Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Race Report: Big Sur International Marathon

In 2009 I was all set to run the Big Sur International Marathon as part of a fun girls weekend BUT you guessed it, my back preventing me from running it.  Luckily there are a lot of other race distances (21 miler, 10.6 and 9 miler - I did the 9 miler) so I was still able to partake but I had been plotting my return ever since.

After months of fairly successful runs last spring and summer I decided the time had come to try and tackle another marathon, specifically Big Sur, again.  I had been hearing they expected the race to sell out in hours so on registration day in July, while on vacation,  I woke up at 7:00 am to register for the race which was 9 months out, then promptly rolled over and went back to sleep.

Big Sur actually couldn't have come at a better time.  Coming off of Way Too Cool training I already had a solid base - it would just be maintenance training. 

While advertised as one of the most beautiful marathons in the country, Big Sur is also known for being a tough course.  They said to add "20 minutes" to your normal marathon time to account for the difficulty.  Having not run a marathon since 2009 I had no idea what to expect for a time but I had always intended to run this race more for the experience - to run along the coast, across the Bixby Bridge, to hear the grand piano, to tackle Hurricane Point.  I hoped to get a PR but I figured that was unlikely given the course.

K & I were excited to use the weekend as a little getaway as he had been traveling for work a lot lately.  We brought Griffey with us and after a quick trip to the expo, spent the day roaming Carmel and walking on the beach.

Only beach in the world where I always wear pants and a jacket.
Dinner was at the Cannery Row Brewing Company as we had to find a bar playing the San Jose Sharks game since we didn't get the channel at our hotel.  Surprisingly enough I was able to be in bed with the lights out by 9:30.  I didn't have the best sleep.  On top of pre-marathon nerves and the constant worry of "will I wake up to my alarm," the double bed was a far cry from our California king and the dog next door and Griffey decided to speak to each other all night through the door.  Nonetheless, when my alarm went off at 3:00 am I jumped out of bed and started getting ready.  Big Sur is a point to point course so they had buses in Monterrey that bus you to Big Sur and unless you stay in Big Sur this is your only option to get to the start.  My bus left at 4:15 so I woke K up at 3:35 so he could drop me off.

Once on the bus we began the 45 minute drive up to Big Sur backwards along the course.  It sure felt hilly!  I thought more people would be trying to sneak in some extra zzz's but our bus was wide awake and ready to run.  I sat next to a very nice woman from the east coast and we chatted the whole way.  Runners are so easy to talk to.

Once we arrived in Big Sur we still had about an hour and a half until the race started.  They had some bagels and coffee at the start so I grabbed some and found a little corner to hunker down in and keep warm.  I really don't know what I did for that time.  I had no phone reception and I didn't see anyone I knew but the time went quickly and soon it was time to line up.  Being the hot runner I am (temperature wise) I didn't bring any throw away sweats so my sweatshirt and sweat pants went into my check bag.  I also made the last minute decision to run with my hydrapak and not a hand held.  I know, I know, not a cool "roadrunner" thing to do but I freakin' love that thing and I wanted to be comfortable so I sacrificed coolness for comfort. 

I lined up between the 4:15 and 4:30 group (anything under 4:30 would be a PR) and hoped for the best.  The assistant race director from the Boston Marathon was in attendance and said a few words and we all observed a moment of silence for Boston.  It was very powerful.  A few more speeches and then the gun sounded and we were off.

All I had heard about this race was how many hills there were so I was very surprised that the first 5 or so miles were relatively downhill.  I was also so focused on the fact the course ran along the coast I didn't realize we would be treated to running through the redwoods too.  The air was cool and crisp and it was slightly overcast which in my book equals perfect running weather.  As my Garmin beeped after the first few miles I realized I was probably going way too fast but I felt good and without any specific time goals I just went with it.

Mile 1: 9:36, Mile 2: 9:36, Mile 3: 9:08, Mile 4: 9:16, Mile 5: 9:22

Around mile 6 is also when I actually caught up to the 4:15 marathon pace group!  Of course this had me thinking crazy thoughts of achieving a 4:15 marathon.  Yes, I know it was only mile 6 and I still had 20 miles to go but as the miles ticked by and I was still hanging with them I kept thinking it was more and more of a possibility. 

By this point we were out of the trees but I don't quite remember when we first saw the ocean.  I had heard the previous year had been really cold, foggy and windy.  There was definitely a strong headwind but the skies were sunny and blue. 

Mile 6: 9:33, Mile 7: 9:32, Mile 8: 9:31, Mile 9: 9:50, Mile 10: 9:10

Right before mile 11 I saw the taiko drummers and knew what came next - Hurricane Point - a roughly two mile uphill climb.  At this point the 4:15 pace leader said we had some time banked so we could take it slightly slower on the climb.  Well, his "slightly slower" and my "slightly slower" were very different and within a half mile I had to drop back.  Knowing a 4:15 at Big Sur was stretch anyway I immediately formed the more realistic goal of not letting the 4:30 group pass me.  

Hurricane Point was tough but I think spending so much time on the trails this year really prepared me for the climbing.  I just took it slow and steady and eventually made it to the top.

Mile 11: 11:19, Mile 12: 10:38

Then it was for the part of the course I had been waiting for - the Bixby Bridge and the grand piano.  I know it seems silly but there really was something special about hearing that piano while running across that bridge looking at the beautiful coastline.  I even texted Kevin at this point and said something to the effect of "this is so freakin' gorgeous."   

This is California!
Halfway across the bridge I hit the 13.1 mile mark - 2:09:42.  Not on track for a 4:15 finish but definitely a new PR was still possible.
At this point is where the hills really began.  I swear, we would no more make it up one hill to be greeted by the next one.

Mile 13: 9:55, Mile 14: 10:20, Mile 15: 9:55, Mile 16: 10:18, Mile 17: 9:50

As you can see from my mile spits I would get a groove and have a good mile and then get defeated by a hill and slow down.  At least the views kept my mind occupied.  The mile markers were also very humorous.  I think my favorite was mile 14 with the two Kenyon athletes saying, "In my country we call that walking." 

From mile 13/14 on they had oranges at every aid station.  I have gotten really used to eating real food while running since I started trail running so this was a welcome treat.

Mile 18: 10:32, Mile 19: 10:39, Mile 20: 10:15, Mile 21: 10:43, Mile 22: 10:46, Mile 23: 10:36, Mile 24: 10:26

Around mile 21 things started to hurt as they do in marathons.  This is where my going out too quickly finally caught up with me.  Between mile 22 and 24 I stopped 4 times to stretch and walk a few portions of the hills.  I didn't want to stop and walk but my mental game took over.  The hills just never stopped.  Around mile 24 I started to see a lot more spectators out cheering.  Knowing there was only two miles left and I still had not seen the 4:30 pace group I picked it up determined not to give it up in the last two miles.

And then there is the hill at mile 25.  Not cool to put what looks like a mountain at mile 25 of the marathon.

Mile 25: 9:40

There was no question now I wasn't going to PR.  It was just by how much.  As I crested the hill it was all down hill to the finish (finally - I can talk about a downhill at this race!)  Both sides of the course were lined with spectators and I was happy I was able to find Kevin in the crowd.

Mile 26: 11:22, Last .2: 9:00

This series of photos makes me laugh.  I was so excited to be done running, so exhausted and at the same time so excited to have a new marathon PR.

Time: 4:26:26
10:10 min/mile avg.
Age Group (30-34): 99/262
Female: 537/1544
Overall: 1405/3120

That is a 5:22 minute PR from my last PR at the California International Marathon in 2009!

See all those hills?!?
After getting my medal I quickly found Kevin, grabbed my post race food and bag of stuff from the sweat check (which by the way was amazingly organized) and headed away from the finish area to stretch.  Kevin asked me if there was anything I wanted and I immediately said coffee.  He said he had parked right next to a cute coffee place so I hobbled over there.  It tasted amazing.

Running and Coffee = my two loves!
It was then time to make the 2+ hour drive home.  I had hoped to stay the day in Carmel again but we were forced to check out of our room so I couldn't shower and there was no way I could stay sweaty all day.  It ended up working out though because there was no traffic so we made it home relatively quickly.  As I examined my Garmin on the way home I ended with a total distance of 26.42.  Oops, definitely didn't do a great job of running the tangents. 

Someone else looks like they ran a marathon too.
This is absolutely a "must do" marathon for anyone who has an interest in running a marathon.  It is tough but the beauty of the course far and away exceeded my expectations.  Moreover, the marathon is phenomenally organized.  All aide stations were well stocked and there was never any crowding or people getting trampled.  The website was informative and the logistics of getting to the start were seamless.  The expo was fun and my family was very impressed with the tracking app.  

I am so glad I got to come back and have the opportunity to run the full marathon - and PR it at that! Recovery was a little slower than expected.  By day three post race I was feeling great except my calves stayed pretty tight for about two weeks despite copious amounts of compression wear.  

Of course I having been thinking about what type of PR I could get on a course that wasn't so hilly but in keeping with my "one event at a time" motto for the year I am trying not to get ahead of myself.  :)

In summary - run Big Sur.  I promise you won't regret it. 
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  1. WOW! Great job Kristen! You knocked the old PR out of the park. :)

  2. Oh my gosh, those pictures are UNREAL. Just added Big Sur to my Bucket List... :) Amazing job!

    1. Thank you! Yes, it was absolutely breathtaking! You won't regret the hills.

  3. Yep, your 4:26 will translate to another PR! But you might as well revel in this PR for a little while. :-) Those finishing photos are hilarious, and I love the one with both feet off the ground. And the "hot runner" line cracked me up.

    Congratulations on a great race!!

    1. Thanks for pushing me to help me get faster. :)

  4. Fantastic race, well done! And I can only imagine the time you'll do at a flat, no monsoon marathon! You must be so excited about it!

    You take amazing race photos as well. I look like death!

    1. Ahh, thanks. This was actually the first batch of race photo that looked half way decent so I actually decided to buy them (but trust me there were some scary ones too) as I am usually just a sweaty mess.


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