Race Report | 2014 Big Sur International Marathon

10245396_10152080618037467_8683777888693800241_nThe Big Sur International Marathon is a literally epic reminder of why we run, proving with every step that our sport is awesome. So much so that the high I rode from start to finish muted the throbbing pain I felt in my quads thanks to the fact that, well, I ran Boston six days earlier.

In my course description for RW, I wrote: “… if the rolling hills don’t leave you breathless, the turquoise waves lapping over rocky cliffs beside soaring green mountains most certainly will.” Big Sur proved, yet again, that this fact is totally true.

Earlier in the year when I got offered the opportunity to run Big Sur again with Challenge, I accepted without hesitation. I had such an amazing experience last year that I just couldn’t pass up the chance to go again. What I didn’t realize right away was that Boston was just six days before Big Sur this year, not 13 like it was for my first Boston to Big Sur go-around. But then I figured, Ehh sure, why not? Challenge accepted. 

So after not running a step after a quad-busting Boston Marathon, I found myself more sore than I would’ve preferred after a short, 2-mile shakeout on Saturday morning before the race. I was in enough pain that I decided to take a dip in the (mother f-ing freezing cold) Pacific for an ice bath. Yeah, I’m a major wimp when it comes to cold water. I’ll be honest here and say that I wasn’t convinced I’d finish the marathon. What had I gotten myself into?

But come Sunday morning, there I was lining up to run my seventh marathon. Like last year, I opted to run naked (read: without a watch – didn’t even pack the thing!) and just run for the sake of enjoying the journey. I had no idea how the race would go, but I figured I’d take my time and listen to my body. This game plan worked like a charm last year, so I figured I’d try again this year and pray it would work its magic.

Well, it totally worked.

I started off nice and easy with a colleague through the first six miles or so, letting the downhill carry us along. I could already feel my quad, which freaked me out a bit, but it was still run-able. But once we reached the open road with the pristine beaches on our left and the towering, misty green mountains on our right, the runner’s high hit me like a tidal wave. Screw my quad, let’s have some fun! I thought.

When I get jazzed up in a race like that, my instinct is to run fast and ride the high. It just carries me along, overriding any pain I might be feeling. So I picked up the pace, cruising down toward the taiko drummers whose beats carry you up Hurricane Point, the biggest hill on the course that starts at mile 10.

Since the quads actually felt better going uphill, I took advantage of the opportunity, shifted gears, and churned up the 2-mile incline. Like last year, I could feel my hill training paying off. Heck yes.

But then came the lonnnnnng downhill toward the halfway point on the Bixby Bridge. You better believe I winced with every step I took, trying to figure out how to adjust my form to take the pressure off my quads. Ouch, ouch, ouch! My body was rebelling against this second marathon in a week. Ahhh well, suck it up, Meg, carry on.

The Bixby Bridge a.k.a. quite possibly the coolest 13.1 mark in any marathon ever was up next. While I ran by, the tuxedoed Piano Man played “Hallelujah” on his baby grand piano. The whole scene brought me to tears, a true pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming moment. I closed my eyes for a second and soaked in the moment. This is why we run.

The next eight-ish miles — save for a scary second at mile 18 when I felt a particularly concerning twinge in my left quad that thankfully went away — played out as close to perfectly as I could’ve asked for. I was still riding the high (somehow?! – I think I have the spectacular scenery to thank for that one), feeling solid on the flat and uphill portions while taking things carefully and conservatively on the downhills. Through mile 20, my quads were killing BUT I was able to keep up my pace. I didn’t question it, so I kept plugging onward, thoughts focused on the strawberry station at mile 23.

Believe it or not, I think I managed to work out my quad soreness — again, didn’t question it! — so the final miles, rejuvenated by a ginormous strawberry, really felt no different than they normally would at the end of a marathon. In fact, I was able to run the final .2 feeling strong and in control. Say whaaat?

And get this, I ran Big Sur faster (!?!?!?) than Boston. Talk about the power of a runner’s high, amiright?

I can’t explain the faster finish beyond the fact that I still haven’t quite figured out the Boston course and that Big Sur is freakin’ incredible. In my opinion, it’s hard NOT to run well on the glory that is Highway 1.

I learned that two marathons in one week is no joke, but it’s certainly doable. (Read: I ran more miles in 2 days than my typical average weekly mileage).

I also decided that I want to do Boston to Big Sur every year that I physically can. It’s exhausting, but there’s nothing quite like running two completely different marathons back-to-back. You really get a sense of how unique both experiences are. In one week, I went from a 36,000-person field to a 3,500-person one. I went from navigating Frogger-like aid stations to having adorable middle-schoolers shlepping my H2O. Screaming spectators that were at times 10 people deep transformed into the sound of crashing waves. But no matter how you look at it, both races are unforgettable.

These races remind us why we run.

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Go fast enough to get there, but slow enough to see.” – Jimmy Buffett

 

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My Marathon Playlist: 26.2 Trigger Songs

It’s been almost two months since my last marathon. Believe it or not, all I can think about is running another dang marathon. I’ve been considering squeezing in the El Paso Marathon in my hometown between Disney and (hopefully) Boston. And thanks to twitter, I physically can’t avoid seeing everyone’s super inspring tweets about their races each weekend. (Oh and Spirit of the Marathon II literally made me want to go for a run right after the movie). Bahhh can’t Marine Corps come any faster?!? 129 days is way to far away. I’m in full-blown marathon withdrawal – it feels sort of like…taper crazies?

So with that said, here’s my not-mid-marathon-training-but-still-marathon-related post about what I call “26.2 trigger songs.” During a late-night convo with my roomie (check out her blog if you’re a fitness junkie – it’s awesome!), I realized that I have a song or two for each of my marathons that, whenever I hear it, reminds me of the race. For some, it’s a specific moment and I can picture it clearly. I’d bet I’ll forever associate those songs with each marathon. That’s why I call ’em trigger songs. Without further ado, here’s my playlist so far!

1. Steamtown Marathon, October 2012 – “Twist and Shout”


This came on around mile 24, and, despite the crazy amount of pain I was in, I began singing along, completely and entirely having a blast. Then I turned the corner away from the music and the hurt returned. Still, it carried me through some vital moments in that first, perfect marathon.

2. Walt Disney World Marathon, January 2013 – “Gangnam Style”


I will shamelessly admit that I LOVE this song. And yes, I’ll break into the dance whenever it comes on regardless of where I am. This race happened in the midst of the Gangnam craze, and it’s all Disney played all weekend long (except they bleeped out “sexy” in the chorus, so it was more like Heyyyyyyyyyyyyy…ladyyyyyyy – it was as awkward as it sounds). I danced to it in the pre-race tent, during the race, and even managed to eek out a few moves post-marathon despite my cramping legs. Way too much fun.

3. Boston Marathon, April 2013 – “YMCA” and “Thrift Shop”


This came on around mile 10 (maybe?), and I’ll never forget seeing the sea of runners in front of me throwing their arms up in the air doing the dance while running. It’s such a classic song, and it was so fun seeing everyone do it in unison.

My brother is a boss at finding songs before they become mainstream and popular. This is one of them. He’d been playing it for me when I was home for Christmas, and I always think of him when it comes on. It played a lot between Hopkinton and Boston, and I smiled to myself every time – carried me through some tough miles! Love you (big) little bro!

4. Big Sur Marathon, April 2013 “A Thousand Years”


Played by a tuxedoed man on a baby grand piano next to the Bixby Bridge, this echoed throughout the canyon at the halfway point of Big Sur. It’s by no means a “pump up” song, but given the breathtaking setting, it felt so right at that moment. And with all that happened at Boston and what this race signified because of that tragedy, this song brings me to tears without fail. I’ve heard the original Christina Perri version on the radio a couple times since then, and it instantly reminds me of how I felt in Boston and Big Sur. It’s an elegant, poignant song that makes those emotions bubble right back to the surface. Music has a way of doing that, huh?

———

I’ll update this post as I do more marathons. No doubt each will have its own trigger song.

Tell me about your trigger song moments below!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Some people create with words or with music or with a brush and paints. I like to make something beautiful when I run. I like to make people stop and say, ‘I’ve never seen anyone run like that before.’ It’s more than just a race, it’s a style. It’s doing something better than anyone else. It’s being creative.” – Pre

Friday Faves | Lots of People Being Awesome

I’m writing this week’s Friday Faves tonight because I am catching an early plane to California (again) in the morning for the Golden Gate Relay! Sheeesh I’m turning into Bart Yasso. Here’s some cool stuff from this week:

  • Seriously wish I had these mad 10K cheering skills back in college. Alexi Pappas, I salute you chica. Jordan, no wonder you are SO fast!
  • Via @levelrenner, Marathon Sports on Boylston is BACK!Screen shot 2013-05-02 at 8.52.57 PM
  • RW Gear Guy Jeff Dengate totally photo-bombed me at the Bixby Bridge: BJM7w0WCIAAGt1qMuch like actor Kevin Spacey did in Boston Common this past week. Hysterical: images
  • My boss David Willey’s AWESOME response to the NY Post’s infuriating, ignorant article:
  • 10 Tips For Running the Big Sur International Marathon AND Why You Shouldn’t Be Nervous For Your First Marathon via my girl Hannah. Exactly right.
  • And because this is so freakin’ funny (and sounds like something you’d hear at RW HQ, too). Thanks for sharing Nick!:

Also, this Saturday is my one year “Runiversary” a.k.a. the day I started running for myself. =) Stay tuned for a post on that (and a Golden Gate Relay recap) soon!

QUOTE OF THE POST: Don’t cry over the past, it’s gone. Don’t stress about the future, it hasn’t arrived. Live in the present and make it count.

Race Report | Big Sur International Marathon

484561_10200887983740417_1146771719_nTo say the Big Sur International Marathon course is stunning, breathtaking, surreal, awe-inspring, and downright b-e-a-U-tiful is an understatement. Holy freakin’ smokes. I still can’t really believe that I ran on it. For this reason, I included three slideshows (one for pre-race, race, and post-race shots) to try to somehow capture its magnificence. To be honest, the photos only capture a fraction of the route’s grandeur. More on this later – had to put that out there because you can’t really start a Big Sur Marathon recap without saying that this place might just be heaven on earth. Anywho…

Our Big Sur taste-buds were whetted with a drive down Highway 1 in, get this, a red Mini Cooper. We took in the sights, dipped our toes in the Pacific Ocean, flirted with some high school boys chucking Red Vines at us while we were stuck in traffic, and took a pit stop for the world’s most delicious strawberries. Umm…can we stay…like…forever? After a full day of travel on Friday, we arrived in Monterey exhausted, but completely excited for the weekend.

I had very mixed emotions about this race. I desperately needed to escape the endless stream of all things Boston Marathon. (That laughter-filled first road trip on Highway 1 thankfully provided that.) But for that very same reason, this race took on a whole new level of significance. Running Boston to Big Sur wasn’t just a fun physical challenge anymore. For me (and for every runner on that course Sunday morning), it symbolized the beginning of the healing process. It was one of the first steps toward proving that the running community is strong, resilient, and just can’t be stopped.  We might’ve been hundreds of miles away, but you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing a Boston Marathon race shirt or jacket. It was a powerful sight to say the least. For many reasons, I knew this race would be unlike any I have ever run.

After expo-ing all day Saturday (where I met a Challenger who’s a fellow El Pasoan! AHH!), the girls and I got dinner on the wharf. We had the most eccentric, hysterical waiter who literally tempted us with strawberry-topped desserts by waving them in front of our faces before serving one to another customer. (Yes, I gave in and ordered some. Nom.) We visited the sea lions on the dock–cue the aargh, aargh, aargh sounds!–before the highlight of the evening: the course tour. Our gear guy Jeff drove Hannah, Beachy and I from the finish to the start and back. And let me put it this way, I spent the whole ride exclaiming, “We get to RUN on this tomorrow! WOW! Look at that!” I was beyond excited to put my bib on and run.

Pre-Race Photos

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On race morning, after getting excited at all of our Runner’s World Challengers in the lobby, we loaded the buses for our hour-long ride to the start. The darkness and eerie fog made this drive unique from my two other pre-marathon bus rides. It only fueled my anticipation for the race.

When we arrived, the runner’s village was buzzing. I’m seriously growing to love this road-racing atmosphere. It truly is a celebration. The girls and I tied our #Run4Boston yellow and blue ribbons in our hair, applied some last-minute Body Glide, snapped some pre-race shots, and made our way to the start.

While we waited for the air horn, the official starter, a representative from the Boston Marathon named Ron Kramer, took the microphone. He spoke about what this race meant for Boston, then began a moment of silence for the victims followed by an uproar of applause for all of the heroes from that day. The crowd then joined together to sing the National Anthem. Another powerful moment. The crowd was ready to run.

The always exhilarating rush of nervous excitement carried me through the first few miles. I’d decided to run this race “naked,” in other words, without a watch, because I didn’t want to be glued to my GPS screen. The goal was to listen to my body, soak in the sights, let my mind wander, and just run. I ran with my colleague Jen for the first four or five miles, taking an easy pace before we reached the coast.

Surprisingly, I felt really good, so I decided to pick up the pace and have a little fun. A convoy of cars, one of which carried my coworkers Bart Yasso, Amby Burfoot, and our brand editor Warren, provided some early words of encouragement. Once we reached the ocean, I was instantly struck by the beauty surrounding me. The sun was out, the air was cool, the ocean a gorgeous shade of blue that perfectly complemented the towering green mountains on my right. It wasn’t long before I yanked my phone out to snap some photos. I held my phone the rest of the way, taking photos while I ran. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • The taiko drummers whose beats echoed through the entire valley before we started our ascent up Hurricane Point at Mile 10. This was like my high school drum line on steroids. Check ’em out (and excuse my awkward moment of bliss at the end):
  • The glorious downhill afterward that carried us toward the famous Bixby Bridge and the equally famous piano man just after the halfway point. He played “A Thousand Years” by Christina Perri when I ran by. Imagine running in that epic setting listening to this:
  • Literally feeling those crazy hill-filled training runs pay off. I cruised up every hill and loved every downhill. I had no clue what pace I was going, but it didn’t matter–I was having a blast.
  • The hysterical mile markers along the way (there are a few in the slideshow). Those Californians have a sense of humor, that’s for sure.
  • Running into Beachy and Cait and a few of the Challengers along the way. Out of all of the people in the race, it was awesome seeing familiar faces!
  • The too-yummy-to-be-real strawberry I ate at Mile 24. Again, can I just stay here, please?
  • Seeing Boston Marathon race shirts and bibs on literally every inch of that course. Along the way, one such woman commented on my ribbons. We chatted briefly about Boston, then she perfectly summarized our feelings about running this race after Boston. She said, simply, “This is a happy run.”

Race Photos

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I continued to feel great until, you know, “The Wall” around mile 20 or 21. All the fun I had with the hills came back to bite me. I started cramping in my quads and hips, so I slowed my pace and settled into survival mode for the final miles full of more rolling hills in the Highlands paired with some yucky road camber. I was thankful I didn’t have my watch to see how much I’d slowed down. After what we’ve called “an insult” of a final hill, the course ended with a downhill toward the finish line. The satisfaction of finishing a marathon never ceases to amaze me. It’s addicting. On Sunday, I finished for those who couldn’t in Boston.

I was greeted by Bart, Warren, and the Boston Marathon representative afterward. He asked me if I was able to finish Boston, then congratulated me on my races. I tried to thank him for being there, but I’m pretty sure it was some garbled nonsense. I was spent. Still, after spending much of the race reflecting on all that happened in Boston, it was again, another powerful moment.

I wobbled over to our tent, pulled on some dry clothes, snagged a smoothie, and headed back toward the finish line area to wait for Hannah to finish. Before I knew it, I spotted her cruising toward the line, smiling while she ran. I can’t tell you how awesome it was to witness her finishing her first marathon. It’s such a life-changing moment, and it was incredible to see her months and miles of hard work pay off. Read her full recap here.
Post-Race Photos

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Overall, it was indeed, unlike any other race I’ve ever run, and I fully intend to run the Boston to Big Sur double again next year if I get the chance. Jen described my feelings about this race perfectly when she said running is a passport to adventures you wouldn’t otherwise have. Exactly. I ended up running 3:43:14, just under three minutes slower than what I ran in Boston 13 days earlier. And I loved every second of it.

QUOTE OF THE POST: “And that’s what you’ve taught us, Boston. That’s what you’ve reminded us — to push on. To persevere. To not grow weary. To not get faint. Even when it hurts. Even when our heart aches. We summon the strength that maybe we didn’t even know we had, and we carry on. We finish the race. We finish the race. And we do that because of who we are. And we do that because we know that somewhere around the bend a stranger has a cup of water. Around the bend, somebody is there to boost our spirits. On that toughest mile, just when we think that we’ve hit a wall, someone will be there to cheer us on and pick us up if we fall. We know that.” – President Obama, excerpt from his speech at the Boston service

Friday Faves | Uplifting Moments

Here are a few things (a bit from this week and a bit from last) that made me smile, laugh, and warmed my heart:

  • I don’t know if I could love this cover of Boston Magazine any more. It’s downright perfect. Read about its conception from the magazine’s editor-in-chief here, and read Hannah’s interview for RW about it hereBostonMagCover_0
  • Speaking of shoes, some speedy women wore these kicks at the Boston Marathon:
  • Perfect. Y’all deserve a Boston Marathon spectators-sized round of applause.
  • Across the pond at the London Marathon…amazing support.BIZrP6CCcAA9di9

And the non-Boston related favorites of the week:

  • My girl Hannah at @fithappygirl is running her FIRST marathon at Big Sur on Sunday! Suppressing excitement over this. =D Read her pre-race post here.
  • This unexplainable video that’s produced many much-needed laughs this week:
  • And finally the belated BIG news: I’m on the Hood to Coast Nuun Relay team! I can’t tell you how excited I am to a) meet the rest of my awesome teammates and b) go to Oregon! AHHHHHHH! Happy news!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “I learned, one, you shouldn’t ever quit. And I learned, two, you’ll never be able to explain it to anybody.” – Jim Ryun

P.S. Headed to the Big Sur International Marathon today! Stay tuned for a Race Report!

Sisters in Sport | March Madness + Gearing Up For April

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PR! – A high point from my March training.

Simply put, March was just madness: every smokin’ fast long run was countered with a crappy one, my get-serious-for-Boston training plan probably got more views from y’all than from me (but I ran a half-marathon PR, so I must be doing something right…right?), my confidence level was more wobbly than my yoga poses, and speaking of yoga (and core), yeah, that didn’t happen much this month either. My butt was much happier on my couch than on my mat. Not okay.

Today, I’m in the midst of the infamous “taper crazies.” Mentally, I’m equally freaking out about this cold I can’t seem to shake, but confident that come April 15th, those 60ish vertical long run miles with pay off. Heck, my half PR proved that I am in shape. Deep down, I believe I’m going to have a good race. Just get me to the line. Now. Please.

Because there’s literally no rhyme or reason to my March training, here’s a rundown of what went down:

  • I learned that I’m still apparently NOT ready for any sort of structured training plan. Bummer. The stress I felt trying to fit in each and every workout was simply not worth it. What I actually ended up doing was probably pretty close to the plan, but I ran on my own terms. And I was a happier runner because of it. I haven’t given up on trying (and actually sticking to) a plan yet, but this marathon build-up just wasn’t the right time.
  • That being said, I PR’d in the half by exactly a minute and a half…after maybe three hours of sleep. That means I’m in as good as (if not better) shape than I was in college when I ran my old PR. I think I averaged 7:09 pace, which is well below my hypothetical, probably-far-off-in-the-future marathon goal pace of 7:30s. It wasn’t easy, but I certainly wasn’t dying. This sparked a huge pre-Boston confidence boost…
  • …that quickly came crashing down on the following Monday when I got a killer cold. I took it easy all week and consumed more Vitamin C than chocolate (which says a lot with all that Easter candy at my fingertips), but the darn thing is still lingering around today. It made for one incredibly slow long run, too. It’s amazing how one weekend you can power up every hill with ease, and then two weeks later you might as well be carrying a 50-pound weight on your back because the pace feels like a death march. The wind was effectively sucked out of my sails.
  • I dabbled in three (Yay!) potential cross-training activities this month: (1) I did a flow yoga class at work, which was the perfect balance of strength, stretching, and relaxation. Perfection, especially for runners. This needs to become a weekly thing for sure. (2) I did a strength routine with some of the guys from work, and afterward I was sore in all the right places, meaning my (weaker than my arms) glutes. I think it’ll become my much-needed strength routine come summer. And (3) I rode a legit road bike! I haven’t ridden a bike in 5+ years, so this was a true test of that “It’s like riding a bike, you never forget” saying. A friend and I rode four laps around Prospect Park in NYC (about 14 miles), and it was equal parts terrifying and exhilarating. I was focused on every bump in the road and crossing pedestrian–I was, again, very wobbly–while I tried to maintain some sort of consistent pace (or in the cycling world, “cadence”). I was amazed by how my quads screamed going up any hill (big or small), but my breathing remained steady and in control. Talk about using different muscles! Overall, it was a very fun, but very different experience than running. But, I bought a cycling kit this week, so I’m game for trying it again! Maybe this could turn into something a bit more serious! (Gotta figure out how to turn the thing first though…hmmm.)
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    Yeah, I RODE this. Pretty intense, huh?

    To legit to quit!

    Too legit to quit!

  • I participated in the “Second (Not Quite) Annual Jeff Dengate Hill Challenge” >> A race that’s one mile up, then one mile down a huge hill by RW HQ. (I think it’s about a 450-foot elevation gain.) It’s an unofficial competition we do during lunch, and we stagger our starts from slowest to fastest so you’re always chasing (and being chased by) someone. As expected, it hurt like hell, but it was SO much fun! I beat my old record by about 15 seconds, running the mile up in 8:28 and the mile down in 5:57. Why we do this to ourselves, I have no idea. (BUT Heartbreak Hill/Hurricane Point, I’m ready for you!)

Looking forward to April a.k.a. my crazy/ridiculous/epic spring racing month, the overall goal for the month is confidence in all aspects of my life from work to relationships to racing. There are SO many exciting things happening this month, and I don’t want to ruin them with blah lapses in focus like I had in March. So this month, I want to:

  • Soak in every second at Boston. I want to get in some solid reporting for work, spend some quality time with my Dad, meet as many of my virtual twitter friends as possible, get inspired by just being at Boston, and then most of all, run the race to the best of my abilities and simply be happy with the result. If the uncontrollables work in my favor, a PR would be perfect.
  • Be smart with my post-Boston recovery so that Big Sur doesn’t kill me. I want to use the week-and-a-half break to catch up on work and most importantly rest, rest, rest.
  • Embrace running Big Sur. Hopefully I won’t still be out of commission after Boston so I can cruise through Big Sur watchless, iPhone in hand ready to take photos of the gorgeousness. I want to go into it with the same mindset I had before Disney–have fun.
  • Stay healthy. Sleep as much as I can–I have to master sleeping on planes–and remember to pop those Vitamin C pills!
  • Still have something left for the cherry on top of the cake: the Golden Gate Relay. It’ll be my first relay, and I want to enjoy it!

So without further ado, here goes nothing! Keep an eye out for race reports. I’ll do my best to write them as soon as I can!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “In my experience, there’s one constant to every marathon: fear. You stand on the starting line, and you wonder: Am I going to make it today? The marathon makes you feel naked—a runner in only the sheerest clothing. It can strip you, it can humble you, it will extract a harsh penalty if you don’t treat it with high regard. The day I stop fearing the marathon will be the day I stop running them.” – Amby Burfoot, 1968 Boston Marathon winner (and probably one of the coolest people I know.)