Monday, November 21, 2011

Big Sur Half Marathon - 11/20/11

It's been awhile since I've been really excited for a half marathon, and I definitely was for this race. I wanted to run it last year, but it sold out, so the day registration opened this year, I made sure to secure a spot even though I was still recovering from ankle surgery at the time. As the race weekend approached, my excitement only grew. My speed was slowly starting to come back, my body was feeling injury free, and I was looking forward to spending some time in Monterey with Annelyse who was also registered for the half marathon. Not to mention, the race organizers posting a picture a day from each mile for the thirteen days leading up to the race only confirmed how amazing the course was going to be.

Since Annelyse and I didn't have a whole lot going on on Saturday, we left for Monterey in the early afternoon so we could have a little time to walk around and enjoy the afternoon once we got down there. After checking in and picking up our bibs, walking down around the wharf, and taking some pre-race pictures, we discovered Peter B's BrewPub. We stopped in for something to eat and a drink, and watched a bit of the college football games before turning in early for the night.

My only concern for the race was that the weather forecast called for rain. All through the night I could hear the rain falling, and was thinking the chances of a dry race were slim. When the alarm went off at 5:30a, the rain had stopped. As we walked down to the start, I kept looking toward the sky and was pretty convinced that the weather would hold since the clouds looked pretty sparse. The race had a timed coral start, and I was in the first coral. I knew I wasn't back in PR shape, but I really wanted to give this race a good effort. Getting out in the first coral would not only ensure that I got ahead of the pack, but it would force me to keep pace with faster runners. After a live singing of the National Anthem (which I always love), coral A was off.

The first mile was nice and flat as we ran along El Estrero Lake in Dennis the Menace Park where a band was playing for us. Not only was there music during the first mile, but one of the residents had put out two life sized cardboard cutouts of Justin Bieber. During mile two, we ran through the Custom House Tunnel. As we approached, spectators were lining the bridge looking down at us and cheering us on. As soon as we entered the tunnel, you could hear a bagpiper that was playing on the other side. We hadn't even reached mile three, and I was already entertained; something that would continue throughout the entire course.

One unique thing about this race were the mile markers. They were created by a muralist, and each was sponsored by a business, or individual. Most had humorous drawings and pictures on them. Some of my favorites were at mile marker two, six, and thirteen. The first of which pictured a very overweight man drinking a 40 ounce beer and eating a giant pizza, while wearing a Big Sur Half Marathon "In Training" shirt. The one at mile six was sponsored by a local running store, and had a picture of an octopus getting fitted for running shoes. And the one at mile 13, was of two parents saying very energetically "You're almost there! We're so proud of you sweetie!"

At mile three we ran right down the middle of Cannery Row, passing the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It definitely brought back memories of going on field trips there while I was in grammar school. Next we found our way onto Oceanview Blvd where we had some uphill as we headed toward Pacific Grove. I barely noticed the uphill though since I was busy gawking at the very expensive looking houses to my left, and ocean on my right. There were a lot of Marines out manning the course road closures, and while most were very solemn, there was one female marine who was really getting into it. She was yelling for everyone at the top of her lungs cheering us on, and it was incredibly motivating. I really appreciated her enthusiasm.

We then ran through a portion of downtown Pacific Grove, and passed Lovers Point Park as we got back onto Oceanview Blvd. We headed out along the Pacific Ocean toward the turnaround at Asilomar State Beach. It was at mile six that the lead runners started to pass in the opposite direction. This race draws a number of elite runners, and I'm always amazed when I see them run. The lead women runners weren't far behind and they were all in an outright sprint. There were 20 elite male runners, and 20 elite female runners, and they were all incredible to watch.

We hit the turnaround just before mile eight, and we were now running back toward Monterey Bay. On my way back along the coast, Annelyse and I passed. We both agree how much fun it is to get to see each other on the course, and then compare stories afterward. Just as with on the way out, the next few miles were filled with incredible ocean views. At mile 11 we passed Lovers Point once more, and then immediately turned onto the Recreation Trail. This was a nice downhill section enabling me to save some energy for the end. There was a band playing here with a belly dancer entertaining us as we ran by.

Once again we ran down historic Cannery Row before getting back onto the Recreation Trail to head into the finish at Custom House Plaza. The harbor was on the left, filled with boats and even a few sea lions. The finish was up ahead, and I sprinted down the finishing chute which was lined with spectators. We were all given clay finishers medals which was a nice change from your typical metal ones. We were then given a brown bag filled with a variety of fruit, juice, and a fantastic cookie. I devoured a banana, and soon after the cookie. I later devoured a good portion of Annelyse's cookie as well.

I went and got a coffee, changed my shirt into a dry one, and then went to the meeting point where Annelyse and I decided to meet after the race. Our meeting place was a cutout of a giant runner that we found the night before. The result computers were right there, so I checked out how I did while I waited. While I knew I wasn't going to set a PR, I did want to finish with a time in the low 1:40's, and that I did, so I was happy. Just as I felt a few rain drops starting to fall, Annelyse was crossing the finish. Timing worked out perfectly, and we were able to enjoy the course with some early morning sunshine before the weather took a turn for the worse.

Annelyse and I went to Peet's so she could grab some coffee as well, and we sat down and rehashed the race. There was no doubt that we both thought this was an incredible course. The weather was perfect, the rugged coastline amazing, and the houses magnificent. I did have to admit, one of my favorite parts was getting to run right down Cannery Row. Twice. The on course entertainment was abundant, and featured everything from belly dancers, to keyboardists, to numerous bands. The race shirt was one of the best I've received, and they had free soup and free beer at the finish. And for the first time ever, I chose coffee over beer. And it was definitely the right decision.

The organization of the race was amazing, and everything seemed to go flawlessly. The spectator support was great, and the race organization even put out a race program that talked about the elite runners, the course in detail, the mile markers, and featured inspiring stories from some of the runners. There's no doubt that we'll be back to run this next year. What a beautiful place to run. My only regret is that I didn't get more on course pictures.

Race stats:
Overall female: 66 of 4,006
Age Group: 17 of 707
Chip Time: 1:41:32 (7:45 pace)
GPS time: 1:40:49 (7:41 pace)

1 comment:

  1. Jen, I'm greatly enjoying your blogs. Plus, it gives me a few peeks into my daughter's activities. Marcia and I have been to the Monterrey area a few times, and I can't imagine a more beautiful place to stage a race. Looking forward to meeting you on Friday evening.