"Onward and upward we ran together through the hurt locker, through one of the most wonderful views this planet had to offer. Miles 15 to 19 were tough, but no matter what my body was going through, I could always look right and left and ahead and be engulfed by the ocean, mountains, horizon and the great symphony of it all. "
It was 04:29a.m. when I arrived at start village with 30 of my fellow runners on a school bus. The dark stillness of the morning was swallowed by the adrenaline of The Big Sur International Marathon Racers. All 5,000 of us there for the same reason, to push the boundaries of the mental and physical capabilities and embrace the exhilaration as we challenged ourselves through every mile.
31 out of 5000 runners were fellow teammates, also running for Every Mother Counts nonprofit organization. But, 5000 out of 5000 of us were now connected for eternity. It would only be April 30 2023, 04:59 a.m. with an hour and 46 min till start once. A frozen moment in my mind that we would all share forever. We were in this together and the energy at Big Sur’s Start Village reflected the togetherness of the running culture perfectly.
As the seconds ticked away and the darkness turned into light, the layers of clothing were slowly discarded and the race wave announcements became more frequent. The energy continued to elevate. We were all corralled into our respective waves and in position for greatness, as ready as could be.
It was 06:35 a.m. and time for the National Anthem. It's impossible not to get a little (or a lot) teary eyed after hearing that last line, “And the hooome of the, BRAAAAAAAVE!”, followed by the screams and the joy of every runner.
The race began right on time, starting at Big Sur Station, the heart of the breathtaking California, coastline. A place where time seems to stand still, where the red woods, the mountains, the horizon and the ocean churn into a magical symphony.
I was blessed to be able to start the race with a friend, teammate and hero for lack of a better word. He’d finished the Boston marathon less than 2 weeks earlier and was here running beside me now at Big Sur. He was a marathon pro, and it showed in every stride. Zero wasted effort and no change in cadence or rhythm. His logistics were perfect. I was able to go shoulder to shoulder with him for about 5 miles until his pace just became too smooth and too fast for me to keep up without blowing all I had in the first leg of the race.
At the mile 5 marker I stopped to have my first gel pack, water and salt capsule. The race jitters were gone now and it was time to run the race the run gods had planned for me. I fueled up, snapped a few photos, and continued up Highway One. Let me say, when you run Big Sur you realize very early that this race has nothing to do with the finish line. It was about the journey, a 26.2 mile testament to resilience, grit and the relentless human spirit that refuses to surrender.
Once I arrived at mile seven I was ready for my first bathroom break, more photos of the mountains and videos of the waves crashing. It was also time for more fuel. Gels, gummies salt and water, except there was an issue. As I rummaged through my pockets I discovered that my salt capsules/electrolytes were gone. They had fallen victim to some aggressive pound on the pavement of Highway One. I’d lost my salt.
Now, if you know racing long distances, and you know my body type, and you know the way I trained, always with salt/electrolytes then you know how big of a deal it was that my capsules were gone. When I ran my first marathon in New York, I would have let something like this allow me to yell a giant curse word that starts with an “F” in my head. This being my second marathon and having a better understanding of what a marathon was really about, I did not let it break, bruise or sprain my joy. It didn’t even put a dent in my spirit.
I had gummies, I had gels, I had a tiny vial of coffee and there were bananas at every 2.5 mile station. I had not eaten a banana in five years before running Big Sur. I don’t like them. Usually for potassium I eat avocados instead. Well, there were no avocados at the aid stations, and I had to do whatever I could to avoid cramping up. I ate more bananas on that run than I have my entire life, all for potassium and to prevent the inevitable cramps as long as I could.
During miles seven through ten I was feeling good! They were majestic miles, with views of the mountains to my the right, the ocean on my left, and upward. All in preparation for Hurricane Point - a grueling two mile climb up and winding back and forth with heavy wind in every runner’s face. Wind so strong it knocked runners including myself backwards with its gusts.
When I got there I kept saying to myself, “This is the race. If you can beat this climb you’ve got it.” As I climbed into the wind I thought “Wow this is tough!…. and equally beautiful!”
I did not walk one step of that two mile ascent, even when I was pushed backward by the weight of the wind. It was like a running moon walk backwards through heaven. But I crushed what I thought was the biggest obstacle of the race.
Once the peak was reached I fueled up on gels, water and gummies and took off downhill with wind and tears in my eyes. I felt so strong I flew down that descent with no effort. I just let the legs go long, light and fall to the pavement. I must have passed 200 runners as I attacked that mile and a half downhill. The other runners, especially those who had run this race before probably thought I was crazy!
Bixby Bridge marked the next milestone and halfway point, where the famous grand piano melody floated through the air, a soothing balm for our exerted spirits. The sight of this iconic structure, with the azure expanse of the Pacific in the background, was a panoramic spectacle that no words could do justice to.
Once over the bridge I was cruising, flying high. My only care in the world was for the incredibly beautiful vista surrounding me. “I’ve got this!” I thought. “Is that it!?” I said to myself. “Who needed salt and electrolytes!?” I yearned. Then God said “Oh really ?”.
The leg cramps began at mile 15. It was time for the real race to begin. I stretched when the pain became too much, and my legs actually wouldn't move without more fuel and a little rest. Yet every ounce of pain still being consumed by the beauty around me and the camaraderie of the culture of the race . Hats being blown away by the wind in our faces that never went away were picked up by other runners.
The real beauty behind the toughness of a marathon like Big Sur is more than just running. It’s more than just the mountains and the ocean. It is about strangers becoming a family, bonded by a shared struggle. It was here on the back half of this windswept race that we would all learn to count on each other. We handed each other words of encouragement, swapped stories between breaths and over the course of the race we turned small victories into a shared triumph.
Onward and upward we ran together through the hurt locker, through one of the most wonderful views this planet had to offer. Miles 15 to 19 were tough, but no matter what my body was going through, I could always look right and left and ahead and be engulfed by the ocean, mountains, horizon and the great symphony of it all.
At mile 19 I had eaten what seemed like and entire crate of bananas. Steady gels, gummies, water, yet my legs were still locked shut down and closed for business. No glutes, no hamstrings, only heart, remained. Miles 19 to 21 I was able to pull off a run/walk type of hobble, but it wasn't very productive. And still, all I had to do was look left, right, up ahead, and beauty became my saving grace, all smiles and never defeated as I crunched through my cramps.
Once at the 21 mile marker I knew the race for time was over and and it was time to chill. No more pop locking up Highway One. It was time to just take it in. Walk fast, walk smooth, as smooth as I could anyway, and assess what we had done so far. I was happy and satisfied because I knew I went for it. Now it was time to go for it in a different way. One mile at a time for every mother, father, brother or sister everywhere. The strawberries and iconic drums at mile 23 were the next milestone to approach and conquer. With legs of stone, I walked there.
Still locked and still cramped more than I have ever been in my entire life, but still surrounded by beauty on my left and right side. It was epic! The strawberries were divine, delicious. Some as big as my fist and so juicy who needed water. It was my perfect rest station. My favorite number, drums, strawberries, and my Air BnB just up ahead. The perfect milestone to catapult me into mile 24.
3 Miles to go and my legs were done, but my heart pounded with joy and my smile was bright as ever. I gave a wave up to my Air BnB in case my wife somehow couldn't make it to the finish. The logistics to get there were insane and It was plausible she couldn't get there from where we were staying. I knew she made it, but what was the harm in a wave to the hills of Carmel.
Pumping my arms with no legs left through mile 24, still doing the robot down the highway, having to use the restroom so bad, but thinking, “If I stop moving forward, it was over.” Then, an angel appeared. My savior arrived right on time in the form of a park ranger. She must have taken notice of my wicked robotic like awkward dance moves because she stopped and said, “You doing okay ?” I replied, “Yep, all good here, just cramped up to the fullest extent of the law.”. She came back with a, “Haha, okay cool. Just looks like you're going through it. You don't have much further to go, so keep up the good work.”. Then out came those magic words, “Do you need anything?”. I heard it in slow motion. I couldn't help it, I know I yelled back, “SALT!”
She ended up having a package of salt covered gels and said, “Would these work ?”. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” I said. I continued.
Back to the robot, still looking left and right and the views, what a sight for sore muscles. It was time for mile 25 and the last hill. Spectators lined the edges of the road now. “Good job. One more. Nice work.”, they yelled as they clapped.
I had been in Carmel a few days now, and everything here was familiar. The beach to my left, green pastures to my right and a finish line just over a mile away. My best friend in the whole world and his entire family was waiting, my wife was waiting, my friend and business partner was waiting, my Aunt and Uncle were waiting and TEAM EMC were waiting. Just one to go!
Now let's go! “Run!”, I said to myself. And run I did. I don't know if it was the salt that allowed me to jog again or if it was that I finally used the restroom and stopped constricting (lesson learned). Now I understand that my body is a hell of a lot smarter than I think I am, and it knows how to save just enough to get me through any finish line I set my mind to.
That's what I had, just enough. Just enough to get across that finish line with a bow and a couple of push ups. My team family and friends cheering me all the way through that Carmel finish line. A celebration culminating The Big Sur Marathon and my second race with TEAM EMC! EVERY MOTHER COUNTS. My second race period and second marathon. Salute to the toughest, windiest most mountainous gorgeous ocean views of 26.2 I’ll ever do.