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November 3, 2008

Racing the Big Sur Half-Marathon

Admin note: unless you’re racing the Big Sur Half-Marathon next weekend (or planning to at some point in the future), feel free to disregard this post. It’s an article I wrote for my Monterey Herald column, with advice on how to race 13.1 miles along the Monterey Bay. A few people have asked me for tips recently, and I’m posting the article here so that I can link to it from another website. Regular programming will resume with the next post.

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“Racing the Big Sur Half-Marathon”


The Big Sur Half-Marathon on Monterey Bay is this Sunday, so you should be in tapering mode by now. Cut back on your mileage and get as much rest as possible in the days before the race.

If you are a novice runner, your approach to the Half should be very simple. Start easy and don’t get excited into running the early miles too fast. Keep a steady pace that you can maintain for the duration. Take walking breaks if you need them, but keep moving forward, and draw energy from the crowds and your fellow runners during the final miles.

Most importantly, just have fun out there and celebrate your ability to run.

This week’s advice is for runners with some race experience who are trying to get faster, striving for a personal best time or an age-group award. The rules are significantly different for these runners.

Have the eye of the tiger: Racing isn’t always fun! There’s great satisfaction afterward but the race itself should be a battle. Psych yourself up to fight adversity and discomfort for the duration of the race. Be mentally ready and don’t feel intimidated.

Wear fast shoes: The relatively flat course and smooth roads are ideal for using racing flats or lightweight trainers. Lighter shoes make you faster. If you use more than one pair in training, run in your lightest pair on race day.

However, do not buy a pair of racing shoes next week and race in them if they are not broken in – or you’re destined for a morning of blisters and leg aches.

Warm up: If you are going fast from the gun, you need to warm your body up first. Run an easy mile before the race, then do three or four short sprints. Time your warmup so that you can jump in the starting chute about 5 minutes before race time. Don’t be afraid to start closer to the front of the pack than you think you belong.

Hitch a ride: Not in a car, but in the slipstream of your competitors. Drafting off fellow runners is perfectly legal and saves significant energy if running into a headwind, which is common when heading up Ocean View Boulevard in Pacific Grove.

Pick runners who are going at a similar pace, and tuck in behind them for as long as you can tolerate. In a group of 3 or 4 runners, it’s proper etiquette for each person to take turns “pulling”, but if you’re sneaky you can usually get your competitors to do most of the work.

Be uncomfortable: If you are truly racing, it should hurt! If you feel comfortable, you probably aren’t pushing hard enough. Races are for going beyond your comfort zone and giving your best effort. Remember: eye of the tiger!

Use “keys” to speed up: Your natural tendency will be to slow down, so use landmarks as periodic reminders to speed up. Mile markers, corners, or minor hills can all be used as “keys” to slightly accelerate the pace.

Push the envelope (but not too far): This is the hardest part of racing. You have to keep the needle at the absolute fastest speed you can maintain, but not so fast that you bonk in the last miles. Finding the optimal pace requires trial and error, and a lot of discomfort.

That’s exactly what races are for. You can have a leisurely scenic run along the coastline any day. Race day is for testing your limits. Remember that when the pace seems too hard.

Halfway done isn’t halfway out: The course is roughly out and back, but the first mile around El Estero Lake makes it asymmetrical. If you start looking for the turnaround point at mile 6.5, you’ll have a long time to wait, since the actual turnaround is closer to mile 8. But once you get there, remind yourself to…

Lower the hammer: After the turnaround, the course is almost entirely downhill or flat, and your race is more than halfway over. This is the time to crank your speed up another notch, and gut it out for as long as possible (have we already said that racing hurts?).

Have no friends: Think of everyone around you as a competitor. Get mean. Be aggressive. Breathe fire. Even if you are racing with training partners, during the race you should be enemies. There’s no shame in outsprinting someone right into the finishing chute – even if that person happens to be your friend. Give no gifts!

Fight for your place: Once you reach the rec trail before Fisherman’s Wharf, the game is on. Try to improve your position as much as possible. Whenever you get passed, try to keep up with that person, and draft them if they continue to pull ahead of you. Try to pass them back further down the road.

Don’t get complacent to run behind people either. Reel in as many people as possible. The last person you pass might be the place that earns you an age group medal. Some people let up a bit just before the finish line, so a well-timed kick can sometimes gain you an additional place or two.

Even if you are not interested in your overall finishing place, employing these positional tactics will help you continue to run hard when you would otherwise feel like easing off.


Obviously, racing requires an entirely different mindset than running just to complete the distance. It’s definitely not for everybody. When you put so much of yourself on the line, the disappointment when you fail to reach your goals can be miserable, but the exhilaration when you succeed is sublime.

Whether you are going for an age group award, a personal record, or just trying to go the distance, I hope everyone has an enjoyable and satisfying race.

10 comments:

neal 11/3/08, 9:09 PM  

The Big Sur Half Marathon Health & Fitness Expo has be held. Big Sur is a perfect race .The Monterey Historics brings out the best of racing's past . The Big Sur Half Marathon begins and ends in downtown Monterey. A gently rolling fast course that winds through historic downtown Monterey, along Cannery Row, and proceeds it.
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jnny

transmitter

Rick Gaston 11/3/08, 9:50 PM  

I try to lull the competition with my "eye of the poodle". Who me? Naw I'm nothing to worry about.

Legs and Wings 11/4/08, 12:15 AM  

Give no gifts! That part made me laugh. : )

Annette 11/4/08, 9:02 AM  

Good advice for any run!

chuckd 11/4/08, 10:23 AM  

Thanks man. Great info. Really appreciate it.

Can't wait for this race. Looking forward to having a good run.

Rainmaker 11/4/08, 8:11 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rainmaker 11/4/08, 8:11 PM  

There are some great little tips in there - especially some of the mental ones.

Thanks!

Deene 11/5/08, 9:30 AM  

great post. i esp. like "have no friends"

displacedtexan 11/12/08, 9:29 PM  

wish i would have read before the run...might have ran faster! Not looking at the map before hand, didn't know turn around was more like 8 :) Had fun though! Run Barefoot!
-Maria

Dori 11/14/08, 10:47 PM  

I didn't see this before the race, either. But I'm pleased that I intuitively did a lot of it. I love running along Monterey Bay. One frustration I had with the race is that the 10 milers started at the same time. Even though they started in the last corral, their turnaround was before the half marathoners, so the back of the pack halfers had to push through the back of the pack 10 milers. I came close to shouting, "get out of my effing way!" but I kept it to myself. ;-)

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