The Big Sur Marathon for Dummies

Sometimes it’s hard for non-runners to understand what all the excitement is about when it comes to marathons. Here’s a primer on basic facts about the event, and this weekend’s Big Sur Marathon in particular, so you can dazzle your friends with your newfound knowledge.

Q: The marathon is a long race, right?
A: Ummm…yes, it’s very long. The standard distance is 26.2 miles.

Q: Who came up with that number?
A: The race commemorates a victory of the Athenian Army over the invading Persians at the city of Marathon in 490 B.C. The Greeks dispatched a messenger to announce the victory back in Athens, approximately 24 miles away. The messenger, Phedippides, died from exhaustion immediately afterward. Uplifting story, huh?

Q: What about the extra 2.2 miles?
A: At the 1908 London Olympics, England’s Royal Family wanted the course lengthened so that it would start in front of their residence at Windsor Castle, and finish in front of their viewing box at Olympic Stadium. The distance was changed to 26.2 miles and sanctioned as the official distance.

Consequently, it’s not uncommon for exhausted marathon runners to repeatedly curse the Queen during the final two miles of the race.

Q: Do the runners get any help?
A: Definitely. Several hundred volunteers work at aid stations along the course handing out water, Gatorade, and nutritional aids to the runners. Many others provide things like traffic control and medical support throughout the event.

Q: How come on the other 364 days of the year, runners won’t drink anything that isn’t in a factory-sealed, tamper-resistant container, yet on marathon day they’ll gladly grab unmarked open cups from any potential psychopath standing on the side of the road?
A: Good question. Maybe runners are inherently trusting. Maybe their judgment is impaired from glycogen depletion. Probably a little of both.

Q: Almost every city has a marathon. Why is Big Sur so special?
A: Easy - it’s because of the course. The coastline between Big Sur and Carmel features one of the most spectacular vistas anywhere in the world. The relentless hills and wind of Highway 1 make the BSIM very challenging (even by marathon standards), but most runners find that the beauty they experience is well worth the physical suffering.

Q: Why do local runners get so geeked over this weekend?
A: Think of it this way: if you could get a group of your best friends together to play a softball game at Fenway Park, would you do it? Local runners are a close community, and our hometown marathon is one of the most prestigious in the world. The friendly competition in such a famously beautiful setting is an opportunity that’s hard to pass up.

Q: Great, but I’m not a runner. Why should I care?
A: Because those people crossing the finish line at Big Sur aren’t professional runners - they’re everyday folks. They are your neighbors or co-workers who are giving a supreme effort on Sunday, then returning to work on Monday (OK, maybe not Monday…but probably by Tuesday) to resume their routine lives.

Many of them are fulfilling a dream by doing the marathon, and every one of them has overcome numerous challenges just to finish. Sure, by the time they reach Carmel, most of them look like hell and stink to high heaven - but each runner is a reminder that through hard work and dedication, great things can be accomplished by all of us. It’s an idea that anyone can get excited about.

Good luck to everyone who is running - or watching - the race this Sunday!

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