Big Sur International Marathon Race Report – John Gregson

Race: Big Sur International Marathon

Runner: John Gregson

Race Date: 04/24/2022

Location: Big Sur, California

Results: 4:21:26

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3 Bests – What aspects of the race did you like the most?

  1. Epic course
  2. Race organization
  3. Piano player at the Bixby Bridge

Not so much – Aspects of the race that didn’t do it for you

  1. Early start time
  2. Road camber
  3. Runner/walker congestion in latter portions of race

Weird factor – What’s the weirdest thing about this race?

Not necessarily weird, but because the race requires the closing of Highway 1, the organizers are very strict on timing. Everyone is supposed to be in the starting village by 5 AM or so to ensure a 6:30 AM start. Given that it takes about an hour to get to the start line from the Monterey finish line, that means “waking up” around 3 AM.

Highlights of your race – What did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?

I stayed on top of my fluids and calories better than in any previous marathon. My pacing felt pretty good up until the 21-22 mile range when the latter stage hills finally caught up with me. Other than NYC, where I couldn’t hear myself think because it was so loud, this was the first marathon I’ve run without music. Again, it was suggested that running sans music would make for a better immersive experience. I think I agree with that.

Lessons for others – Share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner

  • I’ll echo what I heard – go for the experience and save the PR for another course. It was suggested that runners should plan for 20 minutes over their PR goal, which is what I loosely targeted. It was also suggested to try and hug the left shoulder as much as possible to minimize the effects of the camber. There wasn’t any food being offered (that I saw) in the starting village, so bring your own since you’ll be waiting a while.
  • Something else that was interesting was the congestion in the last few miles of the race, when things are typically thinning out in a marathon. Because there were runners/walkers merging from multiple distances (21M, 11M, 12K), things got a little crowded towards the end. Unfortunately, most of the slower runners and walkers were also using the prime non-cambered portion of the road, so there was some extra bobbing and weaving to get through these little packs.

Lessons you learned that will help you next time around

I need to be a little more strategic on when I take on calories. I was kind of going with a range of every 30 minutes or 3 miles, but I ended up with an extra gel I probably should have taken during the race. I also reinforced the strategy of taking it easy on the ascents and making up time on the descents. Seemed to work for me up until the end.

Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race

Just when you think you’re done with hills… you’re not. The little hills at the end hit you right as you think you’re in the home stretch. Also, see the aforementioned comments about the headwinds and camber.

Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?

Amazing! Incredible views for all but a few sections of the course. Hard to imagine anything prettier.

Difficulty – Is it a tough course?

I thought it was a pretty tough. 2,182′ in elevation, including the infamous Hurricane Point, and 2,528′ in elevation loss. Plus headwinds and road camber. My legs definitely thought it was tough.

Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?

Yes, extremely well-run. Everything felt seamless, from bus logistics to gear check to aid stations.

Competition – Is there a strong field?

Yes, but I gather that a lot of racers take the approach I did with this one – just go for the experience and don’t get too hung up on time. There were 300-400 Boston-to-Big Sur runners.

Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.

I decided to run this race a little late in the game, after the lottery results had been announced. I got in through a Marathon Tours and Travel package, which was a great decision.

They had us staying in Monterey, in the hotel that’s attached to convention center where the expo is held. Super convenient. I opted to go on a bus tour of the course the day before the race, which was great.

Aid Stations – Standard fare or anything special to know about the aid stations in terms of what’s available or when?

Only 11 aid stations, but they were very well staffed by volunteers and not as congested as I feared they might be. They all followed the same format: water cups, Gatorade Endurance cups, and pitchers for filling up personal hydration. The last few aid stations also had oranges and bananas. A couple stations had GUs.

Weather and typical race conditions

My first time running the race and the weather was perfect. Clear sunny skies, with temps in the mid-to-upper 50’s. It was pretty chilly pre-race and for the first mile or so, but I warmed up quickly. There were headwinds, but I gather that these can vary significantly year-to-year, day-to-day, hour-to-hour, so just be prepared to run with a pack if that’s helpful.

Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next runner?

Warm clothes for the pre-race wait, sunglasses, and sunscreen for sure. I’d also recommend carrying your own hydration, at least enough for between the aid stations. There were only 11 on the course, so I had to supplement.

Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?

No, not really. The course is point-to-point along a highway and there aren’t really any places for spectators to watch. At best, they might be able to see you at the finish line.

How’s the Swag?

Good. Long sleeve tech shirt and a clay finisher’s medal. The expo also had a ton of great stuff for sale. More variety than I saw at NYC.

The Overall Score – How many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it?

5 out of 5. Yes, I’d highly recommend this race. As others advised me, don’t run it for a PR, rather for the experience.

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