Big Sur Trail Marathon Recap: Erik Stanley’s Course Record!

by Erik Stanley

We get to Andrew Molera where the race starts and it is pretty chilly- upper 40’s. We had a nice drive from Monterrey through Carmel and over the Bixby Bridge. The waves are crashing against the coast and the sun is out for the first time during our stay. I get out of the car and begin scanning discretely for potential competition. One of the guys looks pretty fit, and coincidentally is wearing Texas flag shorts. I go up to him and find out he is not from Texas, and find out no information about his fitness. Ashley and I walk up the race organizers to pick up our number. Of course Ashley tells the lady that I am going to win, and makes sure everyone around hears it. I feel uncomfortable and try to hurry along the process.  I know she is proud of me and likes to show it, but I don’t know who is going to show up for this race. I usually don’t vocalize my race plans with people I don’t know. I do realize however that I should lighten up and be comfortable expressing my intent for the race.

I woke up early that morning feeling a little uneasy about the race. My last race at Steamboat was really tough and I was hoping to avoid falling into the deep dark spot I went into when I hit the wall at mile 15. So I woke up and starting writing out my intent for the race and align my thoughts with success rather than focusing on what problems could arise.

“Today’s race is a training opportunity for the Bandera 100k and the 50 mile at Cactus Rose at the end of the month. Practice controlled running (not braking) on the steep down hills and pace myself through the entire race to be able to finish hard the last 6-8 miles.

I am in better shape than I was 6 weeks ago in Steamboat and more prepared for this race. I have the tools I need to be successful today.

I am in this race because I am a natural fighter and a competitor.

Run with a smile”

Nothing mind-blowing here, but it did help me re-direct my energy. So we put our number on our shirts and I take off for a 15 min warm up. I have on my 2XU compression tights to help me loosen up before the start (works great!). I head down towards the beach and see some people up ahead and then bam! I am flat out on the dirt. Luckily terrain was soft. I hopped up pretty quick as I feel like an idiot for falling on this flat trail. I run by the others and say, “I am fine. Just needed a warm up fall before I start.” I get back from the warm up and head to the port a john one more time. We all get together for a group photo. The race director has an 82 yr old volunteer to sing America the Beautiful. It was funny because he actually started singing the Star Spangled Banner and we sang America the Beautiful. Must have been a miscommunication.

I get to the start and wish Lise, Nyleva, Ash, Jeff, and Sal well for their race and give them some final words of encouragement. A few new faces arrive at the starting line who look like they could be fast. One guy is from Mexico and has his jersey decked out with sponsors. I start to wonder how fast he might be. We take off and it is pretty quickly strung out to him and I and last year’s race winner. I start talking and find out the two are friends and Oswaldo trains on this trail quite frequently. He is breathing pretty hard and I am thinking, “Shit! Why is this dude breathing so hard?” The first climb is close to 1,000ft in about 2.5 miles. I am testing out my Suunto Ambit for the first time on a trail race. Now I have some idea where the top of the mountain is with the altimeter and can see my pace and average pace throughout the race. We look to be mid 7 min pace. I felt comfortable, but start wondering if I will be able to win. I think, “When do I decide to win or not win?” I remind myself that I have a long race and as long as I am near him close to the finish, no one on the trail will be able to out kick me if it came down to it. So I stay patient and enjoy the rest of the climb.

We crest the top hill at 2.5 miles and immediately drop back down another 1,000 ft. The sun is out and the view is awesome. We drop back down and the temperature cools as we had plenty of shade from the giant Redwoods. I can see and hear the mossy green brook that parallels the trail. On A few spots on the downhill I look to see my watch saying we are sub 5 min pace. It was a little faster than I had imagined I would run so I east up and maintain pace just enough just to tag along behind Oswaldo. The trail flattens out for a short spell, and we are cruising around 6 min pace. We talk about random things and get acquainted. He is fluent in English, but I try to practice a little Spanish with him as well. He is super friendly and I am immediately grateful to have him to run with for this race and share the company.

We stay flat for less than a mile and head back up the steepest of climbs at mile 4.5. He is still clicking away and huffin’ and puffin’ a little more aggressively than myself. On the steepest part I stop to power walk for a second and he immediately tells me to stay with him and vamonos! I tell him of my last race and how I didn’t want to over due it too early. Oswaldo tells me, “Hey, you stay with me and we work together and run fast today!” I decide to keep running and focus on keeping a short stride to power up the hill. All of a sudden I feel good and want to push. I decide to stay with him though- as we are only at mile 6 or so nearing the top of the second climb. “Remember your plan,” I tell myself. We stop at the second aid station at mile 6.5. I immediately drop off my hydration pack, as I realized that I was basically packing for a 50 mile instead of a marathon. I have 2 PB&J sandwiches plus a bar and a bottle of Accelerade and Tums not to mention over a liter of water! I am carrying over 5 lbs extra and shed the weight. I take my Accellerade, Luna bar, and some Tums. I also grab a few bites of my sandwich to try and shove down as we descend.

Oswaldo didn’t stop while I dropped by pack and is about 30 seconds ahead. I am in no rush to catch him. I am confident, and I have seen that he runs harder on the downhill, but I can run with him and I am stronger on the climbs and significantly stronger on the flats. I Catch him near the near halfway down the decent. He yells for me to make sure I am all right. I know the hardest of climbs are over for about 12 miles or so. We hit an aid station at mile 8. We power on and it is nice running without the hydration pack and snacks.

Oswaldo and I talk about the Rogue trail program and other trail races and Leo Manzano. Anytime I am around other runners or people from Mexico that may have heard of him, I tend to bring him up. Leo is very inspiring, and he and I were college roommates, teammates, friends, and everyone loves him. Oswaldo is impressed and is impressed with my 1500-meter times. Oswaldo has run some really fast 100 milers, so we are in some ways coming at this race from two very different perspectives.

We make a few more climbs and run through some sage and lavendar fields on the way up to the Bixby Bridge. We arrive at the Bixby Bridge at around mile 10. We grab some water and bananas. Oswaldo is in front of me and I see he has mastered the technique to pee while running without peeing his pants. Pretty impressive! We discuss technique. I tried to do the same, but was unsuccessful as I waited until the downhill that makes it much more challenging and potential problems arise. Oswaldo and I make some jokes about it as we continue running back down the mountain.  We both are laughing, and having a good time. I maintain pace and we see the 3rd runner coming in a few minutes behind us. He is wearing the Saucony Hattori and my feet hurt just watching him in those shoes on this course. I am in the New Balance MT 110 and question whether or not that is enough of a shoe for the distance. My calves are already getting sore, but I have been using them and like the traction and how light the shoe is. I feel like my 2XU calf guards help to keep my calves from exploding in pain. All of a sudden though Oswaldo is falling behind. I yell back at him. “Hey! Come on! Stay with me! We will work together.” He yells something but I can’t really hear clearly. I think he is just telling me to keep it up. I see Lise coming up ahead and cheer for her and we high five. I am trying to hold myself from completely opening up on the downhill because I know the last 6-8 miles are going to be tough. Part of me wants to try to surge away, but I remain patient and stick to my plan.

The race course is an out and back with an extra 5ish mile out and back in the middle from Bixby bridge to the aid station. I turn around at the aid station at 12.5, grab some water, and drink some more Accelerade. I am really grateful for how well the Accelerade is going down and providing me with some extra energy. I feel fairly well though and maintain pace. I see Oswald and he is maybe 90 seconds back.  I look at my watch around 13.8 and see we are around 1:36 or so and am content with the pace.

I make my way to Bixby Bridge again to see Lise and we cheer for each other. I see some of the other runners I spoke with before the race and they are cheering for me. We were getting more cheers when Oswaldo was running with me, because he is somewhat of a local and knows a bunch of the runners. Now that he and I are apart they stop cheering. I cheer for them nevertheless.

I grab another banana and water and the aid station crew informs me that I am “flying!” I thank them and head out. I pass Jeff and slap him on the rear to send him some energy. Then I see Lise just after Nyleva is headed up to the bridge. They stop for a picture and both look awesome. I tell them they are doing great and yell some words of encouragement which they can’t hear as I am already down the hill. It is super cool to be able to see them on the course.

I thought the extra out and back would be tough mentally going into the race, but it actually was more encouraging for me as I was able to run by people and see the rest of the group. This helped me to feel the support and energy from other runners as well as I could cheer for them. I make my way past the mile 15 marker. I take it easy up the steep climb on the way back as I know it is over 1,000 ft and I am alone now.

The trees are beautiful and the trail is shaded well again with the Redwoods. It is probably mid 60’s or so.15 minutes or so later I begin to fall into some distracting negative thinking. Thoughts go through my head of “what if I can’t make it, or what if Oswaldo catches me?” I stop myself to avoid falling into that destructive mindset of “what ifs.” I decide to pretend there are people around and start cheering for imaginary people running down the hill. I pretent Oswaldo is right behind me and that we are working together. Although a little kooky, it actually seemed to be what I needed.

I start catching people finishing up the their half marathon. As I get to the top of the hill at the aid station at mile 18.5 I decide to start pushing a little harder. The downhill is only 10 minutes as my pace was right around or under 5 min/mile. My calves are now killing me. I have been chopping my stride on the downhill to keep it short and keep off my heels. I think I should have sat a little lower on the downhill, but I was not sure if it felt steep enough to do so. Note to self: Maybe some more work needed in the downhill training. Either way- I am rolling this downhill. It flattens out for a minute and then right back up the last 1,000 ft climb at mile 22.5! I start talking to imaginary people again, as I usually have these negative thought when I am alone and tired and going up hill. I have to stop to walk once as I felt my heart rate was a little higher than I was comfortable. I power walk for about 20 seconds and get back to a run. It is hard for me once I start walking to go back into running mode, so I decided to keep the walk short and avoid it.

I am still averaging around 7-7:30 on the climb, which is solid. I get to the crest and the last aid station mile 24. They are yelling about how far ahead I am. I have no idea how far anyone really is. I hope far, but for all I know Oswaldo is coming after me.

I hit the downhill and open up more. I realized that I could have a chance to be around 3 hr total if I totally ripped it. I also wanted to make sure no one would catch me. Now I have decided the race is mine to lose! I am catching more half marathoners and we cheer each other on. I see one of Oswaldo’s friends and he asks if I am in the marathon. He looks surprised as hell. I know he thought he would see Oswaldo. “Sorry man,” I think.

I come across the line in 3:02 after 12,000 ft of elevation change. “Not bad,” I think. No one realized I was a marathoner until about 30 seconds later and then they start cheering. My watch only shows 25.5 miles so I was surprised to see the finish. I talk to the race director and a few other folks. He confirms that my watch was off because of the tress. I was not completely convinced. I speak with Lise later and find out she had 25.8, so could have been a little short. I head down the mountain to get my shirt and get many congrats from everyone. No awards ceremony unfortunately, but I did win a bottle of wine and a rubber chicken for my efforts. Of course, I would not have minded some monetary prize or gift, but it is a small race. The proceeds support the Friends of the Andrew Molera Park, and I can support that cause. I do wish they had some food at the finish though. Only chips and trail mix. Bummer as I did not pack a lunch. I find Ashley on the way down and she did great as well!  She finished top 10 in her age division in 2:43. She is excited for me! We head to the stream to sit and cool the legs. The water is about 60 degrees or so….perfect. I take my Endurox and keep munching on trail mix and pretzels at the finish hoping some real food would come out somewhere. The Endurox was key though. Nice and clean after the river bath, I throw on my 2XU recovery socks and we head up the hill to watch the others finish. I meet some other runners and we make plans to meet up for a beer later that night with the rest of our group.

I miss Oswaldo somehow, but catch up with some of the other top finishers. Lise is next zooming in 4:36. She came in 2nd in her division and 7th female overall!  She ran hard, but was not as spent like we were after Steamboat. Jeff is next in 5 ½ and Nyleva in 5:42 finishing 4th in her division. Both looked awesome! I was really excited for how well they all did. Here are the results page- http://results.us.eventdirector.net/List.asp?EventID=4843&RaceID=FULL

Thanks to Rogue Running, New Balance for the MT110’s, 2XU for hookin’ up the gear, and Pacific Health Labs for nutrition, Ashley, and members and friends of my Rogue Trail Class for joining me and supporting trail running in Austin,TX!

Want more Erik? Check out his trail programs and get in on the off-road fun!

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