26th April, 2015 – Big Sur International Marathon
First things first, I completed the Big Sur International Marathon in 3h:47m. Keeping a wide range of finish time (from 3:45 to 4:00) enabled me to free myself from the Tyranny of Time Targets and run this marathon entirely by feel, with highly satisfactory results! The bonus was a good revenge on this old enemy – I had fared badly (5+ hours) in this marathon in 2013 due to a combination of fatigue (I had run the Paris marathon just 3 weeks earlier) and injury (IT band). Today’s performance brought a sense of closure and satisfaction at having achieved a good time on a tough course and in trying conditions.
At 4:15 in the morning, we made the 1 hr bus journey from Monterey (the finish) to Big Sur National Park (the start), 26.2 miles south on highway 1. About an hour later, we would be running this spectacular scenic route in the other direction.
We lined up in self-seeded waves at the start, while the announcer introduced the elite field, and recited various statistics like the list of countries that were represented in this edition of the marathon. I felt a sense of pride as he called out India’s name.
After a melodious rendering of the US national anthem, the gun went off and we were on our way! I started off at an easy pace and settled into a nice rhythm. I was checking the average pace only once every few kilometres, and that too only to check that it was not too fast or too slow, never to micro adjust to a specific pace for a specific time target. The split paces varied as per the terrain, wind and feel.
Iconic Bixby Bridge
As is normal for this course, the weather conditions were as trying as the course profile. In the middle 2/3rd the course, we were fighting stiff headwinds. It was especially fierce around the hurricane point climb which just made the climb even worse.
One unique problem with this course is the high angle of banking on many sections due to the winding nature of the road. This is very awkward and difficult on the legs. A small injury or niggle can easily get magnified by such a high angle of banking. The downhills following the challenging uphills are difficult on the legs too. All in all, this is one challenging course!
The scenic course hugs the Pacific Ocean the entire way. This time, I was better able to appreciate the scenery along the course. Music bands from various schools in the area were playing live music for us at various points, while Victor Martinez played a grand piano as we crossed the iconic Bixby Bridge. The aid and water stations were plenty and expertly manned. I do not like drinking from open cups while running, so I carried my own water bottle and refilled it at the refill stations provided specially for runners like me who carry their own bottle.
We were greeted with the traditional funny mile markers along the course. One mile marker showed a couple of Kenyans teasing us: “In our country, we call this walking”. The marker at mile 25 said “This seemed like a good idea at the start line”. The marker at mile 1 said “Are we there yet?”. The marker at mile 5 said “Caution: wind tunnel next 15 miles!”.
The last stretch
There were plenty of colourful characters. One guy was running in the opposite direction yelling “Salmon! Coming through.”. One guy was running in a Mr. Incredible outfit.
Many runners were carrying GoPro like video recorders, selfie sticks and various other gadgets which i could not recognize. I saw many drones capturing official footage of the event, at the start, finish and various intermediate points.
After the finish, a volunteer placed a beautiful ceramic finisher medal around my neck. My legs started acting weird and seems liked they would seize and cramp any moment. I could feel them turning to stone ever so slowly. So i took the free massage which improved things considerably. I was also feeling quite cold and shivering, so the volunteer gave me a space blanket. There was free beer available but i avoided it with a heavy heart since I was so cold.
All in all, it was very enjoyable ( to the extent that you can call running the last 10k of a full marathon enjoyable) event, made sweeter because of the good finish time.