Thursday, May 1, 2008


I did it! I achieved my goal of completing the Big Sur International Marathon in less than four hours. Not bad for a first marathon on a hilly course where one should expect to add 20 minutes to a normal marathon time. The course was challenging and what surprised me was that going up the hills wasn’t an issue for me. In reality, I should have pushed myself a little harder going up some of the hills. What became a factor was going down the hills. I’ll cover this shortly.

At 4:30am, we boarded the buses for the hour-long drive to the start line (quite a logistical feat, since 3,200+ people were running the full marathon, with another 6,800 people eventually taking the same buses to the start points for the shorter runs/walks). Arriving at the starting area, there was a massive throng of people milling about, with music playing to help pass the time as we awaited the 6:45am start. The competitors ranged from really fit folks, to others you wouldn’t guess would/could run 26.2 miles in six hours or less (the course closes after six hours). And there was a guy in white tights, a cape, a curly moustache, and a French cap (not a beret), who ran with a baguette. Yes, a baguette. I know he had a baguette, because he passed me around mile 5. I don’t know where he got the baguette, because he didn’t have it when I was standing behind him at the bag drop-off before the race (if you had sweats or other personal items to shed, you could have it sent to a pick up area at the finish line).

So, the race started, and I stuck to a comfortable pace, keeping my heart rate in the 152-159 range. The first six miles were downhill or flat, and I was keeping a good pace. At each mile mark, there are people calling out times, along with anticipated finish times. For the first eight or nine miles, I was on a 3:20-3:35 pace to finish. Of course, I knew the real climbs started at mile 9.8. Here is the course profile (bottom of the page): Big Sur marathon course

I made a point to not attack the hills too hard, as I was concerned about energy management – I didn’t want to hit a wall (bonk) at mile 20 or so. I shortened my stride, swung my arms, and kept at an effort so my breathing was not hard, and on a cycle of inhale/exhale/four steps, instead of the six to eight step patterns I usually breathe. Hurricane point was daunting to see (2.2 mile 4.5% climb), but not as bad as I thought. There were more climbs after that, but what became a factor was going down the hills. I tried to step it out enough on the descents to keep my heart rate up, making up for the decreased speed on the inclines. Somewhere after mile 18 it was getting too difficult to make the long strides, so my heart rate was dipping to the low 140s on some near the end. I couldn’t get enough leg turnover, and making a longer stride might have put my face on the pavement due to braking action.

Another factor was the camber of the road. Some areas, and especially the curves, have significant camber, and when combined with a decline, cause your foot to the front and side of your shoe. My feet were starting to hurt at mile 20.

And lastly, I started to have GI issues at mile 18. I was debating on stopping at a port-a-let, but I didn’t really want to. Eventually, I was really uncomfortable, and decided I would have to stop to take care of the situation. But before every water point/john stop was a mile marker, and nearing a 3:55 finish pace, decided I could not stop.

My dark place was probably miles 20-23. What really helped me around mile 23 was seeing the Strides for Hope team coach, Deseri Garcia, who ran with me for about ½ mile. Support and encouragement at this point really helped snap me out of my funk [read: self-defeating mindset].

At mile 24, I was just thinking,” I’m there. Step it out, pick up the pace.” Then I hit the last hill at mile 25, hoping there was not a decline after the top. Time was going really slow for me, because I just wanted to get across the finish line, knowing it would feel so good to stop. Approaching mile 26, I could see the finish line, and as I got closer, knew I was going to make 3:56.

It did in fact feel really good to stop, though I had to keep moving and couldn’t sit for another two hours (with the exception of the short, light massage I received in the massage tent). Walking around and getting drinks at various places, it began to sink in that five months of effort had paid off, and it was kind of an emotional moment for me (from someone who doesn’t show emotion). Since December, my accumulated training time is over 139 hours, over 590 miles running, and over 710 miles riding, with about 30 in the gym. I wish Michele could have been there with me.

In the end, my hips and outer quads were smoked, and it was hard to go down stairs most of the day. I took a brief ice bath, followed by two hot showers. I used my massage stick periodically to work out the kinks, and feel pretty good, though the next day my morning resting heart rate was up quite a bit (55 vs. 39 the previous week). I had hoped to run negative splits the second half of the race, but I don’t think this course is conducive for that. I could have been faster on the hills, and I learned my energy management plan may have been too conservative. I had started the carb load process four days earlier, and consumed gels at 45 min before the race, 1 hr, 1:45, and 2:45. I think I could have pushed harder and maybe bumped my average heart rate to the low 160s, instead of 156. I don’t know. Fatigue management is another story.

My splits:

mile time HR
1 7:50 145
2 8:28 157
3-4 16:12 156
5 8:15 158
6 8:23 160
7 8:44 159
8 8:58 159
9 9:12 159
10 8:26 153
11 10:38 159
12 9:35 158
13 8:00 152
14 8:31 153
15 8:36 158
16 9:06 157
17 8:56 154
18 9:35 155
19 9:47 156
20 9:46 156
21 9:31 154
22 9:50 157
23 9:54 154
24 9:34 159
25 9:09 159
26 9:34 161
0.2 1:48 167

621/3208 overall
79/245 age group

And the course? It was spectacular! For the first six miles or so, you’re in the hills, with tree canopy and limited visibility. Then you break out and head for the coast. It became pretty windy, and I was really wishing I could find someone to draft. Once you hit the coast, it is just amazing, seeing the cliffs and surf, and once you’re closer to the water, can hear the waves crashing below. There were musicians along the way, ranging from high school bands to rock bands, from cultural drummers to a guy playing a grand piano on the Bixby bridge. I liked the drummers at the base of Hurricane Point the best. The thumping was in a seemingly south Pacific rhythm, and not only could I hear it for the next ½ mile, it was in synch with my cadence. The thousands of volunteers (literally) really helped the race go smoothly.

And my fund raising? It looks like I will just about hit $8,500. And I was stressed about getting $3,500. Thanks to everyone for their support, both financially and with goodwill, as I could not have otherwise done this. It was a wonderful experience, and all for a good cause. I’d like to do this again next year (my thoughts at mile 21 were just the opposite), though I think I would be even more stressed about the fundraising aspect.

My friend Brian was with me at the start. He signed up for the race right after I told him I was running in it (what a pal). He hadn’t run a marathon since the mid-90’s (Honolulu), but being the most spontaneous person I know, he just signed up. Since I don’t/can’t listen to music when I run, nor do I talk much, I told him he was either going to be ahead of me or behind me during the race, but if he was with me, they’ll be no yammering because I have to tune everything out when I run. We got separated and I didn’t see him again until after the race. We walked around for awhile, went back to the hotel to clean up, then went to a pub for some pints and chow. I found it was still too hard to eat, and could only consume half my Guinness.

What’s next? I’m running the Geist half-marathon on 5/17, and want to do one of the local triathlons in June, while getting ready for the 2008 Muncie Endurathon in July.

Here are the race results: Big Sur results. I am bib 3374.

I have posted a few pictures, as I don’t have many (I hope to get some from the team), but here is a link to the ones taken by Marathon Photo during the race: Marathon Photo