I probably wouldn't have run more than a few miles here and there.  Instead, after a week off I jumped back into 6-10 mile runs pushing my son twice a week and built up to a 17 miler on my long run day.  I did drop the fourth day of running with speed work I had been doing up until Modesto.  I started to feel a little more like myself two weeks before Big Sur but I went into it looking forward to some down time afterwards.

We drove down to Monterey a tad earlier than in years past so I wouldn't be stressed about making it by expo closing to get my bib.  They are renovating the usual expo location at the hotel so it was located outside in giant tents this year.  I was disappointed at the official merchandise (as usual) so I didn't grab anything.  I stopped for a photo with Michael Martinez, the pianist.  I told him my life's dream was for him to be playing "What a Wonderful World" as I cross Bixby so if he could please throw it into the rotation tomorrow that would be awesome.  He said he would.  Spoiler:  It wasn't playing when I was there.  I had planned to buy his CD if he had a new one this year but he didn't.

We had early dinner reservations so that my son would be human while we ate so the expo was a quick stop.  For the first time I stayed at a hotel across the street from the host hotel and I think I may do this more often in the future. I thought I would have to walk to the garages for the bus which would have been totally fine, but they surprised me with a bus ticket at the Mariott which was just one block away.

My bus ticket was for 4-4:15 am departure so I left my hotel about 3:50 am.  A couple of years ago I got totally motion sick on the drive down to the start and the only thing that saved me was the fact I had a whole seat to myself and could curl up and lie down.  So I'm always a little nervous about this now.  I was hoping to be at the front of the bus so I could see out the front window to keep me from feeling sick, but I ended up towards the middle and there was no chance of having your own seat as they were packing the busses full.

The woman I sat next to wasn't particularly chatty, but that was okay because I wasn't in a chatty mood, either.  We talked briefly and when she found out I had run the race 5 times previously asked if I had any advice.  I told her two things:  1. Enjoy the views  2. Every up has an equal down.  She also asked about the wind and I told her that it had been really windy in the past but the nice thing is the course meanders and you get some protection from the wind every now and then.  I felt a tiny bit sick for a few moments but nothing terrible and I made it to the start okay.  I was trying to think if there is any other race that busses you to the start while you ride the entire actual course and I couldn't think of another that I have done.

Portapotty humor
The start area was not as horrible as it has been in the past but it was definitely very congested.  I do not think they can increase the size of the field purely for the limit of how many bodies they can cram in the start area.  The portapotty lines actually went through areas of people who had sat down on the ground.  It was pretty hard to find a spot to sit.  It wasn't nearly as cold this year as it has been in the past and I second guessed my choice of wearing a long sleeve shirt.  I thought it was going to be a windy day but the announcers were saying that there was very little wind up on their perch and that it was going to be a perfect day to run.

The portapotty lines weren't so long and I used them three times since they were accessible. They encourage people to get up on the road very early but I've learned to linger as long as possible.  There is a gear check bag right by the start line and I usually check my sweats to reuse again. That is one nice thing about this race. You can bring things you want to use at the start vs. just things you want to have at the finish.  At Disney, for example, gear check is probably a mile from the corrals so you have to give your bag up pretty early before the race starts.

The crowd heading up to the start.  Note the check bag truck to the left.
I took off somewhere in the middle of wave 2 once the 4:30 pace group had passed me.  There was a man dribbling a basketball and I prayed he would not be around me the entire race.  He mentioned to someone that he was thinking of a 6:00 finish so I tried to ignore the sound of the bouncing ball and figured sooner or later he'd be a memory.  The early miles in the trees were uneventful but once we hit the coast the weather for the day was revealed.  Cloudy and WINDY.  Man alive, I don't know what those announcers were smoking but it was very, very windy and hitting you full force in the face.  We passed a flagpole at one point and a man running by me said "There's a picture!" and stopped to take a photo of the flag whipping full horizontal in the wind.

Hard to see, but "San Francisco 143."  I always think "I love you, San Francisco" whenever I pass this sign.
I do recall thinking in the early miles that the course seemed a lot more congested than it had in the past. I don't know if this is just my memory playing tricks on me or an actual thing.  I was running near a pace group which might have made things feel more crowded but I definitely felt more boxed in than in the past.  I walked at the second water stop to eat a gel at around mile 5 and after that things really opened up for the rest of the race.

The hill at mile 9 struck me as being harder than I remembered, but there was a nice descent on the other side which swept me towards my absolute favorite miles in marathoning.  The road winds down to the Taiko drummers at the base of Hurricane Point. I was straining in the blasting wind to hear the drums but it was very hard this year. I stopped for a photo op with the drummers then buckled up for the 2 mile climb up to Hurricane Point.

My strategy for the race was to walk when eating gels, walk through aid stations, and run easy the rest of the time until that became impossible.  I had planned to take my gels at miles 5, 10, 15, and 20.  Mile 10 is just past the beginning of Hurricane Point so I took a nice breather there.  I recalled all the false summits to the top and at last year's race when I told a poor guy who asked that I thought the summit was just around the bend, d'oh.  The top of the hill is firmly at mile 12 so until you are there, you aren't there yet!

The wind was wicked.  Even non-windy years Hurricane Point tends to be windy.  I cinched my hat tighter to prevent it from blowing away (I wore my favorite, now forever unavailable vintage JackRabbit hat) as I had seen a few people chasing their hats down the road earlier in the race.  Then down the other side of the hill towards Bixby Bridge.  There are always people agape during the descent stopping on the side of the road to get photos with the bridge.  Whenever there was a break from the wind I tried to hear the piano playing.

It is a very short video, but you can get a sense of how windy it was by looking at people's clothes (check out the guy in the white shirt taking the photo)

I got a little choked up as I approached Bixby. I love, love, love this marathon and I kept reminding myself how lucky I was to be here this year.  I thought about how far my running has come in the past year and how grateful I was for all of that.  With the lottery nothing is guaranteed and I kept telling myself to savor every view and footstep.

This year "Linus and Lucy" was playing as I crossed the bridge.  The song always makes me a little sad because I regret not using it as our recessional song at our wedding.  But now hopefully instead of that thought I'll think of Bixby whenever I hear it playing.  I stopped for a photo with the piano which is almost a futile thing.  My first year I ran I have a photo with the piano and pianist with a beautiful backdrop and not one other runner in the photo with us.  This year, there were people taking photos with him from both sides and the photos I got are just not special.  Imagine 6 people taking photos with the piano at the same time with people standing behind it taking pictures of the scenery.  I think this is a direct result of camera cellphones increasing the number of people with cameras on the course.  Back in 2009 most people had to carry their digital cameras and I guess not as many people were willing to do that. Or people got rude. I tend to think it is the first.

The situation around the piano does not look too crowded above, but all the photos of me and the piano have people taking selfies from every angle all around me.
I also grabbed some shots with the scenery farther down the road.  For about a mile after Bixby the scenery remains magical and there is a downhill that makes your Bixby high give you wings.  I couldn't believe I had already run 14 miles.  Then the harder miles come and the scenery drops a notch in impressiveness.  I buckled on my big girl pants for the working part of this marathon.

The wind was pretty brutal and I was hoping my busmate wasn't shaking her fist at me for what I had said.  I mean, it is true that the course winds a bit and the hills will occasionally block some of the headwind but most of the time it just felt like you were running straight into it.  At one point we wound around a hill that protected us and my pace immediately felt so much easier even though we were going uphill.  For a short stretch there were some scattered drops and I thought for a few minutes it might actually drizzle.  That coupled with the wind made me happy with my long sleeve shirt selection for the day. It wasn't a cold cutting wind, but it was a little chilly.  I even saw one runner pick up a discarded sweatshirt on the side of the road to use.

At mile 16 when I stopped for a photo-op I tried to text my husband to let him know my ETA but there was no cell service. I was getting worried about him having to wait at the finish with a toddler for so long but there was no way for me to let him know.  A woman was giving out free hugs at mile 18.  In the past the hug station was at mile 23 or so, but I took it when I could get it.  Always fun.

I had read a previous race report the night before the race that there had been a hill at mile 21.  So I saved my last gel for mile 21 so that I could take a little bit of a walk break there.  I remembered that there was one last big hill on the course and for some reason I thought that mile 21 hill was it.  Turns out, the last big uphill is at mile 22.

At this point I was walking a portion of the uphills and starting to fret more and more about my husband and toddler at the finish line.  I had been leap frogging for most of the race with a gentleman.  I remembered him because he had the quote, "Life is short but running makes it feel longer" written on the back of his shirt.  At one point he passed me as I was walking uphill and made a comment to me.  Then later when I started running on the downhill I caught up to him and he struck up a conversation.

Honestly, I wasn't looking for a chat buddy.  I was engrossed in savoring every bit of this race on the chance I didn't get accepted again for 10 years.  But the conversation was so good I couldn't not run with him.  This guy had run every single Big Sur Marathon. He was also on the Board of Directors.  It was so neat to ask him questions and pick his brain about the race and living in the area.  I have a dream goal of one day retiring in Pacific Grove. This man was living my dream.

Up until running with me he had been doing run-walk intervals (which explained all the leap-frogging we had done) but he had decided to run it in the last 4 miles to the finish.  And because I was enjoying our conversation I ran those last 4 miles, too.  We minimally walked through aid stations or not at all.  I even ran up the entire mile 25 hill (which isn't so big but feels like a mountain at that point) for only the second time ever.  My race had been spiraling more and more into a run-walk finish but having a friend to run with gave me new wings and I felt great.  I read somewhere once that the people you meet on a race course feel like lifetime friends for the miles you share and this was definitely the case.

As we approached the finish line I saw my husband and son off to the side cheering.  It is always the best boost to get over the finish line.  We finished at 4:48. Not the best Big Sur time, not the slowest Big Sur time, but definitely a memorable finish.

My husband actually made the above sign for the 2015 Big Sur Marathon, my first marathon post-baby.  But at the finish he couldn't figure out how to hold the sign AND the 9 month old so it stayed rolled up under the stroller.  And believe it or not I never saw it.  So he brought it for the 2016 race.  That is our son's 9 month old (1 year and 9 months old at this year's race)"signature" at the bottom right.

The shirt this year looks just like the 2011 shirt which is a bit of a let down. Big Sur used to do really nice graphics on their shirts.  Admittedly, they weren't great for sweating because they are like giant plastic patches on the back of the shirt, but they were so pretty.  They could definitely up their graphic design a bit if only to be able to read the words easier.

As always, my favorite marathon did not disappoint.  I was told by my new friend that he thought this year's wind was one of the top 3 windiest years at Big Sur.  I ran another year which was pretty windy which makes me suspicious that I have run for 2 of the 3 windiest years.  At any rate, that bit of news made me feel like quite the survivor.

I am happy to report that I was accepted in the lottery to run in 2017 so I'll be back again next year.  I had no clue this was the case until my lively chat during the race, but the more times you have run Big Sur, the better your odds in the Loyalty lottery.  I am hoping to keep on adding finishes until I cross some magical guaranteed accepted threshold.  This is the one I want to run every year until I don't run these any more.


Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Congratulations on another memorable marathon!

Angela said...

Great race report!

The wind always terrifies me, but if I ever get up the guts to enter the lottery, this will be super helpful information!

Rabbits' Guy said...

Great report! It was like I was right there instead of feet up having a hot chocolate reading it!

Alyssa said...

Well done -- again :) You make me sort of want to sign up for another go around :)

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