I did it!  Successfully (mostly) completed my fourth full marathon.  I am currently recovering from a hard effort.  I’ll have a separate post about our time in Carmel that is unrelated to the actual marathon itself.

Let’s start with the race expo.  We drove down from Sac on Friday late morning and went straight to the Portola Hotel, where the race expo was being held.  We had the dog with us so I didn’t get to explore the expo too much on Friday but went back Saturday morning to get a better idea.  I had read on other blogs that the expo is typically fairly small for a major marathon and they were correct.  Packet pickup was very smooth.  The organizers were great in sending out emails prior to the weekend letting me know my bib number since that was what you needed to get your bib.  Because there is only one way to get to the race start, I also had to pick up a bus ticket (free) from my pickup location (which was in the heart of Carmel).  There were about 4-5 different areas of pickup for the full marathon.  After grabbing my bib and bus ticket, I got my shirt and gear check bag and the helpful volunteer put everything into the bag for me.  The following morning I walked through the expo.  There were a few of the usual booths for various races as well as a few gear booths selling everything from gels to water bottles to clothes.  The largest merchandise area belonged to Asics, who is one of the big sponsors.  Overall it was a nice little expo area but nothing to write home about.  I did find my name on the Big Sur poster that is comprised of every runner.

I had all intentions of a breakout run on Saturday morning but that fell threw just because I was doing enough walking around with the wife.  The day before the race, we did drive down Highway 1 to Big Sur because my wife had never been.  Essentially we drove the course backwards on our way down and then in the proper direction on our return trip back to Carmel.  The drive really showed me just how non-flat the course actually is.  When you look at the elevation chart of the race, you go “okay, there are a few major hills and few minor ones,” but when you’re actually driving the course you realize the entire thing is essentially either “up” or “down.”  There aren’t actually many flat spots to the course.

Elevation

The drive is when I really did start to worry about my race and my training.  I knew that my trip to Japan as well as my illness didn’t hep matters but I wasn’t that worried about it.  After driving the course, I started to wonder a bit.  I had an “A” and “B” goal for this race.  The “A” goal was to PR the race, which I know is a challenge given the above regarding elevation changes.  My “B” goal was to finish under the 6 hour course time limit, which given that I was overall physically okay I figured I should be able to do.  Honestly I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt but knew that I had signed up, gotten in the lottery, and trained for it so I might as well give it a shot.  Outwardly of course I didn’t reveal my concerns to my wife.

We had our pre-race meal of pizza and I tried to hit the sack early (7:30 pm).  Because you have to take a school bus to the race start, they start bussing people down at an ungodly hour.  My bus ticket said to arrive by 3:45 am (yes, 3:45 AM!!) and the latest was 4:15 am.

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Of course trying to go to bed at 7:30 pm when you’re used to going to bed around 11 pm is tough.  I tossed and turned and managed to get a few minutes here and there and then maybe 1-2 straight hours of sleep.  I had set my alarm for 1:30 am because I like to get up a few hours before I head out the door.  This is due to a chronic GI issue that I have that I try to just deal with.  Luckily the Inn that we were staying in had a refrigerator.  I had an unconventional breakfast of 2 slices of Margherita pizza and a banana.  I made a plain bagel with peanut butter and saved it for when I was actually waiting at the start line.  I left the Inn around 3:42 am and walked about 5 minutes to where the buses were waiting. Luckily I managed to get on the first bus and the 2nd seat and off into the night we went.  Since I was so close to the front, I actually watched as the bus wound its way in the darkness along the course.  It was a little eery going over the bridges when all that was lit was the road in front but I knew there was a large drop on both sides.  About 50 minutes later we were dropped off.  In years past, the buses dropped you off at the start (Big Sur Station).  Due to the large amounts of rain that has hit California this year, the bridge just south of the starting line failed and was demolished.  This required the buses to turn around earlier and so we were dropped off at Big Sur Lodge, about a 1/2 mile from the start.  Once off the bus, we made the trek uphill to the starting area.

I arrived and there were already people just sitting around waiting and drinking coffee.  The temperatures weren’t too bad and with me bringing a long sleeve shirt and some pants, I was quite comfortable.  I hit up the port-a-potty and then got in line to get some coffee.  It was around 5 am and the start of the race wasn’t until 6:45 am so I had some time.  I also ate the majority of my peanut butter bagel and had a small cup of coffee and some water.  And then it was a waiting game.  The Big Sur Ranger Station area isn’t exactly cut out to fit a few thousand people so anywhere you could sit, someone was probably sitting.  I ended up walking around for the majority of the waiting time, which in hindsight probably wasn’t the best idea.

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On the majority of the port-a-potties they had funny signs.  I only captured one of them.

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There are 3 waves for the start and I situated myself in the 2nd wave, which was for people estimating a finish time of 3:46 to 4:45.  My plan was to stick with the 4:45 people for as long as possible and possibly finish before 5 hours (which would be my PR).  They had people starting to line up around 6:10 am and took the entire next 35 minutes getting people behind the starting line (remember there’s a bridge out behind the last wave of people and a sharp drop off – I didn’t actually walk back there to see what it looked like though).  At 6:45 am, the first wave of runners were off and about 5 minutes later so was I.  Since I had essentially done the course twice backwards and once forward in a car, I actually had a decent idea of what I was getting into.

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The first few miles were quite crowded but I still felt like I had decent room.  I actually am glad it was crowded because it kept me from blasting downhill.  The first 4 miles or so are mostly downhill.  However, there still are a few small uphill climbs in that first few miles that no one mentions.  You also start out in the Big Sur area, which means you’ve got these giant redwoods on both sides of you.  It was quite peaceful (I didn’t get any pictures of this part of the race).  Those first few miles I was just getting back into the rhythm of running and focusing on keeping it at a decent pace.  It had been a LONG time since I’d run any real meaningful distance.  Overall I felt pretty good in those first few miles.  We passed through the Big Sur Village, where my wife and I had lunch the previous day.  There were also some nice folks out cheering us on in that section.  I didn’t have a concrete race plan but I had been toying with the idea of doing a “run-walk” method.  I realized in the first few miles that walking with so many people and a narrow road probably would only create more problems for me.  So I elected to start my “run-walk” a little later into the race.  I also wasn’t sure what my intervals were going to be (probably something I should have worked out ahead of time).  I had done two half-marathons with run-walk and one I did with 4 minutes run-1 minute walk and another 5 minutes run-1 minute walk.  During my long training runs I did a 1 minute walk after each mile.  I elected to go with the 1 minute walk after each mile since I could easily figure this out with their fun mile markers on course.   Each of the mile markers had fun life-sized pictures of people.  Lots of people were stopping to either take selfies or just take pics with it.

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Around the 5 mile mark is when the course opens up some, the trees fade away and you start to get a glimpse of the ocean.  The day also was turning out to be a gorgeous one.  Blue skies and very little wind (until later portions of the course).  The beginning part of the course we were allowed to run on both sides of the road but starting at mile 2 they wanted us only on the ocean-side of the road.  This was because they needed half the road for cars, emergency personnel, etc.  This caused a bit of congestion and people were running on the wrong side for a good chunk of the first 6-8 miles.

The above mile marker was fitting since there were some actual cows right near this mile marker.

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Cheering us on!

Miles 5-9 were comprised of big flat land to the left with the ocean beyond it and on the right were treeless hills with lush green grass and small flowers on it.  It was quite beautiful and I did take a moment to just “take it all in.”  I was running the Big Sur Marathon on Hwy 1!!  I had come to the realization the day before that I have run on Highway 1 in a race in San Diego, Huntington Beach, and Santa Barbara.  4 very different and distinct locations.  I have to say that this stretch of Hwy 1 (the entire course) is the most beautiful.  In this same section there were some good-sized hills already and I chose to run when I felt I could and walk when I felt I couldn’t.  I really tried to just listen to my body.

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As we came upon mile 9 cresting one of the smaller hills, I could see the dreaded climb to Hurricane Point.

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Climb to Hurricane Point in the far off distance

I could also hear the Taiko drummers.  I hit the port-a-potties to pee at the water station just before getting to the Taiko drummers and the climb.  Luckily I only had to wait about 20-30 seconds before I got into a port-a-potty.  With my business finished, I managed to get video (and a few pictures) of the drummers and told myself that I could “do this!”

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So from mile 10-12, you basically just keep on going up.  You’re running up the side of a mountain and so you make some turns and each time you turn, you just see that you have to keep going up.  I knew that I had to make a few turns before reaching the high point of Hurricane Point so at least I didn’t get myself too disappointed when I would make the turn around a bend in the cliff and see that I still had to go up.  The wind also started to blow in this 10-12 mile stretch.  It wasn’t super super hard but it was enough to tell you that it was there.  I employed a walk-run method up the hill and started to use my Garmin 225 to help.  I had it set on my heart rate and so I would walk until my heartrate dropped to 168-169.  Then I’d start running again and immediately it would go over 180.  At one point I could feel my heart beating really hard and so I started walking and waited until that feeling subsided – luckily it never came back again for the rest of the race.

After what felt like a long time, I made it to Hurricane Point!  As said earlier, there was a little bit of wind but nothing too dramatic and definitely nothing that would cause me to be blown over (as I read nearly happened in last year’s race).  Coming around the bend of Hurricane Point, you get a great view of the Bixby Bridge.  I think this bridge is the most well-known for Big Sur/Carmel and is iconic.  I managed to get a few good pictures of it.  I actually jumped onto a raised area to the side of the road (yes it was tough to make that high step, probably about 2 feet).

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There were a handful of these houses just hanging out on the cliff all isolated. 
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Bixby Bridge
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Bixby Bridge – halfway through the race

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As you make the descent toward the Bixby Bridge, you can start to hear the piano sounds coming from the other side of the bridge.  Michael Martinez has been playing a piano during the race for a long time now.  I stopped on the bridge to get a shot because how often will you be able to walk onto the bridge to snap a view downward.

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And then snapped a quick pic of the piano man (I didn’t spend the time to hang out like a lot of people were doing).

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At this stage I kept telling myself to keep chugging along.  Surprisingly I was actually making decent time according to my Garmin 225.  I realized that I was actually on track to PR if I kept up with what I was doing.  I felt pretty good at the halfway mark and actually had some ideas of pushing for a PR.

The second half of the race is comprised of uphills and downhills (just not as long as the climb up to Hurricane Point).  I settled into a routine where I’d start my run up a hill and when I got tired, I’d start walking.  Then I’d wait until my heart rate came down to around 168 and then back to running.  Since I was potentially on track for a PR, I definitely took a lot less pictures in the second half.  I laughed when I saw the mile 18 marker because I definitely could have gone for a beer.

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I was on track to finish around 4:50-4:55 until I ran into mile 20.  Literally as I was coming up on the mile 20 mile maker (the dreaded “wall”), I felt my right quadriceps muscle cramp up and seize.  I had to start walking and started to try to massage out my right quad.  I realized at that stage that I hadn’t done enough hill training.  Actually I had done pretty much no hill training.  I also knew that I didn’t get enough of my long runs in towards the end so felt like maybe my legs were ready for the distance.

So once I realized I wasn’t going to PR, I just wanted to finish.  I knew that I’d be in well under the 6 hour mark. I  think that partially deflated me and I just didn’t push myself from then on.  I felt a little defeated and did a LOT of walking in the last 10K.  I definitely enjoyed the wonderful views though.

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And then finally I made it to the end!

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I loved the ceramic medal.  It felt great to receive.  The weather was in the low 70s at the end of the race so I didn’t need the space blanket.  I did like that they made a “box” that had a banana, pretzels, gummi bears so that you didn’t have to try to pick things up individually.  I also picked up some chocolate milk – my goto for after a hard workout.  I did some stretching and then checked out the merchandise booth since I had finished!  I picked up a license plate holder.  I thought about getting my free beer at the Sierra Nevada beer garden but it seemed crowded and I just wanted to get back to the Inn and get clean.  So I hopped on the shuttle (short bus) back to Carmel and made my way to the Inn.

My overall impression of the race was that it was very well-organized.  I thought the weather was good for a marathon (though I do prefer it to be a little colder – my ideal temperatures probably would have been in the high 40s and low 50s).  I felt like I ran a good race and I just need to work on that last 10K.  I had quad issues with my 2nd marathon (that one also had a lot of rolling hills) so I wonder if that is my issue.  I’d definitely recommend this race to any marathoner.  I probably won’t ever do it again because there are just so many marathons out there that I think I want to experience and my race schedule (self-imposed) is to do a full marathon every other year.  I think this will provide me with the right challenges but also not tear up my body too much.  The day after the race I actually was getting around okay and walking.  I drove us back to Sac.  Two days post-race I was at work and somewhere in the middle of the day my left ankle/Achilles area started to give me some pain.  I definitely limped the rest of the day.  Not sure if it is a delayed injury or just because my work I am getting up and down a lot.

This was my 4th full marathon.  I don’t know exactly how to explain it but I feel like I’m starting to feel more comfortable with the distance.  Even though I struggled at the end, I knew I was going to finish.  And then at the end of the race, I felt pretty good and not just plain exhausted/dead.  I’m never going to be fast and I’m okay with it.

Finish Time: 5:26:30

I like their long sleeve tech shirt that you get.

-StewsCat

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