Sunday, May 03, 2009

Surf and Smiles at the 2009 Big Sur Marathon

(The rugged Big Sur coastline)

On Sunday (April 27), I had the pleasure of joining 3,000+ runners for the Big Sur Marathon. This fabulous point-to-point marathon runs up Highway 1 along the coastal cliffs of Big Sur, ending in a huge party near Carmel, CA. We had to smile through some crazy headwinds this year, but all managed to have a great time.

This race was my third this week (Ruth Anderson 50k, Boston Marathon) in my high mileage celebration of turning 40 just a few days after the race. Hey...does this mean everyone has to call me "Master Dunlap" now? ;-) My legs were feeling a bit tired from all the pavement, but my soul was spilling over from all the coast to coast camaraderie and adventure. Now I was back in the West again to run along the Pacific Ocean.

My wife, Christi, splurged and got us a great room at the super-posh Bernardus Lodge where we lounged around most of the weekend eating their locally-grown goodies. I picked up my packet at the Expo on Saturday, stopping by to chat with Bart Yasso about his new book, catching up with Whit Rambach and Brian Robinson (who both looked fabulous in the official host jackets for being BSIM Board Members), and learning about the 1st annual Santa Barbara Marathon coming up this December. When I picked up my number I was surprised to find out I was "seeded", meaning I got a special yellow bib and a slot up front at the start. It appeared anyone hoping for a sub-3 hour time was in the seeded group, so about 150 of us go the fancy numbers. I can live vicariously as a Kenyan for one morning!

(Enjoying the scenery the day before)

A sub-3 was going to be tough given the windy conditions, which we found out on race morning were going to be around 15-20 mph once we got to Highway 1 (and all headwind apparently). This course also has a few tough hills that keep it from being a PR-setting venue, although Bart Yasso was saying he thought it was a fast course as long as you made the most of the downhills. I didn't really have a goal pace, but thought a Boston Qualifying time (now 3:15 thanks to that birthday!) would be nice. I just wanted to finish with a smile and be able to drink that beer they serve at the 10am finish.

I met some really nice people from Loomis, CA, on the bus ride down and the conversation helped keep our minds off the dark, winding ride down the coast (note to others - be sure not to drink TOO much before the long bus ride). It was chilly at the start, where we had about 90 minutes to kill before the race started. Luckily there was plenty of hot coffee and places to sit away from the wind. I learned from the 2007 race to bring lots of warm clothes, something soft to sit on, and a garbage bag to wear if it got too cold. Some folks even brought sleeping bags and blankets, making us all jealous. As long as it fits in the drop bag, it's fair game!

(Mike Nuttal, Beth, and Matt at the start)

(The national anthem with a majestic background)

(The troops give us a proper send off)

At 6:45am, I jumped into the front corral with the other seeded runners and quickly found ultrarunner Mike Nuttal, who has won his age group here many times. He is turning 60 in a few weeks, so we gave each other a pat on the back for our milestones. Our ages may sound long in the tooth, but in a distance race we are kids at play. The 2XU compression calf tights I was wearing were getting lots of inquiries - I still can't tell if there is much performance difference with compression, but the warmth is awfully nice. The dork factor is a bit high though. We gave a few minutes of silence for the national anthem, and we were off!

(Sportin' the compression calf tights)

(Trying to stay warm in the seeded corral)

(3,084 runners ready to roll!)

The first few miles are all downhill as the crowds blaze out of Pfeiffer State Park and onto Highway 1. Brian and Sophia Robinson were cruising along, and it was great to see Sophia back from injury. I got a rock in my shoe at mile 1 and had to make a quick stop, but soon caught up with the crowd. The front runners were already a minute ahead blazing 5:30 min miles.

(Sophia Robinson back in the mix and looking great)

(Blazing down the first few miles)

(The bands jam out and keep us smiling)

As we turned onto Highway 1, the wind picked up immediately. There's nothing quite like a strong headwind to make quick friends! We tightened into a pack, and a few larger guys who were relay runners offered to set the pace up front. Thank God for triathletes and their huge lats - more than enough width for a pack to draft from. We lined up behind them like a giant snake. The peleton sucked up the group efficiency and moved along quickly at a 6:45 min/mile pace.

(Bye-bye tree cover, hello wind!)

(Working in a pack)

Brave musicians in rock, soul, and bluegrass bands were jamming out at each mile marker to keep our spirits high. There was even a harpist in a huge wool jacket. They must have been setting up out here at 4am in order to rock out at 7am! It was really neat, and they got waves of thanks from the runners.

(Beautiful hills always on your right)

At mile 6, the relay runners switched for new legs, and the pack started to lose its organization. I ran along with Nancy Buselmeier from Minnesota, who was out with a dozen of her friends racing the various distances (a 21-miler, 10-miler, 9-miler, and 5k were also available). Nancy had the swift strides of a college-trained runner, and she shared her stretch goal of breaking 3 hours here ("or at least a 3:10"). We killed time sharing stories of kids, comparing the antics of her 2-year-old son, Wyatt, to my 2.5-year-old daughter, Sophie. Then we just shook our heads, laughing - we finally get a few hours to ourselves and all we talk about is our kids! But the joy of sharing those stories pulled us along quickly to the base of Hurricane Point.

(Nancy cruises down the coast)

(The Hurricane is a-comin'!)

The wind REALLY picked up at Hurricane, and Nancy and I traded off the lead with a few others as we made our way up. It was fun to get blown left and right and lean 30 degrees forward into the wailing wind, and I couldn't help but laugh out loud when it got really crazy. The 21-milers were power walking along the right hand side, offering kudos and wind protection. We stayed focused and quickly found the top, cruising fast down the backside.

(Lean forward!)

(Making the climb up Hurricane)

At the halfway point, we found the famous Bixby Bridge (one of the most photographed in the world), complete with the live piano soundtrack of Michael Martinez. What an epic way to reach the halfway mark! The watch said 1:32:15, which was just a bit slower than what Nancy needed for a sub-3. I offered to pace to get us back on track, and Nancy tucked in behind me as we hammered the rolling hills.

(Crossing the Bixby Bridge)

(Two runners pose with the amazing Michael)

(Want a gorgeous view? Just look to your left all day long...)

At mile 16, Nancy stopped for a bio break and I said I would stay on pace so she knew how fast she would need to get back on a 3-hour pace. The next few miles were very peaceful, with little more than the sound of wind, ocean, and birds complimenting the rhythm of footsteps. The hills were simply gorgeous, alive with eagles, deer, and a 700 lb bull named "Tchai-cow-sky". As soon as I got lonely, the Samba dancer was there to greet me at mile 20!

(More bridges and more views)

(The peaceful Big Sur countryside)


(Helping us keep the rhythm)

(Amazing coastline all to ourselves)

(Plenty to smile about on this course!)

I found the rolling hills of the Carmel Highlands at mile 21, and looked over my shoulder for Nancy to no avail. My pace was still a bit short for sub-3, but I was feeling really good so I threw myself into the hills and used my arms to pump my way up the climbs. Since there are volunteers at every mile marker telling you what your finish time, it was easy to calculate how close I was. 3:03, 3:02, 3:01...I was gaining ground and right on track, just needed to bust out one last 6 minute mile and I'll squeak right in.

About four runners were single file in front of me, with no signs of surging to the finish. I'm not usually the competitive type, but there's no sense in hanging back! I dropped the hammer to a 5:30 pace and picked them off, crossing the finish line in 2:59:29, good enough for 20th place. Had I been 40, it would have been 2nd in my age group, but in my 30's, it's only 8th. There's one thing to look forward to with the four decade milestone! It only works for marathons though - in the ultra world, you need to get faster to compete in your 40's.

I felt great at the end, and got a quick massage before changing clothes, eating the yummy Dole goodies, and hitting the beer tent. I found out that Ryan Hafer from Colorado won the race in 2:32, and California-native Mary Coordt won the Women's division in a fast 2:56:06. Nancy came in not too far behind me in 3:07, good enough for 3rd woman overall and an age group win. I was impressed with so many fast times given the windy conditions. While sharing my beer with some of the top finishers, they estimated that the wind was worth about 6-8 minutes from your time.

(Free massage and beer at the end - what's not to love?)

My thanks to the BSIM Board, thousands of volunteers, and great sponsors like Asics and Runner's World for putting on a flawless race. This one is definitely a "must do" for any distance runner. Rumor has it that next year, the 25th anniversary, will have a special jacket for people who do Boston and Big Sur in the same week. You know I'm a shwag hag, so I'm in for sure!

- SD


  1. Guys - I know I'm a race behind in my posting, so Miwok is coming soon.

    The sneak preview - wet, windy, wild, and a 10:43 finish for 30th place that tells me I'm well on track for Western States. And just to prove you have to be a faster 40-year-old in the ultra world, Eric Grossman (a Masters runner) won the whole thing!


  2. That was very, very cool what you did for Nancy. Great job with the race and awesome time - especially considering it was your third race in a week!

    I really want to do Big Sur someday. I've heard the views are amazing!

  3. Great to see you before the race Scott. I believe you said you were going to take it easy, and then the next day I saw that you finished 20th! I finished far behind you with a sub-4 hour race, but I was running on an injured leg and somewhat out of shape (although honestly, I couldn't keep up with you if I was in top form).

    Good luck at WS.

  4. Wow Scott, that's quite a finishing time given your tight racing schedule, plus a 10:43 at Miwok. You are clearly in bad-ass shape! Although I have been kind of wondering why you didn't squeeze Diablo in there between RA and Boston. Kind of a slacker move. ;)
    Nice job, and beautiful photos and report!

  5. Excellent report and race Scott. Can hardly wait to hear the details of Miwok. What a way to end the 30's. You're just getting better with age.

  6. Love your race reports. What is your impression of the Santa Barbara inaugural?

  7. Congratulations on your 40th birthday, Scott! "Bravo" for your strong finish at Miwok despite terrible conditions! And my heartfelt thanks for waiting for Jean and driving him safely home. I felt bad I didn't go, but too many things are happening with our teenagers and my temporary job. Hope to be able to cheer you up on an upcoming race and especially at Western States. All the best for a quick recovery of this 100K!

    Agnes Pommier (Jean's wife)

  8. Great race report, as always. You made me want to run this race (wind and all) even more. I need to get a few more marathons under my belt before tackling Big Sur.

    Thanks for your upbeat and inspiring race reports.

  9. Hey Scott,

    How can I get in touch with you? Drop me a line. stacey/

  10. I am with Gretchen, you are a bad ass. Unbelievable you squeezed sub-3 in wind after double. Rock on, Mister (or is it Master?)! Saw your time at Miwok too - WS is a'coming! Happy Birthday! You beat me by few months:) And your report (along with Donald's) makes me wonder if I ever run a marathon again, it should be Big Sur. Love the views:)

  11. Awesome. Way to negative split the course, Scott. Looking forward to that Miwok report.

  12. I thought that I was kicking butt by running (3) marathons in 13-days.....Big Sur is a hard race and to complete it in under 3-hours is amazing.


  13. Awesome report as always. Great job running a sub 3 hr after all the racing you've been doing. Pending my BQ at the Metro Silicon Valley Marathon, I'm going to do the Boston and Big Sur back to back. Very cool and a jacket too! I'm in! I'm running the Quicksilver 50K this weekend and I'll be working at an aid station for Western States. Maybe I'll see you running by?

    Jason Jones

  14. Hope Miwok treated you well (as wet as it was).

    And where did you get those compression calves sleeves? Are those those Zensah or X2U?

  15. Hey Scott- I was one of the gals you chatted with on the bus at Big Sur from Loomis/Newcastle. Enjoyed your stories. You are an amazing runner! I look forward to following you on your future adventures. Maybe we'll get to Western States to see you. Great job at Big Sur, especially after Boston. Wishing you the best.

  16. Great race report, pictures and time. Cracking the 3 hour barrier on such a tough course! You are a warrior.

    One thing though: running Big Sur does not sound fun to me - too hilly, windy and cold - not to mention the 4 AM wake up time. No thanks!

  17. Scott:

    I was that guy who said hello to you right before lining up. Congratulations on a great race! Sub 3 in those conditions is nothing short of awesome. This was my first marathon and I chose to run it since my dad offered to join me. I posted a 3:27:58. Good luck with your future races!

  18. Thanks, Scott, for such a nice race report and some fabulous pictures.

  19. Nice work Scott.

    Not to be nickpicky, but at 40 years old - dont you have 3:20 to qualify for Boston? so now you can slow down a bit and enjoy some more treats at the aid stations

  20. OMG, you're right! I just got five more minutes. ;-)

    I'm a bit embarrassed. All this time I thought 30-39 was 3:10. It turns out I had five more minutes to play with since 35-39 is 3:15!


  21. Mthead - The 1st Annual Santa Barbara Marathon looks a fun road marathon. I don't know the start area well, but the second half of the race tours through some nice neighborhoods, has a good downhill finish, and the park is a great place to end right on the beach. These guys deserve a lot of credit just for getting it going - the red tape in this community is unbelievable. I'm hoping to squeeze it in.

    Agnes - Happy to wait for Jean at Miwok! He usually has to wait for me, and has done so countless times whether I needed a ride or not. ;-)

    PunkRock - 3 marathons in 13 days in VERY impressive! Congrats!

    Jon - I bought the 2XU calf sleeves at the Boston Marathon Expo. Still not sure how the compression helps, but the warmth is nice and they were VERY helpful at the cold and wet Miwok run for keeping mud off my legs. I'm going to stick with them.

    Kathy B - It was awesome talking to you! Hope you had a good race.

    Paul - 3:27...very nice on a tough day!

  22. I'm running BIG SUR in April. Your pictures are great and so inspiring. Just curious, do you take a digital camera or a box camera (old school I know) out on the course??


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