Archive for April, 2009

Race: Big Sur International Marathon

bsim medal, shirt

“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.

bsim_1-47:39, 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.

bsim_4-87:37, 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.
bsim_8-128:21, 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.

bsim_12-167:08, 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.
bsim_16-207:42, 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.

bsim_20-247:57, (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.

bsim_24-268:06, (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.

Big Sur Micro-Report

I’m still on my way home from the race, and a full report will be forthcoming, but the one word summary of Big Sur is “Awesome”. How did I do? 3:29:55. I’m a happy camper, to put it mildly 🙂 More to follow!


Cathi has a throat infection that’s making her sound a little frog-like. She’s worried about my catching it for the marathon on Sunday, so is sleeping on the foldout for a few days. Let’s spare a thought for our supporters, who make these sacrifices for us. While we’re about it, the injury list deserves some consideration. Kati, who won’t be running Big Sur because of a nasty hamstring injury, and Dan, who’s running has been sharply curtailed by a knee problem. Heal soon, you two. Those of us who are still running are fortunate indeed.

BSIM Elevation ProfileNow, about that marathon. It’s hard to make predictions about this one. My training has been going well, and the hilly Brickyard race was encouraging. If this were a fast course like CIM I would be shooting for 3:20, dream goal 3:15. I’m hoping that somewhere in the 3:30s will be achievable here, but all bets are off if it’s windy. I’ll run the early downhill miles at 7:50 to 8:00 and then go by instinct. It’s interesting that the fastest pace group is 3:40. Hmmm…


Well, I’ve been a good boy this week, and got my mileage below 50. I’ve done some “minimum runs” to the first water fountain and back – 5 miles, and felt pretty lazy. The midweek tempo session went over 12 miles, but I hit my goals without having to work too hard, despite the wind. I followed it with an easy 7 the next day. No taper weirdness has struck yet (sluggishness, phantom pains) but that probably lies in wait in the next few days.

My “perceived easy” running pace has been creeping towards marathon pace, which is a good sign I suppose. Today I ran an 8-miler on a hilly trail at an average of 9:02, which was a pleasant surprise, given that I walked some of the steeper bits. What all this means for Big Sur I’ll be speculating on in another post.

But I got a mileage surprise of a different kind. Cathi said today: “Shoes seem to be on spring sale everywhere. Do you need anything?” “Hmm, some new shoes for work would be nice, and… Omygawd!” I rushed to the computer to check the spreadsheet.

My current pair of Brooks Defyance which I’m planning to wear for the marathon next weekend, are at 451 miles! How did I let that happen? These things sneak up on you. My last pair didn’t even last this long, and I ended up saying “Ow, these shoes are done” in the last mile of a half marathon. These ones have reached a sort of comfort sweet spot, so they’re probably near the end. It’s getting late to break in a new pair, so they’ll get a nice swansong. I’ll wear some other shoes for training this week, so they’ll only need to last another 26.2 miles.

Nearly there, old buddies

Nearly there, old buddies

Interestingly, my shoes seem to be lasting longer and longer as my form (presumably) improves, and as I’ve lost weight. Joe, who is taller and heavier, with a longer stride, goes through shoes in about 300 miles. Your mileage may vary, as they say…

There’s No Boulder

Well, the first week of taper did not turn out to be very taper-y. In fact I ended up with a new mileage PR. How did that happen? I didn’t keep count during the week, extended a run or two because I felt like it, and then there was today.
Briones Reservior
The program called for an MP run, but this wasn’t going to happen because I would be running with the group on a roller-coaster of a trail alongside Briones reservoir. I compromised by showing up early and going for a fast solo 4 miler along the road. This was a nice little Big Sur practice, because the first mile ascended 320 ft, then it rolled for another mile before I turned around and headed back. I was experimenting to see how fast I could go downhill at a marathon effort level or a bit more. A bit unrealistic, since that hill was steeper than anything at Big Sur, but I managed 6:20 with a burst to 6:02, according to the Garmin.

A few minutes later, the group was standing around in the still-chill morning air being briefed by Karen, When someone remarked “Haha Jim, your shirt is steaming!”
So far so good, but then Joe suggested a run all the way around the lake, and I foolishly said yes to this 13-miler. It’s been over a year since I was last here, and time smooths out the hills.

Mud. There was plenty of mud. We had to keep kicking its dead weight off our shoes. After some steep oscillations, around mile 5 the trail started to go up. It continued up around each tantalizing turn and apparent crest.
“Um Joe, does this go up forever, like an M.C. Escher illusion?”
“Actually the plane crashed, and this is Hell. Or perhaps it’s Heaven. After all the gradient is quite runnable and there is no boulder to push.”

The vistas got more extensive, and there was finally a top after 400ft of climbing. Joe, having run fewer miles than me, was the pacesetter, and towards the end of the circuit I let him go on ahead. This was getting to be stressful and I am, after all, supposed to be tapering.

Some taper. Last week, my supposedly peak week, was 73 miles. This weeks total, which should have been around 50, was 77, after running 17 miles today. Am I the only nut who makes this sort of error?

Speaking of mileage, Loraine put her finger on my reporting problem. “You’re been telling me to make most of my miles easy, but in your blog, you always seem to be going fast.” That’s because I haven’t been reporting the easy runs, and yes, that is wrong. I’ll make some changes around here shortly.

UPDATE: Not only do I have trouble with basic math whilst running, but apparently for some time afterward. I messed up the heights of the hills in this post, and have now corrected them. I had forgotten to subtract the altitude of the bottom of the hill!


When starting today’s tempos – 2 bouts if 15 minutes with 20 minutes recovery – I was at a low ebb. My legs still ached a bit from Sunday, and it felt like I had another cold coming on. Urrgh! The first bout started stiffly but got smoother after a few minutes. – 7:28 pace. Hm, not 7:21, but not terrible, given a bit of wind. The next one went like a well-oiled machine – 7:14 pace. That’s a nice start to the taper.

Speaking of tapers I got the Big Sur “Last Minute Instructions” in the mail yesterday. This caught my eye: “The course is moderately difficult and you should plan on adding about 20 minutes to your usual marathon finish time. Walk when necessary, especially on the more difficult hills like Hurricane Point”

Thank you, I’ll bear it in mind. In fact I’ll be sure to tell Joe: “Don’t forget to walk Hurricane Point, and perhaps some other hills too!”

Scenic Walk?.

Race: Run, Brickyard, Run!

Joe and I did a new thing today. This is supposed to be the last long run before starting the taper for Big Sur, but we also had a race – the Brickyard – to run. So we showed up early and did easy runs before and after the race to get the distance up. While doing the first of these, we talked about the race.
“There really are no flat bits on this course, are there? It rolls all the way.”
“So Jim, what pace were you thinking of for this one?”
“I haven’t really thought about it. I’ll be winging it pretty much. Let’s see… Only eight miles, but it’s hilly. So maybe I’ll manage my flat-course half-marathon pace – 7:30 or so.”
Joe was quite impressed by this plan, while I was thinking – “I must be out of my mind. Maybe 8:00 is more like it!”
They delayed the start because of a long line at the check-in, so we added a bit more distance. Four miles run so far. The race director made some inaudible announcements before banging two bricks together, and we were off.

Feeling pretty good after my extended warmup, I felt that that first mile was a little aggressive. In fact it was 7:25. Not unreasonable. The next two miles were about the same, then I slowed slightly to 7:38 for the middle two miles (missed the lap button there). I like these out-and-back races. You get to see all the other runners, and wave at the people you know. It’s like being a spectator in your own race. The field was quite spread out by this point, and the guy who had been towing me along slowed. I passed him, but mile 7 was my slowest, at 7:53. There was quite bit of uphill in that one, though. I pulled myself together and ran the last mile in 7:13. Total watch time: 1:00:30, which is a bit long because I was slow on the button at the end. Say 1:00:16 which would put my pace at 7:32. Can I call it or what? Joe got in shortly after, having been keeping something in reserve the next installment.

We set out again, to the amusement of some of the incoming runners. Being somewhat toasted, we ran at about 9:30 pace. Even that felt like pushing it, and we didn’t talk much. We turned around at the 3 mile point, making 18 total for the day. Not bad. We got back in time to see the awards ceremony, where they handed out bricks. No brick for me. Maybe next year.

Update: My official time was 1:00:27, which includes the few seconds it took to get over the start line. That makes the pace 7:33. I was 8th in my age group, which is sutuation normal. the top guys in my 50-59 AG are faster than the top guys in the 40-49 group. 😦

Last year I ran the shorter 4-mile race in 33:23 which is 8:21 pace. What will next year bring?

Race PRs

5K20:43 (LMJS 6/28/09
12K54:36 (Across Bay 3/21/10)
15K1:09:51 (LMJS 19/27/09)
Half1:31:28 (Kaiser 2012
Marathon 3;13:14 (CIM '11)


April 2009
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