Big Sur International Marathon. The Recap.

Official Finisher and Hurricane Point Survivor!

One word. Breathtaking. No wait. Scratch that. Three words. Hardest Thing Ever. I’m torn. Ahh. Screw it.

That shit was hard.

And it completely took my breath away.

There. That sounds more like it.

I ran the Big Sur Marathon on Sunday, April 28th. It was my 5th marathon having run Chicago, Philadelphia, New York and the Marine Corps Marathon- a marathon a year- for the past 5 years. If I had to summarize those years in a single word? Transformative. In every single sense. I had a feeling Big Sur would be even more so. I have had a desire to run along ‘the jagged edge of the western world’ since first reading about Big Sur. Come across a list of “The Top 10 Best Destination Marathons in the World” and you’ll wind up reading about Big Sur. Conversely, come across “The Top 15 Toughest Marathons in the World” and you’ll also read about Big Sur. I can recall a blog post where I poo-poo’d the article exclaiming (and I quote):

What does know about marathons (I mean really. Bitch. Please.)

Oh you can re-read my BSIM kick off piece here in the sassy blog post: 26. Screw the 0.2. Oh….How right you were.

The Wake Up

3am came pretty quick Sunday morning. (Is 3am really morning? Let’s be honest. It’s the middle of the damn night.) Oddly. I slept well. That’s a first for me. Usually my anxiety is full tilt boogie. This time I was relaxed and happy. I’m not sure why. I semi-wigged out overhearing BSIM War Stories at the Expo. (The Hills! The Headwind! Gulp.) That angst thankfully subsided. As per my usual, I left all my gear in a nice neat pile that would make my mother proud and Rain Man jealous. All. Organized. (Nice, right Ma?) Newton Gravity’s? Check. Lululemon duds? Check. Garmin? Check. Glide? Double dog check. Up. Dressed. Pony tailed. WC’d and off to the lobby in search of a coffee as big as my head I went.

We stayed at the Monterey Marriot, the BSIM host hotel which was directly across from the Expo. (Excellent choice Colby.) Perfect location. Clean. Comfortable. Great staff. And, a Starbucks that had the “Marathon Special” which consisted of a Big Ass Coffee (no Venti here just straight up Big Ass), a banana, a bagel, and a water all available at this ungodly hour. Genius. (It’s the little things.) I chugged my coffee and milled around in the lobby with the other Crazies before boarding a 4am bus that would take us to the start. (Oh boy.) Sweats bag in one hand, Marathon Special in the other; I padded off to our bus, calm, cool and collected. Who was this Chill Runner? Uh…Me? Yup. Me.

The Start

Aboard the magical mystery bus, I lose all concept of space and time. (Compass down!) It was a long dark ride spent chit chatting with my new friend from Tennessee. She was nervous. (And very, very nice.) I was happy to have some company. The ride was good. When we spilled out of that bus we might as well have been on the moon. That is, if the moon was a beautiful redwood forest. Where are we? Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, 26 miles south of Carmel. (They weren’t kidding with the point-to-point bit.) My Zen morning continued as I sat among the redwoods with a little group of New Friends, laughing and slightly wigging out about the terrain. It was the perfect, chilly, foggy start to what would become The Perfect Day.

Where were my butterflies? Gone fishin’ that’s where.

The Run

I hit the loo. Check my bag. Bid my New Friends well and lumber off to the start. The Start. I’m here. And I can’t believe it. This was The Marathon for me. Bucket List stuff. I can remember reading about it before I ran my first thinking:

Someday. I’m running this. You watch.

So now I’m watching…

6:45am. I’m at the start, shoulder to shoulder with one of the many B2B Challenge Runners. She is clad in blue and yellow having run Boston a mere 2 weeks earlier and now she is running Big Sur. Boston. She has not quit. She is a runner. Therefore, she runs. She is Boston Strong. There are beautiful words spoken by the two race directors, Big Sur and Boston. There is a moment of silence broken only by the mournful sobs from the woman at my shoulder. I feel her sadness. She is doubled over embracing her friend. It reverberates through my core. Heart wrenching. Raw, palpable grief. I was overcome with emotion as I was 2 weeks before. I would run for Boston. I wiped my tears. And I began to run.

The Edge of the Western World

It takes me a few miles to set into a rhythm. It was an emotional start. I knew it would be and I allowed myself to be saturated by it. I feel great. Really great. It is cool, foggy and downhill. Heaven. I am lulled into a false sense of security. (Dial it down, Colby. 22 to go.) I move through the redwoods and out into a magnificent open stretch that embraces both the mountains and the sea. It is spectacular. The fog has lifted. I decide to glance at my Garmin.

Huh. Lookit me. I’m cruising!

Hold up. I decide right then and there. I will NOT obsess about my time. I will not. I will not glance at my Garmin obsessively. This is spectacular. THIS is why I run. I make a conscious decision.

I am running with my heart.

Rock you like a Hurricane

Hurricane Point. 560 feet of climb over two glorious miles and a 5% grade. Oh. And don’t forget the big old headwind that slaps you right in the kisser.

This shit just got real.

Up and up I go. I am breathing steadily. I didn’t freeze my hams off running hills in 16 degree weather for nothing! (Up and over Colby. Come, come…) With each deep breathe I envision an army of determined red blood cells carrying oxygen to my deprived quads. It’s quite a visual. The Taiko drummers set the beat of their march. (Trippy, yes. Effective? Totally.) I’m almost at The Half. Half! I look to my left to take in the view and running alongside of me is a beautiful, strong woman. She is bald. Cancer? Perhaps. But that isn’t defining her. Her strength is. She is a runner. And she is conquering Her Own Hurricane Point.

You got this.

Up. And Over. In the distance? I hear a symphony. A symphony! A tuxedo clad musician playing a baby grand piano on the jagged edge of the western world. And the Bixby Bridge. And me. Running.

You’ve gotta be kidding me.

I’m not making this up. There are no spectators here. It’s just you, beautiful sounds and breathtaking views. Spectacular. I am overwhelmed by beauty. Best Running Moment. Ever. The miles click on. I am elated. For now.

{Insert Alica Keyes belting} My Quads are on Fiiiiiiirrrre.

Welcome to the Second Half of Hell. (Oh no wait. Of HILLS! Second half of HILLS! My bad.) I was so completely obsessed with Hurricane Point that I guess I missed the memo about the Carmel Highlands. Sweet Baby Jesus. The curves. The rolling hills all peppered in the 20s. And that god forsaken cambered road. Imagine running in a funnel cloud. (Shoot. You already ran Hurricane Point. This part might as well be called Tornado Tunnel.) So off kilter. Ankles. Quads. Feet. FUEGO. Holy Tilt a Whirl. It’s a beast. What makes it unbearable? This whole tilty hill thing. It’s from pretty much mile 20…until the end.

Run with your heart Colby. Ignore. Pain is searing. Get over it Colby. 6 miles to go. I repeat that little sentence every mile second. It helps. Especially when at mile 23 I get momentarily excited- 5k to go! No sweat! I see my Garmin. Maybe I should always run with my heart! I am momentarily stunned by my time! Then I see what lies ahead- A beast. Thankfully, the amazing Big Sur volunteers slap oranges in my greedy little glycogen depleted paws. Strawberries too. That was a big treat. Angels. Little Green Eco-Conscious Angels. All of them.


5k to go. Spectators! I have to admit. I have run some pretty damn big marathons, teaming with spectators, and to run one with a relative handful of them?

Even better.

It’s just you, your heart and Big Sur. You don’t need a cheering section. There is just something about it. It’s spiritual. And so moving. I loved it. It was the race of a lifetime. Run Big Sur. And when you do, forget your time, can your nerves and run with your heart. I promise you, it won’t disappoint.

26.2 Miles.

I’m at mile 25. I can’t believe it’s possible but there it is- another hill. I feel it. Tears. I am exhausted. I am giving it all I have. I really am. And there it is. Another hill. Deflated. It occurs to me that I have a little more than a mile left to finish. The tears flow. I am crying. I may lose it entirely, but I will never stop. Focus Colby. Boston. Run this last mile for Boston- for those who couldn’t. I summon my last kick. I am sobbing, determined to eek out every last drop. The Finish! The thrill of the done. I ran for Boston. I ran with my heart. I left everything I had there. I finished completely overwhelmed by emotion. I have never felt more proud to be a runner than in that single moment. Thank you Big Sur, Thank you.

Cloud 9!

Cloud 9!


32 thoughts on “Big Sur International Marathon. The Recap.

  1. She’s Baaaaaack!!!! Love this recap. That was beautiful. I felt like I was there. May have to get there someday…
    PS – I told you that you would kill it! Running through snow = new marathon training technique.

  2. Wow. That bit about the lady doubling over and crying really hit me. I don’t know when these stories will stop bringing a tear to my eyes. Almost every day the news has interviews with the survivors. Missing legs, arms and that world that they once knew. That all of us once knew.
    I keep them in mind when my legs are tired.

    • I have a lump in my throat as I type this now. I don’t even think I have adequately expressed the emotions I was feeling. Grief. Sadness. Sorrow. Such a sense of loss. I can still feel her sobs. And yet, there was this sense of community- this indomitable spirit- that we will never give up. Ever. I think of Katharine Switzer’s words often: “If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.” With each step I tried to restore that faith. Thank you for your poignant comment.

  3. Your frenetic narrative style is pretty captivating. It’s like watching an Edgar Wright movie, but written out, with fast cuts and a heartpounding pace that keeps you sucked into your experience. I love reading recaps about Big Sur because they always involve some sort of spiritual awakening or profoundly emotional revelation. These eulogistic posts only confirm my intense desire to make it out there. 2014, perhaps?

    Anyway, glad that your yearly marathon was another transformative experience. Have you been mulling around the options for next year?

    • Frenetic. That’s me to a T. 🙂 It was a sort of spiritual experience. I think it was a perfect storm of sorts- magnificent beauty, extreme effort and the raw emotion of Boston weighing heavily. It made for an overwhelming experience. Run it. It won’t disappoint. Glorious. Totally glorious. As for what’s next…Hmmmmmm…I started milling around online the day after Big Sur! I’m not sure. Whatcha got for me?

      By the way, love your blog. And thank you- thanks for swinging by! Swing often. 🙂

  4. I hope you don’t mind, but I just shared your recap on my fb page. I just ran Big Sur and haven’t had the time to write my own recap and yours was right on! The hardest thing I have ever done, but I did it!!!

  5. 3am is NOT early morning, you are correct in stating it is the middle of the damn night. At least your body tells you its about 6am, I hate going east because my body doesnt adjust easily. Anyway, GREAT recap, why? Because now I am thinking about doing this torturous marathon and I swore I would only do one…and I haven’t even crossed the finish line at NYC yet and I am pondering Big Sur.

    PS – It is a damn shame that you arrived at Pfeiffer Burns state park in the dark because it is the single most beautiful site I have ever seen…hopefully you had a chance to go back in the daylight…if you have no idea what I am talking about, Google image search.

    Congrats on a dream realized!

    • So bummed to not have returned to Pfeiffer Burns. I really wanted to take Tim to see it. Next time for sure. Thankfully, we arrived on your coast the night before so I was all bright eyed and bushy tailed come 3am. (East Siiiiide. Represent!) 3am kills. No matter the coast.

      And thank you for the kind words. No kidding though- Big Sur is a must. I don’t even think i did it justice. I’m looking forward to this year’s New York journey! Go get ’em Tiger! 🙂

    • In every photo, I look like a boy, running wildly, smile as big as a Cheshire cat’s. 🙂 Just once I want to look like a smiling girl. {Sigh}. Race photos. Always a treat.

  6. Hi Colby…this is Sally, I’m one of the Big Sur event organizers. Just wanted to say, I LOVED your recap, it was so from the heart and real, and you seriously captured the essence of our race. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Thank you so much for the kind words and lovely comment! Your race was simply….Beyond. I had the race of a lifetime. And that had little to do with my time. Top 5 Moments of My Life. Hands down.

      And p.s. Total SCORE with the chocolate milk handout at he finish!

      Thanks for stopping by Sally!

      To Big Sur! {Clink!}


  7. My goodness, Nicole, you are too terribly talented! I knew that you were beautiful, hilarious and a killer dancer, and now I’m to learn that you’re a running goddess and an amazing writer? Not fair. Ha, ha! Seriously, though, what a description of an incredible emotional and physical experience. I could tell from your fb posts that you were preparing for something big, and I’m glad I had the time to sit down and read about it just now because your words brought me there, and I could envision every step. And, after running Boston, I could feel your pain! Well, sort of, anyway, as this Big Sur marathon was so much harder than Boston. If I can use any connections to get you a Boston number next year, I’ll certainly do it because you really are a runner, one who appreciates every aspect of the sport. I’m so glad you enjoyed your vacation after the big event too! What a trip!

    • I might just yank your response out every now and then when I’m feelin’ blue! Thank you for the insanely kind words. Big Sur was quite an experience to say the very least. I am so proud of you for running Boston Christina. And very thankful that you and your family were safe- considering how close you were to everything. Thank. God. And hey….if you happen to come across a stray Boston bib….I know Tina and I would LOVE ‘EM!!! XOXOXOXOX

  8. Pingback: Run to Remember | It's A Marathon AND A Sprint

  9. Hi Colby,
    I’m Doug Thurston, the race director for the Big Sur Marathon. I work alongside Sally Smith and found your blog when clearing out some older e-mails. I am happy you had a great experience at our race. Yes, it is as tough as it is beautiful. And, as you experienced, many would have it no other way. We often say running our event can be a spiritual experience. You captured much of that feeling in your excellent post.
    I hope your future racing and training goes well and we hope to see you, and perhaps a few of your friends, at a future event.
    Best regards,
    Doug Thurston
    Race Director
    Big Sur International Marathon

    • Thank you so very much for the kind words Doug. I’m honored that you stopped by our blog- Sally too. Big Sur has worked its way into my heart and soul. My words simply didn’t do my experience justice. They barely scratched the surface. You’ve got one hell of a race there Doug.

      Thank you for the marathon of a lifetime.

  10. I loved your post. I ran Boston in 2013 and I am running Big Sur in 2014 and really looking forward to it. I am contemplating running Boston again in 2014 – as I signed up for B2B. Just not sure about running two marathons so close together, gulp:)

    • WOW! First- I am glad you are here after running Boston in 2013. I had friends who ran and thankfully they are all well. And Second- I AM SO JEALOUS YOU’RE RUNNING BIG SUR! It’s simply spectacular. {sighs wistfully}. And B2B?!?! What the hell? Go for it. I can understand the nerves, but honestly, you’ll be able to do it. No doubt. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but man, it will sure be worth it! And besides, if I qualified for Boston, I’d be runnin’ on sunshine and ridin’ unicorns! DO IT! And keep me posted. 🙂

  11. This was such a beautiful recap. I just signed up for Big Sur 3015. My first full marathon (I guess I’m a little ambitious). It may be the only marathon I ever run so I wanted to make it a good one.

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