a.k.a. The run that almost wasn’t.
I cancelled and rescheduled this trip more times than I can count or want to admit! In the wee morning hours of Marathon Monday, I made a deal with myself that if I raced in Boston, I wouldn’t run Big Sur. Given that I was in such a sorry state after the Boston Marathon, this deal seemed like a smart choice. But, for some inexplicable reason, I just couldn’t let go of the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge.
The run was Sunday May 1st, so I needed to fly out Friday morning. When I still couldn’t walk without limping on Monday, I was ready to pull the plug, but my sports chiropractor told me to wait until Wednesday because he was optimistic about my progress. On Wednesday, I was walking (almost) normally but still couldn’t run without really bad form and moderate pain. I was scared silly that if I tried to run another marathon, I would do even more harm. I also didn’t feel right spending $1k+ on a whirlwind marathon weekend when we were buying a new house in two weeks. I cancelled my hotel reservation, cancelled the flight I was holding, and called my dear girlfriend Meagan (who had graciously volunteered to be my Sherpa for the weekend) to let her know I was pulling the plug.
No less than five minutes after I cancelled, I knew I had made the wrong decision. I felt like I was giving up on myself. I had an overwhelming urge to finish what I started. And I hated the idea of not participating in all Runners’ World Challenge events leading up to the marathon. As always, Meagan knew exactly what to say: “Here’s an idea – let’s just go. Maybe you run, maybe you don’t, but I think we could both use some quiet time staring at the ocean.” Of course, I’m sure she knew that if I went, I would show up at the start line and that if I started, I would finish. (For the record, this also is what Brad had been telling me all along, but he knew I needed to make this decision on my own.) At 11:00 p.m. on Wednesday, I called the hotel, re-reserved a room, and re-booked my flight. At 8:00 a.m. on Friday, we were on our way to San Jose where we rented a car and began our adventure to Monterey, California.
I committed to taking this run very easy. Instead of thinking about it as a big deal marathon, I would think about it as a way to spend 4-5 hours savoring the beautiful views. I planned to wear my watch so that I could monitor my heart rate, but that was it. I was not going to get hung up on pace or time. I was going to carry my iPhone for taking photos and texting. Still, I was a nervous wreck all weekend not knowing what to expect on Sunday. The fact that Meagan not only put up with me, but also was so supportive is nothing short of amazing.
When I boarded the Runners’ World bus on Sunday morning, I finally got excited. I was surrounded by an unbelievably diverse group of runners. Nearly half of them had picked Big Sur as their first marathon. Several people had run hard in Boston or other recent marathons and shared my goal of taking it easy with cameras in tow, which made me feel much better about what I knew would be a very slow marathon time.
When Bart Yasso yelled “Go,” I said a little prayer, started running, and it actually felt good. I clearly wasn’t going to be setting any records, but nothing hurt and by mile 5, I knew I would finish. What a relief!
There are many reasons why Big Sur tops every “Must Run Marathon” list you will ever read. Let me share a few of them with you . . .
1. Beautiful views.
As an added bonus, race volunteers were staged at some of the most breathtaking spots to take people’s pictures. They took their photography duties very seriously. This guy took my picture at least five times to make sure he got a good one.
2. Unique on-course entertainment.
The Taiko drums can be heard long before they are seen,
which makes for a great boost late in the race.
Of all the things I had heard about this run, the piano man was one of the things I looked forward to the most. He did not disappoint! And thanks to the out-and-back course, I got to see him twice.
3. Hilarious and encouraging mile marker signs.
I think a guy behind me threw a Gu packet at this one. Anyone who had driven the course knew this was a load of crap. There wasn’t a single flat spot for the entire 13.1 miles out and back.
I loved this one because it captures one of the biggest reasons I chose to run that day.
Um, that would be a “No.” I thought of Brad as soon as I saw this one because he asks this constantly. I usually respond with something smart-alecky, like “I don’t know, where do you want to be?” or “Why can’t you just enjoy the journey?” In this case, however, it was pretty clear where everyone wanted to be :: The finish line. And given that the temperature had risen dramatically, enjoyment was hard to come by.
4. Super-cool ‘medals’
And, if you complete the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge, you get two. 🙂
On the drive back to the airport, Meagan asked me to tell her my race report. At the time, I didn’t know. I was so happy just to have a finished that I needed more time to reflect on the day before I could articulate what the experience meant to me. Over the past three weeks (which have felt more like three months, by the way) I am still stuck on one word :: Humbling.
Only now do I understand how much I took for granted the fact that my prior marathons came relatively easily. This one was anything but. Getting to the start line was hard. Finding the energy and desire to keep running after Mile 18 was hard. Looking at my watch when it said 3:31 and realizing I still had over 6 miles to go was hard. So hard that I teared up a bit. With all my stops for photos, a fair amount of walking, and even a restroom break (which I’ve never done in a race), I crossed the finish line in 4 hours and 43 minutes — nearly one hour slower than my first marathon.
Being out there on your feet for over 4 and 1/2 hours is a completely different kind of pain than the racing that I’m used to. It gets hot. The volunteers’ enthusiasm wanes, which presents an issue for both moral and water support. And your fellow runners tend to get a little negative. I felt fortunate to be in a position of still feeling pretty good, so I slowed down to talk with several runners along the way to help them pass the time and push them to finish.
Despite – or maybe because of – all my worrying about whether to go, I’m pleased to say that I learned several little lessons from this experience…
1. Running Big Sur easy and armed with a camera is the only way to go. If I had been worried about time, I would have missed all the things that make this run special. (As an aside, I’m somewhat envious that Brad had this experience in Boston.)
2. Active release therapy really works. I owe a special shout-out to my friends at Premier Sports Chiropractic. Thanks to Dr. Grimm’s A.R.T. skills, I went from limping to walking to running a marathon in 10 days. (Warning: Results may vary.)
3. Every marathoner should have a Sherpa. Meagan patiently put up my neuroses all weekend. She drove us all over the California coast. She texted me with encouraging words throughout the marathon. She made an ice bath for my weary feet when we got back to the hotel. She believe in me even when I didn’t. I feel fortunate to call her my friend, and I can’t wait to repay the favor someday! (Ironwoman, here we come?)
4. When in doubt, follow your dreams. Early and often. I would have saved myself so much heartache if I had just committed to running Big Sur on Monday like I wanted to. If you want something badly enough, it’s up to you to make it happen.
5. I want to work with new runners. I loved the energy, excitement and nervousness of all the first-time marathoners. The joy and elation of new runners finishing their first marathon in under 5 hours is totally different from the accomplishment of an experienced runner setting a PR. Both are incredibly admirable, mind you, but different. Witnessing the former and having a better understanding of what it took for them to get there was awesome.
6. The Runners World Challenge rocks! When the time comes for me to run another marathon, I will start with whatever marathon RW has chosen as their Challenge for that year. Talking with the editors, meeting runners from across the country, and being treated to your own race transportation, port-o-lets and post-race treats was too cool.
7. I will run Big Sur again. I’ve never felt so peaceful on a long run as I did running down Hwy 1 in Carmel. The views are one-of-kind; all you hear for miles are the sounds of running feet and sea otters (with the occasional drums and piano, of course); and I want to experience the full course with Hurricane Point and Bixby Bridge (which we missed this year due to the landslide).