As I was originally planning out this journey of all tackling all 50 states, I decided to make a master list of all the “must do” marathons with their respective states. I did some research online, compiling multiple lists of the best races in the country and then from there picking out my favorites. Many of the races that I selected were either a lottery selection or needing a qualifying time, so it would require a little work, luck, or maybe a little of both to get into these events. This was exactly the case with the Big Sur International Marathon (BSIM).
Finishing Time: 4:59:12
In the summer of 2015, I came across an organization called “Move for Hunger” that fell in line with the mission of the Hangry Race Series. I found out that they had a race team where you could get a charity spot in many large races throughout the country. One of the biggest races they offered was the BSIM and I thought why not reach out to try and get a spot on their team. A week or two later, I received a response saying that all their spots were taken for the 2016 race. I decided to head directly to BSIM website and join the lottery myself, only to find out that the first wave of their selections had already taken place. They did, however, have a “Last chance” registration lottery that was going to open soon where the final 300 spots would be filled for anyone that missed the initially lottery or just didn’t get in on their first try. It seemed like a shot in the dark but thought it was worth a try.
I still remember that day, while driving home from work, I had checked my email (don’t follow my example, kids) and saw the email saying that I had been accepted. I instantly called Kaela and let her know that in the spring we were heading out to California. Kaela was also instantly excited because that also meant that we were also going to making a trip to Napa Valley that we had been wanting to do. A good friend of mine from high school, Jon Keenan, and his family actually live just outside of Napa and offered let us stay with them during the trip and even come down to support me during the race.
Fast forward to April, after the Georgia marathon, I spent the month between races just keeping my legs fresh (or as fresh as I could) leading up to Big Sur. Knowing that I went crazy hard for Georgia, Big Sur was going to be a race of enjoyment and just being in the moment. Kaela and I had made a pretty nice plan of how to turn this race into a nice vacation. We flew into Oakland, drove to San Francisco to walk the city, ride a street car, and see the typical tourist spots of the city. As my feet started to get heavy and tired from the flight and walking, we headed towards the Keenan house. A few weeks before our trip Jon informed me that his wife, Stephanie, and their daughter were actually not going to be in town while we were there, so we had to get along with just him (darn j/k). After getting everything settled at their place, we headed out to a small local Italian restaurant for some amazing food, then off to grocery store to get all the supplies needed for pre-race food.
The next morning, after a quick stop at the Jelly Belly factory (Kaela’s favorite), we made the 3 hour drive down to Monterey. Headed to expo to pick up bib and race packet before making it to hotel to check in. After we got to the hotel we realized that all viable food options for Kaela and Jon were back in downtown Monterey area. I said food options for them because Kaela had already prepared my meal of pasta with red sauce. They found a pizza place called Giannis, that is supposed to be the best in the area, and while they waited for the pizza to be made they had grabbed some gelato and hung out inside restaurant. This all happened while I sat in back of car eating out of pure need of carbs and not of enjoyment (not bitter about it at all). After their pizza was ready we headed back to hotel to eat and get my items prepared for the race the next morning.
The BSIM was different than previous races I had completed as it was a point to point course, with no access for spectators to cheer along the route. I would have to catch a bus at 3:30am near the expo to make my way to the starting line. This caused us to setup a little differently as we actually prepared what I would normally eat for breakfast as I was going to have to eat it on the bus to keep with the same nutrition schedule. Kaela and Jon were bummed that they weren’t able to cheer me along the course but luckily there was a great tracking system in place for them to follow along with my progress. With breakfast all packed up, clothes laid out, and GoPro charged, I laid down hoping to get some decent rest before waking up at 2:30am.
I don’t think you can ever get used to hearing an alarm go off at 2:30 in the morning! I rolled out of bed, grabbed my clothes and made my way to the bathroom to get changed. Before I knew it, Kaela and I were out the door to drop me off at the bus stop. Lucky for her she was able to head back to the hotel because she would not be seeing me again until I was about to cross the finish line. I gave her a kiss, she wished me good luck and I was on my way. I walked a few blocks to hop on a literal school bus that would take the hour journey down US 1 to the start of the BSIM. I made it a point not to drive the course the day before in order to enjoy the views during the race, but as the bus winded side to side and up and down, I had some second thoughts that maybe I should have just to know what I was getting myself into.
As I stated earlier, the bus ride really messed with my morning routine with eating, so I had to try and get down a few bagels with jelly and coconut water down while crammed in what seemed to me to be a kindergarten classes school bus. We made it to the starting area around 4:45am, which was 2 hours until the start of the race. I attempted to try and rest but sitting on a curb with my head on a metal gate just wasn’t cutting it. I could tell I was definitely a rookie in this setup as there were many people that were using their “checked bag” to hold a sleeping bag to get some rest. Time did move quickly however, and before I had realized, it was time to line up in the corrals. As the national anthem was being sung, I again thought back on what a year it had been for me so far and how lucky I am to have the opportunity to travel to do these events. I never take the steps I take for granted and know that there is a much bigger picture being painted than just about me.
I started the race out with the 4:15 pace group. I didn’t have a hard pressed time goal as I just wanted to enjoy the race, but I thought if I could hang with this group for a while, I would at least be able to hit sub 4:30 which would be very respectable on this course. The course started off with a long downhill. How long you ask, lets just say about 5 miles. We ran down US 1 with beautiful redwoods on both sides of the road. We passed a few campgrounds and motels where guest cheered us on as we passed by. In the first portion of the race the pacer lead us through a course overview letting us know what to expect in the later miles. I really appreciated this because I had anticipated backing off once the hills really began. Once we left the tree cover, we really got a glimpse of what weather we would have to deal with the rest of the race. Wind, and lots of it. There was a nice overcast keeping it cool but the wind was keeping us honest with our pace.
As we approached the end of the 5 mile decline, we made our way to the first set of rolling hills. Miles 5-9 were rolling in nature with a few a little steeper than others. Around mile 7, the pacer had to use the restroom and passed the stick to another runner that she believed was going to hold the pace nicely. I noticed that they started slowing pulling faster than planned and I was finding it a struggle to stick with the group. About a mile later, the pacer caught back up as I could hear her coming up quick behind me yelling “4:15, slow it down!”. I was feeling strong still and wasn’t too worried about losing the group earlier than expected. The miles were really clicking off, but keeping an eye on the course map the weeks leading up to the race, I knew there was a lot of road still left to cover.
At mile 9, we turned inland heading down any elevation we had gained in the hills prior. And that is when I heard the rumble of the drums. The war drums set up at the bottom of the infamous Hurricane Point. This was the one spot that mentally before the race I had to understand was going to be a slow couple miles. Two miles of up hill running, with little relief to be had. I shortened up my stride and told myself that I was not walking a single step of it as I went ahead. The first section was very steep as we curved around the side of the mountain overlooking the land below that we were just at a mile before. One of the biggest mind games the climb to Hurricane Point gave me, was the wonderful false summits. I was so focused on keeping stride in check and my head up that I would lose track of how much further I had to go to the top. I would see a corner and think “surely this is it”, just to be to hit with a big ol’ J/K. If that wasn’t enough, the wind picked up even stronger the more we climbed. After the race I read that there were gusts over 40mph on that section and there was even a lady that had to drop because the wind blew her so hard that she sprained her ankle!
After what seemed to be the longest 22 minutes I have ever run, I made it to the summit. Many people around me used the summit to catch their breath as they finally came to flat ground, but I used it as momentum, because what goes up, must come down. I flew down the back side, taking a few glances back to see how high we actually were. After some level ground and beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean, I heard a familiar tune from a piano. A baby grand piano to be specific. As I followed the road to the right, I could see right in front of me the Bixby bridge. People were lined up along the road getting the “perfect selfie” with the bridge in the background. I lifted up my GoPro and kept on moving. The tune I heard was “Eye of the Tiger” which anyone that has ever run a marathon as heard on the course at least once. But coming from a pianist playing a baby grand piano on the side of the road, made it just a little more special. As I ran closer to the bridge the sure size of it surprised me, it was much larger than I had depicted in pictures. Crossing the bridge I took a look down below and just overwhelmed with the peace of the waves crashing against the rocks below. That moment seemed to slow down time as I really just took in the moment of where I was, and what I was doing.
I had used up a ton of energy tackling Hurricane Point, that I didn’t give any respect for the next 10 miles of rolling hills the course had to offer. The miles were still clicking off but not as easily as they were in the beginning. I was able to keep my mind occupied with the beauty of the Pacific and the waves that the wind was driving into the shore line. Around mile 18 things started to go down hill a bit, not the course but my mood and spirit. Up to that point I was still cruising at a pace that would get me in under 4:30, but the rolling hills just sneaked up. Very few were steep, but they seemed to go on and on. Around this point I met a guy named Dave that was from Kentucky running his first BSIM as well. He had passed me earlier in the race but we were holding a similar pace so he didn’t get to far ahead of me. We were both in the same situation, burnt out from the hills and also the sun that decided that it was going to peek its head out to drain whatever we had left. We spent a few miles together, talking running stories as we went on a run/walk plan to keep us moving forward at a decent pace.
Around mile 21 he got a spark of energy and I told him to ride it as long as he could to get him to that finish. I just couldn’t find my spark again. A combination of an irregular eating situation before the race and the hills caused my stomach and my legs to not want to cooperate. At this point I started trying to do the math (never a good idea while running) and started to think that I may not even make the 5 hour mark. That thought must have been all I needed because I decided that tired legs or not, I was going to push with all I had to keep this race under 5 hours. I power walked as fast as I could during up hill sections and tried to run any of the flats and downhills. The next few miles clicked on by as I focused on getting to the finish.
Now whoever decided that putting a steep hill at mile 25 should be put in prison the key thrown away! I knew it was coming but even then I wasn’t ready for it. As I approached the hill, there was a guy that was in similar situation as me just trying to power to the finish that I started running along with. We had encouraged each other to push through the pain and to tackle this hill knowing that it was actually going to be downhill to the finish. Once I hit the top of the hill, I shot off like a rocket. I have no idea where the energy came from but I was running at faster pace than I started the race. We finally came to a point where spectators started to line the street as the roars from the finish area grew louder and louder with each step. I dug deep and pushed through leg pain as I got a glimpse of the finish line. I took a look at my watch and realized that I was going to make it under 5 hours and decided to enjoy the last couple hundred meters to enjoy the crowd. Just before I made it to the finish I heard a huge cheer “FLORES!!!” coming from my left. Jon and Kaela were going crazy for me as I came in. I gave Jon a high five before sprinting across the finish.
So close to that 5 hour mark, but I was able to make in just under. The instant I crossed the finish my leg tightened up and my walk turned into a hobble. I received one of the coolest medals to date, before making my way to the barrier to chat with Kaela and Jon. Kaela had asked what had happened as I was on pace for a great time, I just showed her an elevation chart and pointed at Hurricane point. I grabbed some snacks, including some delicious fresh strawberries, before we headed to the beer tent. A nice cold beer sounded exactly what I needed, but after once sip I realized that couldn’t have been further from the truth. We picked up my drop bag from the morning, and walked, well I stumbled, to the car.
Since they had to check out of the hotel earlier, I had no place to actually change out of smelly race clothes and freshen up a bit. On the way out of town we decided to stop for food and also to get my smelly butt into some fresher smelling clothes. Thanks Chipotle for letting me spend a good 10 minutes in your bathroom changing clothes, while trying to avoid all the chafing that took place over the last few hours.
The next morning Kaela and I headed out on our Napa Valley adventure. We spent the next 4 days and 3 nights visiting vineyard after vineyard, tasting some amazing wine throughout the valley. It was such a peaceful recovery period just to get away and spend time with my wife traveling the countryside. But as it always happens, we had to go back to reality that we can’t just drink wine and relax all day, and I also had to get ready to start training again for the Possum 50k that was just a few weeks later.
If you ever have the opportunity to run Big Sur, do not hesitate. This race was absolutely amazing. From the views along the coast line, the great volunteers, and even the stupid hills (and there were a bunch of them) this is hands down my favorite marathon I have run to date. I tried putting into words the beauty and peace that this race brought but so much of it I just can not explain. To help and try to show everything, I did compile a video from the race and some of my favorite parts. Check it out on my YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/nym4lyfe. Even though the result wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for, it was an experience that I will never forget.
I wanted to say a specific thank you to the Keenan family for opening their home up to Kaela and myself and allow us to stay. Also thanks to Jon for using his days off between his night shifts to keep Kaela company during race and to cheer me into the finish. It is just so great that this journey is not only allowing Kaela and I to travel and see new areas, but also bringing me back in contact with great people in my life.
Thank you so much for checking in on my journey for a marathon or longer in all 50 states. As always you can subscribe to my blog to get notifications with each new post, and I also recommend subscribing to my YouTube channel to catch all of my race and running videos. In the fall of 2016, I am going further than I ever have…stay tuned!