Sunday, September 13, 2015

Big Sur International Marathon

Marathon #38:

I signed up for the 2015 Big Sur Marathon on July 15, 2014 less than 24 hours before I went into labor.  For the 2015 race they decided to open up a few different days of registration due to a 24 hour sell-out the year before.  July 15th was the first day and all the available slots for this day sold out in just a few minutes.  I was so delighted to have nabbed a spot.

Fast forward to my postpartum days and my return to running was anything but smooth or quick.  My post-baby race goal was supposed to be a slow and meandering Disney 2015 race weekend in January and I had to totally scrap that idea.  When I was pregnant my lower back used to kill me.  Postpartum I had a repeat MRI to be sure that my pelvic stress fractures had healed since I was still getting some discomfort that was eerily similar to what I used to feel when it was fractured.  The MRI showed that my pelvis was healed (woo-hoo!) but my doctor commented on the fact that I had swollen SI joints on both sides.

During pregnancy your body releases relaxin which loosens ligaments and allows the pelvis to open during childbirth.  With my pelvis all loose and wonky my SI joints were experiencing a greater range of movement which caused the swelling.  If I was a couch potato just giving birth would have alleviated my SI joint pain.  But if I went on even a 1-2 mile walk my lower back pain would flare up again.  I've been told that it could take 6 months or even until I stopped breastfeeding for the effects of relaxin to 100% leave my body.  It took about 7-8 months for things to get back to relative normalcy but even today longer runs still make my pelvis achy.

Up until January I was hoping to be able to train for Big Sur as I would a normal non-goal marathon. I decided with less than four months to go and no running in sight if I wanted to experience the race I had to be open to the idea of walking.  If I could get to the Bixby bridge I didn't care if I got swept due to time limits.  With the way Big Sur sold out I knew going forward a spot in the race wasn't guaranteed and who knew when I would have a chance to be there again.  Any other race I would have passed but I was willing to walk to mile 13 and get pulled off the course just to experience what I could.  I love this race so much and the thought of missing it another year -- what could be my final year with an entry -- was not an option.

So I started walking.  I think I was occasionally doing 4 mile walks with the baby and that weekend I went out and walked 6 miles.  The next weekend I walked 10.  At the same time I slowly worked on my running.  I would do 30 second running segments with walk breaks.  After that didn't break me I did 45 second run segments, then 60 second run segments and so on.  Eventually I was able to start doing some running on my longer distance day. I started off running for a minute every mile.  Then a minute every half mile.  I eventually settled on a run 4:00, walk 2:00 pattern for my longer run.

The first 10 mile walk.  It took forever.  Also, meet my new running watch, Gaston Garmin.

I did two short run-walks during the week (capped off at about 4 miles each) and one long run-walk on the weekend (built up to one 20 miler).  I also walked pushing my son in the stroller twice a week.  We usually went about 4 miles but occasionally did up to six.  I tried to find as many hills as I could on our walking days together.

By the time race day came I knew I could generally keep a pace that would allow me to finish before the 6 hour cut-off.  The big unknown was that Big Sur is a fairly challenging course and I wasn't sure how my walk-run plan was going to hold up over the day.  I may end up walking all the ups and running the downs.  But then running the downs is actually tougher on your body and I wasn't sure my pelvis was going to stand that.   I decided to have my watch vibrate instead of doing an audible alert so that it wouldn't be too distracting if my run-walk plan went down the drain.  I was going to stick to the plan from the beginning and keep it up as long as possible.

I almost didn't take a camera with me during the race.  I had done this race four times previously and stopped to take photos of EVERYTHING and figured I had documented what I wanted at some point in the past.  With the cut-off being an issue I didn't want to waste any time with photos.  I did end up taking my phone so that I would be able to call my husband if I got swept and I figured I couldn't miss just the one photo opportunity with Michael Martinez by the Bixby Bridge.

One thing I was nervous about was pumping for as long as possible as close to the start of the race as possible.  I left my hotel before 4 am and wasn't going to see my son again until 1 pm.  If you've ever breastfed you can understand my anxiety.  For my weekend long runs I was able to nurse him and leave right after to run.  But at the race there was going to be a 3 hour or so delay between when I left him and the start of the race.  I reached out to the race and they allowed me to sit in the cab of one of the sweat bag trucks to pump.  When I got to the start area I made a beeline to the portapotties to use them before meeting up with the race director to find the truck.

Years ago I stood in line for 1.5 hours to get to a portapotty.  I wanted to pump for half an hour so if this happened again I was going to have to choose between having to pee the first few miles or trucking extra milk 26.2 miles.  Luckily I got into a fast moving line and was in a portapotty within a few minutes.

It wasn't terribly cold this year but another perk of being in the truck was that I didn't have to sit in the chilly air outside.  I stayed in the truck as long as possible before heading to the start.

I fired up my watch and started off doing 4:00 run, 2:00 walk from the very beginning.  It was tempting to run a little longer in the beginning but I hadn't trained that way and was going to do what I knew worked.

The weather this year -- beautiful blue skies and a nice head wind.  I was happy the views would be great this year. I ran once in fog and it was really disappointing.  This race feels like an old friend after running it so many times.  With my lack of running it the last couple of years it felt like an old friend you hadn't seen in a while.

There were a few times I would be approaching an aid station as a walk break would start and I would continue running a little longer knowing I would have an extended walk through the aid station.  I allowed myself to walk extra through aid stations while I drank water.  I got a little carried away as we descended towards the base of Hurricane Point and missed a walk break.  Otherwise I stuck to my run-walk plan.

One of my favorite miles in marathoning is the approach and ascent up Hurricane Point, and then down the other side to cross the Bixby Bridge.  Hurricane Point has a lot of false summits and even knowing this I was surprised once or twice when the top wasn't the top at all.  I kept straining to hear Michael Martinez on the piano as we reached the top of Hurricane Point.  This year he was playing an unknown song as I crossed the bridge.  My hope of him playing "What a Wonderful World" as I cross the bridge will have to keep on keeping on.

I stopped for a quick shot with the pianist then got down to business for the day.  The second half of Big Sur is not quite as scenic as the first and you are getting worn down and tired.  With my walk breaks I was feeling surprisingly fresh.  I guess there is something to this method after all.  The hills didn't seem nearly so numerous or long or high this year.  In short, I was feeling a lot better than I thought I would be and I knew I was going to finish.

I ran past a gentleman wearing a shirt that said "Grizzly 30" and I asked him if he had run all thirty Big Sur Marathons.  "Well, twenty-nine...." he said as he pointed down the road.  Amazing.

I kept up with my run-walk intervals until shortly after mile 25 when I decided to run all the way to the finish.  I didn't look at the distance on Gaston but I consider this to be my first consecutive mile of running since sometime in early 2014.  It felt glorious.

I heard my husband cheering off to the side shortly before the finish line.  I pulled over to give him and my son a kiss and then finished my fifth Big Sur Marathon.

I soaked up as much of this race as I could.  Both for what it was and what it represented.  It was my first real race of any kind since May 2013 and my first marathon since January 2013.  If you had told me in January 2013 that I wouldn't run another marathon for almost 2.5 years and that I would be a mother the next time it happened I would have told you that you were insane.  I thought about everything that had happened since the last time I ran a marathon.  I thought about everything that had happened for me to be on the course today.  I was incredibly grateful for both everything in my life and the chance to do what I love again.

I've run this race in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2015.  I was registered in 2013 but had pelvic stress fractures.  I was registered in 2014 but was pregnant.  I told myself years ago that this was the race I would do every year until I couldn't do this anymore.  For 2009 I signed up leisurely months before the race.  For 2014 it sold out in less than an hour.  They switched to the lottery system for 2016 onward so there is no guarantee of entry anymore.  I got incredibly lucky this year and did get in via the lottery for 2016.  It makes me sad that I may get to run this one more time or ten more times but you'd better believe I'll be there every year they'll take me.