Hills & headwinds along the beautiful Pacific coast
Melissa’s Race Report:
The Big Sur Marathon starts in Big Sur, California, runs north along Highway One and finishes in Carmel. Being a point-to-point race, it requires being bussed to the start. I was running the race with my two sisters and our Dad (our Mom was our cheerleader, who would meet us at the finish line). We had an early wake-up, at 2:45 AM, to catch the busses at 4:00 AM to bring us to the start of the race. We boarded the bus and headed out in the dark along Highway One, basically driving the course backwards from the finish to the starting line. None of us had run the race before and this was my first time along Highway One. The bus continued on, up and down the hills that we would be running on later that morning.
We arrived at the starting area which was very crowded with runners awaiting their own 26.2-mile journey. As it got closer to the starting time of 6:45 AM, we checked our bags that included our sweatshirts and pants that we wore to keep warm in the starting area. We made the slow walk to our corral. With 4,000 runners, there were three corrals. Before we knew it, the race was starting and we were off! I was running with my sister Michele and our other sister Janice was running with our Dad.
The race starts downhill. Knowing we had a lot of hills ahead of us, we made sure to not go out too fast and eventually settled into a good stride. We saw a couple of strange sights – one man juggling while running and another dribbling a basketball while running. It gave us some good laughs! It was crowded for the first few miles and it took a few miles for the road to emerge from the trees and give us our first sight of the Pacific Ocean. Throughout the twists and turns on Highway One, the road sometimes was slanted and difficult to run on.
Once we were no longer shielded by the trees, we ran into a strong headwind that stayed with us for the rest of the race. The scenery along the ocean was spectacular, as were the mountains on our right. I stopped every so often to take some pictures, as one of the great things about this race is the scenery. With the strong winds and cloudy sky, you couldn’t stop for too long, otherwise, you might start to get cold!
Around mile 10 we came across a group of drummers along the course. Each year, they are stationed at the bottom of “Hurricane Point”, which is the largest hill in the race – a two-mile stretch that gains almost 600 ft in elevation. It was a long, slow, climb to the top. The beats of the drums faded away and the strong winds made it hard to hear each other on our way to the top. Eventually, we made it and my sister and I exchanged a high-five. We made our way down the other side, probably going a little too fast because we were excited to no longer be climbing the hill.
Halfway down the hill is the famous Bixby Bridge. On the other side of the bridge around the halfway point is the famous grand piano player that sits and plays tunes for the runners throughout the race. It was a very welcome sight to know that we were at the halfway point and that Hurricane Point was behind us.
The rest of the race had more beautiful sights and hills, and the headwinds just did not stop. It was a very challenging race, both physically and mentally. My quads were pretty beat-up by about mile 18. Not being conservative enough on the downhills, I was really starting to feel it. My sister is also faster than I am, so running with her meant we were pushing the pace a little more than if I were running by myself. That along with the higher effort needed to run in the strong headwind took its toll in those later miles. I ended up having to walk up a few of the hills in those late miles. Around mile 23, they pass out fresh strawberries and wow did they taste good!
There was one last hill around mile 24.5 that seemed like a cruel joke. After getting up and over that, my sister and I cruised on into the finish. During that last stretch, I don’t like to really give my last kick until I can see the finish line. Once that came into view, we ran as hard as we could and finished the race! Soon after we finished, the sun came out and we were able to cheer on the rest of the finishers.
Big Sur is a challenging race but one that I think every runner should experience at least once. There is no other time where you can run along the beautiful coastline and stop and take it all in. This race has been on my “to run” list for a while and it did not disappoint! I just hope if I ever run it again that it is less windy that day!