This Is Big (Sur)

Bixby Creek Bridge

“If we were told we could only run one marathon in our lifetime, Big Sur would have to be it.” —Bart Yasso, chief running officer, Runner’s World

I don’t recall exactly when the Big Sur Marathon first entered my head. But I know that when I read Bart Yasso’s quote about it last year, Big Sur burrowed there.

The marathon, with its breathtaking California coastal views and epic climbs (perhaps as payment for those views), is on a lot of people’s bucket lists. It’s on mine. And I’m fortunate enough to not wait long to cross it off.

Search for “Big Sur Marathon” online, and you’ll find no shortage of amazing photos of the ragged edge of the Western world, most notably of Bixby Creek Bridge, complete with ant-size people running across for a humbling juxtaposition.

Oh, what an experience it will be! But if it were only about photo ops, my family and I could have purchased plane tickets and booked a hotel room for a few nights on the Monterey Peninsula. (Although we’re doing that, too.)

No, this is about the Big Sur Marathon, 26.2 miles of exhilaration and pain along northbound Highway 1. This is about 16 weeks of training—starting in January, in Chicago, in subzero wind chill—logging up to 35 miles each week (yes, only 35 miles, but that’s another blog post), subjecting my glutes and quads and calves and lungs to grueling hill work. This is about eating well (OK, eating like a horse), nursing nagging injuries, and avoiding illness or shaking them quickly. About keeping an eye on the prize. This is about being on the cusp of shattering my marathon PR in the grandest way I can think of.

There are a lot of superlatives in this post. The risk in building up something so much in your mind is having the experience not go as you envisioned or things not play out as planned. When you’ve worked so hard for something, and when every account you hear about it only boosts your already high expectations, it’s hard not to make more out of than you should.

I need to try to keep those feelings in check, but also allow myself to be moved in the moment.

As I write this, with less than 24 hours to go before the race, my nerves are good. Butterflies are minimal. Taper madness, even that’s not so bad! All that’s about to change, I know, when I head to the expo this morning to check in, and when I board the bus (at OMG-early) to the start line.

This is Big.


Bouncing Back From a Demoralizing Run


This isn’t a how-to. This is a help-please! A desperate plea to the runners of the world.

I have a 10K race coming up a week from today. In fact, by this point I’ll be home and cleaned up and chilling on the couch. I thought I would be ready by now. But I am not ready. Not even close. I’m sure of that now, after this morning’s disaster of a run.

Instead of settling into a comfortable pace for one last long(ish) run, I struggled and had to stop to walk. Eight times. I even cut my distance short. At least by now I know when I’ve had enough.

Instead of feeling primed and powerful and ready to take on this 10K, I’m feeing like a failure. I’m floundering. Flustered.

So I ask you, oh wise ones of the internets, a week from my race, what should I do?

  • Do I hit the roads hard this week to try to make up for my lackluster long run?
  • Do I take the week off and rest up?
  • Do I carry on as planned and shoot for my original goal?
  • Do I pull up the reins and run a slow race, so long as I can actually run the whole thing and maybe even enjoy it?
  • Do I step down to the 5K?

The Hills Are Alive! My Hillsboro, Oregon, Bald Peak Half Review

The Hills Are Alive! My Hillsboro, Oregon, Bald Peak Half Review

Bald peak Half Marathon-2014

The moment I signed up for this race, it went straight to my head. And not in a good way.

The Bald Peak Half worked out well for a family trip in the area—and oh, when did I turn into the guy who says, “Dear friend, I’ll be in your locality. Perchance I’ll run a 13.1-mile race!”?—and I have to admit, I didn’t look much at the course or other details before I sent in my money.

In my defense, unlike the bigger distance races I’ve run, for this modest little event there wasn’t much detail to be found. With fewer than 300 total finishers in the previous two runnings, the data were sparse. I searched online for anyone who tracked the course, and found at least one. (Thanks, krushgrapz.) It was then my jaw hit my keyboard.

I obsessed over this “hilly half” for the next three months.

The prospect of 1,800 feet of elevation gain (not a typo)800 in the first 2 miles and 300 in the last half-mile (also not typos)had me looking around my flat Phoenix-area surroundings and wondering how I would ever get ready for the hills of Hillsboro.


Using MapMyRun’s Climb Ratings, I was able to look for local runs of 3-ish miles with crazy elevation gains. A trend emerged: summit hikes. Gulp. It took me weeks to work up the nerve to get out there. My trail of choice was the Quartz Ridge Trail, not too far from Piestewa Peak. I could hit it on my way to work in the morning and clean up at the office. I did it three times (4, 6 and 3 miles) in the three weeks leading up to my Oregon trip.

Continue reading “The Hills Are Alive! My Hillsboro, Oregon, Bald Peak Half Review”

I Had a Dream (About Running)


This week I had an elaborate dream involving me running a 5k race. (I was getting ready to run one this weekend.) I was late to get there and missed the bib pickup period, so they gave me a 3-year-old’s time chip and sent me on my way. (I have a 3-year-old.) Soon enough, well-meaning volunteers were chasing me through the course to give me a bib, and when they were successful, I struggled mightily, fumbling as I went, to pin said bib to my shirt without slowing down or stopping. The course was in a mall, and because I was so far behind, I never knew where I should be running amid all the shoppers. (Not my first dream where I was running in a mall.) Although my pace was good, I never did catch up with the pack. The end.

OK, psych pros, unpack this one for me.

» What About You?
Do you ever have dreams about running? Tell me about them!

4 Reasons Why I Love Final Race Instructions


I’m a rule follower. If you have rules or instructions or directions for me, I will adhere to them as best I can. It’s a very exciting life I lead, I know.

So when I get an email from the organizers of a race with the subject line Confirmation Sheet & Final Information or Final Race Instructions, you can bet I’m all over it like a guy who loves instructions maybe more than is healthy for him.

Last week, I got THE EMAIL for my next race. (Along with spam-levels of correspondence pertaining to upgrades and special offers and a dozen other new ways I can spend my money. But that’s a post for another day.)

The much-anticipated email contained FOUR KEY ELEMENTS that are instrumental to my race experience. Continue reading “4 Reasons Why I Love Final Race Instructions”

2011 Rock ’n’ Roll Race Results

The headline of this post could be “Area Man Fails to Achieve Goal in Race.”

I completed the P.F. Chang’s Rock ’n’ Roll Arizona Half Marathon in a respectable time: 2:08:15. For my first half-marathon—or, really, for any amateur runner’s half-marathon—it’s quite an accomplishment. That will be my lasting memory.

Still, I can’t shake this twinge of disappointment. Fact is, I didn’t do what I set out to do, what I told you and everybody else I was going to do. Considering my goal was to break 2 hours, I was quite a bit off. I’m looking at two main reasons why.

1. Ready… set… oh wait! I have to pee!
I read a column that said I should drink one to two cups of water right before the starting gun goes off. I had a 16 oz. bottle with me that I drank right before the gun went off. I assume the idea was to put water in my stomach that I’d need for the race. So I drank the water. Problem is, because I was in the 16th starting group, I didn’t actually cross the start line until about 30 minutes later, which was more than enough time for the water to go through my system.

As we approached the start, group by group, I kept looking over at the portable toilets. Would I have enough time to get there and back? A quick glance at the lines and I knew my answer was no. I held it. But I was distracted. I wasn’t even a mile into the race and I dashed for the first set of porta-potties, killing probably 2 minutes. Then I spent the next couple of miles making up for the lost time, which was a mistake. I probably burned too much energy too early. Oops.

What I can do next time: Drink that water, but make sure it’s right before I start.

2. Crash at mile 10
Right after mile 10, when I should have had the finish line in my mind’s eye, I was trying to will my body to take the next step. Finally, I slowed to a walk. I made sure the walk was brief, like 15 seconds, and then started running again. Then another stop. And another, etc., etc.

My body had given up and there was nothing I could do about it. A 15-second walk here and a 30-second walk there, and I could feel my 2-hour goal quickly slipping away. I had lots of time toward the end of the race—the final 2.5 miles took FOREVER—to wonder why I hit a wall. This had never happened in 10 weeks of training that included runs of 8, 10 and 12 miles. Best I can tell, I didn’t eat well enough the day before; it doesn’t take a master’s degree in nutrition to make the connection.

The week leading up to race day I focused on modest portions of carbs and protein and turned up my nose to most sweets and anything else I thought my body wouldn’t need. Result: I lost 2.5 pounds in the six days leading up to the race.

Did trying to eat better actually cost me?

In all of my training, I never paid much attention to what I ate. Why I chose to throw out that thinking at the last minute, I’ll never know. By concentrating so hard on eating well, I’m sure I didn’t eat enough.

What I can do next time: Don’t change what’s been working during training. Or, consult a nutritionist for a prerace prescription.

So … what’s next?
My half-marathon finish has definitely got me thinking about the full marathon. Not in a “I can totally do it” way but in a “There’s no way” way. Like an aging pro athlete contemplating his retirement, I’m going to spend a few weeks talking with my family and friends and then decide what next. The Rock ’n’ Roll franchise includes some 10 races around the country. One upcoming race is in San Diego in early June, but that’s too close to my wife’s due date for comfort. I can’t possibly go gallivanting off to Southern California while she’s about to pop.

But there is a race in Los Angeles in October and in Las Vegas in December—maybe I can do the half again then. And maybe, depending on how I’m feeling and how my training is going, I can stretch for the full in Phoenix. I have until early registration closes in summer to think about it.

My wife drops me off at oh-dark-hundred. The quadriceps say “I’m ready” but the face says “I dunno.”
That’s a sunrise, folks. Yes, it’s early.
All these people get to start before me.
These people still have to wait a long time.
The face of confidence?
Getting ready to go!
13.1 miles later … euphoria or delirium?