Big Sur Marathon Race Report

I signed up for this race SO long ago.  I clearly remember sitting at my dining room table, ridiculously pregnant and sort of wondering if I’d ever run a marathon again.  Fortunately, returning to running has been very easy and it was my weird hip issue, nothing related to being a new mom, that threw a wrench into my training.

I originally hoped to run this in under 4 hours, but realized that a tough course coupled with a pretty weak training cycle might not make that possible.  In retrospect, this is not the race to have any sort of goal time fore (especially when under-trained), and that might be why I didn’t enjoy it as much as I probably should have.

One of my favorite parts of the weekend was getting to spend a bunch of time with Courtney, who I just don’t see enough!

We spent a couple hours at the expo (which wasn’t even that big, but I spent probably 40 minutes trying to pick a headband for the race) and then met up with some friends for dinner. I was in bed by 9:00 with my alarm set for TWO FORTY FIVE (definitely the earliest I’ve ever had to get up for a race) but I woke up every single hour. I wasn’t nervous about the race, I think I was just really paranoid about sleeping through my alarm.

When the alarm went off, I got up, got dressed, and Courtney and I walked the 0.7 miles to the shuttle buses. We got to the start an hour later, giving us almost two hours to wait around before the start. One definite perk of being on the early bus is that we were able to snag a bench and some hot chocolate, so it was actually kind of enjoyable.

Finally it was go time!

The first five miles were downhill through the redwoods and it was HEAVENLY! There was no wind (which I didn’t appreciate at the time) and my legs felt great. I kept the pace very conservative because I knew I had a LONG tough race ahead of me. (8:53, 8:54, 8:27, 8:31, 8:36)

I was originally planning on sticking with 9 minute miles for the first half, but that obviously didn’t quite happen. Around 6 miles I got my first taste of the wind, and it was not fun. Just before the first gust hit I was contemplating taking off my arm warmers because the sun was out, but that thought was VERY short-lived. The next 3 miles were in and out of the wind and fog. At mile 9, the course goes downhill only to be followed by two solid miles of climbing at Hurricane point. (8:29, 8:27, 8:38, 8:44)

The taiko drummers at the base of the hill were awesome, and definitely gave me a boost. The climbing wasn’t too bad – I run on hills ALL THE TIME in my neighborhood – but the headwind was pretty brutal. I tried to keep my head down and just power through it because I knew Bixby bridge would be my reward. The descent to the bridge was steep and I could tell my quads were not quite ready for the beating they would be taking the rest of the race.

I could hear the piano before I got to the bridge but because of the fog I couldn’t see anything. Once I hit the bridge, though, I immediately choked up. I’d seen the picture of runners on Bixby bridge so many times, and finally experiencing it, with the piano playing the song from Chariots of Fire, was a surprisingly emotional experience. After that, unfortunately, is where things really started to get tough. (7:35, 9:41, 9:16)

I’d been looking forward to the drummers and the bridge and after that, I didn’t feel like I had much to look forward to. The scenery was pretty but the clouds obscured a lot of it, and the headwind started really getting to me. It was just SO frustrating to be constantly running into 20+ mile an hour winds. I had my ipod in my SpiBelt and I was tempted to put music on and zone out, but for some reason I never did (I’ve never raced with music). The miles kept ticking by, and the hills and wind never let up. I was still feeling pretty good until around mile 22, when I completely hit the wall. (8:06, 7:45, 8:24, 8:15, 8:03, 8:24, 8:28, 8:42, 8:34, 9:28)

Mile 22 was my first mile over 9 minutes. That’s where the course climbs up into Carmel Highlands and that’s where my quads started SCREAMING. I tried to ignore the pain as much as possible, but between the wind and the achiness in my legs, I was having a really hard time. I started walking through the water stations and trying to stay focused on just putting one foot in front of the other. I kept running the hills until the last one at mile 25. At that point, by quads felt like they’d gone through a meat grinder and I had to walk for a few minutes. (9:05, 9:01, 9:31, 10:31)

Fortunately the walk break worked a little magic and I knew that with a little less than a mile to go, I’d have no problem meeting my sub-4 goal. Finally the flags came into view and the finish was right around the corner. I picked it up and crossed the line in 3:49:27 (8:46 min/mile). I immediately cried tears of relief that the hardest marathon I’ve ever done was over.

I know a lot of the reason I didn’t love this race is because I was under-trained. I know my attitude toward the wind could have been a lot better (I kept getting SO frustrated, but I should have just accepted it and moved on), and I know that if I’d put in a few more solid weeks of training, my legs wouldn’t have hurt so much after all those steep descents. But in the end, I finished strong, it was by far the most beautiful course I’ve ever run, and the volunteers and course entertainment were fantastic. I can see why so many people love this race, but I’m not sure I ever need to do it again.

Marathon #7, in the books. Now I just need to figure out my next race. And if it really is true that Big Sur is 20 minutes slower than a typical marathon, I think I’m ready to shoot for a 3:29!


12 Responses to “Big Sur Marathon Race Report”

  1. 1 Courtney @ The Granola Chronicles May 1, 2012 at 8:08 am

    Cate, you rock!
    It seems like you had some things working against you (stupid wind!), but seriously. You are amazing.

    PLUS you had that precious little girl waiting for you at the finish line…SCORE! 🙂

  2. 2 Renee May 1, 2012 at 8:28 am

    Cate, personal goals aside, you did an outstanding job for such a difficult race (hell, for any race!). I really enjoy your writing. Thanks for sharing!

  3. 3 JanaC May 1, 2012 at 8:56 am

    Congrats to you and what a beautiful picture of you and your little one post-marathon.

    I too thought I’d never run Big Sur again. It was my first ever sub-4 race. I actually loved it. Likely the most well organized marathon I’ve been to. But I ran this again in 2009. The head winds were so strong that they actually slapped my feet together when I was in mid-stride. But even through that, the hills, waiting for hours at the start, it still ranks as one of my most favorites. It’s just so unusual and beautiful and tough. Makes you feel so accomplished at the end.


  4. 4 Alyssa May 1, 2012 at 9:05 am

    3:29 is doable, for suuuuure! I love your outfit, by the way — super cute! Sorry you didn’t love it as much as some of us others do (maybe we are super masochists, haha), but I’m glad you bexperienced it & did so well, all things considering! Congrats on #7!

  5. 5 Beth May 1, 2012 at 9:39 am

    Congratulations, Cate! Your purple outfit is super cute, glad those socks made another appearance! Big Sur is beautiful, but everytime I’m down there hiking I marvel at the thought of people running the Big Sur marathon. Can’t wait to see you take aim at 3:29 in Portland!

  6. 6 Kelsey May 1, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    Cate, you are amazing. The mental and physical toughness you needed to get through this is extraordinary. I mean it when I say I am totally in awe!

  7. 7 Angela May 1, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    Well done & way to power through! I kind of feel like I should do this one some day, but only once. 🙂

    Also, yay heart socks!

  8. 8 Kate May 2, 2012 at 8:14 am

    I think I’d be a hot sweaty mess after 26 miles. You look phenomenal.

  9. 9 Kira May 2, 2012 at 10:18 am

    Awesome! My parents ran Big Sur many years ago, and their pictures are just gorgeous. I also get frustrated by wind because I don’t really think about it being a factor. Then when you’re running into a headwind, I want to cry.

  10. 10 Page May 2, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    Sounds like a tough race, but that’s also what Big Sur is known for. I hope you got to take in the views and I think you have that 3:29 in you!

  11. 11 Jojo May 2, 2012 at 11:43 pm

    Amazing! You killed it out there considering all of the elements. So fun seeing you and Courtney even just for a minute but bummed that Erin and I had to run off to catch our shuttle so I couldn’t see Ellie! 😦 good luck picking #8- I’m SURE a 3:2-something is in your future.

  12. 12 RoadBunner May 10, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    You ran a great time on a hard course! Great post-baby debut! I admit this year was not as great as others because of the fog. Definitely run it again a sunny year 🙂

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