I may have whispered the word, “Wow”, to myself hundreds of times in a 4 hour time-span. It was pretty much the only way to sum up my 2012 Big Sur Marathon experience. I mean, when you have 26.2 miles of rugged cliffsides, breathtaking ocean-views, quad-slamming hills, and brutally canted California coastal highway between the start and finish line, you’re pretty much guaranteed of loving every second of the run. This marathon did not disappoint.
I started training for this race in January as injury had kept me from fully training most of the fall of 2011. Unlike typical marathon training, the Big Sur requires more focus on hills and quad endurance. As I researched more about this race, I began to realize what I had gotten myself into. Over 1200ft of elevation gain, Hurricane Point, crazy high winds, brutal uphills and downhills, extreme road cant, relentless pain, etc etc. Great, this wasn’t going to be any regular training routine. But I liked that.
I decided to spice up training by adding the LA Marathon into the mix a few weeks before Big Sur. You can read my race recap here and figure out for yourself what I found out on the course: that I wasn’t fully trained for a marathon. Bad, Ginger, bad. The biggest problem with the LA Marathon for me wasn’t the bonking or pain and suffering. The race left some SERIOUS mental doubt about my physical abilities to finish another race. Ever.
I drove up the California coast with Mile Long Legs on Friday, enjoying every beautiful mile, snapping pics and taking a time-out for The Hearst Castle grand room tour (sure, let’s fork over $25/each to stare at some crazy rich dude’s depression-era “house”). It became increasingly clear just how awesome this course was going to be. Sure enough, the mileage between San Simeon and Monterey were unbelievable. By the time we reached what would become the starting line about 26 miles short of Carmel/Monterey, our mouths were surely agape at what this region had in store for us (hehe, I said, “Agape”).
We didn’t get into town in time for the Expo, but we did get a chance to grab some weekend groceries at Trader Joes, meet up with my best friends and now runners, Justin and Destiny, check into our hotel, and have some grub before hitting the hay. Saturday we stopped by the expo early, grabbed our bibs and start-line bus passes (This is one of my main gripes about this marathon which I’ll get to later). The bus passes are on a first-come, first-serve basis. I believe that the earlier you get to the expo (Friday) the later bus you get to catch to drop you off at the startline (anywhere from 3:45am-4:45am departures). We snagged 4:15am garage departure bus tickets.
After leaving the expo, we opted to drive around Pebble Beach via the 17-mile road (come on, you’re charging $10 to drive along this road?) and grabbed a beer (carbo loading) at the tavern in the Pebble Beach lodge. Pretty swanky and our bartender (a former futbol star) even refunded the $10 road charge. Someday, when I learn to golf, and get filthy rich, maybe I’ll get to play a round here. Or maybe I’ll just buy Fiji and a cheerleading squad.
After some sandwiches and more touristy biz, we all settled in for some sunset beach games at our hotel before hitting up a local pasta joint for carbo loading. I was getting pretty anxious about this run, and fear was settling in, but I continued to hide it from my present company of first-time marathoners. I think this helped me in keeping the doubt out of my mind. Had to look strong in front of my friends, couldn’t let them see this “seasoned marathoner” show weakness! The time to focus was at hand. Sleep eluded me for hours, but I eventually passed out around midnight. Awesome, 3 hours of sleep should do the trick….I hope.
I rose early so we could be out the door by 3:45 to catch the 4:15 bus to the startline. Driving through downtown Monterey at 3:45 was painless with little car traffic – I dunno what I expected, but being from LA, you anticipate the worst. As I mentioned before, the bus situation is my primary gripe with this marathon. After we parked in the garage, we had about 25 minutes to find our bus pickup spot. After being directed by a handful of race volunteers to follow a large line of comfortable looking tour busses up 3 blocks towards the same building the expo was in the day before, we found out that we were in the wrong bus line. Great. 15 minutes wasted.
Another volunteer said to head back down towards the garages and head south for another 3 blocks. As we wandered around the downtown Monterey area, we started seeing more runners with similar misinformation and we all rallied to find the correct bus line. nearly 30 minutes later, we were standing in a line waiting for busses we weren’t sure were ours. 8 yellow school busses pulled around the corner and down towards us. Looks like the comfy tour busses are saved for those who don’t carpool, but pay premiums for staying in race-sponsoring hotels. Classy.
A little less than an hour later, after a bus ride that was both freezing and full of very bad country music (thanks Mr. Bus Driver), we arrived at the start line, anxious to get our coffee, a banana and fill our bottles with water. The crowds by this point were pretty extensive and pushing through the throngs of standing, sitting, and sleeping people was difficult. Remind me of the benefit of late bus departure again? Once to the tables, we were told the coffee was out, the bagels were gone, and bananas were scarce. Awesome. Now I just felt bad for those who were still to be dropped off. Luckily, I snagged half a bagel and banana from someone not looking to finish theirs and gulped them both down. I opted not to try my luck for a porta-potty seeing as the lines for those were even worse and more disorganized. I figured I’d stop somewhere early in the race.
The race announcers kept the microphone hot and banter lighthearted and fun. This was necessary seeing as the restless crowds were now swarming over each other to literally THROW their sweat bags into the truck in time to get to the start line. As I forced my way up towards the starting corrals, my focus began to dial in. I wasn’t thinking about anything other than finishing strong and letting whatever was to come just be. This was my chance to prove to myself I still had it. The video below is from the trip up and from the race. Enjoy it, but keep reading!
Then came the starting countdown, the gun, and we were off. The first few miles of this course are downhill. It was all I could do to keep from just opening up and letting myself fly down. But I was playing it VERY conservative by keeping my pace VERY slow and saving those quads for the monster climbs to come. During these first few miles, my stomach wasn’t feeling top notch either. Things weren’t settling right and it was WAY to early to have any problems. I tried to reign in the doubt and push through these beautiful wooded miles with a positive attitude.
By mile 5, we were coming out of the trees and into wide open windy plains of cows and grass. And when I say wind, I mean WIND. This whole race was very blustery and we were just getting our first taste of it. The fog was rolling across the tops of the hills just as my stomach turned. It was time for a pit stop. Since I knew I wasn’t going for a PR at Big Sur, I opted to take a second at the next aid station to hydrate, gel up, and ‘release the kracken’ as I’ve begun to call it when I crap. Oh and a special side note to the lady who yelled at everyone using the porta-potties to, “Hurry Up! You’re taking FOREVER!”. Fuck you. Fuck you and your ass-face. Look around you for a second and realize you’re running one of the most beautiful marathons. Relax that ugly running skirt, breathe, and don’t yell at those of us who are dealing with a lot more than a nasty marathon porta-pottie.
Once the Kracken was swimming with Jack Sparrow at the bottom of the Porta-Pot Sea, I was a whole new man. After a mile I was right as rain and ready to take on what Big Sur had in store for me. And boy did it pack a wallop! Within minutes I was running high along the ocean waves, fighting against the ocean winds to stay upright, and dealing with brutally banked ankle-destroying asphalt. The runners around me were snapping their own photos and slowing to gawk at their surroundings.
For being as remote as we were, I never once felt lonely. The aid stations were nicely spaced between mile markers so there always felt like help was just around the corner in case you needed it. And the fact there were countless cyclists roaming the packs of runners contributed to this feeling of safety. A very wholehearted thank you to EVERYONE who came out and volunteered for this race! Such an awesome crew!
Then came Hurricane Point. This is a 2 mile jaunt up at least 500 feet from mile 10-12. Might not seem like much on paper, but when you approach this hill from the south on highway 1 and are unable to escape it’s grandeur and length from afar, you can’t help but gulp. Luckily, I trained for this. Hard. I rounded the corner at the base of the hill, cheered on by busloads of relay runners and kick-ass taiko drummers, then proceeded to kick Hurricane Point’s ass. I didn’t push it because I knew how long the hill was and how much more was to come. I took it even easier on the way back down in hopes of saving those quads for the last 8 miles of deep rollers.
It was just after crossing the Bixby Bridge (gorgeous) that something pretty cool happened. I ran a mile or two with Dean Karnazes. I recognized him earlier around mile 5 running in the opposite direction, gave him a shout and had forgotten about it. But then I heard someone say his name behind me and saw that he was coming up on my right, solo. I greeted him, reminded him that I spoke with him at a Matthew McConaughey/Samsung event last fall, and chatted about this and that. Then I remembered I asked, “Did I see you running the other direction earlier?”
“Sure did! Started at 2am!”, he replied heartily.
“Whoa, 2am? Why would you….Oh”, and it clicked in my mind, “You ran from the finish line to the startline and are running back to the finish, right?”
“Yup! Got my headlamp. It’s beautiful here!”, he chimed.
Here I was, barely able to keep up with his mid 7minute/mile pace and this guy was on his second marathon of the morning. Pretty sure my wiener shrunk an inch or so. Dean’s a bad ass. ALL ultra runners (road and trail) are bad asses. Really have to hand it to you kids, you have balls of steel, hearts of iron, and unparalleled determination. I hope to join your ranks someday.
I let Dean move along at his regular pace as I continued my push to victory. About a mile later he ran back up to me from behind – I’m assuming he stopped at an aid station to refill his hydration pack or something that would take time for me to be able to get ahead of him – and he struck up a conversation again. This time he was curious if this was my first time up here. I mentioned it was but I planned on returning again soon. We talked Marin Headlands where I dream of running TNF50k this fall. He mentioned Badwater plans and a busy race calendar. As we fell into our rhythm again, I started talking about my bad LA marathon experience and he said something extremely simple, but profound for me at this point in my race.
“We all cross the same finish line.”
I took this to mean “we” as in all runners in a particular race – fast or slow, elite or rookie, healthy or ailing – but I also took it to mean something more personal. That mind and body, while potentially separated or unfocused at any given point in a race, still manage to get you there if you let them. We all, as a whole, cross the same finish line, and together can accomplish anything. That may read a little too ‘hippie-earth-boy-tree-child’ to some, but it got me through the next 9 miles. Thank you, Dean Karnazes. And I meant what I said when I let you steam on again: I will always have a beer with your name on it at the finish line should you choose to join me.
The last 9 miles of the race were stellar. Great ocean views, crazy run-stopping wind gusts, fog, sunshine, freezing cold, grand pianos, belly dancers, strawberries, horribly slanted roads, sore feet, and moderately slow miles. You know, typical marathon stuff. I got recognized a couple of times – a very special shout out to you folks who would run up to me and scare the shit out of me by yelling my name or pointing at my face – which is just mind-blowing to me. I LOVE it! You guys like my reviews and blogs! Thank you thank you THANK YOU!
Before I knew it, I was in the home-stretch. The crowds began to thicken, the music gradually got louder, and BAM, there was the finish line. The best part? I felt awesome. No bonking, no sickness, no dizziness, only strength and power. Sure, my feet felt like they’d been hammered on for 4 hours, but that’s to be expected. I wasn’t prepared for the tears of joy, but they came. I had beat my own prediction by finishing strong and battling through doubt. All of me had crossed that finish line. Not nearly as quickly as I would’ve liked, but let’s be honest, with hills and crazy winds, I wasn’t gonna break any records.
I snagged that medal (AWESOME medals, Big Sur! They do NOT disappoint!) and flung it around my neck quicker than a wedding ring on a Kardashian (OH NO HE DIDN’T!). Another HUGE compliment to Big Sur for making sure all the goodie bags had the items preloaded in them so I didn’t have to walk around and search booths for free food/post-race grub. This made it SO quick and easy. Same with the sweats bag pick-up aread. They had my bag in hand within seconds of walking up. Well done, volunteers!!
Just because I had finished didn’t mean my morning was over. I still had two marathon rookies out there on the course and I had to make sure they were still chuggin’ along. My best friend Justin, who’s longest training run was 17 miles due to injury and started this race unsure of his knee’s ability to finish, came in around the 5 hour mark strong and feeling like a million bucks. Way to go, J-Man!! You EARNED that shit!
My girlfriend, Mile Long Legs (I just call her Mile), started this race coming off of two major injuries. First, she injured her ankle pretty badly last year before the San Francisco Half Marathon. That injury resulted in almost a year of painful physical therapy, wrong diagnosis after diagnosis, and money spent on wellness gadgets, insoles, braces, and the sort. Determined to run this Big Sur marathon after having to bow out of numerous races in late 2011 and early 2012, MLL injured her IT band/knee a few months ago and wasn’t able to train. She managed to get in a 13 mile run and a 17.3 mile run. That’s it. But through pure will and determination (with the hesitant thumbs up from her physio so long as she didn’t go above a level 5 on the pain threshold), this girl made the marathon cut-off time, pushed through horrible debilitating pain and discomfort to finish her first whole fucking marathon in just under 6 hours. Hard fucking core.
Dean Karnazes couldn’t have said it better himself: We all crossed the same finish line.
Again, well done to all of the volunteers and race coordinators on a spectacular marathon. With only minor gripes that will hopefully get ironed out in the years to come, they have a pretty great race here. I can only hope that they don’t allow too many more entrants as overcrowding could be the first foreseeable problem with the Big Sur Marathon. Keep it small, keep it safe, keep it pure.
- Spectacular Ocean-side course
- Great support and volunteers
- Great aid station planning/location
- Challenging/Rewarding course
- Stand-out finisher’s medals
- Easy Expo
- Quick finish-line walk through
- Bus coordination/school busses
- Ran out of food at startline before majority arrived
- Not enough Porta-Potties
- Cost of sponsored hotels/destination
RACE SUPPORT: 9/10
RACE ORGANIZATION: 8/10
BONUS: 10/10 (Unbelievable course, great volunteers, medals)
PLACE OVERALL: 976/3,387
PLACE IN SEX: 660/1,796
PLACE IN DIVISION: 107/230
Tags: 1400, 2010, 2011, 2012 big sur marathon, anniversary, best, big sur, big sur marathon, brooks, course, distance, distancia, ethan newberry, finisher, finishers, first, free, ginger runner, gingerrunner, gravitas, gravity, half, half marathon, kinvara, marathon, medal, minimus, momentus, new balance, newton, nike+, pure, race, review, road, saucony, schedule, shoe, terra, the ginger, trail, train, training, ultra, worst