Friday, May 3, 2013

Bonking at Big Sur

Sure it is a scenic route. But it would be much less painful viewing it from a car.
All photos were taken by Shannon while running.
For the record, I was not in favor of running Big Sur.
"But it's one of the most beautiful marathons in world!", coaxed my sister over the phone, a well known marathon pusher.
"No more marathons for me. My legs cannot take it anymore...", I protested.
"We'll go slow! The whole idea is to take in the sights and take pictures. It'll be a nice, easy, scenic run."
My wife Shannon, the other member of the marathon pusher duo, chimed in "Oh my god! It will be so much fun! You will be fine! We can all run together!"
"Oh, all right", I said, defeated, "But I swear this is the last one."

Pusher #1
" It'll be a nice, easy, scenic run"

Here we go again
You may wonder why I would be reluctant to go run "one of the most beautiful marathons in world".
Well, after 10 years of over-training, over-racing, and generally over-doing-it, there is not much left of my legs except arthritic joints held together by scar tissue.

Sure, I can still push myself through a 5K and the occasional half, but marathons are just too much for my decrepit legs to handle. The race pushers Monique and Shannon refuse to believe this despite mounting evidence.

Here is the results of the last 5 marathons I have signed up for, thanks to the marathon pushers.

5/28/2011Bayshore MarathonInjured myself during the race.
Took over 2 hours to walk the last 6 miles.
Couldn't run for 2 months after. DNFR (did not finish running)
11/6/2011NY MarathonInjured myself trying to train for it. DNS.
Sold my bib to a heavy drinker and smoker who did finish it.
3/3/2012Umstead MarathonInjured. DNS
10/27/2012Ridge to Bridge MarathonInjured. DNS
3/31/2013Umstead MarathonDespite a run/walk plan, my hips gave out at mile 23 and Shannon and Monique left me in the dust. Was horribly Figged at the finish.

Sigh. I never learn.

Pusher #2.
"Come on. You can do it! It'll be so much fun!"

False Hope
While I have only been able to withstand about 25 miles a week this year, I have been able to run fairly consistently with no major injuries. And I have had some decent shorter races recently, including a trail half marathon, where I was faster than Shannon.

This gave me hope that I might be able to keep up with Shannon and Monique, and maybe it would be a nice, easy, relaxing, scenic, long run.

Wake Up and Smell the Pain
I crawled out of the hotel bed at 3:00 AM PDT, and ran a hot bath to try to warm my legs up.
They were still stiff and sore from the punishment at the Medoc Spring Race the week before.

Once everyone was up and ready, we rushed down the street spilling hot coffee on ourselves, trying desperately to figure out which bus to get on. There must have been 10 different bus pickups, depending on the race distance and hotel.

Once packed into a bus, we groggily rumbled about 30 miles down US-1, where we were dumped bleary eyed into a dark and crowded start area. We spent over an hour just cycling through the lines at the port-a-johns waiting for the race to start.

Finally, at 6:30, I lined up with Shannon and Monique right behind the 3:25 pace group.

Ohhhh... this is going to to be a long day...

Enjoying the Experience Together
Once the gun went off, Monique took off at what seemed a full sprint to me.
"Monique! Whoa! Why so fast?", I called out.
"I can't help it! It's a downhill!", and then she was gone.

It turned out she wasn't going too fast; I was going too slow. My legs felt like wood. Every joint was aching and I was struggling to keep up with the flow of runners. "Just go ahead, I'll catch up to you", I told Shannon, who took off after Monique.

I moved to the side of the lane and tried to settle into a comfortable pace, which turned out to be about a 9 min mile. The entire pack of wave #1 runners proceeded to pass me.
"I'm sorry, I should have started in wave #2", I mumbled as I looked down at my specially coloured "seeded" bib.
Apparently when I had signed up 10 months ago, I had predicted a sub 3:00 finishing time.
Now I had to wear that hubris pinned to my shorts and take a long walk of shame.

I Hate Pavement
It felt like I had never run before. I think it was the Merrell Road Gloves that I was wearing. It was only my second time running in them, and the first time on pavement.

Most of my milage these past 2 years have been on trails. And on pavement I usually go barefoot.
In fact, I usually run without shoes the half mile down the greenway, then put them on when I get to my usual trail.

So running on pavement in shoes felt very awkward  My stride was off, and my feet kept slapping the ground, sending painful jolts up my legs. I wish I could have run it barefoot, but unfortunately my fragile metatarsals would not not make it the 26.2 miles. It had me looking jealously at all big cushy shoes everyone else was wearing. It seems odd to want either giant cushy shoes or none at all, but on pavement the minimal shoes feel like the worst of both options.

This is where my knee cap popped off and rolled into the Pacific Ocean.

I was really feeling awful. Besides the pain in my legs, it was taking a lot of effort to even maintain a jog.
Around mile 5, I saw the buses lined up at the first relay exchange. I realized I could end the pain, drop out right there and get a ride back with the relay runners.

But with the sun coming up and the spectacular ocean views off to my left, I remembered that I had come a long way and paid a lot of money to "experience" Big Sur. If I had to walk the rest of the way, it would be a pleasant walk.

So I kept going, but slowed down and took a few walk breaks. I was just starting to enjoy myself when the clouds rolled in, along with a stiff headwind. Apparently this is part of the the Big Sur "experience".
Now I was cold, and forced to run again. I waited for a really tall guy to run by and then jumped in right behind him, using him to block the wind for a while. He looked back a couple times, and then asked me, "Is it helping?"
"Yes! Working great. Thank you!",
Hurricane point
Walking is nice
At mile 10 is the big hill. In 2 miles it climbs over 500 feet. Since I was in no hurry, I decided to just power walk the whole thing and give my aching knees a break.
I was surprised when I started passing people and I started to feel competitive. I really leaned into it, swinging my hips, cruising by at least 50 or 60 runners. Maybe I should give up running for race-walking.

By the time I got up to Hurricane Point I was feeling a whole lot better. Coming down the other side I stretched out my legs and flew down it. Coming across the bridge I could hear the piano guy playing Chariots of Fire, the sound echoing faintly through the valley.

I had to laugh at the awesomeness of it. It lived up to the hype, and inspired me to finish this race strong.
I had a new goals! I would run a negative split. I would catch Monique and Shannon.

I had no idea how far ahead they were, but I figured I needed to run a 3:30 to catch them at the finish.
Mile 14: "8:39 pace! 3:48 finish!"
At every mile marker was someone reading off my average pace and predicted finish time.
For the next 10 miles I averaged maybe a 7:30 pace. A far cry from my "predicted" 6:52 pace, but it was the best I could do. I went by the 3:45 pace group as I whittled my time down.
Mile 19: "8:23 pace! 3:40 finish!"
I took my shirt off, hoping it would make me more aerodynamic in the wind.
Mile 22: "8:14 pace! 3:36 finish!"
I envisioned myself zooming by Shannon and Monique right at the finish mat.

Aid stations are better experienced at a leisurely stroll

At mile 24 my surge came to an abrupt end.
My hips were getting really sore, and when I stopped to walk for a bit my legs completely seized up. I tried to walk it off, but even that was too much.
I managed to hobble over to a guard rail and sat down, massaging my calf trying to keep it from cramping.
I sat there for a few minutes watching all the people I had recently passed run by on perfectly able legs.

A woman spectator walked by and asked, "Congratulations! How did you do?"
I laughed. "I'm not done yet." She frowned and walked away.

Monique stopped for photo ops on her way to a 3:27

I figured that everyone would be waiting for me before going back to the hotel, so I managed to stand up and slowly shuffle towards the finish.

I was going so slow that a pair of elderly women in long dresses, big sun hats, and Vibram 5 fingers walked by me like I was standing still. After about 20 minutes of walking I had only made it to mile 25.
Frustrated, I finally took off my shoes.
"Are you quitting?", a spectator asked me.
"No. I'm just getting started."

Barefoot felt so much better. My legs were destroyed, so I was taking tiny little steps, but I still managed to run the last mile in, finishing in 3:55.

Shannon had finished in 3:33 while taking all these photos. Monique finished in 3:27, placing 2nd out of 330 in her new age group of 45-49. Shannon's brother Joel ran his very first race, doing the 10 miler, and I think he is hooked.

Just say no to marathons pushers.
This was my last marathon for a while. 26.2 miles is really, really far.
So, to Shannon and Monique: For the next marathon "we" need to do, the answer is "NO!"

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