distance: 26.2 miles
(and that’s before hotel, flight, uber, pasta dinner)
erin and i entered the drawing for the big sur marathon on july 27th of last year. that’s about 9 months ago. talk about long term planning. i found out i got in on august 7th, and registered officially on august 10th. erin didn’t get on the first round, but this race offers a “last chance” drawing and she got in through that. after we were both in, i booked a hotel and flight. during the course of the 9 months, erin got hurt (yet still conquered the LA marathon). she wisely opted out of this race, but still traveled to big sur to pick up her (now very expensive) long sleeve shirt.
i flew to monterey on saturday morning on a tiny little plane. i uber-ed to my hotel, checked in, then drove over with erin to the expo (which would have been a shorter walk than drive, go figure). i got my bib, shirt, bus ticket, gear bag, and pasta dinner ticket. i really liked that they used a sticker from my bib to put my matching number on my gear bag.
the expo itself was pretty small. erin persuaded a guy working the bay to breakers table to give us free t-shirts. otherwise there was a limited number of vendors and free samples. i think i’ve been spoiled by the huge expos for the LA marathon and twin cities marathon.
i walked back to my hotel (less than a 10 minute walk) and stopped at trader joe’s to get some “just chicken” (protein) and a bottle of white grape juice (nature’s gatorade). i napped a bit before walking over to my early bird special pasta dinner.
the race offered two “pasta dinners”, all you can eat/drink pasta, salad, beer (!), water, pineapple juice, artichoke, pineapple upsidedown cake, strawberries, etc. the menu was very interesting. i stay as far away from fiber pre-race, so i was surprised by how many people were eating salads and whole artichokes. i had bread, pasta, chicken, strawberries, and a slice of pineapple upsidedown cake (which was just really sweet cake with pineapple slices in it). i met a couple people at my table (a woman from southern california with her mom and a guy from washington d.c.) and we chatted about the race.
the best part of the pasta dinner was the q&a. during the meal, we were given the option to write questions on note cards and turn them in. then with about 30 minutes left in the meal, the race director got up on the stage and answered all of the questions. i learned two very important things from this q&a.
- the race director suggested we wear a long sleeve shirt with a short sleeve under it. this way, if it got too hot, we would be able to take off the long sleeve and tie it around our waist. he explained that there are many micro climates on the course and it could get very windy. because of this, i brought my long sleeve wind breaker to the start line. i didn’t take it off for the entire race.
- the last hill isn’t until mile 25.2. and this was coming from the three-time winner of the race. this is the elevation chart of the race. it appears mostly flat except the hill from miles 10-12. it was not. at all. a lot of the hills aren’t even on that map. my strava data shows all of the (not so) mini hills along the course.
i walked back to my hotel, bought a couple gatorades and waters and was in bed by around 7:30 pm.
my alarm was set for 2:30 am.
i got dressed, filled up my water bottles, ate a bagel, and was out the door by 3:15 am.
i walked over to the bus pick up area and was on a bus by 3:30 am.
note: the only way to get to the start line was by a marathon provided bus. there were different locations based on what distance you were running. and they were all super early, because after the buses dropped everyone off and got back, they would shut down the road for the race.
ten minutes into the bus ride, the bus driver said, “here’s the finish line. if anyone wants to get off here, you’ll win!”. when the half awake bus chuckled, he said, “ok, i guess not. 26 miles to go.” it was very dark (and i was in the aisle so i couldn’t see very well) but i now knew we were driving the course backwards.
i arrived at the start line at 4:35 am. we were one of the first buses to arrive. the race provided hot coffee, water, and bananas for the runners. i don’t drink coffee normally so i wasn’t about to have some pre-race, but it was sooo cold that i was tempted to get some just to hold on to it. i sat on a curb (surrounded by other runners) for an hour. i talked to one woman from ohio (who i later ran into on the course) and saw steve (an elite runner out of fleet feet burbank).
at 5:30 am, i dropped off my gear. another tip mentioned in the pasta dinner was to drop off gear early so the line isn’t too long. people weren’t jumping at the chance to drop off gear because everyone wanted their warm clothes until the last minute. i walked around, went to the porta potties three times in the two hours i was there (the lines weren’t bad and i figured why not). i huddled around an industrial light thing because it was generating heat.
at around 6:15 am, the announcers started organizing everyone into corrals. they wanted the slow runners to go first. at first i thought this meant they would be starting first. then i realized that we lining up so the last ones in would be the first out the start. it’s difficult to explain. anyway, there were three corrals. #1 was for times between 4:45-6:00, #2 was for 3:45-4:45, and #3 was for anyone planning to run faster than 3:45. my last marathon time was 4:41, so i decided to place myself in corral #2. (spoiler alert, i finished in 4:42, so i think i placed myself in the right group.)
a man sang the national anthem and boom, right at 6:45, corral #3 was off. the song from chariots of fire played while we shuffled to the start. at 6:50 am, we were off.
the first four miles of the race were mostly downhill. i’ve never done a race with so few spectators (this was because there was no way for them to get to the course to cheer). we were also strongly advised not to wear headphones, so it was especially quiet. a woman on the side of the road around .6 miles in said, “you all look so fresh.” and about twenty people laughed. i’ve never seen a more receptive crowd of runners.
i also don’t know if it was the small race or self assigned corrals, but i felt like i was surrounded by people all running my pace. no one to zig zag around because they were walking too slowly. i only saw a couple people zoom past. everyone was running at a very even and comfortable pace. this was so refreshing, especially at the start of a race.
around 6 miles in, the wind started. at this point we had broken out of the trees and were looking right at the ocean. the views were beautiful, but i would have sacrificed the views to calm the wind. i tried running behind tall people, but the wind was coming from all sides. luckily i did have my trusty wind breaker (with hood) so the wind wasn’t making me cold, every step just took a little more effort.
the big 2 mile hill started at mile 10. running up to the base, i could hear and see the taiko drummers. boy do i love those drummers. it definitely helped motivate me to start up the hill. then i got sick of the wind and hill and walked a bit.
note: all of the mile markers were sponsored by different brands and very entertaining. i took a picture of a few of them. they definitely helped keep the course interesting and gave me something to look forward to.
at mile 11 (halfway up the hill), there was a jazz band playing what sounded to me like frankenstein while a soloist was up front.
at mile 12, i finally hit the top of the hill. and this was the windiest part of the race. the wind even pushed me over. it was crazy. it’s called “hurricane point” and now i think i understand why. on the big sur marathon virtual tour, it says, “during a blustery year the wind at the Point can almost knock you off your feet and push you backwards.”
the next mile was a fun downhill to bixby bridge. the piano player was at the end of it, but i could hear the music all the way at the start thanks to some pretty great speakers. halfway across the bridge i saw a boy about to propose to a girl who was running the race. he had his hands on her shoulders and she was crying. right as i passed, i saw him get on one knee. it was adorable. then the piano player started playing linus and lucy so i took a video to send to my parents.
the rest of the race remained hilly and windy. i never felt a need to take my jacket off. and at times, i rolled down the sleeves to keep my arms warm.
a fun anecdote: i was walking up a hill to mile 23 when i heard a dj playing i will survive, a power song of mine since i was in elementary school. i took another video to send to my parents before the song switched to “play that funky music”. the next day, that dj was my uber driver to the airport monday. small world.
the fresh strawberries were at mile 23.5. at this point i hadn’t really hit a wall, but i was over the race and the hills and the wind. but those strawberries definitely gave me a boost.
there were a couple more bands in the final miles. i walked up the hill at mile 25 and ran the rest of the way. i knew if i didn’t walk, i’d probably set a personal record. but i was crabby. that’s the best way i can describe it. i was frustrated by the hills i wasn’t expecting and the wind that no one could control. i didn’t want to keep pushing, i just wanted it to be over.
i finished the race in 4:42:35. one minute slower than my best. i took a few pictures, got the food and water provided and went straight for the gear check. while i was figuring out my bib number, a guy handed me my bag. i jumped right on the shuttle and was back in monterey in less than 30 minutes.
in addition to the hills, one other huge complaint about this course was the camber of the road. this is a new term for me. i usually run on sidewalks (flat) or now trails which are bumpy but flat. the camber of the road is how it tilts (check out this diagram if i am not explaining it well). this course had both positive and negative camber. i tried to find flat parts in the road, but a lot of effort and weaving were put in on my part to prevent any blisters caused by weird angles.
despite my complaints about the wind/course/camber/hills, this race was very well organized. there were ample volunteers/porta potties/aid stations/course marshalls out on the course. it started right on time. at the end, instead of grabbing a banana, then an apple, and awkwardly moving down a line and trying to hold everything, they had a box filled with all of the foods to hand to us (though i did get the biggest strawberries added to my box after). the volunteers were all very friendly and knowledgeable.