Out and Back

As practically everyone knows by now, a sizeable piece of Highway 1 is currently sitting in the Pacific Ocean. To runners, Highway 1 is better known as the Big Sur International Marathon course – so when the announcement was made that the world-famous course would be altered, some portions of the running community went into a bit of a tizzy.

Take it from us: don’t worry about the Big Sur Marathon. Everything will be fine.

First, let’s clarify something from a practical standpoint: there’s absolutely no way that the regular course could be used this year. Even if a makeshift road is in place by race day – an uncertain bet thanks to weather complications and inevitable construction delays – the road can’t possibly handle the nearly 200 buses that travel back and forth on race morning. Concern for runner safety has to be the top priority, and the race board made the right decision in changing the course for this year’s event on May 1st.

A similar natural disaster caused a re-routing in 1998, which marathon veterans lovingly call the “out and back” year. If you’re superstitious, it’s interesting to note that 1998 was the 13th presentation of the Big Sur Marathon and this year is the 26th. 1998 was also the first year Wally Kastner was Race Director and Dr. Hugo Ferlito was Chairman of the Board, presenting them with a significant trial by fire. Ferlito stepped down last year, but Kastner is still the RD, so the reroute isn’t uncharted territory for him.

We checked statistics from the out and back 1998 race and the regular course in 1999, which both enjoyed nearly perfect weather. The average men’s finishing time in 1998 was 4:08 and in 1999 was 4:09. The average woman’s finishing time was 4:27 in 1998 and 4:26 in 1999. It’s likely that the supposed “advantage” of not climbing Hurricane Point is compensated by running through Carmel Highlands twice. Course times were so similar that the men’s winner in 1998, Srba Nikolic, ran 2:21:36 and the following year ran 2:21:37 while finishing second to Arsenio Ortiz’s 2:19:16.

The big difference in logistics is that in 1998 the course repairs were on Hurricane Point, south of Bixby Bridge, which allowed a full 13.1 miles of road from Carmel before the turnaround point. This year’s damage is north of Bixby, requiring an additional 1.75-mile detour through Point Lobos on the way back up the coast. This year’s runners will be the first ever to race through the breathtaking coastline of Point Lobos, which could provide a much-needed pick-me-up between miles 22 and 24.

Another difference from 1998 is what we’ll call the Facebook effect, which has proven to be something of a mixed blessing. When the course change was announced, runners took to posting hundreds of comments on the BSIM Facebook page. Some of the initial commenters were out of town participants who questioned whether the road was really unrunnable, or whether the race should offer refunds because runners couldn’t experience the Big Sur coastline or Hurricane Point. The anger and rudeness of some of them made us cringe, but each one was replied to professionally by the BSIM staff.

Fortunately, the majority of comments were sympathetic, encouraging, and upbeat, and it’s been great to see how most of the running community has resolved to make the best of a difficult situation and embrace this year’s race for the unique challenge it offers. We can assure them that the race will be just as fantastic as usual.

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1 comments:

mariko April 15, 2011 at 11:08 AM  

The only time I ran Big Sur was in 1998! I don't know that I was relieved the course had changed, but I sure wasn't looking forward to the bus ride to the start, so I guess it worked out. Gorgeous course either way!

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