Monday, May 7, 2012

Run Big Sur, Change Your Life


I've struggled with how to best sum up my Big Sur Marathon experience.

It's been over a week, and every time I start, what comes out, falls short.

During that amazing weekend, I met so many wonderful people, and heard so many inspiring stories, that I've decided to let those stories make my point for me.

In no particular order...

There were 3 women from the greater-Indianapolis area who were on my flight out, meeting 4 other friends, to run Big Sur. Why? Because one of their gang of seven was turning some big-number birthday and, when asked what she wanted to do to celebrate, said "I want us all to run Big Sur!" Bam! Gauntlet thrown! She must be a most-excellent running buddy and friend, because all 6 of her cohorts flew out and saddled up.

There was my friend Brady who was running Big Sur in memory of her father, and to raise money and awareness for the disease that took him. (Read it here.) As if tackling the hills of Big Sur with the emotional burden of such a run weren't enough, she also has been fighting anemia, which really jacked up her training. Her coached advised her not to run. She didn't listen to him. She had to run. She passed me on an uphill.

Jerry, in the airport, was kinda creeping me out at first. You wouldn't blame me for being creeped out if you'd been there and seen the older gentleman who kept looking over at me, with the huge grin on his face, as we waited to board the plane home. I overcame my creeps when it was apparent that the smelly couple sitting next to me were eager to tell me all about their trip to Hawaii, and Jerry had taken a window seat and had the rest of the row to himself. I slid over and we exchanged pleasantries.Turns out, Big Sur had put that now-less-creepy grin on Jerry's face. It was his first marathon.  He'd started running a few years ago. He said he'd had a bit of bad health and wanted to turn that around. He said that in the folksy way Midwesterners do when they really don't want to talk about the bit of bad health. In his mid-sixties, this quiet, gentle Rose-Hulman Mechanical Engineering professor decided to try the marathon. That takes some serious balls... serious, perfectly machined, mechanically engineered, balls.


Jim is from DC, and also was my bus-buddy on the ride out to the start. He started running marathons with his brother many years ago. He'd run Marine Corp Marathon 10 times, and another local race in Virginia another 8 times. His right knee complained sometimes, but never so much that he couldn't keep running. A couple years ago he did the math and thought it would be cool, and possible, to pull off a nice landmark-type accomplishment. He's had to squeeze in some extra marathons since then, but Big Sur was just 3 weeks after his 60th birthday, and it was also his 60th marathon. And likely his last. He told me with solemn determination, that he'd injured himself on his most recent marathon, and though his troublesome knee was on it's last leg, he wouldn't miss Big Sur, even if he had to crawl.

The woman sitting behind me on the flight from Phoenix to Indy, a tall, but not overly athletic looking black woman, heard me tell Jim's story. She quietly let me know that Big Sur was her 64th marathon. She too wanted to run 60 marathons before she turned 60. She hadn't run a step since childhood before she set that goal... at age 57. Let that one sink in for a minute. Zero to 60 marathons in 3 years... that's essentially 17 a year, about 3 every 2 months. And she was 57. Who sets a goal like that? What kind of person achieves a goal like that?

There was a couple that got married at Big Sur. Not at the beginning. Not at the finish. At the 25 mile marker. I know! But wait, it gets better. The bridesmaids and groomsmen also ran the marathon. They all met at mile 25. Even the pastor ran the marathon, but not wanting to wreck his finish time, he ran ahead, completed the full 26.2, and then jogged back to the 25 mark to officiate the wedding. The service took 29 seconds, which the bride made a point of noting so she could subtract that time from her total. Then the couple started their life together, hand in hand, with a hellacious half-mile climb, and then a long downhill to the end. Symbolic? Let's hope so, but not in the "it's all downhill from here, kids" way... in a good way... like the struggle to come together is rewarded with an easier road ahead, together. Sure, the bride was sweaty, and probably a little smelly, but seriously, can you imagine a sweeter story?

Then there was the forty-something guy, a little over-weight, a lot under-trained, who decided he needed a kick in the pants. He needed a challenge, one he couldn't back away from, because it was just too good to miss out on. In a fateful moment of whimsy, and courage, and stupidity, and irresponsibility, and WTF-ery, he signed up for a race he'd wanted to do since the first time he'd seen an ad for it in RunnersWorld, many moons ago, before he'd run more than 3 miles at once. He hadn't trained for a marathon in ages. He had been running, but his body was in mutiny. He had no idea if he could make it to that finish line, or even the starting line. But he did. And during that weekend, out on those breathtaking 26.2 miles, though he knew that running was good for him, that he needed to run, he was reminded how much it meant to him. He was reminded that running is a gift. He fell in love with running again.

That guy, as I'm sure you realize, was me. The last guy, not the creepy-smiling professor.


Big Sur is not the place to go if you want to set a PR. I talked to a hundred or so runners after the race. They asked what I thought of the course, how I'd handled the many micro-climate changes, what I thought of the views, if I was coming back, what I was going to tackle next. Not one of them asked what my finish time was.

Big Sur is a tough marathon that attracts runners who are looking for great beauty, on the course, and within themselves. These are just a handful of the stories I heard or saw or lived that weekend. Every one of them starts with a simple declaration: to step out of what is comfortable and do something difficult, scary, audacious, challenging, memorable, affirming, altering, awakening, inspiring, and glorious that will change you, for the better, forever.

The absolute best thing about really doing something, is that as soon as you do, you can't wait to try something else. You can't wait to expand your understanding of who you are and what you're capable of.

Are you challenging yourself? What have you always wanted to do that also scares the hell out of you? What is it that you don't know if you can even do, but just by trying, is going to make you stronger and your days on this wonderful planet a great story that will inspire your great-grand kids to find their own adventures?

What hill will you climb just to see the view from the top?

Me? You'll see, or read, soon enough. But we're not talking about me.

What's next for you?

Good running,
Doug
Monterey, CA - Plaza in Cannery Row
Day after Big Sur