Boston 2 Big Sur

Boston Marathon morning.  Classic yellow school buses line up to take the 30,000 runners (!!!) 26.2 miles to Hopkinton.  The smoke is from an earlier truck fire, but eerie - given the circumstances
Boston Marathon morning. Classic yellow school buses line up to take the 30,000 runners (!!!) 26.2 miles to Hopkinton. The smoke is from an earlier truck fire, but eerie – given the circumstances
Compare to the tranquility and natural beauty of the Big Sur course. This is Bixby bridge looking up to Hurricane Point (roughly half way). Amazing right? Right

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Song for the moment: Bright Whites, by Kishi Bashi.  Just saw him live the other night and this song sums up the sort of lust for life that comes from standing atop a little rock off the Big Sur coast – with wild, merciless Pacific Ocean waves crashing all around.  “Standing on the Ragged Edge of the Western World” – as they say up there (on the fridge magnets).


Well well.  What a month April was.  Yeah yeah, I know, it’s almost June as I post this (EDIT: it’s June) , but I’m lazy OK!

So for the first two and a bit weeks in April I was hosting my entire close family (that’s my big sis Nadia, bro-in-law Gary, my two super-energetic nieces Lyra and Alva, and my mum) – all shoehorned into my two-bed San Diego apartment.  It was a blast – going to Legoland, the Zoo, and all the places you get an excuse to go to with the kids 🙂

Aw the fam - at San Diego Zoo
Me ‘n’ aw the family at the zoo. From left: me, Lyra, Mum, giraffe, Nadia, Gary and Alva.

After living like The Waltons for all that time , and being on uncle-ing duties, the prospect of flying across the country and back, doing two marathons over six days, and getting precious little sleep along the way – actually seemed like relative chill 🙂   And you know what, it kinda was.

So what is Boston 2 Big Sur all aboot?

Oh, so glad you asked!  Boston 2 Big Sur is a special challenge that the Big Sur organizers put on where they allocate 400 or so entries to folk who are also able to get into Boston and are willing to pay a little extra – and in return get a special jacket, t-shirt, custom medal (and significantly bigger balls :p).  The two races are typically a couple of weeks apart, so there’s usually ample (ha!) time to recover.  This was one of those outlier years – where the gap was just 6 days.  So the whole thing attracted a very particular kind of maniac (e.g. me, and the incredible Mike Wardian – who won the thing).  I was late to register, so I got myself on the waitlist and just held out for a few dropouts – once Boston registration/qualification was over.  Sure enough, some folks didn’t make the cut, and I got the email giving me my custom code to go sign up!  Stoked! As they say here 🙂   The main Big Sur race registration sold out in a silly 59 minutes last year – hence the need for this more creative (desperate perhaps?) approach!

So yeah – it began with a phenomenally loud and proud Boston Marathon on April 21st (a Monday – Patriot’s Day – as always).  Six days later, on the Sunday, it was the complete opposite – with 26.2 tranquil and stunningly scenic miles along California’s route 1 from Big Sur to Carmel.  I had been planning to go hard at Boston and shoot for a PR, and just sit back at Big Sur and soak up those hills – whilst taking in the incredible surroundings.  Buuut, I’m not much of a planner…  I did anything but go easy at Big Sur.  In fact, it was probably the proudest performance I’ve ever had out of these little legs of mine 🙂

To make matters worse even better, I had a trail 50 miler planned for the weekend after Big Sur – at Bear Mountain, New York – but that sadly and calamitously fell through after I noticed that I’d neglected to actually purchase a flight there 🙁   (and this is why I really should get into the business of planning things!)  No worries though, I had a backup race that I’d already registered for, the Red Bull Wings for Life World Run in LA!  Which was a race with a twist: where the finish line is actually behind you, in the form of a chase car!! This also ended up being a marathon – more or less – and bizarrely, Mike Wardian did this event too (Florida though, and won), making it 3 races in 3 weeks where we synced up.  Entirely unplanned!  Just similarly lunatic  minds it would seem.

Anyway, I’ll start with the grand ole Boston tale…


Nicely done Boston.  Nicely done.
Nicely done Boston. Nicely done.

After running Boston last year and being so close to the awful events that took place, it was important to me to show my support for the race and for the people of Boston, so it was a no-brainer I’d be going back this year.  Plus, if I wanted to do Big Sur, that was the only way in.  All the more reason.

I flew in on the Saturday this year to avoid extra time off work.  Accommodation was at a friend of Al’s – in a lovely Charlestown town house – nice and far from the hustle and bustle and marathon madness that takes over the city.  It was just a short leisurely jog in my super-soft Hokas (still warming to those guys) to the race expo downtown on Sunday.  Trouble is, I missed a bridge and ended up doing about 12 miles roundtrip – the afternoon before the race.  I therefore totally blame that for my failure to PR in the race  😉

Dinner at Maggiano’s. I watched and waited patiently for beer to arrive. Was looking for something less carbo-loaded than Italian. Low fat diet – another tale…

After a jolly little Maggiano’s meetup with the old RVRR faithful (Gene, John, Bob and others), Al arrived on the Sunday evening from a family visit in Pennsylvania, and we grabbed some tasty Moroccan eats.  I’d like to then say we got promptly to bed, but that wouldn’t be right at all!  The reality is I think I managed to tank six or seven local (strong) craft brews with our hosts – right into the wee hours – before wobbling up the stairs to my nest for the next three or so hours!  I’ve never had such little sleep for a race!

In the morning, I got to Boston Common and wonderfully luckily got spotted by Zsuzanna and Barry and their gang.  I knew they were here but hadn’t expected to find them.  We took the schoolbus to Hopkinton and tried to catch some zz’s on the way.  Oh man is that a long bus trip!  Really puts the fear of God into you when you start thinking that you have to run all the way back.

Boston pre-race
Only a bunch of marathoners could looks so absurd…

In Hopkinton, Barry’s crowd had a generous friend with a fantastic big New England home that we got to bunker down in before the race.  This was amazing – because it was so chilly outside!  Fresh coffee was provided, and the hosts were just super kind all round.  The gentleman was a musician, and had entire band room in his converted barn.  I really didn’t anticipate banging out a drum riff (albeit a very mediocre one!) just half an hour before the Boston Marathon.

So what was I talking about?  Oh aye – a race.  Yes. being the lucky swine that I am, my 2013 Boston-qualifying time from Philly (2:52:41) also qualified me for 2014 – banking me a nice wave 1 corral (the same corral as Barry actually – probably from the same qualifying race too!).

The race went just dandy for the first 13 miles (jeez, how many Bostoners have said this I wonder?!) before the old heavy legs started to set in.  I was very conscious of those early downhills – learning my lesson from last year – but even so, the course really did get the better of me once again.  My legs were hammered by mile 20 and the pace slowed a bit.  Perhaps I was just suffering from dejection because my chief crewer (call yourself a girlfriend??  sheesh!) didn’t manage to see me as planned 😉    In the end I ran a decent race and finished 2:55:44 – not a PR, but it’s Boston, and still a good 2 and a half minutes off last year’s time.

The crowds were just out of this world loud – WAY more so than even my NYC marathon recollection – and this perhaps led to my little legs motoring a wee bitty harder than they probably should have.  Oh and those Wellesley girls were doing their usual thing too – only five billion times louder than normal!

Those Wellesley girls!  A lot of high fives were dished out, a LOT of kisses, and a whole ton of noise.  I remember being in a group of runners and us all looking at each other in complete awe when we got past that section and noticed the massive drop in volume!

It was lovely to see some old RVRR buddies out there.  I think they snapped this pic of me passing them and I was super excited and surprised when I heard their cheers among the massive indistinguishable noise that seemed to perpetuate throughout the whole course!

Cheer cam at Boston
You can pretty much tell how happy I was to see Shannon’s unbeatable grin as she and other RVRR folks somehow made themselves stand out from the huge crowd!

Apparently Mary saw me too at the finish.  It would have been great to catch sight of her (long time no see!!), but by that point I think I was completely oblivious to all extraneous happenings!  Huge congrats to my buddy Mike Anis (his own blog here) – who ran a ridiculous 2:34:18!  And obviously hats off to Meb – a San Diego local (who I ran a race with this weekend!!) – for the well-earned win in a hard-fought race.

After the race, it was pretty much straight back to the house and off to the airport!  Then a nice 3 leg journey to the diagonal opposite side of the country – where I got a few hours sleep before hobbling into work – on a nice post-race high thankfully.  Gotta love Southwest Airlines for comping all runners with unlimited free beer and applause!

Big Sur

Big Sur sign

OK – now this is the main event!  Boston is, well, Boston.  It’s the aspiration of many a marathoner and is a fantastic event to be involved in for sure.  But I’m no city slicker.  I’m in my element in the elements.  So let’s be honest, Big Sur was the race I was most excited for out of these two.  It more than delivered, and I’ll say right now – everyone should make this a race to do at some point in their lives.  Run it, walk it, whatever… Just be part of that rare occasion where that entire stretch of highway is closed, and is handed over to a few thousand sleepy eager folk – who each get to bask in that clean ocean air, soak up the incredible scenery, and just feel ridiculously lucky to find themselves in arguably the most beautiful place along America’s Pacific coast.  Take me back please!

The drive up from San Diego was a long un!  Al and I left on the Friday evening and stayed over in Bakersfield – before finishing off the journey in the morning, via Paso Robles (where we stopped at a lovely winery on the way back and got nicely wined and cheesed!).  We got to Monterey at lunchtime, grabbed the race swag, did a quick TV interview for the local news (!!),  got the token picture with Dean Karnazes, then headed for our Airbnb accoms!!!

The TV news girl was really into the whole Boston 2 Big Sur thing!  And accents!
The TV news girl was really into the whole Boston 2 Big Sur thing! And accents!
Dean and his mum!  He signed his new book - which you also get for doing Boston 2 Big Sur.  I LOVE FREE STUFF!!!
Dean and his mum! He signed his new book – which you also get for doing Boston 2 Big Sur. I LOVE FREE STUFF!!!
Our amazing Airbnb accoms in Carmel!
Our amazing Airbnb accoms in Carmel!

Quick note on the accoms.  I won’t be revealing where it was – because it was so frickin’ amazing that I want to make sure it’s there next time!  Suffice to say, it was in Carmel and was walking distance from the finish – which turned out to be a very good thing.

We spent the rest of that day driving the course, and holy crap is it hilly.  Even the flat bits are hilly – I swear! It was a beautiful day, and we had some lovely beers at a little bar in Big Sur village (we brought back some surprisingly great beers – including some BrewDog Punk IPAs – from the attached liquor store), before heading back to base in Carmel.  We actually stopped as the sun was going down and managed to see a pair of whales jumping about in the ocean!!

We dined on all sorts of crap that night, using the little granny kitchen to reheat some low-carb/high-fat cheesy, tomatoey, eggplanty slop I’d brought with us.  Al got pizza – quite right!  I think I was pretty tired because I only had one beer I think – a BrewDog I believe!  Sleep didn’t come easy because I was so damn excited!!!

I awoke at the crack of dawn – as I am getting used to now – threw on my race gear, grabbed my drop bag, some Nuun (no coffee – unprepared!), and threw myself into the car.  Al drove me to the middle school – where I hopped onto my second school bus in 6 days, and set off on the long dark drive down the coast to Big Sur station.  It was so early, and we had a ton of time to kill.  I was delighted to find vats and vats of coffee waiting in the runners’ village there, so I grabbed a couple of cups and plonked my ass on the ground for the long wait.

Lots and lots and lots of sleepyheads crammed into one very small space before the race!
Lots and lots and lots of sleepyheads crammed into one very small space before the race!

The sun came up and race time was eventually upon us.  It was a bit of a farce to be honest, with people really wanting to pee or poop, but there being a real shortage of portajohns.  It was so busy in there.  I had to poop in the woods – not for the first time – and I felt kinda bad leaving my toilet paper out there.  “Thanks nature!” – as my friend Jay would say!

I got my clean little butt to the line right at the front of the “fast” corral they had put together.  And then they announced the elites…  I’d had no idea until this point that Mike Wardian was going to be there – let alone that he was there trying to break his own Boston 2 Big Sur record.  A perhaps larger surprise too was Ian Sharman (his blog post here).  Suddenly I found myself mere footsteps behind two of my idols from the ultra-running scene!  I wished Ian good luck and reminded him we’d shared an ice bath once – at North Face Wisconsin the year he won.  It was very romantic 😉

National anthem, some pleasantries, and the race was off!  Down down down – through the forests of Big Sur, towards the point where the trees meet the ocean, upon where your eyes are just blasted with the magical views that basically continue for the rest of the entire race.

Writing about it so late after the race, it’s hard to remember details, and I’m sure you don’t care too much, but I just recall those joyous downhills, followed immediately by equally joyous (yes!) uphills.  For some reason, my legs just loved that combination.  Unlike a flat race, where it’s all the same monotonous impact on your body, this was varying all the time.  One minutes you are busting your quads flying almost uncontrollably down a long steep hill, and before you know it your body’s saying “thank you” as you engage your glutes and hammies for a long, steady climb up to the next peak of the rollercoaster ride.  It really did feel very comfortable – compared to Boston.

The music along the course wasn’t your usual Rock ‘n’ Roll tat that’s so prominent these days.  Hell no.  We had a dude playing a baby grand piano after the Bixby bridge (after the hardest of all the climbs).  There was the ominous beat of the Taiko drums at the bottom of that 2 mile-long climb too – really driving home what was upon us.  Not many cheerers – due to the roads being closed off and nobody really having access, but the regular flow of race walkers were offering kudos all they through – especially when you pass them on the uphills and try to look all strong and like you’re nowhere near out-of-breath 😉

For me, the race was just about perfect.  I controlled my pace at the start, and was able to cruise past a ton of people later.  I’m learning that passing people in itself is a great motivator to keep running strong.  Being passed is of course the worst – so I feel bad for those guys (just a bit!).  I can’t say much more about strategy really because I basically just ran with a huge grin on my face, eyes all over the place looking at each new rugged bit of coast as it appeared around each corner and over each hill.

I do recall starting to feel pretty sluggish at mile 23, and being very appreciative of the crowds that were forming then.  Allison had told me about the amazing strawberries up there I think, and sure enough at Point Lobos at mile 24 there was a huge stall dishing out free gigantic fresh strawberries to everyone.  I filled my hands and ran with them cupped – fulla strawbs – for the next half mile or so.  Oh man I can still taste them when I think about this!  They totally fuelled my last 2 miles – which were as always the longest miles ever!  But I got there, and I exceeded all expectation I’d had – with a time of 3:00:46, and 18th place overall.  I seriously had looked at those hills the day before and figured I’d be way over 3 and a half hours – so yes – I was deeeee-lighted 🙂    In the end, I was 8th overall in the combined Boston 2 Big Sur challenge – leaving plenty of scope for improvement!  Mike Wardian wrapped it up and beat his own record by 10 minutes.

Closing in on the finish line - at Big Sur Marathon.  Great shot Allison!
Closing in on the finish line – at Big Sur Marathon. Great shot Allison!

Afterwards, I got entry to a sweet little VIP tent for Boston 2 Big Sur runners, where I grabbed more strawberries and some beer, before meeting up with Al – who had cheered me across the line with a bunch of randoms she’d recruited!  It was then a super short walk back to the accoms where an ice bath was much needed, followed by a nice warm bed 🙂   We still had a night to spend up there and a long drive back on the Monday – which was just the best!

Have I mentioned how much I love California??!!  Here’s some more of the best bits.  Thanks for stopping by!

The beach at Carmel - gorgeous!

The beach at Carmel – gorgeous!

Post-race dipping of the feet with Al - in Carmel
Post-race dipping of the feet with Al – in Carmel
Waves crashing into the rocks - at the end of a cheeky little trail Al found on the way back - near Big Sur
Waves crashing into the rocks – at the end of a cheeky little trail Al found on the way back – near Big Sur
A very cool tree - on the secret trail we found!
A very cool tree – on the secret trail we found!
An endless sea of basking elephant seals - near San Simione on the drive back
An endless sea of basking elephant seals – near San Simione on the drive back

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