"Running on the ragged edge of the western world." That is the tag line for the Big Sur International Marathon and is a true statement. I will do my best to stick to race day in this recap as I could complete an entire post on the days leading up to it once we landed in CA (expo, sightseeing, Oiselle shake-out run, etc.)
All of the events on race morning (marathon, marathon relay, 21 miler, 10.6 miler, 9 miler, 5k) except for the 5k are point to point. The race provides shuttle bus service to the appropriate start line (no personal vehicle parking) as well as a return ride to your original pickup spot. It does make for an earlier alarm (2:45 am) than what you might have if you could drive and park yourself, but it gave me an opportunity to listen to a little music and doze for the 30-40 minute drive from our shuttle stop to the 21 miler start line.
Side note: we waited a long time to book lodging for the race (and luckily the place didn't require payment up front) which meant limited availability at the race-approved hotels. I went with the first place that had space and wasn't painfully expensive. It turned out to be a perfect spot. A 5 minute drive to the shuttle bus pickup on race morning, a 10 minute drive to Carmel-by-the-Sea (so quaint and gorgeous, beach, shops, restaurants), and had two awesome local restaurants across the street.
You know you needed the outfit details. You can tell how I was feeling during the race by following the progression of facial expressions. Yes, by the end, I was hurting. But at the beginning? All smiles.
The shuttle bus took us to our start at the Andrew Molera State Park, 5 miles north of the marathon start. I was pretty groggy for the ride, so I closed my eyes and listened to some favorite songs until we got there. The shuttle got us there in plenty of time, there was tons of space for everyone to spread out and do their own thing, lots of portapotties, and most importantly, volunteers serving COFFEE.
I don't normally drink coffee before a race, but I had an hour and half to kill before we started. I also knew that I wouldn't finish the race until late in the morning, at which point I'd be risking a serious caffeine headache if I didn't drink a little now. We had our drop bags with us and kept them with us until the last moment. That allowed me to stay warmer, keep my Tiger Tail handy, and have breakfast (Picky Bar!) and fluids with me so I could ingest closer to start time and not force it down my throat in the hotel at 3 am.
There was a group yoga session (only in CA, right?) before the start and most people were into it. I had a pretty specific warm-up that I wanted to go through (and didn't want to tweak anything), so I did not participate. I had a couple of mantras to carry me through the day, as well as a few longer quotes that resonated with me in the final weeks of training (from Devon Yanko, Sarah Mac, and Kara Goucher). I wrote them down on a small piece of paper, read them in those final moments before walking to the line, and folded the paper in my shorts pocket for the long road ahead.
I knew there were a few other fierce flyers running the 21 Miler, and sure enough I found one minutes before the start. She was going to be a bit speedier than me so we had just enough time to exchange names and snap a quick selfie before they sent us off.
If you're curious about the course, take a look at the graphics below. The easiest miles of the course are the 5 I didn't run...
If you are really into the numbers, here you go:
Start elevation: 64'
Finish elevation: 10'
Total elevation gain: +2,060'
Total elevation loss: -2,114'
Moving on. There is a small incline as you run the access road to the state park and get onto Highway 1. From that point on, the only word you need to remember is WIND. I won't carry on about it because it was what it was, but the wind was a constant presence. 20 mph or so along the course other than the summit of Hurricane Point which was around 50 mph. No joke. People were losing hats left and right. It was coming at you from the left and you just had to accept that it was going to be part of your day and let it go.
I had planned on running for as long as I could, alternate running and walking up Hurricane Point, and then doing whatever my body would let me the rest of the way. From the beginning, the views were amazing. I found myself taking a lot of pictures in the first half, I couldn't help it. I was smiling and mentally pinching myself. I GET to run here. In this beautiful place. Wow.
Hurricane Point was hard. No getting around that. What surprised me was how strong I felt going up. How strong I felt on all the hills. There was power in my stride. I alternated a 1:1 run walk up Hurricane Point but those two mile splits were speedier than I expected. On a lovely and somewhat ominous note, drummers were playing at the start of the climb. Every time I would come to what seemed like a crest, it revealed itself to be merely a curve leading farther up. I did not take any pictures of the climb because I was busy doing work and the wind was ridiculous. I don't think any pictures I've take of the course do that section justice. You'll just have to find out for yourself.
With the worst of the climbing behind me, I focused on relentless forward progress. The top of the point was 7 miles into the 21; I had a long ways to go. I tried hard not to think of how far I had to go because I was scared. I have no problem admitting that. I didn't know how my body would react to running so far beyond what I'd asked it to do in a long time. The biggest surprise for me was that the downhills were the hardest. For whatever reason, my glutes were trashed by the end. All of those downward slopes that I had hope to cruise and pick up time were the places I needed to walk. Flats and hills? Crushed. Don't get me wrong, I was so happy that my calves and shins were silent. I just wasn't expecting my butt to be a pain in the ass.
I did not take pictures past the halfway point. I dialed into how I was feeling, when I needed to fuel, and repeated my mantras. The aid stations were fantastic. They had fresh fruit in the later miles, as well as the standard sports drink, water, and Gu. The volunteers braved hours in the freezing winds to staff those stations, holding out tongue depressors dripping with Vasoline and offering hugs to all takers.
Spectators were sparse until the course made its way back into a more populated area but they were there and they were wonderful. Cheers, high fives, signs, the works. The community really seems to embrace this annual event and turn out to show their support. I could hear the finish line long before I could see it, and the course was a bit over 21 miles, so I had a hard time knowing when to make a final push. I gave what I had left to cross the finish and I know that I left it all out there on the course.
I cannot say enough good things about this race. The organization is fantastic. I love the small size. You are never alone on the course but you never feel crowded. The setting is gorgeous. Abundant aid stations and amazing volunteers. Music along the course. Great post-race/finish line festivities. Unique medals. How often is Highway 1 completely shut down to all traffic but runners? One day a year. This one.
Two things to consider before choosing Big Sur (neither of which have anything to do with the race itself but should be taken into consideration): the Carmel/Monterey area is not cheap to visit. You will most likely need a rental car. Lodging and restaurants are a little pricey. If you make this a race-cation and budget accordingly it is worth it. This was my one travel race this year and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Second (and this it outside the control of race organizers but worth noting) sections of Highway 1 (the road the course is on) have patched and repatched areas of pavement that make for uneven footing. Early on in the race it might not be a big deal but in the later miles (when things start to hurt) having a solid place to land your foot is important. Takes a little bit more energy to pay attention to that detail especially when you want to stare at the ocean instead. The road, with all its twists and turns, is also rarely level. The camber wears on you and spending time drifting across the road to mitigate that is also tiresome.
I could say so much more about this race, the area, and the weekend as a whole. I would love to race Big Sur again and I probably will. Before I wrap this up, a few thank yous are in order. Oiselle and my Volee family who gave me community when I needed it. Nuun and Gu for fueling me every day, not just race day. CEP for relieving so many aches and pains and helping keep my body together. Pearl Izumi for making fantastic running shoes, I wish I'd found you sooner. Kyle, for not giving up on me and not letting me give up on myself. My family and friends, for tolerating a ridiculous amount of self-pity and doubt. Mark, for loving me at my worst and celebrating me at my best. You believed for me when I couldn't and I love you so much. WE DID IT! #whatsnext