On Pace for Big Sur

On Pace for Big Sur

by Laurie S.

I love half marathons.  I think it’s a great distance: long enough to feel that you’ve trained for something but not so long that the training or the recovery is onerous.  And if I’m lucky, I can plan a race in a distant locale and finagle a long weekend out of town!  My favorite part of Runner’s World is the list of races in the back.  Every month, my husband and I have a similar conversation:

Me: “Hey, look, we could do the Bear Claw Half Marathon in Montana next fall!  It’s in support of a bear preserve, and the ad says that safety of all runners is ensured!”

Drew: “NO!”

Me: “How about the Belt Buckle Blast in Wyoming in June?  All finishers get a 10 gallon hat and a chance to ride the mechanical bull.”

Drew: “NO!” 

Me: “The Sucking Mosquito half through the Everglades next August?  Just think of my hydration plan for that race!  Ooo, the Wine Country Trail Run half in Sonoma!  All aid stations have wine.  Or… ”

Drew, grabbing for the magazine: “Could we have dinner now?”

Despite enjoying running and loving to travel, doing a marathon has never been a goal of mine.  Too much training and too much recovery, both of which might put a dent in my much loved weight lifting routine.  However, there are a few races that show up in the back pages of Runner’s World that I think would be worth the effort.  I’d do pretty much anything overseas and Big Sur.  I’ve heard about the beautiful views and the grand piano of Big Sur, and I want to see the views and hear the music.  If I have to run the marathon to get to the views and music, okay, fine.

I am a cautious runner and racer.  I don’t try to advance by leaps and bounds, partly because I’m not sure what the hurry is.  So what if I take 10 years to go from a sprint tri to an Olympic?  I’ve got another 50 years to race!  When I thought about going from a half marathon to a full, it seemed daunting.  I’ve got the pacing down for a half marathon.  I know how to start, I know how to hold a solid pace in the middle, and I know how to pick it up at the end for negative splits.  But a marathon!  What am I supposed to do with the extra hours in a marathon?  How do you pace them?  How do you finish strong?

And the perfect answer occurred to me.  I would do some 20 mile events!  20 miles is conveniently halfway between 13.1 and 26.2 miles, so the distance jump and pacing strategies would be different, but not hugely so.  I remembered from living in Madison, WI that there’s a spring 20 miler up there, rumored to be hilly and rural.  I mentioned my idea to a friend, who replied that she was doing the big CARA supported 20 miler three weeks before the Chicago Marathon.  That would NOT be hilly or rural!  She was doing the marathon, but that didn’t mean I had to.  I could sign up for the 20 miler as a stand-alone event.  I found a similar event at the Fox Valley Marathon.

I ran my idea past Coach Joe, who thought it was a good idea.  And he was probably pleased to see me trying something new!  Right away, the mileage began to ramp up.  I actually enjoyed those long run workouts, partly because of the challenge and partly because I figured the extra run time justified a stop off at my local convenience store for chocolate milk.  I even learned a new skill: how to run while carrying a quart of milk like a football.  Valuable, no?  Joe talked me through my pacing issues (that extra hour on the run was still problematic), and off I went to do my race.

The CARA Newton Ready to Run 20 miler is not technically a race.  It’s a supported long run for people who want to do their last 20 miler before the Chicago Marathon with other people in a simulated race environment.  There’s no medal and no timing chip.  It starts at Wilson, does a turn through a park, heads down the lakeshore path for 18 miles through eight aid stations, and ends at Jackson Park.  They cap the run at 5000 runners and there’s a wave start by pace group, since 5000 people is FAR too many people to unleash on the narrow lake front path all at once.

I was running with my friend doing the marathon, so we met up at the race start.  My friend is faster than I am, but was going to run at my pace because she’s not good at pacing herself when she runs alone.  So we stood at the beginning of the race with our husbands, looking for the sign that said Wave 60.  It wasn’t there, but we joined the few people in line between waves 59 and 61.  About two minutes before we began our run, a woman with a six-pack and an Ironman Canada Finisher cap on backwards hopped in front of our group, holding the Wave 60 sign and dancing vigorously.  Then she turned around and earned her nickname of The Drill Sergeant.  “MY NAME IS NADINE AND THIS IS A PACE, NOT A RACE!  LINE UP TWO BY TWO!”  Wow.

The run began, and the first few miles went by easily.  Our husbands cheered as we looped the park and headed south along the lake.  I was totally entertained by Nadine, who pointed out every hazard, gave hand signals when passing walkers, exhorted us to stay two by two – all with a plastic toothpick in her mouth.  Throughout the run, she admonished us to stay to the right and praised us when a biker said thanks for leaving her space. “WAVE 60 ROCKS!  YOU MINDED YOUR MANNERS AND GOT A THANK YOU, NOT A SCREW YOU!”  I felt fantastic around mile 12 and considered pulling away, but I was having too good of a time.  The day was gorgeous, I was chatting with my friend, and who knew what Nadine would say next?  She passed on tips for pacing and nutrition (all valid, thankfully – I don’t think I could have out-shouted Nadine), danced at aid stations, thanked volunteers, said Hi to everybody, and kept us calm through the last couple of miles.  “YOU CAN BE ANGRY AT WORK.  NOW YOU SHOULD BE HAVING A GOOD TIME!” Nadine bawled.  I marveled that Nadine could yell so loudly and never seem to be out of breath.  Just before the finish, there were our husbands, urging us on!  They found us easily by listening for Nadine.  My friend and I had a great sprint to the finish with our husbands, and we were done!  That extra hour hadn’t been a problem at all.  It seems that you stay calm and relaxed, eat and drink as needed, hold the pace, and there’s the finish!

I’ve got two 20 milers next year to improve my pacing skills, and then Big Sur in 2014.  Anybody in?  Don’t delay – Nadine is doing Big Sur in 2015!  And think of my poor, suffering husband Drew.  Big Sur is a known quantity.  The Rattlesnake Rustler half marathon in New Mexico in July is not.

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