Saturday, May 16, 2015

Big Sur Marathon - Running on the rugged edge of the western world

Its been over couple of weeks since Big Sur Marathon and I still can't stop raving about it. I registered for this marathon last year when I was in the middle of training for NYC marathon. I only started checking the course profile in December and started picking brains of folks who had done this race. One common suggestion from everyone was "Do tons of Hill training". I took that advice pretty seriously and incorporated hilly courses into every long run in addition to standard hill repeats for speed work. Despite all the training I was still nervous and flew to west coast three days prior to the race. After spending a night with family members at San Jose, I drove to Monterey on Friday morning. Picked up my race packet at the expo and spent the next two days getting used to the surroundings. Did my final shake out run with a bunch of runners from Runners world and spent the most of Saturday carb loading and getting my gear ready for the big day.
Big sur Course profile
Alarm went off at 2:45 am and I got ready quickly and was on the shuttle bus to Big Sur by 3:45 am. Met a lot of folks who had done this race few times and it was interesting to hear their interpretation of hills as the bus drove the course in reverse from Carmel to Big Sur. Weather was super comfortable around lower 50s and the race began exactly around 6:45 am and within minutes after the start I found myself cruising comfortably on highway 1. My goal was to run comfortably till half way point and then doing a head-to-toe check to figure out next strategy. First 5 miles of the course is all downhill and I ran without any perceived effort just enjoying the tall redwood trees and the gorgeous surroundings. As predicted, we were running against some serious headwinds. My cap flew few times and I felt my BIB my get torn off at times. Miles 5 to 9 was a slight climb which was clearly an indicator of whats coming next. This is the part of course when you get the glimpse of jaw-dropping pacific coastline on the left and the mountains covered in green moss on the right.

Foggy cloud cover over the mountains made the scene even more spectacular. Mile 9.8 marks the lowest point of the course and also the beginning of the infamous 2 mile climb to the notorious Hurricane Point. The beat of drums got louder at each step and I passed a huge group of Taiko drummers just before this ascent.

I simply trusted my training and took shorter steps and "I can do it" mantra kept running in my head at every turn. To my surprise this two mile climb didn't feel bad at all and even though my pace was slow I was actually passing quite a lot of folks. It was a surreal scene with lots of runners walking and some of them stopping to take pictures of the gorgeous ocean views. It felt absolutely fantastic when I reached the summit of Hurricane point with a ascent of 560 ft in 2 miles. Just after mile 12 I had to remind myself to hold back for one downhill mile as the elevation was dropping by 500 ft.

I made it to half way point in 2:15:32 and after waving at the Piano player Michael Martinez I suddenly felt the urge to pick up my pace.

I was actually feeling comfortable and I passed the 4:30 pacer around mile 15. My goal was to stay ahead of him as much as possible and see if I can catch 4:15 pacer. My legs seemed to be comfortable with hills by then and continued that way till Mile 18 or so. It felt great when I was handed real fruits (orange, banana and water melon) at aid stations. I was getting sick of chewing gels. I passed 20 mile marker in about 3 hour 10 minutes and as expected fatigue started to creep in. I told myself thats normal and continued to push. At mile 23 both my calves started cramping. I had to stop few times to stretch and continue. I probably lost couple of minutes I think. Mile 24 had the best aid station ever as they hand out strawberries dipped in salt. I accepted I have to continue dragging my cramping legs and kept pushing forward. I was bummed I couldn't catch the 4:15 pacer but felt amazing crossing that finish line . My official time was 4:22:13. It was not a PR and about 6 minutes slower than my time at NYC marathon last fall. But I did manage to get a negative split of 9 minutes in the second half. I was pleased with myself to be able to run those hills comfortably. I guess I have to really thank the local hills of Bridgewater and Readington for helping me with hill training during long runs. But one thing I’m not happy about was my pain tolerance level. Moment I started cramping at mile 23 I kind of got into defensive mode. After that it felt difficult to switch to aggressive gear. So I have mixed feelings and I cant help it. Guess that’s some motivation to work harder next time.

Finish Photo Courtesy Big Sur Gallery

Saying this is a gorgeous course is an understatement. It was hard to switch focus between the views and the hills. It truly is a spectacular course and superbly organized race. Here are few pictures I managed while sightseeing around the area.

Foggy evening @ Bixby Bridge
Pacific Grove
Point Lobos State Park
Mcway falls @ Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
17 Mile Drive