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Race Report: Big Sur Marathon

Time doesn't always tell the whole story: While I didn't qualify for Boston Marathon, missing 4:00:59 by a mere 34 seconds, I ran the best marathon of my life on Sunday. Instead of feeling dejected and angry (at myself), I felt jublilant and proud. I ran hard and strong the entire way. In the end, the hills just took their toll (as everyone had told me they would!).

The sun shone brightly from the moment it rose, a rarity along the rugged western coastline of California. At the start, I didn't really need the throw-away sweatshirt I'd brought. Sporting capris, an Asics short-sleeve tech tee and matching hat, along with Smartwool arm warmers, I nervously chatted with other runners and tried to stop my teeth from chattering against my UnderArmour mouthpiece (more on that in another post sometime). Julie, a runner from Brooklyn put it best when she said, "I'm tired of imagining this: I want to get started."

The gun went off at 6:45, and as planned, I didn't let my pace get away from me despite the downhill start. I averaged 8:35 for the first few miles (stopping to pee under a low-hanging tree near mile 3). At mile 4, I noticed Dean Karnazes running down the double yellow line so I trotted over to introduce myself--probably the only time I've thrown out all three of my names in a race. (Might I proudly add: I ended up crossing the line ahead of Dean. Okay, so he had run the course in reverse before the start, but I'll brag anyway!)

I settled into a good rhythm, and the scenery lived up to its billing--breathtaking. The infamous 2-mile hill up to Hurricane Point from mile 10 to 12 proved less steep than I feared, but its length took its toll on my legs. I couldn't push the following downill mile as much as I'd banked on, but I still crossed the halfway point in the middle of Bixby Bridge at 1:58:57. I knew then a sub-4:00 finish was within contention, but it was going to be a push.

At mile 15 I had an epiphany: I wasn't going to make my goal of 4 hours unless I shifted gears. While training for Eugene Marathon last year, my coach/friend Lynn Jennings told me several times, "Remember in a race you have the ability to shift gears into a faster pace." Yet last year, at Eugene, when I tried that tactic, it didn't work. This year, I told my body to go faster--and it responded. I'm not saying it was easy, but my pace dropped on the flats and downhills. Alas, there were also a lot of long-ish, steady hills in the second half of Big Sur.

I dug for motivation wherever I could. Even in a long race, my mind can only hold onto short snippets. At mile 21, I thought about running for my kids. Nope, too large of a task for my mind to handle, Instead I thought, "Daphne, Daphne, Daphne" with nearly every step. The word "believe," borrowed from the ever-inspirational Kara Goucher, pulsed through my head for more than a few miles.

To keep my body going, I took in more Roctane gels than I have in the past--5 or 6 (I lost count)--and took water and usually Gatorade from the aid stations.

I still knew it was a big question mark whether my finish time would start with a 3 or not. Then I hit the famed hill at mile 25. It was far longer and steeper than the others in the second half of the marathon. Yet I passed tens of runners walking up the hill. I wasn't flying, by any stretch of my wacked-out imagination, but I was still moving steadily toward the finish line. With a half-mile to go, I poured forth all I had, and sprinted to the finish. I knew my good friend Joanne was waiting to cheer me on. With 150 meters to go, I heard her yelling and spotted her jumping up and down on the sidelines. I shouted out, "I'm doing it, Joanne! I'm doing it!"

I wasn't going to look at my Garmin, living by Dim's motto of, "it is what it is." But I sensed I had narrowly missed my goal-time. Yet I was ecstatic, jubilant, proud, and exuberant. Throw out a positive adjective describing happiness, and I was feeling it.

Big Sur Marathon was not a PR for me, but it was far and away my best marathon ever. Thank you all for your support and well wishes--I drew on that energy and love while I was on the course.

(Sorry for no photo: I'll add one when Joanne sends me one she took.)

28 responses to “Race Report: Big Sur Marathon

  1. SBS – so great to hear you celebrating the silver lining. Sorry you won’t be in Beantown (and closer to me for a change), but really proud of your effort and positive vibes throughout Big Sur. You’re an inspiration! (Aren’t you impressed that I actually went to the blog for the re-count!)

    Keep in touch, TT

  2. CONGRATS you rocked a GREAT time on a tough tough course.. Peeing at mile 3, jeepers.. That is awesome that you met Dean, he had run the course backward and forward, CRAZY!!

    It is amazing to think about what the mind and body can take during the marathon.. “Daphne,” LOL! I am curious what will repeat in my mind on race day in 3 days!!

  3. Congratulations on a great run! I too ran it and can only describe the entire experience as breathtaking!

    YAY YOU!

  4. Looking out at the waves of runners as they met the finish line, I finally spotted the bright blue shirt in the distance. The sweet strangers next to me joined in as I chanted ‘Go Champy Champy – Go Sarah’ – their shouts spurring more enthusiasm from me and as their support for you was charming. As you approached the final few yards, you looked relaxed, in control, happy and wonderfully strong. You gave me a nod and a smile and I understood more clearly what this race meant to you. I couldn’t wait to see you at the ‘exit’ (I think I elbowed a few people) and give you a hug of congrats. While my marathon thoughts are dreams scattered on my pillow (maybe someday), you have qualified for ANY marathon, anywhere simply by your attitude. THAT is the characteristic of a true champion runner, thus your name ‘Champy Champy’. MAYBE there should be a Run Like A Mother 5k, 10, half or more…hmmmmm what a motivating challenge that would be… Joanne xo

  5. Very nice. You ran the race I should have ran. It was my first marathon and I went out a bit faster than you (1:53 at the half) and then cramped up at mile 19 and died and finished at 4:20. You picked up your pace at mile 15 and that was so impressive

  6. Wow you are so right “Time does not always define a race” I too fell short of a time I so desperatley wanted this weekend but knew I put every ounce of me into the race! You did amazing. Thank you so much for those words I needed to hear them!!!!

  7. I am almost in tears reading your triumphant race report! Great job; I hope you feel more than proud of yourself! Inspiring and a joy to read.

    1. Thank you. I got teary-eyed remembering it all. I really loved sharing the experience and will be writing more about it.

  8. It was so great to meet you on Saturday, and I’m so glad it was such great running weather. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything as beautiful as the trek up Hurricane Point. You rocked it, and although you didn’t make your time goal, I agree it was a great race.

    Besides, since you still have the goal, think of all the possibilites of your next amazing race! Any plans?

  9. You did a great job out there! You probably don’t remember me as I am sure you had many runners coming up to you out there, but I’m the Katie that ran into you around mile 16 🙂
    It was a hard course and the temps were hot! The banked roads and big hills take a toll on everyone but you pushed strong and finished strong! I am glad you had the race of your life, I did, too! Even though it was one of my slowest ever and I had to overcome so much, it was amazing to finish such a race!
    Bask in the glow of your finish, you did awesome!

    1. Katie, I’m SO pleased you posted! I totally remember our exchange on the course. SO impressive that you ran that hard race so soon after completing Boston!! Rock on, girlfriend!

  10. Congrats! I love your positive attitude despite missing your goal. Sometimes we learn more from those experiences! Someday I hope to go sub-4:00, too!

  11. I’m so proud of you, SBS!!!! What a great race you ran! It sounds like you thoroughly ENJOYED yourself, the race, and the course. I’ve heard how absolutely beautiful it is. I’m so glad you were able to balance your pace with enjoying such a monumental event. You should be extremely proud of yourself. I’m serious about RLAM spreading the love in Houston in January!!! The west can’t have y’all all to themselves! 🙂 It’s worth looking at – I relish in the thought of running it again; I like the big-city feel of that 26.2…I ran into a neighbor yesterday evening & he reminded me, “Set your alarms & whistles because Houston sells out within a couple of weeks!” Anywho, I hope you are feeling great & not toooo sore. Enjoy your accomplishment!

  12. Congrats on a fantastic race!
    I too, had a great race on Sunday – and missed my goal by 2 minutes.
    But wouldn’t change a thing.

  13. Now, more than birth stories, its the marathon stories that make me cry. Congratulations, not only on a great accomplishment, but even more so for your amazing attitude. I am inspired by you and thankful to you! Go SBS, go!

  14. Great story, Sarah! I love your perspective. The downside of being goal-oriented, IMO, is that you (collective you!) can be so focused on your goal that you lose all sense of the big picture. I’m glad that didn’t happen to you. Give yourself a big pat on the back!

    1. Karen, I’ve been thinking exact same thing: it can be constricting to have time goals. I honestly felt so pleased at how elated I felt immediately after the race. Not a shred of regret. It felt foreign–and wonderful. I’m as pleased with my post-race frame of mind as I am about my race effort.

  15. What a fabulous race report! I am so happy that you were able to run a strong race. Congrats on a hard fought run! That course sounds brutal, but beautiful. Thanks for sharing! Now, go enjoy your rest- you deserve it!

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