Going BIG with Big Sur Marathon | A Race Recap

When I decided years ago that I would run a marathon I decided my first one would be a BIG one.  I didn’t necessarily mean in terms of people in the race, but I wanted something epic.  A race that people would recognize.  A race that would inspire me through whatever challenges lay ahead.
After having my second child in February 2015 I decided to start looking into chasing my next big scary goal.  I looked at a few lists of Marathons to run and found a race that sparked my imagination and my first marathon goals of:
  1. Scenic
  2. Big enough to have company but not a crowd
  3. Reasonable temperatures
  4. Well supported
  5. Memorable
Big Sur was like a checklist.  I had my name in the lottery as fast as I could despite the fact that I didn’t think I would be running the race in 2016.  After all tried to get in to NYC marathon for 4 years before deciding I didn’t want to run it my automatic entry year.
Then Mikaela posted about how we had both gotten into Big Sur.  I was in shock, I was in awe, I was beyond excited.   I trained as best I could despite getting injured due to stepping on an ice ball during our relatively mild winter and prepared to travel to California for the race.
On to a more traditional race recap.
Big Sur Marathon 
Cost: $160 if you get in through lottery, $320 if you want to pay an extra charitable donation to get in  + flights, hotels, food etc
Big Sur Marathon runs 26.2 miles from Big Sur Station to Carmel California along the gorgeous coastal route 1.  I had driven the road during my honeymoon in 2007 so I knew it was a gorgeous race.  The race also offers a variety of other distances if you have any friends that want to race, but don’t want to run a marathon.  My best friend who lives in California ran the 9 miler.
That whole area is gorgeous too, we made the race the focus of our yearly family vacation.  We went on marine life viewing boat rides, played on the beach, went hiking in Pinnacles national park, went to a discovery center, it was worth the trip out there.
The course may be gorgeous and straightforward (kind of hard not to follow the only road running along the coast) but it is not easy by any means.  Conservative estimates of the elevation gain are 1700ft, my strava reported a gain of 2000ft.  As a comparison strava reports Manchester City Marathon as being about 1200 ft of gain.  As part of the race one must run a 500ft gain hill over the course of 2 miles to a point called hurricane point.  On race day this point was so windy that I think I still have flashbacks of being in some crazy weather.
Bib Pickup/Expo etc: 
Smooth and easy in downtown Monterey a short walk away from fisherman’s wharf.  They had a separate tent for bib pickup and for the Expo.  After we picked up our bibs we went to get our tickets for the bus where a volunteer gave us such a complex and long winded explanation of where we had to park and where we had to go to get our bus that we got a little nervous.  We went over to the expo and picked up our shirts.  The expo was relatively small but nice.  It took us a while to find the Big Sur backdrop and we stood in line for it when we did.  Big Sur also has a lot of merchandise available to purchase.
Coastal Route one is not very heavily developed south of Carmel.  Because there are limited places to stay most people stay in Carmel or Monterey and you must take buses down to the start of the race.  Warning: Hotel costs are insane during this weekend, and with a 3:30am bus loading time it’s hard to avoid staying in a local hotel.  We did have to wait in line for the bus (because we didn’t have the VIP option it was a school bus) but it wasn’t too long.  We had no problem parking and going to the Starbucks that opened at 3:30 am to serve us.
When we got to Big Sur Station it was a bit of a mess.  There was lines going everywhere by the time we got there and we needed to use the rest room.  We worked our way through the crowd to find that most people were in line for coffee and bananas, the porta-potties were quick.
The staging area was crowded and confusing because it was a really small area for 4000+ people.  I did find a small patch of ground to sit down and tape my ankles.  Then we dropped off our drop bags and promptly missed the loading of our intended pace group’s corral.  We got quite confused but made our way as far back as we felt like going.
The Race
The race was fantastic.  There were pace groups for every 15 minute goal time up to 6 hours (the cutoff).  I mostly ran alone but did chat with a few people.  The temperatures were perfect (I think in the 50s) but the winds were I.N.S.A.N.E.  I was trotting along at a 10:30 min/mi pace.  As soon as I started hitting wind I looked down to see the same effort was now giving me about a 12 min/mi.  In a way the many hills were a respite from the headwind.
There was plenty of aid stations along the course and they were very well manned.  We got water, Gatorade and a medical table every few miles.  I grabbed some Vaseline from a board being held out near the edge of the road a couple times once I realized I was getting chaffed under my arms.
Your family can only come see you at the finish (probably the only real disadvantage I can think of other than the hills) but the course organizers made sure to have musical acts all the way along the course.  My favorite was the group playing war drum type music as we were about to head up the worst hill on the course and the piano signifying we had come down that hill and reached the half way point.
The half way point was immediately after a famous and historic bridge known as Bixby bridge.  I actually found that area to mess with my head a little.  There were news vans and people hanging around taking pictures.  I just wanted to keep enjoying my run and the nature.
I planned the race with a few key hills that I would walk.  Other than hurricane point, most of those hills were in the second half of the race.  Actually the last hill was right at the 25 mile mark.  Are you kidding me!  I managed to get to the top of that hill, found the aid station that was handing out strawberries and enjoyed the last stretch near the ocean.  Then a girl I had run with earlier (who lives in Merrimack NH), came up to me and said, “lets do this”.  I flew at the end I was so excited and emotional.  I couldn’t wait to see my parents, my kids and my husband.  They were there… but they didn’t see me run by.  I guess I was just going too fast for them.
The post-race village was nicely set up.  You picked up a box of food and were funneled into a large center courtyard with a family reunion area.  There was a beer tent, entertainment, some more food, massages etc.  Only problem was that you couldn’t see the rest of the finishers unless you had a VIP package.  So when I wanted to go see Mikaela finish, I had to hobble all the way around this village to go stand in the commoner section and watch her finish.
And finish we did 🙂

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