“This one goes to 11” – Spinal Tap
“Lollygag to the piano, then haul ass!” – My entire pace plan
“Always Dare To Be The Very Best!!” – Buddy Edelin
“So, why is the fastest pace group 3:40?” I asked the guy at the expo.
“Well, the 3:30 leader might have a lonely time. Only about a hundred people break 3:30 in this race.”
“Ah.” I mentally shelved my plan to run in the neighborhood of 3:30. I later checked that figure. Last year “about a hundred” was in fact 170, but point taken. My super-sophisticated race plan was adaptable. After much head-scratching, calculation and study of weather reports the result was “Lollygag to the piano (halfway), then haul ass!”. Pacing would have to be instinctive, and I had put in some marathon pace running during training, to help tune this ability.
Urgh! Catch a bus at 3:45 am. My motel was only a mile from the pickup point, but, yeah, I drove it. Off we went down the coast highway in the dark. This little trip lasted an hour and those of us near the front were craning to see what the headlights revealed. “This must be the Bixby bridge, the big hill is coming up”. A general hush fell as we negotiated said hill. Um.
Waiting for start time, and doing all the usual business with potty lines and sweat bags. The hills were outlined by a blue glow which slowly erased the stars. Wow, what a place! I later ran into Joe and Kati at the sweats drop. Kati really didn’t want to miss this event, and her hamstring had recovered to the point where a run/walk seemed achievable. She was prepared to stop if necessary. Joe’s target was 3:45 with a negative split. I had formed the lollygag plan while discussing negative splits with him.
I chopped up the official elevation profile into segments. It lacks some detail, but will suffice. The horizontal lines are each 100 feet. The numbers are my mile splits.
7:39, 7:58, 6:43, 8:19
At the start they managed to play “Chariots of Fire” twice. I’m getting a little tired of that tune. They lined us up by pace, and I stood alongside the 3:40 leader, with a young guy in a Boston 2009 shirt.
“You ran Boston six days ago? how do you feel?”
“Pretty terrible” but he was smiling.
“How did you do?”
“I was trying for 3:00, but kinda crashed, and wound up walking. I ran 3:20.”
Off we went downhill through the redwoods. I hung out with the 3:40 pace group, to temper my speedy urges on this fast section. Even so, the first two splits came out alarmingly fast. O well. A guy by the side of the road yelled “Nearly there! One mile to go!” “They warned us about you!” I yelled, and indeed they had. “The guy at the Fernwood Inn thinks he’s funny” stated the program. This bit of forest was quite charming, with big trees, noisy birds, a babbling brook, and harp music. Harp music? The harpist was around the next bend, and called out encouragement to us as she played. Those bright yellow Boston shirts are easy to spot. I found myself next to another one, and discovered that this guy was running five marathons in seven weeks. This was a fairly normal season for him. Meanwhile behind us, two guys were discussing Jeff Galloway, who had been lecturing at the expo, and was leading a 5:00 run/walk group in the race.
“I don’t take walk breaks. Not in marathons. In 50 or 100 milers I do”
I’m surrounded by lunatics. Where did the 3:40 leader go? I looked back, then again, longer. Crap. Lollygagging? 3 miles into the race I had already lost contact with the fastest pace group! My legs, however, insisted that this was an easy jog in the park. Well OK then. The pace moderated as we came to a flatter section.
7:37, 7:50, 8:01, 8:15
The ocean came into view, and some cows watched us go by. The gateway to their ranch was graced by a flagpole. The stars and stripes was standing out straight, snapping in the north wind. Uh Oh. Looks like that 8 mph forecast was completely wrong. It was at least double that already, and strengthening. Full Big Sur headwind experience coming up! My cap wobbled, so I adjusted the band and rammed it on tight. Bring it on!
I passed the 10k marker at 47:56. Wasn’t so long ago that my PR was slower than that. I was glad I didn’t have the Garmin. It would be seriously messing with my head by now. The numbers coming out of my stopwatch were bad enough. But it still felt like a training run. The roadside signs were progressing from informative – “Point Sur Lighthouse” – to cute – “Anaerobic Point”, “Big Surge” and so on, up to the cringe-inducing “Hurri-pain Point”. Ok, ok, the race director also thinks he’s funny. That last sign was nowhere near the real Hurricane Point, where signs need heavy weights to hold them down. I had formed a kind of peloton with two other runners, taking turns at leading, but our paces did not match too well. Then two guys came by, running abreast. One of them was beeping. “Is that your HR alarm?”
“Yes, It’s annoying isn’t it?” Russian accent. “It’s been doing this since I changed the battery, and I don’t know how to fix it.”
They were a good windbreak, so I followed them for a few minutes before letting them go.
8:21, 7:30, 9:32, 8:48
The hill to Hurricane Point came into view around a bend. OK, a nice little downhill here, then over that bridge and the fun begins and… Oh My! The valley that came into view between the headlands was a v-notch through the hills. The sun was shining straight down it, and the sides became blue, grey, then white as they receded into the haze. It was achingly beautiful. The effect probably only lasted a few minutes.
At the bottom, I found myself next to the Russian again. fortunately there was enough wind here to blot out the sound of his watch. His buddy was moving ahead, going up the gradient at at a good clip. “Wow. Your friend is quite a hill monster!” “Yes, he runs the Pikes Peak marathon every year. He gets age group awards.” I get to hang out with some classy runners at this pace. Oh yes, supposed to be taking it easy. Let’s see about this hill. It was not possible to equal effort the hill, which was too steep and windy. I found a reasonable balance and the gradient varied enough to prevent tedium.
Hurricane Point is well named. At the top, two young women in the walking event were leaning into the wind, holding their hats and shrieking with delight as their hair streamed behind. I was so entertained by this that I nearly collided with the runner in front, who was herself staggering in the blast. I ducked around her, used a dip in the road to restore my momentum, and was around.
7:08, 7:29, 7:43, 7:51
The downhill, which should have been a quad-killer, was surprisingly easy. The wind gave just the right braking force that I could just lean forward and go. I passed a few runners, which worried me a bit, Too fast? No, I’m good. quite relaxed, in fact. The half marker was on the Bixby bridge. 1:44:58. Quite a respectable half, considering. The piano was at the far end. I wish I could report on the surreal magnificence of a guy in a tux playing a grand piano above the blue Pacific, but he was playing Chariots of Freaking Fire when I passed. Must…get…away!
Time for the ass-hauling part of the plan. Pretend you just started a half-marathon, Jim. A blessedly uncrowded one. I started to push. as evidenced by the splits. The field was very spread out now.
7:42, 8:21, 8:09, 8:21
The scenery became less exciting, a series of rolling hills, with the wind as background irritant. Up ahead was a guy in Union Jack shorts. I gradually reeled him in.
“Are you British, by any chance?”
He laughed. “Yes”
“How did I guess? Me too.”
He eyed my flag-less and somewhat un-coordinated ensemble. “You’re in disguise”
“Yes, I’m traveling incognito.”
Come to think of it, I probably should wear a flag patch in these races. But not shorts. That’s a bit swinging sixties for my liking. I slowed slightly for the next few miles. The terrain was lumpier than the profile shows, and I was worrying about holding pace to the finish. The field was spread out, with few opportunities for drafting. Most of them seemed to be about 20 years old, with the occasional older whack jobs like me and Shorts. But then we got to Carmel heights, with trees, houses and blessed relief from the wind. This is the zone of the notorious slanted road. I had been practicing for this, and did not find it much of a problem. The bad bits were interspersed with flatter parts. The technique I used was to lean into the slope a little. The uphill foot, with it’s extra ground time, does much of the weight bearing. The other foot does an extended stride and supplies propulsion. It’s asymmetric as hell, but it works for me.
7:57, (I missed a marker), 16:48, 8:04
Trending uphill. A voice at my elbow says: “Hello again.” it’s Shorts, passing me.
“Hi. Are you going to run this thing in under 3:30?”
“I’m trying to qualify for Boston. I need 3:35”
“We’re in the same age group then. You’re all set. we’re looking like 3:30 or 3:31 at the moment, depending on the remaining hills”
I did not need any fancy math for this. The timers at the mile markers were reading out time, pace and projected finish times.
He moved on ahead at a good pace. His pacing must have been of the 20-mile warmup, then 10k race variety. I was a little stung to be passed in this way, even though I was doing plenty of passing myself. I pushed harder, wondering if I had a chance of breaking 3:30 “Only about a hundred runners break 3:30” echoed in my head. Then Buddy Edelin: “Always Dare To Be The Very Best!!”. Yes, this was going to hurt. More rolling hills, but no wind now.
8:06, (missed marker 26), 9:45 (7:52 pace)
A sharp rise then a long straight downhill in more open country. Oh why can’t I go faster? It’s downhill, dammit!. Push, Push!
The hill starting at the mile 25 marker looked intimidating, but I thought about some of the other hills I had been over, and attacked it hard. Go Go Go, nearly there! At the top, I was disappointed not to be able to see the finish yet, and ran downhill as best I could. I was getting pretty toasted. I could hear the announcer saying: “OK people we’re just coming up to 3:30. I want you to give those runners a big cheer to get them across the line under 3:30”! Ragged cheer. I rounded the curve and there it was, the clock showed 3:29:xx. Gnnhhhh! It flipped to 3:30:00 while I was still some distance out. Crap. What about the chip? How close to the start line was I? I cant remember, I cant remember, never mind it’s done. Stop. Breathe.
This year 174 runners made it under 3:30. Four more than last year despite the windier conditions. I was that finisher 174 (of 3084), with a chip time of 3:29:55. Age group: 8th of 209.
Joe arrived, looking a little distressed at first, but he soon cheered up. He hit his goal exactly, at 3:45:00. He’s seriously planning a BQ attempt now.
Kati completed, in a little under 6 hours. I have not yet spoken with her to see how much walking she did. This gal beat me by 3 minutes in the S.J half, so this was life in the slow lane for her. She gets the bravery award.