Friday, January 7, 2011

The hills of Big Sur

When I signed up for the Big Sur Marathon I knew it was going to be a challenging race. But I took a look at the elevation profile of the course on their website and decided it was something I could probably handle:

Sure, there's the one big hill in the middle, but the rest of the course is basically downhill, right? Miles 1-10 look to be all downhill, and there are, what, three little bumps after Hurricane Point?

Then I started looking at some of the other reports of the race, with more detailed elevation profiles. Here's the profile from Marathon Guide:

Now it's looking like miles 4-9 are uphill, and there are lots more bumps along the way. That hill around mile 22 doesn't look great either. Then I started to look around more and found more and more intimidating versions. Here's one from a Nashville runner's group:

I'm pretty sure this is a raw download from a GPS, which tend to have artifacts and "phantom hills," but still, it seems far from tame. Most race reports confirm that the second half of the course is very hilly. The last hill in mile 25 seems to freak a lot of people out, despite the fact that it's only about 100 vertical feet. That said, 100 vertical feet is pretty close to the maximum vertical gain I can get in a single climb in this area. There are plenty of hills, but nothing comparable to the 2-mile, 550-vertical-foot monster in the middle of the Big Sur Marathon.

So today I decided to run the hilliest route I know of in this area. I even repeated the hilliest part twice. Here's the profile of today's run:

There are two 150-foot climbs, and depending on how you count, two solid 100-footers, and two smaller hills. The total vertical gain for the run is 660 feet, in 9 miles. Three of these runs, 27 miles, would be just longer than a marathon and add up to 1980 vertical feet. Since Big Sur is 1660 vertical feet, the route I ran today is definitely hillier!

The goal for Big Sur is to run 8-minute miles. So how did I do today? My first two miles were basically a warm-up, 9:15 and 8:35. Mile 3 included the first big hill, so I tried to run it as fast as I could without killing myself: 8:23. Mile 4 was all downhill; I want to be able to make up time on downhill sections, so I pushed the pace here: 7:51. Mile 5 was the second big hill; again I was aggressive and took it at 8:18. Mile 6, downhill again, 7:46. The last three miles were up and down, 8:30, 8:31, 8:22. I definitely slowed down as the run wore on, and I was quite winded at the end. My average pace was 8:24, including the warm-up miles. If you discount those two miles, it was basically 8:15. Could I keep that up for a whole marathon? Probably not—but I'm not running this race tomorrow. 

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