Big Sur 21-Miler Race Report

What an event! The Big Sur Marathon course is gorgeous, with views of the water and coastline almost the entire way. This is definitely the most mentally and physically challenging course I've ran, but it's worth it. I'd recommend running this race at least once! I hope to go back for the full marathon in a couple of years (note to self, sign up early enough next time.) That said, I'm not a strong marathoner yet and having a couple of additional marathons under my belt before doing the full course could be a real benefit.

Kevin and I with our medals at the finish.

Kevin and I set out on this race as a long training run before Seattle Rock 'n' Roll on June 23. The 21 mile course starts 5 miles into the marathon, so it follows the hardest part of the course and finishes in the same spot. We finished in 4:04:14, right around our target long training run pace. I'm very happy with this time, especially because we've been running a lot of flat training runs and this was anything but flat. Here is the elevation chart for the marathon from the Big Sur website:

The 21-miler started at Andrew Molera State Park. We left on the race-organized shuttles from the Marriott around 4:45 am. It took a while for the buses to make their way down Highway 1 to get the runners to the marathon and 21-miler start lines. It was pretty funny to see a line of buses going down Highway 1 in the dark. When we arrived at the park, we had about 1.5 hours before the race began at 6:45 am. They had plenty of porta potties, bagels, fruit, coffee, and water for the runners. I was so happy they had coffee because I didn't get any before we left! It was pretty chilly waiting for the race to start, so I was glad to have my throwaway long sleeve shirt on top of my running clothes. 

They sent us off on time at 6:45 am. We started on our 21-mile journey at mile 5 of the chart above, almost immediately feeling the uphill grade of the road. There weren't any spectators for most of the course until near the end, but I loved the scenery. Quite a few cows were moo-ing for us along the way too, I like to think they were cheering.

We enjoyed a long downhill, and then the real work began to get up to Hurricane Point. The climb itself was tough, and the added wind resistance was intense. The wind made it feel like I couldn't move forward at all. It was super foggy too, so we couldn't see too far ahead and kept ascending into the mist. I loved the experience - I don't think it was necessarily a bad thing to run uphill without being able to view the top. If you can't see it, you can't focus on how far you have to go.

I told myself to put one foot in front of the other and to keep pushing up the hill, and I did. I made it to the top still feeling great. On the way down, I told Kevin I would feel that pain in the later hills and indeed I did. Following Hurricane Point, we had a nice downhill stretch to the Bixby Bridge and could hear the piano music coming out of the fog before we got there. It was spectacular! Crossing the bridge with a musician at a grand piano playing classical music was the highlight, as I'm sure many people agree. We hit our half marathon point at 2:25, not a bad time considering the long climb to Hurricane Point. I was feeling great and even dropped into my half pace for a while. A few of the smaller middle hills felt like nothing after the bigger climb and we blew through them.

When we got to about mile 22 of the marathon course, I started to feel the hills badly as I expected I would. My legs just did not want to go up anymore. I took a few short walk breaks, maybe 20-30 seconds each, just for the muscle switch and mental stamina. This really works for me when I start to hit the wall. One mile from the finish line we hit the last larger hill on the course. It might not look like much on the elevation chart, but it sure did feel like it. I wanted to walk and took a couple of my little breaks. All of a sudden someone behind me started to yell 'NO walking! Everyone is running! You worked too hard for this to walk!' and boy did that get my butt moving for the rest of the race. It turned out to be the Clif pacer for one of the marathon pace groups. I don't know you, but THANK YOU Clif pacer, whoever you are, because in future races I will always remember you and your motivation.

We soon crossed the finish line and received the awesome ceramic medals that Big Sur is known for. I'm so happy with my performance and feel great about how far I've come with running longer distances and harder courses. 

And now, the race logistics details.

The Expo: The expo was fairly small and to the point. We picked up our bibs in the upstairs section, grabbed our bus tickets and then headed down to get our shirts and to see the exhibitors. The shirts are nice Asics long sleeve tech tees, and for the 21-miler the women's color is my favorite turquoise blue. Bonus! Kevin wasn't able to get his shirt because they ran out of his men's size, so he is attempting to get it by emailing the race contacts. I really hope he does. He loves to wear his shirt after the race and didn't get to this time. 

Shirt, bib and medal.

There were a few booths with race information, and the SF Marathon gave us sweatbands after we chatted with them about the race and told them we had already signed up. I was very excited and wore mine to dinner. There was an Asics shop to buy Big Sur merchandise and a couple of clothing and headband vendors, but we didn't stay long after looking at the races. Overall, it was organized and easy to pick up our goodies but disappointing that they ran out of men's shirts.

The course: I've talked about the course a ton above, so I won't write much more here. It's beautiful, has a lot of elevation change, and is totally worth your while!

The support: Course support was fantastic. There were water/Gatorade stations and porta potties every 2 miles or less, and they had BYOB stations for filling personal water bottles. I carried my handheld Camelbak with Nuun, and this was super convenient. I saw one fast marathon runner hand his bottle to the BYOB volunteer, go to the bathroom, and then it was filled for him when he came out. What great volunteers! In addition to the water and Gatorade, they had Gu at multiple aid stations and tons of fruit. I saw apples, oranges, and strawberries along the way. Aid stations were never too crowded, and I don't remember seeing a porta potty line. Note, this might not be true for the full marathon start because we were a little ahead.

The finish tent had bags of fruit and pineapple juice, plus cookies, muffins and bagels. Each runner could get one beer and one cup of soup too. The finish area was large and had plenty of space for people to relax after the race. 

General Organization: For the 21-mile, logistics were very easy but there were many less people too. I felt bad that we started at the same time as the marathon, because that put us out on the course in front of everyone. Marathoners running a faster pace than us were bound to catch us and then had to pass. I suppose it works out ok because they have done it this way for years, I just hope it isn't too frustrating for those having to pass us.

This became very long, but this is the end. Thanks for reading!


  1. The shirt and medal for this race look really neat! Glad you guys had a great time running this race.

  2. Sounds like a very fun race! Love the shirt & medal :)

  3. I have done the 21 miler as a walk two years ago and the marathon relay last year. I think it is one of the more well done events I've done. I'm glad you had fun and congrats on the good time.

    1. Thanks! I really enjoyed it too, hopefully will do it again someday.

  4. Congrats on your successful race! :) You guys look great in that pic, having just run 21 miles! I'll have to ask you about your arm warmers sometime.

  5. Congrats!! Hurricane Point looks like a beast. I love the words of the Clif pacer! I think I'm going to remember those next time I want to walk. :)

  6. I would love to be able to head out there for ANY of those Big Sur races someday... Everything just looks so beautiful.

    1. If you can, definitely do it! Really great place to run.

  7. Congrats, Paulette!! I am in love with that tee-shirt!!!!!!!!
    Wonderful job on pacing :).

  8. Congratulations!! And I SERIOUSLY want that t-shirt.

  9. Big Sur is high on my bucket list because of the beauty on that course. You make me want to go next year but I'm not sure if I'll be ready to do another marathon so soon after my first. When did they sell out of registrations anyway?

    1. Not sure when it filled up - we didn't sign up until we found out friends were going down for it, which was October-ish. I hope you get to go, if not next year then in 2013!

  10. I didn't know there was a 21 miler at Big Sur. Very cool for a training run. A girlfreind did the marathon and said basically the same thing you did - that it was HARD. And so HILLY. And of course, beautiful. It's definitely on the bucket list if I ever do another marathon.

    And thanks for your comment :)

  11. That is not a long race report! I feel short-changed! ;)

    Glad you had a good time..very smart to do the 21 miler when you couldn't get in the full....good endurance training. The more lifetime long runs you have under your belt the easier marathons get.

    I like the fact you have figured out that a bit of walking can really help you...Jeff Galloway is not a dummy. A lot of runners have some crazy mental block against walking at all..even through water stops! Personally I want to go as fast as I can and if walking or hopping on one leg helps then I'll just learn to DO IT and stop whining. Ultra runners walk all the time. So keep doing what works.

    I have not done the marathon...but probably will do it eventually...Big Sur is so beautiful!

  12. Hi! I'm stopping by from Running with Sass ;)

    If I lived in your neck of the woods, I would want to do this race to experience the bridge part. I've read other recaps about this one and it just seems like an amazing moment!

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