The Beauty of the Big Sur International Marathon

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My marathon bucket list isn’t very long. Just a handful of amazing destinations, beautiful courses, unique swag or overall race awesomeness.

The Big Sur International Marathon has all of those things. I ran the race with a relay team last year, starting with Leg 3 (mile 10) and going to the finish. The views were so stunningly beautiful that I vowed to come back as soon as I could and see about those first 10 miles, then cover the rest again.

What can I say: once you run the Big Sur Marathon, you can’t not want to do it again!

The best part? HusbandRuns asked me to register him as well and, despite my better judgment, I did. [I had a feeling he would not train properly for it, and – of course – I was right.]But we’ll come back to this later…

First, a super important part of the marathon experience: Pre-race dinner.

I’ve never done one of those official race pasta dinners, so I can’t speak to their effectiveness or quality. But last year’s Italian food binge pre-LA Marathon did not do me any favors. In fact, this was the time I decided that eating piles of pasta before a race left too much bulk in my stomach and I haven’t done it since.

What I’ve found works for me instead is:Vegetarian “sushi” rolls, i.e. there’s no fish in there (not the time to have my stomach disagree with a piece of spicy tuna or eel…); just vegetables – avocados, asparagus, cucumber – and plain white rice. Plenty of carbs, some protein from the portobello mushroom, sodium from the soy sauce, wasabi to clear up the nasal passages (ha!). It’s the perfect pre-race meal for me; if you’ve found pasta doesn’t work that great for you, give it a try! That said, let’s move on to what you came over here to read see:

The Marathon

Race morning started at 4:00 a.m. with breakfast in our hotel. We stayed at one of the official race hotels, so yes: they provided coffee, pastries and fruit for the runners, beginning at 3:30. How super nice!

No fewer than three cups of coffee later, we boarded the bus to begin our journey from the finish line in Carmel, back to the start. It was a ride in the dark: a good thing, since you can’t really get a good sense of the hills that await. It was still dark out when we arrived at Big Sur Station, the relatively small area crowded with several thousand runners either sitting down chillaxing, walking around looking for water or waiting in line for the porta-potties. (We did all three, of course.)Time went by super quickly and before we knew it, it was light out and they were calling our wave to line up. But first, let us take a pre-marathon selfie![Not to drop any spoilers or stuff, but this will be the list time you see a smile on HusbandRuns’ face!]

Bart Yasso greeted us from the Announcer’s Podium, and then we were treated to an unexpected (for me, anyway) speech from Deena Kastor. Amazing!

Then the most incredible Star Spangled Banner performance:And we were off!

The first three or so miles of this race are downhill and I’ve heard some people take off too fast in their excitement. We made sure to take it easy, mindful of the long road ahead. I took some of my best photos in that part of the race:Right. That was a joke.

There are a few small climbs in the first free miles, but it wasn’t until a bit after mile 5 that we got a better taste of the hills to come:HusbandRuns and I were running together, as planned, clocking in 9:30 minute-miles or faster on the so-far-pretty-easy-breezy course:

Now, the Big Sur Marathon course is beautiful from start line to Mile 26.2, but it doesn’t really get interesting – for lack of a better word – until it opens up to those incredible ocean views, right around the six-mile mark:Not only that, but you see the Big Sur Lighthouse – the first major, and very pretty! – milestone on this course: You can also see HusbandRuns, who at this point had a pep in his step, still. So did this barefoot dude:

From then on, the views just got better and better:Our pace was still pretty awesome, we slowed down a bit on the climbs, but that was to be expected. Strong and steady:
The mile markers at the Big Sur Marathon are all quite funny, but this one was the most entertaining of all:OK, maybe the most entertaining was at Mile 25, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Here, have a look at some more pretty scenery:And just like that, a familiar sight:The drummers right before Mile 10, where I spent several quality hours last year waiting for Relay team member #2 (i.e. HusbandRuns) to hand off the baton-bracelet so I can begin my run. Their music was just as fun as I remembered. The 10 Mile marker was just as I remembered, too:Mm-hmm! Two miles of steady climb up the winding road to Hurricane Point, coming right up! We slowed down our pace quite a bit and I even stopped talking. (Every husband’s dream, yes?)Took a little break before we reached the top:HusbandRuns needed that!Finally, Mile 12 and the end of (this particular) climb:Many people say they feel such relief reaching Hurricane Point (the end of that 2-mile, 500+ foot climb), that they completely underestimate the many hills that are yet to come on this course. That is true: celebrate your Mile 12, but don’t forget you’ve yet to cover even half of this challenging course! But by all means, enjoy its beauty!Which I was definitely doing, by the way, even as we picked up the pace again on the downhill. Downhills are fun! Then, at the half-way point, another “most beautiful” view:Bixby Bridge, also the spot where Michael Martinez, a.k.a. Piano Man, plays heavenly music that makes you tear up and stop your race for a while:
(I know, it sucks when a song gets cut off in the middle; check out his YouTube channel for some amazing full-length Bixby Bridge performances!)

After our brief musical pause, we trotted off towards mile 14. It was a beautiful downhill, literally and in runner-speak! We picked up the pace and carried on strong right up until Mile 17 or so, when HusbandRuns started exhibiting symptoms that no runner wants to experience, at least not until Mile 21.“Take a gel and some salt,” I said. “Ugh, don’t talk to me about gels, I feel like throwing up,” he said.

Uh-oh. So yeah, the Big Bonk at the Big Sur marathon happened at mile 17 and it was all downhill from there. Not literally, of course, there were still plenty of rollers to conquer. Aaaah, looks painful, doesn’t it? Somewhere around mile 19 or 20, I suggested we walk all the uphills and try to run a bit on the downhills. The salt I forced on HusbandRuns helped a bit, but I don’t think there’s enough salt in this world to compensate for lack of proper training. At least we made sure he took water at each aid station to keep hydrated.

I had so much energy left in the tank, on the other hand, that I started entertaining myself by running backwards or in circles… anything to pass the time. Ran into the fabulous Irma Do, chapter leader of San Jose Moms Run This Town (represent!) and we ran the rest of the race together, while still keeping an eye out on HusbandRuns. He was absolutely no fun at this point and turning greenish-yellowish in the face. Yikes.

Not even Bart Yasso’s 24 Mile sign cheered him up. I thought it was fun!But the most fun was mile marker 25:Thanks for the photos, Irma!

Irma did the 21-miler, her longest run to date, and she rocked it! Go check out her race recap here.

HusbandRuns also rocked – I mean walked! – the last mile. On the bright sight, skin color wasn’t getting any worse and I thought, we might just finish this thing!

And so we did:A smiling volunteer took our post-marathon picture, another one put medals around our necks – and we limped towards Finisher Village for some water and snacks. Our finish time was 4:46:52. My slowest marathon ever, but most definitely the most beautiful. And while my effort level in those last seven or eight miles was approximately 60%, I don’t for one minute regret sticking with the Husband instead of darting off to finish at my own pace. This was such a beautiful course, it needs to be enjoyed!

Also, it was part of our wedding vows. In sickness and in health, right?

I’m not removing it from my bucket list, of course. The Big Sur International Marathon and I have unfinished business to attend to next year!

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