Thursday, May 1, 2014

Big Sur DONE

I can't even think of a pithy title for this one, just being done with Big Sur is impressive enough to stand alone.  My mom was gracious enough to come to California for the weekend to watch the Minions while The Husband and I tackled this monster of a race.  We spent the morning showing my mom as much of San Francisco as we could (Golden Gate Park's Tea Garden and the California Academy of Sciences, as well as lots of pointing and going "Oooooh!  There's the top of the bridge!") and then hightailed it down to Monterey just in time to hit the expo, inhale pasta at the pasta dinner, and hit the sack.
Boys and Husband at the Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park.
Big Sur is a point to point race that starts 30+ miles from Monterey (the end is in Carmel, just down Highway 1 from Monterey), and since they close Highway 1 for the race, you have to catch a shuttle to the start when it's still the middle of the night.  Because we'd paid the big bucks to run through the Runner's World Challenge we got to catch a slightly later shuttle and didn't have to get up until 3:30am to catch the 4:15 shuttle.  We didn't even have time for the obligatory "what are we thinking?" conversation before we were on the buses and on our way.
Watch out, Big Sur, we've got our duck face on and we're coming for you!
If you ever are possessed by madness and decide, "sure, what the hell, Big Sur sounds like fun," I highly recommend you run with the Runner's World Challenge.  Yes, it's a lot pricier, but the perks are extremely nice.  You get a heated tent to wait in at the start.  You get your own porta potties (they were still gross, but no super long line!).  You get coffee and bagels and bananas.  And people who actually answer your questions and shout encouragements.  It's a sweet deal.  You also get a fabulous finishers' feast at the end, but more on that later.  We marveled at the tent and I ran into my friend Marina, who is one of the crazy people who talked me into running this thing.  She's so badass, she's done this multiple times.
Don't we look happy?  We were warm and the race hadn't started yet.
After we drank some coffee, we stripped off our layers and got down to business.  The Husband and I went over our strategy.  Our goal was to keep around an 11 minute mile pace, which was pretty conservative given the speed of my easy runs lately, but it would still be a PR if we could do it.  We were most worried about the long climb up to Hurricane Point and wanted to bank a little time during the easy 5 miles of downhill at the start.  We wouldn't go crazy, just run it easy, make it effortless, and hopefully have 2-4 minutes in the bag when we hit the climb to Hurricane Point.
Still warm.  Still happy.
And the first 5 miles were glorious.  You run through a beautiful wooded area, it's just lovely.  Never underestimate how nice that slight downhill is.  It was just pleasant.  They had awesome signs at the mile markers, I wish I'd taken pictures of some of them, they were adorable and hilarious.  We went gradually uphill from miles 5-9 and The Husband had to encourage me to keep it easy and not speed up too much.  We were out on the coast proper right now and it was gorgeous, slightly cool and overcast with a very slight breeze.  Big Sur is known for sometimes having wicked winds so we really lucked out with the weather.  There were cows grazing on the hillsides by the road, and at one point they mooed at us (yes, I'm a city girl, I think cows are cool).
There's a lighthouse on that island behind me.  You can hardly see the demarcation between the horizon and the sky because it was so gray and misty.
As we started the descent at mile 9 we could see the road up to Hurricane Point.  First we'd run down, then we'd have about 2 miles to run up, with a couple of false tops before we got to the real top.  There are drummers at the base of the hill pounding out this fabulous rhythm to keep you motivated up to the top.  "Take it easy," The Husband said, "We have plenty of time."  But it wasn't that bad.  We played leapfrog a bit, as I'd slow down to walk and he'd keep shuffling up, then I'd catch up and overtake him and he'd eventually catch up and pass when I slowed down to walk.  We made it to the top still well under pace.
We had so much time, he said, "Let's take a picture!"  The view behind us doesn't look as impressive as it should, this was the highest elevation in the race.
After you crest the top, you get to run downhill for a mile and cross the Bixby Bridge, which is the iconic bridge in all the photos you see from Big Sur.  It's REALLY high and fairly long, and really really cool.  The Husband is not a fan of bridges, so he stayed to the side.  "You want me to take a photo over the side for you?" I asked him.  He declined.
Gorgeous Big Sur behind us as we cross the Bixby Bridge.  We could still muster up smiles for the photographer at this point, because we'd just gotten to run downhill for a mile.
We crossed the bridge and went up again for a bit, and I was feeling great at this point.  "I don't want to get cocky," I said, "but I feel great!"  "Don't get cocky," The Husband told me, "we've got a half marathon to go."  And he was right.  I'm amazed how fast I went from feeling great to feeling like it was a slog.  From the beginning I knew that the second half of the race was going to be the wildcard, because I felt like Hurricane Point so dominated the first half and had no good idea what to expect in the second half.  I knew it was "rolling hills," but I was unsure what exactly that was going to mean when we were tired.  Still, the weather was great, the scenery was beautiful, and my hip didn't hurt *that* bad.  My knee, which had bothered me while I was training, still felt ok, my feet felt ok, and we were still well under pace.  We were still solidly in healthy PR territory. 

In talking about the race afterwards, mile 21 is where things really started to go south.  The sun came out, the scenery got a lot less interesting as we began to turn a bit more inland (and there was more vehicle traffic on the course, which was annoying), and we started going up.  And up.  And up.  "Rolling hills" implies that you go up, you go down.  This was more like you go up, then you go down slightly, then up some more.  It was hell.  My mental game collapsed on me, I could see the hills and just thought, "I can't do this."  My hip was hurting and I couldn't get a good stretch (though I did stop and try at one point).  I'd walk for a bit and The Husband would jog ahead, always making sure I could catch up.  We had thought "well, only 5 more miles," but it became clear that those 5 miles were going to really be the marathon.  It had been ridiculously doable to that point.  The exhaustion, the heat, and the seemingly endless up hill was just too much.  Around mile 23 I started to pull ahead of The Husband, who was really hurting.  He'd been going slower and slower up the hills.  Around mile 24 he gave me the Garmin (his had died and he'd been using mine to pace us) and told me to go on ahead, I could still come in around our goal.  I shouted profanities at him and refused it, but took it about a half mile later.  I didn't see him again until after I crossed the finish line.
Yup, there was walking.

I was close to the end, so people were walking the course and shouting encouragement.  "There's one more small hill, then it's all downhill!" someone called.  "I don't believe you!" I yelled back.  When I saw the "small hill" my heart sank.  It might as well have been Mt Everest, it looked steep and long and hellacious.  I had been jogging, but I started to walk.  And I wasn't alone.  It was like the walking wounded all around me, and we were not happy about it.  Everyone grumbled about the course, couples shouted encouragement to one another and cursed each other, and we walked.  At the top, someone shouted that it was "all downhill from here."  "Lies!"  I yelled.  "Lying liars and the lies they tell!" A woman near me laughed and agreed, but we started to trot nonetheless.  With a mile to go, someone asked me what time I had and I realized that I might, amazingly, still be able to PR this race.  Thank god for my under-performance in previous races.  I took one more brief walk break when it just was too hot (I ran out of water in mile 24), and then ran to the finish.  I could see the flags at the finish line and saw that I still could do it, I hadn't lost all my time yet, and I sprinted to the finish line.
Personifying the idea of "run ugly" as I sprinted to the finish.
I raced my own clock to the finish line and finished in 4:50:45, taking over a minute off my previous best time.  Doesn't sound like much, and I'd hoped for more, but given how much more challenging this course was than my previous PR (which was Pittsburgh in 2011, and Big Sur makes it look pancake flat), I'm extremely proud of myself.  The Husband crossed a few minutes behind me, crying from the pain in his quads.  We staggered into the Runner's World Challenge tent and sat glassy eyed and ill for quite a while, until we mustered up the strength to find the shuttles back into Monterey.  It looked like Day of the Dead back in Monterey, runners shuffled around town trying to find their hotels.  The locals laughed at us.  We made a stop at a restaurant called Rosine's, which seems to be famous for having slices of cake the size of your head (seriously, I love my cake, but it took me 4 days to finish that piece of cake!) and then just had time to rest and eat before we had to head back to Mountain View to relieve my mom.  "Never again," we both said.  However, that quickly turned to talking strategy for next year, so who knows.  It was an amazing experience.  I'm not entirely sure what we could have done differently to not have had such a hard time in those last 5 miles.  We could have taken it easier going up to Hurricane Point (or I could have, anyway, The Husband kept fine time), but we ended up needing that time, so I'm not sure.  I do know I didn't fuel enough, as has been a problem of mine, and there's no excuse for it since we had plenty of time to eat.  More hill work might have helped, too, but I think it was just a matter of needing to work on my mental game and getting better at just pushing through when it really sucks.  I would have loved to have come in under 4:50, but now I just have a goal for the next time.  And I still get bragging rights to say I PR'ed on the most insane course I've ever run.
This is what a PR looks like!  Sweaty and exhausted and happy as hell.