The Big Sur Marathon is undoubtedly the most beautiful race I’ve ever run. The scenery is everything they talk about but more vibrant and the smells — the redwoods and the sea air — are perfect — and sounds — waves and drums and footfalls — are what running should sound like. Sure, the roads slant away from you, and you kind of lose your place when you’re trying to run. The wind this year was particularly awful, not just at Hurricane Point. It blew straight on and from the side for miles 6 through 21. But this was my second marathon in a week, and maybe making a time goal was not the most important thing for this race. Even so, I ran a 3:15:36, which was right on track for my optimistic A Goal.
I spent this week as I would any vacation week, stupidly running more miles than I really should have because California running is glorious and always beautiful. Every day except one, I deviated from my plan. I was dumb. But I was happy. And looking back on it, I wouldn’t have changed any runs this week.
- Tuesday: We landed in San Francisco, and I got in a few miles in Golden Gate Park for 12 for the day. It should have been 10, but I felt good.
- Wednesday: I thought I’d have an easy run across the Golden Gate bridge for maybe six miles, but I felt great, so I ran some hills. And I ran 10 miles. Oops. Then we walked about five miles around the streets of San Francisco. My feet weren’t happy.
- Thursday: Actually, I think I did well to only run five easy miles on trails on Thursday. Michael and I went to Marin to hang out for the morning, and we walked about a mile and a half around Muir Woods.
- Friday: I finally had my legs back, so I celebrated by running seven miles at 7:37 pace. Way too fast for a recovery/taper week. But I got to see the ocean on my run!
- Saturday: Stuck to the plan for once and ran a short shakeout run with Bart Yasso.
On to the race! Big Sur starts at 6:45 a.m., and the buses need to be off the road for the runners to funnel on to the road, so that means everyone needs to be in the tiny runners village no later than 5:30. My 4:15 bus was one of the last to leave Pacific Grove, and we arrived at the start line around 5:30. If you back out that timeline, that means I had to wake up around 3:30 to hurriedly gather myself and my stuff to get to the bus on time. And because we’d been in California since Tuesday, I couldn’t use my East Coast/West Coast powers to wake up early.
The runners village is a setup of rows and rows of portapotties (I only had to wait in line for about two minutes both times I went) and tightly packed, nervous runners huddled together in the darkness. There is coffee, water, Gatorade and maybe snacks. I didn’t look for snacks. I tried to find a place to put my towel so I could stretch. That was kind of a success. After about 45 minutes, the race announcer started to call the later wave starters to line up. Because the road is so narrow, there isn’t really room for runners to make their way to the corrals, so they have to line up back to front. The wave 1 runners shuffled around and did weird warmup drills until about 6:40 when the announcer finally called for the final group to line up.
After a few introductions for the elite athletes, everyone edged forward a bit, and we were off. The first six miles are rolling downhill. They aren’t all downhill. But they’re blocked from the wind. In hindsight, I probably should have gone faster here because this was the only point in the race that running felt normal.
A strong headwind — stronger and more unrelenting than anything at Boston — knocked us in the face right at the seven-mile mark. You could hear the group let out an audible groan, and everyone shifted to try to get behind someone else. We were out of the cover of trees, and the people I’d been running with and the ocean came in to a kind of technicolor. But the wind. Ugh.
For the next four miles, I stuck with a group of guys and one woman who were trying their best to fairly take the running burden and shield each other from the wind. I would tuck in behind a guy and run beside another for a while, and they’d reposition themselves after about a mile. I wish I could have stuck with them longer, but the group seemed to disband at a water stop.
Mile 10 has a nice downhill that I tried to not take too fast. I had to tie my shoe during that mile because the WIND UNTIED MY SHOE, which took about 20 seconds.
On Friday, Michael and I drove the course, so I kind of understood how awful Hurricane Point might be. It is deceptively long. I’m used to running hills with steeper grades in D.C., but I don’t train on any hill that is two miles long. So miles 11 and 12 were 9:05 and 8:18, respectively, but Strava tells me the grade-adjusted pace for those miles is 7:08 and 7:09. That’s what it felt like. And wind. So much wind.
The Bixby Bridge piano player was adorable, but I wasn’t going to stop to listen. I plowed through and tried to get my mind right for the rest of the race. Looking at my watch, I could tell I’d need to run a negative split to get to my goal. The rest of my miles were all under 8:00 pace, and I ended up averaging 7:26 for the race. I even stopped for strawberries at mile 23 and ran a 7:33 mile. So hooray for negative split!
My overall placing for the B2B for women was fifth out of 219. I came in ninth of 2,133 women overall, which is pretty good, considering I didn’t have fresh legs. The B2B tent was stocked with all kinds of food — sandwiches, fruit, cookies — and beer that I promptly chugged. I got a sweet medal and jacket, and I got lots of cheers for running Boston along the route. The race was incredibly well executed for a medium-sized event. The race communications, water stops, bag check, swag, pasta dinner, expo. Everything. Everything was organized like the best marathons you’ve run. Hell, the guy who gave me my race shirt bag even put my number tag on my bag for me.
I know I can run Big Sur faster than 3:15 now that I understand the course. I would adjust my training to work in more long hills and more back-to-back weekend runs. I had plenty of those on my schedule, but I could have flipped the order to run Sunday longer instead of Saturday.
One of my goals for next year is to break three hours at Boston. I would love to run Big Sur again some day when the lottery gods are smiling, but I can wait another five years before I return to such a punishing course.
This week I will run easy, fun runs. I started this morning with an easy recovery run in Palo Alto. And later this week, I’ll put together my race and non-race goals for the next few months. I know I’ve got a three-hour marathon in me, and I have more PRs to set.