Warning: This is a long post with lots of pictures (hey! it's my first marathon!). Please enjoy!
I did it!!!!!!! I'm a marathoner. It was amazing, emotional, difficult, painful, beautiful, life changing. Everything I hoped it would be.
Let's start with the road trip. Not only was this my first marathon, but it was my first race that I traveled to - definitely out of my element here. My amazing parents picked Ricky and I up on Friday morning at the crack of dawn to hit the road and beat the LA traffic and make it to Highway 101. We made it to Santa Barbara for a nice acai breakfast bowl at Backyard Bowls by 7:30am. This was a nice experience in itself because I was the only one who'd ever had an acai bowl before and everyone else was pretty skeptical. I can safely say there are 3 more people in the world that love acai now.
We jumped back on the road and made it to Cambria, this gorgeous little seaside town just past Morro Bay, in time for lunch. Finally we made it to Highway 1 and hit up the awesome Elephant Seals just after this. As we kept getting deeper into Big Sur, the roads got more and more windy and my mom almost lost her stomach. She hated every second of the drive and barely got out of the car to take this awesome photo.
Finally, we hit Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and Big Sur Station - the starting line of the Marathon. My Dad reset the odometer so I could really see what kind of hills I was up against. And they were brutal. All my Dad kept saying was, "Did you know it was going to be this hilly when you signed up?!?!" No... I'm a moron and didn't even look at the course elevation until 2 months after signing up.Thanks, Dad.
We arrived at our cute little hotel, Casa Munras, in Monterey at 4pm. An 11 hour drive, but worth every second. At this point, I was feeling deeply discouraged about my goal of a sub 4 hour marathon after driving up the course. Ricky and I walked over to the expo because it didn't close until 6. Sampled tons of stuff and got my bib! Dinner. Bed. Goodnight.
On Saturday, my BFF, Tess, came down from San Francisco to stay and cheer for me on Sunday. We spent a few hours at the Monterey Bay Aquarium which was awesome, and then made our way back to the expo to make it to one of the sessions Bart Yasso was hosting - Tips from Veterans on How to Tackle the Big Sur Course... or something like that. They gave tips on what to wear, how the weather would be, but we got there after they talked about the hills. So, we stayed after it ended and I waited to talk to Bart Yasso to get the scoop. Super exciting to meet him - such a cool guy. I told him this was my first marathon and I was worried about the hills. He told me people make this course sound more tough than it is - go out slow, the first 5 miles are easy, so people burn themselves out on the later tough miles by going too fast at the start. Best advice ever.
Saturday night was the pasta dinner. Not only was Big Sur my first marathon, it was also my first time raising money for a charity (which is actually how I got into this race - thanks ZERO!). ZERO - The End of Prostate Cancer is a great organization and I really enjoyed working with them over the last few months. A few of us met at the pasta dinner and Julie, the fundraising manager and our contact at Zero, came out from Washington D.C. for the race. We had a great time and I was super full afterwards. Buffets are not my ideal option for a pre-race meal because I never know when to stop at those things. When we left I was stuffed. We walked back to the hotel and I laid out all of my things for the morning. No real nerves kept me up and I'm pretty sure I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow at 9.
Race Day!!! Finally it was here. I woke up at 3 to catch my bus at 4. Once I was ready, I said goodbye to everyone and my Dad drove me the half mile to my bus stop. I'm glad he did because it was freezing. They have you an option to check a gear bag at the start, but I'm a minimalist and don't want to worry about losing things, so all I wore over my running gear was 2 old long sleeve tech shirts from the Surf City marathons. There was a huge line for the bus and I wondered how they were going to fit everyone, but they did! Our bus left around 4:20, and this sweet girl, Jen, sat next to me. We chatted and she was a local in Monterey, but this was her first time running Big Sur. She was hoping to finish in 5 hours, but was nervous about the hills like I was. We made it to the starting line about 50 minutes later and there were tons of people parked everywhere trying to rest their legs.
Jen and I stuck together and found a spot to rest and eat our pre-race fuel. Around 6:10 they called the last wave up - they have to push everyone back on highway one, so the last wave (4:45 and above finish times) goes up first. After Jen left I went to the porta potty line, did my business, and then got in line again... I did not want to risk anything!
I made my way to the start around 6:35. On my way up the hill on Highway 1, I ran into Jacque! She is a sweetheart that I know through Instagram (@j4she_runs)! She's been following me and finally commented on one of my running posts before the marathon saying she was running Big Sur too. She was using Big Sur as a training run for Mountains2Beach Marathon in May, where she hopes to qualify for Boston. We parted ways and then I saw Neil and Jody! Neil was part of Team Zero and the fundraising, and Jody was doing the Boston to Big Sur Challenge. We met the night before at the pasta dinner. We snapped some photos and then it was time for Wave 1 to go! We moved up to the start and all said our well wishes. I still wasn't nervous and overly excited - I knew I wanted to follow Bart's advice and not go out to fast.
As soon as we started, I had to pee. I know - this is the worst thing that happens to me at races because I can't just step out of the restroom and start running. I didn't want to get further into the race because restrooms were only near aid stations and I didn't want to stop on tired legs. Just after mile 2, I made it to the restroom. Whew! Now I could run. When I stepped out of the porto potty, the 3:45 pacer had just passed. I had to catch him. My goal was under 4, but at the expo, I got an Asics Pace Band for a 3:45 finish in the hopes I could surprise myself. I caught him and then he was well behind me and I didn't see him for a majority of the race.
Once we got past mile 5, we weren't protected by the trees anymore, and the wind started to pick up. It was everywhere. They tell you to find a big guy to run behind, but that didn't help - the wind was coming from all directions and it was hard to find a pack of runners that I could run in. So, I just pushed it. I wanted to make it to Hurricane Point at mile 10 quickly and then assess how much I had left in the tank. The downhill leading to Hurricane Point is fast - I was hitting 7:20 pace here. I just remember looking at my watch thinking it was too fast, but I knew how much I would slow going uphill, that I kept going. After reaching the summit at Mile 12, I looked back at the recommendation of one of my Instagram buds and it was breathtaking and fulfilling to see how far I had risen on the mountain.
And the hills just kept coming, mile after mile, up and down. From a 7:15 pace to a 9:20 pace. It was tough. I took my Honey Stinger gels religiously at the scheduled miles - 6, 12, 18. By the time I took the third, it was not tasting very good. I had half a Nuun tablet in my 6 oz. water bottle. That ran out around mile 18, and I stopped unwillingly at mile 20 for a refill.
Surprisingly, my legs felt pretty good the entire race. Even after I stopped for water, I felt strong. The week before my race, all of my runs were at a much slower pace (8:30-8:40 average), but I kept getting a really bad side stitch under my left rib cage. I'm not sure where or why this came on because I wasn't doing anything different and made sure to take in more water. It was strange - well, that side stitch hit me at mile 21. It was debilitating. Going uphill was a relief because I was able to push down on it, where going downhill caused the muscles to spread open. I kept taking in water, thinking it might be dehydration. I also tried breathing out every few times my right foot hit the ground. Nothing worked. I started to tear up because of the pain and how much it slowed me down. At mile 23, the 3:45 pacer jogged past me. I knew that dream was over, but I wasn't going to stop running. I couldn't get back under a 10 minute mile. Here were my splits if you're interested:
Mile 1 - 8:12 Mile 14 - 7:45
Mile 2 - 8:20 Mile 15 - 8:19
Mile 3 - 8:25 Mile 16 - 8:16
Mile 4 - 8:05 Mile 17 - 8:03
Mile 5 - 8:09 Mile 18 - 8:41
Mile 6 - 8:06 Mile 19 - 8:26
Mile 7 - 8:16 Mile 20 - 8:52
Mile 8 - 8:30 Mile 21 - 8:40
Mile 9 - 8:41 Mile 22 - 9:34
Mile 10 - 7:36 Mile 23 - 10:24
Mile 11 - 9:39 (Hurricane Point) Mile 24 - 10:15
Mile 12 - 8:50 Mile 25 - 9:46
Mile 13 - 7:32 Mile 26 - 10:03
Finally crossed the finish line in 3:48:49 in tears. I pulled my left headphone out of my ear because I knew that someone would be yelling at me. I heard my Dad yell at me right as I crossed the finish line. I walked to him and started bawling. Then I saw my Mom and Tess and finally Ricky stopped taking photos and came to give me a hug. So emotional. I felt like I was going to vomit for a while. My ankles and lower legs were so sore from the hills.
Post race I was exhausted. I went to the massage tent and got some food, and then we left for the hotel. I left it all out there. And it was amazing. I didn't take any photos during the race like many other runners were, but the beauty of this race will be embedded in my mind forever. Now I know what I can do. If I can finish in 3:48:49 on such a hilly, windy course, give me a flat race and I think I can qualify for Boston.
I just wanted to thank everyone who has offered me advice, support, and encouragement and followed along throughout this journey. Without that, I know my own self-doubt would have ruined me. When there are other people invested in your success, and you are equally invested in their's, the challenges in life become easier and goals become more attainable.