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April 29, 2008

Big Sur Marathon Relay Report

One of the nice things about maintaining a regular training habit is that you can change your plans on short notice in order to jump into an event you weren’t otherwise expecting to participate in. That’s exactly what happened to me last weekend.

Three days before the Big Sur Marathon, a co-worker asked if I’d be available to take the place of a relay team member who had to back out. Basically, I’d have the opportunity to do a little speedwork during my leg of the race, then stay out on the course to jog some easy miles for as long as I wanted. On scenic Highway 1. In the midst of one of the best races in the world. On what was forecast to be one of the most beautiful days of the year.

In other words, he had me at hello. I gladly accepted the invitation, even though the last minute notice meant I didn’t have time to properly shave my legs beforehand. When you’re on a team, you have to make sacrifices.

On the plus side, I thought it would be a fairly casual run for me, and you know what that means … I brought my Nikon!

My leg of the relay started at mile 9 near the base of Hurricane Point, so I had some time to watch the taiko drummers and take the video from yesterday’s post before warming up and waiting for the lead runners to come by. Otherwise, I spent my sunrise looking at this:

I can think of worse places to start the day.

My teammate soon arrived, and I flew past the taiko drummers and charged up the 2-mile climb to Hurricane Point. There are also several powerwalk events during the race, so a few hundred people were already making their way up the hill.

If you ever want to feel really fast, try this: start a run someday blasting up a steep hill with a bunch of walkers, or marathoners who have already run 9 miles. I almost felt guilty hearing people say “whoa!” or “great job!” while I blew past them - so I slowed down a bit and started offering help to any marathoners who might benefit from a minute or two of drafting behind me.

It wasn’t very long before I found the main person I was looking for: a friend of mine who was doing the marathon, and looking to break 3 hours for the first time. He caught me about a half-mile up the hill, and I spent the rest of the climb keeping his pace, until we finally found ourselves cruising down the backside of the hill.

We ran together for the next few miles, clocking 6:30s or 6:40s on the uphills, and 6:10s-6:20s on the downhills. I soon got to wondering just how long I might be able to keep that pace, so - you knew this was coming - I decided to find out.

After 7 miles (Mile 16 on the course), we reached the end of my relay leg, and I made my formal handoff. Thereafter, I was officially “off the clock” and free to run wherever I wanted - so naturally I tried to continue along with my friend some more. It was during those miles that I remembered a couple of things:

First, taking pictures is much harder when you’re running 6:20 miles on a crowded road than when you’re standing on the side of a trail and actually looking through the viewfinder. This was the best self-portrait I could manage. It's, um ... not flattering.

The other thing I remembered is just how difficult it is to run at sub-3 hour pace – especially when you haven’t specifically trained your body that way for almost 12 months. Needless to say, the miles were becoming quite a grind, and my speed was running out.

We stayed together until mile 22 in Carmel Highlands, at which point I wished him well and hoped he’d finish strong. Then I dialed my speed down, and decided to double back and forth a few times to log some extra mileage. Since I’m always looking for more hill training, I figured the Highlands would be the perfect place to hang out for a while.

The other thing I wanted to do was start taking some better pictures. Have I mentioned before that Big Sur is a beautiful course?

A few miles back down the road, I saw Eric coming towards me. He was part of our dinner group the night before (separate post sometime), and I was hoping to run some miles with him on Sunday. I was especially glad for his company when we got here:

The strawberry aid station! Of course, I had already stopped here once my first time through, and again on my way back – but Eric didn’t need to know that.

It occurred to me recently that some people might suspect I was making up these stories of the strawberry station, like it was a figment of my glycogen-depleted imagination when I’m in my most delirious state. But Eric saw them – so he’s a witness now. And here’s another picture:

I mean … how awesome does that look? I can assure you, they tasted even better – even after my 6th stop there later in the morning.

Once Eric passed the “free hugs” station at mile 24 without stopping, I figured he wasn’t in need of significant emotional support, so I left him to continue, and doubled back again to find another friend (after making another stop at a certain aid station, of course). I eventually found him struggling through mile 21, and accompanied him the rest of the way in – and I also kept taking pictures.

You know, if there were 9000 horses running together somewhere, you can bet that any people close by would be interested to watch. When the roles are reversed … not so much. This seemed like some kind of Far Side situation to me.

This monastery (click to enlarge) is almost 100 years old, sits on a majestic piece of land, and overlooks a beautiful beachfront vista at mile 25 … yet most people have never heard of it. The Carmel Mission totally hogs all of the “historic Catholic” attention around here, but it’s not even on the marathon course. Score one for the nuns.

The final mile begins at the base of a long, frequently spirit-crushing climb for weary runners – and this band plays uptempo, carefree music all the while. It always reminds me of those Titanic musicians defiantly playing amidst the chaos and destruction of their final minutes. But maybe that’s just me.

We finally crossed the finish line, and I was in for a rude discovery – I couldn’t get a massage! Apparently they’re only offered to “real” marathoners, not clowns who run around for three and a half hours just for fun. Not only that …

We had a separate food tent as well. It was a fraction of the size of the marathoner’s tent, and I had to pile up the strawberries by hand, instead of carrying a whole crate out. What an indignity.

In the final analysis, though, I didn’t have much to complain about – because the day turned out to be wonderful on virtually all accounts.

By the time I was done, I had racked up almost 24 miles for the day, and got a chance to participate in an event I thought I’d be sorry to miss. My friend broke 3 hours with plenty of room to spare, and I got to share some miles and experience the race through other people’s eyes for a change.

There was only one thing to do before heading home …

Power size Jamba Juice. You can guess what flavor. It just felt like the perfect way to end the morning.


Matt 4/29/08, 6:25 AM  

Great report. It's kinda cool to see how you can enjoy the race atmosphere and surroundings when you're not pressing the clock. Big Sur is still on my life list.

Backofpack 4/29/08, 7:51 AM  

Oh-ho! Now I know why I didn't get strawberries! Some relay runner ate them all...

I did see exactly where the station was - there were several boxes of strawberry hulls laying on the side of the road. So I believed you, I was just too slow to get them.

We're heading for breakfast and the airport, so my final CA thought - this has been a wonderful trip. This is a beautiful area that I would like to visit again. See you around!

Brian 4/29/08, 8:06 AM  

Hey Donald, I enjoyed your post - especially all the photos from the race. However, I'm afraid I'm going to have to set the record straight. First, I need to introduce myself to your readers. I'm the guy who was "looking to break 3 hours for the first time." I also need to point out that it was quite a windy day on the course and, as usual, it was blowing right in our face. OK, so here it is: we didn't really "run together" for 12 miles, Donald ran directly in front on me, letting me draft off of him. Donald, kept me on pace, broke the wind and cleared a path through the walkers FOR TWELVE MILES. So, if any of you out there have not figured this out by reading his posts, Donald is a really great guy. And contrary to the visual evidence provided here, here is quite handsome and dashing as well!

Thanks again,


angie's pink fuzzy 4/29/08, 8:21 AM  

what a FUN day!!!! I miss the Monterey Bay area...

Deene 4/29/08, 8:38 AM  

you make an incredibly long run sound like a breeze, of course it probably was for you. thanks for sharing the photos.

Dave 4/29/08, 8:55 AM  

This is really cool stuff. I will have to tack that on on my list of runs to do!

olga 4/29/08, 9:25 AM  

Strawberries look so AWESOME!!!
And no, I didn't lie - I still claim I'll be slower than you at Miwok by an hour...wanna bet?

stronger 4/29/08, 10:10 AM  

You mean they didn't set out that whole bowl of strawberries for you?

Strawberries Wild?? Hawaii was finally tolerable once Jamba came to town. Wish we had one close to home.

21stCenturyMom 4/29/08, 10:50 AM  


And I thought that picture must be of your friend until you said it was you. It looks nothing like you.

I'm almost tempted to register for the half in November. Almost... not quite.

triguyjt 4/29/08, 12:25 PM  

noting like just bopping around for about 3 and a half hours and enjoying nice weather and fantastic views....
yes,..you sir...live in hell.

good job on trying to get the shots while moving.....not easy at 6:30 per mile

Smithposts 4/29/08, 1:59 PM  

Nice write-up on the race and great job on the photos! You are right, the course is beautiful.

My guess is the strawberry ladies called you by name by the end of the race, but the friends you paced called you a really great guy!

SLB 4/29/08, 9:01 PM  

Great report, it's a beautiful part of the world.

Glad to see you've joined the ranks of the "my arms are too short or my head is too big" photography club!

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) 4/30/08, 6:45 PM  

Thanks for setting the record straight, Brian, and great run yourself.

Donald, wow sounds like a very fun day with great mileage, and quite impressive speed work with luggage to boot--I might've been hard pressed to keep up with you 2 (unless I was drafting off you also). You're buffed, man!

Makita 5/1/08, 6:59 AM  

Michelle - that was exactly what I was thinking... "Michelle didn't get any strawberries because Donald ate them all!"

:D Just kidding, Donald...

The photos are beautiful! When I've accomplished my PR goals (i.e. when I qualify)... I am most definitely doing Big Sur! :D

jen 5/1/08, 4:16 PM  

What a day and great report.

I was going to say "Um, if you were going to do 20-something miles, you could have just run the marathon..." but then I realized what a huge help you were to Brian and your other friends out on the course. What a service you provided to your friend in that wind! Awesome. Great job out there- this was better than just doing the marathon. :)

Rainmaker 5/4/08, 9:47 PM  

There's an article in my inflight magazine on my flight (I'm on a plane) that talks about Big Sur and has photos, looks incredible. Glad you got to race again this year in it afterall, sounds enjoyable! And the strawberries look awesome too.

My Life & Running 5/14/08, 2:07 PM  

I got a laugh out of the line referring to yourself as a "clown who (ran) around for three and a half hours just for fun." :) && you didn't say - did this day fulfill your proclaimed booty call?

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