Sunday, May 03, 2009
Surf and Smiles at the 2009 Big Sur Marathon
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!