Boston2Big Sur Marathon(s) Report

Boston 2 Big Sur race report – Its all James’ fault

A few months ago, over a beer, after a workout, James pointed out that this year the Boston Marathon  and the Big Sur Marathon are 13 days apart rather than 6. He suggested that based on that and the fact that we were running Boston anyway we should enter the lottery for Boston 2 Big Sur. Two marathons on two coasts, 13 days apart.  It was a really dumb idea so six of us went home and did it. Lottery no chance right? Four got in on the first draw. Two only made the waiting list including James who came up with the idea in the first place! A couple of weeks later we were all in. In a weird twist of fate our Boston confirmation cards and our Boston2BigSur training shirts arrived on the same day.

There is not a lot out there about training for two marathons 13 days apart probably because most people are not dumb enough to do it. Big Sur is hilly but Boston is too. Personally I trained as I would normally for Boston. My plan was to hold back a bit at Boston, not leave everything behind on the course, focus on recovery between the races and see what was left for Big Sur. It’s a beautiful course so just finishing and enjoying the scenery was an option.

The Boston part went quite well (race report can be found here). It was a bit warm but I held back as planned. So much so that I ran the closest I have ever run to an even split and finished 2 ½ minutes slower than last year in 3:20:01. I felt pretty good right to the end and I crossed the finish line not totally spent. Everyone else had similar feelings we went back to Ottawa to recover. When the Boston2BigSur results came out at the end of the week mine was the 7th fastest women’s time. Only top 5 overall get awards and the top 10 times were all pretty close. I figured I would see what I could do but I was not really expecting to be able to move up. There was a lot of youth in front of me and I am sure some of them had run Big Sur before and knew the course.

The time between was spent sleeping, eating, a little cycling and swimming but almost no running.  Faye, Susan and I took the R&R seriously. We flew out a few days early, did an easy ride across the Golden Gate Bridge and met John and Mike in Monterey where we also did a nice little ride along the coast. I ran twice in the 13 days between the races.IMG_1319IMG_1425

Big Sur Marathon starts in Big Sur and goes one way back along route 1 ending in Carmel. The race expo and pre and post-race activities are held in Monterey making it the logical place to stay. Faye, Susan and I rented a small house through AriBnB. The guys stayed at the Red Roof Inn. Our place was nicer!

The expo was small compared to Boston but it was friendly. We got a complete run down on the weekend activities. Sampled the Big Sur wine and took pictures of ourselves in front of the sign. I chatted with the cliff pace team. They assured me that you need to add 10 minutes minimum to your time for the course 15 if you just did Boston. The bunnies planned to bank time going into Hurricane Point at 10 miles (the famous killer 2 mile long 600ft climb). IMG_1406

They close route 1 completely for the race and there really are not many other roads so the race starts early and you have to take a bus to the start. The marathon starts at 6:45am and the first busses left Monterey at 3:30am! We managed to get on the 4:00am bus. The guys did even better and managed a 4:30am bus they even got a coach bus with a bathroom! We had a school bus.


Like Boston you end up sitting around outside for hours before the race. We have been there and done that before so we had lots of layers and something to sit on. There were people on the bus with nothing but shorts and a tank top they must have been freezing! Even California is cold at 5:00 am close to the ocean. The scenery was nice but you could not see it in the dark! There were no tents at the start and the area is not really big enough for the 4800 runners who were packed into it but there was coffee, bagels, water and Gatorade and there were enough port-a-potties. They also had a bag check to transport clothing to the finish. This is important because the finish is in Carmel and you have to take a bus back to your car in Monterey from there. So you really do need dry clothes for after the race.

There are 3 start waves 5 minutes apart which are self-seeded. The road is not all that wide but for the first mile or so we had both sides of the road to run on. After that you have one lane only but it’s not an issue with 4800 runners.  The sun came up before the start and we were able to appreciate the views of the park which were lovely.

The first 5 miles of the course has a net downhill of 400ft and it is mostly downhill but like the rest of the course the profile is a bit misleading because there are ups as well as downs. The published profile has many of the smaller bumps flattened out! The word according to Garmin: in Boston I went up a total of 168m and down 303m at Big Sur I climbed 696m and went down 783m!

Boston vs Big Sur


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Big Sur

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Because the road is closed and there are very few other roads there almost no spectators on the course. The suggestion for friends and family is that they spectate at the finish line. There are some shorter distance races so if you have friends with you doing one of them might be a good option. There is music along the course and some high school cheering squads. The music was great with everything from classical to heavy metal. The feature act is the grand piano player between Hurricane point and Bixby Bridge. There is also an awesome drum squad at the bottom of the climb up to Hurricane Point. There are only 14 water stops on the course the first four are all more than 2 miles apart after that they become more regular.

John, James and I started close to each other and ended up running most of the first couple of miles together. We were pretty obvious in our matching K2J tops. I like James and John but I had no intention of running with them. Even when we are not trying to John and I tend to push each other and that was the last thing I wanted to do. My plan was to hold back for the first half and then see if I could hang on for the second half. The big concern was having run Boston 13 days ago was when were the wheels going to fall off?

I ran the first 5 miles a little faster than planned but there is a lot of downhill. So much that running slower would have been a bit of a strain on the legs. The first section of the course goes through stands of Redwood Forest after that the course moves closer to the coast and you can look out over the hills to the ocean. We got lucky with the weather, it was clear day with almost no fog and the winds were noticeable but not bad.  The views were incredible. The course rolls along, up and down but still net down. At 5 miles you start going up a hill that is bigger than anything in Boston but does not get a mention in Big Sur. There is a steep decent to the Little Sur River Bridge where the drummers are and the climb up to Hurricane Point begins. Although the climb is 2 miles long the bottom part is the steepest. I did not find it all that bad because I was ready for it. The decent down the other side is steep but you are rewarded with the grand piano player and crossing the Bixby Bridge which is the big bridge you see in all the car commercials. Running across it was not as spectacular as I expected because the railings are between you and the ocean. But I will say again that the views on the course were amazing! I did not see it but some runners actually saw a whale from the course!


James took this on his phone we are headed towards Hurricane Point

I was feeling good at the halfway point and more or less where I wanted to be time wise. I had been warned that the second half of the course continues to roll up and down but I don’t think “roll” is an accurate statement! It is hilly and the hills don’t stop! I swear there was not a flat spot on the whole course! It was fun for a while but by 22 miles or so I was really looking for a flat spot! There is a strawberry stop at 23 miles which is a nice touch. The mile markers were great too. They were life-sized  pictures of people with slogans. My favorite was the one after Hurricane point which had a picture of Pinocchio with his nose extended saying “there are no more hills”. We were later told that you could buy a mile and have your picture and slogan on the sign for three years for around $500! I was very glad to see the finish line with Harold waiting and happy with a time of 3:28:30.  I was 8 minutes 29 seconds slower than Boston and I was definitely feeling it by the end but the wheels never really fell off. John had the most even run 3.22.17 and less than 2 minutes slower than his Boston time.


Because we were doing Boston2BigSur we had a “special” tent in the finish area. We had tables with table cloths, free beer, a buffet and snacks. I can’t eat much post-race but with more and more races offering it I have discovered that beer actually works quite well for me post-race. I must have gotten that from my father who actually drank beer during the race for most of his marathon career (story here)!

We picked up our clothes from the bag drop and found there was no where to change so someone had a brilliant idea, the table cloth went to the ground so under the table became the new change spot.


We checked the race results and discovered that Faye, John and I had all placed in the top 5 in our age groups in the Big Sur Marathon. I was 9th woman overall in Boston2BigSur and Mike was 21st on the men’s side. My sister Susan ran really well too, 6 minutes slower in Big Sur vs Boston and unlike the rest of us who have been doing this forever this was her 4th and 5th marathon. The awards were presented on site so we stayed and cheered.

After the awards we took the buses back to our cars and then because it was included in the Boston2Big Sur entry we went to the post-race party. The food was better than expected and we got one free drink but the best part was the race committee who went around from table to table and chatted with all the runners. We learned that the race has a nickname “Beauty and the Beast” a great name that sums it all up very well. Outstanding event, amazing views and a killer course. Definitely put it on your list. I had great company too! Thanks to James, Susan, Faye, John, Mike and my always supportive husband Harold for making a great race even better!


Published by judyapiel

Runner, triathlete and coach. Owner of RunK2J, Community Events at Bushtukah. Always looking for a new travel adventure.

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