Thursday, April 28, 2016

Blustery Fun At The 2016 Big Sur Marathon

Just six days after the 2016 Boston Marathon, I had the great pleasure of joining 4,000 runners for the 31st running of the Big Sur Marathon near Carmel, CA. This was the second leg in the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge (B2B), one of my favorite road marathon doubles that combines two marathons on two coasts in just six days. It's also just a great excuse to head down to Big Sur and enjoy this wild and amazing stretch of California coast. Don't have to twist my arm hard for that!

(Sophie at 9, Quinn at 5)
My girls came with me on this trip, eager to revisit Carmel Beach, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the Expo that inevitably fills their pockets with snacks galore. I was still nursing a sore hamstring, but hoping I would find the right gear to get through the race like I had in Boston (2:55). We took it easy through the race weekend, and before I knew it, I was at the start catching up with runners from all over the world as the sun rose through the redwoods. Once again, the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge had sold out their 400 spots, and I was amazed at how many runners go for it. It was just five years ago it was a bet among locals!

(Magda, Mary, and Julia are ready to roll)

(Neil Pearson goes old school with his sponsor logos)
I jumped into the Elite corral just as Dean Karnazes was finishing the first half of his annual Big Sur double and joining us. We also had local defending champion Adam Roach, Boston 2 Big Sur front runner Neil Pearson, first time Big Sur runners Magdelena Boulet and Tyler Stewart, ultra runner Chris Eide and his pal Sean Curry, and Oswaldo Lopez up from Jalisco, Mexico. Another 5,000 runners would be on the course running 20-, 10-, and 6-mile segments so we would have plenty of company! The weather report said wind, and lots of it, so we would certainly be making friends.

(Black arm photobomb!)
(And we're off!)
As the gun went off, I took it easy in hopes my sore hamstring wouldn't get too angry. It didn't feel much worse after Boston, but definitely wasn't better. I tucked in with a group pulling the lead Women, and by mile 3 we were pushing into a headwind that wouldn't leave us for 20 miles. Magda said she was just out to enjoy the course today, but as we all know, her casual pace is still pretty amazing so it was a solid effort to stick with her. Magda, Tyler, and Julia Stamps stayed close to some tall wind-blocking runners...knowing the usual pace of the lead Women, that headwind was slowing us about 15 seconds/mile to a 6:55 min/mile pace.

(Among the redwoods)
(Here comes that headwind!)
(Taking over Hwy 1, photo courtesy of Jay Dunn)
At mile 10, the great Hurricane Hill came into sight and the wind really started to throw us around. I lost my cap, and in turning around to get it, permanently lost my little peloton. No worries, I hung with Kyle Petty from Sacramento, who would go onto be one of the few runners to negative split the B2B Challenge. We got a rhythm from the drummers, and pounded up the hill.

(the mad drummers!)
Across the Bixby Bridge (mile 13), the wind was so crazy, everyone was just trying to stay focused. An ambulance was picking up one runner right on the bridge - wow! Michael Martinez was once again playing his grand piano in full formal tails right on the cliff. Nothing stops that guy!
(Michael Martinez back again!)
By mile 18, I began realizing the hamstring is a very important muscle when fighting headwinds! My stride shortened significantly, but it wasn't too painful, so I just cruised along. My mind drifted to my previous six Big Sur Marathons, and how my 9-year-old was just an infant the first time I was here. The waves and mountains were gloriously distracting.

(Sean Curry cruises the highlands)

(The strawberry aid station....soooo good!)
Sean Curry and his glitter shorts caught me at mile 21, and it was fun to keep him in sight as we cruised through the Carmel Highlands (mile 22-24), weaving through the many hikers and walkers. I got a handful of strawberries for the final push, and knowing I was just under a 3:10 finish time, kept my head up to finish in 3:09:45 for 30th place and 9th in the B2B Challenge. Hamstring held up once again!

(Adam Roach for the win, photo courtesy of Jay Dunn)

(Magda Boulet adds one more win to her trophy case, photo courtesy of Jay Dunn)
The beer flowed plentifully at the B2B tent, and we learned that Adam Roach (2:35) had repeated his win, a solid eight minutes slower than last year. Magda (3:01) held on to win the Women's group, while Neil Pearson won the B2B Challenge (2:39 + 2:45 = 5:25). I got second in my age group to...Sean Curry! Guess I should have stuck closer to him. (all results) There were a few PR's in the group, but most of us had to add 5-10 minutes thanks to that headwind. Still, lots of smiles to go around!

My thanks to the brave volunteers, race directors, and fellow runners on another fantastic run. My eighth Big Sur Marathon and I can't wait to come back!

- SD

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Glorious Day At The 2016 Boston Marathon (Thank You Hamstring)

Streak running can make you do stupid things. Once you have mentally decided you are going to try to do a race X amount of times, you often find yourself making questionable choices along the way. Not quite “streaking” bad choices (that’s when you go naked), but bad choices nonetheless. This was going through my head as I was icing a sore hamstring on the way to the 120th Boston Marathon, which was to be my 12th in a row. Really, Scott? Icing a sore hamstring on the way to a marathon? That sounds like an “I told you so” moment with dismal outcomes just waiting to happen.

 My passion for Boston expertly defied logic at every turn. The weather prediction of sunny and 65 degrees only shoved more kindling for my dubious fire, and I was soon grasping for justification like a hungry monkey. I’ll just do a casual run….yeah, that’s it. A casual run. And I’ll wear a compression sleeve that will fix everything (conveniently forgetting my own advice not to add anything new on a race day). I’ll do it because it’s the 50th year since the first woman, Bobbi Gibbs, ran Boston, and they told her it was impossible. Girl power! By the time I swept through the energetic Expo with my good friend and first-time Boston runner John Heltzel, the passion flame was high. Logic didn’t stand a chance.

(It was all about honoring the women this year)

(John Heltzel, my friend of 40+ years, is ready to tackling his first Boston)

(Goofing off with Jorge Maryville and Ian Sharman

(Alex Varner and the SFRC crew in Corral #1)
So at 10am, I found my way to Corral #1 (bib #731!) and crossed my fingers. I was just in time to see Ian Sharman heading up the street (he was running the course backwards, then turning around and running the race, where he clocked a 2:49!). Jorge Maravilla and Alex Varner were also there among a cluster of San Francisco Running Company tank tops. We all reveled as the Elites were announced in front of us – 10 guys who have gone sub-2:06 including 2x winner and defending champion Lelisa Desisa (who just went 2:04:58 in Dubai), 2012 winner Wesley Korir, course record holder Geoffrey Mutai (2:03:02), and more…and the Women were already five miles ahead, led by 2012 Olympic gold medalist Tiki Gelana. Varner summed it up perfectly, saying “wow…it’s amazing to hear credentials like that…these guys are truly the worlds best”. And with the gun, we were off!

 I was going by feel, but was definitely the slow guy in the corral (or the one behind us for that matter). I kept the elbows in and let runners slither around me. My body felt good at a 6:40 min/mile pace, so I just stuck with it. The crowds were huge this year, much in thanks to the perfect weather. The bluegrass band at Ashland (mile 2) was rocking out, and we soon stopped our incessant passing and found a groove.

(The runners take over Hopkinton!)
By mile 6, my legs were loosening up and the 6:40 min/mile pace felt pretty good. I got my annual picture with Santa Claus, who recognized me and said “let’s get another picture! That’s quite a collection you are building”. He had the Red Sox jersey on today, which seemed fitting. It was right about this time we started passing the 2013 bomb victims who were racing this year, out in blade prosthetics and wheelchairs to reclaim the course. And here I was complaining about a hamstring? They got pats and atta-boys from everyone going by, and a few tears of courage as well. In fact, it almost felt like the Boston Marathon was back to normal.


(Now that's what I call a hands on guide)
(The weather pushes past 65 degrees)
The Scream Tunnel (mile 12) could be heard a town away, and the runners lined up for high fives, kisses, or the other side of the street to stay clear of the madness. I got my smooch, and once again accidentally clocked a 6:00 min/mile. Such a boost of energy! My head swirled with memories of Boston’s past…Wellesley girls in ponchos on rainy days, my Dad’s spontaneous “I dated a Wellesley girl once” story when we did Boston together, and the ever awkward sight of an old Italian guy going down the line like a wedding procession and kissing every girl. Yet the Wellesley ladies keep smiling!

(Scream Tunnel!)
The Newton hills (mile 16-21) were the warmest spot on the course, and the 70+ degree weather was creating some casualties. Me and another runner tried to catch one dizzy guy, but couldn’t keep him from taking a header into the crowd. Yikes! Sorry about your picnic. I took it easy on the climbs, knowing my hamstring would prefer it, and it’s the best way to deal with the heat. The Boston Hash House Harriers were out in force, so I grabbed an ice cold cup of beer and joined them before cresting Heartbreak Hill.

(Sean Meissner siting)

(Getting a beer with the Harriers)
 A familiar headwind caught us in Brookline (mile 23), but it was nice to have a slightly cooler wind. I checked the times at the mats, and it appeared I was still doing 6:40 min/miles! The hamstring was holding up just fine. I passed a few hundred runners, but still managed to get passed by a guy in an elf costume and a blind runner with their guide. Always good to get an ego check.

(The finish!)
As we turned down Boylston, I reveled in the normalcy that had returned to this great race. 2016 already felt more like the Boston I knew than the strange chapter of the last three years. I cruised into the finish in 2:56:09 and my 12th Boston was in the books. Just as I was high-fifing, a guy stepped up to me and said "didn't you take a picture of my blister in 2013"? Sure enough, it was Liang Wu running even faster this year! How random is that?

(Liang Wu, circa 2013)
(Liang at the finish in 2016!)
It didn’t take long before I was at the Beantown Pub getting a burger and beers, sharing stories with friends both old and new, and learning about the epic stories of Boston, 2016. Lemi Berhanu Hayle (2:14:45) led an Ethiopian sweep with his win, and likely a spot on one of the most competitive Olympic teams in running. The Women's winner, Atsede Baysa (2:29:19), gave her trophy to Bobbi Gibbs, the first time Woman finisher. Wow, even more epic Boston stories! How could I not come back? I began strategizing immediately for #13.

My thanks to the Race Directors and world-class volunteers for another great Patriot’s Day weekend. And a big thanks to my hamstring for hanging in there! Congrats to all of you runners, in particular the first timers. Hope to see you again.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Running The Boston Marathon? Here Are Some Tips and Things To Do

You've done it! You've qualified for the Boston Marathon, and now your trip to the iconic race is just a few weeks away. So, what to do on your visit to the great city of Boston on this iconic weekend? I've been to this race a few times, both with and without family, and thought I would share a few tips to navigate the weekend so you can make the most of it. Just be sure to have earned it!!!

Pre-Race Weekend Tips:

  • Get to know the "T" (MBTA). Getting around Boston is pretty easy thanks to the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA, aka, the "T"), a beautifully run subway system in Boston. You ride free on race day with your race bib, but I usually start the weekend by loading up a card to get around town. It's a really fast way to avoid crowds, duck under weather, and meet locals.  Definitely use to get to the Expo, Fenway, or spectate along the course. But generally you can't go wrong getting anywhere by ducking into a "T" stop.
  • Find some clothes to toss. Starting in 2014, there are no drop bags at the start of the race, so be prepared to have some clothing you are willing to donate to charity near the start line. Clean out that running drawer of unused swag, or if you don't have room to pack it, visit a Boston Goodwill or second hand store to grab a warm hoodie and sweat pants. You won't be the only one thinking this, so best to get it out of the way when you arrive. And wear that gear right up until you get to your start corral! I also find that bringing a lawn clipping-strength trash bag is always a good idea, and can quickly be made into a heat-trapping, rain protecting poncho. 
  • Plan some fun stuff. Particularly if you have kids, plan a few fun things for the weekend. One of my favorites is a Red Sox game at Fenway (your hotel concierge can help with tickets) where they always do a great job catering to the runners. History buffs will enjoy walking the Freedom Trail, although runners should be careful not to spend the whole day on their feet. If you have kids, check out the Boston Public Gardens to ride in the swan boats and visit the "Make Way for Ducklings" statues (be sure to read that book a few dozen times first!)., and get pancakes at The Paramount nearby. If your family and friends want to run, take them to the Kids Relay, register for the 5k Run on Saturday, or be sure to spectate at the Invitational Mile on Saturday.
  • Check out the Expo, but don't hang out too long. The Pre Race Boston Expo is frickin' HUGE. It could take a few hours to get through, so don't plan on hitting everything. But do check out the list of speakers and events, and come see the former winners and top elites when they speak on the panel. If it's your first Boston, allow yourself to go a little nuts with the swag, and get some for every friend or family member who came with you or was essential in getting you to the start line. Don't be shy to get a selfie or an autograph on a poster or swag - it's a nice personal touch, and may be your winter motivation someday when you are staring at a wall on your treadmill. I still have a signed poster from 9x NYC Marathon winner and world record holder Grete Weitz saying "good luck in your next 100!", and it helps me get through those last few intervals. Best day is Saturday morning, when you can get your number and then watch the High School and Elite athletes run the Invitational Mile. It might be the only day you get a size Medium Boston Marathon shirt, for the record. 
  • Hit the North End for some carb loading. The North End is the casual Italian district of Boston, with plenty of great carb-heavy restaurants. You'll find it full of runners from around the world all weekend, particularly in line at Modern Pastry or Mike's Pastry, which will both rock your world with insane Italian pastries the size of your head. Well worth any wait. 
  • Skip the pre-race pasta feed. There are lots of great places to eat in Boston, and one of the many local pubs will have a better mix of locals and runners and will be far more memorable than lines for pasta on paper plates. I always worry that the pre-race pasta feed is a petri dish of viruses from around the world paired with a mass-made meal...probably not the best place to hang out before race day!
  • Drink some beer. One or two beers isn't going to ruin your race, but it will get you elbow to elbow with the friendly folks of Boston, certainly one of the most welcome communities in the USA. Many Bostonians can tell you about 20- and 30-year memories of the Marathon, so buy a pint and open your ears. I still have long-lasting friendships that started at the Beantown Pub. Cocktail fans will enjoy shooting pool at the Carrie Nation speakeasy. 
  • Point your friends to the AT&T text updates. It's super easy for your friends to follow along with text updates (see your packet on how to do this), so be sure to send them your race number and post on your social feeds how to track you. Best of all, by the time you finish and get to your hotel, your social feeds will be full of congrats!

Race Day Tips:

  • Set your alarm, get on the right bus. The buses that leave from the Boston Commons are a model of efficiency, so be sure to do your part by showing up at the right time. Yes, it might mean you hang out at the Athlete's Village for a few hours, but those who come early will get the best seats under the tents. The bus ride can take 45-60 minutes, so be sure to hit the bathroom before hand, and bring some snacks. Then introduce yourself to everyone around you - you'll be surprised at the stories! I once met this crazy guy who had run the London Marathon the day before, but hadn't heard about ultra running...he went on to win the Leadville 100m twice and set the record for the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning in the following three years. 
  • Write your name on your arms. Even if you aren't "that kind of runner", I highly suggest you find a big black marker and write your name on your arm and legs in the largest font you can. Everyone else will, so unless you want to hear "Go, Kevin!" for the next three hours, best to give them another choice. And Bostonians will give it their all! It's amazing how much it helps. 
  • Every bib number is awesome. Boston ranks their bib numbers based on qualifying time, so it is tempting to feel your number is not as worthy when you see #415. But go ahead and ask #415 and share your story, and I bet they will be just as impressed with your number #22,106. Honestly, who worked harder to get to the start? Don't hold back, because I guarantee your story is just as impressive. Ask everyone where they qualified and what it took, and I promise you the stories will come out like crazy, and you will likely add a few bucket list races to your list in the process. 
  • Get to your corral early. Most first-timers don't realize that the start of the race is actually 0.7 miles from the Athlete Corral, and the start has three dozen port-o-potties with no lines. Begin your journey to the start line a few minutes before they call your corral, and you'll be in good shape. 
  • Drink at aid stations on the left. At roughly every mile marker, you'll have an aid station on the right, followed by an aid station on the left 100 yards later. EVERYONE rushes to the right, so avoid the pandemonium and wait a bit to take the less traveled aid station on the left. There's also a delicious caffeine-spiked Gu gel waiting at mile 21 as well. 
  • Get a kiss/hug at the Scream Tunnel (Mile 12). You'll know the moment you hit the Wellesley campus when the screaming of college girls can be heard for miles. Don't be shy, lean in and get a hug or kiss, tag as many high fives as you can, and let the power of youthful exuberance push you to a negative split. Have that camera ready for the selfie and GO FOR IT! It will give you a great energy boost for the second half. 
  • Get a beer at Heartbreak Hill (Mile 21). If you're running for fun, be sure to find the beer aid station at the base of Heartbreak Hill run by the local Hash House Harriers. You grab a cup of beer, and they grab the rest and join you...super fun!
  • Hit the post-race massage. You'll have to ask at the finish where the post-race massage is, but it's a nice little secret that most runners don't take advantage of that is typically stashed a few blocks from the finish. The line is usually short, and a 15-minute easy massage will cut a few days off your recovery. 
  • Finish, get warm, and head to the hotel. You'll want to savor the finish area, but honestly it is best to just get back to your hotel, clean up, and take a little rest while you watch the highlights on TV. Head back into town with the finisher medal around your neck, and reap the perks at every restaurant, pub, and club. I haven't paid for a drink in nearly a decade on race day. Find me at scottdunlap [at] yahoo [dot] com, and I will let you know where I am!
Hopefully that helps you set up an epic weekend. I look forward to seeing you in Boston!

- SD

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