If you read my full recap of last weekend’s Big Sur International Marathon, you’ll know I had a lot to say. My recap was mainly a selfish means for me to be able to remember all the amazing things that happened race weekend. But to me, some of the best and most useful race recaps are ones that include tips for actually running the race. Whether these tips are something the runner did during the race that worked for them, or things their friends did that worked, it’s helpful to know a bit more about how to run the course than to just hear about how great it was for one particular runner.
So, that being said, now that a few days have passed, and I’ve been able to reflect on my own experience, I’ve come up with a list of 10 tips and lessons to help you run Big Sur, if you ever are so fortunate to get the chance. Some of these tips are things that I did during the race and others are things my friends did that really worked for them. But I think as a whole, this list is pretty solid and if I ever get to run Big Sur again, I’ll be taking advantage of these tips.
- Look behind you- Big Sur is considered one of the top destination marathons in the world and it’s no thanks to the breathtakingly beautiful views you’ll see while running along the “ragged edge of the western world” (a.k.a. Highway 1). While you should take total advantage to the views ahead of you, to your left and even to your right, please don’t forget to look behind you, especially when you summit a hill. Around mile 7 a course marshal rode by us on his bike and yelled, “Look behind you!” and let me tell you, the view was incredible!
- Bring a camera- I actually did not take pictures while running Big Sur but I’m almost a little sad I didn’t because it would have been amazing to capture some of the views I saw. Since it was my first marathon, I wanted to really focus on running the course and not have to stop to take photos but again, if I got to run Big Sur next year I would absolutely take pictures.
- Go watchless- Another tip I didn’t do personally but two of my friends ran the course without a watch and one of them set a huge PR. Due to the hills, Big Sur is a great course to run a negative split on (at least that’s what Jeff Dengate, the gear editor here at RW said). But I know many other runners who have run great races at Big Sur without a watch. I decided to run with my watch though because it was my first marathon and I wanted ALL that data!
- Listen to the sounds of the ocean, wind and footsteps- Big Sur is not a spectator-friendly course but it almost doesn’t matter because the ocean is your spectator for the majority of the course. The sounds of the waves, footsteps and the wind set the mood for a very tranquil, peaceful run. It’s really incredible how quiet it gets at some points during the 26.2 miles but I actually really liked it like that.
- Take the strawberries- For the love of all things that are delicious, take the strawberries at mile 23! You will not regret it. These strawberries were so unbelievably refreshing after 23 miles of Vanilla Bean Gu that I didn’t even care if they gave me GI issues for the last 3 miles (they didn’t by the way).
- Make friends with the other runners- I don’t know if this just happens at all marathons but there was a true sense of camaraderie among the runners on the course. I even made a running buddy during the last 7 miles and we crossed the finish line together. I think Big Sur lends itself to creating bonds among runners on the course because there aren’t many spectators. So, unless you plan to really take off at any point in the marathon, make friends with those running around you, odds are you’ll be with them for a few hours and they may be able to help you when you really need it.
- Talk to the locals- Roughly 4,500 runners ran Big Sur this year and as marathons go, that’s not huge. However, people fly in from all over the world to run this destination race. That’s cool and all but I talked to some of the Monterey County locals and they were some of the most interesting people I’ve met. There’s such a local, community sense to Big Sur with it’s traditions and history that really makes every marathoner feel special.
- Don’t worry about time- This is not going to be a PR course for everyone and you might as well throw your BQ aspirations out the door (although runners have and will continue to PR and BQ at Big Sur), so just enjoy it! Time is not a factor and the minute you stop worrying about it, the faster you can enjoy it. Need more convincing? My friend and coworker Megan did the Boston to Big Sur Challenge and ran Big Sur only three minutes slower than she ran Boston, two weeks beforehand. Her trick? No watch and no worry.
- For every uphill there’s a downhill- Sounds like common sense right? But this is something to look out for because with each hill you are graced with a downhill. Take those downhills too fast in an effort to bank time and you won’t be able to get up the next hill. The key to Big Sur is running the downhills slowly. The downhills give you a chance to catch your breathe but can do a number on your quads so take it easy and relax.
- Cherish that medal- The Big Sur medal is unlike other marathon medals because they are hand-crafted out of ceramic. Honestly, they’re just wicked cool and you earned it so wear it proud. I wore mine to the airport and the entire 6-hour plane ride home because when else are you going to be able to wear it?