“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
In thinking about this race, that refrain keeps going through my mind.Big Sur
is nothing if not a set of contradictions. Her beauty shines in the distance, luring you in with her siren song. And when you are held fast by her grasp, there is no protest because she has seduced you into thinking that the pain you feel over 26.2 miles is your drug of choice. And perhaps it is, because the pain is gone before you know it but the stories of the Big One that you conquered will remain for a lifetime.
Big Sur is The Most Difficult Course I have ever run in my life.
In fact, if you had told me I would be doing a course like this, I would have put you on my “Crazy People, Don’t Talk to Them List”.
Yes. I DO have one of those
. I’ve heard it’s the most difficult course in the country and I believe it. Pikes Peak
, Grandfather Mountain
, Crater Rim Run
… they’re not easy; they’re just different. Big Sur
is also the most beautiful and the most exhilarating course I’ve ever run.
Big Sur gave me one of my slowest times. But when I finished, I knew I had accomplished something special. I went into this race better trained than ever. I had trained by running from Mile 9 (Natick) on the Boston Marathon
course, to Hopkinton and back down because it simulated the run to Hurricane point. Little did I know that the training course was nothing more than a tasting, an appetizer, when compared to the Real Deal. I had run the Boston Billy workout, in headwind, and declared to Joseph that it was “the hardest run I’ve ever done.”
I should have done MORE of this because it most closely simulated Big Sur, but without the views to take away the pain. I ran every single long run, posting faster and faster times. I ran hill repeats up and down Mt. Vernon Street. I ran hill loops, up Mt. Vernon street and down and around by the Common and back to Charles Street to start again at the base of Mt. Vernon Street. 4 repeats turned into 12 and I loved it. I am so glad I trained as I did because anything less, and I would have been like the skunk we saw at mile 7, bloodied, tattered, torn, run over a hundred times…dead dead dead.
Sunday morning, we got up at 3:00 a.m. This time I was not going to make the same mistake I made at Disney
in January. We made our standard long run breakfast of oatmeal, had coffee and relaxed before getting ready. We were bussed out from Monterey to the starting line at Big Sur Station. We drove out on the race course in complete darkness. When I saw the saw the beacon from the Big Sur Point lighthouse, I knew from driving the course that we were getting close. Thank goodness we were driving in darkness. Big busses on windy road, on marathon morning, on a hilly course... Not sure I would have got off the bus at the starting line!
We got dropped off at Big Sur Station. Cher and I found a spot, sat down, relaxed, until it was time to line up. We made it back a few hundred yards and mingled into the crowd. The first half of Big Sur is easier than the second half. We had heard this from Sally and from others who had run the race. The first three miles are downhill. All downhill. Without. A. Break
. This is followed by a series of slow inclines and declines. Because of my training, I didn’t even feel the inclines. At one point, I looked back to realize that we had been climbing slowly. The long climbs were followed by some sharp downhills. This culminated with a long descent from mile 9 to mile 10, at the base of Hurricane Point. As we rounded the bend toward the right, the road curves back around to the left (very winding road), I could see the Taiko drummers and feel the beat of their drums electrifying the air, as if we were soldiers going off to conquer the monster, in this case Hurricane Point.
At mile 10, I clicked my watch and did my 3:30/1:30 run walk. It took me about 28 minutes to run 2.2 miles straight up. On the other side, there is a steep descent and the real race started. Sharp up hills followed up sharper downhills, all without a break. I could hear the grand piano about a half mile before I got there. How unbelievable. They had hooked up speakers to the piano. A guy in tails, the roiling ocean below, the wind sweeping around the corner of the point… it was a scene out of a movie…
More sharp ups and downs. For the first time, I ate everything they offered, everything I would never dare to look at twice in any other race – candy, bananas, Gatorade, orange slices, strawberries at mile 22. In fact, I stopped and literally grabbed a handful of them. My body welcomed it all. I popped three advils at mile 14 and then another one at mile 18 to dull the slight twinges of pain and ache in my medius and outer hamstrings.
At mile 20, I noticed I’d been smiling. In fact, my face hurt from smiling. I found it all so darnn ridiculous that I started laughing. I couldn’t stop. A couple of times, I tried to NOT smile and it felt funny, so I went with it. I just kept smiling. I looked at everyone around – including the walkers from the 21-miler that were kind of clogging the road, ahem – and they all kinda just stared at me. I thought it was funny and I started laughing out loud. And I caught myself thinking, this is so damn hard. This course is so ridiculous. This is so hysterically funny. And I couldn’t stop. In fact, I broke out into song to my iPod about mile 23. I sang with Elton John – The Circle of Life – then Barry White, then Janis Ian, and Milla… all my favorites. I am humming and singing, passing the stream of walkers and some of the slower runners who hadn’t conserved enough energy.
A long stretch of downhill and then I see it. I had heard about it. The D Minor Hill at D Major time.
I see it; I shake my head and I laugh harder and louder. I am happy. Amazingly, I feel good! I make it up the hill, and continue to laugh, I run a little faster across the bridge, I see the finish and the clock, and raise my arms in a victory wave and they announce may name and where I am from.
I cross the finish line and slow to a walk. I am still smiling. They cut off my chip and I get my medal – uh… it’s not really a medal – um… it’s not metal at all… it’s more of a medallion made of pottery? It’s beautiful.
Cher had finished just ahead of me. I lost her at mile .1 when I ducked into the porta potty. I never saw her again until I crossed the finish. We met up with Joseph and Milt and sat and had something to eat and drink as we whiled away the last hour of the race watching the runners come in. Sally joined us for a chat – she still looked awesome despite the heat, the crowd and the mayhem – don’t know how what with all the work she had been doing all weekend. Then Kevin joined us. He is so cute. He is always helping people out. Always. Not a moment goes by when he isn’t thinking of someone else. After all he had been doing, he turned his attention to us… Do you want a Bloody Mary?? Yes? I’ll go get you one
… He comes back with three. Let me tell you… a Bloody Mary after a marathon is my new recovery drink! GAK
! I never felt pain afterwards!
The cut off for the race was 6 hours. And right on the dot, they announced the approaching cut off. People were still coming in. Joseph goes to the finish line to watch. Sally goes to the finish line to help. Word has it that she practically shoved the last runner across the finish line just in time! It’s a wonder they didn’t fall!
My time? 5:06:25. My proudest moment, my third slowest marathon. But based on the course profile, the fact I had to duck into a porta potty right after crossing the start (when you gotta go, you gotta go), the headwind that started at mile 7 and wouldn’t let up until the end (okay, it did take a breather around mile 9 when it turned into a tail wind, and around mile 14 or so), I figure I ran a PR. On any other course, I bet I would have been close to 4:30 – maybe I would have broken 4:30 given the same day on a different course. I had a good breakfast, I managed my nutrition well, I picked the right clothes, the right shoes; it was perfect.
Big Sur is an unbelievably well-managed, well-organized race. The volunteers and staff were everywhere. They were visible. They were approachable. Sally and Kevin took exceedingly good care of us! But then, it seemed that Big Sur took good care of all their runners and walkers. If you haven’t done this race, do it. If you haven’t put it on your list of Races to Run Before I Die
, put it on that list now
. To conquer the marathon distance is one thing. To do it at Big Sur is entirely another. But beware. If you can’t finish a marathon in under five hours, train like heck to do so. Then go and run Big Sur. It will be well worth it.
Wow. It felt so good. It was so damn hard but it felt so damn good. I’ll carry it with me always.
I will post pictures as soon as I can.
I am a very busy person.