I’m terrible at timely race reports, mostly because I go through a multi-stage process every time I run a race.
* Stage 1: Finish Line – Elation. Over-the-top, I-love-everybody-and-everything style joy. I want to dance and sing and kiss strangers. I am the greatest.
* Stage 2: A Few Hours Later – Critical Analysis. I review my performance and nitpick how I could have done it better. I could have been so much greater.
* Stage 3: A Couple of Days Later – Endorphin Crash. With dopamine levels completely depleted, I am convinced I am the slowest runner ever and that I had no business running a marathon. I am the worst.
* Stage 4: When Race Pictures Are Released: Self-loathing. I swear I was running and not slowly walking like every photo seems to depict. Also, do I really look that heavy in person? At least I’m smiling…I mean, I look vaguely maniacal, but it’s a smile. Is there something worse than worst? If so, I’m that.
* Stage 5: Acceptance – Generally a few weeks post-marathon, when I can look back and laugh. (I also call this my Apathy Tipping Point, wherein I have cared so much that I finally stop caring entirely.) I’m cool.
So yeah. That’s why I’m typing a race report tonight for a marathon I ran 3 weeks ago. It’ll be long. Settle in.
On Sunday, April 24, I crossed #1 off of my running bucket list: Big Sur Marathon.
A bit of background on why it was such a big deal to run this race: after shattering my left tibia/fibula in 2007, I spent about 5 months on crutches recovering from ORIF surgery (2 plates, 17 screws & a rod). My surgeon told me I’d walk with a permanent limp, that I would have to quit roller derby & that running long distances probably would be too painful. So of course I immediately started looking up destination marathons (after I ordered new derby skates, naturally). Google Image Search brought up Bixby Bridge – I was in awe of its majesty & the beauty of the entire coastline. My Running Bucket List was created right then with Big Sur Marathon as my first entry.
Fast forward through 6 more seasons of derby, 2 marathons, 25 half marathons & around 60 shorter races to 2015, when I entered the lottery for Big Sur. I told my awesome brother Kris what I was doing & he immediately put my sister-in-law/best friend/favorite running buddy Jenny on the list too, unbeknownst to her. In fact, Jenny had no idea she was running a 2nd marathon until I texted her to let her know that we’d both gotten in! Thank goodness she is incredibly cool about surprise race registrations.
Training went smoothly and I got to the start line without any injuries (unlike my first marathon). Jenny, our friend Ted and I had all been stressing for awhile over the strict 6 hour time limit and the drive up and down the course the day before hadn’t exactly set our minds at ease. This was going to be the toughest course I’d ever run by a long shot.
Start line smiles
For the first 5 miles, we were physically (and mentally) sheltered from the coastal winds by redwoods. We were ahead of our goal pace (Ted was even farther ahead, disappearing into the distance with the 5:30 group while I had Jenny and me on target for a 5:45 finish). We were appreciative of the cool weather and the peaceful beauty of the woods.
We’d read that the first 5 downhill miles are deceptively easy, but knowing that didn’t prepare us for the force with which the 30-40mph winds hit us when the trees gave way to coastline. By the time we hit the 10K mark, it had started drizzling lightly and the headwind was already brutal. We were in danger of dropping below cutoff pace if this wind kept knocking us back.
Jenny and I had made a pact that if one of us was hitting the pace faster than the other then we would part ways. I hated to take off without my favorite running buddy but I was still trucking along despite the headwind, so she urged me to run my race and she’d see me at the finish line. I ran into Ted around mile 7 on a rough uphill and we spent a few minutes together before I pushed ahead. I was on a mission to beat the clock (and the 6 hour cutoff pacer that was now far enough behind me to relax a bit).
The sound of the taiko drummers at the bottom of the 2 mile, 45 degree climb up Hurricane Point made my heart beat faster as I approached. Miles 11-13 are the most grueling of the course with a few false summits and morale-crushing views of what’s to come before the top of the mountain. I was so happy to have applied my ElevationTat to help me track my progress and anticipate water stations – it came in handy so many times during the back half of the course, too.
I kind of want this tattooed on me for real.
I kept my head down and pushed onward and upward. At the very top of the mountain, just as the Mile 13 marker came into view, an extra-hard gust blew across a few other runners and me – it was like nature was trying to knock us down one last time before the descent to Bixby Bridge. I later heard that the gusts were up to 49mph and I absolutely believe it, as we were staggering sideways and seriously discussing holding hands to keep from getting blown off the cliff into the ocean.
The descent to Bixby Bridge was as emotionally charged as I expected it to be, and when I heard the first strains of Michael Martinez on the famous grand piano I burst into tears. Crossing that gorgeous bridge represented so much for me – the realization of a dream I’d held onto for so long, the accomplishment I’d worked so hard to get to. I thanked God, wiped away my tears for the photographer and then prepared myself for the second half of the course.
The back half of Big Sur features 13 rolling hills over 13 miles. They’re nowhere near as steep as Hurricane Point, but they’re bigger than this flatlander is used to and the roads are steeply banked, resulting in a dramatically uneven camber that might be more of a challenge than the actual hills. 15-19 are lonely miles, since there’s not much out there besides ocean and mountains – I saw more cows than humans, which is cool because that pretty much sums up my childhood on the farm anyway, minus all the water. I cannot tell you how happy I was to hit the 22 mile marker with 15 minutes to spare on the cutoff time – this is a sweep point with a clock and a large sign that lets you know you’ll be riding the bus back to the finish if you’re not there by 11:50am. At this point, I texted my husband (finally had reception after 20 miles) to tell him “I think I’m really going to finish this race!” There may have been more swearing involved, but you get the point.
I had read a lot about the famed strawberries around mile 24 at the top of Strawberry Hill – people went on and on about these strawberries and how they were the best anyone has ever tasted. Naturally, I was looking forward to finally eating one of these berries. Naturally, they were all gone by the time I passed the empty tables. I told myself I’d eat all the berries I wanted after a couple more miles and pushed on.
The last 2 miles were filled with spectators telling me how close I was to the finish. I couldn’t wipe the goofy grin off my face as I heard the announcer’s voice wafting out from the finisher village. I made the turn into the chute and I was finally, FINALLY there. The announcer said something sweet and funny about me being the most colorful runner on the course, but I barely heard her as I looked up and saw my friend Ted waving at me from the side. He got this picture of me getting my medal, which I deeply appreciate.
My official time was 5:47:45, which was nearly 3 minutes slower than I’d hoped for but good enough to earn a medal. I finished this one without the crippling back pain and sciatica that caused me to limp like a wounded animal at Dallas Marathon. My knees even felt pretty good and I was relatively agile for somebody who’d just run for nearly 6 hours. I expected to be more sore but was incredibly thankful not to be (especially next morning when I had to sprint up/down stairs and through a terminal to avoid missing my flight due to a mobile boarding pass issue).
I got a wonderful hug from my Sub-30 Club friend Shannon, picked up my post-race snack box (which was seriously nice, although there were no strawberries) and found Jenny, who had a horrible migraine from the wind. I hate that she felt so miserable for so long while waiting for me to finish, but I was so thankful that she was there.
We got home the next day and the stages of marathon processing began. Then my husband made this shadowbox for me (to hang next to the one he made after Dallas Marathon) and I finally found a 6th stage of the process: Pride.
Thanks for making it through this looooong read. Hopefully my next marathon report will be shorter, since I plan to be a little faster in general by then.