This year’s Big Sur International Marathon was one of the best marathons that I’ve ever run. In fact, the entire trip, though short, was absolutely fantastic.
I didn’t plan much logistically for the Big Sur/Monterey weekend because I was focused on Boston. I had a rough plan of driving up sometime on Saturday, visiting the expo, and then leaving after the race on Sunday evening. My sister and I really wanted to spend more time together, so I looked into freeing up some of my travel hours by flying north instead of driving. I reported back to her and she surprised me by quickly purchasing my flight! I seriously have the best sister ever. I ran 4 fast-ish miles on Saturday morning and was in San Francisco before lunch time. Renee and I picked up some food, went to her apartment to eat and so that she could finish packing, and then we hit the road to Monterey.
We arrived at about 4:30pm and checked into the Knight’s Inn. It was a nice hotel: the rooms were clean and neat, the beds surprisingly comfortable, the area was safe, and it was near downtown Monterey. Plus, Whole Foods and Starbucks were within walking distance. Next stop, the expo. I’d been an exhibitor for my last two trips, so it was nice not having to work before the race. Unfortunately, Portola Plaza was under construction, so the expo was held in two very large tents. For having a lot less space to work with, the BSIM staff did a wonderful job with the expo layout. The bib pick up was in one tent, while shirt pick up, official merchandise, and all vendors were in the second one. I picked up my bib, shuttle ticket (3:30am shuttle time, ouch), and B2B post-race dinner wristband. I was again completing the Boston 2 Big Sur (B2B) Challenge!
We went into the second tent and I picked my shirt up, perused the official merchandise items, and visited a few of the vendors. We enjoyed samples of the local Ventana Vineyards wines and Renee ended up buying a bottle of their Merlot. I purchased a CD from Michael Martinez, who plays the grand piano every year at mile 13.1 of the marathon. I decided to try Powerbar Performance Energy Blasts for during-race calories and and bought a pack, a long with a just-in-case Honeystinger gel. I’ve used the energy blasts before, but have yet to reintroduce gels into my intrarace energy sources. We walked around Fisherman’s Wharf for a while before heading back toward the hotel to forage for food. I found a restaurant via Yelp! which boasted an “award winning salad bar” and the dinner decision was quickly made. The salad bar at the Crazy Horse Restaurant met my expectations and we enjoyed the quaint little hotel restaurant with delicious food and a good wine & beer menu. With a 3:00am wake up call, I went to bed pretty soon after we’d returned from dinner.
I can’t thank Renee enough for waking up at 3:15am to drive me to the shuttle pickup area – again, best sister ever. Upon arrival, I met up with Alberto and boarded my second yellow school bus of the week. It’s interesting to head toward the start line, passing the mile markers 25, 24, 23, etc., knowing that we will see them again in reverse in a few short hours. The beauty of the course is apparent even in the dark morning hours, and I was very excited to run down Highway 1 again. Alberto and I were dumped in front of the Big Sur lodge at about 4:30am and claimed our little square of land before it became super crowded. My friends John and Alan ended up joining us and we all chatted while waiting 2+ hours before the 6:45am start time. Three porta potty trips and a Kind bar later, I was ready to move my cold legs. The weather was on the cooler side, but I didn’t wear any throwaway items to the start line. I was very happy that it wasn’t hot and sunny as it had been 6 days prior, in Boston.
I had two goals at the start line: 1) run my own race, 2) feel good (at least until mile 23). I spent the first few miles listening to the conversations around me enjoying the greenery. I felt light on my feet and was breathing the smell of the surrounding redwoods in easily. I knew what to expect from this course and from the weather, but I didn’t know what to expect of my body. I knew that there was a significant headwind between miles 5 and 12 or so, so I mentally prepared for that. Right around mile 4 or 5, I started to run with Ben. We talked easily and I still felt comfortable, unlike how I’d felt during the first few miles of the Boston Marathon. While running with Ben, I came across a runner I’d met at the Finish the Ride race, so we all talked for a mile or two. I passed Alberto right around mile 9.5ish, which was the same exact spot I passed him in 2015! We laughed about it and I wished him luck with the next course challenge: Hurricane Point.
I remembered the headwind dying down after Hurricane Point (in 2015), so I focused on that as my next get-to-it spot. The ascent to Hurricane Point is 2 miles long and includes ~500 feet of elevation, with a group of Taiko drummers providing runners with a boost right at the base (mile 10). I set my cruise control on and began the grinding climb up to mile 12. I use the word “grinding,” but it really isn’t that bad. The first mile feels steep, then it flattens out slightly for about half of a mile, and the steepest section is the last half of a mile. The wind was definitely stronger than last year, and I had to hold onto my hat a few times to keep it from flying off. When I reached the mile 12 marker, I realized why this hill is called Hurricane Point. It felt like I was trapped in a whirlwind! I thought that the downhill section would be a breeze, but it was far from that. The headwind was STRONG, basically negating the descent. Earlier in the race, I’d assured some runners that the headwind will subside after mile 12. Boy, was I wrong.
Seeing that there was a clock up ahead at mile 13.1, I dropped my gaze. It may seem odd to other runners, but I prefer to not know my pace or elapsed time and run entirely by feel. I waved at Michael Martinez while he played his grand piano and continued on. One aspect of the Big Sur International Marathon that is unique is the bands that are featured on course. Over 26.2 miles, we passed a grand piano player, a harpist, and an accordian soloist. There are also a few “standard” instrument bands on course, and they’re all excellent. We passed the picturesque Bixby Bridge right before mile 14 and continued toward the Carmel Highlands.
I felt a pang of nervousness after passing the mile 14 marker – this was where I started to struggle during the Boston Marathon. I made sure to drink water at about every 5K, and reminded myself to eat my energy blasts. Miles 14-20 flew by, and that’s how I felt, like I was flying. I still felt light on my feet and was breathing the ocean air in easily. My permasmile was on and I felt at peace. I was shocked at how different I felt than in Boston, but extremely happy about it. This is how I always want to feel during long-distance races. Miles 17-20 are usually my troublesome ones, but at no point during this race did I struggle. Again, the difference from 6 days ago was astounding. I continued to run through the rolling hills of the highlands, looking very forward to another unique element of this race: large and juicy strawberries served at mile 23. Before I knew it, I had strawberry juice on my face and only 5K left to go.
I still felt great and energetic, so I started to pick the pace up a little. Mile 23-24 were Renee miles, 24-25 were dad miles, and at the 25 mile marker, I looked up and asked my mom to help me keep this momentum going. The hill in the last mile would likely feel a lot easier without 25 miles on the legs, but I cruised up it and started to hear the sounds of a finish line. Once it came into sight, I really picked it up and brought it home strong and finished in 3:14:06 (1:40/1:34). I got a hug from Rudy the announcer along with my Big Sur Marathon medal – bonus! I picked my bag up from gear check and made a beeline for the B2B tent to look for my sister and for food.
Included in the B2B registration is a race entry, an additional “I’m Running Boston 2 Big Sur” tech tee (sent before the race), entry into the special B2B post-race hospitality tent, and a ticket to the post-race dinner on the evening of the race. The hospitality tent offers a great spread of food, drinks, and beer, and is probably my favorite perk of the challenge. We also received our special B2B medal and high-quality ASICS jacket. Alberto had also completed B2B and came into the tent a few minutes after me. Ben joined us and we had a full table of happy, hungry runners! I discovered that I’d placed 3rd female in the B2B Challenge division and 2nd in my age division for the Big Sur Marathon, so we stayed for the awards ceremony. I left with two picture frames, a bottle of Ventana Vineyard wine, and a feeling of contentment with my race.
We weren’t sure if we were going to head back to San Francisco on Sunday night, but I persuaded my sister to go to the post-race dinner with me and we extended our stay. With a few hours to explore Monterey/Carmel, we decided to drive 17-mile Drive, a scenic tour of Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove ($10 toll). It was beautiful and scenic with beautiful outlook points. At one of the beach overlooks, I had trouble opening my car door due to the hellacious wind! It made the headwind I’d endured earlier in the day feel like a calm breeze. Sub-par photo dump below.
We met up with Alberto and Ben at the post-race dinner and had a good time. I talked to Doug, who handled some race challenges like the true race director extraordinaire that he is. I also thanks Rudy for his warm finish line welcome. I was introduced to Hugo Ferlito, former BSIM board chairman and Grizzled Vet. He told me that this year’s headwind was the second worst that he’s ever experienced at the race. I talked to a few other people and enjoyed the post-race high that I, and everyone else in the room, was feeling. Ben, Alberto and I planned a run for the next morning and then it was back to the hotel. I could hardly keep my eyes open and slept like a rock that night.
After my run and a Whole Foods hot bar breakfast, Renee and I left Monterey. We stopped at a random shop in Gilroy (garlic capital of the world) to use the bathroom and ended up doing a bit of wine tasting. We left with a few more bottles of wine and a carton of cherries… oops. We went straight to my cousin’s house and I finally met my first cousin once removed, Grange. He’s now the official baby of the family and such a sweet boy.
I always hate saying goodbye to my sister, but I hope to be back in San Francisco for the SF Marathon in July. We made sure to get one last selfie before I left!