When I first set out to do a marathon, I wanted to do something BIG! Somethings momentous! Something that would inspire me through the months of training. Something that people would recognize.
I played around with the idea of doing one of the really big famous marathons. I even had automatic entry to NYC marathon once, but I decided that a 40,000 person marathon would cause me more anxiety than excitement. I eventually came up with a brief list of what I wanted.
- Big enough to have company but not a crowd
- Reasonable temperatures
- Well supported
After having my son in February 2015, I started thinking about running a marathon again. I found a few lists of “must do” marathons and that’s when I saw Big Sur. In addition to my 5 criteria, it has:
- nostalgia factor (we drove the course during our honeymoon in 2007)
- vacation potential
- my best friend lives nearby
- my parents wanted to visit the area
When the lottery for Big Sur 2016 opened up I decided that while I wasn’t planning on running anything longer than a half in my post partum year I would put my name in the hat. I guess the fates knew I was ready for a long road race because I was picked for the race.
I guess you can say my training was derailed a little a few times, but instead of getting discouraged I shifted goals. I planned on walking the worst of the hills. I went from having a time goal to a hey-first-marathon-lets-just-finish goal. I stayed focused. I stationary biked when my ankle was at its worst. Most of all I smiled when I ran, because I am so grateful that despite everything I could still get outside and feel the sun on my face.
I did get three 20 mile days in. So I felt confident in being able to finish. The 6 hour hard cut-off did make me a little nervous, but I knew that if I stayed focused I could get the job done.
Travel with two small children across the country was a little difficult. My one year old has no interest in television and was upset about being unable to wander the airplane but we survived. We spent our time before the race exploring Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Pinnacles National Park, Wilder Ranch State Park, Santa Cruz and Monterey. We did a lot of hiking often carrying one or both of the kids. Not ideal for taper but we had a blast.
The Expo took place under a few tents in a plaza in Monterey near Fisherman’s wharf. We met up with my best friend from California Erin and my fellow MRTT runner Mikaela to pick up our bibs. Erin was running the 9-miler.
After a detailed description of the buses to the start by a very enthusiastic volunteer (my reaction: “Oh my gosh she made that so complicated how will I ever find the bus without making a key mistake”) we headed over to the second tent with the expo.
We picked up our t-shirt and found a backdrop to take our pre-race pictures. We waited in line then rushed to get our pictures done as fast as possible.
I bought a pair of sunglasses and we spent the rest of the afternoon taking a glass-bottom boat tour and visiting fisherman’s wharf.
Mikaela met me at the hotel room and we drove to the buses together. I stopped at Starbucks (which opened at 3:30am) to grab a coffee and an oatmeal. After a small screw-up, we ended up on the VIP bus street, we found the lines to our shuttles (school buses instead of chartered buses). The line was long, but moved quickly.
I forgot how long the ride to the start was, but it was interesting to be able to see the other buses ahead of us on the course. By the time I got to the start I had to rush to the port-a-john. The lines were everywhere in the small area. Big Sur Station is a small area and it must be what limits the race size. After a little squeezing through we realized none of the lines were actually to port-a-potties.
Side note: the port-a-johns had funny notes posted on them eg. Media center inside, this bathroom for under 40 only, only 62 miles to Carmel.
We managed to find a patch of ground where I was able to tape my ankle. Then we found an amazing medical tent with vaseline. Although I had already used some body glide I added a little extra under my shorts and bra band.
We dropped off my drop bag then went for one last potty break. I guess this is when we missed the calling of our corral, so we got a little confused and ended up having to fight our way to the back. We decided to stop at the very back of the 4:45 pace group which was in wave 2. I’m pretty sure that in more ideal circumstances (not injured ankle/hills/wind) I could run a 4:45 marathon and at one point in the race (before the crazy hill work) it was looking like I might be able to.
Mikaela and I started the race together, but it was the last time I would see her until she finished. Despite telling her I didn’t want to blow up early I was off like a racehorse weaving through the crowd as soon as we started the race. I actually spent the first 5 miles running with the 4:30 pace group happily feeling like I was at cruise pace. I did want to bank time because I really wasn’t confident in my ability to break 6 hours especially with the hills I was going to allow myself to walk.
The first section of the course brings you gradually downhill out of big sur station, and you are generally sheltered by the forest. A few times the redwoods come right up to the edge of the road. This section was shaded (well it was an overcast day) and pleasant. The second we exited that forest we were blasted by a gnarly headwind as we entered a section with fields on both sides and views of the ocean.
Point Sur is certainly a spectacular sight in the distance.
I remember the hill at mile 8 being the first I was really allowing myself to walk. And walk I did. By this point my ankle was already expressing displeasure at our plan to run 26.2 miles but it wasn’t going to stop me, just whine the whole time.
The biggest hill (500ft in 2 miles) on the whole course brings you to the top of Hurricane Point. I’m pretty sure it was named for the crazy, intense wind we experienced at the top of that climb. I told Mikaela that I get flashbacks of the scene at the top whenever I get a gust of wind in the face now. This hill starts shortly after 10 miles in. I had always planned on letting myself walk it if I wanted to. Marathons are long runs, no point in blowing myself up early. As you round the corner to climb the hill a set of drummers set the tone with war music. It was probably one of my favorite parts.
When you get to the top of hurricane, you must come back down. So in the wind you run downhill towards the famous historic Bixby bridge. As you come down the hill you start hearing the piano player playing gorgeous relaxing music.
Bixby was a little chaotic for me. It’s only halfway in, but the media was there and people were stopping everywhere for photo opportunities. I had really been enjoying the media free miles surrounded by nature. I didn’t want the distractions.
The second half of the course was much hillier than the first. I can think of 5 big hills that I walked, but the topo map shows a lot more. The volunteers were amazing at each and every aid station which made up for the fact that it’s a light spectator course. The race also had a ton of musicians playing along the course, but I always seemed to show up just as they were taking a quick break.
The race has many distances associated with it. Marathon, 21 miler, 10.6 miler, 9 miler and 5k all start at different points. So I also passed a lot of walkers doing shorter distances in the second half. I remember reaching the point of 10.6 miles to go and thinking, oh it’s not far now. It’s funny how much our perspective changes with the miles.
By the way, this picture (my favorite) was taken at 10.6 miles. I think I was trying to show how much my clothes was flapping in the wind at the top of the hill.
Near the end of the race we enter a more suburban area of Carmel and we get some shelter from the wind with houses and trees. I remember one aid station serving strawberries which made me smile.
Now Big Sur Marathon has a lot of hills, but I think the worst is the one that starts at mile 25. You are so close to the end and they send you up one last hill. I guess it means the race also finishes on a bit of a downhill though. During the race I had met a woman who lives in Merrimack, NH (where I work) and as we approached the finish she said “lets do this”. Inspired I finished the race strong excited to see my family.
But somehow my husband, 2 kids, best friend and parents did not see me. I mean, I know I was wearing a subtle outfit but they somehow missed as I ran right past them.
I had no idea on my finish time because I forgot to start my watch for the first few minutes of the race, but I was thrilled with a 5:05:07 on that course with that wind and this ankle. Big Sur is one of the most beautiful, well supported, challenging courses I have ever run and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to run a spectacular marathon.
What I wore:
Shoes: Altra Paradigm 1.5
- Marathon #1
- Time: 5:05:07
- Overall place: 2329 of 4159
- Gender Place: 1080 of 2136
- F 30-34: 190 of 352