Last Sunday, I had the great pleasure of joining 7,000 eager runners for the 25th Big Sur Marathon near Carmel, CA. This was the second leg of the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge, two marathons in 6 days, and a great way to ring in my 41st birthday. Thanks to great weather and the incredible organization of the volunteers and race team, it was a weekend to remember.
The race weekend started with a Sophie-led tour through Cannery Row, the amazing Monterey Aquarium, and the beach at Carmel. It was such a delight to see this all through the perpetually curious eyes of a 3-year-old. Who knew seahorses were so cool? And the males give birth! Ouch. I pretended not to notice that I was already limping as I chased her around, still healing from the bike accident a few weeks ago, and now amplified by running a beer-soaked Boston Marathon just days earlier. But I so, so wanted to experience that feeling of having Highway 1 all to ourselves, drifting up the rugged Big Sur coast. It called me like a siren song.
At 3am on race day, I chased a handful of ibuprofen with a cup of coffee and hoped for the best. Taking meds before a race is like watching a traffic accident about to happen - ya know it ain't gonna end well. I may not be much wiser at age 41, but I'm as stubborn as ever! The bus ride to the start was an eager mix of first timers and grizzled vets, all citing that the projected 60 degree weather couldn't be better. Among the runners were 372 crazy enough to tackle the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge. The things we do for shwag...
I got off the bus and sat with Loretta and Pam from Denver, CO, as we let the sun slowly warm us up in the starting area. Pam was hoping for a Boston qualifier, but got nervous enough a few weeks earlier to drive to another marathon and qualify to "get it out of the way". I think she's going to do just fine! Loretta was a lifelong runner who only recently began doing marathons, and loved the fact that she was nearly as fit as her two sons in the Marines. We chatted with a nice couple from Kansas City who looked for any excuse to spend time in Carmel. We learned that all 50 states were represented here, as well as 21 foreign countries. This race attracts the coolest people!
We made our way to the start, just in time to hear the national anthem and see the doves released (much to the liking of the circling turkey vultures). I said a quick hi to Michael Wardian, a sure favorite here today even after running a 2:25 at Boston. He had some tough competition though, including Big Sur regular Jesus Campos, local masters demi-god Rich Hanna, and seeded runners Daniel Tapia and Chris Mocko. I didn't see defending Women's champion Mary Coordt, but there were plenty of new faces here who looked pretty fit. Melinda Schwartz from Buffalo, NY, was fresh off a 3:03 at the Athens Marathon and was looking forward to the challenging hills. As the gun went off, she said "good luck!" and dropped me like a sack of potatoes.
We descended out of the redwoods to the live soundtrack of local bands who braved the early morning to be set up for us. Thanks, guys! Within a few miles we were spread out along Highway 1, hearing only the popcorn sounds of our footsteps against the crashing waves. Ah, so peaceful...
My stride was quickly whittled down to a shuffle, roughly an 8:30 min/mile pace, which was about as much as my sore tailbone could handle. Hang in there, body! It's not like we use our tails for anything, right? Oh, yeah - except for holding yourself upright. Oops. Luckily I found plenty of new friends to help pass the time. Joyce Forier, a Race Director from Henderson, NV, shared plenty of stories of charting/planning/executing new 100-mile races, tours through Red Rocks, and her upcoming debut to run Comrades. If her passion for running is any indication, I bet her races are spectacular!
The aid station volunteers were amazing, per usual, and the mile marker signs were hilarious. Everyone was chatting away and having a great time. I continued to be surprised by how many Boston 2 Big Sur runners there were - and they were doing great!
At mile 10, we got to my favorite part - Hurricane Point. This two mile climb never seems to end, but rewards you with the best views of the course. Fresh legs from the relay teams and the 21-milers helped pace us up the hill.
I joked with the Boston 2 Big Sur runners at the top - which is tougher, Heartbreak or Hurricane? No contest, they said. Hurricane is 5x the heartbreak of Heartbreak.
The descent after Hurricane was quick, and we soon found ourselves crossing the halfway point at Bixby Bridge. The photo shooting session next to the piano player was so popular, I couldn't get in! It's definitely a great spot. My watch read 1:53...this was on track to be my slowest marathon of all time, but it didn't seem to matter. I was just glad to be hear to share the experience.
The weather held up nicely, and started to get downright hot. I cruised along with Kathryn Hazzard who came all the way from Maine, and told me about a lot of great races in her area. We were moving along with the 10.6-mile runners and making plenty of new friends.
As the ibuprofen wore off, I found yo-yo'ing between 7 and 10 min/miles as I slowly climbed into the Carmel Highlands. I ran with Matthew, whom I've now met at four different races (not counting Boston, which he also did), and he pulled me up to mile 22 before stopping for the fresh strawberry aid station. He could tell by my stride that the Miwok 100k next weekend was definitely out of the picture, and he advised to enjoy every last minute of this race. Well said, my friend.
With that, I pulled into the finish in 3:53 and thanked my body for holding up for one last race. That'll do, pig...that'll do. My good friend John Heltzel had finished a few minutes ahead of me, clocking a PR 3:50 on a tough course, and I got to bask in his glow as we greeted our respective families. Michael Wardian had gotten 2nd place (2:27), just a minute behind winner Daniel Tapia (2:26). New Yorker Veronica Clemens won the Women's division in 2:55, with Melinda Schwartz taking 2nd in 3:08. Mike Nutall, doing his umpteenth Big Sur, entered the 60-64 age group with a respectable 3:23 and won his age group again. All in all, some incredible performances.
My thanks to the Big Sur Marathon Committee, all their great sponsors and volunteers, for putting on another epic race. You keep this up, and Runner's World's #3 destination marathon will claim the place it holds in our memories - #1.