Big Sur International Marathon

Div Place Place Time Pace
122/285 997/3429 04:10:00 9:32 min/mi


I can’t start a blog about Big Sur without starting at the beginning, with registration. Getting in to BSIM is difficult at all times, often voted as the best destination marathon, many more people want to run Big Sur than are allowed to.

The 2015 registration process was split into five stages. Four traditional signups across different times of the day and days of the week, ostensibly to create some equity across regions, work schedules, and time zones, and one lottery. On the first traditional signup, Harry, Joy, and I were all at our desks, frantically hitting refresh to try and get in. Within four seconds, the seats were sold, and Harry successfully got into the race, but Joy and I didn’t. The next three were similar situations, one I tried to do remotely via phone as I was in San Francisco at a work event, one I missed due to being out with the family, and one I had a similar situation as the first. Joy successfully registered in the next three rounds, but I was left to the luck of the lottery. Fortunately for me, I was successful in getting into the race with the lottery, so all three of us who were training for the race were able to get in. Yay!


Out of my three previous marathons, I had a variety of training, from constant and consistent, to severe under-training. My undertrained races proved that by mile fifteen or twenty, I would be cramping and underperforming. Knowing this race to be one of the most difficult to complete, I knew I couldn’t scrape by, but would have to be amazingly consistent in my pre-race work. If you’ve read my blogs leading up to this, you know that I completed a lot of races leading up to this, enough to help ensure success. Yet, just racing would not be enough: I should be running 30 miles a week at minimum. And yet, I didn’t. Life, as always, as well as a lack of training partners running at lunch (kids keep me from early morning training), meant that I was very consistent in my long runs, yet barely if ever ran my weekday runs. What I learned from this training is that, enough cross-training and enough distance building means that I can complete a run by just building up my long distance training, but I can’t get any faster or better without adding in the base work during the week: hills, track work, and mileage. My training wasn’t good, but it was enough to do a consistent and full marathon instead of a half marathon plus some walking. I didn’t run the whole thing like my PR, but nor did I find myself unable to run the last few miles, either.

The Bus Ride

Over five percent of Big Sur’s budget goes to buses. That’s over $150k, for bus rentals. Why? Because how do you get over 8,000 to the start when the roads are closed, the parking lots are where you stand to prep the start, and there are no hotels nearby? You bus all of them, one way, in one shot. 185 buses taking 8,000 people from fourteen locations to eight different start zones. So at the buses, by 4am, to hit the starting venue by 5:30am and have the race course cleared for the starting gun at 6:45am.

The Beauty

This is the first race that I have ever done where runners, and not the type who go in a pack and celebrate running as a big social event (and there’s nothing wrong with that), but the real runners stopped to get out their phones and take a picture. Anyone who didn’t, either didn’t have a case that could carry their phone, was drop-a-phone-phobic, was blind, had already run it several times, or had no sense of beauty. When else do you get to actually exist, not behind windows, but out in the clear along the PCH for four beautiful hours?

The route begins at its namesake, in Big Sur State Park, and winds its way up a closed-to-traffic Highway 1, finishing in Carmel. Between the iconic Bixby Bridge, the ocean views along the whole route, and the top of Hurricane Point, there is practically no point which isn’t awesome in its beauty. And while one friend of mine said that his PR is on Big Sur, I followed the advise of the rest of my running friends and took advantage of the scenery to make this a race I truly enjoyed, not just ran. And yes, I took some selfies, too.

The Race

As you can tell by the rest of this blog, the race itself wasn’t as big of a goal as the venue; however, out of the three marathons I’ve done so far, only the first was truly successful. The second and third were plagued by undertraining and cramping, and so my goal was to do a good race, even if not my best. Running the whole course with a 9:32 pace, I’d consider successful for that goal.

The first ten miles, leading up to heartbreak hill, I kept a pretty relaxed pace of low 9s, running with both Harry and Joy for the first few, and keeping my heart rate in zone two. A quick pit stop before the big hill, and I was heading up to catch up with Harry. The whole way up the hill, my mind was on relaxed and easy running, and I averaged 10s all the way up, though my heart rate jumped up into the 170s to get to the top. I had been warned not to blow out my quads on the downhills, so I kept my same mid-9s pace on the way down.

By the next few hills, I still kept up the same mantra, relaxed on the way up, slow on the way down. Not long thereafter, I caught back up with Harry, and we were running together again. Then, we got to the the first big hill after mile 22 in the Carmel Highlands, and things changed for me. To quote the race organizers: “Just the mention of the Highlands strikes fear into the hearts of Big Sur vets. It is a series of short steep hills made all the more brutal by the sharp cant of the road which wreaks havoc on tired quads and tender ankles.” About half way up the hill, I began to feel like I might cramp up, and I know from my previous races that once I reached that point, there would be no turning back. I said “good luck” to Harry and began walking up the hill. I reached the summit, and said “screw it” to my plan of backing off on the way down. I knew, if I was going to do decently, and be walking up the hills, I’d have to make up time downwards, and if I was going to cramp, I needed to take advantage of every opportunity I could. So up the hill I went at low 9s for the first half, 15s for the second half, and I came down in the 7s and 8s. Shortly thereafter, I shocked Harry by catching back up with him. “Never thought you’d see me again, did you?” “No” was the honest reply.

Harry and I paced each other through the easier sections, and I kept up my walk/run up and down the hills, and we kept going this way till around mile 25. Then, looking at my watch, I had a realization. The last time Harry and I did a big run together was a couple years ago at Shamrock’n, and when we got near the end, he fell back and I pushed it in to the finish. Had he known that he was going to be eleven seconds off his PR, that would have been enough motivation to push it into the finish. So knowing his marathon PR, and looking at the time, I realized that if instead of pulling back as we both felt like doing, we just pushed a little harder, Harry would PR in Big Sur! My fastest mile on the race was mile 24 (assisted by a nice long downhill), and my final mile was in about eight minutes. I had enough left in me to push a bit harder than Harry into the end, so I came in front of Harry, but he got a PR! Harry finished in 4:10:06, beating his 4:10:52 PR, and I finished in 4:10 even. The end result was a race I did about spot-on to expectations, and enjoyed tremendously.

Final Thoughts

Anyone planning on doing more than a marathon to check off that tick on their bucket list should plan on doing Big Sur. There’s a reason that it sells out so fast, and is consistently featured in magazines and top race lists, it’s worth every bit of training to go run this course. And while I may not do it again, I’m extremely happy that I did it.

California International Marathon – CIM 2012

Div PlacePlaceTimePace
331/4454088/649604:45:1210:56 min/m

The Race – A Timeline View

I’ve decided to try something a little different with my blog this time. Instead of a long, textual experience, I figured a timeline with what was happening and going through my head would be a bit more fun, as well as give a better view of what my pace and everything was like.

Wakeup, morning breakfast of a bagel and some PowerAde, followed by a Clif bar later. Get the morning prep done, and off to Harry’s at 4:45.
Arrive at Harry’s, have a chance for some discussion on last-minute plans, get ready for the morning, and head off by 5:20 to the bus stop.
Bus stop at the Convention Center, grab the second to last bus, with only 6 people on board. Didn’t realize until I checked later that the busses were only supposed to run 5-5:30. The walk to the stop was pleasant; light rain, moderate temperature. The bus drive to Folsom was insane, the bus was being blown across lanes by the intense wind, rain made visibility tough, and we could hear chatter from other drivers getting lost.
Getting ready to race. Final stop at the zillions of port-o-johns (they stretched for over a hundred yards), and to get the sweats bag dropped off. It’s so windy and rainy, people are hanging out in the busses. I’m so frazzled by the insane weather, I forget to finish tying my shoes, and forget to take off one layer under my jacket. Oh, and I left my garbage bags (make-shift rain gear) at home, so I guess I’m wearing my actual rain jacket.
Race start! Over seven thousand runners, ready to go. Seems like very few people dropped out due to rain. (6496 official finishers)
Mile 1
Dodge bags all mile long. Seems like half the runners decided to ditch the rain gear for the run.
Eek! Shoe untied. That’s what I get for being out in the rain not 100% prepared. Ditch Harry, tie it, then try and find him as I catch up.
Mile 2
Shoe number two goes out, shoe one is too loose. Ditch Harry again, tie both, then lose Harry for over a mile. Our plan to find him doesn’t work, as I pass him apparently, then slow down on hill to find him again.
Mile 3
Mile 4
Left shoe’s too tight. Stop one last time, this time at a water stop and adjust. The top of my left foot feels like it’s bruising, and I can’t go on with it like it is. Ow!
Mile 5
Definitely not running my best. Race times are usually 8s, I’m closer to 9s. A bit tired through the hills, but it could be the rain and wind doing it, too. Ah well, no PR definitely (but I didn’t expect it due to the weather and training).
Mile 6
Mile 7
Into old Fair Oaks, Harry is definitely doing better than I am, a bit more energy, and bit better performance. I guess training well pays off, eh? My knee has been hurting me for a mile now, enough that dropping out is at front of mind if it doesn’t take more than a mile or two to go away. Foot still hurts too.
Mile 8
Mile 9
Mile 10
Mile 11
See you Harry. Good luck on your run. Glad we could run this far together, and I’m happy to see you feeling confident enough to take off.
Hi Mom! Hi Dad! Thanks for braving the weather to come out and see me. Nice job weather-proofing the SLR, I hope it survived okay.
Mile 12
Mile 13
And hello to the rest of my family. Stop and walk to give hugs to everyone, even though I’m soaked. Still too cold and wet to give up any clothes, so it’s just a quick hug and hello, then back off to the run. The kids have already seen me DNF once. Now that the foot and knee pain are tolerable, I’m not backing down. Estimated finish: 4:15-4:30
1:58:46 – my second worst half marathon time. Definitely not doing great this run. As long as I’m not doing well, might as well stop at the port-o-john to make this more comfortable.
Mile 14
Mile 15
Mile 16
Time to start kicking in to a walk/jog. Things are starting to hurt, and I feel the same cramping coming on that I had at mile 15 on my training. Guess it wasn’t just electrolyte issues, just a matter of under-training.
Mile 17
Mile 18
Definitely getting very slow. Run till I feel the cramps come on, walk till I feel them go away. Watching pace groups go by, and estimate about a best-case 4:30 finish.
Mile 19
Mile 20
At least I have lots of company. Loads of runners are now in the same walk/jog boat I’m in.
Mile 21
Thanks for the beer!
Mile 22
Nothing will change from this point on. Just keep up the miles, track the mini goals (Watt/Fulton/Howe, check!) and find my way to the finish… eventually. I hurt, but not enough to stop.
Mile 23
Mile 24
Quarter pint of Guinness? Don’t mind if I do! Bonn Lair always has a group of supporters there to keep runners content. Harry even had a full pint when he realized he wouldn’t hit four hours.
Mile 25
Mile 26
Official Finish: 4:45:12
Official Pace: 10:56 … ugh!

CIM 2008 – A Personal Worst, and then some…

Div Place Place Time Pace
376/400 4434/5198 04:53:21 11:13 min/mi

The Race

One problem with doing your second race, is that it’s either a PR or a PW, there’s no in between. Well, the first half of this race went well, 01:47:16, or about 8:10s, a conservative pace by 10-20 seconds for me. And considering my training has been lacking, and really only gone up to 13 miles, doing well for the first 13 makes sense. Last year, I began to fall behind at this same point, for this same reason. The difference, though, is that this year, I cramped up badly… very badly. Like, walking for the whole last ten miles.

So, at about mile 19, I decided to hit my lap button, just to see how bad the pacing was. By then, my average pace on the front 19 had dropped from the low 8s to 9:08. The last 7 miles? 16:37, or 3.6mph. Not even a brisk walk (4mph), but at least better than a slow stroll, and that includes having to stop and try stretching several times.

So what have I learned? Obviously, training is important, and while I can skate by on a half (and have several times), there’s no easy route for me on a marathon. Also, that when it comes down to the mental game of “This sucks, I hurt, I should quit!” I can make it past the mind battle… or at least could this time. And lastly, my friends and family still love and support me, no matter how badly I do.

California International Marathon

The Best Part

I have to start this with the most amazing part of the race. Diane, Brandon, Mason, Damon, Mom, Kristi, Vincent, Dave, Amanda, Josh, Harry, and Sarah. You were all so amazing. I can’t believe how inspiring, supportive, caring, and wonderful you all were. Diane, you and your family, seeing me so many times on the race, and planning out such an amazing amount of support, I have never felt so honored in my life.

Josh and Harry, for making such a creative way of coming out and finding me, and for your impeccable timing. Amanda, for helping me see the finish line, and helping me forget my pain for that last half mile. Kristi, for coming out even when you hadn’t planned to, and to Mom, for giving up one of your favorite church days of the year to come support me. Vincent, for supporting all of the runners with water and GU2O, and for supporting me through my gear delivery. Dave, you’ve done this every year, and your unending support is awesome, thank you for the smile and the cheer. And Sarah, for fighting the traffic to celebrate with us afterwards. Thank you all. This has been a truly awesome experience, and so much of it is thanks to you.


My half marathon paces have been ~1:45, and I knew I needed to be a bit more conservative, so at the packet pickup, I picked up the 3:45 pacer bracelet, and expected to run with that group. I figured, if I slowed down, from 3:45, I could still beat my goal of sub 4:00, but I wasn’t going to be so arrogant to think that my half pace would be my full pace.

Then comes Sunday morning, and I don’t see the 3:45 pace team sign. The only one I spot are the 3:20 and the 3:30. Well, with my half pace being the 3:30, I figure I’ll run with that team and as I drop back, I’ll get passed by the 3:45 and hold on to that pace through the race.

Well, that didn’t work so well. Race day excitement kicked in, and I paced the 3:30 folk for the entire front half, and then slowed down to my own pace for the second half. So, long story short (since I’ll get into the details next), my goal was sub 4, my stretch goal 3:45, my half pace as a full was 3:30, and I finished with 3:43 and change! Below my stretch goal, and well below my goal. I’m thrilled, excited, and utterly flabbergasted by the time. I’m on such a high right now, I can’t even explain it.

Div Place Place 13.1 Time Pace
112/220 1494/4743 01:45:14 03:43:39 8:33 min/mi

The race

It’s not surprising that the wisdom of those who’ve gone before you can be so spot on. I have had so many people tell me about marathons, and describing the wall that most runners hit somewhere between mile 18 and 22, that when I found my pace dropping from the low 8s to all over the 9s, I wasn’t shocked. However, I never realized what a struggle, both physically and mentally, those last eight miles would be.

Somewhere around mile 13, my pace dropped from 8:00 to 8:30s. Not surprising to me at all, since the majority of my training peaks out at 13 miles. In fact, I’ve only done two runs exceeding that distance, a 15 mile run in August, and the Clarksburg 20 three weeks ago. So when my joints and muscles, at 13 miles, let themselves be known, it came as no surprise. I expected some of that, and I started out with a slightly aggressive pace, knowing that it was risky, but taking the chance at making my marathon pace the same as my half marathon pace.

At mile 18, as I said, that slight penalty became tremendous. It was like trying to run through water, my breathing hadn’t changed, my heartrate stayed steady, but my muscles were no longer cooperating. Every step was an effort. By mile 23, both of my calves and both hamstrings were cramped up. I spent every amount of effort I had trying to keep my muscles relaxed, or at least to prevent them from locking up completely. I was sure I was going to have to walk, but I knew that from the second I did, I would be struggling to make it forward, so I persisted, and never once walked the entire marathon. So I made my first half in ~1:45, and the second half in ~2:00, and I’m very pleased with the results.

The course

I have to say, I loved it. The net downhill, well, who can feel 300 feet in 26 miles? However, the relative flatness, the wide streets, running through areas I grew up in, areas I socialize in, and areas I’ve lived in, made the course amazing. I hate driving that far, and to think, I ran it. The day was beautiful, slightly windy, and slightly chilled, but I’ll take that any day over hot or rainy. The fact that two lanes of every road were given solely to the runners, and that a main artery of Sacramento is shut down to support the race is fantastic. Going through so many cities, supported by people yelling “Welcome to Carmichael!,” the local high school bands playing, local cheerleaders serving you water… it was great. I’ve never felt happier being here, nor more at home in my home town.

Post race

One of the biggest learnings from this, so far, is how impactful a full marathon is to my body. I’m sore. I don’t mean my muscles hurt a bit, but sore like I can barely walk up stairs, and hobble for the first fifty steps every time I stand up. Sore like my muscles still have tenseness in them any time I touch them. Sore like I haven’t been sore before. The only consolation is that every person at work who ran it is walking the same way I am, so I know I’m not alone.

I also have had a hard time eating. I’d think, after running 26.2 miles, I’d be famished. Instead, I could barely finish half a gardenburger, a few onion rings, and a few chips. I ate six or eight 200 Calorie meals Sunday, trying starches, fruits, veggies, juices… anything after the race. I had the same issue Monday. It wasn’t until Monday lunch that I really ate anything substantial, and that was only because I forced myself to eat a calorie dense meal at Panda Express. Nothing I really wanted to do, but I could tell I was at a calorie deficit, and needed something in my body. Even now, I still don’t seem to want to take in calories, even though I know I’m still short. I haven’t lost any weight, and I’ve been a drinking a lot of water, but I’m just struggling to get in enough calories.

Anyway, this is more than long enough. But I have to say once again, I loved the race, and look forward to doing it with my friends next year.