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Saturday, May 12, 2012

We arrived in Monterey, California a few days before The Big Sur International Marathon- the capping event of the Boston to Big Sur challenge. We had scheduled our trip this way so we could take in the sights and have a day or two of RnR.  We walked around Cannery Row,  made our way through the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium and enjoyed lunch while the harbor seals barked playfully.  Life was good, and then...somehow in all of our preparing for this trip, we seemed to have missed the part about having to take a bus, at 3:30 am, an hour drive to the start line of the race. Now I KNOW that surely this would not have been a detail that any of us would have missed.  That means getting up at 2:30 am to eat, dress and drive to the bus pick up. WHAAAT???! There are other races famous for this sort of thing- Disney is one of them.  Ok, you may not have to ride in a bus for an hour to get to the start, but the race starts very early in the morning.  Both NY and Boston require a long trip to the start coordinated by either buses or a combination of cab, boat AND bus.  I certainly had ben warned about those instances.  So why had we not heard about this? Hmm, oh well.  There wasn't any other way to make it happen so we just put on our happy faces and did it.

The hour long bus ride was an experience.  We were thankful it was pitch dark outside.  None of us wanted to know how it was possible that Houdini, the driver, was able to maneuver a school bus along the cliffs of Big Sur. We were distracting ourselves with the cool blend of Usher, Michael Jackson and some mariachi bands looped over the PA system.

Arriving at runner's village we were greeted by a few thousand runners and some volunteer's who obviously had a sense of humor. Some were wearing funny hats and outfits and some had placed playful signs on the porta-potty doors.  The humor definitely livened the early morning crowd.

 It was a bit chilly and we were eager to get started.  The forecast called for a great day- in the 60's, sunny, and no wind.  PERFECT!  The first few miles were downhill through a beautiful park in Big Sur. The redwood trees were gorgeous, constantly commanding my gaze.  "Wow, this is gorgeous"...Yes I actually said it out loud. After 5 miles or so we came out of the trees and into the grasslands.  I couldn't decide if I was in another country- like Ireland- or if I was in a commercial. Specifically the commercial for happy cows from California.  There are a few- either about milk or cheese-in either case they talk about happy cows and the fact that they live in California. Yes, indeed they do.  This was breath-taking. Rolling green hills with happy cows that seemed to be smiling.  They were either smiling because they were happy or laughing at the silly humans that were running down the street being chased by...nothing.  Weird.

Just about that time, as I was reveling in the beauty, I felt it. The wind.  Not just a light breeze, but real wind. Things started to get chilly and the fog was closing in on us. I was cursing myself for tossing my gloves, but just kept moving forward.  I tried a few times to draft off some of the taller people in front of me.  It didn't work too well but at least it kept me out of the wind for a step or two.  I did mention that it was a HEAD wind, right? One step at a time I just kept going and then I heard it.  Someone behind me said, "Look, it's the ocean".  I looked down to the left.  I could barely see it through the fog, but it was there.  The ocean crashing against the cliff. "AMAZING", I thought to myself. After a half a mile or so the fog lifted and I could see it- the ocean, it was breath taking. Here we were running along the cliffs of California, with nothing between us and the water except the salt air. I took a deep breath in and smiled.  I couldn't help it.  I must've been smiling from ear to ear, I was so thrilled to be exactly where I was at that exact moment in time.

The views didn't stop. Twenty-six point two miles of the most magnificent views.  Sure there were hills.  In fact, one was 2 miles long (see below).  THAT one also had some of the strongest head winds.

There were hills, fog, headwinds (which we later learned were over 40 MPH),  canted roads and virtually no crowd support. Somehow, through it all I was smiling.  No one was complaining.  Not one person. Runners were stopping, taking pictures of the views all the while smiling and laughing.
The local newspaper renamed the Boston to Big Sur Challenge -Boiling to Brutal. No doubt Boston was hot, and this was by far the toughest course I have run, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. The views were enough to lift us out of our suffering; or at the very least to distract us enough that we failed to notice any longer.

 It was after the race, when we were all reliving our individual experiences that we solved the mystery surrounding the early morning bus ride.  After experiencing the energy and grandeur of the edge of the world  no one could remember the unpleasant moments endured to get there. This happens a lot in life.  We have to endure some not so pleasant things.  Things we would rather avoid, but in the end the payoff is so great, we would gladly do it all again.  No matter what.  This is exactly how it is with The Big Sur International Marathon. If it isn't on your list of things to experience, put it there.  You'll be glad you did.

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