How to run a sub-4 marathon (condensed version)
1. Don't actually follow a marathon training cycle. Train loosely for a 21-miler.
2. Upgrade from the 21-miler to the full marathon 12 days before the actual race. This will ensure you don't have time to panic about the efficiency of your training cycle, but instead about your sanity... and your choice in friends. ;)3. Make sure the marathon you are about to run is the hilliest one in the states.
4. After gagging from nerves a number of times in a Safeway before the race even starts, get out there and run (here's the shocker) conservatively.
And now, the part you don't really want to read!
How I ran a sub-4 marathon (longer version)
If I haven't made it overly apparently by now, I have been signed up for the Big Sur 21 Miler for months. My plan was to use it as a training run for the San Francisco Marathon this summer. 12 days before Big Sur, my friend RoadBunner talked me into upgrading to the marathon. I pondered her idea, thought it would be a silly challenge, and emailed the race director asking if I could do it. The next morning, I learned I was running a marathon.
Big Sur is known to be one of the most beautiful courses in the U.S. -- and one of the most challenging. Due to a landslide and road collapse in March, the 26th presentation of this 26.2-mile race was changed to an out-and-back, adding an additional 700 feet of elevation climbing, for a total of 2,400 feet. (Read: That's a lot of big hills to run up in the span of 26.2 miles.)
The 26th Big Sur Marathon from the side. :)
I ended up carrying a lot of stuff with me and made the decision to keep my camera behind, so thanks to my friends for letting me steal their pictures. :)
Mile 1 (9:10), Mile 2 (8:40), Mile 3 (8:50), Mile 4 (8:48), Mile 5 (8:40)
Jessica and I lined up in Corral B, just behind the elites and the people expecting to do sub-4 hour marathons. I knew a number of people in the race, but I didn't really want to feel like I was running with anyone -- I wanted this to be my own training run. (I guess I should have told Jessica that when I ran away from her, huh?)
At mile 8 I came up behind the 4-hour pace group. I wasn't sure if it was a smart move to pass given my history in marathoning, especially since it was so early in the race, but I decided to go around them rather than stay with them. My pace felt steady, I felt strong, and I was running faster than the 9:09mm the leader was setting. I didn't want to slow down yet.
Somewhere along this stretch, I put my headphones in. I wanted to have a Zen run, but I realized that I could also have a Zen run while listening to some choice music. The course was beautiful -- I turned off my music to listen to the Taiko drummers and the pianist, but other than that, I listened to a really calm, relaxing, wordless playlist I made for myself. I really believe it kept me relaxed and level-headed, and didn't force me to want to burn up too much energy like what happens when I listen to really intense music.
My average pace was hovering between 8:48 and 8:52 up until this point -- I felt like I could have gone faster, but I actually told myself to reel it in and keep it within that zone, and reminded myself that holding back now would do me well in the last few miles. I think I was right.
I also saw Aron along this stretch of the race! She was kind enough to take a picture of me and my amazing running form.
Me & my solid heel strike
Mile 11 (8:49), Mile 12 (8:51), Mile 13 (8:46 -- half marathon in 1:56), Mile 14 (8:42), Mile 15 (8:49)
What kind of marathon has a grand pianist, Taiko drummers, fresh strawberries, and whales jumping in the ocean by your side?
The Big effin' Sur Marathon, that's what.
This course was breathtaking (and I hear that the "real" course is even better). At two points I cried a few tears of -- I don't know what it was. I was really overcome with the beauty of everything. I felt so tiny against the sun rising behind the towering green mountains on one side of me, and the thunderous waves crashing along the jagged cliffs on the other side of me. That tininess was an indescribable feeling, but it resembled the strongest feeling of happiness and excitement. Lame mushy stuff. Whatever. It was awesome.
Michael Martinez, Big Sur grand pianist
At mile 16, I met up with a fellow Marathon Maniac, Marathon Mitch. We ran together for about a mile, but I noticed that I felt tired when talking with him. I know it's good to be able to hold conversations while working out, but this wasn't working for me and all the hills I was trying to pace myself on. I stopped to refill my water bottle at a water stop, caught back up to Mitch, wished him luck, and went back to having my own run.
I found Mitch afterward. He set a course personal best, cutting 10 minutes off his time from last year!
I made it relatively easy and largely pain free (much to my surprise) until mile 21. This was a huge confidence booster, especially considering it was ALL HILLS we were running. My friends were not lying when they said there is no flat part to this course. When you're not climbing, you're descending with full view of the next hill in sight. I was pleased I made it to mile 21 in the same pace I had done my 20-miler two weekends ago -- I considered this race a success by that alone.
Then, I started to struggle. In the past, I would have given up and walked. Instead, I kept setting new benchmarks for myself -- "Just make it to the top of the hill, then you can walk." "Just wait until mile 23, then you can walk while taking a GU." "Holy cow, you only have a 5k left. Just run it really slowly." I always made it to my next checkpoint and assessed how I was feeling, whether it was physical exhaustion or mental exhaustion. Almost always, it was mental. My legs were weak from the hills and I definitely felt tired, but nothing I wasn't able to run pretty slowly on. I never ended up walking.
Mile 26 (9:21), Mile .32 (2:48, 8:34 pace)
I realized that, with 5k remaining, my Garmin said 3:28 and that I could make it in under 4 hours if I ran really, really carefully. I didn't want to push it and burn out (that would cut it too close since I would have to walk), and I didn't want to run it too slow (I just wouldn't make it there under 4 hours, period). I just wanted to take my time and get there in one piece.
I had a good marathon where I didn't fall apart and wish for death in the last few miles. In fact, I never even stopped.
Bonus that this was one of the hardest courses around, AND that I set a massive PR while at it.
Ta da!That's all icing on the cake, though. I was so happy with this run, and I couldn't stop thinking about how much I loved the race, how much I love running, and how badly I want to come back to Monterey. The 27th presentation of the Big Sur marathon cannot come soon enough.
EVERYONE at our Big Sur Marathon Girl's Getaway had an awesome race this weekend. How does that happen? Fate? Destiny? Being happy and excited? Eating too much? Check out their reports as well. :)
Official Time: 3:55:16 -- a 29:20 PR?!
Air Temp: 67F
Average Pace: 8:56 min/mileOverall Place: 767 of 3,218
Gender Place: 232 of 1,584Age/Gender Place: 41 out of 225
13: 8:46 (half marathon in 1:56)
.32: 2:48 (8:34 pace)
13: 8:46 (half marathon in 1:56)
.32: 2:48 (8:34 pace)