Even before I ever ran a marathon, I wanted to run the Big Sur Marathon. My husband and I honeymooned in this area of California almost 28 years ago, and the idea of running in such a breathtakingly beautiful place really appealed to me.
So last summer, when the lottery entrance date was approaching, I broached the subject. My husband surprisingly told me to go ahead and put my name in. I've never run a race with someone before, but Big Sur seemed like the kind of race that would be fun to do with a friend. Even though we'd never met in real life, my fellow Facebook page admin Kristina was up for it, and we were both ecstatic when we secured spots. We texted frequently over the next 9 months, exchanging messages more often as the day grew closer. As much I was looking forward to running my bucket list race, I was really looking forward to meeting my friend!
This was truly the experience of a lifetime.
This was truly the experience of a lifetime.
My husband and I arrived in Monterey California on the Friday before the race. We ate lunch at Fishermans Wharf and spotted the expo tents nearby. After lunch, we went to pick up my bib. The expo was split into 2 different tents, one for check in and one for merchandise. Check in was easy. I'd hoped to run into Bart Yasso, but no luck. There were a ton of Boston to Big Sur runners, easily identifiable by their teal and pink jackets. I wore my most recent Chicago Marathon shirt but felt a little intimidated. What can I say? As far as the expo goes, the merchandise tent was underwhelming. I picked up a few race shirts and we left.
The following morning was bright and sunny. I texted Kristina and we made plans to meet on the beach for some yoga. There were hugs, tears, laughs, and yep, some yoga. Meeting her for the first time made me really excited for the race!
|Kristina and me|
|My absolute favorite picture. Look at our smiles!|
I wanted to check out the course and my husband and I drove south along the coast to Big Sur. The ride was as beautiful as I remembered from our previous trip. We stopped for lunch at Rocky Point Restaurant and ate on the patio, soaking in the views. We drove the rest of the way to Big Sur and stopped at the "general store". Judging by the people we saw there, it looked the 1960s called and stayed. I was somber on the return trip as I contemplated the inclines. I knew it was going to be tough, but coming from the flatlands of suburban Chicago, I naively didn't imagine hills like that! What was I thinking?
|Rocky Point. And yes, we would be running down that hill in the background behind me.|
Kristina and her husband met us for dinner at a pizza place. Pizza is my pre-race meal and I was happy she indulged me. We talked a little about the race but mostly made small talk. I felt pretty relaxed after dinner and easily fell asleep after laying out my clothes and gear. Unfortunately, I woke up in the middle of the night in a sheer panic and spent the rest of the night trying to calm myself down. What had I gotten myself into?
The next morning we met at 3:45 to get on the buses that would take us to Big Sur for the start of the race. The volunteers quickly moved the racers onto the buses and we were on our way to the start line. After an hour school bus ride, we waited in a parking lot surrounded by portapotties. There were funny signs on the doors. I was cold and nervous and the parking lot soon became packed with runners. There were so many people that it became hard to move around. Kristina wanted to meet up with her fellow Inknburn ambassadors, so we headed out of the crowd to their meeting spot near the start line. I was grateful for the distraction!
|Pre-race, pre-dawn in the holding area|
|Did you know Hulk Hogan ran Big Sur?|
There weren't many costumed runners, which surprised this guy from England!
Being a relatively small race with 4000 runners, there were 3 waves. We lined up with wave 2. The sun came up and with all the people, it was starting to feel warmer so I removed my throwaway sweatshirt. I attempted to toss it over the crowd but instead it landed on some guy's head. He looked surprised and I tried to apologize. Kristina just shook her head and I started laughing. The national anthem was sung and 5 minutes after wave 1, we were off!
|It's really happening!|
Kristina and I had planned to just enjoy the experience of running in Big Sur and not try to push our pace. We decided to go out at about 10 minutes per mile and with stops for pictures and refilling our Tailwind bottles, figured on about a 5 hour finish time. The first 6 miles or so were run through the piney woods of Big Sur, with a net downhill. Knowing what was to come, we made a conscious effort to hold back while the rest of the runners flew by.
|My Garmin shows the true story. This is up to mile 23, after which my battery ran out. There was one more climb at mile 25.|
Taking it easy at the start was a wise decision. We started climbing uphill shortly after mile 6 as we headed up a steep ascent for about 2 miles. It was also at this point that we were hit with an icy blast off the Pacific. This wind, which we later learned was 30+ mph, would be with us for the rest of the race. As we headed up the hills, I was reminded of my training with Becky, specifically when she had me pulling the sled loaded with plates. I kept hearing her voice telling me to drive forward and as I put my head down, that is what I did. We got to the top of that hill and started running down. Naively, we thought that was as bad as it would get.
|After that first climb.|
"That wasn't so bad!"
But no. About 2 miles later, as we came around the corner, we saw what was waiting for us. With its 500 foot climb over 2 miles, it was the famed Hurricane Point. We heard the beating of the Japanese Taiko drums strategically positioned at the base of the hill. The drummers invited us to join in. Up, up, up. The headwinds continued blowing at us. This climb is what everyone talks about when they talk about Big Sur. And it's no joke.
|They invited us to join in!|
At mile 11 or so we began to descend. Although I had been told to train for the downhills, nothing prepared me for the sheer effort I would feel in my quads. My right knee started to tug, a new sensation for me, and we slowed to a walk. We stopped to take in the breathtaking view. We could see the iconic Bixby bridge, the halfway point of the race, in the distance. We could hear the music from the pianist who was located at the far end of the bridge. Combined with the view, it felt surreal.
We started running again, downhill. We knew that rest of the course would be rolling hills. We also had to contend with that wind. Kristina called out the miles as they ticked off on her Garmin. I started to feel nauseous, and I asked her if we could walk while I sorted it out. We ran/walked the next couple of miles and at mile 17, I told her to go ahead without me. I felt so sick that I wanted to cry. Kristina refused to leave me and told me we were going in together. I did not want to ruin her race. Because I have a tendency to feel nauseous on long runs, I pulled out my secret weapon, an anti-nausea medicine I prescribe in the office. I sucked on the tablet and waited for the magic to happen. Meanwhile, we continued to run/walk. At mile 18, we saw a woman on the side, being attended to by medical personnel. She was crying. Oh hell no, I thought to myself. We pressed forward.
Mile 20 came up and we passed the sign with a picture of a brick wall. I was feeling much better by then--thank you Zofran!-- and I smiled as we passed it. If mile 17 was my wall, I had climbed over it. Our run/walk intervals became less frequent as I got a second wind. The uphills continued to feel fine for me, but the downhills were really painful in my quads and knee. Kristina commented that it was pretty funny that I had no trouble running up but wanted to rest on the downhills. And my foot? Not a whisper. I felt very grateful at this point as I realized I was going to finish this thing.
|These funny signs were at every mile!|
Crossing the finish line of a marathon is always an emotional experience. This finish line was a big one for me. A bucket list race, battling injury during my training, and getting to run with one of my very best virtual running friends made this an experience of a lifetime. Pushing through those tough miles and hills, while running on the most beautiful course was an incredible experience. As I write this and look through my photos, I cannot believe it really happened.
|Hearing people calling my name throughout the race really helped me keep moving forward!|
Even one week after the race, I'm having trouble putting into words exactly how this experience has made me feel. I have so many emotions after accomplishing such a big goal! This was the hardest race I've ever run. This was the most beautiful race I've ever run. How often do we get to chase our dreams?
More than anything, I'm feeling grateful. Grateful that I am married to a guy who indulges my dreams. Grateful to my parents for holding down the fort and staying with my boys while we traveled to California. Grateful to Kristina for agreeing to run with me and staying with me the whole way. Grateful to my coach Becky for modifying my training when injury threatened to derail the dream but pushing me hard to get ready for those hills. Grateful to my doctor for telling me she would get me to the start line and helping me find alternative ways to train to take the load off my foot. Grateful to my friends for all their support, especially Marcia, who offered me expertise and talked me off the cliff more than once. And grateful to my body for holding it together after my PF battle and my bike crash, throughout the race, and afterward so I could enjoy the rest of my "not a second honeymoon" with my husband. We hiked Yosemite and those hills of San Francisco. Our first trip away together since we had the boys, we completely relaxed and enjoyed every minute of our vacation.
|Not my fastest marathon by any means. But my favorite.|
This is what it's all about. Running down a dream. Life is indeed very good.
Have you ever accomplished a big goal or realized a big dream?