Sunday 1 May 2011

Big Sur Marathon and Bart Yasso

View from Nepenthe Restaurant (typical along the marathon course)

Nepenthe restaurant

Perfect weather down at Big Sur this weekend as the summer has hopefully kicked off (I'm optimistic, anyway). Amy and I fitted in a great lunch at Nepenthe restaurant, which has about the best views of any building I've ever been to then we headed to the expo to see Bart Yasso's presentation.

It was very interesting to get to chat to him and to hear about his marathon exploits, with accompanying photos. Man, that guy can captivate an audience so it was great to hear (and see) about some of the places he's been to for the pursuit of new running challenges. I couldn't help but empathize and I was surprised how closely my own running desires seem to match his, since I love nothing more than finding exotic places to experience as a way to see and understand other cultures.

Plus Bart has a well-documented love for Comrades, which was the last race on his must-do list. Due to his chronic Lyme disease it looked like he'd never get the chance to run it, until he found himself running a marathon in late 2009 and questioning whether that meant he'd be able to get to the finish in Durban. Well, he did and Runner's World had several video and written stories covering his build-up and race in 2010.

He spoke about the race with such passion in his presentation and did a fantastic job of conveying the special atmosphere which really makes it stand out and makes me (and hundreds of others in North America) want to fly half way around the world every year. He even teared up as he read an email of support which he was sent before the 2010 race from someone he didn't even know in South Africa.

So that was a real buzz for me, especially when I got a chance to meet him on stage. I even bought his book, "My Life on the Run," which I'm really looking forward to reading.

Bart Yasso and his slide show of running memories

And on top of all this, I had one of the most scenic road marathons in the world to look forward to in the morning. I wish I'd taken my camera on the run, but I also wanted to hit one more marathon minute in my game - 2:41. Given it's a hilly and windy course and they basically tell people to forget about the time and enjoy the views, I suspected that I'd probably have to dig in hard to achieve this.

These photos are from an earlier trip as well as Nepenthe, but the whole coastal road is like this. However, the most memorable parts of the normal point-to-point course were missing due to an unavoidable course change to an out-and-back route from the normal finish line. This was thanks to part of the road falling into the sea last month, just next to the Bixby Bridge which is the most famous part of the course. Sadly the turning point of the new course was just before you could even see that bridge, but I have no complaints as it was still stunning to take in the views. The new course also avoided the biggest hill at Hurricane Point, so was a little easier than in a normal year.

In summary of my race, I ran eight miles with a guy called Neil who was a Scot living in Australia doing his second marathon. Then I let him go off as I felt tired, plus we were heading towards about a 2:38 time, which was quicker than I wanted. I then ran alone but had people from the many other race distances to see going along in the other direction. On the way back I got to see all the marathoners heading out so it really reminded me of the Edinburgh marathon in that respect.

With a few miles away I had a few seconds in the bag for my 2:41 time so cruised in a little slower to make sure I wouldn't arrive too early. However, the mile markers weren't all that accurate (probably due to the unusual course change) and I thought I had an easy jog left from the 25-mile marker. The only problem was that the last few mile markers were short so it was about 1.15 miles for the 26th mile and I suddenly found myself needing to sprint to have any chance of hitting 2:41. The drama didn't last long and, luckily, I just managed to squeeze in and hit my target in 2:41:58 (2:41:59 by the gun).

It may seem like a silly or pointless game to try to hit various marathon minutes but it's very satisfying to learn to pace different speeds and helps a lot in keeping a steady pace in ultras too. And I've enjoyed the added challenge it provides, now that there's just one gap in my minutes from 3:10 down to my best of 2:32 (only 2:34 missing).

So it was beautiful, sunny and an event I'd recommend to anyone. They even have a Boston2Big Sur Challenge for people to run both. I hadn't officially entered since that cost extra, but I did run both with a combined time of 5:26:12. Maybe that'd be a fun target for next year and an excuse to run the full course here.

Bixby Bridge, which we saw but not during the race this year

Big Sur also ended my long run training for Comrades on roads, which is just a month away now. I tried to do the marathon minute game around doing runs a bit faster than Comrades pace and have survived marathons (uninjured and hopefully not exhausted) in the last month in 2:37, 2:44, 2:41 plus a 3:10 50k and American River 50 miler. That's exactly what I'd aimed for, but there's never a guarantee and injuries, fatigue or numerous reasons could have interrupted it. So it gives me confidence that I can enjoy Comrades with my best shot. Three weeks until I fly out there and I'm even more excited after Bart's talk.

Full results from today are here and I'm particularly impressed by all the people who chose this relatively hard road marathon as their first one.


  1. Nice work, Ian! Wishing you the best for your top 10 goal at Comrades. Save something for WS. Three Brits in the top 10, right?

  2. Great run, and another interesting post. You forgot to mention an arsenal win this weekend too! I like Nick's comment of 3 Brits in the top 10. I think 2 in the top 5 too!

  3. Nick should definitely be top 5 at WS and I'd say last year's top 4 will be the ones fighting it out for the win but Jez and myself should be in the mix.

  4. Rie and I camped at Big Sur last year in October and fell in love with the scenery. We also noticed the Nepenthe, but never could convince ourselves to eat there. How was the food?

  5. the marathon numbers game is just the coolest thing I ever heard of, what will you do when you hit the 2:34, try and go lower, or aim for higher numbers? it would make a good book title..."marathon by numbers".. ;)