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April 29, 2010

Father/Daughter Day: Big Sur 5K Report

“Look at this big great world that we’re living in –
There's lots of fun to be had on these streets –
We can take a ride just you and me –
It's a jungle gym.”
- Jack Johnson, “Jungle Gym” (video after post)

One thing is certain about Big Sur Marathon weekend: I take it a lot less seriously than I used to.

This used to be the day I had circled on my calendar approximately 364 days ahead of time. The race I relied upon to validate all those early morning workouts, all the pain I habitually inflicted upon myself, and all the time I spent obsessing over my training plans. Most (and, in hindsight, worst) of all, it was the day I used to determine my self-worth for approximately the next 364 days.

Times have definitely changed.

A few years ago, after a streak of 12 BSIMs in a row, I made what was at the time an excruciating decision to sit out the marathon in favor of a pair of ultras on either side of the race date, and did the marathon relay with a group of friends instead. Last year, I received a gift entry, and used it as an opportunity to document all the sights and sounds of the race I’ve loved for so many years. In the process, I realized something: Big Sur is a wonderful race, but it’s not an important race. At least, not in the way it used to be for me.

That’s why I didn’t hesitate for a minute this winter when my 8-year-old daughter asked if she could run the 5K with me this year. Since the marathon and 5K are held simultaneously, it’s impossible to do both events – and four years ago, when my then-3rd grade son did the 5K, I had him run it with his mother so that his big day wouldn’t interfere with my own marathon plans. So … yeah. You could say there's a bit of regret there.

Consequently, my goals for this spring were very basic: to share some quality time with my daughter in training for the race, and try to help her have some fun on race day. I figured that these opportunities might not come along very often, so I may as well enjoy the ride while we’re on it.

(And with that, let’s get to the pics …)

One thing you notice right off the bat on the start line of the 5K is how strangely normal everyone looks. There aren’t any super-skinny people jumping around in singlets, or sucking down energy gel packs like they’re crack cocaine, or jumping into the bushes to pee every 2 minutes. They’re just … people, I guess. Predictably, this struck me as kind of weird.

However, what the marathon and 5K have in common is this: a completely log-jammed first mile. See that red arrow? (Click to enlarge.) It’s pointing at my daughter’s head. After I took this photo, I had to weave my way through at least 100 people to work my way back to her. Fortunately, they were all going at something like 12 min/mile pace, so it didn’t take me very long.

After the first mile, the course goes from road to trail, with the ocean on one side of you, and beautiful coastal foliage and rocky bluffs on the other. It’s also fairly flat, and the crowd has finally thinned out enough to jog at a steady pace. Speaking of which …

My daughter had it in her head that she didn’t want to walk at all during the race – and since it was her idea, I had no problem letting her go for it. Sure enough, she was able to keep a steady jog throughout the whole race. Not only that …

... but she was able to run all the way up the quarter-mile hill that begins mile 3. Best of all, she remembered this little talk we had before the race:

Me: Let me explain what’s going to happen at the start. Everybody’s going to take off like crazy, but we’re going to keep an easy pace and let them all run ahead of us.

Her: OK. How come?

Me: Because in the last half of the race, all those idiots will be walking and gasping for breath, and we’ll start passing people left and right.

Her: Cool. Got it.

So pretty much everyone you’ve seen in these pictures ended up finishing behind us – and on this final hill, we almost had to weave our way through the crowds we were passing.

Perhaps the coolest part of the 5K is that the final 1.1 miles are on the marathon course, so even novice runners can sense some of the relief of seeing this “Hallelujah!” sign, and …

... all of the spectators who are gathering to see the marathon finish warm themselves up by cheering the 5K runners home. My daughter, as well as all the other 5Kers, got the excitement of sprinting down the wide open roadway toward the finish banner while being flanked by well-wishers on either side, without having to run the usual 25 and a half miles to get there – why didn’t I think of this a few years ago?

It’s a wonderfully supportive and encouraging environment, with one exception: you know who doesn’t like to share the excitement of your 5K finish? …

The Marathon Foto people, that’s who. At least, not unless you pay them at least $19.95. They did this to me when I tried to take a picture of my girl standing in front of the “official finisher” backdrop. Not to worry, though; we snuck over to an identical backdrop when no one was looking, and I got my photo … but I’m not posting it here, in case their lawyers are reading this.

And just like that, my daughter’s first 5K was in the books. I honestly have no idea if this is going to become a regular thing, or if she’ll drift away like her older brother did in favor of other athletic pursuits as she gets older. What I’m more sure of is that my goals for the event were met: the time we spent in training was completely rewarding, and my daughter had a fun experience on race day. Come to think of it, shouldn’t those be the goals for every race?


And of course, no post about this daughter of mine would be complete without a tune from her favorite singer.

Jack Johnson, "Jungle Gym" (click to play):


Jeff 4/30/10, 4:41 AM  

So did she beat her older brother's time?

209Mike 4/30/10, 8:52 AM  

Very good, Donald. Something tells me you'll remember this race more fondly than any of your other Big Sur Marathons. Love these stories.

trailmomma 4/30/10, 10:17 AM  

My favorite post yet. How special. I cannot wait to something like this with my little girl if she asks me to. Congrats to your little girl!

Anne 4/30/10, 12:48 PM  

I guess we know which side of the family she favors in athletic ability. Congratulations to your daughter and to you too.

Gretchen 4/30/10, 1:32 PM  

Gosh I think your daughter's pretty cool! :) Looks like another wonderful day for you. Very special stuff.

Ric Munoz 4/30/10, 1:38 PM  

Wonderful story, Donald. I'm glad you got to share in the raceday excitement with your daughter -- and kudos for outfoxing the MF police to snap her finisher's picture!

RBR 5/2/10, 10:13 AM  

Beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it.

Coolest dad, ever (Well, except mine, but I may be a little biased :))

I can't believe the marathon photo guy would block your camera. I understand they are trying to make a living but they do not have to be a *&^%^#bag about it.

Rainmaker 5/4/10, 8:16 PM  

That's awesome - on so many levels. First off, just how relaxing the whole thing looks - nice to just run a race for the enjoyment of it. Plus, you got to run it with your daughter...and she kicked ass by not walking. Finally, your ability to out-paparazzi the faux-paparazzi is exemplary.

Well done!

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