Week ? - Veni Vidi Vici

Monday, April 26, 2010

What can I say? The 25th annual Big Sur International Marathon lived up to and even exceeded all the hype: terrific organization, great volunteers, interesting workshop speakers, pristine weather, killer hills, brisk headwinds, and unmatched energy. If the agonizing hills don't take your breath away, the scenery will. You'll basically find those same exact things written in blogs and race reviews of The BSIM every year.

I showed up in Monterey at about 4 PM and immediately went down to the expo to pick up my bib number and sweats bag. The place was full of vendors and booths featuring other upcoming racing events. The Cliff Bar pace team had bracelets with mile split times for different paces. I picked up a 3 hr 40 min bracelet... and my wife just gave me a look like "get real dude!". That's when I also grabbed the 3 hr 50 min bracelet, which was what I eventually went with.

The next day I spent several hours roaming among the vendor booths and sitting through workshops featuring various esteemed speakers. Dean Karnazes was the headliner and I found him to be a genuinely nice and down to earth guy. He receives some flak from other elite runners, but I bet it's mostly due to sponsor envy mixed with bitterness that they can't properly ingest pizza while running 100 miles like Dean boasts about. The speaker who really stood out to me was Charlie Engle. I could write an entire blog entry on how he successfully kicked a cocaine/alcohol addiction and replaced it with ultra running and other more healthy, yet potentially destructive, habits. Charlie hit "home" with the crowd when he mentioned how great it is to hear everyone say "you're crazy" when you tell them that you're running a marathon. Can't wait to see his movie Running the Sahara.

On Saturday evening, we had about a dozen people come by the apartment for a pre-race feast. My wife made delicious byrani, and her friend from MIIS (Jorge) made 3 giant pans of gourmet lasagna. Before I knew it I eaten so much food that I appeared to be in the 3rd trimester. The meal was so delicious that I forgot about the bread being toasted under the broiler.... that was until someone said those famous words "Do I smell smoke?" The bread was literally on fire. Flames were flying out of the oven and I had to throw a damp towel over the molten magma that was once a buttery french roll. After that I also managed to break the upstairs window in an attempt to let out all the smoke. Was this to be taken as an omen? I came way too far to even consider giving clout to such a ridiculous idea.

The buses took off right on schedule at 4:15 AM on Sunday. I was excited to ride in a nice charter bus with a restroom and reclining leather seats. Jose later told me that his bus was of the shorter yellow variety. Deanna from Atwater sat down next to me we spoke for the duration of the hour long journey. By speaking, I mean that I listened to her for about 80% of the time. She took up running marathons after a doctor wanted to fuse a few vertebrae in her back together. Rather than deal with a lifetime of rigidness, she decided to give exercise a shot. Now she claims to be pain free and more motivated than ever.

We stepped out of the bus at 5:30. The sun hadn't even considered rising yet and I needed to find coffee for warmth and a jolt of caffeine. Several announcers were already running their mouths at marathon pace. Among the interesting facts they mentioned, I was surprised to hear that there was someone there who would be running their 3rd marathon in 6 days. Psycho. I began to zone out when the aging speakers started up their anti-i-pod rant and proceeded to state how barefoot running is too dangerous for most people. Jose was nowhere in sight, so I just stood there staring at thousands of shivering runners hoping to pick him out of the crowd. Eventually my coffee was gone and my bladder was full. The lines for the green rooms were ridiculous, as with most races. When I was finally nearing the front, I heard Jose shouting my name. Turns out that he finished his 3rd cup and was also in need of relief.

After taking care of business, I stripped down, slathered on some sunscreen (turns out that I should have used more), and tossed my sweats-bag on the pile. It was GO TIME! Man... somewhere around 4000 people were packed into a very small section of highway 1. Jose and I found the 3:40:00 pace group and placed ourselves nearby. I think this is when I told him that it'd never be the same. Meaning that any future marathons won't have this epic aura about them. Not only were we attempting our 1st, but we were also running in one of the most acclaimed marathons out there. This was special. Charlie Engle touched on this yesterday when he said "there's always something special about 1st times"... first car and first love were among specific examples.

The starting gun sounded like a golf clap from where we were standing. Slowly the crowd began to inch forward, and we were off! Starting with a downhill was nice and I was pleased to notice that our first mile (8:20) didn't suffer at all from the congestion. Jose and I located ourselves close to the 3:50 pace team and locked into cruise mode. Many runners were already jumping off into the woods to relieve themselves. Must have been nerves.

I was amazed to exit the redwoods as quick as we did. The weather was already warm, so I took off my t-shirt and dumped it at an aid station. Pinning my number to my tank-top and wearing it over an old shirt worked like a charm. Each mile seemed to be going by faster than the previous. The rocky coast was gorgeous, and so far the dreaded headwinds were nonexistent. Jose took out his i-phone and snapped a few photos. I managed to get a nice one of him in front of the Point Sur lighthouse. Our mile pace was in the low to mid 8 min mark.

Knowing that the 2-mile climb up to hurricane point was imminent, I pushed the tempo a little to avoid being left behind by the 3:50:00 pace team. This is about the time when I slurped my first gu-pack. The Taiko drummers were beating out an ominous rhythm as we neared. Despite the goosebumps and adrenaline, mile 1 on the hill took 10 minutes. My legs were in good shape, however, and the second mile was rolling and less steep. Reaching the top was a remarkable feeling. Runners were stretched out ahead of me for miles. I don't remember any winds at the point, and certainly not the hurricane force gusts that were expected.

The mile-long drop from the point to Bixby bridge was quick. I focused on making short choppy steps to avoid injury, but also tried to gain some of the ground lost during the climb. Upon crossing the bridge and passing the grand piano, I glanced over my shoulder to see thousands more runners still coming around hurricane point. This view was more enjoyable than the one from the top. My legs/shins were still feeling great. I stopped to refill my water bottles around mile 14 and lost sight of Jose. This convinced me that he must have surged ahead, so I hit the road to cover any lost ground.

Most the next few miles are just a scenic blur. There were finally some powerful gusts of wind in spots. Throughout the journey, I consumed a gu-pack every 45 min or so along with plenty of water. I came across an older man wearing a "grizzled vet" shirt somewhere around mile 15. He confirmed that this was his 25th consecutive BSIM. I exclaimed "Impressive!" He returned the gesture after I told him it was my first marathon ever. This was also about the time that we passed someone playing the theme from Chariots of Fire on their electronic keyboard. Thanks for another needed boost of adrenaline.

My quads began to get tighter from mile 17 onward. Each rolling hill proved more painful to summit, yet I kept the motor rolling. Something else happened around this mark as well. A voice behind me started getting louder. Some annoying clown was not satisfied with running, but had decided it was his role to tell everyone else how to run as well. That was my first impression, but then I still had enough sense about me to consider other possibilities. Oh crap! It donned on me that the cushion between me and the 3:50:00 pace team must have eroded. Sure enough, when I glanced over my shoulder my suspicions were confirmed. The guy was just doing his job, but I found his encouragement unbearable after so many hard fought miles. The only voices I wanted to hear were the ones inside my own head.

I pushed myself beyond earshot of the guy who I despised for trying to help everyone out. In a crazy way he was extremely motivating. My quads were seriously tight now as I entered the Carmel Highlands around mile 22. Most the other BSIM bloggers and runners all talk about this portion of the course as the real test and I was determined to overcome the challenge. With mile splits around 9 minutes, I slogged through the section. I kicked it up a notch each time I heard the voice behind me.

Somewhere along mile 23-ish was "strawberry hill". The locals set up shop here every year and dish out fresh strawberries to the weary runners. It's difficult to imagine that they're this friendly. I'm sure they get some sort of sick pleasure at seeing our pain... but anyway, those were the best tasting strawberries that I've ever devoured.

The Carmel Valley came into view a short while later. I convinced myself that the mile 25 hill must be a myth. I must have already completed the final hill and the glory of finishing was just a few lighthearted steps away. Yeah right. The course dropped back down and I could see that final hill staring me right in the face. This was it! My water bottles were empty so I made a B-line to the final aid station. Tossed a cup of water over my head before making my way to the BYOB (bring your own bottle) table for a refill. What!?! The poor volunteer had just emptied his water jug and saw my look of desperation and rage building up... No WATER! ME ANGRY! Actually I couldn't help but feel bad for the kid despite my own pain at the moment. Too stubborn to walk 10 steps backward, I decided to charge on without H2O.

Mr. Helper was back again and chirping in my ears as I pathetically walk/jogged my stiff quads up the hill. He encouraged me. I grunted some sort of response and slowly built up a little momentum which carried me over the crest. Finally, no more uphill! I shuffled as quickly as I could down the slope glancing around for the few hundred supporters that must be in attendance. Didn't recognize a face. Truthfully, my vision was pretty blurry and I had difficulty focusing on much more than the inflatable finish banner ahead.

As I crossed the bridge, I managed to pass the 3:50:00 pace runner. Some familiar voices yelled out and I saw it was my wife's friends Elizabeth and Jorge. Ironically it was those two who ran the Big Sur Half Marathon last November which motivated me to sign up for today's run. I raised my arms high as I crossed the Finish.... holy cow, I just ran 26.2 miles!

Staff members gave me a sweet medal and emergency blanket. A young woman who I had noticed run/walking at about the same pace as I was cruising at came up and high-fived me. She said she was trying to beat me, but came up a little short. We exchanged congratulations and I waived at my wife and parents who seemed genuinely thrilled to know I was still alive. After downing a few cups of water, I stumbled over and enjoyed a free massage. There was beer and plenty of food to be eaten too. Jose was just behind me and he opted to skip the massage for a cold brew. Both of us had a blast. My only gripe is that we may have started with the best Marathon out there and now everything else is likely be a let-down in comparison.


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