Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Big Sur Marathon: the most scenic road marathon in the world

April 27th 2008 - our mission - to check out if the above claim was really true.

The Big Sur is a point to point marathon along the coast from Big Sur to Monterey about 100 miles south of San Francisco. As the road was closed for the duration of the race most competitors had to get the bus from Monterey at a ridiculously early hour. We had the foresight to book into a camp ground amongst the giant redwoods just 1km from the start - for which we were rewarded with a lie-in until 4.30am.

Despite this being the 23rd running of the event the organisers made a bit of a foul up at the start which found the road jammed with the slower runners and nowhere for the front runners to go. Eventually with a minute to go till the 6.45am start they announced that everyone should stay where they were and the rest of the runners would be “fed in” - after the 6 hour plus competitors had plodded past!! Our immediate reaction was “No way!” so we dived through the barriers, raced across the front of the start line and dived in from the side. A few lucky souls were quick enough to follow suit but then the marshals sprang into action and no-one else made it. Their problem, not ours - we were on the start line and ready to go.

And so finally, after months of planning and looking forward to the Big Sur, we were underway. The first few miles were slightly downhill or flat, winding through the redwoods, but we resisted the temptation to storm off and took it steadily. Martin was still suffering the end of a cold, which had left him with a nasty cough, and didn’t want to push too hard too soon. That suited me fine, neither of us was in top shape and we were happy to take it easy. Enjoying the route was more important than a decent time for us today.

After about 5 miles the sea came into view on our left and the first of many undulations began. At the same time we were treated to the first section where we were heading into a strong head wind. The first climb, although not steep was hard work but the views made up for it. The Big Sur marathon has an excellent website with a virtual tour - words simply cannot describe the splendour of this section of coastline - it’s well worth a look.

I was finding the race quite tough from fairly early on - an upset stomach was making life uncomfortable and I could feel a repeat of Venice coming on. I wanted to enjoy this race and not struggle for over half the way! However at about 8 miles we began picking off other female runners who had clearly gone off too fast and that improved my mood which in turn made my legs feel lighter!

There is one long hard climb up to the well-named Hurricane Point which begins at about 9 miles and reaches the summit at around 12. We reached the top and were rewarded with more fine views and a long swoop down to a picturesque bridge. On the other side I had to give in to the call of nature and pay a brief visit to a handy Portaloo - timed by Martin at 45 seconds - but well worth the wasted seconds. I felt soooo much better afterwards!

There were several bands and groups along the way and as the event also incorporated a 21 mile and 10 mile walk we were passing people all the time and the atmosphere was good. The whole route was undulating but the worst hills were during the first half, although as the miles ticked by I could feel myself slowing on even the lesser inclines.

The last few miles were tough but nothing compared with the hell that was Venice. We may not have done enough specific marathon pace training and doing a 50 mile training run just 4 weeks beforehand may not have been the wisest idea, but at least we were reasonably fit and could dig in when the legs would really rather call it a day. At every mile marker marshals were calling out not only the time but the average pace per mile and the estimated finish time which was really helpful. In the latter stages of the race our estimated finish time was 3.24 - 3.25 and that didn’t change.

We crested the final rise, with half a mile to go and a nice downhill sweep to the finish, we managed to inject some speed into our pace. Martin suggested sprinting for the finish line, I asked him politely what the hell he thought we were doing if not already sprinting? But then I noticed another woman about 20 yards ahead of us and we really went for it and swept past her in fine style (I was later extremely annoyed to find that she beat me on chip time anyway!!).
It was a great race, and I know we would both agree with the extravagant claims made by the organisers. We finished in 3.25.24/25 - 10 - 15 minutes slower than we were expecting, but the “undulations” had also proved tougher than expected. It was a good enough time to give me 2nd in the 40 - 44 age group and 12th overall. And in a field of well over 3000, we finished 126 and 128 respectively.

Straight after the finish we were herded through a tent packed with a huge variety of food - which would have been nice half an hour or so later but was way too soon for us - not often we pass up free food! Even more remarkable was that there was also free beer….but the queue for it was so long even Martin wasn’t tempted to wait for it!! Might have been an incentive to run a bit faster if only we had known!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Taunton Marathon

Richard’s report:

Adverse weather was predicted for the Taunton Marathon on Sunday and there was indeed some laying snow when we drew back the curtains with a degree of trepidation. However everything turned out perfectly for the duration of the race, although it was still a tad cold. All the snow was soon gone, there was only a light breeze, and the bright sunshine gave a real feelgood factor. Dave C looked in good shape with two arms for the half, while Phil was confidently boasting that he would do no good as he’d not done any training! Lesley, for a change seemed cool, calm and collected and had even remembered her front and rear numbers for her first Taunton Marathon. I didn’t feel too good and in fact hadn’t felt right since the Four Trigs. I had aborted my last 800m rep. Session and walked home in confusion. On the plus side Lesley and I had both done four long runs in the last six weeks.

For the second year Taunton had “proper” chips with mats (cf. the Grizzly) so I made a determined effort to start off in very last place. Everything went well with consistent 8 min/miles and a 3.5 hour target. The sun must have brought out the best in me as I actually talked to a few people, which I never do when running. Fred Hagan from Minehead was supporting on a bike and we chatted for some time. There was a revised route this year: 1) Miss off the French Weir Park bit, staying on the main road. 2) Take the left “leg” at Bradford on Tone to the A38. 3) Turn left into Bishops Hull, through the village, exiting at Netherclay, then right onto Silk Mills Road and left into Heron Drive and through the car park to the finish. Beware half-marathoners who park here wanting a quick getaway!

Halfway I was right on schedule as I collected my special drink from the water station (orange juice, salt and sugar). I was joined by Mike Berry from Minehead and we ran the next six miles or so together. His last marathon had been in Prague, in a temperature of 29 degrees C. We passed Jonathon day of Axe valley and although I was starting to feel less good, pulled away from them. Not much conversation now. Strange snippets of talk: someone I can’t ever remember seeing before asked if I was doing the Seaview again! By 21 miles my 90 seconds in hand had gone and I could feel liquid moving around in my stomach; this meant that although I was a bit thirsty everything I drank would just sit there getting more and more uncomfortable. I must admit to walking a bit on the small hill at Bradford and the longer one at Rumwell. However the new route does have some good downhill bits through Bishops Hull and I was well enough to go past a few runners. Finished fairly comfortably in a gun time of 3:39:08 with Nicky Taylor of Yeovil one second behind – I had no idea she was there. My chip time was 3:36:39 just a tad slower than last year. Took my medal and, at the time it seemed a good idea, a cup of Bovril. Sat down in the warm sun, recycled my chip, and cheered home J Day and M Berry who came in together. Also spoke to Alan Littlejohns who raced the half – winning a category prize - the week before London!

I went to the car and felt very sick – it’s so not fair. Had the camera ready to take a picture of Lesley as promised. However she finished so quick I wasn’t ready. She saw me laid out in the car as she ran past! Anyway she looked fresh as a daisy with a new PB of 4:06:35 knocking 12 mins off her previous best. We got home, I went to bed, she dug holes in the garden planting things and once again her vest didn’t need washing. I think I’d better let her pace me at the Dartmoor Discovery.

Lesley’s report:

Not that organised – I forgot to put tape on my left foot where it rubs on my shoe, and was hobbling for the next two days. However this was the first marathon where I was able to even think about a pace rather than just reaching the finish. I though I was taking the first half at a very leisurely pace until I heard a runner behind me mention he’d done the last mile in 8:40, way too fast for me. But I plodded on going through halfway in about 1:57 and chatting to Clinton Rogers - a reporter on our local TV channel. Suddenly it got very lonely. Runners in front were several hundred yards ahead and barely visible as I picked my way through Taunton’s shoppers. Then out onto the long drag up through Norton to Oake, where some less than welcome company that had appeared spurred me to push the pace a bit. From Oake to Bradford I was back on familiar training ground, and the miles slipped away. I even managed to “run” the hill at Rumwell on the second lap, although it could better be described as “falling forward slowly”. The approach to Bishops Hull meant the finish wasn’t far away. I negotiated the car park, road humps and uneven ground etc. to make the finish line without falling over. That was a slight exaggeration from RW about digging holes in the garden, as not long after we got in there was a white out with snow. However one of us did stay on our feet to do the cooking, washing, etc. (including the vest!!)


Well done to Dave who did a good half and to the Ironman who in spite of his lack of training finished in 3:19.16. Of course all this pales into insignificance compared to Lin and Martin’s epic 50 mile adventure in snowshoes, battling through hostile terrain and 20foot snowdrifts.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Exe to Axe

The advantage of going to a race on your own is that you can leave at the time you want to, drive at a sensible speed and arrive calm and stress free with plenty of time to spare. Having said that, I am missing him…………..

First challenge was to get to Seaton for 8.30am on the weekend when the clocks go forward. Second challenge was the car park charges - 85p per hour. Well you try working out how many hours it’s going to take you to get to Exmouth on a bus and then run back - and then multiply the answer by 85 - and at 8am which is really 7am! I did manage to work out that I didn’t have nearly enough change and that a cheaper option needed to be found - which proves my point that it’s always worth getting to a race in plenty of time (Hope he’s reading this in a cyber café in the Alps between black runs).

The race starts from the Foxhole Café on Exmouth sea front and follows the coastal path for 20 miles (advertised) or 21.2 miles (real life) back to Seaton with a total of 4000 feet of climbing. I started off fairly steadily trying to conjure up Martin’s usual mantra “too fast, you’re going too fast” and sensibly let a young girl from Exmouth Harriers take an early lead. I caught her up at Budleigh Salterton - she clearly didn’t have the advantage of Martin’s wisdom regarding pacing - and settled down to enjoy the race from the front.

At Budleigh you head inland for half a mile to the bridge over the River Otter - a beautiful (and flat!) stretch before once more turning south and tackling the climb along the cliff path before dropping to Ladram Bay. Shortly after this you pass the first (or last depending on which way it’s being run) of the trig points from the Four Trigs, and this meant that I was onto familiar territory. At this point I also became aware of another female runner on my heels. Each time I glanced back she was closer and looking strong and she finally passed me on the Sidmouth sea front. No need to worry - she was a relay runner and was stopping at Sidmouth, so I could relax, slow the pace a little and hold my lead.

The second half of the run is by far the hardest - first the long, steep climb out of Sidmouth, then the drop to Salcombe followed by another muscle screaming climb, then down to Weston Mouth for the short stretch of beach before yet another ascent. The pace over the first half of the race was beginning to tell now and I was really regretting the T shirt I’d put on under my vest because it was baking hot.

As I dropped down to Branscombe, Fred Fox from YTRRC caught me up and we walked the hill up the other side together. Once we reached the top and began running again he soon pulled away from me - but the worst of the climbing was behind and only a few short miles to go now. I passed a few runners between here and Beer, who had also clearly got their pacing wrong, although I couldn’t believe by this stage that anyone was running slower than me.

Down the hill into Beer and a sharp right turn onto the coast path and to my dismay I spotted another girl sprinting down the hill a mere 50 yards or so behind. I tried to make my tired legs climb the zig zag steps out of Beer a little faster and passed another male runner. The final descent into Seaton and my rival seemed to have fallen back a bit but as I turned onto the coast path and the steep drop to the sea front she came into sight again, and she was gaining on me. I had absolutely nothing left in my legs but I gave it my best shot and if I had only known that the finish was at the end of the first stretch of promenade and not at the Hook & Parrot (Grizzly finishing line) as I had assumed, I think I could have held her off.

As it was she passed me with about 30 yards to go and beat me by 6 seconds. I was gutted as you can imagine, but I have only myself to blame for giving in just a little too easily. Now I know how Martin felt at the JK last year when he stopped on the bridge and Dave swept past him to victory!

This is a fantastic race, great scenery but a really punishing course and on the day, the combination of starting just a little too fast and the totally unexpected high temperature caught me out. Link to the results in on the website and hopefully some photos will be added to the Gallery shortly.