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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Race Report | 2014 NYC Half

Screen shot 2014-03-18 at 9.45.40 PMIf I learned anything from the NYC Half this year, it’s BRING THROWAWAY PANTS.

Also, I think I’m in love with half-marathons… Yep, I definitely love ’em.

Like last year, I went into this race with the goal of running by feel. If I felt good, I’d go with the flow and race it. If not, no biggie. It’s only a training run for Boston to Big Sur.

Well, it’s hard not to get jazzed up when you’re surrounded by over 20,000 other runners in Central Park on a chilly March morning, especially when you get a surpise boost of encouragement from twitter friends! (Thank you Jocelyn, Corey, and Mary!) And God knows I’m not able to relax during the first few miles of a race. Gotta go guns blazing, right?

After freezing my buns off for half an hour before the race (re: throwaway pants are essential), off we went, heading north up the east side of the park. The gradual inclines warmed me up pretty quick (thank goodness), so I settled into a comfortable but quick pace. At the top of the park, we ran a hairpin turn before heading into the Harlem hills. Personally, I love hairpin turns. Marine Corps had one, too. I get SO pumped up being able to “watch” the race for a bit and keep an eye out for familiar faces. I spotted elite runner Desi Davila Linden and Corey again, which was so happy on so many levels. The energy among the runners and spectators was electric.

Screen shot 2014-03-18 at 9.45.19 PMAfter the biggest hill at the top of the park, the next two to three miles brought more rolling hills before we exited onto 7th Avenue. I’ll admit, I started to regret pushing it so hard in the park. The hills wore me out. But like last year, the epic, towering view down 7th Avenue was just incredible. It’s literally so breathtaking and awe-inspiring that you can’t really wrap your brain around the fact that you’re running down the center of one of the most famous streets in the world. And you don’t even have to dodge tourists.

It goes without saying my pace quickened quite a bit at this point of the race.

Halfway down 7th, a band started playing YMCA. If you read my blog, you’ll know that the same song played during the Boston Marathon last year. It’s one of my favorite happy memories from that otherwise awful day, so hearing it again at this race left me brimming with emotions, some good and some bad. April 21 is going to be full of moments like this one, I know it.

A brief turn toward the Hudson River brought us to the Westside Highway. At this point, there’s just over five miles to go, and they’re all flat as a pancake. Still high off my jaunt through Times Square, I found a rhythm running around 6:45ish pace. I still, surprisingly, felt comfortable and in control. This is why I love half-marathons.

I felt like I was actually racing rather than surviving. And since 13.1 miles seems short now compared to a marathon, I wasn’t afraid to push the gas pedal a little more. I kept ticking off the miles, soaking in views of the Statue of Liberty, then running in the shadow of the now-complete Freedom Tower before deciding to gun it the last two miles.

At this point, I knew a sub-1:30 was just out of reach, but I was primed to run a PR. A final push through the finish clocked me in at 1:31:05, an almost 2 minute, 30 second PR. Talk about the runner’s high. The whole race was one long hit of the runner’s high.

To top it all off, I ran into an old teammate of mine from Lehigh AND Jenny from Hood to Coast, who had also just crushed her race with a sparkly new PR. So much happiness!

Sunday reaffirmed how awesome this race is and left me feeling much more confident going into Boston and Big Sur next month. Michele summed up my feelings perfectly:

Yes. Exactly. All of those miserable, slushy miles were worth it.

QUOTE OF THE POST: “You’re off to great places, today is your day. Your mountain is waiting so get on your way.” – Dr. Suess

Dreaming of Dry Roads

unnamedYes, I realize that last time I blogged, I wrote about how the snow ain’t so bad. But two weeks later…

I’ve had enough of this winter!

Let me explain why I’ve changed my tune:

For yesterday’s long run, we did 13.75 miles on our hilliest, most challenging loop. Whether it’s balmy and humid or bone-chillingly cold, this quad-busting route hurts like hell. BUT, even when the inclines leave you wheezing, it rewards you with these breathtaking views of the open, rolling farmlands dotted with old farmhouses. The roads are empty. It’s amazing.

Other than my first 10-miler on a treadmill, I can’t remember the last long run I did during this training cycle that didn’t involve navigating through snow and ice. So I asked the guys if we could do the crazy hill loop because I wanted to get in a real, quality distance run for once. (No) thanks to yet another snowstorm on Saturday, we spent what felt like 13 miles of the 13.75-mile run on either a slick sheet of ice or beach sand-like snow. Not amazing.

Sure, the farmlands blanketed in white were stunning as always. But it was hard to appreciate the views when I was focused on just staying upright. Deep down, I know that the tricky terrain is a bonus workout that’s actually making me stronger. But moving at a snail’s pace up and down hills is doing absolutely nothing for my confidence. I really want to believe that these tough runs will translate into a solid spring marathon just like the slow and steamy summer runs make for a fast fall marathon. My frozen fingers and toes are crossed.

I know I could be doing these runs on the treadmill. But honestly, I just don’t have it in me to sacrifice my daily dose of fresh air when I’ve been cooped up inside even more than normal these days. At this point, though, it feels like a lose-lose situation. Extra kudos to everyone who has made the commitment to get those workouts in regardless. Teach me your ways!

The yucky part of it all is that, since I’m not running Boston as a goal race, I’m feeling even less inclined to get all of my runs in. Rather than doing four or five treadmill miles during a snow storm, I’m opting out of the workout entirely. I just can’t get into a rhythm with my training.

That said, here’s my silver lining:

Since I apparently can’t get enough of this marathon business, I’m hoping that my involuntarily scaled back training routine right now will benefit me later on this year when I’m gearing up for my goal race in October. Even though it feels like I’m cutting myself short, maybe the extra rest will keep me from burning out when I’m actually training for a PR.

I’ve still managed to do my strength routine once a week. I’d like to be going twice per week, but I’m okay with not skipping it entirely for now.

I’m trusting that, come spring and some dry, heavenly roads, I’ll feel fit and more like myself again. I had one fantastic five-miler a couple weeks ago on a warm-ish day. Here’s to hoping that more of those will happen when this Arctic tundra decides to thaw out.

The forecast says Sunday will be sunny with a high of 47 degrees. Hopefully I’ll have a decent run that’ll re-inspire me and get me mentally back on track!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “When it’s pouring rain and you’re bowling along through the wet, there’s satisfaction in knowing that you’re out there and the others aren’t.” – Peter Snell

Hey, The Snow Ain’t So Bad!

Screen Shot 2014-02-01 at 1.10.13 PMEarly Sunday morning, the temps were in the teens and, after Saturday’s snowfall, the roads still looked like God had poured a giant slushy over them. The parking lot where we usually meet was empty–mind you, this lot is never empty on Sunday mornings. On this dreadmill-worthy day, clearly we were the crazy ones. While I waited for the guys to show up, I sat in my car, toasty and not exactly in the mood to emerge into the slippery Arctic tundra for my 10-miler.

At 7 a.m., the guys arrived and started doing doughnuts through the snow in their compact SUVs. Naturally. Prerun shenanigans like this are honestly one of the few reasons I actually wake up and get my run done at all. They never fail to make me laugh, pull me out of my it’s-far-to-early-for-this-madness funk, and get me excited to run. I love them for it. Find running friends like these guys, and you’ll never skip a run again.

We lurched onto the roads and right up this steep hill beside the lot, spinning our tires… I mean… trainers the whole way up. Yep, that warmed us up! But man was this going to be a rough run. We ran through quiet, sparkling-white neighborhoods with only our voices and the crunching snow beneath our feet to break the silence. Then we reached wide open farmland with the sunrise breaking on the horizon. Stunning moments like these are what made me fall in love with Pennsylvania and remind we why I run.

A few days later, the guys decided to hit the trails at lunch. Initially I resisted the idea, preferring the finally dry roads over the potentially slippery, snow-covered trails. But I gave in to the peer pressure, so off we went… and it was amazing.

The woods had transformed into the definition of a winter wonderland. Armed with trail shoes and Yaktrax, we powered through the powder, breathing deeply and breaking a sweat despite the freezing temps. Like kids on a snow day, we devolved into goofiness (not like we don’t on a regular run), laughing the whole way up and down the mountain. The run was worth every exhausting step.

I stumbled upon a quote this week – summed up these runs perfectly:

“Nothing’s better than the wind to your back, the sun in front of you, and your friends beside you.” – Aaron Douglas Trimble

Now don’t get me wrong, I love winter. But this edition has made me seriously wish spring would hurry up and arrive already. I’m so over sliding through my training runs.

But these two runs were the best I’ve had in a while. When the rest of the world stayed cozy and warm inside, we were out embracing the snowy beauty that was SO much better than the view I would’ve had on a treadmill. I’ve got the guys to thank for that. Hey, the snow ain’t so bad after all!

QUOTE OF THE POST: (see above!)

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