Big Sur International Marathon

GPS Output of the Big Sur International Marathon Route

(the only picture – Las Vegas killed my camera)

I ran the BSIM (their acronym, not mine) Sunday, April 29th.

After a needlessly long drive down (thank you to the 12,000 people that wanted to go to Half Moon Bay on a sunny Saturday – though Half Moon Bay was completely fogged in), we rolled in to Monterey, or Pacific Grove, more precisely.

As usual Hotwire was like that friend who always has “a hookup”, but the “hookup” is always of dubious value. I keep biting on this line, and here’s why: I may never get the BEST deal for my money, but I know that I’ll never get completely screwed from a price perspective. Combine that with the fact that by taking out the supplier names they completely commododize the lodging purchase experience (“here’s what I’ll pay for a 3 star hotel, so all 3 star hotels must be equal…”), thus making my decision-making process even easier, and I keep comin’ back.

I’d never been to Pacific Grove before, but hands down this is where I will stay the next time I come to the Monterey Peninsula. 5 minutes from downtown Monterey, funky cool downtown strip (and they’re not trying to be cool, in STARK contrast to Monterey), and we were at Asilomar State Park Beach in a 5 minute walk from our hotel.

After picking up race packets, chips, etc., we decided to get some food. We were both starving. Now, to my warped brain, I need as much food as possible at this point; I haven’t eaten in 6 hours (an eternity for me), it’s still early (plenty of time to digest), and I can use the fuel tomorrow.

To what did my wondering eyes appear but an Indian Buffet. Now, better minds than mine will immediately realize that this is the single most retarded thing that one could eat before a marathon, or any test of endurance, for that matter. But again, those minds are better than mine.

We proceeded to slam home the requisite 2000 calories each in pursuit of our own Nirvana. I went with about a 90/10 veggie/meat ratio. Pros: vegetables are good for you (and the planet). Cons: I ate about 2 pounds of daal (lentils). See where this is going? And yes, this is the same fearless correspondent that decided to eat 7 Gu’s and have a cup of coffee as breakfast before a half marathon just a few months ago – to disastrous effect…

Properly sated, we jumped in the hoopty, got back to Pacific Grove, and took a nice long walk in Asilomar. What a cool place. This reminded me incredibly of my ill-fated adventure(s) in Isla Negra, Chile. The climate and physical environment are dead-on. I played around in some tidepools like the pretend scientist I am, spouting off half-facts that I’ve picked up from National Geographic and the like over the years, playing with snails, and making big sea anenomes (sp) contract when I touch them.

Being in central time for the week prior had some advantages, as my body was used to going to sleep at a fairly early hour by California standards. This was a huge help, as we had to be back in Monterey by 4:15am Sunday morning to catch our bus down to the starting line.

I’m not going to take the space to explain the bussing system here, but this is a point to point race up US 1, and you just have to get up that early. Fact. So we did.

The morning’s bus ride was uneventful, though it was interesting to gauge how experienced people were by the amount of excitement in their voices at 4:15am. For my part, I was trying to sleep during our 50 minute ride.

So the buses dump you at some state park (wish I remembered which) in the full-on dark about an hour before starting gun. That sounds like a lot, but with the dual necessities/lines of port-o-lets & food/coffee, it was just about perfect, and we were queuing up just past “runrise”.

This was my first time out at the marathon distance, knew that I had NOT trained properly, but for some reason was still completely calm about the whole endeavor. I did log the distance runs, though not the overall volume needed to be successful at this distance, but worse of all, I had done more than “taper” – I had just basically stopped running for the almost three weeks prior to the race. Work had been calling, and the whole week before I was locked up in a conference room in Minneapolis for work.

After some serious pep talking from the MC, we were off. Wow! There was none of the froggering for position (or less, anyway) that has been typical in every other race I’ve run. Could this just be the marathon distance? Or is it that BSIM is a favorite first marathon, and everyone was smart enough to go out slow in respect of the course? Either way, I was happy that the whole world seemed to be running within about 30 seconds of my pace, so holes opened naturally for advancement.

This course is hilly by marathon standards (i guess, though I say that as a first-time marathon runner… about 1300′ of vert. by my GPS based calculations), though you could still hear groans in the pack when the next ascent became visible. Thankfully, hills were the one area where my training was up to snuff.

So life was good, I was rolling along at a super casual pace (9:15s or so), when IT first presented itself. IT came on pretty mellow, more as a request than anything, but had the edge of a request to be honored. Portapotties were abundant on this course, so I stopped at the first bank that had no line – around M4/5.

So with IT taken care of, I was back on the road, having fun. The course is dominated by an almost exactly 2 mile/550ft. climb up to Hurricane Point. I was loving the fact that I had climbed a lot of hills in the Headlands during training, that it was a nice low grade, and that I had the good sense to stay totally aerobic on this thing (incredible how many people were trying to charge this thing like Bunker Hill. I wanted to dish advice but knew better – this is my first marathon, who am I?).

At the top of Hurricane point (aptly exactly 13.1 miles in to the course) they were dishing out free Gu. PERFECT! I’ve taken care of IT, and can use some fuel after that climb. I take, well, let’s say “many” gus, and suck 2 down right then.

Oh yeah, my first one was called “espresso love“.

So no surprise (to the intelligent reader, and I do not count myself in that group) that IT came back about 2-3 miles later.

Man, this is getting inconvenient, I think to myself – it’s not like they’re stopping the timer for me while I’m sitting in the portapotty.

But back on the road, I was again enraptured in my movement and the surroundings. From a phyisical perspective I had 3 main phases to the race:

-feeling good: miles 0-13 – self-explanatory

-seeing what was ahead: 13-20 – this is where I felt very manageable from a pain perspective, but was mentally charting the correlation between distance and pain, and saw what was coming.

-managing to the finish: 20-26.2 – around 19/20 I was playing a dangerous mental game – trying to simultaneously consider my goal time of 3:50 and conversely ensure that I did not have a total melt down if I went out too hard with too much road left to run

So back to the action at hand – miles 13-19 are passing, along with the incredible scenery, and IT is coming and going.

The vistas were incredible in the last third of the course, the first two thirds somewhat less so because of some spectacular fog. This did serve to keep the temperatures down and sun exposure manageable.

Around M20 things started changing. I had allowed myself to do run/walk intervals, and this wasn’t part of the plan. While I had taken advantage of each and every opportunity to get off the pavement and on to the grass/gravel shoulders, my knees were NOT designed for distance running on any paved surface, and they were adament in communicating that to me.

In the end I think that I was better served by walking part of each hill and running the rest: Yes, I blew my goal time – but that’s because I spent about 12 minutes total inside portapotties, but I can walk normally today.

The somewhat famed “D Minor Hill at D Major Time” was aptly named. I realllllllllly could have done without this shit hill (100 foot vert, max?) at the 25 mile marker. I was kind of toasted.

Strawberry hill, on the other hand (where locals have just set up a table and are cutting and passing out strawberries), has to be the coolest and kindest thing I can imagine at that point in the race.

Other roadside highlights were the locals outside smoking a bowl and cheering wildly around mile 2, the live reggae band around mile 24, the guys who had camped around M15 and were spinning dub reggae, etc. while they fried up breakfast on their camping stove, and the hundreds of volunteers from local schools – these kids were awesome!

Drawing across the finish line I manged to be one of the few who got a personal mention from the MC (when your chip crosses the line it shows on a screen in real time) – “Ryan Gamlin, did you have a fun race today?”.

Yes, all-in, I did.

I didn’t make my time, but I definitely ran my race. I couldn’t have gone any faster (a bit of double entendre for you there, dear reader. total IT count during the race 4! Enough of my dumb-assed pre-race nutrition). I could have trained with more volume, but I trained to a point where it occupied an amount of my life that made me happy, as opposed to begrudging my training sessions.

There was a complex mix of emotions after the finish, which I attribute to the fact that I had just run (what is for me) a fairly long ways, with a bunch of other people around (this was a great race for meeting and running with nice people), and knew that it was the culmination of a lot of hard (enjoyable) work.

No races on my calendar until Angel Island – one of my favorite trail races ever. I had told myself that this was going to be a summer to climb, cycle noncompetitively, and relax, but there’s a part of me that wants to find the next race already…


another runner with a more enviable story and time shares his writeup here

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