Please prepare for what will be a long, long race report filled with more pictures that you ever wanted to see…and way too much excitement on my part. I’ve taken my time in getting around to writing this because I really wanted to give it my full attention and try to give you the full experience of what was by far my most favorite and fun marathon I’ve ever run.
I signed up for Big Sur based on the pressure of it filling soon and a little bit of twitter pressure from Aron. It’s known for being one of the most beautiful marathons in the country, so I figured…why not? Then the race date crept up on me and soon enough I was packing for my first trip to California.
Five weeks prior to running Big Sur, I ran the Ocean Drive Marathon, which, while it is the site of my current PR, it was also the scene of one of my most horrific marathons where I totally fell apart at the end and hated running. When I decided to run Ocean Drive as my goal race for the spring, I decided that Big Sur would be run for fun. It was setting up to be a fabulous girls weekend with the California girls, the course was to be beautiful…and I was going to enjoy running. I only had one goal in mind for this race: to have a blast.
Let’s just say that I met that goal with flying colors. Soared above all my expectations. But I guess now it’s time for me to tell you how that all came to be.
saturday – meeting the california girls and the expo
I flew into San Francisco on Friday evening and stayed with my friend Mark, who then dropped me off at BART station on Saturday morning so I could head out into the Bay Area to meet up with Aron, Tara, and Page. Aron was our lovely driver and we made our way down to Monterey for the relay. I was getting my first taste of the California scenery and enjoying the chatter of these bloggers who I feel like I know, but have never met! (Although I did get to meet Aron and Page in Boston just days before.) We eventually made it to the expo and scoped it out:
In my race goals, I had mentioned that I might do cartwheels on the course…which, if you’ve ever seen me do a cartwheel, you would know that it looks more like uncoordinated falling rather than anything else. Luau kindly told Bart Yasso via twitter to make sure I didn’t do any cartwheels on marathon day. Well, I spotted Bart at the expo and walked up to him and said, "I’m Susan, and you’re supposed to stop me from doing cartwheels tomorrow!” He chuckled and said that he remembered seeing that on twitter. Gotta love social media.
With all the ladies!
We roamed the expo, scored some free organic apple slices, and purchased last minute race fuel. I forgot my beloved Honey Stingers, but I had tried PowerBar Energy Blasts at the Boston Marathon expo, so I picked up a few of them…in strawberry banana and raspberry. Why not? They were delicious.
After the expo, we wandered around town and grabbed some lunch while waiting for Jessica, Sandra, Alyssa, and Kristen to arrive. They got to the hotel soon enough and we headed out to California Pizza Kitchen for our pre-race dinner…gotta love some carbs. :) After a tasty meal, we headed back to the hotel and got our morning race gear ready since the alarms were set for an early 3:30 am wake-up! I think we were in bed around 9pm…crazy, huh?
sunday pre-race – keeping warm in the dark
Alarms went off bright and early on Sunday morning, and soon enough we were all up and at ‘em to get ready to run! Many thanks to Aron for bringing some extra race morning food to share! We prepped and made sure everyone had their morning coffee before heading over to the bus at the hotel next to us…scheduled for a 4:30 pick-up.
Since the course was changed, we didn’t have an hour long ride to Big Sur and instead ended up with a short ride to Carmel, the scene of the both the start and finish of the race. It was really dark and cold, so we snagged some of the coffee and bagels they had out for the morning. Soon enough, some guy was walking around saying that runners were taking over the Safeway in the parking lot of the start area since it was open 24/7 and warm inside. Not too many people grocery shop at 5am on a Sunday morning, so it was totally overrun with runners!
After keeping warm for awhile, it was finally time to make some final bathroom stops before heading over to the starting line. I guess people actually listened when they were calling the different corals to head over since bag check was a huge crowd of people, and then I had to fight my way up to the front of the pack. Next time I suppose I’ll listen when they call the corrals…
I was given a seeded bib since I said I would run sub-3:15 when I signed up, but I was pretty sure that wasn’t actually going to happen. I decided to line up near the front anyway…the first pace group that they had was at 3:30, and I figured I’d be in front of them, so I just headed toward the front. Many of the runners around me were men who were doing Boston to Big Sur…assuming that Big Sur wasn’t their goal race, their “slower” pace would be right around me. Perfect!
After the National Anthem and a few final remarks, the gun sounded and away we went for my eighth 26.2 mile run.
saturday – it’s time to run the hills
Soooo, I really didn’t have much of a strategy for this race. I was texted with Betsy on Saturday and I told her that I would go out at 8:00-8:30 pace and see how I felt. She texted me back saying she couldn’t imagine me running 8:30 miles…after the first couple miles, I knew she was right! I decided to just let my legs go and do whatever was comfortable…didn’t want to really think about running, just wanted to enjoy myself. The first two mile markers were a bit long, but I settled into pace pretty quickly.
The race started with a HUGE downhill after about half a mile, and I said out loud to the people around me, “We have to run back UP that??” Since it’s an out and back course, I knew that hill wouldn’t seem so dandy at mile 25…and I was right! Mostly I tried to block that and all the other hills out of my mind, just taking in the sights around me…and capturing it on camera!
The first few miles took us through a cute little town with some pretty houses and small views of the water, and while it was pretty, there was a really steep camber on the road which I was noticing. Nothing major. The hills got going right from the start, and I just took them in stride, trying not to think about them too much. No point in rushing up them on my fun run! The miles were simply flying by, and I was having a lot of fun just looking around me. The mile markers were awesome with different pictures on each one, and I snapped a picture of all the ones that I saw as I passed…I don’t think mile 22 had one, and don’t worry, I won’t make you look at every single picture of the mile markers. :) Although I think the first few mile markers were a little off distance-wise, it was incredible how quick each one would appear, but we all know that that’s easy to say at the start of a marathon.
Miles 1-5: 7:29 (oops?), 8:21, 15:09 (avg pace 7:43), 7:25
Just after hitting the fifth mile marker, this came into view:
I immediately smiled and snapped a bajillion more pictures. (They all look more or less like that one.) A man running next to me said, “And this is why we came here to run.” I must have looked nuts and way too excited while snapping pictures because he commented to me, “You’re not from around here, huh?” “Nope,” I replied, “I’m from New York…we don’t have this where I’m from!” He told me I was a long way from home and asked how and where I trained for the hills on the course. “I didn’t…I’m learning on the job!” He wished me luck and I continued to take even more pictures. I took twelve pictures during mile five…that’s one every five seconds!! And I ran a 7:25 mile…hahhha.
Anyway, soon enough, I heard some music approaching and knew I’d be coming up on this guy soon:
It was soooo pretty, and while I wish he was playing on the Bixby Bridge, it was so cool to see him and hear the amazing music playing. The views were still neverending:
It’s only been six miles…do you want to run this race yet?? No? Well, maybe these will convince you some more:
After mile seven, I heard some drums coming up in front of me. Another big part to look forward to in the marathon are these guys, who were awesome and smiling and so spirited:
Miles 6-8: 7:43, 7:42, 7:43
While I’d been running through these beautiful sites, I could hear three people chatting behind me. Two guys had made friends with a woman I had been running near, and eventually they rattled off their names and ended by saying, “And she’s been in front of us for miles, but we don’t know her yet!” One of them had been talking about being a medical student and wanting to be a surgeon, so I turned around, slowed a few seconds til they caught up with me and said, “I’m Susan…….which one of you wants to be a surgeon?” While the woman fell off shortly thereafter, I ended up running with the two guys for about six miles. The surgeon-to-be goes to medical school in Chicago and knows a guy I went to high school with…small world! We talked about the medical world (it can entertain for hours, I promise) and the burn unit, and I gave him a mini-lecture on being nice to nurses. :) Gotta spread the word, even when running! Plus, the miles flew by with some new people to talk to. As we ran along, I snapped some more pictures (of course) and was truly having the time of my life.
After mile ten, we had our first sighting of the Bixby Bridge, and we lamented that we wouldn’t be able to run across it. However, it was still awesome to see since it was the turnaround point, just before mile 13 and the (almost) halfway point.
For the record, the people at the turnaround shouted, “You’re halfway there!!” at us, to which we commented that saying halfway at mile 12.5 is not true…but we survived, especially when that view above was waiting for us when we turned around. I’m not sure exactly what time I went through the half since they didn’t have a clock (or marker!) at the halfway point, but it was somewhere around 1:40:30-ish. If I held that pace, I’d be pretty close to a PR! Crazy, huh? I didn’t even feel like I was running that fast!
After the turnaround, I kept my eye for all the other runners I knew. Page passed by first, and she shouted, “Go Susan!! You’re WAY up there!!” I was trying to figure out how close to the front of women I was, and I guess I wasn’t too far back. My newfound running buddy turned to me and asked, “Wait…are you elite or something??” And then sprinted ahead of me for a few seconds. Told you I had a blast during this marathon, so much fun stuff happened! Aron passed not too long thereafter, and Jessica spotted me as well…definitely missed everyone else, however!
Miles 9-14: 7:17 (short), 7:13 (short), 8:17 (long…), 7:37, 7:42, 7:34
After mile 14, my two running buddies seemed to be speeding up the pace, and while I was sad to see them go, I didn’t feel like running that fast, so I decided to let them go and head back to running my own race. People were reading out elapsed time and what our final marathon time would be if we kept that pace, and they kept reading out 3:19-3:20 for me, depending on the mile. Thoughts of a PR crossed my mind, but I tried not to think about it too much…just kept running along, smiling, and taking pictures!
Mile 16 brought me back to these guys:
And this view after mile 17:
As the miles clicked off, I was shocked at how good I felt. Around mile 17 I had some time to myself to think…the runners around me had spaced out a bit, and most of the marathoners on the other side of the road had cleared out. I concentrated on taking in some energy chews since I tend to not take them later in the race, and I thought about how awesome this race was. My miles were dropping off at around 7:40 pace (give or take), I felt awesome, the views were amazing, and I just felt like I was out on a long run. With an awesome pace going?? Maybe there is something to this whole even pacing thing. Or the whole not really caring all that much about your time. While I still had thoughts about PRing, I didn’t want that to get into my head and really just wanted to finish with a huge smile on my face.
It’s hard not to smile when you have the girls at mile 18 enthusiastically cheering for the crazy girl taking pictures while running.
Or, when you pass this guy, still playing his awesome little heart out:
Miles 15-18: 7:18, 7:55, 7:40, 7:44
I must have started to get tired after mile 18 because my pictures became super limited. I felt awesome until a gigantic hill at mile 20. For a refresher, here’s the elevation profile:
So I don’t really remember that hill at mile 4.5-ish, but it nearly ended me at mile 20.5. I felt absolutely amazing until I was halfway up it, and then I felt horrible and was convinced I was hitting the wall. I thought I wasn’t going to do that this time!! Fleeting thoughts about 7:40 being way too fast and how I should have started out slower went flowing through my mind…and then I crested the hill. The best part about the hills in this marathon is that whatever you put into going up the hill, you immediately got it back on the downhill on the other side, and that was enough to keep pushing you through the next time. An instant mind eraser, if you will!
Once I crested that gigantic hill, I was so ready for the rest of the course. Bring it on! For those of you who don’t know, I’ve never actually ran an entire marathon. Somehow I managed to squeeze out a 3:19 with massive, massive walk breaks. During my other races, I’ve either stopped for the bathroom or walked through water stops (getting water/Gatorade up my nose gets old after awhile…). By mile 22, I realized that I hadn’t walked yet (even up that GIANT hill), and that became my new goal: I was going to RUN this entire marathon.
Well, that glory lasted until about mile 22.5-ish, when we made a left turn into a woodsy area to add on the extra mileage needed on the way back. Let’s just say that I was in no mood to add in extra mileage…I just wanted to run straight to the finish. But alas, the view was pretty and it gave me something to think about…getting back to the road! It was a bit of a mental struggle around here because some mile markers were missing…namely mile 22 (a HUGE mental problem for me…four miles to go is about half an hour, and I can so do that in my sleep).
It started to get hot in these final miles, and the shade of the trees was definitely welcome, although a steep hill back by the turnaround in the woods was NOT welcome. We made a right turn before going up it, and I believe I said out loud, “You have to be kidding me.” But I made it up it and continued on my way. Soon enough, I saw this patch of road back in front of me:
Miles 19-24: 7:48, 7:47, 8:14, 15:34 (short…avg pace of 8:14), 8:05 (short)
As you can tell my pace was slowing down a bit, and I was totally okay with that. I felt like I could push myself and try to PR, or I could finish my race as planned and just enjoy myself and cross the finish line happy. This was not a goal race, so for once in my life, I stuck to my plan and just let my legs do what they wanted to do.
Another big hill awaited us at mile 25 (the one I mentioned right at the start of the race…), and it was rough. I’m not going to lie…the only thing keeping me going up that hill was the fact that I wanted to be able to say that I ran the entire way. I wanted to walk a little up that hill so bad, but I was so close to the finish and being able to say that I ran the entire way was going to mean a lot to me. I got over the hill, headed downhill for a bit, and then saw every marathoner’s favorite sign:
I thought about taking pictures as I came through the finish, but I just wanted to soak it in, so I left my camera in my hand. For once, I didn’t stare at my watch hoping to get a certain time as I crossed the line…I just ran and smiled and finished marathon #8.
Miles 25-26.2: 18:20 (long…avg pace of 8:35), 1:37 (avg pace of 7:30)
Overall: 26.2 miles in 3:25:06, avg pace of 7:50
As I crossed the line, I immediately started taking pictures of the people who were handing out medals. One of the race directors (in sport jackets) laughed at me and said he wanted to be the one to give me my medal. As my new token phrase for when I get my medal, I told him not to mess up my hair since I came a long way to achieve this look!
I moved through the line and told the other people handing out medals to smile for the camera…they laughed and cheered for me:
As I walked through the back of the finishing area, I found one of my surgeon-to-be running buddy, who finished a few minutes ahead of me. In my excitement, I told him, “That marathon went by faster than any others!” to which I think he thought I meant that I PR’d so he congratulated me…I tried to explain that it wasn’t a PR, but it wasn’t really worth it. We took a picture instead:
I moved through the finisher’s area, grabbed a box of food, and headed straight for this:
I felt awesome after this race, why not drink a beer?? I grabbed my beer and headed over to bag check, which was the most organized I’ve ever seen bag check. Impressive considering the mess that appeared to be forming at the start of the race. I snapped some pictures and met up with some of the California girls as everyone finished. It turned into a warm, sunny day in California and I was loving every minute of it.
I checked out the results on my phone, and I realized that I had placed in my age group! I was fifth in my age group, but the first place woman in my age group placed overall, so that bumped me up to fourth! Once awards started, I headed over and listened for my name to be called…it’s not so often that that happens, so it was fabulous.
I knew that Choy was going to be around at the end of the race, so after some tweeting/texting/phone call action, we finally got to meet up! Yay for twitter friends who no more than two hours after completing a marathon are trying to get me to sign up for another…in Hawaii! I’ll think about it.
Choy was also fabulous enough to take our group pictures now that we had all our AMAZING runners reunited:
Don’t you think I fit right in with the California girls?? I could totally see myself running with them all the time.
saturday – post-race playing
After nabbing our group photo, we headed back to the hotel for some much needed showers and headed out to refuel. We headed to the Cannery Row Brewery and stuffed our marathon faces with beer, pretzels, sandwiches, and fries:
After sufficient refueling, we headed out for a little walk around town…good for recovery! We eventually made it down to the ocean because the California girls had to make sure this east coaster touched the Pacific.
Don’t try jumping pictures post-marathon….your quads won’t like you and this is the best you’ll get:
Luckily, Aron’s camera snapped this much more attractive picture of all of us:
Those are some good looking runners!
Since we’re awesome, woke up at 3:30am, and ran marathons, we headed back to the hotel to rest our little legs. Some of us walked around a nearby trail and pond and chatted it up (love you ladies!!). Soon enough, we were all tired and heading to bed…and I know I fell asleep with a smile on my face.
monday – pedicures on our toes toes
We packed our bags Monday morning, headed to breakfast (omelet the size of your head!!), and made our way back to San Francisco. Sandra and Alyssa actually live quite close to where I stayed in SF, so they drove me back. Both of them took the day off from work so we really had no place to be…which clearly meant we should get pedicures! We headed to Alyssa’s favorite nail establishment and basked in the glory of the massage chairs and hot foot soaks. God bless the nail ladies who have to deal with post-marathon feet.
Let’s recap my results:
Sunday, May 1 – BIG SUR MARATHON
26.2 miles in 3:25:06, avg pace of 7:50
Overall: 154/1323 (Top 11.6%)
Women: 20/1548 (Top 1.2%)
Age Group: 5/225 (Top 2.2%)
Also, let’s just say it was fate that I waited so long to finish my race report because I received a package in the mail yesterday from Big Sur. It contained this beauty on the left:
When I registered for Big Sur, one of the options was the register for the Mozartic Division, which is for people who train in places that get more than 24 inches of snowfall per year. I checked into how much NYC gets, and while it has been hit or miss for a few years, Central Park recorded 61 inches this year, so I think that qualifies! I guess it pays to train all winter in the snow since I got a first place female award! I think other people may have been faster but just didn’t check the box…but I won’t tell if you won’t tell.
Well, that’s cool. I mean…seriously!! I really wanted this race to be a fun and happy run, and it was all that and beyond. The miles flew by, I made some friends while running, I got to spend the weekend with amazing ladies, the view was gorgeous, and I’ve never had so much fun while running. The end of the Ocean Drive Marathon really made me so unhappy about running and so, so frustrated with marathoning, but Big Sur was amazing beyond words. I cannot explain how much I loved this race…coming from a girl who doesn’t even like hill running, that’s saying a lot! It was so beautiful and the race was really well done with some fabulous people who run it. If you haven’t been convinced yet, please, please run this marathon. Top of my list, for sure.
Most of all, I am thrilled with my attitude during this race. From start to finish…I just ran. I didn’t think (too much) about it, I just did what I love to do. People ask me what I do in my free time or what I like to do, and I never quite think they understand what I say when I tell them that I run. Other people may run for exercise, but I run because I love it and it makes me happy. This race encompassed those thoughts more than I can explain. I fell into my natural pace, took in the views around me, and had a blast. Didn’t run too shabby of a time either. :) Best race ever…I love the marathon (especially a beautiful one!) and I love runners (especially the fabulous California crew). Put them together and you can’t go wrong. :) Thanks to the California crew for welcoming me to the west coast, and I hope I’m back sooner rather than later.