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March 19, 2008

End of the Affair

Actual conversation between me and a coworker from a few days ago …

Her: So are you feeling excited yet? It’s getting close.

Me: Uh … what is?

Her: The Big Sur Marathon – you’re doing it again, right?

Me: Oh, that. Well, actually …

And that instigated a brief conversation which I’ll elaborate upon here, on the subject of why I’m not running Big Sur this year.

Logistically, it’s a no brainer. I’m running a 50-mile race two weeks prior to, and a 100K six days following Big Sur. For the first few months of 2008, I’ve completely shifted into ultrarunner mode. I haven’t done any speed work or long tempo runs, and I’ve run on pavement fewer than 5 times since the start of the year. It wouldn’t make any rational sense to throw a road marathon into what has been a very calculated buildup to Western States.

Emotionally, it’s a whole different story.

This will be the first time in a dozen years that I won’t be lined up at the start line in Pfeiffer State Park, watching the sun battle the fog for supremacy of the day (and praying like crazy for the fog to win), gathering my nerves before testing the limits of body and spirit on the long, hilly road north to Carmel. And when that many memories are involved, it can be hard to say goodbye.

Big Sur is the race that made me fall in love with marathon racing. It’s also the race that has left me broken and humiliated, before inspiring me to train harder than I ever thought was possible. Over the years, it’s tested me with some of the greatest challenges and most intense struggles I’ve ever faced. Accordingly, my successful races there immediately became the proudest accomplishments of my athletic career.

In other words, Big Sur has made me a stronger runner – and probably a better person as well. And for that, I’ll always owe it a debt of gratitude.

Over the years, I’ve described my feelings about Big Sur in a manner very similar to a comfortable long-term marriage. I’ve also logged a TON of mileage with an analogy comparing the sport of triathlon to a sexy mistress that eventually destroyed the stable relationship. In that regard, last year’s marathon was more like going back for a booty call than an indication that the relationship was healed. (On that topic, here’s a free tip: if you want to get a lot of Google hits, use the words “booty call” in your post title some day. Trust me on this one.) In the context of that metaphor, I guess I’d say that skipping Big Sur this year officially marks the end of the love affair.

The ironic part is that the final breaking point wasn’t the presence of triathlon in my life – it was the ultras. Then again, perhaps that’s not so far-fetched: like most failed marriages, this one fell apart not specifically because of what I was doing outside the relationship, but from all the things I perceived to be lacking inside of it. Besides, once I’d demonstrated the willingness to stray, the likelihood of doing so again with somebody else increased dramatically.

(In fact, if I wanted to continue the crazy mistress analogy, I could argue that I now have two mistresses: triathlon is the $5000 per hour Emperors Club hardbody that needs me to keep spending money on her [on bike gear, wetsuits, etc] to prove my commitment, while ultrarunning is the down to earth, cute-but-not-flashy escort service girl who just enjoys spending a lot of time with me. That is, if I wanted to continue it – but honestly, we’re all probably better off if I don’t.)

The fact that Big Sur’s proximity took me by surprise is probably the most telling illustration of how I’ve more or less moved on with my athletic pursuits. Normally, on any given day in February through April, I can tell you exactly how many days remain before the race, as well as how many more track workouts and long runs I had scheduled before race day. This year, I know the race is out there somewhere, and I know it’s doing well … but it doesn’t really impact my day to day thoughts or plans.

(Incidentally, the marathon seems to have moved on as well. Last month I sent both the Chairman and Race Director e-mails telling them I wouldn’t be at Big Sur this year, only because I had other conflicting plans, not due to any dissatisfaction with the race itself. Basically, I played the “it’s not you, it’s me” angle up as much as possible, and thanked them for allowing me to participate [I did a pre-race benediction each of the past several years], as well as for all the work they do to create such a world-class race. I never heard a reply from either one of them. Clearly, the race will continue along just fine without me.)

However, as I said at the outset, I’ll always owe Big Sur a debt of gratitude – so I’ll never turn my back on it completely. I’ll definitely run the race again in the future, but only as it complements whatever other plans I have for the year, instead of merely to maintain appearances, or to keep a streak of successive races intact.

I’d also like to be a small part of race weekend, and help other runners get to know Big Sur in the way I have over the past 12 years. I’d welcome the opportunity to provide someone a small measure of the satisfaction and pleasure that I’ve always enjoyed with this event.

(And if this starting to sound like a creepy guy trying to pimp out his ex-wife … well, that’s why I stopped the analogy early a few paragraphs ago.)

I figure that the easiest way for me to contribute is to organize some kind of gathering for any bloggers who happen to be in town for this year’s race – so that’s exactly what I’m going to do. But seeing as how you’ve already plodded through over 1000 words, I’ll hold off on details until my next post.


RunBubbaRun 3/19/08, 3:39 AM  

hopefully one day I will be able to head out there and do that marathon. On "DO" race list for sure.

Like you, the "cute-but-not-flashy escort" is still gaining alot of my attention and most of my money.

olga 3/19/08, 12:10 PM  

Aww, it's always sad when the love affair is ending...even if it's for the better. I understand you are in a "new relationship" now and so on, and it treats you wonderfully, but what about HER? Did you ask her feelings? You mean you'll never have a booty call anymore? Will you at least have your HR come up when thinking about past? :)

triguyjt 3/19/08, 12:58 PM  

you are so..totally an ultra runner guy now...props to you..

big sur will miss you...

you're right about the triathlon demanding the 5,000 dollar mistress committment....

ohh and by the way....the path for one team in the tourney has never been set up for success as well as the path is for your bruins....

they should win it all

jen 3/19/08, 1:53 PM  

Big Sur is also on my to-do list. You're lucky to have such a great race as your "home race" but you shouldn't feel obligated to do it every year. I doubt you'd have any problem with a retrospective "I ran it for x years straight, except the year I ran Western States" if that's how it works out. Or "until I started running Western States every year." Whatever! You never know.

I think streaks are dangerous territory- it's neat to have a history with a race but when you no longer have a choice, and it becomes an obligation, that's no good. Do what you want!

Smithposts 3/19/08, 2:58 PM  

Sounds like the new affair is pretty exciting! The good thing about the old one is that she will still be hanging around, there for the taking if you want.

Your ultra schedule is impressive. Just a few weeks till the Diablo, good luck!

Backofpack 3/19/08, 4:44 PM  

You know Eric and I are in for the gathering. I'm excited for Big Sur - it's a marathon I've always wanted to do - even before I was running them. I can't wait! Though I do have one between now and then to give my attention to.

And as for the garbage bags, sorry if I shocked you! Would it help any to know someone else said it, but then I couldn't lose the thought? I just had to put a picture up, really I did.

prefan1982,  3/19/08, 6:07 PM  

I love the references to the $5000 mistress after the latest current events in politics.
For what it's worth I think you are making a smart move. I've always heard it is hard to throw a marathon right before a big ultra race.
Come by my blog if you can. I am doing something a little different since I am suffering from a minor injury at the moment.

mindy 3/19/08, 6:46 PM  

Is it awkward if you are riding your tri-bike and accidentally find yourself on the Big Sur course? I ran Big Sur in 1999 and it kicked my ass. It was my second marathon and it was pivotal in showing me what the marathon was "really" about. I hope you'll be back one day - she won't forget you.

Addy 3/19/08, 10:44 PM  

I love all your fabulous analogies :D Big Sur is a marathon on my list to fit in at some point in the future. Driving down that stretch of the 1 for the first time on a gorgeous afternoon a few months ago, I was reminded that I really do need to try it out eventually. The race will miss you,i'm sure, but I'm sure takes solace in knowing you aren't gone for good

Michael 3/20/08, 9:26 AM  


I need your email address ol'buddy. Send me something at: mail@boodro.us if you dare.

I'm having fun reading your blog from time to time. I miss running! Andrea and I are on the road permanently these days, which makes anything serious practically impossible.

Peace out,


Makita 3/20/08, 9:55 AM  

Big Sur is on my wish list as well... someday. :)

Rainmaker 3/20/08, 6:41 PM  

"But seeing as how you’ve already plodded through over 1000 words, I’ll hold off on details until my next post."

That's what we in the business call 'a tease', among other things... ;)

Anne 3/20/08, 7:11 PM  

You might find you gain something from being a spectator and volunteer that then helps you with your running that's different than conventional training. And, you get to see how the really, really, really fast guys look moving along, not just the really, really fast guys you hang with when you're racing this one.

robtherunner 3/20/08, 7:39 PM  

It definitely sounds like you have moved on from marathons and soon from ultras. I look forward to the continuing ultra journey while it lasts.

craig 3/20/08, 8:23 PM  

I don't have any racing experience to draw from but your reasons for sitting this one out all make sense to me. Especially if it allows you to give back in some ways to a race which has given you so much.

Judi 3/21/08, 9:47 AM  

Hey there, I am starting to think about ultra's too. Running my 2cd marathon in May and my 1st ultra 50k in oct. I found ya on Jen's blog.

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) 3/23/08, 7:02 PM  

Last year was the first year in a decade I didn't run any marathons (other than the numerous unaided ones I do on my own). Before I moved out here, I used to want to run Big Sur, and I'm sure I would enjoy running it, but April and May already have 2-3 times the local ultras that I could ever schedule. I know I'm a tad bit more habitual with this ultra thing than you are, but I can still relate.

Judging how sleezy you are may need to wait until next year when you aren't running States. (Sleezy meaning your going back to getting booty call from you EX-wife.)

rick 3/23/08, 10:22 PM  

No speedwork and no tempo runs? How about fartleks on your trail runs? I feel that way about the Quad Dipsea. No matter how beat I am at the end of the year I'm always there. I always wear my race shirts and I constantly rave how great and painful it is to run this race. Haven't missed it yet but I see the day I might. I can't imagine not participating.

the Dread Pirate Rackham 3/26/08, 9:39 PM  

1) I totally get the big sur thing. I feel the same about La Luz, which is on the same day as Vineman.

2) the mistress analogies are slightly disturbing - sex and running? I know you did a post on it, but being on the female end of the analogy doesn't work as well as it does for the male end, I think.

3) why do they have to schedule all the good races so close to each other? It's so unfaaaaair!

My Life & Running 5/14/08, 11:24 AM  

I can't even begin to tell you how much more intrigued I am by Big Sur now... mmmm booty call. ;) (&& you have heard G. Love's song on them, right?)

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