Scenes From a Marathon - 2009

Donald ran the 24th presentation of the Big Sur Marathon, while Mike did the 5K and worked at the finish line for an hour in his capacity as a race board member. Here are some observations from inside the lines and behind the scenes:

Real men wear … lavender? We’ll get this one out of the way early: The color of this year’s race shirts seemed awfully girly. So much so, that it triggered a conversation between Donald and the expo volunteer handing them out:

Volunteer: Here’s your shirt.

Donald: OK, but … can I have the men’s color please?

Volunteer: Yeah, um … that’s the one. Sorry.

Donald: Me too.

It never gets easier: No matter how many times we do this race, the 3AM wakeup call is always the hardest part of the day. You’d think we’d eventually get used to it, but we guess we’re still waiting.

Are we there yet? Part 1: As soon as the course left the trees at mile 5, someone near Donald looked at the road ahead and asked, “Is that Hurricane Point?” Not yet … but keep running. You’ll find it.

Most unexpected dose of hipness: was provided by the Palma High School band, overheard playing a Violent Femmes song at mile 9. Sure, the song was “Blister in the Sun”, which isn’t the most promising phrase for a group of marathoners, but the simple fact that they know that tune is pretty darn cool.

The beast is back: For the last couple of years, runners have been lucky to enjoy very mild breezes – but this year, the wind roared back with authority. It slowed everybody down by several minutes, and even pushed some folks around near the top of Hurricane Point. We kind of like it when the wind flexes its muscles – we don’t want anybody tempted to call this race easy.

Are we there yet? Part 2: At two different points on the Hurricane Point climb, a group of runners crested a hill around a curve and shouted “Woo Hoo! Made it!”, only to peer around the bend and realize that the hill keeps going. Here’s how you know you’re at the top: when you’re leaning downhill, but not moving because the wind is blowing so hard. Until then, it’s better not to ask.

You’ve heard of us? Having names on race bibs ensured that nobody was anonymous on the course. We’d like to think that the people yelling “Go Donald!” and “Nice job, Mike!” happen to be fervent readers of our column, but we know better. The bibs were a nice touch.

If you want a lot of friends, carry balloons: there were huge swarms of people around each of the Clif Bar pacesetters, who carried balloons indicating their estimated finish times. In between, there were long stretches of open pavement. The pacesetters did a great job bringing hordes of runners home right on their predicted pace.

Ask an obvious question … : the most common answer by finishers when asked "how do you feel?" by Mike: “Tired!”

However, by Mike’s estimate, 98% of the finishers crossed the line with a smile. We’re guessing that the other 2% were happy, but just too tired to smile.

We hope your experience at this weekend’s marathon was a good one. Congratulations to everyone who finished. Rest up for a while, then get training – there are only 52 weeks until we get to do it all over again!

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Wednesday Night Laundry Runners

If you stand anywhere near the finish line of Sunday’s Big Sur Marathon, one of the most frequent cheers you’ll overhear is “Go Laundry Runner!” The athletes receiving those cheers aren’t dry cleaners – they’re members of the Monterey Peninsula’s biggest running club.

Laundry Runners are the heart and soul of the Monterey and Salinas running community. The official name of the club is a strange one: the Monterey Bay Wednesday Night Laundry Runners – typically shortened to WNLR - and we are both long time members.

The club has almost 300 members, from all walks of life. Many have been running for decades, but there are also a large number of beginners. There are teenagers and septuagenarians. The percentages of men and women are roughly equal.

The only qualification to become a member is to have a love of running - but that’s not to say there aren’t some serious runners. Over the years, a few WNLRs have become Olympians, and many others compete in local, regional, and national competitions.

The club’s origins go back more than 40 years, to a group of runners who met on a weekly basis every Wednesday night. The meeting place was near the Pacific Grove High School track, across the street from the Mission Laundry office. (The club name makes perfect sense now, right?)

The club’s official newsletter, The Communique - with the apt slogan, “All of the news of the fit in print” – describes it this way: “a loosely organized running club was formed one August in the mid-1960’s after several runners ran as fast as they could through the Del Monte Forest for about an hour and then consumed large quantities of pizza and beverages.” With that, the Wednesday Night Laundry Run was born.

The Laundry Run continues to this day, and anyone is welcome to attend. The 7-mile route starts at 5:30PM, and newcomers are always welcome to join in. Feel free to follow the runners to a pizza joint or local pub afterwards.

There are group runs just about every day of the week, with the largest meeting on Saturdays at 7:15AM near the foot of Ocean Avenue in Carmel, or Sundays at 8:30AM at the Fishwife restaurant in Pacific Grove. The WNLRs also have a strong Salinas contingent, with runners meeting at the Toro Park shopping center at 6:30AM on Saturdays or Sundays. WNLRs can also be found on the track (in Monterey or Salinas) and the trails (Friday 6AM at Garland Park), and at just about every local race.
WNLRs also give back to the Central Coast community in various ways. They serve on race committees and volunteer at races, and donate money towards college scholarships for local high school senior distance runners.

Even if you’re not a marathon runner, there are many benefits to joining the club. It’s probably one of the best bargains in town.

For a mere $15 per year, you get a quarterly newsletter, invitations to free pizza parties and other social activities, and 20% off shoes at The Treadmill in Carmel or Fleet Feet in Monterey, which might offset your membership costs right away. You also receive e-mails announcing events in the running community, and you have access to great advice from fellow runners.
Best of all, you’ll improve your chances of getting in shape, and meet people who are interesting and fun. There are certainly worse ways to spend fifteen bucks.

Check out www.wnlr.org or contact us for more information about the Laundry Runners, and be sure to cheer for them when you see their racing shirts during Sunday’s marathon.

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The Big Sur Marathon for Dummies

Sometimes it’s hard for non-runners to understand what all the excitement is about when it comes to marathons. Here’s a primer on basic facts about the event, and this weekend’s Big Sur Marathon in particular, so you can dazzle your friends with your newfound knowledge.

Q: The marathon is a long race, right?
A: Ummm…yes, it’s very long. The standard distance is 26.2 miles.

Q: Who came up with that number?
A: The race commemorates a victory of the Athenian Army over the invading Persians at the city of Marathon in 490 B.C. The Greeks dispatched a messenger to announce the victory back in Athens, approximately 24 miles away. The messenger, Phedippides, died from exhaustion immediately afterward. Uplifting story, huh?

Q: What about the extra 2.2 miles?
A: At the 1908 London Olympics, England’s Royal Family wanted the course lengthened so that it would start in front of their residence at Windsor Castle, and finish in front of their viewing box at Olympic Stadium. The distance was changed to 26.2 miles and sanctioned as the official distance.

Consequently, it’s not uncommon for exhausted marathon runners to repeatedly curse the Queen during the final two miles of the race.

Q: Do the runners get any help?
A: Definitely. Several hundred volunteers work at aid stations along the course handing out water, Gatorade, and nutritional aids to the runners. Many others provide things like traffic control and medical support throughout the event.

Q: How come on the other 364 days of the year, runners won’t drink anything that isn’t in a factory-sealed, tamper-resistant container, yet on marathon day they’ll gladly grab unmarked open cups from any potential psychopath standing on the side of the road?
A: Good question. Maybe runners are inherently trusting. Maybe their judgment is impaired from glycogen depletion. Probably a little of both.

Q: Almost every city has a marathon. Why is Big Sur so special?
A: Easy - it’s because of the course. The coastline between Big Sur and Carmel features one of the most spectacular vistas anywhere in the world. The relentless hills and wind of Highway 1 make the BSIM very challenging (even by marathon standards), but most runners find that the beauty they experience is well worth the physical suffering.

Q: Why do local runners get so geeked over this weekend?
A: Think of it this way: if you could get a group of your best friends together to play a softball game at Fenway Park, would you do it? Local runners are a close community, and our hometown marathon is one of the most prestigious in the world. The friendly competition in such a famously beautiful setting is an opportunity that’s hard to pass up.

Q: Great, but I’m not a runner. Why should I care?
A: Because those people crossing the finish line at Big Sur aren’t professional runners - they’re everyday folks. They are your neighbors or co-workers who are giving a supreme effort on Sunday, then returning to work on Monday (OK, maybe not Monday…but probably by Tuesday) to resume their routine lives.

Many of them are fulfilling a dream by doing the marathon, and every one of them has overcome numerous challenges just to finish. Sure, by the time they reach Carmel, most of them look like hell and stink to high heaven - but each runner is a reminder that through hard work and dedication, great things can be accomplished by all of us. It’s an idea that anyone can get excited about.

Good luck to everyone who is running - or watching - the race this Sunday!

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Boston or Big Sur?

As soon as the calendar turns to April, the dreams of marathon runners take flight. Springtime marathons are marquee events in all the greatest cities in the world: Boston, London, Paris, and of course, Carmel.

Yes, our hometown event ranks right up there with the most highly respected marathons in the world. Runners from every state and all corners of the globe come to the Monterey Peninsula to run the Big Sur Marathon on the last Sunday in April.

Likewise, it’s nearly every marathoner’s dream to run the famed Boston Marathon, traditionally held on Patriot’s Day, a Massachusetts holiday observed on the third Monday of April. In 2009, as most other years, the Boston Marathon is a mere six days before Big Sur. Therefore, local runners face a dilemma each spring in deciding which marathon to attend.

Honestly, you can’t go wrong with either choice – and for a handful of hardy (feel free to substitute crazy) local runners, the decision is too agonizing, so they just do both. This year the two of us are doing split duty: Mike will join about 15 other Central Coast runners who are running at Boston on April 20th, and Donald will stay home to run Big Sur six days later. Although both races are world-class events, the experiences we will take away from each will undoubtedly be quite different.

Big Sur will always be our favorite. It’s our hometown marathon. We know how much time is donated by local volunteers and how hard everyone involved with the race works to ensure its success. It’s an opportunity for friendly competition with our friends on one of the most challenging courses in the world. The scenery is breathtaking, and it’s the only day of the year that it’s safe to run on Highway 1. Big Sur has been voted the best marathon in North America by several publications.

No other marathon can compete with the sights and sounds of the Big Sur Marathon (as we’ll describe in two weeks) – so why would locals go anywhere else? Only the allure and history of Boston can occasionally take us away from home.

Simply put, Boston is the most famous and prestigious marathon in the world. Running there is like playing baseball in Yankee Stadium, golf at Augusta National, tennis at Wimbledon, or driving at the Brickyard – while competing right alongside the professionals. Boston has more history - over 110 years worth – and attracts more talented runners than any other footrace. Runners are required to meet qualifying standards in order to enter, so participation in the race is considered an honor by all marathoners. Best of all, the entire city goes marathon crazy and treats every athlete like a star for the entire weekend.

In addition, Mike has extra incentive to travel east: his son Bryan lives in Boston and will also be running the marathon. It’s going to be a father-son dual for family bragging rights.

The choice between Boston and Big Sur is always tough – and next year, the temptation to do both races will be greater than ever. For Big Sur’s 25th presentation in April of 2010, there will be a special “Boston to Big Sur” challenge. Any runner who does both marathons will receive a special award, jacket, and recognition on race day. If you’re someone who likes to experience the best of both worlds, maybe you can join them.

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