Monday, May 2, 2016

31st Annual Big Sur International Marathon - 2016

It's 3:30 am and pitch black  as we drive down Highway 1 to the start of the Big Sur International Marathon. We are filled with excitement and anticipation, and yes just a bit of nervousness as we prepare for the start of our very first marathon.  We can only imagine how much more nervous we would be if we were actually running in it.

Nope, your intrepid adventurers are only here this early morning to cover the start of the Big Sur International Marathon.  We are so excited to have been given this opportunity. [Editor's note:  Maybe I'll run it next year after I've finished my "Couch Potato to Marathon in 52 Weeks" program.]

As we get through the last checkpoint before they shut down traffic we hook up with a convoy of school buses bringing the over 4,000 actual runners and race volunteers to the start.  The roads are now pitch black with only the headlights of the buses to show the way.  But then we see the oddest thing. Off to the side of the road, maybe 10 miles from the starting line, we see a lone headlight bouncing up and down on the side of the road.  As we get closer we see it's a guy wearing a headlamp, casually jogging along.  We joke that it must be some guy running up to the starting line from Carmel.  Who could possibly be that crazy? More on that in a moment.

For years we had experienced the Big Sur International Marathon vicariously by cheering on all the runners as they crossed the finish line in Carmel. Talking to competitors and hearing their stories about the course; the beauty, the mile markers, the events and entertainment along the way, we dreamed of experiencing the entire 26.2 mile course for ourselves. One of us, being a realist, knew that it wasn't going to be by actually running it. [Editor's note:  We'll see.]

At the Starting Village, in the parking area of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, members of the Old Capital Lion's Club of Monterey were handing out bagels and coffee to the thousands of runners who had already begun to gather. The race would not start for another hour and a half.

The Big Sur International Marathon began in 1986 with 1,800 runners. It is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization funded mostly by race registrations, sponsor contributions, and individual donations.  Since 1986, the Big Sur International Marathon has distributed more than $4 million in grants to local schools, scout groups, youth groups, arts groups, and the military. 

Now in its 31st year, the Big Sur International Marathon has been called "one of the jewels of American running," and named as one of the United States top three marathons (along with New York and Boston).

Around 9,600 runners registered for this year's event: 4,500 for the full marathon (chosen by lottery due to its popularity), 800 for the relay, 1,000 for the 21 miler, 1,600 for the 10.6 miler, 1,000 for the 9 miler, and 750 in the 5K.  

2016 "Grizzled Vets"
Since the marathon's inception, a number of runners known as the "grizzled vets", have come back year after year to run. This year "the dirty dozen" grizzled vets came back for the 31st time. 

Approximately 200 volunteers from seven local groups put in over 1,000 volunteer work hours to make all aspects of the Big Sur International Marathon go off with military precision.  

At 6:15 am sharp, Highway 1 was shut down in both directions and the starting line set.

Elite runners begin to warm up. For the men this includes Nicolas Amouroux from France (blue stripe shirt), Adam Roach from Pebble Beach (orange shorts), and Matt Collins from New York.

For the women, Magdalena Boulet from Oakland (blue top), and Julia Stamps from Santa Rosa (pink top). 

Festivities officially begin with a presentation of the colors by the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center Joint Service Color Guard and the singing of the National Anthem by Myles Williams.

As the runners prepared to line up, a sole runner can be seen jogging up the road toward the starting line. Sure enough it's the runner we spotted along the road earlier that morning.  

Arriving to hugs from the elite runners next to us we are introduced to Dean Karnazes. It turns out Dean is something of a legend even among the elite runners. Dean, an ultra-marathoner, once ran 50 marathons in 50 states over 50 consecutive days.   He is known for running the full course before each race "just to warm up" because he "just hates taking the bus".  


With less than a half an hour left to start time, all 4,000 runners began to file in behind the starting line according to their estimated finish time. 

Elite runners, those expecting to finish in under three hours, lined up firstEveryone else lined up behind them in half hour increments. With the announcer calling off finish times, runners fell into line and were ready for an on time start. 

Fans of Survivor Kaoh Rong Season 32 were treated to a brief sighting of Tai Trang as he shot out from the starting line.  (Below right side) - We didn't see him at the end, but he finished at 4:17:33 with a 9:49 per mile pace.

As the last runner finally left the starting line we ran back to our car so we could catch up with the 7:20 am convoy heading north.  

The quarter mile that had just a moment ago been lined with runners was now littered with blankets and warm ups.  As a testament to the organizers' efficiency, the road way was cleared and ready to go in virtually minutes with any unmarked clothes then donated to local homeless shelters.  

As we sprinted (loosely speaking) back to our car we were stopped by a very nice CHP officer who took pity on us and gave us a ride the rest of the way; the one and only time we ever want to find ourselves in the back of a police cruiser.

As our caravan traveled north we passed the starting line where we saw that a small army of volunteers had already taken down the starting balloon arch and was in the process of dismantling the announcers tent.

Though the runners had already passed the first rest stop at the Big Sur River Inn and Restaurant the versatile trio Andrea's Fault, continued to play on, entertaining the volunteers who were busy cleaning up.

We would be remiss if we didn't take a moment to highlight the Big Sur International Marathon's Green Program. Begun in 2009, Carmel's own Karen Ferlito was the first Chairperson of the Green Program whose stringent recycling program aims for a "zero waste" race. Their motto, "reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot." Last year only 4% of the waste from the entire race and events went to a land fill! Quite an amazing feat for an event of this size.  

As our caravan drove up along Highway 1 we were struck by the amazing efficiency of the race coordinators.  No sooner had the last runner passed then the cones and route markers were cleared and the clean up begun.   

Finally catching up to of the "Last Vehicle" we begin to see our first batch of runners.  Though well off the pace of the vast majority of runners you have to  give them kudos, just being out there is a major accomplishment.



One of the things that the Big Sur International Marathon is best known for is the use of whimsical mile markers along the route, providing a bit of humor and encouragement to the runners as they pass. Having survived over 20 marathon's worth of wind and rain the original mile markers were retired and replaced by an entirely new set in 2010.  These were created by artist and muralist John Cerney. We'll be pointing them out as we travel up the coast. Mr. Cerney has been creating larger than life murals since 1995. Locally his work can be seen on the Coastal Recreation Trail near Cannery Row and in the fields of Salinas.  

The mile 3 marker is patterned after Carmel developer Denny Levett.  He owns several Carmel hotels, including the Cypress Inn which he has co-owned with Doris Day for more than 25 years.  

At Andrew Molera State Park, school buses line the route and mark the start of the shorter 21-Miler.  It is also the start of the second leg of the relay race, where runners can be seen anxiously waiting for their hand off. 

Our caravan caught up with the 5 hour pace leader just prior to the second aid station at the 5.2 mile mark. For the next four miles the road will be relatively flat rising only 150 feet to Point Sur.   

As runners pass the mile 6 marker they are now running alongside the majestic coastal pastures of historic El Sur Ranch.

Just about the only spectators that can be found along this stretch of the race are grazing cows - hence the models for this mile marker, Elsie and Midge, two of California's happy cows.

As we approach the flats in front of Point Sur Lighthouse the wind really begins to pick up with runners and their bike marshal escorts literally getting blown into our lane. 

As the runners pass Point Sur Lighthouse, the veterans know it's time to prepare for the big climb.

At least they're able to ignore the pain for a little bit as they groove to the rockin' blues of the Stu Heydon Blues Band. Stu owns the Carmel Recording Studio at the Barnyard in Carmel.  

At mile 9, runners pass the Little Sur River outlet.

Little Sur Bridge is the location of the start of the third leg of the relay.  As runners wait for their teammate to arrive they begin to hear the first faint beats of the Taiko drums less than a quarter mile away. 

After crossing Little Sur River Bridge the Watsonville Taiko Drummers come into sight.  

The drum beats signal the beginning of the most difficult climb of the race - 
over 520 feet of climbing in just over two miles to the top of Hurricane Point; which today earned its name as the wind here was clocked at 25 knots (around 30 miles an hour).

Exhausted, runners meet mile marker 10 and the bright smile of model Dr. Hugo Ferlito as he encourages them up the hill.  Dr. Ferlito is a past Chairman of the Big Sur International Marathon's Board of Directors and one of the Marathon Grizzled Vet's.  He is pictured in the traditional pre-race picture at the beginning of the post.

Highway 1 makes a U-turn at this point giving runners so inclined an opportunity to see just where they've been. 

Volunteers at the fourth aid station,
10.4 miles in.

Marathon Maniac Gisele Schaaf looks strong at mile 11(she will finish 8th in the female division with a time of 3:14:06). That is techno master, Derrick Brown on the keyboard urging runners forward in the background. 

 Almost there.

At mile 12 runners reach the summit of Hurricane Point. The mile marker model is Pacific Grove resident and competitor in the 2008 Olympic Marathon in Beijing, Blake Russell.

Making the steep descent to Bixby Bridge, is 3rd relay leg (considered the toughest leg) member #9550 of The Sunset Girls relay team. Team Sunset Girls took first place at 3:04:30 in the open female division. 
Julia Stamps (who we pictured earlier during pre-race warm-ups) established herself as a force to be reckoned with in the cross-country 3,000 at Santa Rosa High.  She went on to Stanford, where she had a freak accident skateboarding to class in 2001. This left her left leg completely shattered.  She came back from that and now runs marathons and ultra marathons. [Editor's note - Must have done an amazing rehab job.  Note the tape she's using today is on her right leg, not the previously injured one.]

Here she is approaching Bixby Bridge and mile marker 13. Though facing a serious headwind (as all racers are),  Julia finishes 5th in the female division with a time of 3:13:25.  

At the iconic and historic Bixby Bridge, our convoy unexpectedly comes to a stop. A medical emergency is taking place near the entrance to the bridge. This is never what anyone wants to see on a race, but the Big Sur International Marathon is a stellar organization totally prepared for anything. 

While we wait we listen to the serene yet haunting sounds of Michael Martinez on the Yamaha grand piano playing Chariots of Fire. Michael is the successor to the Big Sur Piano Man, Jonathan Lee, who passed away in 2004.

Michael Martinez serenades runners as they run "on the ragged edge of the Western world."
At the Rocky Creek Bridge runners are entertained by the classic rock sound of The Mistery Machine (yes that is the way it is spelled).

Mistery Machine

By mile 15, runners are cheered on by the smiling faces of "cheerleaders" Deborah and Simon Rothhouse, past owners of the Treadmill in the Crossroads Carmel.

Rocky Point Restaurant marks the start of the 10.6 miler race. Featuring one of the most amazing views on the coast, Rocky Point Restaurant is a very popular place for a pleasant lunch or dinner.  Today, however, it marked one of the windier places on the course. 

No matter, the band Firefly out of Pacific Grove braved the winds to entertain the runners with their trademark classic rock.  Nothing was going to prevent them from playing there this day as it marked the tenth year in a row that they'd manned this spot. 

The fourth leg of the relay began at Garrapata Creek Bridge, nine miles from the finish at Marathon Village in Carmel. 

With 8 miles to go, mile marker 18 is meant to remind runners that there is plenty of ice cold Michelob Ultra at the finish. Seems a little early to be tempting runners.  Mile marker model Henry Gong is a long time marathon participant and former owner of the Star Market in Salinas.

For the next two miles runners were entertained by the Americana folk rock band TroubleDoors,
 and Nicholas Peter Fettis son of local piano composer Nicholas Fettis
The wind continued to blow steady and hard along the rugged coast. 

At the mile 20 marker near the Rocky Ridge Trail runners were playfully taunted that this might be the spot where they run into the dreaded "wall". 

After nearly two hours into the race the caravan finally caught up with the leaders.  The six top finishers from the men's division ran in a pack for close to 20 miles.  Adam Roach (second from the left below), Justin Patananan (far right), and Jason Karbelk (far left) ran with only one second separating them until mile 22.  

For the last six miles of the race the organizers pulled out all the stops to bring the runners home. Entertainers included:

Carmel Middle School Band

CSUMB Pep Band

Seaside High School Drumline

Local Harpist Susan Bradley

Class Brass Quintet Dixieland Jazz Band
Sambahemians, holding down Monastery Beach
Jonah & the Whale Watchers
and Sweet HayaH
Just past the mile marker 23 sponsored by one of Carmel's great restaurants, Little Napoli, . . .

we came upon one of the more popular aid stations on the course, originated 29 years ago by the Strawberry Lady, Dasha Keig. As owners of the gas station at the Highlands, Dasha and her husband found that they had little to do while the highway was closed to vehicular traffic during each year's race.  Deciding to put their down time to good use the two chose to have a little fun and serve up fresh strawberries to the famished runners. The tradition has continued ever since.  

23.6 miles into the race at Corona Road (which leads to the Top of the World - really it does, we've been there - but that is for another adventure)  our caravan caught up with the front runner Adam Roach who had made his move and was now on track for his fourth victory in five tries

Nothing though is a better sight than the Hallelujah mile marker 26 which appears almost as a mirage on the Carmel River Bridge . . . 

except the blue and yellow finish arch over the finish line.
Our caravan pulled into the Crossroads parking lot just a few minutes before the winner, Adam Roach cross the finish line. He finished in a time of 2 hours, 35 minutes, 36 seconds, a 5:56 per-mile pace.  

We caught up with him at the sponsors tent in Marathon Village right after the finish and were amazed to see that he had barely broken a sweat. Ho hum.  Just another jog in the park.

Back at the finish line we watched Magdalena Boulet as she jubilantly broke the tape - the first woman finisher with a time of 3 hours, 1 minute, 27 seconds. 

How do they manage to stay looking so fresh after 26.2 miles? 

As we took a quick tour of Marathon Village looking for our friend Kecia Denk who had run the 21 Miler, it was clear that with the number of people buzzing around we would not be able to find her. 

So we caught up with her at our gym, In Shape Carmel, where she masterfully handles front desk duties and where she proudly displayed her 21 Mile Medallion. Great job!!!

Totally exhausted we head home for some rest and a well deserved post-race beer.  Inspired by all of the incredible athletes we've seen today we vow to ourselves that next year we're going to get off the sidelines and join in the race ourselves. Coach potato to marathon runner in 52 weeks!  It could happen. [Editor's note - Yeah right.]
Until next time - Happy Adventures!!!!! 

For an interactive map and guided walking tour covering many of our tours please be sure to download the GPSmyCity App from the iTunes store.  The  App covers an extensive library of articles and walking tours from over 470 cities worldwide, and now features articles from Adventures of a Home Town Tourist covering Carmel and Monterey (with more cities on the way).


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Photography by: LA Momboisse and RM Momboisse unless listed below:

Picture of Garrapata Creek Bridge by Bridge Hunter
Picture of six top male runners - Mayberry, Carly. “Big Sur Marathon: Strong winds a challenge for thousands of runners.” Monterey Herald 4/24/16. Photography Vernon McKnight/Herald Correspondent.

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