Saturday, May 03, 2014

Big Sur Marathon

I’ve been wanting to run this race for a couple years, since shortly after finishing my first marathon.  It was a hard one.  Pavement.  Hills.  Runnable hills, as opposed to hikable-only hills, which I’m more used to.  But they had more aid stations per mile than the entire Diablo 50k course.  This would also be the second part of a two-weekends at >= marathon distance personal challenge.  

Driving the Course on Saturday.
We made a family trip of the weekend, staying in Monterey, driving the coast, and exploring Fisherman’s Wharf and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Bringing MC along, there wasn’t much sleep to be had.  I woke up at 2 on Sunday to catch the 4AM bus to the start in Big Sur.  With the sun not up yet, it was cold.  But they served pre-race coffee!  The crowds were packed in until we lined up on Highway 1.  

As far as races go, this had a great balance between the energy of road races and the peacefulness of outdoor running.  And compared to many trail races, it had a feeling of epicness, similar to Diablo, since the hills were long, the views were expansive, and the environment quite dynamic.  

The course starts downhill, so I started faster for his distance (~8:30 per mile).  I kept that pace for a long time, as the race passed through redwoods and open expanses and past Point Sur.  The weather was great, not too windy and sunny.  Everyone tells me most years are not.

Mile 10 starts the long, steady two mile climb.  I expected this one to slow me down, and it did.  But it was runnable, so I paced myself on heart rate.  At the top, my hamstrings were burning, the long runnable hill caught up with me, since I’m usually on much steeper hills.  I picked up the pace again heading downhill, and you could hear the well-known piano player through most of this valley.

Somewhere near the bottom I backed off on pace and started periodic walking breaks, since the long climb had left a lot of tight muscles.  I also crossed paths with one of PL’s doctors, Dr. T, whom I had met the day before when we all crossed paths in a coffee shop near the expo, and we ended up keeping pace with each other on and off until the finish.  The rest of the course was steady going, along the coast and eventually inland through the Carmel highlands.  I took a couple-minute stretch break at mile 20 that helped a lot with reducing muscle pain through the last six miles.  Dr. T and I crossed the finish just about together; it was great to have a pacing partner, since we probably both pushed each other in terms of speed.  

I finished in 4:29:18, hitting my first goal of a new marathon PR (previously 5:11) and a second goal of beating 4:30, all while taking enough time to enjoy the run.  Unlike most races, I left pretty quickly, since we had afternoon plans too.  I didn't take as many photos as I'd expected to, likely since I've gotten so much coastal running time in this year.  And I wanted to run this race faster.

Overall, this race went well.  I didn’t quite know what to expect with the long slow hill, and it did hit me pretty well.  I’ve recovered faster from this race than the other two road marathons I’ve done too.  I also liked the double challenge of a hard 50k and a hard road marathon on back-to-back weekends.  For the first ten miles, I picked the pace up for short periods every couple minutes; this did a lot to keep me moving faster for a longer period of time, since I think a lot of the muscle stiffness I get in road races comes from the repetitive movement.  Mixing this up kept everything feeling more flexible.  This race also has me convinced that I could break 4:00 now on an easier course.  I don’t run road marathons that often (hence the big time decrease), and I don’t have any more planned right now, so I don’t know if that’ll happen soon.  But I’ll likely come back to this race; it has an amazing vibe, is challenging, and takes place in a beautiful environment.  

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