Posted by: pointlenana | May 4, 2012

Boiling 2 Brutal

Our Boston 2 Big Sur adventure is over now, and I guess successful in that we both finished our 2 marathons on 2 coasts in 13 days (or 14 days for Marathon Maniacs who have this multiple marathon thing down exactly).

Boston was hot.  Big Sur looked good for about 6 miles and then the winds hit with a vengence.  One article said the people competing to win hit gusts up to 40mph.  A race report I read talked about winds of 20mph.  40mph is a little hard to believe but I totally believe 20mph and there were a few gusts that pretty much stopped me.  So, in summarizing the race, the Monterey Herald had a section called “The Toughest Double” talking about Boston 2 Big Sur, renaming it Boiling to Brutal, and saying recognition for doing it is especially well-deserved this year.  As an added ‘bonus”, it was somewhat foggy and so we couldn’t see during some of the most beautiful and dramatic portions of the run.  Fortunately, we knew going in that it was unlikely we’d have last year’s perfect conditions.

On the personal front, we again had issues.  At mile 10 there is there is a 2 mile climb up Hurricane Point (guess where the name comes from!) followed by a 1.5 mile steep downhill where runners are known to destroy their marathon by going too fast.  I do not run downhill as easily as Janet, and between Boston and going fast down that hill I did not feel as fresh at the halfway point as I did last year.  I anticipated a difficult 10k at the end, and felt myself going downhill (not literally, perhaps running into a headwind is a more apt metaphor) from miles 13 to 22.  Janet again had some stomach issue.  We’re trying to figure out if it’s pre-race fueling, allergies, gamma rays, or something else.  She was not feeling perfect from the start, but it went downhill for her very quickly around mile 22 when her entire lower body cramped and she literally could not move.   I held her up for 5 or 10 minutes until things relaxed enough that she could sit down on the road. She rested for a while, I gave her my last electrolyte capsule, she gingerly walked for a while until she was convinced it wouldn’t happen again, and then we were able to run the rest of the way.  That break probably saved me from the painful finish I expected.  We finished somewhere around 4:30 – a good time by some standards, and certainly fine in the context of Janet doing marathons number 2 and 3 in the space of 2 weeks, but not as pleasing as last year’s 3:58+ finish.  Plus there’s the mystery and very unsatisfying question of stomach issues on 2 race days after no issues for the all the long runs in training.

So with the “bad” parts and big picture out of the way, here are some photos and stories.

We arrived on Friday, before the crowds did.  The expo is maybe 1/10th the size of the Boston expo and with no crowds it’s really easy to stalk, er, talk to the celebrities.

Amby Burfoot with some poser.

Amby Burfoot won the Boston Marathon in 1968.  He told us there was no hydration in those days – people thought drinking while running would cause stomach cramps.  He started the race weighing something like 138 pounds and finished at 128.  I asked how much pain he was in at the end, since I imagine it’s quite a lot when you run fast enough to win.  He said that he was in tremendous mental pain because he was in the lead and yet was convinced that he was about to be passed and lose the Boston Marathon.  He and the #2 knew each other from other runs, and both of them knew that #2 would outkick and win if they were together at the end.  As a result Amby killed himself going up the Newton Hills trying to create space, but at the top of Heartbreak Hill he was still just barely ahead.  In those days there was no crowd control – Amby would run straight ahead at the crowd, it would part and let him through, and then close in behind.  He said he felt like he was running 12 minute miles (no GPS watches in those days either) but when he looked back to see if (more like confirm, given his state of mind) someone was catching up, he couldn’t see because of the crowd.  Only afterwards did he find out that #2 had gotten leg cramps coming down off Heartbreak.

Boston 2 Big Sur participants get special (meaning blue) bibs and everyone at Big Sur gets their name on the bib like elites do in some marathons.  When I picked up my bib, I found out I had won the jackpot in the all-important bib number department.

Pretty easy to remember, unlike my typical 11734 or 27981.

For a race that’s incredibly well organized, my only gripe would be about the waiting area at the start.  It’s a really hard problem – cramming 4000 runners into a tiny state park in an even tinier village – and fortunately the wait was only about an hour.  That gave us just enough time to pick our way through the crowd, get in portapotty lines, wait in portapotty lines, and pick our way back to the truck to drop extra clothing.

If you extrapolate this out to 4000 people in a medium-sized parking lot, that was the start area.

On the way out to the road where the race starts, we ran into another Dana-Farber teammate.  He had seen my B2BS shirt in Boston and we talked briefly.  When we saw him at Big Sur, he told us a Boston tale of woe.  He is a very good runner and started Boston at what he thought was a responsible pace given the heat.  Things went fine for a while and then he woke up in a medical tent under bags of ice.  He tried to go back out and finish but they wouldn’t let him.  As a result, when he got to Big Sur, he lost his special (meaning blue) bib and a chance at the extra B2BS finishers medal and jacket.  I looked him up after Big Sur and was happy to see he finished.  Hopefully he had a great time and maybe will get to do it again in a non Boiling to Brutal year.

Waiting for the start – note the tiny beach ball bouncing around up near the starting gate. We were in wave two based on our projected finish time.

Team Mark and Janet, well-photographed in a truly flattering way.

The first 5 miles are downhill.  It’s pretty fun to run downhill for 5 miles.  For a while it looked like we were on track for a 3:50 finish, although we were actually wearing ourselves out so we could blow up later.  A common problem is starting too fast, and it’s hard to know when you start downhill.  The first 5 miles are also in coastal woods, sometimes redwoods.

Typical scenery when we weren’t right on the coast.

After 5 miles or so, you leave the woods and aim for the coast.  That’s typically where the wind starts, but there was no wind at that point.  Stupidly I said “well, it looks like we got lucky again this year.”  Maybe I should have been looking at the horizon.

What happens when you hold the camera over your head and keep running. Might that be some weather ahead?

The weather gods heard my comment and immediately whipped up 20mph headwinds and some fog.

A few hours of running along this. Things could be worse.

The big scary thing in the Big Sur Marathon is the climb up to Hurricane Point – about 500 feet of climbing in 2 miles.  They have bands along the course and every year this group is at the foot of the climb.

Based on the soundtrack, I think something dramatic and bad is about to happen.

Not too bad yet.

People are starting to walk, and the wind is starting to blow harder.

Finally, after two miles, you arrive at the top and can look back. This was actually taken the day before. It’s about 5 miles back to that point and the course runs along the coast the whole time.

After the climb, there’s a long, steeper downhill where people like Janet and I destroy our quads, to our later regret.  At the bottom of the descent, you cross the Bixby Bridge which is the iconic image from the run.  Then you get to the piano player, who looks so elegant in the official photos.  The real world is a little different than the official pictures, but still fun.  He was playing Chariots of Fire as I arrived.

The real piano scene. Bixby Bridge and the downhill side of Hurricane Point in the background.

How a lot of those piano pictures must turn out, especially for less-than-brilliant people who are both running “fast” and trying to take pictures.

Things started going bad not long after the piano, and I stopped taking pictures.  After Janet’s total body cramp, I had a little more time and took a few more.  The end isn’t as “wild” as the middle section, but it’s still better than running through a suburban industrial park.

Can I live in that house? Please???

One mile to go.

Finally, we finished.  Big Sur does a neat thing with their results, and lets you look at the results sorted by age-graded results.  There’s a fairly well accepted formula for adjusting times based on age and gender, which enables you to compare young and fast with old and slow, or my younger and faster times with my not-so-young and definitely-not-fast times.  After all our issues, and even with a 15 minute period where we were going approximately 0 miles per hour, Janet still finished in the top 15% based on age graded results.  Not a perfect day, but a pretty good one.

6 months of training…

Now the bike rides start.

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