Thursday, May 4, 2017

Things the Ocean Taught Me (BSIM 2017 Race Recap)

I'm aware that I haven't posted an update since 2015, which I will chalk up to life getting in the way. But I ended my 1.5 year marathoning hiatus with the Big Sur International Marathon, and felt like it should be documented.

Big Sur been toted as a bucket-list race because the whole course runs along the ocean, and the scenery is spectacular.

Mile 23 of the course

But it's also notorious for its hills, the worst of which is Hurricane Point. HP starts just before mile 10, and over the course of two miles, runners climb over 400 feet. Based on the hills, I threw any expectations of setting a new PR out the window. Plus, I didn't want to be so hellbent on a time goal that I missed out on the scenery. But my training felt good overall, so my attitude about BSIM in the days leading up to it became, "I'll give it what I have to give, but at the end of the day, 'whatever happens, happens.'"

The race was scheduled for a Sunday, so I opted to fly down on the Friday before. Since we weren't driving to Big Sur until the next day, Meredith and I had a nice day of leisure. And by "day of leisure," I mean that we got breakfast, ran (I went for three miles, and she went for 7.5), got new tires for her car (and got lunch at this Mexican restaurant while we waited), went grocery shopping for the weekend, and cooked dinner. Oh, and Meredith also prepped the batter for our pumpkin teff pancakes we planned on having the next morning.

The next morning, we woke up around 6am and had some coffee before our shakeout run. We ran together for two miles, and then I returned to Meredith's house for some stretching while she continued on for another 2-3 miles. Once she returned, we got started on breakfast. Unfortunately, the pancakes took way longer than expected to cook, so we left for our adventure about 45 minutes later than planned.

Part 1 of breakfast (part 2 was simply more pancakes)

We stopped in San Jose on our way so we could pick up Erin. The three of us had not hung out together since November 2015, so we were excited to have an extended block of time together. By the time we made it to Monterey (where the BSIM race expo was being held), it was about 2pm. The expo was smaller than I was expecting, so we were in and out of there in about 30 minutes.

The wall of registered crazy people

Once we were done there, we fled Monterey and drove to Big Sur. BSIM is a point-to-point course, so your options are to either stay near the finish line and take a shuttle to the starting line at 3:30am (or thereabout), or stay near the starting line and take a shuttle back after the race. We chose to stay near the start at the Big Sur Lodge. And as a result, we got to drive along the entire race course to get there. Since we were all feeling quite hungry, we snacked on trail mix, peanut butter M&Ms, and other food that I can't recall. We stopped for a photo op at the mile 23 marker on the course, and then we stopped for linner at the Big Sur River Inn. (I call it linner because it was around 4pm.) Of course, we managed to snack so much in the car that by the time we finished lunch, we were crazy stuffed. (I took half of my linner to-go, and I'm not usually one to take leftovers!)

Grilled chicken sandwich with sweet potato fries

Since our hotel was super rustic (no TV, no wifi) and cell phone coverage was spotty at best, it made it very easy to crawl into bed early. So the evening's activities consisted of a walk to the hotel cafe so we could try to digest dinner and that Meredith could get something for her pre-long run breakfast (and we all ended up getting ice cream while we were there), chatting (during which I finished my linner), laying out my race stuff for the morning, and going to bed at 8:45pm.

Race Day
I woke up at 3:45am. I had no idea if there were extra blankets in the room (let alone where they were), so after I made coffee, I took that and my millet porridge and had breakfast in bed. (This completely fit in with the "rustic romantic getaway" feel of the Big Sur Lodge.) I filled up my handheld bottle at this time too. (BSIM also has this really nifty BYOB program, where if you bring your handheld bottle, you can fill it up at the water station if you need to.)

Erin and Meredith woke up around 5am. Erin was going to be race cheerleader and watch the finish of the race. In order to make it up there before they closed Highway 1, she and Meredith needed to leave by 6. We also made the executive decision to check out of the hotel on Sunday and send Erin to the finish line with our luggage, so we could just leave from Carmel. So around 5:45, Erin, Meredith, and all of our luggage left the Big Sur Lodge, and started on the 26.2 mile journey to Carmel. (Alright, more specifically, Erin dropped Meredith off at about mile 7 of the course so that Meredith could do her long run, and then took our bags to the finish line.) Erin was kind enough to leave me with a long-sleeve shirt that I was free to throw away, just so that I wouldn't freeze before the start. I felt badly about tossing it, so I ended up holding it for the entire run. (It came in handy as a sweat rag for later in the race.) So ultimately, I ran the entire race with a handheld bottle in one hand, and a long sleeve tech shirt in the other hand.

Once they left, I thought, "I guess I can't chicken out now, because I'm going to have to make my way back to my stuff somehow." I warmed up, and then left the hotel around 6:10 to make my way down to the starting line in time for the 6:45am start. (See why staying near the start is amazing?)

After hanging around the starting line for about 20 minutes, the race officials kicked off the race and sent all of us on our jaunt up Highway 1. My first thought after crossing the starting line was, "What the fuck did I sign myself up for?" After a mile of running through the forest, my attitude switched to, "Ooo, this is kind of fun!" Of course, the first few miles are downhill, so I also had to tell myself to stay controlled. Other thoughts from these first few miles included, "You do you" and "As long as I finish in under 3:59, it won't be a PW (personal worst)."

Around mile 5 or 6, we emerged from the forest and saw the ocean. The view itself was enough to make me ecstatic and think, "Being able to run alongside this for 3.5 hours without being interrupted/bothered is wonderful!"

I took the first of my gels at mile 8. In case you're wondering how I juggled the handheld, shirt, and gel -- whenever I took a gel, I'd hold the shirt and handheld in the same hand, and hold the open gel with the other hand. (As I type this out, I see how ridiculous this sounds. But with a third of the race underway, my somewhat-fatigued brain thought this was perfectly acceptable.) I also photobombed some guy's GoPro shot at some point between then and HP.

Just before HP, you run downhill and can hear these rather ominous drums off in the distance. Immediately, I thought, "Oh no... It's coming." My strategy for the hill was to exert the same effort, and not be alarmed if the pace was slower. I started chatting with this other runner, which helped the hill pass by more quickly. The ocean views helped with this as well. After that, the next few miles are relatively downhill, which is a nice reprieve after going uphill for two miles.

I took my second gel just before the halfway point. I crossed the halfway point in about 1:45, and thought, "OMG, maybe a negative split and a sub-3:30 are possible!" So my goal shifted from "Not getting a PW" to "Finishing in 3:2x and negative-splitting the course". The next few miles included ocean views, and doing math to remind myself that my new goal was possible. I also used math to make the race seem more manageable -- specifically, "x more miles to the next gel, then x more miles to the next one, and then x more to the finish." I was still feeling okay and still passing people, which made me wonder if I were running too quickly. But since I felt okay and my mile splits and calculations still had me finishing in under 3:30, I kept going at that effort.

At mile 18, I took my double espresso gel. This gel has 100 mg of caffeine, and I figured that if I took it at 18, the caffeine would take effect in time for the final 10K (which starts at mile 20). This gel was definitely not my favorite, but it did the trick.

Between mile 20 and 21, I caught up to Erin's friend Sunny, so I said hi, passed her, and continued onward. After that, I focused on mile 23, because Erin, Meredith and I stopped there the day before for a photo op, and I knew that the view was amazing. Also, I planned on taking my last gel at that point. And of course, I continued checking my watch after each mile so I could do math and remind myself that I could finish in 3:2x (and I thought that x=9).

After mile 23, I knew that I only had 5K left, and I was still passing runners. This was reassuring until 24, when I started feeling the fatigue of the miles I had already run. With so little left in the race, I knew I couldn't give up on my goal (because I'd kick myself later if I somehow missed it). I also wanted something more refreshing than water. About a half-mile later, I reached the water and Gatorade station, and that Gatorade seemed like an oasis in the desert. I grabbed some, and it hit the spot.

I eventually reached mile 26, and just picked up the pace until the end. Once I saw the finish line, I knew I had to just empty the tank. I saw that the clock said "3:27:xx", and started grinning like a crazy Cheshire Cat. I then heard/saw Erin and Meredith in the stands, and heard the announcer say my name. Seconds later, I was across the finish line, stopped my watch, and saw that my time according to Garmin was 3:27:53. I got that sub-3:30, my time was faster than 3:29, and by my math, had run the second half about three minutes faster than the first. Yes, my legs felt trashed, but I was floored.


Team Blueberry

My official time was 3:27:43, which is 26 minutes slower than my PR -- literally, a minute per mile slower. Ordinarily, I would've been disappointed about this. And yet, I felt on top of the world, and had this huge grin on my face. And after thinking about it, here's my theory on why. I think going into the race with zero expectations definitely helped. By not setting a time goal, I gave myself permission to focus on something other than the final time. More specifically, I gave myself permission to focus on the activity itself -- the course, the scenery, even the thoughts that popped into my head (I mean, I was without a cell phone for 3.5 hours).

This race reminded me why I love running and subjecting myself to these feats of endurance. Running has allowed, and continues to allow, me to see all sorts of places -- Berlin, the five boroughs of NYC, and the CA coastline, to name a few. And it's usually a reliable way for me to escape from everything and everyone and replay my head movies. More importantly, running (and marathoning, specifically) continually tests my limits, and finishing a big race like this reminds me that I'm capable of more than I believed I was.

During the sixteen weeks of training, there were moments when I felt stressed (about trying to work full-time, be an excellent friend/boyfriend/person, and do all of these workouts) and was ready to file for divorce from the sport of marathoning. But after this, I'm not quite ready to divorce marathoning. No relationship is perfect, but if the relationship brings you more joy than sorrow, then you ought to keep that relationship alive.

Post-race milkshake, with a side of creeper eye

PS: In case you were wondering, I haven't signed up for #14 yet.

PPS: If you want a good laugh, check out these race photos.