2015 Big Sur International Marathon Recap

Every other marathon I run is completely terrible.

Given the disaster that was the Eugene Marathon, I was due for a good one.

I’m happy to report that the Big Sur International Marathon delivered!

With those incredible views, how could it not?

My best marathons (Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas and Chicago) were all about having fun, so that was my goal with this one. I just wanted to enjoy the scenery and have a great race — not stress myself out by gunning for a PR. 

Big Sur is hilly, with a monster two-mile climb up to Hurricane Point between miles 10 and 12, and then rolling hills all the way until the end, so I really focused on hills rather than speed in my training.

Hurricane Point was the one I was worried about, but the little hills turned out to be much more difficult! I’ll get to that in a bit.

Aaron and I stayed at an Airbnb in Pacific Grove, just a few minutes away from Monterey. We arrived on Friday night and hit the expo early on Saturday.

I was so excited to run across the Bixby Bridge for real!

Later, I did an easy two-mile shakeout run along Asilomar State Beach, then just relaxed, had a delicious dinner out, and hit the sack at 8:30 to prep for a seriously early wake-up time.

I hopped right out of bed when my 2:30 alarm sounded, eager to begin my ritual of eating a hearty breakfast, chugging water, applying sunscreen, and — fingers crossed — pooping all the poop there is to poop.

I ate bacon, eggs, and avocado that I snagged from a restaurant on Saturday morning and kept in the fridge of our Airbnb (it came with potatoes, too, but I couldn’t stomach those). Unlike Chicago, where I ate practically the same breakfast cold, I was able to microwave it and add a bunch of salt to help me retain water through the race. (This was my first time trying extra salt, believe it or not, and it totally worked!)

At 3:45, Aaron dropped me off at the school buses lined up near the expo location. Runners must take an hour-long bus ride backwards along the course to the start line — you can’t get there by car — so there’s a good reason for that early wake-up.

You’d think the bus ride would be a good opportunity to scout out the course, but it was totally dark and the bus windows were foggy from all the mouth-breathing adults packed into a vehicle designed for children, so I just closed my eyes and almost fell asleep! Ha.

We arrived at the start line around 5:00 and had plenty of time to kill until the 6:45 start. I found a spot to sit on a curb, chatted with fellow runners, drank water, ate a banana, and used the bathroom multiple times. I was nice and warm, thanks to the fleece-lined sweatshirt and sweatpants I bought at Value Village.

This is a professional photo shot right before I ditched the magical sweatshirt. You are welcome.

Soon enough, it was time to line up, and we were off!

The first five miles are a gradual downhill through a redwood forest and farmland, so I was really conscious of not going out too fast. 

My first mile was pretty slow, but I was OK with that — I knew I needed to save my quads for the hills later. That was actually the mantra I repeated to myself for all the downhill portions of this race: Save the Quads.

Mile 1: 9:57
Mile 2: 9:34

I finally settled into a pace I felt like I could run all day, which was my other mantra for the flatter and uphill portions: All Day. Don’t go nuts; just run a pace you feel like you can maintain all day.

Mile 3: 9:24
Mile 4: 9:24
Mile 5: 9:21
Mile 6: 9:21
Mile 7: 9:23
Mile 8: 9:20

I was really happy with the consistency of my splits as the miles ticked by. Allllll dayyyyy. Around mile five or six was the first time we could see the ocean, which was really exciting.

Oh, ALSO the wind started blowing something fierce, which felt good because it made the sun not feel as warm. I did have to hold onto my hat several times throughout the race to keep it from blowing away, though!

Mile nine was the first slight uphill, and 10 was a little faster with a downhill. Hurricane Point loomed ahead — you can totally see the huge climb ahead of you — so I made sure not to bomb down too quickly.

Mile 9: 9:29
Mile 10: 9:13

And then it was time to climb! See that nice hill in the middle? Luckily, the Taiko drummers were stationed right at the base of the hill, and their intense rhythm was so motivating.

I was so pumped to feel strong going up Hurricane Point. I didn’t have to walk, and I passed quite a few runners who had probably passed me earlier. It made all those hilly training runs feel so worth it.

Mile 11: 10:11
Mile 12: 9:46

Reaching the top of Hurricane Point was euphoric! The view of the ocean was incredible, and I had an awesome downhill ahead of me (although my Save the Quads policy was in full effect), and I knew the iconic Bixby Bridge was waiting below.

Michael Martinez plays the grand piano on the bridge each year, and I could hear the music even before I could see him. I don’t remember what the song was, but it was beautiful and made crossing the bridge feel completely surreal and stupid-happy.

Here I am crossing the bridge with a few of my friends. Pretend I am leading the race!

The 13.1 mark is just at the end (or slightly after?) the bridge, and I crossed the timing mat at 2:06:19. I thought maybe I could negative-split the race, so I picked up the pace slightly for the next several miles. This was my new All Day pace.

Mile 13: 9:13
Mile 14: 9:16
Mile 15: 9:15
Mile 16: 9:09
Mile 17: 9:11

Miles 18-22 are where I’m wary of hitting the wall and/or not being able to stomach Gu anymore, based on past experience. I had been steadily drinking Nuun from my fuel belt, and eating vanilla Gu every four-and-a-half miles (4.5, 9, 13.5). Mile 18 is where eating usually starts getting tricky, but that Gu went down just fine. I had a golden stomach day! 

I also felt perfectly hydrated. Thank you, salty breakfast.

Mile 18: 9:20
Mile 19: 9:16
Mile 20: 9:27
Mile 21: 9:12

The hill during mile 22 was what threw me off my game. My legs were pretty tired by this point, obviously, and I was just not loving the uphill. I decided to walk up the hill to take a little break, and then run down.

I know that looks like a sad picture, but walking felt AWESOME. Unlike the times I walked in previous marathons, I was 100% cool with it because it truly made the experience more enjoyable. 

I felt better taking a break, and my legs felt good when I started running again, so I continued to walk uphill and run downhill and between hills. I also paused at a water station to completely refill the bottles in my fuel belt.

Mile 22: 10:44
Mile 23: 10:27
Mile 24: 10:49

The second-best highlight of the race, after reaching the top of Hurricane Point, was getting to the strawberry table in mile 23! I’d read in others’ race recaps that these were the best strawberries ever, and sure enough, they tasted like heaven. I grabbed three and gobbled them down throughout miles 23 and 24. Thank you, golden stomach, for allowing that to happen.

The strawberries must have revitalized me since I picked up the pace a bit after that.

Mile 25: 9:37

It was pretty hot out by the point, so I dumped a few cups of water over my head at an aid station. I was ready to be DONE.

I really wanted to finish the last mile strong, but there was a rude hill that I just couldn’t muster the strength to run up.

Then, once I’d walked up the hill and started running again — thinking I was home-free — disaster struck! My calves seized and cramped big-time, and I had to pull over to the side of the road to do sort of a downward dog and stretch. It was really frustrating to be so close to the finish, thinking I would easily come in under 4:15, and then have to completely stop!

The 4:15 pacer actually pulled over and massaged my calves for 15-20 seconds as I stretched, bless her heart, and that helped quite a bit. She had to run off to continue leading her group, but she yelled, “Try to walk it out!” as she left. I started walking, and then was able to run again, thank goodness!

Mile 26: 11:56

I still wanted to finish under 4:15, so I gathered everything I had left and went for it. 

I caught the 4:15 pacer, passed her (while thanking her profusely!), freaked out with happiness when I spotted Aaron screaming for me on the sidelines, and crossed the finish line for an official time of 4:14:12.

SO HAPPY! The announcer said my name and hometown as I crossed, and I even got a high-five from Bart Yasso right after I got my medal! Can’t beat that.

Aaron captured my drunk runner’s high face as I left the food tent, where I had collected amazing things like fresh fruit (more strawberries!!), orange-pineapple juice (I drank three cans — ah-mazing), and giant cookies.

I got my body horizontal on the ground ASAP, and Aaron massaged my calves and feet when they started to cramp again. He also fetched me a cup of minestrone soup when I started feeling nauseous, which helped so much.

He catered to my every need until I was good as new! What a good husband. 🙂

I can’t recommend the Big Sur International Marathon enough. Aside from the stunning course and iconic features, like the Taiko drummers, it’s a great challenge. I recommend incorporating hills at the end of your long runs to prepare for those late rollers! 

And get ready for some competition to get into the race: It’s so popular that they’re implementing a lottery system for 2016. There are only about 3,500 spots, which makes for a nice, uncrowded race and a well-organized experience from start to finish. Give it a shot!

The strawberries alone are worth it. 🙂

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