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March 20, 2011

Big Sur Marathon Re-Route; Book Review: Long May You Run

Admin note: two separate topics today, with no relation to each other except that the timing seemed right. Sometimes that's the way it goes.

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Over the weekend, a few people asked me to comment on a local breaking news item that’s had ripple effects across the running community: the status of this year’s Big Sur International Marathon.

If you haven’t yet heard, here’s the short version: the marathon normally traverses 26 miles of what’s perhaps the most ruggedly beautiful stretch of road in the world on California’s Highway 1. Unfortunately for runners and drivers alike, as of last week a 60-foot chunk of that road now sits in the Pacific Ocean after unexpectedly crashing down the face of a coastal cliff.

Highway 1 landslide; photo from AP

With the race less than 6 weeks away, the race committee had no choice but to come up with an alternate route, most likely a down and back affair starting from Carmel, similar to what was done in the wake of yet another landslide just before the event in 1998. Truthfully, with Highway 1, the surprise isn’t that landslides happen frequently – it’s that they can even maintain a road there at all. When people say this coastline is rugged and unpredictable, they mean it.

(For more details, this video from our local TV news station has good coverage of the landslide and its implications for the race.)

Almost immediately, discussion reached fever pitch on the marathon’s Facebook page. Initially there was a fair amount of questioning about whether the race might offer refunds, as well as griping from folks who were disappointed to not do the “official” course, before cooler heads prevailed with the vast majority of people seemingly trying to make the best of it.

Since I’m not personally involved in this year’s race, I’m not emotionally invested one way or the other, so I’ll refrain from weighing in on what the right way to handle the situation should be. I do know what it’s like to have your dream race go up in smoke at a moment’s notice by the fickle hand of Mother Nature, and that feeling pretty much sucks. And for all those runners traveling here from very far away (including many from overseas) who have just found out that they’ll only see half of the scenery they’ve heard so much about, I can definitely sympathize.

However, I know that if I had an option to do a full-length race using an alternate route that still included half of the original course when my goal race was cancelled 72 hours prior to start time, I would have jumped at the chance. I also happened to run the Big Sur Marathon in the one other modified course year, and the experience was as memorable and rewarding as any of my other BSIMs. The race board is a first-class organization that will do everything in their power to ensure that runners have the best experience possible under the circumstances. Whether that’s enough to ultimately satisfy thousands of disappointed marathoners remains to be seen.

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This winter I was contacted by Chris Cooper to do a review of his book, Long May You Run, which was published last October by Simon and Schuster. It actually turned out to be kind of a strange experience – because in reading Chris’s background and going through his book, I was struck by a lot of similarities between the two of us.


Chris is a lifelong amateur runner with some pretty-good-but-not-fantastic accomplishments on his athletic resume. He’s been a writer for many years and has a blog where he writes on a variety of running-related topics. His book is a collection of essays, stories, and observations generally written in a lighthearted tone with ample bits of humor thrown in. And every single one of those descriptions could just as easily apply to me.

So I was more than a little bit curious to see what his book had to offer. Long May You Run is an informative and well-researched overview of virtually every aspect of running you can think of. It’s an extensive advice manual for new runners looking for ways to improve, energize or revamp their running. The format is such that it doesn’t need to be read from start to finish; the 200 various subjects each stand alone as separate articles, so you can pick and choose subjects from the table of contents that look interesting and jump right in. The articles are also interspersed with snippets of training advice from 19 world-class runners that can be applied to everyday runners.

One main characteristic of Chris’s writing is brevity: none of the articles here exceed three pages in length, and several are nothing more than lists such as favorite running songs or famous quotes about running. It’s almost designed as a coffee table book that you can pick up and thumb through for a few minutes at a time until you eventually manage to see every page. His subject matter is historical – with brief profiles of many of the most famous runners through the years – as well as timely, even including a brief assessment of the barefoot running movement.

Taken on the whole, Long May You Run is a quick and easy read, and makes a very useful guide for beginning runners, with a few items that experienced runners may learn from as well. It retails for $16.39 from Amazon.com as well as other online vendors.


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6 comments:

Cherylrunner 3/21/11, 8:44 AM  

Donald, sorry to hear about the BSIM this year! What a bummer, but I'm sure it will still be a great race... Thanks for the review of Chris Cooper's book. It has been sitting in my wish list with Barnes and Noble for the last few months. Your review has prompted me to buy it!
How are sales with your book going?

Angie Bee 3/21/11, 3:44 PM  

Amazing how quickly things change along the coast!
Great review!

marathonmaiden 3/21/11, 6:27 PM  

wow i had no idea that the coastline was that ever changing! i'm sure that big sur will still be amazing for those doing it. it's one of the ones that's on my "i really REALLY want to run" list in the future.

Her Name Is Rio 3/21/11, 8:15 PM  

I'm one of those people who signed up this year - its one of my bucket races. Initially I was a bit bummed, but safety is key and mother nature is unpredictable. I'm just happy to be able to be there. ;)

Jenny 3/23/11, 3:26 PM  

Initially I was super disappointed about the Big Sur re-route ... Didn't think I wanted to run the race at all. I'm coming from Ohio and it's quite possible this is the only time I'll ever have the $$ to run the race. So to lose the signature parts of the course -- the climb up Hurricane Point and the Bixby Bridge -- really was pretty heartbreaking. But I am glad I got past the disappointment and am looking forward to the race. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, right? :)

Andy 3/25/11, 4:57 PM  

As someone who runs trail ultras, you gotta kinda laugh at the notion that there's possible catastrophe because well, the pavement is gone.

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