Big Bear Marathon – Analyzing a Failed BQ

At the start of the year, knowing the ankle surgery was coming, I put a little sticky on my laptop that said “BQ @ 3:10”. I even registered for California International Marathon thinking I could build up strength and speed what would be 8 months post-surgery. But starting in June, the business travel schedule picked up to doing 5 countries in 4 months. Jet-lag being the pesky little sleep disruptor that it is, I started looking for other ways to run a marathon under 3:20 and I found out about Big Bear Marathon. With spectacular scenery of the San Bernardino National Forest and 5,083ft of sustained descent, it looked like a possibility. But cockiness and marathon distances don’t go well together. My strava activity:

Big Bear Marathon – The Training

For a given pace, running downhill is almost all legs & hip flexors and not much lungs. Most of my training was on the treadmill. Zero incline pretty closely simulates the body mechanics of downhill running. So set the pace high enough to make the hip flexors uncomfortable and then try and hold on to that pace for as long as possible. Trick is to yield to the tug of the treadmill and just make it smooth. The weekend before the race, I was able to run for about 2:20 at a good clip and it’s the fastest I’ve run on a treadmill. But as it goes, strategy is all fine and dandy until you get punched in the mouth.

I also used Strava to chart out descents around the neighborhood that progressively would approach the Big Bear marathon profile. Here are some of the runs I did to working up to it:

Stevens Creek Canyon Rd 8.34 miles + 1,800 ft drop)
Mt. Umunhum -> Hicks Rd/Camden Ave (7 miles + 3K feet drop)
Mt Hamilton Rd – from Observatory Peak (19 miles + 3.5K feet drop)

Funnily enough the Mt. Hamilton run, that gave me a lot of confidence, is pretty much how my race day played out. It’s uncanny how close the first 19 miles of the race resembles the training run! Including being done with running after 19 miles đŸ™‚

Big Bear Marathon – Race Day

After picking up the bib, I drove to the start line just to see what the descents looked like. Watched an amazing sunset and was grinning with excitement the whole drive up. Tried to sleep around 8pm, but tossed and turned until I finally gave up and woke up around 2am.


After reading the course review and looking at the profile, I broke it down to four stages and the corresponding splits:

Warmup – Mile 10 in 1:20 (8:00 min/mile pace)
Get Ready – Mile 14 in 1:50 (7:30 min/mile pace)
Accelerate – Mile 20 in 2:30 (6:45 min/mile pace)
Cruise – Mile 26.2 in 3:15ish (7:15 – 7:45 min/mile pace)

The first two stages went exactly as planned, but tripped and fell at mile 16 with a yard sale. I bent down to pick up my phone and got up to nasty stomach cramps. Had to stop and arch back with my arms raised up high for several minutes to make it go away. And the calf cramp that started in mile 19 would stay on for the rest of the run. By mile 20 the course was starting to flatten out and I knew then BQ was history. Pulled into the finish line around 3:42.

I think I had the downhill part and the nutrition (9 VFuel gels dissolved in my handheld = 300 calories/hour) dialed in, but didn’t account for three things. First being, the early rollers at 6,000ft were hard without realizing it and I could feel the heart-rate go up and suck wind. The other two were the last 6-miles of flats and the heat. My mile 20, it was 73° and just kept getting warmer. By noon, I think it got to 91°!

A bit disappointing, but I know BQ’s not off my mind yet. CIM is next month, but I don’t have enough weeks to build up to run a 3:20. So that’s going to be just another marathon with no purpose other than finishing. Maybe I can shoot for more consistency of pace across the 26.2 miles?


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