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Big Sur International Marathon April 2024

‘Running on the Ragged Edge of the Western World’ – April 28, 2024

Spring marks the beginning of race season and this year I decided to kick it off by flying to San Francisco to do the Big Sur International Marathon in the 11-miler category. The Big Sur Marathon is one of the few marathons that I know of that has different race categories, but not have a half-marathon. Starting with the marathon, you can do the relay marathon, then it goes down to the 21-miler (33.8km), 11-miler (17.6km), 12km and lastly, the 5km. This race attracts people internationally and this year it drew the full 4500 participants allowed. The race even has the Boston 2 Big Sur challenge, where participants run both the Boston Marathon and the Big Sur Marathon within just 13 days and this year 300 people registered. Participants are able to get another medal with Boston 2 Big Sur engraved on it and even a Boston 2 Big Sur training jacket. A class all to its own that’s for sure!

Ever since I read an article about it a few years ago and seeing the views of it I’ve had my eyes set on this race. Thoughts of being able to run so close to the ocean and see such a view were too much to pass. This year being a small milestone of mine and our 15-year anniversary I decided this would be the year to do it and convinced my partner to do the 12km.

Looking at the race profile I didn’t realize that the 11-miler start would be after the Bixby Bridge viewpoint, but I was also thankful that I didn’t have to run up to Hurricane Point. But to add to that, just a few weeks before the race, the infamous Bixby Bridge area was closed off due to a landslide that occurred and so every race category up to that point was modified. Even for those registered for the marathon because the area was closed off, they were able to miss that treacherous climb at that point. With Hwy 1 being so close to the ocean, closing off the area is a regular occurrence so this is something to note if you are going to be registering for future Big Sur races.

3:40am was wake up time for this race with racers needing to be at the bus pick up location by 4:45am for a start time of 6:30am. Another thing I didn’t realize was that it would take a full hour to get to the start location, but with the traffic and distance it did take that long. On the bus ride over I happened to sit beside someone who moved out to California the year before, but was originally from my hometown of Markham, Ontario. I told her that in fact I visited that local grocery store at least once a week. What a small world indeed! When we arrived at our start location, Grimes Ranch, it was a nice 10 degree celsius but with it being along the coast, the winds were quite strong. While waiting for the bathrooms, there was hot chocolate and coffee to keep us warm or our bowels moving…whichever you preferred. With our gear tossed in the back of the trucks we were left waiting with our mascot dancing to 80s music. Then at 6:30am, the horn blared and in self-seeded waves we were off!

Overall the course was really enjoyable with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. We passed by grazing pastures, had a view of the rocky coast and the ups and downs, turns and views of the race really made it interesting. There was one point I thought I had two kilometres left only to have the pacer yell out two miles to go!!! Miles…I was thinking in kilometres! But before I knew it 11 miles had passed and I felt like I could have done a few more kilometers. Not sure if I could have done 15 more to do the 21-miler, but I wouldn’t have minded more views of the ocean.

A really nice aspect of the course was that other than handing out Guu packets (unfortunately too close to the beginning) and slices of bananas and oranges, near the end they also allowed you to take some strawberries as an extra boost of energy. Other than hydration and nutrition, there was also live entertainment. Every few kilometres there were groups of taiko drummers and the famous piano man at one point. Usually he is at Bixby Bridge, but with the closure, he must have been around mile 7 or 8. I came up to him as he was playing Chariots of Fire and with tears in my eyes, it was fitting as I was climbed yet another hill. All in all, there were 4 hills to climb and to keep going, I just had to keep telling myself there were more to climb. Even though the area I train in has some hills, you can imagine my relief when I overheard that the upcoming hill would be the last one.

Despite taking pictures along the way, I beat my expected time and finished well. My quads were on fire and I was feeling shaky, but coming up to the finish line I was able to sprint the last 100m. I saw my partner who had just finished the 12km clicking away on his phone. We both high-fived wet sticky palms and gathered our belongings to continue on to Yosemite National Park. Doing the race as part of our time away was a great way to not only run in different terrain and see different views, but it also gave us a chance to explore the area. I highly recommend doing this run and using it as a vacation away to explore the San Francisco area. Maybe next time I’ll be able to come back and do the full marathon!

One comment

  • What an awesome experience. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and tips! I chuckled out loud at the “…hot chocolate and coffee to keep us warm or our bowels moving…” Bravo on making a distant dream from way back when come true. Inspiring indeed 🙂

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