Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Some thoughts about the revised Big Sur course

A few weeks ago, a landslide took out a portion of Highway 1 along the Big Sur Marathon route:

The news from the marathon organizers is that the road will not be repaired in time for the race on May 1, so they will have to revise the route. The traditional route for the course runs from Big Sur to Carmel, California, a point-to-point course along Highway 1:

The landslide occurred between Hurricane Point and Bixby Bridge, two of the most dramatic spots along the run. Hurricane Point is the top of an epic 2-mile, 500-vertical-foot climb, and Bixby Bridge is a huge, high bridge that affords fantastic views of the ocean and coastline.

Since the route has been cut almost perfectly in two, the new course will be an out-and-back, from Carmel south to a point-to-be-determined. Despite the fact that Bixby is almost an exact halfway point, the course won't be going that far. Instead, it will turn around at some point before that, and add an extra 1.6 mile loop into Point Lobos State Park near the start/finish. By all accounts this should be a spectacular addition to the course.

So how will this revised course affect the race? Fortunately, local runner Brian Rowlett has provided a partial answer, which he kindly posted to the Big Sur Marathon facebook page. Check this out:

The elevation profile on the bottom shows the original course, as he ran it last year. On top is an out-and-back he ran last Sunday to Mile 14 on the original course, between Palo Colorado Canyon and Bixby Bridge. He didn't run the loop into Point Lobos, but otherwise it gives a good sense of the terrain runners will be likely to encounter when they run the race. His GPS gives a 1,751-foot elevation gain for the original course, compared to a 1,201-foot gain for the revised course (he thinks the Point Lobos spur will be "very slightly down then back up"). So the new course won't be quite as challenging. Indeed, if his GPS tracks elevation in a similar fashion to my own, it shouldn't be much hillier than the Thunder Road half marathon, which I recorded as a 551-foot cumulative gain (which would be 1,102 for a full).

It's nice that the course is easier, but I'm actually quite disappointed that the race won't be as much of a challenge. That's what I signed up for, not a prettified version of Thunder Road. From what I've read, the new course is quite spectacular, and the Point Lobos loop should be a dramatic addition. But still...

That said, I now need to start thinking about strategy for the new course. Aside from the fact that there are fewer hills, a couple of things stand out for me. First, instead of a downhill start, the beginning of the race is now predominantly uphill. Yes, it's rolling hills, but the downs are going to add up to less than the ups are -- the highest point on the course will be the halfway point. Second, there's no big, dramatic climb. The biggest hill looks to be around Mile 4 (and repeated around Mile 20), and it's only 100 or so vertical feet. So while on the original course there was a temptation to bank some time in the first 5 miles, on this course, there should not be. If you get through Mile 4 at a slightly slower pace than your target pace, you're probably running the course perfectly. 

In my case, I'd be happy to run Miles 1-4 at an 8:10 pace. If everything goes according to plan, I should be able to gradually pick up the pace over the remainder of the race and complete the marathon at an average 8:00 pace. I'd much rather start a little slow than start too fast and hit the wall at Mile 20.

Details of today's run are below.

Today I had intervals on the schedule, a total of 11 miles including warm-up and cool-down but due to the IT band issues, I just did a relatively easy 10.5, including meeting the DART group for the usual 6.3 mile loop. Unfortunately I messed up the GPS, so you only see the map of my run into town and back home:

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