I am a runner and a traveller and if could mix both of them then it’s a win-win situation for me!
It was some time in July 2018 that I was surfing the net for the most beautiful marathons in world and most of them had Big Sur Marathon in the top three! Runner’s World’s Bart Yasso has called it the “Must do in your lifetime” marathon. The Big Sur International Marathon is a point-to-point course run on scenic CA Highway 1 from Big Sur to Carmel in USA. It is crazy seeing the ocean from the perspective of a runner. The course has unparalleled views, and many participants describe it as magical. It is also a very challenging course, and the elevation gains are steep. The centerpiece of the course is the iconic Bixby Bridge, located at the halfway point of the race, where runners are greeted by a tuxedo-ed musician playing a Yamaha Baby Grand Piano. Also there are the Taiko drummers from Japan who motivate runners on the half way point as they approach the highest point of the run.
The Big Sur is a bucket list event for many reasons, including the exclusivity of it. Since not everyone can run it, if you get chosen, you are in a select few. Many people have tried for years and still not have been picked….and in that aspect I was surely lucky as I got through in the first try only.
Training for Hills
I started training for this tough run just after completing the Mumbai Marathon in end Jan 19 and had around 3 months to prepare. I am from Pune and there are few good hill stretches around the place where I live and so most of my runs were focussed on those routes and I was lucky to have few runners giving me company on those tough uphill runs. I used to run 4 times a week with at least 2 uphill runs and one interval run which was also done on bit upslope only. Most of the evenings were dedicated for strength training as I realised the difficulty level of the run and likely stress on the muscles, especially during sudden elevations for which Big Sur is famous for!!
Running the Big Sur
I reached Monterey 5 days before the run, got used to the change in temperature and general weather, and a day before went on drive till the start point. It was a great drive and I must have stopped like 20 times en route to admire the beauty of ocean and tall Red woods. At the same time I got bit nervous seeing the elevation as I was driving back and realised that I have to run on the very same road!!..especially the steep climb to Hurricane Point which is the highest point of the run.
Well! here comes the D- Day….28 Apr 19. I woke up early and was ready to take the bus ride from Monterey to the Start Point at 04:00 am which sounded extremely early for a 6:45 am start. As the bus wove it’s way along the coast I understood why we left so early. By the time we got to the start line it was 6:00 am! I had just enough time to hit up a porta potty before getting into my corral.
The race starts off the in the woods and it’s pretty down hill. It was hard not to get too carried away. Once the ocean came into view it was hard to contain my excitement! We passed a lighthouse that looked like it was on an island in the distance and my picture taking started.
At 16 kms I started the three kms climb to Hurricane Point. Those three kms may be the toughest I’ve ever ran. With a stiff headwind and a steep uphill grade, Hurricane Point is the stuff of nightmares. As I climbed I could hear the Taiko drummers in the distance encouraging me to keep going. Also the fact that I had trained hard specially for this climb, I made it a point not to walk and this stretch was totally dedicated to my running group back in Pune and all those temple hill runs….but somehow I felt i could have trained better!!!… those three kms were by far my slowest and most difficult.When I got to the top the view made it all worth it. I smiled and cried at the same time.
The next few kms were down hill and I was just finding a groove when I heard the piano music from the Bixby Bridge, he was playing something very sweet and the whole thing felt so surreal. I had to force myself to stop to take photos and videos of the bridge and coastline. This was the exact reason I came to Big Sur and I wanted to take it all in. I had to pinch myself at the beautiful views! It’s hard to explain and pictures just don’t do justice, you have to experience this one for yourself.
…view from the Hurricane Point with Bixby Bridge in the far distance
Then came the “rolling hills” and for which I thought i was pretty prepared due to my numerous uphill runs in Pune but these hills put my hills to shame and surely no one warned me that the final 10k will be the toughest stretch! I forgot the number of uphills that I ran till the finish line.
At 38/39 km I snagged some strawberries and tried to focus on the remaining km. Just as I was getting comfortable with the idea of reaching 42 km mark, I saw a steep upslope of around 500m at 41 km!!…and I thought what a cruel joke!!…..a steep upslope now?? Well! , I stopped and had a beer there!
Finally I could hear the finish line before I saw it and was thrilled to finally be there. I ran the last 200m pretty fast…crossed the finish line with my Indian name pronounced in such a way that I was wondering who is this second guy finishing the run with me?!! Immediately after crossing the line I was given a medal which was made of some kind of ceramic with the iconic Big Sur lettering…..really a well deserved medal after such a long tiring day!!
By Avdhesh Kumar
Certified ChiRunning Instructor