Monday, February 18, 2008

Big Sur: back, for a marathon-rama

This long Presidents' Day weekend we were touring the magnificent Central Coast of California. We went down to San Luis Obispo by the highway 101 and drove up along the coast on Highway 1 to Monterey. After my Costal Challenge, that was even more of a coastal journey.

When Agnès shared the details of the route last week --she is our master travel agent and handles all the logistics, perfectly-- I said I'd run only once over the weekend, on the mythical route of the Big Sur International Marathon (BSIM). Easy, as I'm still fighting an inflammation/tendinitis below the inside of my left knee. And with a camera to give a sense of the course to the lucky and happy few who will be running this marathon this year and/or the following years (Big Sur is limited to a about 3,000 runners and has such an earned reputation for being the most scenic marathon in the US, it always fills up very quickly).

There are very few cases of meteorological conditions which prevent me to run. But it's not the case with photography. I find it so much more difficult to take good pictures when the sky is grey or it's foggy. Unfortunately, I could not wait for another day, or week, it had to be this Monday.

Last time I ran on this course was in 2000, for the 15th edition. I ended up walking a lot, suffering from asthma. In 4:00:25, it was my second worst marathon after the 5 hours of Phoenix (asthma again). Particularly embarrassing as my parents were at the finish and my father, a Medical Doctor, finding marathon not that healthy, a sport too tough on the body. Hmm, what about ultra then, and running four marathons in a row in one day...

My goal today was to take it easy, taking pictures along the way, yet faster than in 2000, to erase the bad memory of 2000. My second goal was to describe the course with pictures so new comers to this marathon could visualize better what they are up to. However, on Friday, I found out that there is already a great virtual tour on the official BSIM website. Yet, that didn't change my initial plan, which included taking pictures to make sure I was not going too fast and also as a way to better enjoy the views along the 26 miles. Bottom line, here is my own version of the virtual tour. See the official one for the textual description of each mile-long section, but I'm focusing more on the pictures. Here is for instance the legendary Bixby Bridge, over pristine and turquoise waters.

Agnès, the boys and our visitors (Agnès' aunt and Henri) dropped me off at the start and I left the Big Sur (Ranger) Station by 1pm. The temperature was in the low 50s with a low grey sky covering the mountains along the coast. The traffic was quite important but not too bad/heavy on a holiday. The worst parts of the course were while running next to cars driving at 50 mph on the narrow historical bridges which have no sidewalk. At the start:

I ran with two Ultimate Direction bottles, one filled with water, one with GU2O. That would have been sufficient although I was happy to get additional water when Agnès and the crew passed me at mile 23. 1 GU, 1 Mars bar, 1 S-Cap, I didn't need much to maintain a slower pace than usual. With 145 pictures taken, and maybe 10 seconds for each, that's 24 minutes I had to recover and catch my breath. Otherwise I was running close to 6 mn/mile on the flat sections, just above 7 mn/mile on the uphills (there are quite a few) and got the Garmin down to 5:15 mn/mile on some long downhills. Several time along the way I was thinking of Michael Kanning, our young local ultra running star (see Helen Klein 50-mile), who was trying to break 3 hours (or 6:52 average mn/mile) this weekend at the fast and flat Austin Marathon. For his first marathon, after having run 50Ks, 50-milers and one 100-miler! Unfortunately, I just saw that he didn't reach his goal but 3:09:53, a very honorable time for a 16-year old first timer! Way to go, Michael, way to go, Ultra for a Cure! 16, I was not even running at this age but just playing soccer!

Back to my run, I let you enjoy some amazing views along the course, in my Picasa album. Apart from the first miles where we follow a nice river going down to the sea, the rest is pretty much along the wonderful inhabited coast of Central California, until you reach Carmel Highlands, a few miles from the finish. And even between Carmel Highlands and Carmel, you are back in a very natural environment with the Point Lobos State Reserve for instance. Oh, my time? 3:17:48, thanks for checking. An easy Boston qualifier, although unofficial, for what it is worth anyway for my new career in ultra running. And so much pounding on the road...

Speaking of pounding, I was glad to run in my new Brooks Trance 7. A lot of cushioning and exemplary stability. Quite key when running 26 miles on asphalt, and exclusively on the left side of the road (against the traffic), a constant transversal incline of a few degrees, tough for the knees.

In addition to the series of pictures posted in my album, the other key element to help you visualize the course is the elevation chart. Here is the one from the BSIM website:
And my Garmin recording:
Although the trends are the same, and tracking elevation is not Garmin's specialty, I'd say that my chart is more detailed and accurate, less "smoothen" than the official web site one. At least we all agree that the ascent to Hurricane Point starts at the mile 10 mark and span over 2 miles for a 500-ft elevation gain. Other indication from the Garmin: a total of +1,082/-1,203 ft elevation gain/loss. Here is a view from the climb to Hurricane Point, around mile 10.5:
The course recorded by my Garmin Forerunner 205 is posted:
Overall, definitely a must if you have not run this marathon already. Be prepared for some hills, and don't come to set a PR if that is what you are after. But come enjoy the views and the joy of pacing yourself between the fast downhills (and beware of the first mile, like Boston...) and long but very runnable uphills. As for mixing running and photography, it is a bit like the Biathlon, where you mix Nordic Skiing and Riffle Shooting. A new sport?

As Bart Yasso of Runer's World says on the BSIM website: "If we were told that we could run only one marathon in our lifetime, Big Sur would have to be it."

Wishing you the best to enter this event and run it. And, if you are not up to it, hope you enjoyed this virtual marathon, this virtual tour, from you desk!


Donald said...

Hey - that's my hometown race! I'm glad you were able to enjoy it. A good tip to include is that there's very little shoulder on the majority of the road, so it can be dangerous to try a solo run at times.

Peter Lubbers said...

Nice post, Jean. It brings back memories -- I ran Big Sur as my first official marathon in '04.

Anonymous said...

Beau et émotionnant souvenir! mais qui peut être dangereux d'après Donald...

willgotthardt said...

Terrific post/pics...see you at WTC.

Will G.

Chris O'Keefe said...

Amazed you could run such a great time and take so many pictures. Great job.

Dave - Atlanta Trails said...

Thanks for this up-close-and-personal tour of this course. It's certainly on my list!

Anonymous said...

I found your pictures via the BSIM forums on I'm even more excited to see it all for myself in 28 days - even got a new camera to take my own pics. Thanks!!

Jeanne in Ohio

Vape Chick said...

Beautiful photos, Jean! I have always wanted to run Big Sur- maybe I'll sign up for 2013 :-)