Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Big Sur International Marathon

Marathon #43:

After Disney I went on a very short test run the week after the race and decided that my ankle definitely needed an extended break before any regular running.  I took 3 weeks off.  When I got injured in December I got very serious (finally!!) about core/strength/balance training.  I made it my goal to every day do one thing for my running that wasn't running. I can proudly say that I have been doing all those things regularly for the last 5 months.  I don't know if it is my age, my own physical quirks, or the accumulation of a myriad of injuries over the years but I think I am safely in a place where just running won't work for me anymore.

I got back to running after my break and my ankle was a lot better.  I eased into it with run/walks and every other day runs.  My ankle would occasionally talk to me but it generally didn't hurt during or immediately after runs.  With Big Sur looming I was unfortunately forced to increase distance faster than I would have liked.  I worked up to a 9 mile long run and then switched to a run-walk strategy for all of my long runs through race day.  There was no way I was going to be trained to run 26.2 by April and with Big Sur being such a difficult course I knew walking was inevitable.  So I decided to go into it with a set strategy of run-walking and to practice that on my long runs.

My mileage was pretty low. I didn't hit even 20 miles a week in February and in March/April capped off with weekly mileage in the low 30s.  Hardly marathon shape.  I got two 16 mile runs done utilizing a run 6 minute, walk 2 minute strategy.  The weeks before race day my ankle was definitely getting cranky and I had to really baby it and cross my fingers.  I did try to run as many hills as possible to get prepared for Big Sur.  While I'll normally add mileage onto runs at my favorite (flat) Stow Lake I instead would run repeats up and down MLK in Golden Gate Park to get more hills whenever I could.

Three days before the race I dropped a glass bowl onto my left foot from freezer height.  In my alarm to get my toddler away from the shards of glass I ended up slicing my foot up a little. The cuts bled a lot but were thankfully pretty shallow.  I was a little concerned about them opening up during the race.  I had a bruise on the top of my foot but I didn't think it would bother me during the race.  Famous last words.

My whole family headed down to Monterey the day before the race. I have been lucky enough to secure a spot every year since my son was born and it is starting to feel a little bit like a family tradition.  I have such vivid snapshots of my son on each Big Sur day and it a benchmark for me to marvel at how much he grows every year.

The expo this year felt more disorganized than in years past.  They were squished into a smaller ballroom since the normal location is still under renovation and this might have been one factor in my feeling.  After the major success of KT Tape at Disney I was hoping there would be a KT Tape booth at Big Sur.  The race was unresponsive to my queries of whether or not KT Tape was a vendor but like an oasis in a desert they magically appeared as the very last vendor I encountered at the expo.  Unlike Disney where you had to fork over $5 for a taping they were doing it for free at Big Sur!

There was also physical therapist at a booth talking to people and I stopped to chat to him for a bit.  I would love to find a run-focused PT to get ideas from to help me stay injury free.  He videoed me doing some single leg squats and I realized that while improved, I have a way to go to improve my stability.  I had brought my CD from a previous year for Michael Martinez, the pianist, to sign but I forgot it in the glove box of the car.  So that will have to wait for another year.  My one major disappointment:  Haribo was a sponsor this year.  From social media I know they gave GIANT bags of gummy bears to people who stayed at the host hotel with a cute little note.  We weren't at the host hotel but I was hoping to get a photo with the Haribo bear.  But he was no where to be seen :(

For the first time I stayed at the Embassy Suites.  I've stayed at a neighboring hotel before and utilized their race morning shuttle bus.  With my son being older I thought it would be nice to have a suite so that I would be able to get ready in a separate room and not wake him.  This worked out great and having extra room for him to run around in was much appreciated.  We could also put him down for his naps and still be able to hang out in the other room without having to be too quiet.  I can't wait for him to be old enough where staying in hotels won't be a logistical headache but this year things couldn't have gone better with the suite.

You cannot spectate at Big Sur because the road is closed to most traffic.  So generally the only way for family to see you is at the finish.  With a toddler in hand I wanted to give my husband the most accurate finish predication time possible.  Last year I was a little optimistic with my finishing time and he was worried about getting parking and he ended up waiting a long time since he got there early.  I didn't want him to have to wait this year.  He said to give him the best case scenario time.  I figured that time was probably my 16 miler run-walk pace extrapolated out to 26.2 miles.  This turned out to be 4:42.  Given this was based off of a 16 mile distance that wasn't nearly as hilly as the race I figured this was a highly unlikely finish time.  But I gave that to my husband and told him best case 4:42 but most likely 10-15 minutes after that.  I looked up my time from last year figuring I had been in better shape last year and that was a 4:48.

The calculations and note I left for my husband so he could time getting to the finish line.

I made two very last minute decisions on race morning:  1) Should I wear the ankle compression sleeve I had been training in over the KT Tape (the Big Sur tape job was not nearly as supportive feeling as the Disney tape job and I was doubting it would help the same)? and 2) Should I wear a new pair of shorts (new brand in fact) I had never worn for a single mile?  I decided to wear the ankle sleeve, figuring it was easy enough to take off and stash in my Orange Mud pack if things went amiss.  The shorts if they failed would pose a bigger challenge but I decided to BodyGlide copiously and cross my fingers.

I snuck quietly out of the suite without waking the toddler and headed down to the shuttle bus pick up right in front of my hotel's doors.  It was chilly outside but definitely not cold.  I got onto the bus fairly quickly and a gentleman asked if the seat next to me was taken.  I said it wasn't and he sat down next to me.  Strangely, he had other friends sitting across the aisle and within a couple of minutes he went to sit next to his friend who had an open seat next to him. I have no idea why he didn't just sit with his friend to begin with.  But bless him for his indecision because the net result was I had the ENTIRE ROW TO MYSELF.  This is pretty much me winning the lottery a second time at Big Sur.  In my older age I suffer more and more from motion sickness and the long windy bus ride the start often makes me nauseous.  The best way to remedy this is for me to lie down which is impossible if you have someone sitting next to you.

Hard to tell, but that's the EMPTY seat next to me with my drop bog sitting on top of it.  Big Sur GOLD.

The bus was pretty quiet overall.  There's a point you pass the finish line and you think to yourself, "Right, I'll be running back the entire distance from here on out."  Big Sur is the only race I have done which shuttles you to the start along the entire actual race route.  I contemplated the absurdity of paying someone to drive you out 26.2 miles, drop you off, and make you run back.

We were on a fancy tour bus and after a while busses making the return trip started passing us.  There were tons of yellow school busses so we got lucky with our plush seats.  Once we passed the Bixby bridge at mile 13 I lay down on the seats and closed my eyes.  I didn't sleep but I also didn't get sick so overall a win for the shuttle bus this year.

The bus usually passes the start line, drives a bit farther down the road and then turns around to drop you off at the start on its return trip.  A bridge south of the start was demolished this year so instead of doing that the busses dropped us off 0.5 miles north of the start line and we had to walk the rest of the way. The one thing I'll say about this experience is that you don't realize how downhill the start is until you have to walk up the hill to get there. It was chilly enough that I wrapped my throwaway space sheet around my legs as I walked, but it definitely wasn't toe/finger numbing cold.

The start staging area

The race has coffee and bagels at the start (one year they even had instant hot chocolate!).  I sort of find this strange because I don't think I would be willing to put all of my eggs in that basket and say that I would plan to rely on a bagel at the start.  But it is nice perk.  I was actually tummy rumbly hungry on the bus so thought about trying to get my hands on a bagel to supplement my usual pre-race Clif Bar. But when I arrived at the start I decided to jump into a portapotty line instead of what appeared to be the line for refreshments.

Packed with people

The lines weren't so terrible especially if you walked all the way to the back.  Afterwards I found a curb to sit on.  It seemed easier than usual to find a place to sit, maybe because it was a warmer year and people weren't hunkered down as much.  As usual I waited for most of the runners to head up to the start line and then jumped into a portapotty for one last line-free visit.

With my loitering, it seemed this year I was the last person to leave the staging area. I dumped all of my throwaways into my gear check bag and chucked that into the truck.  The one awesome thing about Big Sur if the gear check truck is right by the start line entrance so if it isn't terribly cold it is easy to check and reuse on a later date anything you brought.  I wasn't even chilly after I took off my jacket.

Cue tumbleweeds

I waited for the 4:45 pace group to go by during wave 2 and jumped into the race. I self seeded myself honestly based on my predicted finish time but I probably should have left a little sooner.  I forgot to take into account the fact that my pace was based on a run-walk strategy. This means my running pace was faster than those around me and I found it incredibly frustrating to hit my stride.  There was so much side to side movement as I tried to get around people the first few miles.

Watching the early wave depart.

Even more frustrating was that I found myself leap-frogging with the 5 hour pace group for a few miles.  This totally confused me because they weren't supposed to leave until 5 minutes after the 4:45 group (Big Sur has three waves and the 5:00 group starts off wave 3) and I was moving faster than a 5:00 pace.  They were a pretty big group and the leader was doing annoying army chants and I just couldn't deal.  They were walking 30 seconds every mile and with my more frequent walking I just couldn't shake them.  Again, this confused me because I was not moving overall at a 5:00 pace.  I skipped the first aid station and then I skipped the walk break after that station to be sure I left them behind for good.

A person in a group of runners by me yelled, "Why do we run hills?" And the rest of the group yelled back, "So we can run Big Sur!"  Must have been their training mantra.

It seemed so much more congested in the early miles, but this may just be my imagination.  I remember thinking this last year, too.  It took about 5 miles to open up and for me to relax into my groove.  In the early miles all of my walk breaks seemed to occur right as I crested a hill which was mildly annoying.  I took my first gel at mile 5.

At mile 8 we were hit with an awesome headwind. It wasn't nearly as terrible as last year but it was definitely a headwind and definitely made it hard work.  I shook my fist at the announcers who earlier at the start had said it was going to be a perfect day with no wind. Liars!  The wind as an obstacle ceased at around mile 12 so the announcers were back in my corner again.

I passed a runner who was running with a group of friends.  This guy was carrying a DSLR camera.  A DSLR camera at a marathon.  I hoped his friends were grateful about all the awesome photos they were getting.  I also wondered how he got stuck with the short stick to be carrying that thing around his neck.

The second guy from left, that's a DSLR camera looped around him that he is cradling in his left arm.  The entire group of runners in red would stop for photos that he seemed to be happily taking.

At mile 9 the descent to the base of Hurricane Point started.  I LOVE miles 9-14 so much. I live for these miles.  The hill going up to mile 9 is one of the first real hills and can feel a little rough, but right as you crest it the views open up and the anticipation of Hurricane Point and Bixby just fires me up. These miles just fly by and I consider them free miles because I blink and they are over.  I decided to skip the walk breaks running down to the base of Hurricane Point.

Hurricane Point winds up that hill ahead

This year it struck me that the taiko drummers seemed to all be women!  I am not sure if this is always the case or who showed up today but that was neat.

We started the ascent to Hurricane Point which is a solid 2 mile uphill climb.  My impressions from being out of marathon shape the year:  The first third was rough, the second third highly runnable, the last third was rough.  But I kept with my run-walk plan and only walked at scheduled times.  I took myself second gel at the closest walk break after mile 10.

Up, up, up!

At Big Sur, sometimes it is a good idea to look back at where you came from.

Still heading up

I had planned to stop and get a picture with the Hurricane Point sign this year but there was an ambulance parked right behind it and I didn't think that was going to be the most stop-worthy photo.  There is usually a short line to take pictures by the sign and this year there as nobody stopping so I guess the ambulance is a good photo deterrent.

The top of Hurricane Point is at mile 12 and after that you have an awesome downhill mile to Bixby.  I again skipped the walk breaks on the descent.  I had started the race with 3 gels and had planned to pick up the fourth at one of the aid stations.  The aid station around mile 12 was the first to hand out gels.  I knew the available flavors beforehand and was searching for the caramel gel.  But it was never offered and by the time I realized that flavor wasn't at this station I wasn't about to turn around and double back to pick up another flavor.  So I mentally made a note that at the mile 18 gel station I had to be sure to grab something.

Running down towards Bixby

Hello, Lover.

The first piano song which was playing as I started crossing the bridge was Con Te Partiro which is a song I love and I was satisfied and happy it was my song this year.  But as I approached the halfway point of the bridge my life as a Big Sur runner was made whole as Michael Martinez started playing "What a Wonderful World."  Years ago, probably after my first running of the race or even shortly before I saw a video of a man crossing Bixby during the race while "What a Wonderful World" was playing.  It moved me to tears and I decided I couldn't die a happy runner until I experienced that, too.  Last year at the expo I even asked Michael to throw it into the rotation a few times.

I got choked up at the beauty of the moment.  I had planned a very quick in and out departure from the piano this year but I stopped to film Michael playing and couldn't leave until the song was over.  As I headed away he started playing "Hallelujah" which was my piano song from another year and one I also enjoy.  Three awesome songs, including the one song to rule them all :)  Day, year, life MADE.

You can see in the video the full on people pollution at this point in the race. My first running I got a photo with Michael, the piano, and that beautiful backdrop with no other runner in sight. I doubt that is possible ever again unless you are very fast or very slow.

I always ride the Bixby high for another mile after the bridge which is conveniently downhill.  And then the real work starts.  The highlights of the race are over after these miles and the hills and pain starts to set in.

I knew I had lost a lot of time stopping for videos/photos at the bridge so I cut back a lot of photos the rest of the race.  I tried to take them on the go or when I was walking.

I had planned to take my next gel at mile 15 but they were handing out bananas at that aid station so I decided I would hold off on the gel until mile 16.  I was drinking lots of water and even supplementing with Gatorade at the aid stations. In my former runner life I used to run with Gatorade so I knew it would work for me.

It was a pretty warm day and the sun was out in full force. That headwind which had been pesky for a few miles earlier in the race became the MVP of the day as it kept me cool enough that I never melted into a puddle of despair. Without the wind which was more of a strong breeze at the end, it would have been a pretty miserable hot day.

In the latter half of the race the walk breaks seemed to synch better with the hills where the downhill portions seemed to occur when I was running and the walking portions hit uphill grades.  At mile 17 as I was running uphill, I got a very sudden, very localized stabbing pain in my left foot right where the glass bowl had hit a few days earlier.  My first thought was that I had damaged the bone with the bowl impact and 17 miles of running had fractured something.  It honestly hurt that bad.  For a half a mile it was a little touch and go where it would stab for a few steps here or there and then subside.  Eventually the stabbing pain stopped and my foot just ached dully like a bruise in that area especially the last 5 miles of the race.

They had my preferred gel flavor at a mile 18 aid station and I made sure to grab it for my planned gel at mile 20.  But before mile 20 came I had another banana at another stop and Gatorade and then I knew strawberries would be at mile 23 so I ended up not having that fourth gel during the race.

As a parent, I totally sympathize.

Hard to tell, but the last significant hill of the course.  And it is a doozy.

The last really big hill is at mile 22 and I was delighted to get to the top of that one.  There is a very long downhill after the mile 22 hill and I skipped walk breaks coming down the other side.  The whole race I stuck with my 6:2 run:walk ratio.  I did skip some walking breaks but if I did that I just ran 14 minutes, then picked up the next walk break.  I never walked if I was supposed to be running.

Signs of civilization

The famous strawberry stop


When I got to mile 24 I considered trying to run all the way to the finish.  I got to mile 25 and the last hill on the course appeared.  It isn't a terribly big or long hill by San Francisco standards but it looks intimidating as you approach it and the placement in the race is pretty insulting.  As I approached the hill one of the race directors was standing there cheering.  He said "That's it!  I'm out of hills!" which gave me a chuckle.  I decided before starting the hill that I wasn't going to run all the way up it. I took my last walking break on part of the hill.  This is my 7th time running Big Sur and I have only managed to run up this hill without walking twice.

I switched my watch over to time and saw 4:3X.  I realized that I was way under 5 hours and was going to finish pretty close to my best case scenario 4:42!  As I approached the finish I started scanning the crowd to try to find my husband and son.  I heard him yell to me right before the finish and I blew them a kiss before crossing the finish line.

Turned around and shot this after I crossed the finish.  That's a guy proposing.

The medal greeters.

They have liquid aid stations set up right after the finish and I chugged 2 cups of Gatorade and 1 cup of water right away. I was pretty thirsty. I regretted walking on the mile 25 hill a bit, but my husband said he had arrived at his spot only minutes before I came through so I figured if I hadn't walked I might have missed them at the finish line.

I finished in 4:44 and given the video and photos stops along the course, I figure that translates into roughly my best case finish time of 4:42.  I was actually pretty shocked I came so close to that time.  I didn't think I'd keep my 16 miler pace up for the full 26.2, especially given the hills.  At mile 21/22 I was certainly ready to be done.  I barely maxed out at 30ish miles a week in my training and wasn't marathon trained.  But with the run/walk strategy I just kept ticking and my running pace held up pretty well the whole way.  This was my third fastest Big Sur which isn't necessarily saying a lot but for the amount of preparation I put into it, I'm pleased with that.

I surveyed the damage to my foot after the race.  There had been a bruise there the day after I dropped the bowl on my foot, but race morning as I put on my compression sleeve and Body Glided the toes I don't recall even noticing a bruise.  But after the race I had a very nice bruise on the top of my foot and some swelling in the area.  I was a little concerned that I had damaged the bone but I did end up seeing a podiatrist who assured me it wasn't broken.  Phew.  But I still find it odd that I had that stabbing pain so suddenly in the race.

I didn't really practice before the race but I also certainly made strides with my GoPro which I used to get videos and photos.  After the photo failure of Disney I almost returned it, but it fits so easily into my Orange Mud pocket that is accessible I decided to give it another go and will keep it for future races.

I prefer my marathons overcast and cool but I have to say Big Sur really shines in the bright sun.  We really lucked out that the winds, while pesky for a few miles, ended up being just the right strength to keep us cool without slowing us down.

I wore my glovers this race (basically arm warmers that only go halfway up your arms) so that I would have someplace to wipe snot off my face and for some UV protection for my hands.  They worked great for this and I'll do it again.  When Big Sur gets windy you need something for the inevitable snot issue.

The next time I run I want to try to go behind the piano to get a photo with Bixby.  I saw someone's photo of this after the race and I don't think I've ever tried that location because I'm so dazzled by the piano.

Once again with my tardiness of getting this report posted, I already know that I've been accepted in the lottery for the 2018 running.  This race has my heart and I'll attempt to run it every year they take me.  You are squandering your running life if you don't do it at least once.


Jen said...

Great post and that's a fantastic time, especially given your training and walk/run strategy! I was also concerned about motion sickness during the bus ride when I ran Big Sur -- I managed to sit in the very front aisle seat and look forward the whole time, which I think helped.

Angela Knotts said...

Thanks for writing such detailed race reports! Taking all the notes. Also I'll probably bug you more in the spring to make sure I learn all the tips & tricks. ;)

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