Scenes From a Marathon 2010

With Big Sur’s 25th Anniversary in the books, we’re sharing a final handful of observations from another wonderful BSIM weekend …

Hometown Victory!

Even though it started as a small hometown event, the Big Sur Marathon never saw a local runner win the overall men’s title – at least, not until the 25th presentation. Big congratulations to Danny Tapia of Salinas, a recent Hartnell College runner coached by Chris Zepeda. Even more impressive is that this was Danny’s first marathon; it’s possible that we’ve got a legend in the making for future editions of the race.

Coach Zepeda tried making arrangements on Saturday afternoon for Danny to ride the elite bus, a privilege that top contenders in the race are offered by the race committee. Unfortunately, the van was already full, so Danny got up early to catch the Carmel Middle School buses with the “regular” schmoes, before taking off like crazy at the starting gun. He built a big lead after 5 miles, and never looked back en route to a 90-second victory. Next year, we’re guessing he’ll be on the elite bus.

Fast Ladies of Pacific Grove

Note that we said Danny was the first local men’s winner; on the women’s side, the Big Sur Marathon has had 3 local champions: Patty Selbicky in 1987, Nelly Wright in 1988, and legendary ultrarunner Ann Trason in 1989. Interestingly, all of these women were from Pacific Grove, the same town where 2008 Olympic marathoner Blake Russell currently resides. The lesson, perhaps: if you’re a speedy girl looking to win the Big Sur Marathon, you should definitely consider moving to PG.

Blake was at this year’s event as a spectator greeting runners after the race. She has recently returned to competitive running after having a baby a year ago, so if you ever see her on the start line at Big Sur, the smart money will be on her to win big.

Smiling Happy Little People

The JUST RUN Kids’ 3K was held in Pacific Grove for the first time on Saturday and had a record number of participants. About 3,000 kids and parents ran on a beautiful out and back course from Lovers Point. 33 schools participated, and smiling faces were everywhere. Hopefully these are the marathoners of tomorrow.

Boston to Big Sur Forever!

The Boston to Big Sur Challenge was a huge success, with fantastic feedback from everybody who participated. We’re happy to report that the challenge will be continued indefinitely in years to come. Like this year, the races will probably sell out early; mark your calendars now for the July 15th online entry date for Big Sur’s 26th presentation on May 1, 2011.

Where We Shamelessly Take a Portion of Undue Credit

A special shout-out goes to our running partner Carmella Cuva, for completing the Boston to Big Sur Challenge, for winning the top local female award at Big Sur, and for characteristically smiling her way through both races. We’ve run more miles than we can count with Carmella, so we like to think that some of those mornings together contributed to her amazingly successful week of racing.

By the Numbers

This year’s race saw 12,000 participants in the various events, with 2,800 volunteers helping them. 365 Porta Potties were picked up. 350 gallons of coffee were consumed, along with 85,000 cups of Gatorade on Highway 1. Post race, 25 kegs of beer vanished, as well as 2400 bagels, 72 gallons of soup, and 100 cases of bananas. The numbers keep getting bigger, and the race keeps getting better.

See you next year.

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Big Sur Centipede

One of the more unusual moments in Big Sur Marathon history took place in 1991, when a 26-leg centipede ran the race. At least, it started the race with 26 legs – the rest is something of a story.

Centipedes are typically seen at shorter, quirkier races such as San Francisco’s Bay to Breakers, but rarely in marathons, which are difficult enough for one person without your fate hinging on conditions of several other runners.

According to the International Centipede Congress – yes, really – official ‘Pedes must consist of 13 team members, measure at least 60 feet long, and have each runner connected by any non-polyester material. Twinkie feelers are to be worn on the head of each member, and the person in the rear wears a “stinger of appropriate design and toxicity.” All 13 must stay attached throughout the race and finish together.

Official rules get even weirder: A Lenichi Turn - a 360-degree rotation made famous by 18th-century Eastern European centipeders Oscar and Igatoo Lenichi - must be made twice in the race. One occurs at midrace, and another before the finish; neither of these shall interfere with other runners.

The spirit of the Centipede is best captured in the official motto: “Length, Joy, Togetherness”. Trust us, though - 26.2 miles is a very long way for anyone to be together.

The ’91 Pede was the brainchild of Dr. Marc Lieberman, who gathered 13 runners of various abilities. 12 men - Marc, Mike (your Herald columnist), Doug Colton, Wally Kastner, Don King, Dean King, Pete Sullivan, Jim Eagle, Gus Halamandaris, Skip Latham, Jay Cook, and Charlie Engle – were joined by one brave woman, Julie Lyonhardt. They were tied together with a bungee cord around each waist, with a shared (if somewhat ambitious) goal of breaking 3 hours and 30 minutes.

The Pede started far back in the pack, crossing the start line 4 minutes after the gun. Shortly thereafter, disaster struck: as the centipede reeled in some slower runners, a newbie marathoner stopped without warning in the middle of the road to re-tie her sweatshirt directly in front of the Pede. The 13 runners couldn’t stop and became tangled in bungees, with several falling. Pete Sullivan was injured so badly that he couldn’t continue, and the Pede’s numbers were down to 12, making it “officially unofficial”.

Good miles lay ahead, as the Pede gradually picked up momentum, completed a successful Linichi turn on Bixby Bridge, told jokes, sang songs, talked to other runners and had a great time until about mile 21, when attrition began to take its toll.

Wally and Jim both aggravated previous knee injuries and were forced to unhook. Gus, undertrained but overdetermined, was struggling – so badly that the other 9 runners can still show you their bungee cord burn scars from pulling him up the hills of Carmel Highlands that day.

Eventually, the remainder of the Pede completed another Lanichi turn just before the finish line, and completed the run successfully. In the 1991 results sheet you’ll see 10 runners with times of 3:33:44 to 3:33:47 – but with the 4 minute delayed start (before the era of chip timing), the sub 3:30 goal was met.

An epilogue to the story……Wally is now better known as Race Director of the Big Sur Marathon. Charlie became one of the world’s craziest and most renowned ultra-runners. Mike and Julie got married in 1995. Gus and Pete never ran another Big Sur marathon. Marc put together one more centipede in the 1996 race, which remains the last time a centipede competed at Big Sur.

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Big Sur Memories

In honor of this weekend’s 25th Big Sur International Marathon, we asked some local runners for their most memorable moments from the first 25 years of the Big Sur International Marathon. Here are some of their responses.

Rich Hollaway, founder of Cornuts Inc., heard a rumor in 1985 that Judge Bill Burleigh wanted to start a marathon from Big Sur to Carmel and needed financial support. Rich left a message for the visionary yet resourceless Burleigh, who returned the call in less than 2 minutes. And the marathon was born.

Nelly Wright wrote this poem after winning the 1988 women’s race:

I start the Big Sur Marathon in 1988,
I’ve trained hard and I feel strong.
I surge ahead and all feels well,
My pace is fast, so what can go wrong?

I slip into a rhythmic zone,
The miles fly by, as along I roll.
As I run a thought occurs,
Will the Hurricane Point take its toll?

Now I wonder where the hill begins,
And as I pass a runner, I pause to ask.
His gaze is odd as he replies,
“We’re at the top, the hill is past.”

My spirit soars and down I fly,
In my focused state, I missed the hill they dread.
My exhilaration soars and carries me to the end,
To receive the laurel wreath upon my head.

Dr. Marc Lieberman and Andrew McClelland independently commented fondly on scenes from the marathon; running near Pt. Sur Lighthouse in silence and solitude with only cows as company, the struggle with the wind at Hurricane Point, the hail years, the camaraderie of friends running alongside, and being rewarded on the podium for a race well run.

15-time finisher Rick Leach recalled camping at Pfeiffer to get some extra sleep near the starting line. Brushing his teeth in the washhouse, he heard the Star Spangled Banner wafting through the trees, at which point he spit, rinsed, and started running. Crashing through the deserted start area, he caught up with the pack went on to run one of his best marathons – possibly due to the super adrenaline charge at the start.

Glynn Wood, the Peninsula’s runner emeritus, housed a young Japanese runner with no marathon experience for the 2nd Big Sur Marathon in 1987. Glynn and his wife Suzie knew no Japanese and their house guest knew no English. At the carbo-loading party before the race, Olympic marathon gold medalist Frank Shorter was the host, and went from table to table with a videographer. For $30 anyone could buy a video of themselves with Frank.

Frank asked the visitor, “How fast do you expect to run tomorrow?” The reply was, “No English…Sorry.” Frank, with extensive international experience but limited political correctness, looked into the camera and said, “We all know that Japanese are great marathoners, and that he’ll be with the leaders tomorrow!”

The guest wasn’t exactly with the leaders – he ran 4 hours and 30 minutes, but gave Glynn $30 to get a copy of the video, and flew back to Tokyo a satisfied finisher.

Sally Smith, the marathon’s long time registrar, focused on last year’s race. For the participants everything always goes smoothly, but for the race committee, it’s a very nervous time. 15 minutes prior to the start, the timing company was no where to be found. Cell phone service in Big Sur is sporadic at best; a connection was made but all that could be heard was “we’re on the way.” The company arrived 6 minutes before the race, set up quickly, and the race started only 1 minute late. The runners never knew, but Sally aged 5 years in those few minutes.

For those of you running this year, we hope all your memories are good ones.

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Remembering Wayne Collett

Last month marked the passing of a remarkably talented runner who once reached the pinnacle of athletic accomplishment, but was unfortunately remembered more for his role in a collision of athletics and politics on the global stage nearly four decades ago. He also had ties to the Monterey Peninsula, and those of us fortunate enough to experience Wayne Collett’s friendship and goodwill are feeling great sorrow in the loss of such an admirable man.

Wayne is best known – and most misunderstood – for his actions at the 1972 Munich Olympics, where he won the silver medal in the 400m dash. During the awards ceremony, Collett and fellow American (and gold medalist) Vince Matthews visibly disregarded our National Anthem by not standing at attention, and diverting their gaze from the flag while casually fidgeting and chatting.

This came four years after the more famous medal ceremony demonstration by African-Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos in Mexico City, and the International Olympic Committee had zero tolerance of further political statements intruding upon their Games. The IOC immediately banned Collett and Matthews from future competitions for acting disrespectfully, and that was pretty much the last the track world saw of Wayne Collett.

Wayne was frequently criticized for his actions, but he held strong to his principles in explaining his conduct. He felt strongly that the promise and potential of America were unattainable for many of its citizens due to widespread social and institutional injustices. He was often compelled to affirm his nationalism, once telling the Los Angeles Times, “I love America … to suggest otherwise is to not understand the struggles of blacks in America.” Wayne was never Anti-American; he simply wanted his country to be a better place, with equal opportunities for all.

Nowadays, the racism and exclusion that Wayne spoke out against are much more easily recognized; with historical hindsight, we can better appreciate the frustrations of his experience and the accuracy of his point of view. For those who knew Wayne personally, there was never – at any point in his life - any question about his patriotism or his passion for social justice. And although he couldn’t compete in track meets anymore, Wayne never stopped excelling in all aspects of life.

Once called the “greatest athlete I’ve ever coached” by UCLA track coach Jim Bush - no small statement considering the number of Olympians Bush trained during his 56-year career - Wayne was also one of that college’s most successful students, earning an undergraduate degree in 1971, an M.B.A. in 1973, and a law degree in 1977 all on the same campus. He worked against many of those injustices he demonstrated against in Munich, in hopes that today’s children enjoy the opportunities that many of his generation lacked. He gave his time and effort generously to many charitable organizations, with some of his fundraising efforts bringing him to our Monterey Peninsula, where he enjoyed a wide network of friends. Wayne also spent several years working for the United States Olympic Committee prior to the Los Angeles Olympics, and carried the torch in the 1984 relay through his hometown.

Wayne died last month at age 60 after a nearly four-year battle with cancer. While the most public moment of his life occurred at age 22, all who had the privilege of knowing him will remember his lifelong accomplishments, integrity, and commitment to social equality. For track fans as well as Wayne’s friends and family, we know we’ve lost one of the great ones.

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