Disclaimer: This is a LONG post about my experience training and running the Big Sur Marathon Relay. Enjoy!
Remember running relay races in grade school? Remember that feeling of relying upon your teammate to bring you the baton quickly? What an incredible metaphor for childbirth. There are so many people involved in the birth of a baby, and every person along the way is part of the end goal: a safe delivery for mother and baby. Too often the focus lies solely on the newborn, but in reality the health and condition of the mother is just as critical, and often overlooked. Maternal mortality is unacceptably high: the mortality rate is roughly 800-830 deaths daily, worldwide. Of these deaths, 98% are preventable through the availability of supplies, transportation, and education (skilled birth attendants, midwives, etc). Every Mother Counts (EMC) is a campaign, founded by maternal health advocate, Christy Turlington Burns, to reduce this burden of disease worldwide by providing these three needs to empower local communities. Join us this Mother’s Day for the Orange Rose campaign! Please learn more about EMC here.
I appreciate all the work she does to raise awareness and create programs to benefit others: we run so others don’t have to. Running is symbolic such that in many developing nations, a woman sometimes has to walk a minimum of 5k up to a marathon’s distance to deliver her baby. I run to raise funds for these programs, but more importantly to raise awareness of this statistic. We may think the United States precludes us from this rate, but rather, the US is one of a dozen countries with increasing mortality rates. Increasing. Just let that marinate while I tell you about my run.
As a Running Ambassador, I run all my races of varying distances for EMC, and this year, when the opportunity arose to join a team at Big Sur, I did not hesitate for a moment. Why would I say no to run on the glorious Highway 1?
I committed to raising $1,000 (ultimately raised $2,300) and got to work. I trained on hills, unpaved trails, treadmills, inclines on treadmills, rowers, and stairs. I did a lot of isolation work, lifted less weight than normal so I could increase my range of motion. I foam rolled several times a week and was more strict about rest / recovery days. The biggest gain I noticed was returning from a 9 day road trip in California, and I had not lost an ounce of my game, and that’s when I had a newfound respect for rest days!
Are you still reading? You’re awesome!
Running for a cause is an experience I recommend to anyone. It adds a beautiful dimension to your end goal, and it teaches you patience and empathy. Raising funds is not without effort, however, you campaign for a cause and you must believe in it wholeheartedly. And I do, because I’ve had two difficult labors, not near-death, but complicated enough. My conviction made raising funds relatively easy: I am blessed with such INCREDIBLE support all around me, and I don’t take that for granted for a second. Every single man and woman who contributed to my Crowdrise page gave me a reason to push myself and stay focused. I was also able to coordinate with two local studios, Orangetheory Fitness (where I was a trainer), and the Barre Code Oak Park, to hold charity classes to help raise funds on a larger scale. The events were extremely successful, but again most important is to raise awareness. That is the public health professional in me.
Two weeks before the race. I felt a completely random and uncomfortable pain in my left heel. I’ve been a competitive runner since junior high, and I’ve never experienced a pain in my heel before. (I blamed it on turning 40!). As a personal trainer, I tried not to self-diagnose, but I had a suspicion it could be the dreaded plantar fasciitis. I rolled and iced my heel and took ibuprofen as needed. Pain, pain, go away. It eventually subsided: I ruled out plantar fasciitis.
Race week. Not much more I could do in terms of fitness to contribute to my race day performance, but my coach reminded me that there are many things that could take me out of it. One was this nagging heel pain. What on earth was it? I had kept my appointment with a trigger point specialist to confirm the source of the pain. In that first visit the therapist officially ruled out plantar fasciitis (thank GOD), but instead told me my left achilles is wrecked from wearing heels and from something called a ‘semi-pelvis’. Essentially, my right psoas* muscle is so tight (again) that it shortened the length of my right leg, causing my left leg to overwork. Whoa! Imagine hearing this information 6 days before a big race! I walked out with some tools for myofascial massage at the appropriate trigger points. I felt pretty good, however. The psoas muscle, by the way, is a rope-like muscle located deep in the core, and runs obliquely from spine to the femur. The psoas is joined at the hip, literally, by the iliacus, which travels from hip to thigh. Together, the psoas and iliacus make up the iliopsoas–the body’s most powerful hip flexor. Each time I lift my knee, I contract my psoas, and when I step, I extend it. Every step of my run it is being used, so this is a pretty big deal for it to be wound up.
Are you still here? Probably the second worst thing you could do during race week is read articles entitled “What to know before racing Big Sur”. Of course I read them, and of course I started second-guessing EVERYTHING. Did I run enough? I should have pushed harder that last run! I should have ran that hill two more times. All the right questions, but at the wrong time. My friends reminded me I am no stranger to distance and this was something I could “do in my sleep”. Ok sure, that helped. A smidge.
Fast forward to the big event: the relay! Sunday morning, I woke up at 4:50am, slugged my iced coffee, grabbed my almond butter/banana sandwich and got to my bus stop at 5:30am, the bus departed at 6, and we arrived at Exchange 3 by 6:30am. It was a hurry up and wait…and wait….and wait….My teammates and I had roughly calculated our positions and we estimated based on their paces I would see my runner around 9:15-9:30. It was definitely agonizing for me, given that I had been up since 4:50! I started looking for my runner (who I had just met once the day before) at 9:15, she finally came in at 9:50. I grabbed the baton, handed her my gear bag and took off. It usually takes me 1-2 miles to warm up and loosen up, but there was no time to waste here, and the hills start right away. It was slightly annoying to hold a baton (at Ragnar we have slap bracelets), and my handheld water bottle and a belt for my phone. My pace was as undulating as the hills, ranging from 8 min miles to 10 minute miles. I definitely walked a few times and took in the scenery.
I started my leg, the final 9.2 miles of the marathon, around mile 17. The course was remote for a couple miles and people really started coming out to spectate around mile 21. I’d never seen fresh fruit on a course, so it was awesome to eat orange slices and strawberries (a natural NSAID, I learned). I wish I could tell you how amazing the air smelled: the salty ocean, the pine trees, the flowers. It was incredibly invigorating. Equally challenging to the elevation (my total gain – 622 ft) was the road itself. It was a game for me to maneuver the canted roadway on pace, up and downhill. Maybe that’s why my legs gave out around mile 26…
It was a mind game to tell my calves to hold off their predictable calf spasm until after the race. I looked around me. Some were walking, some were slowly running, some were sprinting. We all cross the same finish line, no matter what our journey. Like the others, I made it – it was not my usual sprint finish, however,
but I crossed the line and am ready to go back.
Thank you for reading!