Big Sur 21-Miler Race Report
What an event! The Big Sur Marathon course is gorgeous, with views of the water and coastline almost the entire way. This is definitely the most mentally and physically challenging course I've ran, but it's worth it. I'd recommend running this race at least once! I hope to go back for the full marathon in a couple of years (note to self, sign up early enough next time.) That said, I'm not a strong marathoner yet and having a couple of additional marathons under my belt before doing the full course could be a real benefit.
Kevin and I with our medals at the finish.
Kevin and I set out on this race as a long training run before Seattle Rock 'n' Roll on June 23. The 21 mile course starts 5 miles into the marathon, so it follows the hardest part of the course and finishes in the same spot. We finished in 4:04:14, right around our target long training run pace. I'm very happy with this time, especially because we've been running a lot of flat training runs and this was anything but flat. Here is the elevation chart for the marathon from the Big Sur website:
The 21-miler started at Andrew Molera State Park. We left on the race-organized shuttles from the Marriott around 4:45 am. It took a while for the buses to make their way down Highway 1 to get the runners to the marathon and 21-miler start lines. It was pretty funny to see a line of buses going down Highway 1 in the dark. When we arrived at the park, we had about 1.5 hours before the race began at 6:45 am. They had plenty of porta potties, bagels, fruit, coffee, and water for the runners. I was so happy they had coffee because I didn't get any before we left! It was pretty chilly waiting for the race to start, so I was glad to have my throwaway long sleeve shirt on top of my running clothes.
They sent us off on time at 6:45 am. We started on our 21-mile journey at mile 5 of the chart above, almost immediately feeling the uphill grade of the road. There weren't any spectators for most of the course until near the end, but I loved the scenery. Quite a few cows were moo-ing for us along the way too, I like to think they were cheering.
We enjoyed a long downhill, and then the real work began to get up to Hurricane Point. The climb itself was tough, and the added wind resistance was intense. The wind made it feel like I couldn't move forward at all. It was super foggy too, so we couldn't see too far ahead and kept ascending into the mist. I loved the experience - I don't think it was necessarily a bad thing to run uphill without being able to view the top. If you can't see it, you can't focus on how far you have to go.
I told myself to put one foot in front of the other and to keep pushing up the hill, and I did. I made it to the top still feeling great. On the way down, I told Kevin I would feel that pain in the later hills and indeed I did. Following Hurricane Point, we had a nice downhill stretch to the Bixby Bridge and could hear the piano music coming out of the fog before we got there. It was spectacular! Crossing the bridge with a musician at a grand piano playing classical music was the highlight, as I'm sure many people agree. We hit our half marathon point at 2:25, not a bad time considering the long climb to Hurricane Point. I was feeling great and even dropped into my half pace for a while. A few of the smaller middle hills felt like nothing after the bigger climb and we blew through them.
When we got to about mile 22 of the marathon course, I started to feel the hills badly as I expected I would. My legs just did not want to go up anymore. I took a few short walk breaks, maybe 20-30 seconds each, just for the muscle switch and mental stamina. This really works for me when I start to hit the wall. One mile from the finish line we hit the last larger hill on the course. It might not look like much on the elevation chart, but it sure did feel like it. I wanted to walk and took a couple of my little breaks. All of a sudden someone behind me started to yell 'NO walking! Everyone is running! You worked too hard for this to walk!' and boy did that get my butt moving for the rest of the race. It turned out to be the Clif pacer for one of the marathon pace groups. I don't know you, but THANK YOU Clif pacer, whoever you are, because in future races I will always remember you and your motivation.
We soon crossed the finish line and received the awesome ceramic medals that Big Sur is known for. I'm so happy with my performance and feel great about how far I've come with running longer distances and harder courses.
And now, the race logistics details.
The Expo: The expo was fairly small and to the point. We picked up our bibs in the upstairs section, grabbed our bus tickets and then headed down to get our shirts and to see the exhibitors. The shirts are nice Asics long sleeve tech tees, and for the 21-miler the women's color is my favorite turquoise blue. Bonus! Kevin wasn't able to get his shirt because they ran out of his men's size, so he is attempting to get it by emailing the race contacts. I really hope he does. He loves to wear his shirt after the race and didn't get to this time.
Shirt, bib and medal.
There were a few booths with race information, and the SF Marathon gave us sweatbands after we chatted with them about the race and told them we had already signed up. I was very excited and wore mine to dinner. There was an Asics shop to buy Big Sur merchandise and a couple of clothing and headband vendors, but we didn't stay long after looking at the races. Overall, it was organized and easy to pick up our goodies but disappointing that they ran out of men's shirts.
The course: I've talked about the course a ton above, so I won't write much more here. It's beautiful, has a lot of elevation change, and is totally worth your while!
The support: Course support was fantastic. There were water/Gatorade stations and porta potties every 2 miles or less, and they had BYOB stations for filling personal water bottles. I carried my handheld Camelbak with Nuun, and this was super convenient. I saw one fast marathon runner hand his bottle to the BYOB volunteer, go to the bathroom, and then it was filled for him when he came out. What great volunteers! In addition to the water and Gatorade, they had Gu at multiple aid stations and tons of fruit. I saw apples, oranges, and strawberries along the way. Aid stations were never too crowded, and I don't remember seeing a porta potty line. Note, this might not be true for the full marathon start because we were a little ahead.
The finish tent had bags of fruit and pineapple juice, plus cookies, muffins and bagels. Each runner could get one beer and one cup of soup too. The finish area was large and had plenty of space for people to relax after the race.
General Organization: For the 21-mile, logistics were very easy but there were many less people too. I felt bad that we started at the same time as the marathon, because that put us out on the course in front of everyone. Marathoners running a faster pace than us were bound to catch us and then had to pass. I suppose it works out ok because they have done it this way for years, I just hope it isn't too frustrating for those having to pass us.
This became very long, but this is the end. Thanks for reading!