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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