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March 3, 2007

Three Reasons

Give me one reason to stay here – and I’ll turn right back around …

- Tracy Chapman, “Give Me One Reason”

I mentioned that there were some more tangible reasons (you know, besides me being an idiot) for signing up for this April’s Big Sur Marathon, despite the fact that it’s a mere six days before I race one of the most challenging triathlons in California. So if you’ll indulge me, I’ll spell everything out here.

On that note: if you don’t happen to like large doses of overwrought, self-serving introspection … then maybe this isn’t the post for you. Feel free to click to another blog now – no hard feelings. See you next time.

(waiting … )

Is anybody still here? OK then – on with the post. In regards to the opening quote - I’m doing Tracy two better. My justifications for running Big Sur fall into three distinct categories. And when I say distinct, I mean it – these three categories have almost nothing in common, except for their collaborative influence on my decision-making process.


1. Ego

I’ve mentioned many times how Big Sur has always been my favorite race. It’s also the biggest event on Monterey’s running calendar, and to some degree, locals use it as a measure of whether someone is a “real” runner. It’s almost always the first question people ask when somebody finds out that I’m a runner: have you run Big Sur?

I usually reply that yes, I ran the race last year. And I like saying it, sometimes for no other reason than to validate my status as a runner. When pressed, I’ll say that I’ve run it a handful of times – and that’s usually enough to satisfy anyone’s inquiry.

What I almost never say is that I’ve run Big Sur 11 times, and 10 times consecutively. However, just because I don’t volunteer this information, that doesn’t mean it’s not important to me. I love knowing that I have a longstanding history with one of the most difficult marathons in the country - and yes, that’s basically an ego thing.

If you had asked me three years ago about my lifetime goals in running, my first answer would have been, “Set the record for running the most consecutive Big Sur Marathons.” I still have that notion in the back of my mind, although it’s going to take at least a few more decades to accomplish (There are about 30 “Grizzled Vets” who have run all 21 BSIMs, and they drop ranks even more slowly than Supreme Court justices. One guy even did the marathon on crutches one year. This isn’t exactly a group that is getting soft as they collectively age.).

Then again, I totally anguished over this year’s race, and sometimes when I think about this particular goal, I feel overwhelmed with guilt. I fear becoming one of those runners who just enters the (quite expensive, by the way) race each year not out of enjoyment, but merely because he’s a slave to the streak he created. So I honestly don’t know whether I’ll see this goal through or not. For now, the streak stays alive one more year.

Of course, the other noteworthy lesson to this little story is this: I’ll never be happy.

2. Professional Duty

It occurs to me that I may have mentioned this once or twice before – but I write a running column for the Monterey Herald. In that capacity, the Big Sur Marathon is a frequent topic of my writing.

Each of the past two years, I’ve written preview articles before Big Sur, and “insider” race reports afterward (like this and this). And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it would be somewhat difficult to write about a race that I didn’t actually witness or participate in. Call it a reporter’s intuition.

Due to the point-to-point course on California’s narrow Highway 1, it’s nearly impossible to casually drive or ride along the course during the race. So if I wanted to write about Big Sur, I had two options: 1) Wake up at 3:30, get on a participant bus to the start line, stand around in the cold until the start, wait for an hour to ride a staff bus to the finish area, then hang around killing time until the runners started arriving, or … 2) Just run the dang race.

I don’t have many responsibilities as a writer, but I feel that reporting on Big Sur is one of them. Besides, if I didn’t do it, I’d risk disappointing the 10 to 15 readers who regularly follow my column. The lesson here: I have a hard time saying “no”.

3. Spiritual Calling

This is another topic that I keep close to the vest; but I’ve always felt a strong spiritual component to my running (and triathlon) exploits. There are so many parallels between the Christian walk and athletic training – and the marathon race in particular – that they are simply too numerous to mention here. But I contemplate them frequently, including almost every time I’m running.

At one time in my life, I thought it was my calling to share these concepts with other runners, and use the Big Sur Marathon as an outreach device to help other athletes experience the spiritual power and wonder of this activity I love so much. So I organized prayer services before the race, and lobbied the marathon board to allow a pre-race benediction to be spoken at the start line.

(And yes, I fully recognize the paradox of me speaking in spiritual terms about a race that I recently referred to as a booty call. Can we all just agree that I’m a complicated guy, and not try to analyze it any further? Because I’m afraid of what we might uncover.)

The outreach was a decent idea, except for one thing: I was terrible at it. After a few years, it became clear to everyone involved that I just didn’t possess the dedication or passion to make it successful. So I eventually folded my tent and didn’t bother trying anymore.

But one thing remains from that initial dose of inspiration: the pre-race benediction. At the last 4 Big Sur Marathons, I’ve had the privilege of reading it over the PA system just prior to the race. The gesture is fairly well-received, and the marathon board even gets e-mails about what a nice touch it is. I don’t really take pride in too many things I’ve done, but as far as my accomplishments are concerned – as crazy as it sounds - I’d put this one-minute prayer up near the top of the list.

And sure, if I decided to skip the race, I could just ask someone else to say the benediction, and it would probably work out fine (even better, maybe). But over the past few years, I’ve come to feel like that one minute is my small contribution to the race, and from a selfish standpoint (that ego thing again) I’d like to maintain ownership of it for a little while longer.

I don’t even know if there’s a lesson to be learned from this - except that if you’re looking for someone to lead your revival, I’m probably the last person you should ask.


So there you have it: my basis for running this year’s marathon. And it only took 1300 words. (Believe it or not, this is the edited version.)

The truth is, none of these reasons would have compelled me to throw my hat into Big Sur on its own. But collectively, they generated enough interest and longing that I just didn’t have the heart to sit out this year’s race.

Of course, all of these factors will still (presumably) be in play next year. Will I make the same decision about the 2008 race? I honestly have no idea. For now, I’m just trying to make it through the next few months of 2007 in one piece.


momo 3/4/07, 7:05 AM  

donald, those are some pretty understandable and reasonable reasons to run it. although, i don't think you need justification!

i was there last year and it was amazing, i even wrote a letter to the race director afterwards telling him how wonderful the entire event was. if i lived close, you can bet i'd be out there every year too. i'll definitely come back some year.

susie 3/4/07, 8:38 AM  

A spiritual booty call. I'm going to have to think about that for a while.

Annette 3/4/07, 9:28 AM  

I'd say you didn't have a choice. You had to do it. :) Those are some pretty compelling reasons. I don't know too many runners that could pass it up with even half of those reasons. Of course, when does a runner really need a reason for what they do? Yea, Donald, you're still a runner, despite the impending triathlete title. :)

angela 3/4/07, 9:45 AM  

Well here's an extra reader who can't wait for your race report.

I visited Asilomar/Monterey a couple of years ago and the views have stayed with me (in fact I've incorporated them into my blog). I've since discovered Big Sur and its my dream to come back and try it.

It'll be a good long while yet though. 10km is my current limit.

Backofpack 3/4/07, 12:37 PM  

Donald, Pretty compelling reasons. I'd add one more - it's just plain hard to pass up a favorite race. Our local gut-check (so named by Eric) is a 12K on a very hilly course. I had a six year streak, then had to drop to the 5K for two years during my illness, last year - thank goodness - I got to run the 12K again. My problem? It's the day before the last marathon of my spring schedule. I really want to do both...we'll see.

I am planning on Big Sur in 08. I sure hope I get to hear the benediction as given by Donald, the blogger/runner/tri-guy. And speaking of streaks and tough races, what about Dipsea?

Kim 3/4/07, 11:39 PM  

The benediciton was a nice way to start the race. :)
I'm not running it this year...and I only ran it the once...how's that for a streak...but as you said...it's *the* race in my mind. I feel guilty not doing it. Maybe I'll be back next year. It's a great day. In a dimented sort of way. :)
You're not gonna try to break 3 again are you? Use it as a good training run but make sure you give yourself time to recover! Enjoy!

Thomas 3/5/07, 3:11 AM  

Donald, I'd say your busted. You're not a triathlete at all. You're a runner who does a bit of swimming and cycling on the side. The sooner you accept, the less the anguish.

Run Big Sur for years to come, do the tris for fun, and return to calling yourself a runner.

Mike 3/5/07, 10:23 PM  

Donald keep the streak alive brother!

I can totally relate to that "slave" comment...not that I'm even near any kind of streak with boston but I'm amazed that I ever qualified for that race in the first place and feel I have to be on that start line each time I am blessed with a Q time. You never know when all this good stuff can go bye bye....go for it!

olga 3/6/07, 10:52 AM  

Good enough for me! A streak, a story and a beauty all together - can ANYBODY say no?
I'd like to run 10 WS100 sometime. We have in OR Trail Series streakers for every race, and I think I am going to stick to my least fav - Hagg 50k, simply because I got 3 and with 5 I get a belt buckle (I am a sucker for buckles:)).
And yes, agree with Thomas. Drop the vail and come out!

Deene 3/6/07, 12:58 PM  

some one here just said it, you don't have any choice. once you get the marathon bug you just do it.

robtherunner 3/6/07, 6:44 PM  

What Michelle forgot to mention above about the 12k is that it is our local race that measures whether one is a "real" runner or not. I have never run this race, I have usually been running a 50 miler the same weekend, therefore I am not a "real" runner.

Oh yeah, this relates to what you said about Big Sur being the measure of you as a runner.

T Clarke 3/28/07, 2:40 PM  

Haven't kept up with your blog for a while but noticed you're doing Big Sur. Maybe we can break 3:00 together?

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