This Is Big (Sur)

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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.

Area Man Ends Running Streak After Nine Days

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—The Kierland community streets were noticeably quiet this morning, the missing element being the labored huffing and puffing of 40-year-old Matt Morgan, a more or less familiar face to walkers and other runners who only sometimes acknowledged him on the roadways.

He had already run two days in a row—a Saturday and a Sunday—when, spurred on by Runner’s World and other promoters of running streaks, Morgan decided to see what it would be like to string more days together.

“I didn’t even intend to start running every day, necessarily. That’s the funny thing,” Morgan said. “It sort of just happened.”

The streak began in earnest on a Monday, a day Morgan normally doesn’t run, when he went out for a mile after a cross-training session. He recalled that his legs felt heavy from doing an awful lot of kettlebell swings and jump squats. Still, he persisted. And after his cross-training session later that week, when he should have been not running, he ran a mile again.

On Friday, he tacked on 2 more miles, despite the fact that it was his rest day. The streak, it seemed, was in full effect. And because it’s not unusual for him to run both Saturday and Sunday, those two days were a gimme.

Though starting the running streak sort of just happened, ending it was quite deliberate.

“I suddenly realized, why the heck am I running every single day? Am I trying to prove a point? This is silly,” Morgan said. “And so I stopped. Besides, odd numbers like nine make for good story headlines.”

Morgan said he enjoys running for the cardiovascular benefits, weight management and some other stuff, but he needs his breaks, too. “My body and my brain need the rest,” he explained, wincing in pain as he rubbed a muscle roller stick over his calves. “I know that for sure now. I just don’t get why some people would ever want to go out and pound the pavement every single day.”

In Morgan’s nine consecutive days of running, he totaled 36 miles, logging runs of 1 to 6 miles each, none of which is all that impressive.

With the streak over, Morgan vowed to continue running his normal, boring route every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. “But not those other days,” Morgan said. “That’s just nuts.”

Is There Any Cure for My Half-Maranoia?

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Maranoia (n.): Fear of something going wrong (illness, injury, etc.) in the weeks before a marathon.

I came across this fabulous “new-to-me” word this week. Best I can tell, credit goes to tweeters Runner’s World (@runnersworld) and Will Britt (@WillOnTheRun). (Good stuff, RW and WB!)

Maranoia—or more specifically, half-maranoia—perfectly sums up my last week or so, and the last week or so before all my races running up to this one.

The week before a half or a full, I am certain I’ll come down with a chest cold or turn my ankle stepping off a curb, thereby wrecking all my hard work over the previous 10 to 14 weeks. Every cough, every sniffle, every hitch in my hip is a sure sign of doom.

None of these things has happened yet, of course (please, please, please give me a pass, oh running gods). But it hasn’t stopped me from being, well, maranoid.

Is there any cure for my maranoia? So far, not yet. I do take extra precautions to avoid sickness (read: I become a hand-washing freak) and otherwise try not to do anything stupid (like not pulling my hamstring playing softball). But, overall, I live my life as close as I can to normal and try not to go too much out of my mind about the race.

No, not that maranoia

It should be said that “maranoia” has a second meaning, referring to reefer-induced delusions, and there is a book about the same abject subject. Instead of getting you to NOT think about it, I’m going to leave you with something that lodges it firmly in your brain. You’re welcome.

In the tune of “Smoke Two Joints” by Sublime
I run two miles in the morning,
I run two miles at night.
I run two miles in the afternoon.
It makes me feel all right.
I run two miles in time of peace,
And two in time of war.
I run two miles before I run two miles,
And then I run two more.

Approaching My First Half-Marathon

I had an elaborate dream the other night.

I showed up for the P.F. Chang’s Rock ’n’ Roll Arizona Half Marathon super early, then proceeded to wait in various cafeteria lines, for food I think. (Not sure why we’re all eating cafeteria food right before a big race. Someone analyze that.) I used the time to run through things I might have forgotten at home. I remembered forgetting something crucial, although now I don’t remember what.

Now that the training is done for my first half-marathon this Sunday—I have more than 175 miles under my belt—all there is to do is wait. And worry, apparently.

My trek to this race began about six years ago, when my now brother-in-law flew in from the Seattle area to run. I remember waiting for him at the finish line in the shadow of Sun Devil Stadium and feeling so inspired to run the race. I’d talk a big game year after year, then promptly forget about it until it was too late to train properly.

This year was different. Thanks in part to my more organized calendar keeping, I was sure to plug in the key dates with reminders. Early registration deadline. Training. Race day.

If I was going to do this, I was going to do it to the best of my ability. No get-up-off-the-couch-and-run for me. I hooked up with a 10-week, three-day-a-week training program by Furman University (updated link and source).  It was fantastic—and went a little something like this:

Tuesday: A set of 400-meter (1/4-mile), 800-meter (1/2-mile) or 1,600-meter (1-mile) runs.
Wednesday: A run (ranging 2 to 8 miles) faster than my goal pace.
Saturday or Sunday: A run (ranging 6 to 12 miles) slower than my goal pace.

After running a couple weeks prior to my official training start, I decided I could do around 9-minute miles. Since a 9:02 pace puts me right at 2 hours for a half-marathon, I figured that was a good goal. And, based on my training, that’s totally doable, which I’m stoked about. I need to be careful, however, not to get greedy and push myself too hard and potentially burn out.

One thing I haven’t prepared for is the sea of humanity that will be racing with me. All my training has been in the quiet solitude of the streets and fields near my house. A friend told me he added a half-mile in distance at a recent half-marathon simply by “slaloming”—weaving around slower runners. I need to remind myself to be patient. Uh-oh. That may be a bigger challenge than running 13.1 miles.