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The Big Sur marathon offers a chance to experience dramatic landscapes along Highway 1 while tackling a challenging course. For this reason, it’s considered a great destination race for runners across the globe. This marathon has been on my bucket list for years, as it combines two things I love: running, which started in high school not far from the finish line in Monterey, and Northern California, where I grew up. Big Sur in particular has always been a magical place for me, in part due to yearly camping trips with my family when I was young, which is why I wanted it to be the first marathon I ran in my home state!

E and I had already signed up for the marathon when an old friend of mine from high school asked if we would join his relay team, We Be Crazies. He’s been trying to get me to run for the last 7 years, but the timing was never quite right. Doing the relay and the marathon seemed a bit nuts, but apparently we could run Leg 1 (4.9 miles) and then continue onwards to complete the marathon. I was on the “A” open female team that won 1st place last year, which meant that I was expected to run as fast as possible for the first 5 miles. Not exactly ideal marathon pacing strategy, but I was never planning for this race to be a fast one, and I was excited for a potential podium finish!

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We flew in from NYC late Thursday night before the Sunday race, allowing us to stay on East Coast time. Very important when you have a 3am wakeup call race morning! We had a relaxing day at my parent’s house in Santa Cruz on Friday, including some nice walks on the beach to calm our taper crazies, and drove down to the expo on Saturday. The expo was small (you don’t need much time there) but had some great speakers. I particularly enjoyed meeting Bart Yasso – he shared an entertaining and powerful story about how he became the Chief Running Officer of RW, and all the adventures and health challenges that he has experienced since. His book is great too!

Bart’s main message was the following: you may not always have your health, but no one can take away your positive attitude or your passion for the sport. This proved very helpful on race day while being blown to pieces by crazy headwinds and feeling unusually fatigued early in the race. I could either think about how crappy I felt, or focus on the gorgeous views and how fortunate I was to be running in such a special part of the world. Attitude is everything!

The race was very well organized, with shuttles in several convenient locations. We stayed at the Hampton Inn (5 min walk from the shuttle at Embassy Suites), which was brand new and very comfy. It also was only a short drive from the expo (note – it says Monterey but really it is one block away from Seaside). The staff was great about letting us use their microwave to reheat our pre-race meals (salmon, zucchini and rice for lunch and pasta with mushrooms for dinner), and cooking oatmeal at 3am. As for gear, I had never run in my relay singlet and it was very big, so I layered it over my usual racing tank and the awkward baton fit nicely into my arm sleeve so I didn’t have to grip it.

The bus took about 75 minutes to get to the start line in Big Sur – a slow ride of peering out into the darkness. We got to the athlete village around 5:30am, which was extremely small and crowded (there isn’t much space to put everyone off of the highway). We were essentially dumped into a convoluted, massive line for the porta potties. Thankfully, the hilarious signs on each one kept us laughing. For example, “Tesla charging station,” “Las Vegas bus leaves here,” “Only for under 40 years old,” “Toasty 75 degrees inside,” and my favorite – “Condo for rent.” Not much of an exaggeration for California! The mile markers also had funny pictures and sayings – the race organizers definitely have a great sense of humor, and I appreciated the laughs while mentally toughing it out on the course.

Despite the crowds, we soon reunited with our fellow We Be Crazies Leg 1 runners. Because the highway remains open until 6am, the start line is only put up right before the race begins. They also load the corals differently – slowest runners first to get them further down the highway and fastest first. My friend encouraged me to start at the very front, which seemed crazy since my “fast” pace is slow compared to the front runners. But hey – it was my only opportunity to start at the very front of a major race, so I figured why not go for it! It was such a rush, running down that hill. I knew I would be passed immediately (and I was) at my 7:07 pace, however it was still awesome.

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The weather was cool and cloudy but fairly protected by the redwoods during my relay leg. It was so peaceful and mostly downhill – though certainly not “all downhill” as everyone kept saying (never believe that statement with regards to this race). There were several climbs though relative to the rest of the course, I suppose they were quite small. I felt strong and happy with my pacing, even though it would bite me later in the race.

After the handoff at mile 4.9, I felt sick. But sick = nice job on the relay! I shifted gears and slowed down to catch my breath and settle into a more sustainable pace. It wasn’t really a choice anyway as this was the point at which the roads opened up and the wind reared its ugly head! Large groups of runners kept passing me by, making me wish I could run fast enough to keep up so that I could get some protection from the wind. This sign definitely rubbed it in – all lies! Those hills felt endless…because they were.

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By mile 10 I was exhausted and the wind and slanted roads were taking a toll. I focused on how lucky I was to be there and on one of many long hills, the following mantra popped into m head: “Never ever ever give up.” I repeated it to myself over and over again and particularly while climbing hills to the rhythm of my feet.

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The taiko drums before hurricane point really locked in my mantra. You feel the sounds reverberate in your soul. These drums are a call to battle – in this case, the battle within against the never-ending hill! The fluid, powerful movements of the drummers were inspiring.

At the top of hurricane point it was so windy I literally could not move forward. It stopped me in my tracks and nearly blew me over! Good thing I ran during some crazy snowstorms back in NYC – who would’ve guessed it would be great Big Sur training? Usually you can make up time running downhill but the wind was so strong, it wasn’t worth the energy to push against it.

Bixby bridge was magical. We didn’t have blue skies like the last time I visited Big Sur, but the views were just as beautiful. You could hear the piano way before you even saw the bridge – the music floating faintly in the wind with sounds of crashing waves down below. This race clearly was not going to be a fast one, so I made sure to stop and really soak it in.

Just after the bridge, E cruised by me! I was beyond happy to see his face. He was looking strong and I could barely keep up with him at first. We settled into a slow but steady pace for 10 miles or so, occasionally saying a few words but mostly focusing on putting one foot in front of the other.

Around mile 22 or 23, I finally got my groove back while E started to fall behind. I needed to keep moving so we parted ways. I hit the strawberry aid station – yes, an aid station with super sweet, fresh local strawberries – where I ran into an old friend from college. Turns out she lives in the neighborhood, and since they’re blocked in for the day they have a party!

The slant of the roads was tough on the body – I tried to find a sweet spot on the road but getting comfortable was nearly impossible. It was the first time in a marathon I wanted to walk but somehow I kept myself running. Knowing my parents were waiting for me at the finish helped me finish strong – it was the first time they were watching me race a marathon since Boston 2013. I saw my parents screaming in the spectator stands and was proud to finish in 4:08. It was my slowest marathon time ever but I still fought hard for it and took time to soak in the scenery – and that’s what matters.

E finished shortly after me in 4:16 – it was a strong run for him, given it was only a few minutes off of his flat course PR. The medals were awesome – ceramic with leather cords. Definitely a unique one to add to our collection!

Our relay team’s success certainly sweetened my slow personal finish! We Be Crazies won four awards – 1st overall, 1st open male, and 2nd and 3rd open female. My team won 2nd – we missed 1st by 15min – but we still rocked it with a time of 3:19!

After the awards ceremony, we celebrated together with an Indian buffet before heading back to Santa Cruz. As much as I love the solo nature of running and racing, I also enjoy being part of a competitive team. It’s not just about you achieving your personal goals – people are counting on you, which make you want to push that much harder. Doing both the relay and the marathon was a real challenge, but it was pretty cool to race hard for my team and then be able to battle it out for myself. I highly recommend this race – you can choose one of the shorter distances if you wish to experience the course without committing to the full 26.2!

After Big Sur, we got to relax in Santa Cruz with my family. As much as I love NYC, I hadn’t been home  in a year and I can’t tell you how amazing it was to be back. Our bodies ached for several days but we quickly recovered with daily beach walks, lots of delicious food, and massage. One week later, my legs felt refreshed and I had one of my all-time best beach runs, from La Selva to Seacliff (10 miles)! Perfect conditions – low tide and sunny with a cool breeze – combined with an awesome playlist led to some unexpectedly fast miles.

A trip to California wouldn’t be complete without a run in the redwoods. I did a couple short runs with E on the trails in Nisene Marks as well as a hike and meditation session with a close friend down by the Buddha bridge, my favorite spot in the forest. It was the perfect way to end a beautiful, active week!

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Welcome to FFR

Hi, I'm Claire! I’m a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (MS, RD, CDN) and a Road Runners Club of America certified coach. This is where I share my latest adventures in running, racing, food & travel! If you'd like to work with me, please visit my professional website, Eat for Endurance.

My PRs

Marathon (Chicago): 3:33:18
Boston Marathon: 3:36:14
Half-Marathon: 1:37:21
10M: 1:14:52
10k: 44:52

My latest photos

Big bowl of healthy and mostly plant-based goodness after some mid-day strength training! Chopped kale (massaged with miso lemon vinaigrette), spinach, leftover roasted spiced cauliflower, sliced almonds, hemp seeds, black beans, feta & golden raisins. Don’t forget to register for tonight’s NYC Marathon event at @finishlinept tonight (link in bio), where I will be answering all of your nutrition questions! Having a plank off with the babe! 😂 #gameface #Repost @wellseek (@get_repost)
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Quality fuel means quality runs. 🙌🏃
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From micros to macros, it's important for endurance runners to cover all of your essential fueling needs. Let’s break down what’s needed and where to get it from with @eatforendurance #linkinbio #ExpertsWhoSeek Fueling an active morning (heading to the @crunchfitnesss #crunchgoespink event shortly) with this tasty, balanced breakfast! Ricotta and homemade blueberry compote (thanks leftover baby food!) and almond butter and banana on @shewolfbakery bread from the farmer's market. 👌🏻 This may not be much to look at, but was seriously tasty!! Sautéed two portobello mushrooms in olive oil and white miso paste (added an awesome flavor) and added a fried egg and a dollop of whole milk ricotta. Happy Friday! Who's running the @nycmarathon? @finishlinept is hosting a great event (register at link in bio), and I'll be on a panel of experts to answer all of your burning nutrition questions!

Join Finish Line Physical Therapy and Tailwind Endurance on Monday, October 23, as we welcome a panel of experts to discuss the ins, outs and secrets to success at the New York City Marathon. If you’re racing, you won’t want to miss this!

We’re assuming you’ve already gotten great advice from a coach about marathon training (“nothing new on race day,” right?). Now you need all of the inside-scoop, nitty-gritty details to have your best race at the New York City Marathon – and we’re here to give it to you! Join us for what promises to be a great night of discussion and insider knowledge on race weekend, event logistics and the race course.​

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