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April 23, 2009

Big Sur for Dummies (Plus a Bay to Breakers Promotion!)

Before today’s post, I have one administrative note that might be of interest to some Northern California runners.

A marketing rep from the world famous Bay to Breakers 12K race recently contacted me with an offer of discounted race entry fees for readers of this blog.

If you’re familiar with the race, there’s really nothing else I need to say. If you’re not, then you owe it to yourself to find out. Bay to Breakers is an absolutely legendary race; it’s also absolutely insane. It’s one of those sporting events that everyone should experience someday.

This year’s event is on May 17th – and if you’ve been thinking about entering and would like an additional 5% discount off the early entry price, go to the race website and use the coupon code 5RUNRAM09 on the registration page. The offer is valid until midnight on April 30th. No need to thank me – but if you’d really like to, you can pay me back by springing for a Diet Pepsi someday.


As for today’s post: since this is Big Sur Marathon weekend on the Monterey Peninsula, and since newspaper and TV coverage of the event always gets ratcheted up over the few days that precede the event, it’s inevitable that local runners will have questions asked of them from our non-running acquaintances.
Such questions are as predictable as the calendar, and often range from the innocent to the bizarre. They were also the premise of my article from Thursday’s Monterey Herald, which follows below.

Running Life 4/23/09 “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 on.

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!


Annette 4/24/09, 9:51 AM  

Laughing about grabbing a cup of anything from anyone during a race. So true. Normally - I wouldn't do it. And, now, I will forget about it because if I think too much about it, I'll never be able to hydrate on a race again. ;)

don 4/24/09, 11:48 AM  

Love the Bay to Breakers run. The costumes are amazing and the fans are, um, eclectic. Do it, you will certainly have a good time.

Gretchen 4/24/09, 12:42 PM  

Uh oh, maybe we can't be friends after all. Diet Pepsi? Really? Sorry, but it's Diet Coke all the way. We'll just have to make it a beer instead.
Have fun on Sunday!

Pete 4/24/09, 7:28 PM  

While it's true the Royal Family played a role in determining the longstanding marathon distance of 26 miles, 385 yards, the story is apparently a little different than you have it. John Bryant, in his 2008 book "The Marathon Makers" tells the tale, which was excerpted in last year's Boston Marathon program (where I encountered it).

According to Bryant, the marathon in Olympics prior to London had actually been around 25 miles, though at three different distances: 40,000 meters at Athens; 40,260 at Paris; and 40,232 at St. Louis.

For complicated reasons, the London organizers were intent on making the race 26 miles. The King was keenly interested in giving the start to the race, thus it did start at Windsor Castle. A course of 26 miles was drawn to the entrance of the stadium. From there, it was 385 yards to the finish, in front of the Royal Box. This distance was announced beforehand. Ironically -- you still with me? -- the actual distance might not have been 26 miles, 385 yards. Bryant writes: "By using maps, contemporary photographs of the start, and detailed descriptions, (John) Disley used 21st-century methods to measure (the disputed) first mile to Barenespool Bridge. His conclusion is that from the start on the East Terrace, the first mile -- and hence the marathon course -- is 174 yards (159 meters) short."

Which I guess means you are welcome to stop after 26 miles, 226 yards and announce you have covered the distance of the marathon established at London in 1908.

21stCenturyMom 4/24/09, 9:48 PM  

Remember when the Bay to Breakers used to sell out at 80,000? Now they are pimping out the entries with discounts! I got an offer to get a whole $4 off the $48 registration price if I would just hurry up and commit! They did not mistake my blog for something that gets read by a lot of people though - they made that offer to all past registrants.

Have fun at Big Sur!

Alisa 4/28/09, 11:52 AM  

So true about the cups on the course.

I hope you'll post some pictures at some point!

B2B is insane, it's the biggest spectacle race out there.

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