Sunday, April 29, 2012

Big Sur photo safari

This was a very special event for me. But I'll get into that stuff in a day or so.

For today, kids... sit back, and you might want to go to your big monitor for this post. It's the mother of all photo safaris*.

This is Big Sur...

First, let's get this out of the way...

Wasn't in Monterey 15 minutes before
I found this beaut just outside the Expo.
(For those new to DR365, I defile fountains... a lot.)

I'd done some homework and scoped out an iconic Monterey fountain in the middle of a big-ass plaza by the wharf.  It was super-close. And now a planter.

Is there anything sadder than a no-longer-a-fountain?

Classy stenciling on the plaza walls. I'm pretty sure they meant
"No Bikes OR Skateboards",
unless they are cool with one or the other, but not both. Seems unlikely.

Runners are great people. The best people. We know that. At the Expo, you mingle in and around a big... what's the term for a group of runners?... a fartlek? No... a sweat band! Yes, a sweat band**. Anyway... here are some special runners.

Bart Yasso - inspiring, engaging, hellacious runner. Even better guy.
Also Chief Running Officer at Runner's World... a nice gig.
Also a fantastic speaker, which we'll discuss another time.

Brady and Ben - I "met" Brady through her blog and twitter.
The first post of her's I read was about wanting to do Big Sur,
I was signed up 15 minutes later.
You can follow her awesomeness here:

Mark Remy - writer at Runner's World who I met
at a pub across from the Expo. Insanely nice dude.
I bought two of his books (this and this).
You should, too.

Dean Karnazes - the Ultra Marathon Man himself
The guy is ultra-human. And very cool.

Meeting Dean was a big deal to me. I had a chance to tell him how his book The Ultramarathon Man, and how he tries things not knowing if he can do them, changed not just my running, but my perspective on life. I am not kidding. The day after I finished his book, I started my first streak... 100 miles in 7 days. He was very gracious and warm.

Big Sur is a point-to-point race, so you board a bus, at 4am, you to the start.
Stepping on the bus is a seminal moment.
Once you're on, there's only one way back
... across the finish line

The start village was packed with marathoners.
This is my tribe.
And they are a very patient lot when it comes to waiting for Port-a-potties.

Ok, enough foreplay... Let's get to some racin'...

At the start, I thought this was scenic. I had no idea.
I was about to get my eyeballs blown out.

See that red and white doojie way the hell up there? That's the start.
I properly corralled myself at the back of the second wave.

Guys are just gross. I apologize for my entire gender.

Ah, there it is. The shit is on!
Wait! I forgot to start my watch!
Hold on... ok, the shit... is... oooonnnnn... NOW!

After a few miles of downhill, where it felt like you were falling out of the sky,
we popped out of the giant redwoods,
which I totally forgot about until just now.
Crap. Totally missed them.
Looks I have to come back.

Now it gets unfathomably beautiful.

Very happy cows.

 See that mist? Pretty, right? Things is, it's actually the harbinger of death!

OK, it's not really the harbinger of death, but it is the harbinger of blow-your-hat-off-for-fun-before-it-knocks-you-on-your-ass wind.

And now we're in it.
It looks all calm and peaceful.
It's not.
It's cold and windy and steep and forever.

I should point out that there are about 7 feet of flat on this course. You are either going up, or down. Sometimes the easy ups actually feel like flats.

More of nature's beauty.

Look how beautiful nature is, kids.

Ok, these guys really ARE harbingers of death...

Chinese drummers, though clearly they are not all Chinese.

The drummers sit at the base of The Climb. The climb up to Hurricane Point. This 2+ mile steep-ass, unrelenting climb makes you wish one of those drummers would have clubbed you when you went by. One of the REAL Chinese drummers... he'd do it up right.

As brutal and soul-raping as the climb is, the views are spectacular...

The top, Hurricane Point, was shrouded in that first harbinger of death. The peak is exactly at the 12-mile mark.

Truth is, I managed the climb to hurricane point well. Only stopping for pix. I was more than a little proud of myself. If I recall correctly, I said something about making Hurricane Point my bitch... not sure.

Very shortly after Hurricane point is, with the possible exception of the finish, the highlight of Big Sur...

Bixby Bridge

I remember the first time I saw an ad for Big Sur, many years ago, before I ever dreamed of doing a marathon. Every ad features a photo of the bridge. It's a siren song. I stared at it, for a long time, and I knew I wanted to run across that bridge one day. But I never thought it would actually happen.

It's not every day one gets to live out a half-a-life long dream. When I put a foot on that bridge, I remembered seeing that ad. I got goosebumps. I got chills. I teared up. I was acutely aware of how lucky I am to have the health, means, and opportunity to fulfill such an audacious wish. I'll never, ever, forget that moment.

Just after the bridge is Michael Martinez. Michael plays a grand piano, in tails (Michael, not the piano), on the course. You might want to send the kids to the other room for a sec... good? cool.

Having a guy play a grand piano, in tails, on a marathon course, is fucking awesome.

Ok, back to PG-13.
Me and Micheal

The best damn orange I have ever had in my life!

Alien working an aid station. No clue.

I should probably note that about this time, things went a little bad... race-wise. As a flatlander, climbing is a little foreign to me. I was telling a guy on the return bus that the biggest hill in the Indianapolis Marathon would go unnoticed at Big Sur. I trained on what hills I had. It got me to mile 19.

At mile 19, there was an especially steep climb, paired with a vicious wind. I hadn't walked a step to that point, but I fought this one too long. I ran out of "climbers". They had served gallantly, but what little climbing muscles I had, clocked out and went home for the day. They didn't bother telling me, they just left. I figured it out when, as I was running an uphill, I noticed walkers passing me.

I accepted my reality, remembered Mark Remy's first rule of running ("Have fun"), realized that torturing myself wouldn't be fun, and started walking the uphills. No pouting. No whining. No denial.

Know what? I worked. On the downs, and "flats" I felt fantastic! Usually after 20 miles, my hamstrings turn to steel rods, and my calves fill with concrete. But today, I felt great. Not fast, but great. And I was having fun again. I just couldn't climb anymore. No biggie.

Plus, I had more time for pictures...

Runner friends... think about your last marathon.
Now imagine running a marathon with this kind of scenery.
I know, right!?

Yeah, I got nothin'. She was really playing the harp, though.

People actually get to live down there.

Mile 23 is famous for the strawberries.

The best damn strawberry I have ever had in my life!

From the strawberry station on, it was head down. Left-right. Look good for the spectators. Get to the finish, and...


I have this thing where, after a race, I stand around the finish and congratulate those who finish around me. At a marathon, this is especially cool, because I've usually been running around these people for a couple hours. My Midwestern ways freak out some people, but most are gracious, and appreciative. Try it sometime.

The best damn cookie I've ever had in my life!

Best damn, and smallest, and out of focus, grapes I've ever had in my life!

Best damn cup of horrible beer I've ever had in my life!

Leaving the finish area of a big race is always bitter sweet. You don't want it to end. But it must.

I was shocked to see a bus that would take me to
just across the street from my house in Indiana.
But, I still had stuff in my hotel room.

Throwing up pictures and tapping out captions is the easy part. Summing up the experience will take some time. For now, I'm going across the street, to a most excellent recreation of an English pub, and have a beer and meat pie.

Good running,

*All of these images are by me. Feel free to use them, but please include a link to the blog post. Thanks.
** I'll say it... I love the idea of a group of runners being called a sweat band. It just came to me, and it tickles the hell out of me. There, I said it.