I thought after two days passed I would know how to begin this race recap because I would have time to let the race ruminate but I’m still having trouble finding the words to describe just how incredible my first marathon was.
I know what I don’t want to do with this race recap and that is to give you a mile-by-mile breakdown of every moment on the course, because who really cares? Plus, I don’t think I can really remember what happened during each mile the moment it happened because honestly, I can’t remember some of the miles. Seriously, mile 19, I don’t know what happened to it.
What I do want to do is to try to express just how fantastic the Big Sur International Marathon was for me. It was an experience of a lifetime and I made every effort to soak in each moment of the weekend and the race. So instead of a typical race recap I’m going to give you highlights from the weekend.
- The shakeout- On Saturday morning I went for a shakeout run led by the one and only Bart Yasso. The shakeout was with the Runner’s World Challenge, our marathon training program, and I was finally able to meet the runners I had been interacting with for the past few months. Bart led the shakeout run and took us to the beach. With the size of the group we had, it looked like a scene out of Chariots of Fire. A bunch of kayakers even cheered for us as we ran by.
- Strategy- Runner’s World hosted a race strategy session on Saturday afternoon where I learned some helpful tips about how to run the course the next morning. One of the best tips I got out of the session was to take the downhills easy. “Gentle, gentle, gentle should be your mantra on the downhills,” Jen, our special projects editor, said during the session and let me tell you, I repeated that mantra to myself on every single downhill the next day.
- Ravioli (carbs, yum!)- Myself and the Runner’s World ladies (Megan, Caitlin, Laura and Lindsey) went to an Italian restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey called Café Fina to carb up before the big day. Our waiter was hysterical and I’m pretty sure he thought we were all crazy for running a marathon.
- Driving the course- After dinner, Megan, Laura, Jeff and I hopped into Jeff’s white Mini and took a drive down Highway 1 to review the course (and take a ton of pictures). I was a bit hesitant about driving the course before racing it. I thought either I’d get really intimidated and become even more nervous than I already was, or I would feel more prepared and ready to go into the race knowing what lay ahead. Luckily for me, I came out of it the latter, feeling prepared and less intimidated than I felt by simply looking at the elevation chart. I took mental notes about where the hills were, when I needed to save my legs and when I should look around and take in all the views. (The answer for that last point is- look at the views all the time. The entire course is so unbelievably picturesque that it’s impossible not to appreciate every moment of it. )
- Race day nerves- I must have had quite the nervous look on my face when I got to the hotel lobby for our 4:30 a.m. bus ride to the start, because people either steered clear of me or tried to console me somehow. Except when I told them it was my first marathon, many of them gave me a look of concern and said something along the lines of, “Well, I’m sure you’ll be fine.” That didn’t help.
- Race game plan- I decided to hang back in Wave 2 and start with the 4:30 pacer. The rest of the RW ladies hung back with me so I had some support while we waited for the race to start. As I stood there, listening to the race announcer over the loud speaker, I was in my own head going over my race plan, deciding how I was going to run this, what my mantras were and what I was going to do if it got too hard.
- Big Sur, Boston and doves- Big Sur has a unique partnership with the Boston Marathon in their Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge where runners run both marathons, less than two weeks apart. Because of the bombings at this year’s Boston Marathon, the B2B Challenge seemed even more special. A man from the B.A.A. served as the official race starter and they released white doves (something they always do) right before the bullhorn started the race.
- And we’re off!- Before I knew it the bullhorn sounded again and it was time to go! The first four miles of Big Sur are a complete downhill and in the strategy session I learned I should take these first few miles extremely slow to save my quads for the hills that were to come. The only problem is a lot of people don’t know this and they take the first few miles hard and try to bank time. Not a good idea. So as I was taking it slow, other runners were passing me in waves. I didn’t get discouraged though because I knew I was on my way to running a smart race and it definitely paid off in the end.
- Confidence boost- I got a bit of a rush around mile 5 or 6 (I can’t remember) and the Runner’s World truck went by with Bart, Amby Burfoot and Warren (Runner’s World brand manager) in it. They actually spotted me too and started beeping and yelling “GO HANNAH! LOOKING STRONG!” When Amby, the 1968 Boston Marathon winner, and Bart, the mayor of running, tell you you’re looking strong as you’re running a marathon, you can’t help but get a little confidence boost.
- Along the course I saw– a whale (!), taiko drummers, the piano man, some pretty good bands, cows (moo!), and lots of happy volunteers!
- Hurricane Point (dun, dun, dun…)– I had settled into a really slow and steady pace in preparation for Hurricane Point, the 2-mile stretch from mile 10 to 12 where the course ascends more than 500 feet. Everyone talks about Hurricane Point like it is Mt. Everest so of course I prepared as much as I possibly could by doing hill workouts and making my long runs pretty hilly. The taiko drummers were set up at the base of the incline at the mile 10 marker and that got me pumped to run up this infamous hill. The verdict? I’m glad I did all those hill workouts because honestly, I didn’t think Hurricane Point was that bad and I HATE hills. The incline is a gradual 6 percent ascent and it twists and turns so you never get a glimpse of the whole thing. Climbing for 2-miles is no easy task, don’t take this as me diminishing it, but for me it helped to not be able to see the entirety of the hill. I knew it ended around mile 12 so I just waited until I saw the mile marker and once I did I knew it was over.
- For every uphill, there’s a downhill– Once I got up to Hurricane Point I was greeted with a long downhill, about a 9 percent elevation drop. This descent allowed me to catch my breathe but Jen’s mantra came back into my head, “Gentle, gentle, gentle.”
- Bixby Bridge and we’re halfway there!– This downhill spits runners out onto the iconic Bixby Bridge at mile 13. I couldn’t believe I was already at mile 13 when I saw the bridge- I was halfway there! I saw the pianist and it was amazing how his melodies echoed throughout the entire area. I could hear him playing from across the bridge!
- The weather and the wind– The weather was near perfect for the entire race. It was clear in the beginning but became slightly overcast. It also wasn’t too warm at any point during the race and I felt pretty comfortable. The one factor was the wind which was so strong at points, I felt like I was moving in slow motion.
- Camaraderie and a new running friend– I met Sabrina around mile 20. We had been going back and forth, chasing each other for the last couple of miles and decided to support each other the rest of the way. I knew she would be a good running partner when I told her I couldn’t talk and she said, “I can’t either.” This was her second marathon and she was aiming for a PR. I told her it was my first and I was aiming to finish.
- Carmel Highlands– We were about to enter the Carmel Highlands, arguably the hardest portion of Big Sur. The Highlands are the last few miles of the course and they include some steep hills and the canter of the road is hard on your legs. My running buddy, Sabrina, and I took these hills easy and willed each other up and over them. We stayed on pace, checked with each other at the water stops to see if we needed anything and kept trudging along. We stopped around mile 23 to get the fresh strawberries we had heard so much about (if you ever run Big Sur, do this! They are amazing) and continued along the route.
- Mile 25 hill– At mile 25 an insult of a hill hits you like a slap in the face. Thank God Sabrina was with me here because at this point in the race, I just wanted to see the finish line and if I never saw a hill again it would be too soon.
- 200 meters– When we hit mile 26 she said she was on pace for that PR and before we knew it, the yellow finish line was in sight. I started to get emotional and we both took all the energy we had left to finish the last 200 meters of the marathon. As we came barreling down to the finish line we grabbed hands and threw our arms into the sky and she said, “You’re going to be a marathoner!” We crossed the finish line in step with one another and she gave me a huge hug. She got her PR and I became a marathoner.
Sabrina and I parted ways soon after crossing the finish but Megan was right there to capture my post-marathon reaction face and give me a huge hug. I got my medal, a hand-crafter ceramic medal with a leather necklace, and we headed over to the RW Challenge tent. The first person I wanted to find was Jen since she was the one who convinced me to train for the marathon in the first place. I went up to her and said, “Jen, I did it!” and she just gave me a hug and said, “Look at you, marathoner!”
I finished the marathon in 4:33:41 and came in 28th in my age group, not shabby for my first 26.2! I was so proud of the other RW ladies who cleaned up the rest of our age group category. The entire experience was more than I ever could have imagined it would be. I’m planning on writing another post in the coming days about what it really meant to me but I had to get all the memories down on paper before they left my mind. But honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever forget Big Sur.
The race director talked to me before the race and had told me, “You’re life will change when you cross that finish line.” After I finished he found me in the Challenge tent and asked, “So, was I right?” I smiled and said, “Absolutely.”