04 May 2011

Big Sur Race Report

A few years ago I was talking to a doctor about a pain I was experiencing in my left foot. He had made a comments along the lines of "An athletic girl like you..." I stopped him to assure him that I was not an athletic girl. He quickly tried to prove to my that I am an athletic girl. I didn't believe him.

Some days, I still struggle to identify with that label.

And even though I run (a lot), I struggle to identify as a runner because I am never fast enough. I have issues.

Because of these issues, I procrastinate when it comes to making decisions and plans. When it came to a training plan, I remember sitting down in January a week before having to start training realizing that I had to actually commit to a training plan. I had run the Big Sur 21 Miler in 2010 by modifying a plan that I found in a book called Marathoning for Mortals. I decided to go with what was familiar. Two big mistakes there.
1.) Using a plan for a book called Marathoning for Mortals and
2.) not pushing myself to something more rigorous.

In short, I was afraid.

I was afraid that I wouldn't survive the long runs.
I was afraid that I would exhaust myself with more mileage.
I was afraid that I would alienate my family with too much running.

During the course of my training, I ran one 20 miler, one 18 miler, one 16 miler. All other "long runs" were shorter than that. I now know that I needed more long runs of this caliber.

I know. I fail.

I don't want to even calculate my mile per week average, but I'm guestimating that it is maybe around 24 mpw. Too few miles.

I know. I fail.

I am proud of the hillwork that I attempted. I live in this thing called a Valley. Flat. Flat. Flat. I would run the overpass near my house which is nearly .2 miles from end to end. I would run this repeatedly. I was actually proud of how many reps I could do.

Yet I failed when it came to the hills of Big Sur.

Essentially I got the time that I deserved. This is what happens when you are meek. And this is what happens when you get your plan from a book co-authored by a man who willingly calls himself "The Penguin.

Don't be like me. Don't be meek.

Woke up at 4 am on Saturday morning to get ready so that we could get in the car by 4:30. We had to be in Pacific Grove by sevenish for our son's 3K. I was going to run it with him.

That little race deserved in own little race report in which I skewer some tacky adults who led a contingent from an elementary school to the front of the start line after there were tons of little kids already there pushing everyone roughly back. So tacky. This is the only time that I have experience utter self-centeredness and rudeness like this at a race start line.* Way to be a role model.

My son paced himself well through the 3K (which I am pretty sure wasn't measured very accurately --Garmin says 1.58 miles) and kicked at the end. This was our second 3K together.

Then it was Expo time. I failed to purchase anything. This may have been my lone victory of the weekend. I made up for it when I went to REI, which really shouldn't be legal. It's that good.

My family and I then drove Highway 1 looking at the sites, like this one:

After sightseeing, I transition to worrying. I started worrying about food and what I was and was not eating. Was the pizza enough? What should I have for dinner? I then grew exceedingly peevish and knew that I needed a nap.

Since it was too late for a nap, I needed to go to sleep. A few minutes of reading A Game of Thrones did the trick.**

I easily woke up at 3:45 am. Made myself coffee and some cereal and when through the ritual of getting ready for a run. The ritual involves a dance of worry. Did I remember to grab every thing that I require*** to run?

My saint of a husband drops me off at the bus stop at 4:30 am. I immediately board a bus and fifteen minutes later arrive at Marathon Village, where I wait in the cold for two hours for race time. While uncomfortable, it was still easier than the marathon. (Safeway was open, but as it was out of my sight, I didn't even know that I could have been hanging out in the cereal aisle of a supermarket staying warm. Boo!)

I did happen to see former Biggest Loser contestant Ada Wong exit a port-a-potty and proceed to wash her hands. No one seemed to notice her or go up to her. Does she even count as a celebrity?

Ten minutes later, I had a moment of panic when a mass of runners all attempting to check their sweats seem to conspire against me and my need to make it to my corral on time. Others are in a similar situation. Panic ensues. People start to toss their sweat bags at the truck. I handed mine over, turned around and WHACK! I am hit by an errant flying sweat bag. This was BAD OMEN #1.

I didn't make it to my corral until AFTER the National Anthem was played. Yep. BAD OMEN #2.

After excessive banter and use of alliteration by Bart Yasso and the race announcer, my corral is off. Yay! Finally it begins. The beginning implies an end. Let's do this.

And then. A mere third of a mile or so into the race, runners were running around or leaping over a dead skunk, belly up, entrails out. Let's call this BAD OMEN #3. It stunk.

And so would my race.

I've run a half-marathon and half-marathon distance training runs with no walk breaks. I can do that. I knew that I would have to take walk breaks for this marathon. I was prepared for that inevitability. I just am upset about how many walk breaks I was seduced into. (That's right. I used the passive voice. Some nameless entity--perhaps the camber of the road, the relentless hills, or the heat seduced me into walking. It wasn't me. I abdicate all responsibility.)

Observe how I was seduced into walking:

It looks like a bloody seismograph towards the end. So utterly disappointing.

I don't remember much around the mile markers, but I do recall feel too tired for just having run ten miles. Ten miles normally doesn't tire me out at all. This little seed of worry grew and I believe it aided in the whole seduction into walking.

At one point I needed to go to the bathroom. I want to say that this was around the mile 18 mark. This was the most difficult experience (and another clue that I was not being helped by the running gods.) I felt fine until I stopped moving. Then the world began to spin. Since I was in the port-a-potty, I held my 12 oz handheld water bottle by my teeth. Mind you, the world is spinning. I somehow have to get a seat protector down, my shorts down, and land successfully on said sheet protector, all while the world spins. I somehow got out of their alive, relieved, and clean thanking my lucky stars that I never dropped my water or my iPod or my sunglasses.

The spinning subsides with forward motion, but I was definitely woozy. I don't think that you can fight your way out of woozy. Nevertheless, I soldiered on.

At mile 20, I attempted to take Gu to alleviate wooziness, and the Gu attempted to fight its way out of my esophagus and out of my mouth. I mentally willed myself to a.) not vomit and b.) get the darn energy gel down! Mind over gut! I walked about 6/10th of mile 20.

I guess that is what they mean by the wall.

Around mile 22, the marathoners were directed to run through Point Lobos State Park while the 21 miler went ahead to the finish. I hated making that left into the park, but I was sort of glad that I did because this kind elderly man read my bib and grabbed my attention and made full eye contact with me and said, "Tara, you are a winner!" It was so sweet. I sort didn't want to make the old man a liar. So I kept trying to "win." (I've lost both of my grandfathers, so I like to think that any elderly guy out there who purposely talks to me while running is simply some version of my grandfathers. This is corny, I realize. But I am human, and sometimes we are this way.)

After exiting Point Lobos, I felt as if I could at least walk the final 2.2 miles and finish. It sunk in that I was going to finish. That felt good. Fleetingly. I pushed onward. I ran all the downhill and flat until hitting the final brutal hill. I had nothing for the hill but the knowledge that I could walk it fast. And I did. EVERYONE was walking this hill, so I wasn't alone in my misery. (Note: I know hyperbole and exaggeration. I'm not employing here. Quite literally all were walking that hill.)

After cresting the hill, you can see the flags of the finish line ahead in the distance. I ran. I have a rule that I have to always run the finish because it is filled with spectators and I have to save face. I didn't see my husband and son, but they saw me and got the pictures. Garmin says I ran pretty damn fast. I must have really wanted it to be over.

Finish line. Clock time: 5:32:24 (Tag time 5:24:35). High fives. Medal awarded. Sought food. Cried with disappointment. No initial joy for having completed a marathon other than the joy of no more running that day.

On the drive home my husband surprised me with jewelry:

I count the fact that I did not experience a migraine as a victory. I experienced migraine after my first half-marathon and my 21 miler last year. No migraine means I did something right.

I was pouty for a few days. Then I put the date for the 2012 Big Sur International Marathon on my calendar, and I researched running CIM.

I'm guess I'm coming back for more.


*Note: I do not believe that these adults were runners in any way shape of form. I based 90% of this on their behavior and 10% of this on their stature. Yes. I went there. I'm mean.

**This is not a criticism of this book. At all. I enjoy the book.

***Loose interpretation of the word. Of course.


  1. I love the gift the hubby got you. Thanks for sharing. :)

    Tara, you ARE a winner!

  2. Fantastic job Tara! What a great race for your first marathon!

  3. Excellent eye for detail! And expert deployment of the Yasso.

  4. Deployment of the Yasso should be the title of your next NaNoWriMo novel.