This blog post was written during the summer of 2019 even though I am just now publishing it.
Running the Big Sur Marathon stands as a major personal achievement and a day I will always cherish. In spite of some brutal stretches, the whole day was smooth and unfolded exactly as planned. I ran 9:01-minute miles to finish in 3:56:22, just under my four hour goal. This all happened back in April 2019.
This well organized race offers a glorious and challenging marathon experience. 5000 runners shuffle onto 4AM buses which drive 26 miles of beautiful coastal Route 1 in the dark to drop us off shivering at the start area. There were not enough porta potties at the pre-race holding area which seems an insurmountable problem for large races. Pre-race marathoners are obsessed with bathroom needs and you can’t rush thousands through their hopes of evacuating unnecessary weight. I waited in line but eventually gave up with fantasies of shorter lines on the course.
We had ideal weather for a marathon – especially for the Big Sur course. It was overcast in the 50s with hardly a breeze. While we missed the sun, we were spared the accompanying strong headwinds. I enjoyed every bit of the gorgeous course and appreciated the major landmarks which indicated progress. Around six miles you see the ocean for the first time. A grueling two-mile uphill leads to Hurricane Point which crowns with a bend that reveals Bixby Bridge and the triumphant half-way point. Later, the hills at Carmel Highlands look terrifyingly steep while also announcing the last two miles.
The course never levels off and the downhills eventually prove more painful than the uphills. IF life had allowed for a more detailed and intentional training regimen, I would have run a lot more hills! They say marathons are easy until mile 20 and then the race becomes a monumental struggle through the last six miles. Yup! Things hurt like they had never hurt before and I thought I would have to walk at mile 24. Stubbornness and the guilt of the accumulated training miles kept me going. One of the steepest hills arrives at the last mile and its first vision sparked dread. It just sucked! Yet, somehow I had just enough energy left for a weak sprint in the last few yards. Crossing the finish line I thought “thank God I can finally stop running!”
Immediately after finishing I got water, a medal, and some selfies. While sitting on the grass with the food care package, I worried I might never get up. I did get up and made sure to walk for 30-minutes as a warm down. And that was that. I felt fine by the afternoon and even went back to the coast for some light hiking and photography. In the evening I went out for the most expensive burger I could find in Monterey; including 48-hour sous vide bacon, a fried egg, three appetizers, and dessert. My running app claimed I burned 3,243 calories. That ought to cover dinner.
Within a day I thought, yeah, I’d run another marathon. Good thing because I had already paid the fee for the NYC marathon in November 2019. In one day I had become a marathoner and saw no reason to stop in the foreseeable future. Maybe one a year? Pick some great race and treat it as a short holiday weekend. Las Vegas, Disney World, Acadia National Park, Paris, London, Chicago – all great marathons worth traveling for.
The NYC marathon is now less than two months away. Life remains full and it seems all I can do is keep my weekly miles high. I’ve had no formal training plan other than one long run every Saturday, and to amass 35-40 miles every week. NYC will almost certainly be a faster time than Big Sur, but I don’t have big goals. Central Park is my primary running territory and it offers a lot of hills.
At its core a marathon is a ridiculous manufactured challenge for goal oriented people who might have disposable time and resources. But running has been a blessing and marathons are a nice way to focus the activity. Some of my best thinking still happens on long runs.