Monday, May 2, 2016

Big Sur International Marathon Race Recap

Are you all caught up on our Big Surian Adventure? If not, click through the links below!

          * Camping In Big Sur {Part I}
          * Camping In Big Sur {Part IV}

When I was selected in the Big Sur International Marathon lottery we knew that the trip wouldn't be solely about the race. Sure, the marathon was going to be the culmination of the adventure, but the journey (just like with life in general) was far more important than the destination.

Well, now that I've hopefully given you a chance to catch up on the beauty and fun we had prior to Sunday morning, we have arrived at race morning together.

Just like most nights before a race, I slept HORRIBLY! I always fear I will sleep through my alarms (yup, I set multiple alarms and normally never even stay in bed till the earliest one goes off), so I toss and turn to check the time every twenty minutes or so. I think the added stress of having Walt the Wiener Dog with us was also playing into the lack of sleep. (The hotel we stayed at was dog friendly and the room next to us had a pup that would bark/ whine every so often, which would cause Walt to retaliate.) A few minutes before 3am I decided to pop out of bed and start getting ready.

Like I mentioned in the previous recap post, the race is a point-to-point, meaning you start at one spot and run to another (rather than starting and finishing near the same location). With that said, runners needed to be at the bus lines at zero dark thirty so they could take the 50ish minute ride to the start (at least that was about the length of time it took us getting picked up in Monterey to get to the start of the marathon).

This is what it looks like to have your race outfit centered completely around
a specific pair of PRO Compression socks ;) #RunMatchy
#FlatCarlee included a Sparkle Athletic skirtHandful sports braNathan
Brooks shoesKT TapeShwingsRoad IDGarmin Forerunner 220,
Sparkly Soul headbandMomentum wrapQALO wedding bandMudLOVE
Sparkle Athletic visor (with Girl Power 2 Cure flower), PROBAR BOLT
, mittens, Mylar blanket and a cheap pair of sleeves. 

I knew I needed to leave our hotel about 3:50am to get over to the bus pick-up for my designated time (we picked up our bus tickets at the expo the day before). Ryan, Walt and I actually walked the route from the hotel to the buses on Saturday afternoon (while we were waiting for the hotel to let us check in), that way I would be more comfortable with it in the morning. Thankfully it was only about a half mile away and a fairly straight shot.

I got the "late" option and I still had to be there by 4am!

I checked the weather before I left and it still seemed fair (at least in Monterey), with overcast skies and a light coastal breeze for the majority of the race. I was still thankful for the hand warmers we picked up, mittens and #TeamSparkle sweats, even if they reeked of campfire. I get chilly easily and would much prefer to be over-dressed and removing layers than shivering in a dark, cold parking lot before the race kicks off.

When I got over to the bus area I was shocked! The line of runners was over TWO BLOCKS LONG! I would assume that the Monterey pick up was probably one of the most popular ones for the marathon, but still, with the field being less than 5,000 runners for the full distance it seemed like everyone and their mom was at the bus stop at the exact same time.

Thankfully the volunteers seemed to be extremely well organized and kept the lines moving at a decent speed. I'd say I was on a bus within 15-20 minutes and ready for the trek ahead.

The bus ride was easy. I ate my banana and tried to relax as much as possible. I was constantly reminding myself that any uphills that the bus was chugging up was a good thing because since we were driving the course backwards those would be downhills for us running... But, man, those hills were relentless and never really gave up for the 26.2 miles!

Once we made it to the starting area everyone got off the buses. They funneled us into the Ranger's Station at the Big Sur Pfeiffer State Park (the camp grounds we stayed at on Friday). It sort of reminded me of sardines in a can (even though I'm a vegetarian and have never actually seen sardines in a can). The starting area was a tight squeeze with port-o-potties lining both sides and people meandering or sitting in the middle. I made my way to a potty line, figuring the sooner I went the fewer people would be in line.

After my pit-stop, I tried to find Kristin and Pam. I had seen Pam at the Expo and she mentioned that the two of them would be near the coffee. I tried to find them but I don't know if it was the dark, the sea of runners or just bad luck but we never were able to connect (PS I turned my phone on airplane mode once I texted Ryan that I had made it to the buses because I knew the service was spotty and I didn't want to waste my battery).

Another 40 minutes or so went by and I decided to hit the bathrooms one last time (it was about 30 minutes before the start of the race and I knew the lines could take a while), then I put my sweats in my gear check bag before heading to the starting line.

They started filling the corrals from the back forward (there are three self-seeded corrals - Corral 1 for anyone expecting the finish under 3:45, Corral 2 for runners expecting to run between 3:45 and 4:45, and Corral 3 for runners expecting to finish between 4:45 and 6:00 {six hours was the cut off for the course}). When Rudy called for the second corral I started making my way towards the main road. Obviously I had to stop to take a starting line selfie!

FUN STORY: A few days after the race someone mentioned they saw me in one of the official videos... And it was when I was taking that picture! You can watch the video HERE (I am around :06 into the clip).

Once all the runners were in the corrals we got down to business {no, it was NOT time to defeat the Huns} - National Anthem time! I had a fellow runner snap a quick picture of me before we started moving up.

Then I made sure to give my legs a quick pep talk: "This one is not about time, it is about the views. When we get tired, we will take a break. I have put you through a lot these past 10 weeks, so this race is just about the enjoyment. YFGT!"

I taped my knee just to be safe, but I am HAPPY to report that I
had ZERO knee pain the entire run! 

Soon enough the speed racers were off and Corral 2 was inching our way towards the starting line.

The sun was rising and we were getting ready to run the coast, the hills, THE DAY!

3, 2, 1 and we were OFF! Now I don't know about you, but I have a HUGE problem with pacing myself. Having "fresh" legs {more meaning I had been tapering and hadn't really run for the few days before, not necessarily that my legs were fresh as daisies due to all of the racing I had done in the prior two and a half months}, the adrenaline of a race, having others running fast around me, etc makes it extremely rough to hold back. Even still, I told myself that the first few miles were a gradual downhill and that I needed to run smart and conservatively!

The first few miles were in the redwoods. It was beautiful! I didn't take any pictures because the road was pretty crowded with runners and I didn't want to cause an accident (also, my hands were in my mittens and didn't necessarily want to fidget with them to try and snap a crappy photo), but believe me when I say it was beautiful!

I had remembered that Rudy had mentioned runners would start feeling the wind around Mile 5 because that is when you start getting out of the trees and hit the coast. OH AND BOY DID WE FEEL IT! I guess it was my fault for not looking at more race recaps, but apparently the wind is a hassle most years... (But I also heard from multiple people that this was the WORST YEAR in recent history for the wind! Did you watch the video I linked to at the beginning?! You can see the craziness in it!)

We got out to the open road and we were literally smacked in the face with headwinds... And not a light breeze like I was originally planning for when I looked at the weather report, like 30-40 mph winds that we were running in to THE ENTIRE TIME! OUCH! Like I told the hubby when I finished, I had planned for the hills (even if I still wasn't 100% trained for them), but the wind was something I was NOT expecting and it KICKED MY BUTT!

As soon as the wind almost knocked me on my booty I had to throw up my hands and chuckle. I told Ryan that I was shooting for a 4:15-4:30 finish (taking it easy, walking some of the uphills, stopping to snap pictures, etc) but when the wind was out in full force I was slightly worried that I might miss that goal.

Since the race wasn't going to be a goal race for me, I knew I wanted to stop for as many pictures as possible. No, it's not like a runDisney race with character stops, but the scenery is pretty stunning and worth a photo or two (although, looking back through my pictures I didn't stop as many times as I had thought AND most of my pictures have my ugly mug in front of the amazing backdrop... I probably should have just tried to capture the scenery instead... OOPS!).

As you can see, my fly-aways were a bit out of control ;)

Taking a brief break during another one of the climbs...

Before I knew it I was getting ready to make the climb up to Hurricane Point... The dreaded two mile hill to Bixby Bridge (from Mile 10-12ish). I knew we would be rewarded with more beautiful views and even being serenaded by a pianist and his grand piano at the top of the hill, so I tried to chug along as best I could (but also tried to take it easy and not thrash my legs, especially with more than a half marathon to go). I played little games of running to a certain cone and then walking three more before running again to take my mind off the length of the climb. It may not be super steep (I think in total you gain 560 feet between those two miles), but it is definitely unrelenting to say the least!

The Bixby Bridge went up in 1932! Can you imagine building something like this back then?! I can't! 

Taking a little break to dance to the piano song

I was stoked that after the climb to the top of Hurricane Point we had some downhill to cruise on... Well, that was until I got there and realized that the crazy strong headwinds were making downhills just as difficult... I was literally getting blown back UP the hill... Not quite the reprieve I was hoping for after the work I put in to get up the hill!

Well, I had two choices - whine and mope about the wind or embrace it with a smile on my face. I am sure you know which option I picked! It didn't make the run any easier or the wind any less powerful, but it did keep me chugging along.

I don't necessarily remember much of the course... I mean, it was hills and amazing views, followed by more wind and hills mixed with stunning scenery... I really don't know if there was more than a half mile total of flat ground - we were either going up or down the entire time (and the road had a slant to it as well, so you had to work with that too).


Please know that I am NOT complaining, just trying to be as honest as possible for folks thinking of taking on this race in the future. I think the total elevation gain was in the 2,500 feet range, so nothing too terribly steep, but constant rollers for sure. For me, this was a great race to take it easy and enjoy the ride (because, in my opinion, with the difficulty of the course it would be incredibly difficult to shoot for a PR).

When you see Dean Karnazes, you ask for a selfie, no?!

The views... I mean, I would climb a mountain to see views like this, wouldn't you?!

A little after mile 23 there is a STRAWBERRY PIT STOP! Oh heck yes! They were BIG and DELISH! You know I had to stop for a berry (and a selfie)! Around this time was when I turned airplane mode off on my phone and shot Ryan a text to tell him where I was and when to expect me. (We have also been using the Find My Friends app on our phones - which #TeamSparkle found extremely helpful during Ragnar - and Ry was able to get a visual of where I was on the course without needing to pay for the runner notifications.)


I much appreciated the "green-ness" of the race! They suggested runners bring their own bottles and had "BYOB" refill stations at the end of each aid stop (with both water and electrolytes). Since it wasn't super warm (it was actually fairly chilly and wet) I only stopped twice to fill up my handheld, but was super stoked to have the option! They even had pitchers at the finish line as to save more cups! I am always pumped for less waste! I believe Rudy mentioned it at the beginning of the race "Nothing should touch the ground except for your feet" - especially since if you were to throw your cup, the wind would have blown it out to sea instantly. I love races trying to be more environmentally responsible!

Obviously this is a picture at the end of the race...

Because the race is along the 1, there are very few spectators (we would see a couple folks in front of a campground here or there, but the majority of the folks on the road were runners or volunteers). If this is something you need to keep you stoked when running, you may want to think twice about this race. There is quite a bit of on-course entertainment though! There were bands, dance teams, cheer squads, drum lines, etc all out fighting the elements alongside of us and trying to keep our spirits high! It was much appreciated for sure!


The one thing I would have liked on the course was salt (and NOT the type that I was covered in from the sweat and sea water)... Most of the aid stations had oranges and bananas (I think I grabbed an orange slice or two over the course of the race), but other than that they didn't have much else (there were two stops along the way that had GU, but that is NOT my JAM... it reminds me of sucking down snot and I am NOT into that!). My body was craving some salt and there was none in sight. Next time I'll throw a few pretzels in my handheld's pouch for safe keeping (and late race snacking).

Before we knew it we were heading towards the finish line! I would be lying if I said I wasn't pumped for it to be over. Although the views were absolutely gorgeous, I was cold, soggy and wanted out of the wind! Ryan let me know that he and Walt were near the finish line (where the flags were) so I turned on my laser focus and made my way to my guys!

Heading in towards the finish line!

Obviously I still had a big smile on my face... And it was even bigger when I realized I was ALMOST DONE!

I ended up crossing the finish line with an official time just under 4:12 - not to shabby for my third full marathon in 10 weeks (along with an ultra Ragnar Relay, a 5K and a half marathon). This was definitely the most beautiful course I have ever run, but you really earn those views because it was definitely the hardest race I've run as well.

It definitely could have been worse...


I met up with the hubby and pup after crossing the finish line to take a couple pictures. (I swear, next time I will ask someone to take a picture of Ryan and I... We never remember to get one together, even though he's my number one cheerleader and biggest supporter!) A couple folks asked to pet Walk, which we gladly obliged (who doesn't love a wiener dog, I mean, really?!).

Minus his ear being blown inside out from the wind, this is a pretty cute shot!

And just like that, we were heading to the car to make the 8 hour drive back home. We stopped at the gas station to grab some Tylenol for my back (I think the pounding of going up and down the hills, along with maybe being a little scrunched over to fight the wind had my back uber tight) and I took one last picture before changing out of my sweaty gear and into some comfy, warm clothes.

Folks have asked my thoughts on the race. After additional time to think about it, I still stand by my original thoughts. It is honestly one of the most beautiful races I have ever done, but I don't think I would do it again. I would DEFINITELY go back to Big Sur to camp and enjoy the area, but I think this race was probably a one-and-done for me... which is GREAT news for YOU because that means one less runner in the lottery pool! And even though I probably wouldn't do it again, I totally think everyone should give it a go (at least once). Oh yeah, and truth be told, if it was closer I would totally do one of the other distances offered (you could do a marathon relay, 9-miler, 10.6-miler, 21 miler, etc).

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the bling! IT IS MY FAVORITE! It isn't your standard medal, they are actually hand crafted pieces of clay and as the marathon weekend approaches, elementary school children from the Monterey Peninsula attach the leather cords to the medallions. It will be something I will treasure for years to come!

Please ignore the scary eyes... Blame it on the exhaustion... 

Have you ever ran in a race with crazy headwinds before?


Wendy at Taking the Long Way Home said...

You did awesome! I agree with you, it was the hardest race I've ever done, and yes, you have to earn those views. I don't know that I will do it again either. This was a bucket list race for me and I can't imagine capturing the magic that I felt with this one. I loved it, all of it, even though it was HARD! Great job, and I'm sorry we didn't get to meet up!

Kristen said...

That race sounded amazing but soooo hard! My last half marathon was a crazy hilly one so I have to agree with you that I'd only run a super hilly (but gorgeous) race once. Great job on taking on the wind and hills and getting a super cool medal at the end!

Jodi said...

That looks like a pretty sweet run. I love me some nice scenery. The medal is really cool and so neat that they involve the young kiddos in the process! Way to go Carlee!

Sharon said...

Great recap! Awesome job considering the crazy winds and your 3rd full in 10 weeks! You're amazing! Big Sur is definitely on my bucket list! I also read through all of camping posts. Thanks for all of the info! I think we will definitely check out Limekiln at some point for some camping!

SanBriego said...

Thanks for recapping this so thoroughly! Big Sur and NYC are my two bucket list marathons .... doing NYC this year, but your post is actually making me rethink Big Sur. Winds and hills and no spectators... I don't know dude, I don't know...