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Big Sur Half Marathon Race Report

Posted Dec 29 2010 12:00am
In mid-November I ran the Eighth Presentation of the Big Sur Half Marathon on Monterey Bay . This was a later addition to my race calendar; my sis and bro-in-law were coming to town for an event that ended up getting canceled so we took advantage of our vacation times and went to Monterey for the weekend. And since the timing was right, I registered for one of my favorite races in one of my favorite towns. I ran this half marathon in 2003, 2004 and 2005 and enjoyed myself each time.

In the days leading up to the race I was thinking I might end up with a DNS. My knee had been bothering me, and sometimes even walking was a pain. It was sporadic and unreliable and I wasn't going to take any chances of permanent harm (assuming that permanent harm hadn't already occurred). We did a lot of walking and took a hike the day before the race and my knee was slightly swollen and sore. Uh oh.

This year we stayed at the Hotel Pacific , a wonderfully odd conglomeration of buildings thrown together to make an all-suite hotel. We had great mini-suites next to each other on the top floor of one of the end buildings, away from the street. Little did I know that being on the top (4th) floor would give us clear access to hearing the sea lion barking frenzy each night. It was so incredibly annoying that it finally was just funny hearing the loud exclamations from the local wildlife all night long.

The expo was held at the Conference Center right across the street from our hotel, very convenient. We went there Friday afternoon and packet pickup was very quick and efficient. Race shirts were tech fabric; gray for men and a purplish-red for women and as usual, their XL women's shirt was too small for me. Since I expected that, I wasn't upset (I haven't yet gotten a BSIM shirt that fits). The timing chip was the disposable D-tag that so many races are using these days.

back of shirt

front of shirt

The expo was so complete that my sis and I managed to shop 'til we dropped - a bad habit we have when together at race expos. One thing I bought that ended up being wonderful was a pair of 2XU compression calf guards. Sis had a pair of their tights and was singing their praises so I decided to fork out the pile of dough and give them a try. This turned out to be a great idea. I also got a good deal on Gu and one or two (or four) other things.

Race morning dawned very early for me after being kept awake all night by exclaiming sea lions. I had no idea how my knee was going to react so I decided I could bail out at any point with no regrets, even if it was before the race started. Since it was supposed to get warm I dressed in my running skirt and the new compression calf sleeves. I topped that with a long sleeve shirt and throw-away gloves, and my usual hat and buffs. I thought about wearing a disposable poncho but already at that hour it was warm enough not to.

The course had a little revision since I had last run it, mostly having to do with placement of the start. Instead of being right outside the hotel it was a couple of blocks away, nearer the Bay. That gave me the chance to walk and feel out my knee. So far, so good.

My corral was towards the back, as usual. I had hoped to be seeded before the majority of the walkers and that ended up happening. Of course, there were walkers scattered throughout the crowd but that always happens when you use the honor system to give your estimated finish time (I'm not sure if there's any other way to do it). I stood around, watching the sun rise, watching the very energetic crowd, and waited for the start.

The crowd of about 6,000 people started off fast at the gun. Despite being way back in the "H" corral I was across the start very quickly. I ran at the side, determined to go carefully and slowly and trying to see how my knee was reacting. Still fine. We made a little loop around a park with a lake, through downtown, back past the hotel. I had thought this would be where my race would finish but my leg felt surprisingly good so I continued on. One thing that helped was the crowd was thin enough that I wasn't having to jig and jag around people everywhere.

We ran to and along Cannery Row, on Oceanview and then up the hill to Pacific Grove and Lighthouse Avenue. The Pacific Grovians were out in force (including, I think, the mayor) and we got a very warm welcome. Neighbors were on their porches watching or cheering, drinking their morning brews and wishing us well. I was still running with restraint, still feeling good. We headed back down the hill to the water. Memories of my first triathlon floated through my head. Glad this run didn't involve swimming in kelp!

The next part of the race was out-and-back along the Bay, exactly the same as the cycle portion of the triathlon. From Oceanview to Sunset Drive, watching the faster runners going the opposite direction. The course is a little rolling here, with a definite upgrade in the outward bound direction. At the top of the hill at the turnaround, about 7-1/2 miles, they had a bottle refill station. This is something I haven't seen at any race before and was a welcome addition. Since I'm so poky I always carry my own bottle and fill it with my own Ultima Replenisher and course water. Often this means stopping to pour water from several cups into the bottle. This time there was a crier with warnings of the upcoming station, giving me enough time to pull out the bottle and the Ultima packet. Another volunteer walked along side of me and poured water from a pitcher into the bottle so I didn't have to stop. Very nice.

I felt good at the half, very good indeed. My knee didn't feel exactly right, but it wasn't hurting either. I decided I could pick up the pace a bit without danger to myself. The weather could not have been nicer; sunny, clear, warm-ish but not hot, slight breeze. The view of the shoreline was great and I enjoyed seeing all the people who were, surprisingly, slower than I was.

Lots of times I can go a whole race without talking to anyone except for thanking the volunteers at the water stops. This race I chatted with several people as we ran along. I did my normal 9:1 run:walk and noticed many other people also running intervals. I guess most back-of-the-packers these days throw in some walking. At least they do toward the end of a race.

At almost mile 11 we ran onto the Rec Trail. I was feeling very good, no pain at all. I also was feeling surprisingly energetic for being 11 miles into a race. According to Mr. Garmin and my rapidly deteriorating math skills, it was possible that if I knocked myself out I could PR. One problem was that I wasn't exactly sure what my half marathon PR was, I just guessed. I also wasn't sure I was adding up the mileage correctly. But I decided to go for it, the worse that could happen would be having to hobble the last couple of miles.

I picked up the speed until I was huffing and puffing. Down the trail, back along Cannery Row, back to the trail again. I kept revising the time I needed, kept forgetting what I had just decided, realized I had no idea if I could make it in time. Then I realized that I might just possibly have started my finish line sprint a couple of miles early. Uh oh.

I cut my walk breaks down to a half minute and kept on running, kept wheezing and puffing. I started counting all the people I passed but then I'd forget and start trying to do finish time math again. I realized that my brain was no long reliable since I wasn't getting any oxygen. So I ran hard, tried not to do anything except watch my foot placement and look ahead, and finally saw the finish line. I gave one final extra push and crossed the line. I stopped Mr. Garmin, took and look and saw PR, Baby! At least I thought so.

I got my ceramic medal, gathered up my sis and bro-in-law and walked through the food lines while recovering my breath. I was terrifically excited about my fast time and the lack of knee pain. In fact, the total lack of any pain. I got water, a bagel, a banana and a cookie and we walked back to the hotel while I munched on the food.


It turned out that I had beat my 2002 half marathon PR by 2 full minutes. I beat my previous course times by 6 minutes, 6 minutes and 12 minutes. I can't think of anything I had done differently from any of my other recent runs, which made my knee hurt like hell and were slower, except for the compression calf sleeves. Yes, that means I'll always wear the darn things now.

The BSIM organization puts on a fabulous race. I may have some issues with their hoity-toitiness ("Eighth Presentation" anybody?), price ($95-$115 for a half marathon) and belief that women runners only come in very small sizes, but they sure know how to set up a race course. They benefit from two of the prettiest courses around (the full and the half) but they also get wonderful and knowledgeable volunteers and course support. Well done. I'm very proud to say that both of my PRs, full marathon and half marathon, are from Big Sur races.
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