Association of International Marathons and Distance Races

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Race previews Big Sur International Marathon

01 January 2022, 8am

A simple road sign on Highway 1 inspired the creation of the Big Sur International Marathon

A sign for the times

Big Sur International Marathon
Sun 24 April 2022

Monterey half low 07496

Race founder Bill Burleigh noticed a signpost near Rio Road in Carmel which read “Big Sur 26 miles”. He recognised that stretch of road, along one of the most gorgeous and pristine coastlines in the world, would make an ideal marathon course.

On the last Sunday in April 1986 1800 runners took part in the inaugural race from Big Sur to Carmel. Now, 36 years later, the Big Sur International Marathon is an annual sell-out bucket list event with around 4500 participants and five other race distances along the same course. Apart from the marathon Highway 1 plays host to a Marathon Relay, 21-Miler, 11-Miler, 12km, and 5km, all of which sell out with a total of 10,000 runners across all distances.

The Big Sur International Marathon is famous for its unparalleled coastal views and tough, hilly course. The first five miles are mostly downhill through groves of towering redwood forests and the storied village of Big Sur. As runners reach mile 6 (10km), they see their first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean including the scenic Point Pinos lighthouse. After mile 9 (15km), the climb to Hurricane Point comes into view and the runners’ mood changes. The 2-mile (3km) climb to the highest point on the course is a steady 4–5% gradient which seems endless. Once runners crest Hurricane Point they can enjoy sweeping vistas and feel relief and satisfaction from having conquered one of the hardest climbs in any road marathon.

The euphoria continues as runners hear the soft sounds of a classical piano floating through the air at the iconic Bixby Bridge. This is halfway through the marathon and many runners stop for a photo with the tuxedo-wearing pianist playing a baby grand piano. At mile 14 runners pass the tranquil Palo Colorado Canyon before climbing to Rocky Point. At mile 22 another climb, up to Yankee Point, brings runners to Carmel Highlands, the final stretch of rolling hills before reaching the finish line.

Once across the line runners will receive their custom clay medals, each carefully handcrafted by a local artisan as a nod to the rich artistic history of the Big Sur community.

Apart from its glorious scenery and tough climbs the Big Sur Marathon is known for its commitment to sustainability. For the past several years the Big Sur Marathon Foundation has worked with Blue Strike Environmental across all events to maintain zero-waste status.

Two new partners have further reduced the event’s environmental impact: Recover Brands and HydraPak. Recover Brands creates eco-friendly running gear aimed at minimising environmental impact. Every participant shirt for every race distance is made from 100% recycled materials.

Participants in the 2022 Big Sur Marathon race weekend will be invited to opt in to a cupless experience during their race. Along with their cupless sponsor, HydraPak, Big Sur is aiming for a 33% opt in rate for participants which would eliminate tens of thousands of single-use cups on the course. The Big Sur 12km, the only distance to run through the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, will be a fully cupless race, saving over 1500 disposable cups and avoiding cup waste in this sensitive area.

Big Sur Marathon Foundation events are presented with the help of more than 75 Monterey County non-profit groups supplying more than 2000 volunteers from throughout the community. Since the inaugural race the nonprofit Big Sur Marathon Foundation has donated over USD 5 million to our volunteer teams and related local organizations.

See the latest news from Big Sur International Marathon

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