The Marathon Bug

Let’s say you’re one of the thousands of runners who finished this month’s Big Sur Half Marathon. Your body is now reasonably well recovered. You’ve got a great sense of accomplishment from running 13 miles, and you’re feeling pretty darn good about your running life.

Maybe you still look adoringly at your finisher’s medal – and perhaps, every so often, you squint your left eye closed so that the word “half” is obscured, but “marathon” is still visible. Maybe you find yourself wondering what it would take to get a medal that looked like that. Sometimes you talk yourself out of it, but the idea lingers, and preoccupies your thoughts with each passing day.

If this is you – congratulations! You’ve caught the Marathon Bug. Trust us, it probably won’t go away. The only question now is, what should you do about it? How do you make the leap from 13.1 to 26.2?

The answer isn’t as hard as you may think. In fact, you can probably have yourself ready for the Big Sur Marathon next April. It is still 22 weeks away, which gives you plenty of time to train.

Your first, most important step is to commit yourself NOW to reaching the goal. Go to and register for the race. Your motivation to train will be much greater after you’ve officially signed up. Where your money goes, your body is likely to follow.

Between now and the end of April, you’ll gradually progress your training towards your marathon goal. At first, you don’t have to change the number of days you run, or the number of miles. The most important adjustment is to reserve one day per week for a marathon-specific training run.

For instance, from now until the end of the year, do a long run of 10 or 12 miles every other weekend. On the opposite weekends, run three to five miles at a pace that’s slightly faster than your target marathon pace. This isn’t dramatically different than most half-marathon training plans.

Starting in January, your overall mileage will gradually build, as the length of your training runs increase. Long runs should increase by 1 or 2 miles every other week, and marathon pace workouts can be anywhere from 5 to 12 miles. Many runners will raise their mid-week mileage as well, but this is depends on how your body responds to the longer weekend runs.

Your longest run should be three weeks before the race, and should be at least 22 miles. Working backwards, your long runs in March should be 18 to 20 miles, in February should be 16 to 18, and in January should be 14 to 16. If you just ran a half-marathon this month, and you keep training through December, starting a 14-mile long run in January shouldn’t be too intimidating.

Finally, don’t hesitate to enlist some help. Find someone who runs marathons and pester them for advice. If you have nowhere else to turn, contact your local running columnists – we’re glad to give training tips.

Yes, the road is hard sometimes, but the rewards are worth it. If you thought the sense of accomplishment from running 13 miles was great - believe us, the pride of a marathon finish is exponentially more. And it’s available to anyone who wants to make the leap.

Don’t be afraid to take a bold step and scratch that Marathon Bug. Chances are, it will never go away unless you do.


Yes We Can!

In the spirit of election week, we’re dedicating this column to the 6,000 runners who declared “Yes we can!” on the streets of Monterey and Pacific Grove this weekend during the Big Sur Half-Marathon events.

Some are well-known, such as KSBW anchor Erin Clark, who stated on the air that her main goal was simply to finish the 13.1 miles. Erin finished in 2:26. Some are celebrities within the local running community, like 67-year-old Hansi Rigney, who always wins her age group. She won by about 30 minutes in 1:47; but this year was mainly excited to see her husband Bob, who at age 75 ran his first half-marathon. Bob said “Yes we can” and finished 2nd in his age group.

Two friends of the Rigneys from Berlin, Hans Sherler and Kristina Otto, travelled all the way from Germany to participate in the race. They belong to a Berlin Running club named “Kilometerfresser” – literally, mile-eaters. They joined runners from every state and several foreign countries who visited here to run.

Shirley Smith from Salinas also ran her first half marathon (2:09). She has two young boys, and did all of her training while pushing her 2-year-old, Tallon, in a baby stroller. Tallon’s favorite comment is, “Faster Mommy, faster!” Shirley raced without the stroller but almost certainly with her son’s voice in her ear.

Veteran runners are used to saying “Yes we can,” and ran yesterday’s race with various hopes and expectations. For example, Carolyn Walter from Salinas ran on her 47th birthday, and her wish was to beat her brother, who was here from Southern California for the run. Carolyn ran 1:55, but lost to her brother, whom we’re sure she’ll beat next year.

Steve Souza is a local runner with loftier goals. He trained on his own for five years and consistently ran about 1:45 in the race. Earlier this year he joined the local Wednesday Night Laundry Runner’s club and has gotten considerably faster, clocking a sub 1:33 on Sunday.

Our favorite Yes We Can story concerns a strong young woman we first met in 2003. Celise Rogers was 28 and hadn’t run competitively since her college track days six years earlier. She trained for the Big Sur Marathon with us that year and completed her first marathon in 3:12 - she was the 4th overall woman, first Monterey County woman, and won her age group. Besides being a great runner, her energy and smile and enthusiasm are infectious.

Shortly thereafter, Celise and her husband moved to Sonora, and she put her running on hold to have a child. Her son Egan was born in 2004, very premature and weighed only 2 pounds at birth. Celise kept watch on her son who required hospitalization and home medical monitoring for a year.

Shortly thereafter, Celise was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had chemotherapy, surgeries, and treatment until February of this year, and is still taking medications in the aftermath. Today she is grateful simply for the opportunity to return to Monterey and run in another race.

We’re happy to report that Celise is now cancer-free, and her son is a happy and healthy 4-year-old. She ran yesterday’s race in an outstanding 1:44. It’s great to have her back, and she’s a perfect example of the power in saying “Yes we can” – in a footrace, or in any of life’s challenges.


Racing the Big Sur Half Marathon

Some folks enter races just to finish; others are gunning for their fastest times. If you fall in the latter category at this Sunday’s Big Sur Half-Marathon, here are some tips for RACING the 13.1 miles:

Have the eye of the tiger: Racing isn’t easy! The race itself should be a battle. The satisfaction comes after. Be mentally ready and don’t feel intimidated.

Warm up: If you are going fast from the gun a thorough warm up is important. Run an easy mile, do three or four short sprints, then jump in the starting chute about 5 minutes before race time. And remember the starting chute is a bit further down Del Monte Avenue than last year’s race.

Hitch a ride: in the slipstream of your competitors. Drafting off fellow runners is perfectly legal and saves significant energy, especially if running into a headwind on Ocean View Boulevard in Pacific Grove.

Anytime you get passed by a slightly faster runner make sure to tuck in behind them. If running with similarly paced runners, talk them into taking turns leading and blocking the wind.

Be uncomfortable: If you are truly racing, it should hurt! If you feel comfortable, you probably aren’t pushing hard enough. Races are for going beyond your comfort zone and giving your best effort. On the other hand …

Don’t bonk: Keep your engine at the absolute fastest speed you can maintain, but not so fast that you flame out in the final miles. You want to push the envelope, but be sure to save something for the last 5K. Proper pacing is the hardest part of racing, requiring experience learned from trial and error, and usually a lot of discomfort.

Halfway done isn’t halfway out: The course is roughly out and back, but the first few miles around El Estero Lake and downtown Monterey make it asymmetrical. If you start looking for the turnaround point at mile 6.5, you’ll have a long time to wait, since it’s actually near mile 8. But once you get there, remember to…

Lower the hammer: After the turnaround, the course is almost entirely downhill or flat, and you’re more than halfway done. This is the time to crank your speed up another notch, and gut it out for as long as possible (have we already said that racing hurts?).

Have no friends: Think of everyone around you as a competitor. Get mean. Be aggressive. Breathe fire. Even if you are racing with training partners, during the race you should be enemies. After all, they’re trying to beat you!

Fight for your place: Once you reach the rec trail before Fisherman’s Wharf, the game is on. Try to improve your position as much as possible and don’t let anyone pass you – or keep up with runners who try.

Don’t get complacent to run behind people. Reel in as many people as possible. The last person you pass might be the place that earns you an age group medal. Some people let up a bit just before the finish line, so a well-timed kick can sometimes gain you an additional place or two.

Obviously, racing requires a different mindset than running just to complete the distance. It’s definitely not for everybody. Whether you are going for an age group award, a personal record, or just trying to make it to the finish, we hope everyone has a satisfying race on Sunday.


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