Tackling the Big Sur International Marathon

Coworkers team up for fun & fitness

“If you run, you are a runner. It doesn’t matter how fast or how far. It doesn’t matter if today is your first day or if you’ve been running for 20 years. There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get. You just run.” – John Bingham

I have been a casual runner since high school and became a little more serious about it during my time in the Army, mostly because I was forced to run every morning at 5:30 a.m. After leaving the Army in 2009, I decided I would run my first “event” four years ago at the Heritage Oaks 10K in Paso Robles. Initially I pursued it on a dare from a friend and we began training together to see how well we could do. Running was the first sport I experienced where you weren’t challenging the person next to you, but your own personal limits.This was refreshing and in some ways liberating to me that I could, with no guilt, compete without feeling I had to be the first to come across the finish line. It is also fortunate, because there was NO WAY I was going to be the first across the finish line.

Over 25 “events” later I am having a great time. I actually won my age group in several smaller runs just by focusing on running my own race. Some of my friends, family and co-workers began doing a few of them with me. Mostly, it was a great excuse to have lunch and beer afterward while enjoying the benefits of better health. 

Training for scenic & challenging run

In 2011 my wife, brother and several of our co-workers discovered what has to be the most scenic and challenging runs I have been a part of – the Big Sur International Marathon.  We decided to compete in the marathon relay corporate division. If you have never done a marathon relay, this is an absolute blast. For four months we trained, sometimes together, sometimes individually and worked on our individual ability. Some of us realized for the first time that we had our own running niches. Some realized we were better at going up hills, others down hills, and some of us ran better when it was completely flat. We all have unique “best distances” and each of us obviously had different individual ability. A marathon relay is as much about strategy and maximizing the unique strengths of your runners as it is about pure speed. It is a chance to be a part of something bigger than yourself and pursue your fitness goals at the same time.

The Big Sur International Marathon takes place in late April or early May. If you want to take part, you better sign up at least 3-4 months early as it easily sells out months in advance. You arrive a day before the race and have a meeting with all your fellow runners. The run takes place along scenic Highway 1, begins at Big Sur and ends in the marathon village in Carmel. The terrain is difficult with all the legs of the marathon having hills but some being rather extreme for the casual runner. The most intimidating leg is the third leg. It is only 6.9 miles, however, it has a 2 mile climb which ends at Hurricane Point.  This is so named because not only are you climbing for 2 miles, but it is often into a stiff headwind. If you make it, your reward is the concert pianist on the Grand Piano waiting at the top celebrating your achievement. Your best climber should be the one that takes this leg and it helps if he or she is also the best overall runner since it is the longest leg.  The first leg is downhill for five miles.  If you have a runner who excels running downhill, this is the leg for them. The final leg, what I call the glory leg, is short and relatively fast with few hills. The privileged person who gets to run this crosses the finish line with thousands cheering them on, collects the medals for the team and receives their free beer and food before all the others.

Incredible atmosphere and stellar village

The atmosphere is incredible: local bands, DJ’s and others line Highway 1 performing and cheering on the runners; locals set up outside their homes and tirelessly encourage. The vibe is positive and encouraging and a celebration of California’s unique beauty and spirit.

I have been to a lot of runs and nobody does the marathon village like Big Sur.  There are sponsors from all the major shoe and apparel companies, Runner’s World magazine, elite level runners and an overall amazing atmosphere. For us, the highlight in 2011 was making the medal stand. To our surprise, we finished 2nd overall in the mixed corporate division out of over 20 teams from companies such as Kaiser, Dole, Google, Symantec and others. Our small town dental office was able to compete with the big boys.  

We competed again last year and finished 4th out of 17 teams. Another great bonus of competing in the relay divisions is that you can actually enjoy the hiking and scenery of Big Sur the following day rather than sitting in a tub of ice as many of the marathoners were doing. We took full advantage of this and look forward to doing it for years to come.  

I would encourage anyone to give it a try. There were high level professional runners, college runners and lunchtime walkers. Whatever your level or event preference, they have it.

Visit bsim.org/ and click on Big Sur International Marathon for details and more photos.

Jeremy Lansford DMD, FAGD - Dr. Lansford is a practicing general dentist in Paso Robles with his wife, Dr. Jennifer Karanian.