Heralded as the one marathon to run for it’s scenic views, Big Sur delivers.
The course begins with the first 5 miles running down Highway 1 surrounded by redwood trees. Early on we were running next to green pastures and there was a long line of cattle walking along the grass across a couple hills in a straight line. I couldn’t help but notice that we were their perfect opposite. A line of humans making their way across rolling hills on pavement. I couldn’t help but smile at the thought.
Random moment of the race: being escorted by a motorcycle cop, a Lexus SUV was making it’s way past us (slowly). The license plate said RUNHER 1, so I made way to see who was in it. The car wasn’t traveling fast and hanging out the back seat window was one Mr. Bart Yasso talking with runners as the car made it’s way down the road. The car’s speed was slow, so he was holding casual conversations with runners who were willing to chat. Pretty cool moment. I think I stayed within ear shot for maybe a half mile.
As the course exits the redwood trees, you are greeted by green hills and the Pacific Ocean on your left. Several miles later you begin to approach the Point Sur lighthouse.It’s so peaceful, you almost forget that you are running a marathon and try to imagine why all marathons aren’t held in such scenic delights?
Coming out of mile 9 you start to see a very large hill. I don’t know why it isn’t a mountain, but I’m sure there is a technical definition that fails it from qualifying. On the side of the “hill” you can make out a line of small runners conquering it as you approach. Like a small line of ants climbing a sand mound. In several minutes, that will be you.
At the base of the hill going across Little Sur River Bridge you make your way up to Hurricane Point, there were Taiko drums pounding away. To me it sounded like being sent off into battle to attack Hurricane Point. Boom. Boom. Boom. The drums bang in the background as you make your assent up 520 feet. When you reach the pinnacle and turn to look at what you have accomplished, a moment of pride is instilled, but you are not quite at the halfway point so the celebration is short lived.
After the decent, you reach Bixby Bridge and the halfway point. Awaiting you is a grand piano being played by Michael Martinez. It is quite a visual experience. You have just climbed and descended over 500 feet, crossed a beautiful bridge and are greeted by pianist. Probably the best Kodak moment of any race, here you can be photographed with a grand piano, a beautiful architectural bridge and the monstrous Hurricane Point you just conquered. Not to mention, the sun hitting the hills and the coastline at the base. A gorgeous photo opportunity.
The next 7 miles are rolling hills along the coastline with scattering of homes that you can only be jealous of. The coast is always at your left and the Pacific Ocean to boot.
At mile 20 you begin to start seeing signs if civilization more frequently and become surrounded by tall trees and beautiful flowers along the road. Live bands and entertainment line the course more frequently and offer great sounds to get you through the final stretches of hills. The whole course is hilly, don’t get me wrong, but towards the end any extra motivation is helpful.
Near mile 22 at the roadside is a table lined with fresh strawberries for you to enjoy. You have a few miles left and cruising into Carmel at the finish line at 26.2 you realize you have just completed arguably the most beautiful marathon in the world and the largest rural marathon in the world.
If the scenery wasn’t enough, you wouldn’t believe how organized the event is. This was the 24th installment and with having to bus runners starting at 3am and closing down Highway 1 is a task in itself. At the starting line they had plenty of port-a-pottys (always a line, but that is expected). They also had free hot beverages available to keep you warm before the start.
As for the race, there was water and Gatorade almost every 3 miles. On several occasions they were handing out complimentary GU in assorted flavors, apples and bananas. All on the side of a two lane highway at the edge of California. It makes you wonder how they can be more organized than some larger events in metropolitan cities.
This is by far my favorite course of the 11 combined half and full marathons I have participated in. My first marathon in Florence, Italy will always hold a special feeling because it was my first 26.2 mile race, but I would highly recommend Big Sur to anyone with a side note of “you had better love some hills.”