One of the many traditional extra touches at BSIM is to release a flock of doves right before the start. Those of us near the front, however, witnessed the circle of life — a coordinated peloton of hawks was circling overhead, waiting for breakfast it seems. A kind of melee ensued, with doves (actually, pigeons, according to Sally) going every which way while the hawks kept to their sophisticated zone defense. In many ways, this was a metaphor for the race itself — the course and the weather prey on the weak or foolish.
I couldn’t figure out if I fell into the latter group as I settled into what would prove to be among the quickest opening paces of my eight Big Surs. Experience is supposed to count for something, but I guess only if you listen to it. Caution should have been the order of the day. For one, it was eerily warm at the 6:45 am start — the first time ever I chose not to wear gloves. It was calm and clear, with no hint of the fierce headwind that Sally had battled the week before.
I had ambition beyond reasonable expectations — I thought a sub 3:00 was possible, but it’s not clear in hindsight why. The metrics were just not there. No Yasso 800s in recent memory, for example, the dearth of which was further punctuated by my ride to the start with the man himself. The ride out was in fact a veritable celebrity fest: in Sally’s SUV were Bart, Jeff Galloway and wife Barbara, who were — you guessed it — going to Gallowalk the course, and Whit Rambach, a prolific ultrarunner whom I had met once at Steve Patt’s little 50K. I was in the way back with a pillow and blanket that Sally had thoughtfully provided; it reminded me of family roadtrips in the ’72 Olds Vista Cruiser station wagon. To complete the celebrity A list, we stopped briefly along the long ride to the start to chat with Dean Karnazes, who was running to the start and then turning around to run the race. That is one fit-looking dude, btw.
I believed my own fitness was very high — at least for triathlons. I spent the winter and spring focusing on improving my bike power, and I had both the metrics from the power meter and the encouragement of my teammates who were no longer dropping me on climbs as strong indicators that my hard work had paid off. Of course, since training time and energy is finite, that meant that something had to give, and that was my running. While I had done a fair amount of hard running — track, tempo, hills — in training, the fact was I had no training weeks that added up to 26.2 miles since January, and my longest run on pavement this season was 12 miles. So no Parrott Predictor model could even be run against my training log — this was going to be run on muscle memory.
So why, then, did I find myself passing the 10K mark in 39:54, an insane 2:48 pace? I felt great, I was running with a fast woman who was running the first relay leg and then trying to go on and finish the whole thing well, and — frankly — I was stupid. Plus, there’s a ton of downhill in those first six miles, and I like downhill. The fun was short-lived, though; right about 10K into it, the headwind kicked up out of nowhere, and it was blowing strong. Adding insult to injury, the next few miles were a gradual uphill, so any thoughts of maintaining 2:48 pace quickly vanished. This was turning into work.
A small paceline of what looked like triathletes went by me (the relay woman was already running in my slipstream) and the lead guy said “feel free to jump on.” The trouble was, they were going a little too hard for my liking this early, so I demurred and watched them pull away. The woman trailing me dropped off the pace, and around mile 9 a young guy in long baggy shorts went by me, but I caught him on the downhill section that led us out of the wind and to the base of the Hurricane Point climb.
Mile 10 came partway up the climb in 1:06 and change, so I was still on a pace to finish well under 3:00 at that point, but I knew the next two uphill miles would withdraw some of my banked cushion. Midway through the steep 11th mile, Baggy Shorts shot past me like a rocket, and I wasn’t going that slowly. Either the kid was really strong, or I was going to see him later, but I let him go for the moment.
The second uphill mile is gentler, and soon I was careening down the backside towards the Bixby Bridge and the halfway point. Having reached that milestone in 1:29:0x, I took stock. In a good year, I would be picking it up now, having saved my energy for the tough, rolling second half. In a bad year, I would already feel somewhat hammered and opt instead for trying to maintain. This was a bad year.
I had never, in truth, had my legs feel this bad so early in the race, and I’m pretty sure this was due to lack of long road runs. But you work with what you’ve got, so this was going to prove to be a gut-check day. To make things a little worse, around mile 16 the headwind returned with a vengeance, and it wasn’t going to abate until around mile 21. This was a long, seemingly unending slog only made bearable by the distraction of the throngs doing the 10-mile walk who offered the occasional words of encouragement and by the occasional act of passing or of being passed by a fellow marathoner or by an irritatingly fresh relay runner. Mile 20 came in 2:16 and some seconds, and I was now hovering at 2:58 or 2:59 pace, knowing at some level that I was unlikely to hold it but at the same time trying to prevent negative thoughts from creeping in. Quick, light, smooth relaxed. Or was it quick, smooth, light, relaxed? I pondered that question as yet another distraction from the almost cramping I occasionally felt in my feet and hamstrings and from an annoying nascent side stitch as I made my way into the dreaded Carmel Highlands.
The worst of the Highlands is a surprisingly long climb that takes runners past mile 22 before dropping down again on a long, heavily cambered descent. Near the top of the climb, the lead woman passed me, but by this point my male ego had long since surrendered to the imperative of just keeping going, of not having a hamstring or quad seize up in a painful cramp, and of salvaging what was still going to be a pretty decent time.
“Maintain, maintain” became the mantra for the last few miles. Despite my tentative survival pace, I was managing to pass some guys, including at least two of the triathlete drafting train that had gone by me at mile 7. Baggy Shorts was in my rearview mirror by mile 19, so by the bottom of the last uphill at mile 25, my new goal of the minute was not to be passed between there and the finish.
One of the walkers yelled “get your a** moving,” which turned out to be just the inspiration I needed to pump my arms and power up that hill, then relax and let gravity do its work on the ensuing downhill stretch, which flattened out less than half a mile from the finish. I sprinted — if one can call it that — for home, and there was Sally several yards from the finish line to usher me in. I have never been so glad to be done!
The tale of the tape: 3:03:11 gun time, 3:03:08 chip time, identical to the second to my NYCM last fall. 37th overall, and 5th in M45-49, which netted me a podium place and a nice plaque. Oddly, I would have been 2nd in M40-44 — dang, the geezers are tough! Oh, and I have one pretty sore right quad for my trouble.
Next up: Hawaii 70.3 on the Big Island on May 31. Gives me 5 weeks to recover, then I have another 6 weeks until Ironman Austria. I’m beginning to hate my race planner…
Splits: 6:09 6:34 5:48 (short) 6:55 (long) 6:35 6:37 7:08 7:04 7:20 6:24 8:07 7:26 6:02 6:29 6:50 7:01 6:39 7:01 7:08 7:35 6:58 15:22 (missed 22M split) 7:43 7:35 7:12 1:27.