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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Gearing Up for Boston to Big Sur

Screen Shot 2014-01-20 at 5.12.19 PMIf you’re wondering where I’ve been for the past few months since Marine Corps, I’ve been recharging the batteries with some active downtime. I ran on my own terms, which meant running whatever distance felt right on a given day, or… not running at all. After months of rising early (and reluctantly) for long runs, staying cozy in bed on Sundays felt ahhh-mazing. I started a new core- and butt-busting gym routine with my coworkers. Dialing back on my running gave me more free time to work on my weak spots. That’s what off-seasons are for, right? I’m already feeling stronger. And finally, I went on hiatus from blogging because, honestly, I needed to take a break from analyzing every workout.

Heading into week four of training for my second Boston Marathon (and six days later, the Big Sur International Marathon), here I am feeling restored (running-wise) and ready to dust off the proverbial cobwebs of this blog. But this time around, even though I’m only ankle-deep in my training, it feels different.

One reason I’ve put off writing this post is because I’m not really sure how to put into words how I feel about this training cycle and what I want to learn from it. One thing I do know is that unlike last year, this race won’t be about setting a PR. It’ll be about joining 36,000 other runners to reclaim the Boston Marathon. I want to run for those who can’t. I want to run to celebrate all of the good that has emerged from the bad. And I want to really feel the emotional highs and lows during the race. What I don’t want is to cloud all of that with my own goals and expectations. Like last year, though, in the epic setting that is Highway 1 along the coast of California, I’ll run Big Sur to embrace how incredible our sport is and to remember why we run in the first place. I think Big Sur will always be a sort of redemption run for me.

With that said, I think Sunday’s long run may have offered an answer:

At 7 a.m., I found myself shivering in the darkness. I was so NOT in the mood to do my 14-miler in 18-degree temps. I wondered, Why, why do I do this to myself again? I’ll admit, my attitude stunk and it stayed that way for most of the run. Even the guys’ goofiness couldn’t shake me out of my frozen, unhappy state. But with a couple miles to go, the sun finally broke out from behind the clouds, drenching the creek and snow-covered trees in warmth. It was stunning. That moment alone lifted my spirits and made the run worth it.

So what do I want out of this training cycle? Rather than focusing too much on mile spits or how many workouts I squeeze in per week, I want to soak in my surroundings, feel the fresh air move in and out of my lungs, and do my best not to resent my ability to push my body and feel it in motion. I want to appreciate those beautiful moments like the one I experienced Sunday morning. During my downtime when I wasn’t running as much as usual, I discovered that I felt most like myself while I was running. Not running made me want to run. (Surprise, surprise, right?) I want to tap into that feeling as often as possible from now on!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “To run outside surrounded by a beautiful natural setting where the air is crisp and cool, the sun is shining, and all I can do is admire my surroundings and listen to my body in motion.” – Jonathan Steckel, an RW Challenger

P.S. Dr. Jordan Metzl created the wicked-tough workout I mentioned above. Called IronStrength, a video series of the routine can be found over at Runner’s World dot com. Here’s a taste:

– 6 sets jump squats (x15), rotatory planks (5 each arm)
– 3 sets rows from plank (x10), pushups (x10), situps with weights (x10)
– 3 sets lunge plyos (x10), alternating sides of hamstring plyos (x5 front, side and rear) in between.
– 3 sets mountain climbers (x10), legs down (x10)
– 4 sets deadlift high pull (x5), biceps curls on single leg (x5), overhead press on other leg (x5)
– planks (60 secs; side, down, side)