Boston 2 Big Sur – A practical guide for those crazy enough to consider it

It’s a run20170415_121039ner thing… Boston 2 Big Sur. You run the Boston marathon and then you fly to California and run the Big Sur marathon.  Some years the races are 6 days apart, some years the races are 13 days apart.

This year (2017) the races were 13 days apart so someone in my running club said, hey this year it’s 13 days apart so we should all do Boston 2 Big Sur!

Step 1 – Get a Boston Bib

“Sure, I’m in!” I chimed, at that point, technically I had a Boston qualifying time, but I was not 100% sure I would qualify. Since the Boston bombing in 2013 running your qualifying time does not guarantee you an entry.  So many people submit qualifying times they have to reduce the BQ times.  I had 2 minutes and 43 seconds under my BQ. In 2016 the cutoff was 2 minutes 16 seconds below the BQ times Sure enough, when they sent out acceptance emails for Boston I got the “we have too many entrants… we will let you know if you made the cut” email.   One week later the cut off was set: 2 minutes 9 seconds I was in!Bostonlogo

Step 2 – Get a B2B BibBigSurlogo

Well that still didn’t guarantee a Boston 2 Big Sur jacket. Now I had to enter the lottery for Boston 2 Big Sur.  You cannot enter the B2B lottery until after you are accepted into Boston. 6 runners in our group entered the lottery.  They accept 400 B2B registrations for the Big Sur marathon.  If you are curious, there are about 4500 runners total in the Big Sur Marathon. You can enter the Big Sur marathon lottery ahead of time and then if you make the B2B lottery they can convert your entry to B2B.  When the lottery results were announced 4 out of our 6 runners were accepted. We had one runner number 12 on the waiting list, and another runner number 43 on the waiting list.  Apparently a lot of people think it’s a nice idea but when it comes down to it have second thoughts, because in the end everyone, including #42 on the waiting list was accepted.  We were all going to run Boston 2 Big Sur

2 Marathons  in 13 days are you nuts?

Well not as crazy as the ultra runners who do 100 km in a day up and down mountains, or the people who do B2B the years they are 6 days apart.  But a little crazy yeah.

How many marathons should you run before even attempting B2B?

My teammates have all run 20+ marathons some were 30+.  For me, Boston was marathon #5 and Big Sur was marathon #6.  So as marathoners go, I am relative newbie. I am still learning how to train properly and how to pace myself.  I don’t think I would recommend it to anyone who had not run at least 3 or 4 marathons.  I think it also helps if you have run the Boston course before. This was my 2nd Boston marathon. My first Boston marathon I made all the classic mistakes first time Boston runners make, starting out too fast, getting beat up by the Newton hills and really struggling the last few miles. This time around I was very relaxed at the start and I knew what to expect from the race course. It’s think it’s definitely riskier to do B2B your first time in Boston.

Do you need to be a “fast” runner to do B2B?

I am not slow, I did get into Boston, but fast is a relative term.  It really depends who you ask and who you hang out with. The others who ran B2B with me had Personal bests that ranged from 2:55 to 3:35.  My personal best is 3:51 and change. So for this group I was the slow, inexperienced runner.  but I have other runner friends who say ‘whoa you have run a marathon in under four hours, you are fast!’  You know my PB, you can decide if you consider that fast or slow.  I suppose a charity Boston entry could register for B2B, I think you can be a slow runner and get through it as long as you are a strong runner.

How did you train for it?

I did not worry about my speed at all.  The training was all about getting stronger NOT faster.

The goal was simple: Don’t get injured and finish both races strong. I did a total of 4 runs that were at least 20 miles during my training.  I also made a point of cross training to avoid injury.  I did yoga once or twice a week to loosen up all those joints and muscles strained by the long runs.  You MUST do hill work.  In the last 8 weeks of our training we actually did hill repeats at the end of our long runs to practice running hills when we were tired.  This was not the year to go after a personal best, this was the year to build strength and endurance so I could finish strong and have something left for race #2.  My weekly routine included:

  • Monday: Optional easy recovery run 3-5 miles and ideally a yoga class
  • Tuesday: Hill work (which I never skipped)
  • Wednesday: 6-11 mile run. I never pushed the pace on Wednesdays and I missed a few of those due to one thing and another and ideally a yoga class
  • Thursday: Speed work with K2J fitness (5 or 6X1600s were the hardest nights) always followed by a drink at the bar to share running and injury stories.
  • Friday: rest… no yoga, no biking, no swimming, just enjoy a day off maybe a glass of wine 🙂
  • Saturday: spinning class to build my leg strength without the impact.
  • Sunday: long run.

I had planned to do morning swims twice a week, but I’ll be honest most of the time I only made it once a week, and in the last 6 weeks of my training I might as well have just turned off my alarm, because I decided a good night’s sleep was more important and almost wore out the Snooze button.

I think the key elements in my training plan were the multiple 20+ mile runs, the yoga and the hills, YOU CANNOT DO TOO MUCH HILL WORK!  Even on my shorter runs I deliberately chose routes that added hills.  I had run Boston once before and fell apart on the hills, my goal was not to let that happen again.

How fast/hard did you run Boston?

It was pretty hot race day in Boston this year. I decided up front to walk every water stop. Given the number of water stops in Boston, that’s a lot of walking… I only walked for 10 seconds at each water stop, but yes I did stop to walk at each and every one. I did this for two reasons, one to make sure I actually drank some water or Gatorade to stay hydrated, two to just shift up the way I walked for a few seconds and reset the muscles and joints.  I forced myself to slow down for the first 6 miles despite the steady downhill. Boston has rolling hills in the first half but the hills get bigger in the second half.  My goal was not to stop and walk on any of the hills. I was going to get through all the Newton hills including the infamous Heartbreak hill without walking this year.  It was hot, and it was tough going. But the warm weather also mean huge crowds cheering us on.  I wrote my name on my arm in Sharpie so fans could shout my name (no name on the bibs in Boston so if you want to hear people call your name, you have to get creative). I gave myself a maximum pace… I was not allowed to run faster than a 5:30/km pace (which is about a 3:52 marathon).

The end result, the only walking I did was the water stops, and I finished in 4:10.  I was tired but my knees, hips, etc… were in better shape post-race than my previous marathons. I have never been so happy with a personal worst (my previous PW was 4:07 at Grandma’s marathon in blistering heat). My sister (also registered for B2B) also took it easy in the first half of the race, but then she felt so good she picked it up in the second half and ran a great race finishing 8th in her age group overall! My friend Faye took it easy at the start and also felt good at the halfway mark and picked it up a little bit. (I guess all those people who tell you negative splits are the way to go may be right ;))

How did you feel after Boston?

The bottom of my feet were very unhappy as soon as I crossed the finish line. I got a few concerned looks from the medics as I left the finish area in Boston because walking was such an effort.  My quads were sore. Walking downstairs sure wasn’t any fun. Some of our crew knew there were toenails whose days were numbered. But I had no joint pain.  I was pretty confident the aches and pains would be gone by the time I crossed the start in Big Sur.

What training did you do between races?

Honestly? I ran one easy 5 km run and one easy 8 km run. That was it.  My training plan said do a 15 km race on the Sunday between races. Two of our team did the 15 km, the rest of us just did a couple of easy short runs.  Most of us made a point of finding either a yoga class or a massage treatment between the two races.  Highly recommended!

Did you fly or drive?

If you are running B2B you are going to end up flying to at least one of them! I had a 7 hour drive to Boston and 7 hours of flying to reach California.

YogaForRunnersI made a point of drinking lots of water on the plane and in the car. I made a point of doing leg swings to loosen up when we took breaks from driving. I made a point of doing a series of yoga stretches the day before the Big Sur race as well to loosen up after flying.  Sitting for hours tightens up your body and it’s important to find a way to loosen up before the start.  Find something that works for you.

 

So what about Big Sur?

Big Sur is SO DIFFERENT from Boston.

The expo

The race expo in Boston is a mad house, every vendor you can possibly imagine is there and the place is packed! Big Sur is a tiny expo, but you will find gels, race clothing to buy and oooh Big Sur marathon wine (yes I bought the Big Sur marathon Pinot Noir).

The spectators

Boston is lined with spectators cheering you on and has 30,000 runners all doing the marathon. For the first 25 miles Big Sur has more cows than people on the sidelines (no I am not exaggerating).  The only sounds you hear are the other runners, the occasional birds singing or cow mooing, and in some stretches the sound of the waves.  They do also have musical acts all along the course which are a nice treat.

Wind

Both races can be windy, but the winds are more likely to be an issue at Big Sur. Hurricane point is infamous.  You can get some big headwinds in Big Sur, so find a tall runner to follow 🙂

Shade

There is zero shade on the Boston course, but there were actually a few shady patches in Big Sur.

Aid stations

There are lots and lots of water stops in Boston, plus spectators offering everything from freezies to peanut butter cups(?!) to orange slices and beer! There are only 11 water stops in Big Sur. I ran with water (which I really prefer not to do) in the end it wasn’t too hot and I hardly touched my water and could have managed without, but it was comforting to know it was there. If we had the heat we encountered in Boston I would have needed it.  They have water bottle refill stations at every second water stop (two or three volunteers holding beer pitchers filled with water), so if you do bring water you don’t have to carry too much. They do have orange slices at the last few stops and juicy strawberries at Mile 23.

Mile markers

Miles and kms are well marked in Boston. Miles are clearly marked along Big sur (with awesome signs… trust me on that one).

Hills

Boston has lots of rolling hills and very little flat. Of course you also have heartbreak hill – infamous for being tough because it shows up at 20 miles after you have already run the other two Newton hills. You can see my Elevation chart from Strava below.Screenshot_20170430-162846

Big Sur has hurricane point, it’s a 2 mile climb but it shows up at the 13 mile mark.  With all my hill training I actually didn’t find hurricane point as bad as I expected, but then the fun began… I read one report that said there are 11 hills in the second half of the Big Sur marathon.   I tried to count but lost track after a while, all I can tell you is that last hill at 25 miles just adds insult to injury!  Basically assume you have one good hill in every mile for the second half of the race. Ugh! You can see my Strava elevation chart below.

Screenshot_20170430-143146

What was your game plan for Big Sur?

We managed to find a list of the times the previous years B2B runners posted at each race. Most of the runners ran Big Sur in a time that was within 10 minutes of their Boston time. Most of the runners were slower in Big Sur.  So based on that I decided I would go out at a 5:45 /km pace and see where that took me.  I kept the pace nicely on the first half, and slowed down considerably on the hills in the second half. I walked at each water stop (but there were only half as many as Boston so less walking overall). I did walk the very last hill at mile 25. I could have run it. But honestly, at that point, I decided I would prefer to walk that one hill and then finish a little stronger and faster. The break felt great and I actually passed a lot of people when I started running again for that last mile. I finished in 4:16.  A new personal worst, but I was quite happy to run a course that tough 13 days after Boston and only be 6 minutes slower.  Again, I was tired (okay exhausted), but no knee or hip pain (I have battled IT band issues in races past). I am very happy with my race. Three of our 6 runners placed in their age groups. In fact there were a LOT of B2B runners who placed in their age group!  To be fair, I think that may partly be because most of the runners who do B2B are pretty experienced runners and have trained hard for the double marathon.

What are the perks of doing B2B?

20170430_111635At the Boston marathon race expo when we went to the Big Sur booth they gave us a little Boston 2 Big Sur gift (you were supposed to wear your B2B Training shirt, but I forgot mine and they didn’t mind)

  • Separate bib pick up line at Big Sur race expo.
  • When you finish the race you get an extra B2B medal and a B2B finisher jacket
  • Your own tent in the finish area, with tables, chairs, shade, and food (although the only food I was up to eating was the cookie you can see in the photo)

Free admission to the post-race Big Sur party. We had never attended a post-race party, but this was kind of cool. One free drink (subsequent drinks are ridiculously expensive), pretty good food (we had do it yourself fajita wraps, salad and cookies), and a room full of other people who did Boston to Big Sur to chat with.  The race organizers also go around and chat with different groups of people. We really enjoyed meeting some of the people behind the scenes (including the mile 10 poster boy).  Glad we went.

Was it worth it?

Hey if you are reading this you know the real reason you do B2B, bragging rights 🙂 I have no regrets but no desire to do it again. I would run Boston again. I would run Big Sur again. But I have no desire to do B2B again, it’s a big commitment in terms of time, training and money. Add up the flight, hotel, vacation time, meals, etc… and suddenly the “free B2B jacket” doesn’t seem so free any more.  But as I type this I am sitting in the airport wearing my B2B jacket two weeks later and my Boston jacket is packed away in the suitcase so I guess it was worth it 🙂  If you do it in a year with a 6 day break between races than good for you! You make me look sane 🙂

 

 

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