Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Epic Views of the Big Sur Marathon

Last Sunday, I had the great pleasure of joining 7,000 eager runners for the 25th Big Sur Marathon near Carmel, CA. This was the second leg of the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge, two marathons in 6 days, and a great way to ring in my 41st birthday. Thanks to great weather and the incredible organization of the volunteers and race team, it was a weekend to remember.

The race weekend started with a Sophie-led tour through Cannery Row, the amazing Monterey Aquarium, and the beach at Carmel. It was such a delight to see this all through the perpetually curious eyes of a 3-year-old. Who knew seahorses were so cool? And the males give birth! Ouch. I pretended not to notice that I was already limping as I chased her around, still healing from the bike accident a few weeks ago, and now amplified by running a beer-soaked Boston Marathon just days earlier. But I so, so wanted to experience that feeling of having Highway 1 all to ourselves, drifting up the rugged Big Sur coast. It called me like a siren song.

 (The ridiculously cool Monterey Bay Aquarium)
(Sophie takes flight at the beach)

At 3am on race day, I chased a handful of ibuprofen with a cup of coffee and hoped for the best. Taking meds before a race is like watching a traffic accident about to happen - ya know it ain't gonna end well. I may not be much wiser at age 41, but I'm as stubborn as ever! The bus ride to the start was an eager mix of first timers and grizzled vets, all citing that the projected 60 degree weather couldn't be better. Among the runners were 372 crazy enough to tackle the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge. The things we do for shwag...

I got off the bus and sat with Loretta and Pam from Denver, CO, as we let the sun slowly warm us up in the starting area. Pam was hoping for a Boston qualifier, but got nervous enough a few weeks earlier to drive to another marathon and qualify to "get it out of the way". I think she's going to do just fine! Loretta was a lifelong runner who only recently began doing marathons, and loved the fact that she was nearly as fit as her two sons in the Marines. We chatted with a nice couple from Kansas City who looked for any excuse to spend time in Carmel. We learned that all 50 states were represented here, as well as 21 foreign countries. This race attracts the coolest people!

(Loretta Ulibarri and Pam Gewinner from Denver, CO)

(I love this shot of Michael Wardian saying hi mid-conversation)

 (Posing with Melinda Schwartz from Buffalo, NY, in the starting corral)
(The doves are released, and we were off!)

We made our way to the start, just in time to hear the national anthem and see the doves released (much to the liking of the circling turkey vultures). I said a quick hi to Michael Wardian, a sure favorite here today even after running a 2:25 at Boston. He had some tough competition though, including Big Sur regular Jesus Campos, local masters demi-god Rich Hanna, and seeded runners Daniel Tapia and Chris Mocko. I didn't see defending Women's champion Mary Coordt, but there were plenty of new faces here who looked pretty fit. Melinda Schwartz from Buffalo, NY, was fresh off a 3:03 at the Athens Marathon and was looking forward to the challenging hills. As the gun went off, she said "good luck!" and dropped me like a sack of potatoes.

 (Joyce Forier joins Steve Campbell heading down Highway 1)

We descended out of the redwoods to the live soundtrack of local bands who braved the early morning to be set up for us. Thanks, guys! Within a few miles we were spread out along Highway 1, hearing only the popcorn sounds of our footsteps against the crashing waves. Ah, so peaceful...

My stride was quickly whittled down to a shuffle, roughly an 8:30 min/mile pace, which was about as much as my sore tailbone could handle. Hang in there, body! It's not like we use our tails for anything, right? Oh, yeah - except for holding yourself upright. Oops. Luckily I found plenty of new friends to help pass the time. Joyce Forier, a Race Director from Henderson, NV, shared plenty of stories of charting/planning/executing new 100-mile races, tours through Red Rocks, and her upcoming debut to run Comrades. If her passion for running is any indication, I bet her races are spectacular!

(A fellow runner gets a pic of me - thanks random runner!)

 (Russell Willner can't stop smiling)

 The aid station volunteers were amazing, per usual, and the mile marker signs were hilarious. Everyone was chatting away and having a great time. I continued to be surprised by how many Boston 2 Big Sur runners there were - and they were doing great!

(The fog slowly melts away)

At mile 10, we got to my favorite part - Hurricane Point. This two mile climb never seems to end, but rewards you with the best views of the course. Fresh legs from the relay teams and the 21-milers helped pace us up the hill.

(The drum squad gives is a tempo as we tackle Hurricane)

 (Moises Mitrani from Florida paces up Hurricane with ease)

 I joked with the Boston 2 Big Sur runners at the top - which is tougher, Heartbreak or Hurricane? No contest, they said. Hurricane is 5x the heartbreak of Heartbreak.

The descent after Hurricane was quick, and we soon found ourselves crossing the halfway point at Bixby Bridge. The photo shooting session next to the piano player was so popular, I couldn't get in! It's definitely a great spot. My watch read 1:53...this was on track to be my slowest marathon of all time, but it didn't seem to matter. I was just glad to be hear to share the experience.

(So many great views, it almost gets boring....almost!)

(Pose with the leprechaun for good luck!)

The weather held up nicely, and started to get downright hot. I cruised along with Kathryn Hazzard who came all the way from Maine, and told me about a lot of great races in her area. We were moving along with the 10.6-mile runners and making plenty of new friends.

 (Kathryn Hazzard from Freeport, ME, cruises the downhill)

(The smiling Samba dancer, here every year!)

As the ibuprofen wore off, I found yo-yo'ing between 7 and 10 min/miles as I slowly climbed into the Carmel Highlands. I ran with Matthew, whom I've now met at four different races (not counting Boston, which he also did), and he pulled me up to mile 22 before stopping for the fresh strawberry aid station. He could tell by my stride that the Miwok 100k next weekend was definitely out of the picture, and he advised to enjoy every last minute of this race. Well said, my friend.

(Matthew and I get a quick photo)

With that, I pulled into the finish in 3:53 and thanked my body for holding up for one last race. That'll do, pig...that'll do. My good friend John Heltzel had finished a few minutes ahead of me, clocking a PR 3:50 on a tough course, and I got to bask in his glow as we greeted our respective families. Michael Wardian had gotten 2nd place (2:27), just a minute behind winner Daniel Tapia (2:26). New Yorker Veronica Clemens won the Women's division in 2:55, with Melinda Schwartz taking 2nd in 3:08. Mike Nutall, doing his umpteenth Big Sur, entered the 60-64 age group with a respectable 3:23 and won his age group again. All in all, some incredible performances.

 (Chilling with John Heltzel at the finish to hear about his marathon PR)

(Best part about the Boston 2 Big Sur tent? All the beer you can drink at 10am)

 (Sophie shows off our two medals and gives me tips on how to make the best monster face)
Within minutes I had retreated to the Boston 2 Big Sur tent for a couple of beers and another dose of ibuprofen. Normally I would be stressing about it, but my heart was still overflowing from all the beauty, friendly faces, and inviting community that put on an amazing day. It's hard to imagine a better setting for a marathon, and I looked forward to taking a snooze on the beach before hitting The Forge in the Forest for some grub.

 (Me and my crew)

My thanks to the Big Sur Marathon Committee, all their great sponsors and volunteers, for putting on another epic race. You keep this up, and Runner's World's #3 destination marathon will claim the place it holds in our memories - #1.

- SD


  1. To you bloggers - I switched to the in-page commenting after seeing it works better with the iPad. Let's see if it works...

  2. Great post Scott, I love seeing my hometown when I'm far away! Hope you heal up quick!

  3. Nice write up. Katy had fun listening to your stories for the few miles you shared.

  4. great report and congrats on another marathon!! i ran big sur on sunday - it was my first big sur and i LOVED it. TOUGH course but the beauty is indescribable. my first half was 1:53 too so we must have been pretty close to each other :)

    i was jealous of all you b2b people out there - i think i might have to come back to big sur next year for that swag!

  5. Great race report. It was awesome running miles 21-22 with you and sharing some great running stories. It helped me get through a difficult mile. Have a fast recovery and good luck with Kona!!

  6. Take really good care of your self, Scott! We need you. because who is going to write these reports for us? :)

  7. Yes a great race report! I will great out for that race one day, it's a nice race to run for fun.

  8. Fun photos! Man, that looks like a beautiful course. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Thanks for the great post and awesome pictures Scott. I was sitting with you on the bus ride to the start - enjoyed meeting you!

  10. I know Joyce Forier! She and her Calico Racing team run all the best races in the Las Vegas area. Nice photos of Big Sur - that's a race I've always wanted to do, but the SF marathon may be as close as I get in the near future.

  11. Scott,

    Love the blog - best one I have seen!

    Keep it up! I have bookmarked it and will be following your adventures. I am a new runner at age 49 so one day I may meet you at an ultra event when I get to them. LOL

  12. Scott,

    It was awesome for me to finally see all the awesome sights at Boston and Big Sur- seeing them in your blogs the past few years and then to get to really be there this year!

    Thanks for all the recovery advice- I followed it and had no problems with doing the double marathons.

    Your tailbone injury didnt slow you down enough, though, because I still didnt see you out on the course!!! Take care and get better!


  13. Thanks for stopping by!

    Got a few more photos up from Christi, the real photographer in the family. See if you can guess which are hers. ;-)


  14. great race report.. I will definitely put it on my calendar next year.

  15. It sounds like everyone who ran this course had a great time. Looks like you did too telling by the pictures. Definitely going to check out this race in the future, great job on the race!

  16. That first photo is awe-inspiring. Big Sur has long been on my bucket list and this report just makes me want to run it even more!

  17. Sorry...way late to the party. Is it wrong that I'm sitting at work and reading all of your race reports?

    I ran B2BS with a few crazy friends, and we all crossed the finish line at 3:53 with our arms latched together and waving our hands over our heads like a bunch of loonies. Sorry we seemed to have missed you...though you're lucky, otherwise you'd be in our ridiculous finishing picture.

  18. wonderful post.
    Big Sur is on my list.

  19. Funny. I was planning a photo expedition to Big Sur May 1, but was warned about the race. I found your site. Way cool!

    ... I'm not a runner. I never was a runner. I'm sort of a hulk, but I've thought about what it would be like and you tell a great story. I like biking, but to run trails. That would be something else!

    Hey, you might like my site at My idea of a sprint is underwater. ... And it's a great sport. At the end of the game, we Bar-B-Que the losers.
    Enjoy the running, Mike

    PS. Run that!


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