I promised myself that I would run the 2015 Big Sur International Marathon when I worked at the expo for the 2014 event. Not only was the area beautiful, but the people with whom I interacted at the expo seemed different from those at Southern California events and expos. I took a seat on the Boston 2 Big Sur waitlist and then leapt at the registration when I learned that a spot had opened up. Despite the larger-than-expected price tag of $250, the B2B Challenge was worth it. Fortunately, the trip was not too expensive; my company was going to exhibit at the expo again, so all travel, accommodations and food costs were covered. As a bonus, my friend/co-worker joined me and even decided to run the 10.6 mile race. Two vs. one person working at the expo allowed us to take more breaks, attend guest speaker presentations, walk around more often, and enjoy company during slowdown periods. Double bonus: we’d arranged to take Monday off and enjoy a post-race relaxation day together.
Leti and I arrived at the Inn by the Bay in Monterey at about 6:00pm on Thursday evening, prepared our expo items for the next day and quickly hit the hay. Friday’s morning weather was perfect for an 8 mile run. I left my hotel, ran toward Fisherman’s Wharf, made a left onto the recreation trail and made my way to Lover’s Point, where I was meeting a friend. Doug and I caught up over 2-3 miles before I turned around to run back to the hotel. The expo opened at noon, so there was no need to rush. We set the booth up, grabbed a cup of coffee at Starbucks and then it was go time. I quickly remembered why I liked working this expo so much – the people seem nicer and more relaxed. I think it’s because the Big Sur International Marathon attracts runners from different states and countries, versus smaller Southern California races whose participants come mainly from Los Angeles and Orange Countries. I noticed there were quite a few people visiting from Texas and Canada. Though the goal at an expo is always to generate registrations, simple exposure can be beneficial. Interacting with runners, getting to know their event and race preferences, observing what other events do to attract participants, collecting email addresses for marketing, and even studying the layout of a particular expo and its flow are also benefits to exhibiting. We were sandwiched between Nuun and the Santa Barbara Marathon, both of which were run by really fun people. We were again across the aisle from the Napa Valley Marathon, which is on the list of races I’d like to run. Friday’s expo shift ended rather quickly and we went straight to the Sponsor Reception across the street. Doug (Big Sur’s executive director, a good friend of mine, and my morning run companion) had graciously invited us. We enjoyed hors d’oeuvres, wine, Ghiradelli chocolate, speeches and good conversation.
Saturday morning’s expo shift was much longer: 9:00am until 6:00pm, so we were up early. The expo was much busier than on Friday, which made the day fly by quickly. I also had the opportunity to attend a presentation by Bart Yasso, Chief Running Officer at Runner’s World. He was an ambassador for the sport in its youth and played a significant role in its popularization. He also invented the Yasso 800s, wrote a terrific book, and survived Lyme disease. Bart’s presentation was humorous, uplifting, inspirational, wise, succinct, and balanced anecdotes with useful running advice perfectly. He provided the audience with useful tips for Sunday’s race: course drives/previews can be detrimental to performance, Hurricane Point isn’t as bad as it is reputed to be, and reminded us to keep our heads up because the views are incredible.
Before we knew it, it was 6:00pm and we were packing up and heading back to the hotel. I enjoyed some quiet/alone time in the hotel room while Leti went to dinner with the SVE timing crew, who provides timing services for BSIM and for our events. I felt the first stirrings of nervousness for my first Big Sur International Marathon.
The ever helpful Doug arranged for me to carpool with his friend Andrea to the finish line in Carmel. From there, the three of us plus the ham radio operator would ride in the CHP car from the finish to the start line in Big Sur. I learned a ton about the back end of this event during the car ride. The lack of cell phone reception on certain stretches of the course presents a communication challenge, hence the need for the ham radio operator. Along with the full marathon on Sunday, there is a 21 miler, 10.6 miler, and a 9 miler. The reason for these odd distances is that there are only a few areas large enough near the race course to stage 1000+ runners.
“I’m going to see this again in a few hours!” I thought excitedly after passing the 26th mile marker.
Andrea and I were deposited at the start line with ~30 minutes until it was time to run. Evidently, I decided on a watermelon theme for my race attire, but wanted to proudly don my Boston 2 Big Sur training shirt.
The start line was at the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park – it felt like a smaller, more intimate race start, which I really liked. At 6:45am, we were let loose and began our journey toward Carmel. The first few miles are downhill and through the redwoods; everyone seemed to feel good and looked comfortable. At about mile 1.5, I heard someone behind me call my name. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that it was Kerri, whom I’d met during the Seattle Rock n’ Roll Marathon back in June of 2013. I was elated to have someone to run with! We caught up on each others lives, her recent marriage and new job, my latest races, etc. After battling strong headwinds from mile 5 until 10, we began to climb Hurricane Point. The course is deemed challenging, due in large part to this segment. A group of Taiko drummers at the bottom of the hill (mile 9.8) sent us off to ascend 520 feet in 2 miles. I love hills, so I was more excited than nervous. Plus, I hadn’t had my fill of the views, which took my breath away when we reached the top (this may have also been from the climb).
We high fived at the mile 12 marker and changed gears to run back down Hurricane Point toward the next epic part of the course: a grand piano player at mile 13.1. Michael Martinez has played in this spot since 2005 when he took over for Jonathon Lee, who played there for 17 years. There has been a piano player on this course for 27 years – another very unique aspect of the Big Sur International Marathon. We were met with more headwind between miles 14 and 18 and I found myself Kerri-less at this point. A body and breathing check told me that all systems were good to pick the pace up. According to Doug and BSIM veterans, the Highlands between miles 21 and 26.2 included rolling hills and a significant amount of cambered road. The course would also be more congested as we came up on the 21-miler and 10.6-miler participants. My legs seemed to welcome the constant variation in muscle requirements and the camber was manageable. I enjoyed being cheered for by other participants and especially those who noticed my B2B shirt. The famous strawberry stop at mile 23 came into view and that was my first and only stop-and-walk of the day. Though I wish I could’ve run off with an entire flat of those delicious red juicies, I enjoyed two and continued on. I recently learned that those Cal Giant strawberries are purchased by the residents in that neighborhood of the highlands – yet another wonderful aspect of the event. Runners received an enthusiastic high five from a BSIM staff member right after the 25 mile mark and right before the last large hill on the course. A few feet from the finish line, I notice my friend Peter finishing the 21-miler, so we sprinted toward the line together. I love the finisher’s medallion, which is ceramic and individually hand painted.
The Boston 2 Big Sur package included an extra ticket for the B2B tent at the finish line, so Leti was inside already. We enjoyed delicious food, a beer and a views of the finish line from our table. I also received my beautiful ASICS Boston 2 Big Sur jacket. The tent quickly filled up as we left to attend the awards ceremony (2nd in age division) and at this point I received a text from my sister, who lives in San Francisco. She had driven to Carmel to surprise me at the finish, increasing the amazingness of the day ten fold.
Renee and I went to lunch in Monterey and enjoyed some much-needed sister time. Since we hadn’t properly celebrated my February birthday and her May birthday was soon, we decided that a slice of cake and a candle were in order.
We backtracked to Carmel to visit Treadmill, a local running store and sponsor of the Big Sur International Marathon. Renee needed some new running shoes and they were very helpful. Sadly, sistertime came to an end and we said our goodbyes. That evening, Leti and I attended the post-race party and feasted on sliders, risotto, quinoa salad, fresh strawberries, and wine. Everyone was in a celebratory mood and it was the perfect way to end race day.
I enjoyed my last run in Monterey on Monday morning and then we packed up and checked out. Leti and I wanted to get some pictures of the course before leaving, so we drove it in reverse and then literally retraced (on wheels) my steps from Sunday, stopping along the way at roadside markets and view points.
The Big Sur International Marathon is truly one of the best marathon events I have ever experienced. Although this was partially a “work trip,” it was a very memorable weekend. I met some amazing people at the expo and over the weekend, participated in a bucket list race, re-united with an old friend, had unexpected sistertime, ate delicious food and a lot of strawberries, learned about the logistics of a very successful event, and spent the weekend with a good friend. I feel fulfilled and content.