Two marathons in thirteen days on two coasts? Sure, why not? I like to make bad decisions so why not go for the Boston 2 Big Sur challenge? This has actually been on my bucket list for a couple of years now so I was really excited to sign up for it and try to tackle it. Though, I will say I’m glad this was one of the years where it was thirteen days between races instead of just six.
Though, the race was this past Sunday, we flew out to California the prior weekend so I could work out of Bitly’s San Francisco office for a week. I figured I might as well make the most of the flight across the country. Plus, it meant we got to make more of a trip out of it without having to spend out-of-pocket for a hotel for the extra nights.
During our time in SF, we ate a ton of yummy food and enjoyed a change of scenery. I went for three easy 5k runs along the Embarcadero.
For the drive down to Monterey, we hugged the coastline the entire way and took the sceneic Pacific Coast Highway route. I’ve never had a chance to drive any of it before, but the beautiful views were well worth the extra time it took. Once we got into Monterey, we checked into the hotel and walked over to the expo to try to beat some of the crowds. After getting my special Boston 2 Big Sur bib, it was time for dinner, ice cream, and then an early bed.
The day before the race was filled with my shakeout run on the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail, breakfast at Loulou’s Griddle in the Middle—a Diners, Drive-ins, and Dive featured place—a relaxing beer at Fieldwork, a brief meetup for Boston 2 Big Sur runners, and a nice big bowl of capellini for dinner. The day sounds much busier than it felt.
The race starts early because the permit to close down State Route 1 doesn’t allow Big Sur Marathon to keep it closed all day. Start time is at 6:45am and it’s a point-to-point race where they drive you to the start. So that means you gotta be on a bus by 4:15am. It’s almost like a runDisney race weekend.
After taking a relaxing bath and setting out my flat runner, I was in bed by about 8:30pm for my 3am alarm. Unfortunately, being on the West Coast for a week already had acclimated me to the local time so waking up early was no longer going to be easy for me.
Recovery from Boston
After Boston, I wasn’t sure how quickly I’d recover. I ended up still having some soreness in my quads while running for about a week. It wasn’t bad, but it was there to let me know that Big Sur was going to be a challenge.
My legs were still tired, but they started to have some spring back in their step. By the time race weekend came around, I felt like I was in better shape than expected. But it’s hard to tell from just a few 3.1-mile runs.
In the thirteen days between the races, I did one hour-long easy bike ride and five easy 5k runs. That seemed to be the right mix of keeping my legs loose and recovery.
The bus ride up to the start didn’t feel as long as the hour they said it could take. I think it was more like 50 minutes? Despite the fact that the sun hadn’t come up yet, there was an (almost) full moon illuminating the ocean, allowing us to see some of the views. The bus route to the start was the race course in reverse so it was a nice way to get a quick tour of what we were about to run on. I tried to pay a little attention to when we were going up or down hills.
I got to the starting area with plenty of time to pee (twice), relax, and check my bag. The corral loading was done in reverse (entering from the front of the corral) with the slower runners first filling in first as faster runners got in in front of them. There were no pre-assigned corrals or waves, so runners were free to seed themselves into one of three waves based on their predicted finish. As far as I could tell, it worked out reasonably well.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear Rudy from runDisney’s voice coming over the speakers and doing the announcing. At this point, I think he’s been the pre-race announcer for almost half of my marathons.
Anyway, I seeded myself into wave two because I wanted to start with the 3:50 pacers. By the time I got into the corral, it wasn’t much longer until the race started.
Honestly, a lot of the early miles feel like a bit of a blur to me. The 3:50 pace group started off hot. I felt like I was working harder to keep up with them than I should have been. The 8:46 pace that a 3:50 works out to be tends to be a little uncomfortable for me to run. Usually, an effortless pace for me is in the low-to-mid 8:30s so I was a little worried when I kept falling back from them. We started on a big overall downhill for a while and there was some light crowding, but it should have been doable for me. Unfortunately, my legs weren’t feeling great. They felt tired—not sure what I was expecting—the entire way.
Most of the race is run on highly cambered roads which can be very difficult to run on. I tried to run opposite tangents because the very outside of each curve in the road tends to flatten out just a bit. The extra distance to cover seemed like better trade off than wrecking my body while running unevenly.
The sun was up, but the skies were overcast. Though, this made for slightly less pretty views, I appreciated not running in the sun given the temperature in the low 50s.
A few miles in, another Boston 2 Big Sur runner came up to me and we started chatting. We were running about the same pace and saw each other a lot throughout the entire race.
I was trying to take some water early on because I knew I was already sweating a bit and had spent the whole night sweating in my sleep—it was so much that I thought I had peed the bed when I woke up. At mile six, I gulped down my first gel.
Some time around mile five or six, I dropped back from the 3:50 pacers and let them go. I felt really uncomfortable trying to keep up with them. I don’t know if it was the hills, my tired legs, or that they were running too fast, but it was a struggle for me.
Once I accepted running on my own, I was a lot happier, as I usually am. I was able to run according to effort, which is how I prefer to run. I, honestly, don’t know why I ever try to run with pacers, it never lasts long and I’m always better off on my own.
While the course is a downhill in the first few miles, it’s not a straight downhill. I think it starts off on a steeper decline than Boston does, but there are constant rolling hills to contend with, more so than Boston.
These miles are mostly through forests which is a nice serene way to start off a race. One thing I miss since moving to a city is running through forests.
Through the first half
While the earlier miles don’t provide views of the ocean, this starts to clear up as you’re into the second quarter of the race. You start to get beautiful views of the ocean on one side and the green hills on the other.
I don’t really remember too much from some of these miles specifically. I just remember the views and focusing on them.
The hills were already taking their toll on my legs, but I was counting down until mile eleven for the start of the two-mile hell-climb to the top of Hurricane Point. As we come down miles eight and nine, we were flying down some steep hills. While this was rough on the quads, I was trying to enjoy what I could here before the climb. I stopped to take a few quick photos along the way because it was too pretty not to.
As we got to mile ten, the climbing started. Notice how I said mile eleven in the last paragraph? Yeah, I thought the climb started at eleven. Nope, I was wrong. It was ten. For nearly a mile approaching the climb, you can see it up ahead. It definitely gives you a nice little indication of what you’re about to be up against.
Oh, did I mention that we’d been running into a not-stong-but-decent headwind the entire race so far? I didn’t? Well, we were. And this headwind was there to accompany us all the way through the finish.
We came through a relay exchange and around a big bend in the road then faced up the hell-climb of 550 feet, give or take a small mountain. Woof. I settled in and started trying to push more with my glutes while trying to keep my effort as steady as possible. I didn’t want to try to power up the hill, I wanted to get up it using as little energy as possible. The views going up were amazing, though, so I had to stop for a few quick photos.
Less than a half mile into the climb, I heard a voice behind me “are you Amelia??” It was Mile Posts Dorothy! We’d never met in person before, but we ran together for the next two miles and the conversation helped me keep my mind off of the climb a ton.
As the climb continued, my legs were hating me. They did not want to keep on climbing. I just kept telling myself that as soon as we got to the top, we’d get to go back downhill and I’d get to rest my glutes a bit. After that, it’d be a much easier course.
Does it count as a lie if you believe it at the time?
Dorothy and I came up on Bixby Bridge and stopped for a couple photos, along with a ton of other runners. This is one of the most photogenic parts of the course. My mantra for the climb was “Bixby Bridge! Bixby Bridge!” I guess that’s not actually a mantra, but I kept thinking it. So whatever you want to call that.
Running across the bridge was super rad and I really enjoyed it! Leading up to and coming across it, you could hear the piano player being played through speakers. This helped boost the excitement for when you actually got to him.
We came off the bridge and there he was, playing his tunes right at the halfway point. I didn’t look at my watch to see my exact first half time, which was a mistake, but shortly after, I did take a look to get an idea. It was slower than I expected.
After the race, I found out it was 1:57:14, which was even slower than I thought it was.
13.1 to 20
The elevation chart of the race doesn’t prepare you at all for the second half of the race. You think once you tackle Hurricane Point, that’s it for the major hills. It’s not. That’s certainly the biggest hill by a factor of like 10, but it’s early enough that you still have some legs under you for it. In the second half, the hills continue to be relentless, coming one after the other with no break. They’re smaller, but your legs have already been beaten up so much going up and down Hurricane Point that they feel like mountains.
Dorothy and I had split up by now and I was running on my own again. I soaked up the views and enjoyed the fact that I was in the second half of the race now. My legs were tired and sore, but I was going. My left hip, the one that seized up after Boston, was hurting a bit to the point where I started to be concerned if it would make it the whole way. Luckily, by mile 15 or 16, it eased back up and was fine the rest of the way. Though, under the ball of my right foot, my left arch, my left knee, my calves, and my hammies were all hurting too. Oh, and I was chaffing between my thighs and around my left armpit. I WAS IN FANTASTIC SHAPE, FRIENDS! 🙄
And then, it started misting. Okay, NBD, it felt good with how much I was sweating.
Then it started actually raining.
What the hell? Are you serious? This was supposed to be the nice weather race after Boston’s cold hurricane. Sigh. Every runner, especially the Boston 2 Big Sur ones, was just like “uh…what?”
The rain didn’t last long, but it was enough to get your feet wet. Not exactly what you want in a marathon.
Rain or not, the hills kept coming. You’d go up and then you’d go down. While going up, you’d be just fighting to get to the top and then looking forward to a little downhill on the other side. Coming down, you’d be praying for a little flat.
But there was no flat. Only hills.
Of the whole 26.2 miles, there was maybe one cumulative mile of flat. And remember, all these hills were on cambered road so you weren’t even running evenly.
Through here, there was less of an ocean view than the previous miles. There were a handful of locals out cheering, but only sporadically.
After crossing the 16th mile marker, I was counting down to the finish. I was getting beat up fast and my legs were constantly being taxed. Whether it was glutes/hammies/calves going uphill or quads/knees going downhill, it was constant.
I honestly didn’t know how I was going to make it to the finish. I knew I would, but I didn’t know how. I just wanted to hold off walking as long as possible and try to keep running. Still, I was thinking maybe I’d taken so long to climb Hurricane Point that I could pull off a negative split? I really wanted to, but I also thought I was kind of crazy for even thinking this.
At mile 18, I started thinking about an eight-mile run along my typical route at home. It didn’t help much. Mile 19 came and I was taking up every seat on the struggle bus. My pace was okay, but for how much longer???
Finally, I got to mile 20 and told myself it was just 10k to go. That would be manageable. I didn’t want to walk, but I knew I’d started walking earlier in a couple marathons before and it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
By now I was fighting too much to be paying as much attention to the views.
The last 10k
I was fighting each hill and trying to run tall up them, but it was hard. I don’t know how else to explain how beat I was. I legit started wondering if I’d ever want to do another marathon again. I wondered how much I’d be able to handle at my next physical therapy appointment. I thought about the In-and-Out I was going to nom after the race. I thought about my cats. I thought about Desi’s Boston win. I used all my tricks of distraction.
“Okay, can do five more.”
“Four left, it’s just the second half of that eight-miler you were thinking about.”
At 23 miles, a woman asked me if I knew how many hills were left. I didn’t, but I said I didn’t think I could take another one. She joked “sure you can, bring them on, right?!” Funny joke, lady!!!! Oof.
Each hill was a battle, on both sides, but I told myself it was just like running home from the Statue of Liberty at this point…just, you know, with hills.
There was still no flat road anywhere.
I still hadn’t walked yet and I knew I could at this point without having an awful time, but I was trying really hard not to. Honestly, I didn’t want to walk, I wanted to stop. This course was utterly wrecking me. Somehow, though, I was still keeping a steady pace. I didn’t think I could still negative split at this point, but if I could hang on, I’d be close to an even split. At this point, I really only had one speed. Anytime over the last few miles that I tried to slow down to conserve anything I could, my legs wouldn’t change speed. But the hurt. Each uphill really hurt my hamstrings and calves and my quads could barely keep me up on the downhills.
As we went by the last water stop, a volunteer yelled out “just 1.7 miles to go!” and that was honestly my lifeblood. There were a few “you’re almost there”s, but I ignored those. I could do 1.7 miles. Maybe. I think.
The 25th mile marker started coming into view a ways before we got there and it was a bit confusing because there was a big Hoka branded blowup arch across the road. Such a tease!
At this point, I was determined to run it all the way in. Prior to the race, I had given myself permission to walk as much of this course as I needed to and not be disappointed by that, but I really didn’t want to.
Finally, the 26th mile marker came into view with the finish line just behind it. It was there! FINALLY. I was beat, but I was going to run it in.
As I approached the finish, I was pretty much all alone. There was a woman like 75 feet in front of me, but that was all I could see. I guess a few behind me? Thanks to this, though, the announcer called out my name… “Amelia Gapin from New Jersey! WE’VE GOT A JERSEY GIRL HERE!” I started laughing just as I was about to cross, it was great!
I stopped running and couldn’t believe I didn’t collapse. I wanted to.
3:50:22. Not bad!
I grabbed my medal, snagged a photo, and then made my way over to the Boston 2 Big Sur finisher tent for my second medal and my jacket. Heck yes! The tent had some pasta and beer for us. I had pasta and salad, but really didn’t feel ready just yet for beer.
I was surprised I was able to walk pretty well still. I wasn’t nearly as sore as I expected. I actually felt better than I did after finishing Boston. Go figure.
I ended up not hanging out long because I was a bit cold and didn’t have a ton of time before needing to check out of the hotel. I hopped on a bus and waited to finally get cell service again for the first time since I got on the bus before the race. I was happy! My time was exactly what I was hoping to run. I chatted with the woman next to me on the bus and we talked about how unbelievably hard the course was. This was something I heard every single runner saying over and over. It wasn’t just me. We all thought it was hard as all hell.
I didn’t know at the finish, but it turned out that I had, in fact, negative split—by like four minutes. That’s 8 of my last 9! This is something I’m really proud of. I think it reflects a lot about how I run. I’m not so good at the 5k or 10k, but with longer distances, I’ve gotten good at staying patient and controlled early and my body seems to be really good at running well on tired legs. Even when I feel like hell, my legs seem to be able to keep going. I wish I could explain this, but my body is just weird. If I could explain it, I would share it with every single other runner.
Anyway, that In-and-Out Double Double, fries, and shake were so amazing.
I also took a loooong walk along the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail. That seemed to really help keep my legs from tightening up.
This race is fucking hard. I’ve never run a course that difficult before. Not even close. It was a major challenge. Even if I had been running on fresh legs, this would have been a really hard race.
The views are gorgeous, though. I highly recommend running Big Sur Marathon for any marathon runner! Really, I do! But go into with proper expectations. The entire course is hard and will challenge you, but it will reward you so much. Don’t make it a race you do for time, make it a race you do for fun.
I don’t think I’ll ever do Boston 2 Big Sur again. I’m glad I did because it was a great challenge and really, really pushed me. I feel badass af for doing it. And I can’t believe I negative split both races after expecting to be unable to do so at either one. But it’s a lot on the body and a bit stressful. I plan to do marathons this close together again, but not with such challenging courses.
The weird thing, though, is how not sore I was after this race. I thought I wouldn’t be able to walk at all, but I’ve never felt this good after a race. It’s so weird how much it destroyed me while running, but left me feeling like it was just a hard long run.