Skip to content
May 10, 2013 / fionarwbl

Big Sur Marathon Race Recap

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been on multiple planes, vans, coasts, and continents. At the time I thought that it was a good idea to put every single thing I wanted to do in life in a 10 days span in May. Hindsight? Well, it would have given me a little bit more time to pack, but I do not regret a single minute of it.

This is a long post. Summary: marathons on pretty roads without watches are amazing.

Our flight got into San Francisco late on Friday night, and by the time Ori arrived it was 11.30pm. A great time to start driving two hours south to Monterey. So this happened.


No justification necessary


We finally got to our hotel at about 3am, and weirdly woke at about 8am. Maybe the California sun had something to do with it? Not really, because Monterey was mostly cold. We headed over to get breakfast, where we experienced that New York restaurant confusion over the menu? $8 for 2 pancakes? I’ll take everything. Plus, we were carb-loading. And these were the most amazing raspberry coconut pancakes ever.

brunchtime is the best time
brunchtime is the best time

Afterward we headed to the expo where we wandered around for a short time, signed a banner that was going to the BAA, and picked up our bibs. Very chill and low-key. After that it was time to explore the famous coastline, so we went to Seventeen Mile Drive and saw the lonely cypress tree and large houses. I’d be happy to live there if someone offered. Just sayin…

Alll byyy mmmyyyseelllfff
Alll byyy mmmyyyseelllfff


After hanging out for a few hours in the super pretty town of Carmel, we decided it would be a good idea to drive along the coast, or “scope out the course”.

Highway 1 is one of the prettiest roads in the world, so running a marathon on it is an extreme privilege. However, driving through all types of weather just 12 hours before is probably not the smartest when it comes to “scaring the crap out of you”. When we drove we got to experience all the weather micro-climate possible – from blazing sun to crazy fog to chilling winds back to blazing sun again. Oh, and some gorgeous views and treacherous driving. What were we getting ourselves into?

Well, we woke up at 3am to find out! Gotta love an early start. But that’s ok, because Starbucks was open at 3.45 to welcome us crazy runners. A friend had texted me the night before suggesting I would need sunscreen, so I made a last minute decision to ditch my longsleeves and run in a tank. Spoiler alert: great decision. We grabbed coffee and settled into the schoolbus that would drive in the dark and the fog. You know what’s even scarier than driving Highway 1? Driving in the dark in a schoolbus. I consoled myself with the fact that these drivers must have driven these roads at least 1000 times before.

Arriving at the start line was that joyous chaos of thousands of homeless looking athletes. Lots of people came prepared with mylar sheets and old clothes. I was rocking a random man’s shirt and some NYRR t shirts. Big Sur is definitely a race that people travel for, so it was kind of cool to see the different races that were represented – plenty of Boston obviously, and then plenty of race shirts from Chicago, New York, LA, and other places. Although we got there super early, it didn’t seem like we were waiting until too long until we were lining up, signing the national anthem, and starting!

I never had any plans to treat Big Sur as anything other than a long training run, so didn’t even wear a watch. I had a vague plan that was to run easy until mile 10-12, take a walk break, run again until 19ish, take a walk break, and then run to the finish. That’s still a lot of running. My longest run to date in this training cycle was 19.5 miles, and while it went really well, I didn’t know how my legs would feel given the extremely hilly course and the lack of high mileage on them.

These hills don't lie

These hills don’t lie

Miles 1-4ish were deliberately really slow – around 9:30 pace. We were actually dying for the bathroom so ran in as soon as we got a chance, we ran into some real bathrooms that were part of some cabins. Bonus for not running for time – not getting stressed about an extra 100 yards of running and waiting a minute or two for a real bathroom. It was still pretty cool and foggy as well. However, by the time we got to mile 5 or 6, the sun was out, and we emerged from the woods to the coastline. Then we got to run along to this. There were also debates whether we saw a whale or a rock. I think it was a rock.

Need I say more?

Need I say more?

We started to speed up a little at this point, and find a really nice rhythm.  Big Sur is small enough that you really recognize the runners around you, and although we didn’t really chat a lot, it was great to see people again and again, like the chicks with the awesome leggings, Antonio Banderas (actually, we passed him around mile 10 and didn’t see him again). While running between 6 and 10 there is a constant feeling of moving toward Hurricane Point, the highest point in the notoriously hilly course.

boom boom boom

boom boom boom

Before you get to the top of Hurricane Point, you have to get to the bottom, where these guys are. You hear them before you see them, and it is the most magical, primal, moment of the drums beating in time with our footsteps. Those drumbeats propelled us up the first half mile of Hurricane Point, and then adrenaline the next mile. At mile 11, we stopped for a previously agreed walk break. However, adrenaline was pumping, and the temperature was dropping as the wind picked up and the fog rolled in, so while we planned to walk for half a mile, it was closer to three minutes before we started running again. Then, somehow, weirdly, out of nowhere, my legs got this crazy kick and powered up to the top of the point in a seemingly effortless push. We reached the top! And then I made the high risk decision to do this:


As I jumped I thought about how mad my mum would be if I fell...

As I jumped I thought about how mad my mum would be if I fell…


Not gonna lie: had serious concerns that if I stumbled on my fall I had a 1000 foot drop into the ocean behind me.

Everyone told us that the trick to Big Sur was to think of it in term of pre-Hurricane Point and post-Hurricane Point. That was sort of good advice, apart from another 14.2 miles to go is also quite overwhelming. Having said that, with a course that is so pretty that warrants a photo stop every 10 minutes, the time really seemed to fly by. After Hurricane Point, the next big “landmark” was Bixby Bridge, which is (a) gorgeous, and (b) has a piano player serenading us as we ran over. Oh, and he just happened to be playing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” while we ran over. He definitely played another song after that, because at first I thought that was his only song. So no, we were just really lucky.

If only every mile 16 looked like this...

If only every mile 16 looked like this…

After that was more beautiful miles by the coast, and plenty of stops for fruit, water, gels, and anything else that we were offered. With no time pressures, it was awesome to be able to take the time to enjoy a slice of orange, thank all the volunteers, and soak up the moment. At mile 19 we took another pre-ordained walking break, and by this time my legs had finally realized that they had run a long way, and still had a long way to go. Nothing serious, just a little cranky. The scenery was still fabulous, but it was definitely getting a little chillier as well. The whole course was pretty rolling, and the road camber is pretty tough, and we were starting to feel it at this point. However, the thought of strawberries at mile 21 (delicious!) kept us going, and then began the steady ticking off of miles.

I had texted Ori our approximate finish time, and then that I wanted a finish line photo. When we got to the actual 0.2 finish, there were thousands of people cheering, but I actually saw him, and who knew, but my legs actually had a crazy sprint in them as I sprinted to him, gave him a sweaty hug and kiss (lucky guy!!) and then sprinted over the finish line. Very reassuring to know my leg had some kick after 26 miles. Actually, as we had never pushed the pace, they felt like they had another 2-3 miles left in them (ultra anyone?). Final time: 4:23, which is much faster than it felt given our multiple stops, walks, and photo ops!

going the wrong way!!

going the wrong way!!

Big Sur was by far one of the best running experiences I’ve had. I was so lucky in having someone awesome to run it with, a husband to drive us everywhere and cheer us, and amazing weather. I enjoyed this marathon from beginning to end, and appreciated that running a marathon for pure enjoyment is not only possible, but highly recommended to remind me that running is not just about times and paces, but for the sheer physical enjoyment of it. And the beer at the end.

All done!

All done!





Leave a Comment
  1. Jen / May 10 2013 3:22 pm

    While the idea of running a marathon for fun doesn’t quite gel in my brain, I love the idea of running a race like Big Sur just to enjoy the beauty of your surroundings and not be constantly ticking off paces and miles on your Garmin. It’s so freaking gorgeous out there!!! And also, um, In-N-Out. I would stop being vegetarian for the period of time I was in close proximity to one of those.

    • fionarwbl / May 11 2013 3:22 pm

      My husband is a semi-vegetarian, and he totally broke it for in-n-out 🙂

  2. Emilia @ Run for Your Life / May 10 2013 5:55 pm

    So glad you had such a great time! Even though that elevation profile scares me, I totally want to do Big Sure if/when I ever make it to Boston…

    • fionarwbl / May 11 2013 3:23 pm

      Yeah, I was thinking the same thing as well. I hate hilly races, but I actually didn’t mind the Big Sur course.

  3. Lael / May 11 2013 4:01 pm

    YES! This is running to me. Totally. High Five. I’m so happy you had a great race and thanks so much for your report!

  4. Jenna Hatfield / May 13 2013 11:27 am

    This recap was awesome. Thank you for taking — and sharing — so many pics!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: