"If we were told that we could run only one marathon in our lifetime, Big Sur would have to be it."
Bart Yasso, Runner's World

25th Annual Big Sur International Marathon, April 25, 2010
Steve Brookman

If I ever run Boston again, I will not bitch about the hills of Newton. Ok, I'm lying, I probably would, but only because I will have forgotten the hills of Big Sur. This was a marathon that I had dreamed of for many years. While I knew it was a tough course I deliberately did not look at it until just before leaving. I then learned of the 500' climb up Hurricane Point, and of the subsequent many hills after that. I wasn't sure how to run it other than to follow the race instructions to run it to experience it. So I blew off any thoughts of a good time and planned on a having a good time (where have I heard that before?) and packed a camera along for the run.

This trip proved to a challenge right from the start. When Susan and I left for Newark's Liberty Airport early on Friday morning there were seats available for us "non-revenue" standbys. However once we got to the gate there were many revenue standbys as some international flight had misconnected. We were told there were no seats and just as we were leaving the gate area to check other flight options the gate agent yelled that there was one seat open and they were closing the doors. Susan grabbed the last center seat way back in coach while I crammed myself into the cockpit jumpseat for the 6 1/2 hour flight to SFO. Possibly an omen that maybe this was going to be a good trip after all?!

After a scenic drive down the Pacific Coast Highway to the little hamlet of Carmel-By-the-Sea, we settled into our hotel and explored the village. It's quaint and very fancy-schmansy with a good assortment of restaurants, some affordable depending on your definition. I have to admit to getting boutiqued out after visiting a few shops (do people really buy that stuff?) We didn't see any real estate listings in the window displays for under 7 figures and there were many cars that I couldn't even identify...but a lot Priuses also. The Scenic Drive (it seems everything is scenic around there) really was. Susan logged more miles than I did this trip with her morning jogs along the paths by the Pacific and through Pebble Beach while I kept myself busy monitoring the weather forecast, which was almost perfect, if you ignored the headwinds predicted to be gusting to 30 mph along the coast.

What follows are a few pictures of the course and some commentary about the race. Sorry about the large format, but I think the views deserve it. And here's a link to a video of the course from the Big Sur website that can really give you the flavor of the event: http://www.bsim.org/Photos_Media___More/Marathon_Tour_Video.htm

The point to point nature of the race necessitated a 3:45am bus ride for the 6:45 start (and a 2am get up, good thing I stayed on East Coast time!) The 2 hour sit at the starting area was chilly and not real fun, but I got to chat up some folks and they did have lots of food and beverages there, which were not part of my pre race routine that was shot to hell anyway by just sitting there for so long and shivering.
The start was almost on time and downhill for most of the first few miles. We ran through a grove of redwoods but it was too dark for taking pictures on the run. After about 6 miles we broke into the open and got the first sights of the coast. This was the longest straight away on the course.

The Big Sur lighthouse loomed on our left but our attention was soon directed to what we knew was coming...

There would be no more straight sections and we could now see Hurricane Point coming out of haze. It rises 500' over 2 miles, the first mile being the steepest.

It's a good thing that it keeps curving, because once you're climbing you can't see how much more is left. There are several false summits.

This being one of them, but has the best view. I did take it easy up the hill, chatting it up with other runners and really drinking in the views. You can see parts of the steep 1st mile of the climb on the left. The road is paved by the way, this is pull off area for viewing. There are lots of runners running by, really.

The views are why you run this course. Unfortunately the camera froze at this point and I didn't get any more shots of the run. Which was probably a bad thing for me race wise, as once done taking pictures I realized I was just ahead of the 3:50 pace group who said they were really on a sub 3:48 pace. Hmmm...bad calculations crept into my little head...Hey, I'm feeling great at mile 13, maybe I should pick it up some and see what happens!

The Bixby Bridge, Mile 13.1, Michael Martinez on the Yamaha Grand Piano at the end of bridge (this was taken the day before the race) could be heard most of the way down from the point.


Here at end of Bixby Bridge you can see the descent from Hurricane Point, you lose most of 500' in a mile.
Of course, what happens is what usually happens to me in marathons. The wheels fell off around mile 21 and not having a goal time, or enjoying a good time at this point, I lost interest in racing, and ok, in marathoning in general. Nothing new there. The course had turned inland a bit, the headwinds died down and it got warm, the hills kept coming and the 3:50 pace group slid on by. (I wasn't part of them anyway!) Not proud to say that I then walked a few water stops, part of the hill at 22 and even took a pee break at mile 23 (1st time for me during a race.) I did manage a sprint (sort of) the last 1/2 mile to ensure I'd get under the 4 hour mark and did so, with not all that much to spare.

Bottom line, this is a great marathon. It was well run, had a good expo. We really enjoyed Charlie Engle's talk, don't pass up a chance to hear him speak. They have 7' humorous mile markers, at every mile, with someone yelling out splits and projected finish times. Great entertainment along the way, well a few school bands maybe not so great. The Taiko Drummers just before Hurricane Point send chills up your spine and provide some oomph to get you climbing. They even have volunteers stationed at the trash cans to ensure everything is recycled properly.

I would recommend Big Sur to anyone looking for a great destination marathon. A PR could be possible but probably not advisable, do it for the experience. I'd say the race instructions of adding 20 minutes to your typical time is a bit much, maybe 5-10. Of course weather conditions will really determine what kind of race you'll have. We had almost perfect weather. The headwinds got strong only in a few places and never got up to 30.

Susan and I rounded out the trip with a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is a must see. An uneventful drive (although the bay area traffic makes NJ's look good!) and flight home (we actually got seats next to each other!) We are now glad to be home, as are our dogs, and cats, and fish, I think, although they don't really show it.

Below are a few shots from around the area and the aquarium: