Big Sur Marathon


Here's the little story of my first marathon, the Big Sur International Marathon, on April 27, 2008.

We arrived in SF Friday midday and traveled along Highway One to Monterey. We craved fish tacos as we started heading south and, after a quick google search, came across a great New York Times article outlining great taco stands along highway one. Gotta love geeky phones and google. We found exactly what we were looking for at TAQUERIA Y MERCADO DE AMIGOS in Pescadero, wandered through town as we absorbed some rays and continued on our way south.

Exploring the coast...

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Marathon registration

In Monterey, we checked into our hotel (Cannery Inn Row) and walked down to the Convention Center to pick up my race packet. Things were well organized and, being a Friday, we sped through, peeked at the expo and head back out into the gorgeous sun. With the great trail they have in Monterey, walking to the convention center and the buses race day morning rather than driving was key.

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We then wandered to dinner at a super yummy Mexican restaurant Geoff had found online (Zocalo) with handmade corn tortillas. We walked home along the water and noticed tons of seals with their pups! So cute!

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Saturday morning, I tried to sleep as much as possible, as I knew I wouldn’t be getting much sleep the next morning. We drove the race course to let Geoff understand a little as to why I chose this crazy place for a race.

Driving the race course on Highway 1

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We then ate lunch and then went to explore the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It was the most amazing aquarium either of us have ever been to. If you ever have the opportunity to go, GO! Here are some shots.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

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We went to the pasta party that night, where they actually served vegetables, grilled asparagus and sadly, overcooked artichokes. We enjoyed talking with several people about their race experiences and then getting to bed early. On the way back to the hotel, we had to go and find the source of the crazy sea lion sounds that we could hear from the trail. Let's just say we found them, along with lots of other creatures!

The Pier in Monterey

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Race Day!

After laying out all of my things and doing some mental preparation, based on what I had seen of the course, I was in bed by 10 pm. I woke up several times with weird and wacky race preparation dreams, glancing at the clock, waiting for the 3 am wake up call. I had to be back at the Convention Center at 4:15 am to catch a bus for the starting line. After putting on sunscreen, getting dressed, pulling on some warm clothes, eating a normal granola breakfast, I head out for the buses. Arriving in the area, I found a huge line of folks, all carrying their white Gu! Bags, waiting for the bus. I walked around the block to find the end of the line, amazed thinking about how they were going to fit us all on enough buses. Together, as we slowly moved forward in line, my new line buddy, Paul, and I joked about a theme for a new zombie movie – zombie runners, dazed, white gear bags in hand… I don’t know. It seemed funny at that hour.

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We all were counted off into buses and started down the windy road to the start. Many hadn’t seen the race course before, not that you could see much in the dark, but you sure could hear the bus breaking as it went down hill after hill after hill, the ones that we would be running up in only a matter of hours.

I had been afraid that I hadn’t worn enough clothes to stay warm for the hour or more at the start line but with the thousands of bodies and being inland in the trees, I was more than warm enough at 5:30 am. Wait. What was going to happen when the sun rose? Was this actually going to be a hot day?

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Arriving at the starting line, there were packs of people who had taken the earlier busses, laying on the ground, sleeping, applying sunscreen and waiting in tons of cris-crossing lines for the portopotties. I pushed through the crowds to the end to find a suitable line that wouldn’t take that long. And, who was in front of me in line? Paul, the zombie guy. Too weird!

The sun rose quickly and vultures circled over head. I wandered out to the road to put my many unneeded layers into a “sweats” truck, rather than wandering back into the chaos with the portopotties. I stretched, chatted with people, and just enjoyed being there. I started taking some photos to get the scene and finally people were being herded towards the road and the start. I had heard that they wanted the slower people towards the front with the faster people towards the back but this made no sense and no one seemed to listen to their requests.

While we were hanging out on the road, there were no portopotties so everyone was running into the woods to pee. There was one tree near me that everyone seemed to use yet it was about 5 feet from the road and provided little protection for the women. But, if you’re lazy and you have to go…

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The national anthem was sung, a flock of doves were let off, the count down began, and… we were off! Well, the people at the front were off. As we sauntered towards the start line, I could hear the bagpipes. It was so appropriate. For many significant events in my life, bagpipes have been present. High school and college graduation, my wedding and now my first marathon. It made me so happy to have them there.

And… then over the timing mats and the race began! My general plan was to keep it slow and steady until around mile 18 and then push if I still had the energy. The first 10-11 miles were relatively flat, then came the big Hurricane Hill for a two mile climb and descent, and for the second half, there were a bunch of semi-significant rolling hills that I wanted to make sure to keep energy for. I was not out to win anything, didn’t have a time I wanted to finish in, I just wanted to enjoy myself, have fun and complete the race without hitting a killer wall.

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As we ran through the red wood trees, people were pulling off right and left to pee. It made me chuckle as we kept moving along. There was one group in front of me “Team McCoy” that had numbered shirts from 1 to 10 and one person carried a pole with a bunch of shiny material. I gauged on how I was doing based on where they were. I kept up with them for the first half and then lost them in the second, but they provided some great motivation for me.

So, through the redwoods we went and then into cow country. As it opened up, I knew that we were nearer to the lighthouse that was my first goal, around mile 7. It was such a gorgeous morning and I had to stop to take a few photos and have a photo taken of me.

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And then the beauty of the coast began. I just loved the views, stopping to take photos from time to time, chatting with a few folks, and just enjoying being there. I wasn’t working too hard, just savoring being in the moment.

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Before I knew it, we were climbing the last little hill to head down to the bottom of the start of the big hill – Hurricane Point. I tried to take a little video of the drummers that marked the start of the hill, which didn’t work, so I stole someone else’s photo. Ah, that sound of their drums just got me going into a rhythm to get up the hill. And up. And up! And UP!

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Hurricane Point was marked but wasn’t quite at the top – I was excited but knew I still had a ways to go. As I head down the hill, I started to get a stitch. What? This made no sense. I sometimes get stitches when I run in the evening, or when I’m hungry, or when I’m too full. But at mile 13 going down hill? Maybe I was hungry? I tried to ignore it and decided that a walk break or bathroom break might help. This wasn’t the time to think about stitches. It was time to celebrate!

It was THE bridge! This is the bridge all of the advertisements show, the one with the pianist on the other side. So, as I’m running across, looking at the gorgeous view out to the water, the pianist is playing Chariots of Fire. I had to take a video. It really couldn’t have been any more perfect.

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The race from here heads into a rolling hills up and down. This was why I was saving all of this energy. The race became more of a muscular challenge than necessarily a cardiovascular one at this point. I had done some hill work but definitely not enough. And, especially as the roads were banked, my lateral muscles weren’t as prepared for the constant leaning as they could have been, despite all of the trail running. Leaning one way for a while really got to my feet.

At mile 13, I stopped taking photos and videos and focused on running. I walked through water tables and even started drinking Gatorade to make sure I was getting the electrolytes on the hot day. I felt good and thought about family, friends and my key supporters who helped me get to this point of completing a marathon. I psychologically felt strong as I kept on moving. I ate my Hammer Gels every 45 minutes or so and drank some water at every water station.

Each mile, there were several volunteers who would yell out our pace and when we were to expect to finish, based on our current pace. There were Marines that were yelling them with the gruff, sergeant voice, for several miles. I was surprised how long many sets of volunteers were keeping this up!

At around mile 18, I was still feeling good so I allowed myself to pick up the pace and start pushing it some more. I knew that I was feeling fine and wanted to finish before 5 hours. Before I knew it, I was at my last land mark, the beach with the surfers and climbing the last hill before the finish line. I couldn’t believe I was almost done. After all of this training, the experience was about to be over. And, then there was the finish line, Geoff cheering for me with a sign, and the finish line. Whew!

Finish Line

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When people ask me how it went, I don’t feel like I have any exciting stories to tell of hitting a wall, or crawling to the finish line. It was exactly what I was hoping for – a gorgeous day, a solid run, and I crossed the finish line looking forward to another one. To top it off, it was a blissful weekend in Monterey. I really couldn’t have asked for more.


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