Last but not least: The 31st Big Sur International Marathon & 6th Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge

Posted: December 31, 2016 in Marathons, RACE REPORTS
Tags: , , , ,

You have to forget your last marathon before you try another. Your mind can’t know what’s coming.
– Frank Shorter, 1972 Olympic marathon gold medalist

Mike Sohaskey at Big Sur International Marathon bib pickup
As 2016 crosses the finish line, and as memorable a racing year as it was, I’m much more excited to look forward than back. But before we raise the curtain on 2017, there’s one glaring hole remaining to be filled in this year’s blog—a race that, while a bucket list event for most marathoners, happened to fall squarely between my two favorite races of 2016 and a busy time of the year for us at RaceRaves.

After breaking out my happy dance, the second thing I did after receiving my acceptance to the 2016 Boston Marathon last September was to throw my name into the hat for the bicoastal Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge. The Big Sur International Marathon (BSIM)—which I ran for the first time in 2014 while dealing with plantar fasciitis—falls one or sometimes two weeks after Boston, with the organizers reserving several hundred entries for runners who will also be running Boston. This year Boston and Big Sur were a mere six days apart; in 2017 the recovery period will be a more forgiving 13 days.

While the race itself is the same for all runners, participants in the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge earn some very cool perks. For starters, ubiquitous ultrarunning legend and author Dean Karnazes—who runs to the start line in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park each year from his hotel in Monterey, before turning around and running back to Carmel as part of the race itself—hosts a Q&A meet-and-greet for B2B runners at the expo the day before the race. During this session, my favorite answer was the response he gave to the question of whether he’d ever consider running the Barkley Marathons, the +/– 100-mile gut check through the Tennessee wilderness that’s so difficult, only 14 different runners have completed the five-loop course in its 31-year history. The race even inspired its own full-length documentary. In any case, though Dean’s answer was more thoughtful and diplomatic—including an acknowledgement that he’d have to hone his hiking & navigation skills before tackling a course like the Barkley—by reading between the lines I interpreted him to be saying, “Ain’t never gonna happen”. And I can’t say I’d blame him, since the Barkley is more survivalist exercise than legitimate foot race.

But back from the future: B2B finishers also receive, in addition to the usual Big Sur tech tee and distinctive clay finisher medallion, exclusive B2B-specific swag (see “SWAG” below). And a special tent set up next to the finish line offers a comfortable place to sit with your fellow B2B’ers while you recover & refuel at the dedicated post-race buffet. Clearly the BSIM organizers take great pride in hosting this challenge, as do their runners in tackling it.

Having blogged about (and GoPro’ed) my first BSIM experience in 2014, I thought I’d take a different approach from my usual mile-by-mile narrative this time, and end an otherwise questionable year on a positive note by making other runners aware of the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge. Because I’m surprised that, $300 price tag notwithstanding, so few Boston runners (402 this year) take advantage of this unique opportunity to run two of the country’s top marathons on back-to-back weekends.

Here then is my photo-cumentary of a weekend spent running one of the world’s most photogenic races in one of the country’s most beautiful venues. Given the high winds and the fact I was trying to beat my disappointing Boston time of 3:48:36 (which I did, in 3:44:21), I didn’t stop for every photo op. But what follows should give anyone looking for an epic race experience a strong sense for the majesty that is the Big Sur International Marathon. And better late than never!


Beautiful scenery abounds in Monterey, though admittedly I did bring some of my own

Sea lions in Monterey Bay

As in most places, oceanfront property is in high demand in Monterey…


… and sometimes you just need to find your own rock and get away from it all

newborn sea lion with parents

An amazing discovery: California sea lion couple with newborn pup

newborn sea lion

Newborn sea lion pup with milk around its mouth and placenta still attached

sea otter couple in Monterey Bay

You otter always practice the buddy system when swimming in deep water

Big Sur poster with runners names-bch

Look carefully—this expo sign includes the names of all 2016 participants, with legacy runners (“grizzled vets”) and last year’s winner in white

Dean Karnazes groupies at Big Sur International Marathon_bch

Photo op with Dean Karnazes (front row 3rd from left, in case you couldn’t guess)—nobody told me to wear my race singlet for the gun show


The porta-potties at Big Sur have a cheeky sense of humor

No breeze at start of 2016 Big Sur International Marathon_bch

Check out that flag—nary a breeze 30 minutes before the start

Start line at 2016 Big Sur International Marathon bch

Runners take their places in the start corral—I get a jolt of adrenaline just looking at this photo

Mike Sohaskey and Krishna at Big Sur Marathon start_bch

Meeting up with fellow B2B’er Krishna (from Chicago) moments before the start—luckily he noticed me zoning out and said hi. Thanks Krishna, hope to meet again soon!

Big Sur mile 9 marker with pinocchio bch

Big Sur’s iconic mile markers have a wicked sense of humor, like this example one mile before the climb up to Hurricane Point (photo:

Base of Hurricane Point at Big Sur International Marathon_bch

Mile 10, looking up toward Hurricane Point

Up Hurricane Point at Big Sur International Marathon_bch

King of the world! Reaching the top of Hurricane Point at mile 12

View from Hurricane Point at Big Sur International Marathon_bch

Eye-popping view from Hurricane Point, with the Bixby Creek Bridge in the distance

Gusty winds at 2016 Big Sur International Marathon_bch

This year’s race was rumored to be the most blustery on record, with gusts up to 40 mph

Crossing Bixby Bridge at Big Sur International Marathon_bch

Crossing the Bixby Creek Bridge at the halfway point

Bixby Bridge pianist at Big Sur International Marathon_bch

Neither rain nor snow nor swirling winds keeps Michael Martinez from his appointed role as Bixby Creek Bridge pianist—and thanks to the headwind, I could hear the first strains of his piano from atop Hurricane Point

Big Sur International Marathon mileage sign_bch

The “.2” subtly appended to the “26” turns this otherwise standard mileage sign (located at the finish line) into roadside awesome

Big Sur International Marathon finish

Finishing time! Note the above “Big Sur 26.2” road sign behind the spectators

Boston to Big Sur medals

One of the coolest & most hard-earned medals in road racing

Mike Sohaskey and Mike Beckwith at Big Sur finish_bch

One of the highlights of the weekend was hanging with Bay Area running buddy & Brazen Racing streaker #111 Mike Beckwith

Signed Boston to Big Sur poster_bch

Autographed by all 2016 Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge finishers


No better way to celebrate 52.4 miles of racing in 6 days on opposite coasts than with a finish line selfie

Boston 2 Big Sur medals_bch


That’s Hurricane Point at mile 12

BOTTOM LINE: If you’re a hardcore runner and/or California native planning to run the Boston Marathon, then the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge should be a no-brainer. Not only is it a unique bicoastal challenge, but you’ll have the opportunity to run one of California’s most highly recommended (and this year, one of its most blustery) marathons as part of an exclusive group—and I’m not sure anyone was denied entry via the lottery this year. The only drawback is the steep price of admission—at $300 this is likely the most expensive marathon you’ll run. But if Big Sur is on your bucket list anyway, why not kill two birds with one stone and ride that post-Boston endorphin high for as long as possible?

PRODUCTION: Flawless, just as it was in 2014. School buses transport all runners from Carmel or Monterey (we stayed at the uber-convenient Portola Hotel & Spa at Monterey Bay) out to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park for the start of the race, leaving plenty of time to eat, stretch, meditate, take selfies, visit the porta-potties and generally do whatever you need to do to prepare yourself for the 26.2 miles of hilly Pacific Coast Highway that await. The pre-race pasta dinner is always a relaxed opportunity to convene with friends beforehand, and the post-race spread for B2B finishers is among the best I’ve seen at any race. The BSIM organizers could easily skate by on the course’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean and jaw-dropping vistas—instead, their assiduous attention to detail is the cherry on top of a very satisfying sundae Sunday long run.

SWAG: The swag for Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge finishers is among the best you’ll find anywhere. In addition to the standard clay finisher medallion (which itself is one of the best in racing) and tech tee, B2B’ers receive a second finisher medallion, long-sleeve tech tee inscribed with the B2B logo and nicely crafted, embroidered ASICS finisher jacket.

Boston 2 Big Sur swag_bch

Boston 2 Big Sur finisher swag included dual medallions and a nicely embroidered jacket (back shown)



April 24, 2016 (start time 6:45am)
26.37 miles from Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park to Carmel, CA
Finish time & pace: 3:44:21 (second time running the Big Sur International Marathon), 8:31/mile
Finish place (BSIM): 366 overall, 267/2,024 M, 40/293 in M 45-49 age group
Number of finishers (BSIM): 4,160 (2,024 M, 2,136 W)
Finish place (Boston 2 Big Sur): 130 overall, 81/175 M
Number of finishers (Boston 2 Big Sur): 402 (175 M, 227 W)
Race weather: blustery; cool & cloudy at the start (temp 54°F), cool & partly sunny at the finish (temp 58°F)
Elevation change (Garmin Connect): 2,083 ft ascent, 2,366 ft descent


  1. Great recap as usual, Mike, and thanks for the mention. Running B2B in 2016 was certainly a highlight of the year, and I look forward to returning to it in 2017. This time, the two justly famous marathons are a more sane 13 days apart.

    • Mike says:

      So glad we had the chance to meet Krishna, and just before the starter’s pistol fired no less—thanks again for waking me from my start line meditation. B2B was a major highlight, and if it weren’t for the Ice Age Trail 50, I could’ve happily called 2016 a success after crossing the finish line in Carmel. Have another excellent run at the B2B this year, I’ll be rooting you on from afar. And enjoy your extended Boston-to-Big Sur taper—but don’t let those legs get complacent! 😉

  2. dlubi says:

    Awesome work, Mike! Wonderful recap – I always really enjoy reading your posts and appreciate everything you share about your experiences. What an incredible, impressive adventure! Keep up the excellent running, racing, and raving in the New Year!

    • Mike says:

      Thanks so much, Danielle—for reading and for all your support. And same back at you, hope you have a slew of excellent new challenges/adventures awaiting you in your new hometown (once it thaws out!) and beyond. I may run too far too often, but I’m no Ironman. So keep up the athletic wizardry in 2017! And keep inspiring us monosport types. 😉

  3. Kristina says:

    It was fun to read this recap and it’s clear how much you enjoyed this race, Mike. Your wind-blown hair in the photo with the pianist gives a sense of how windy it was that day. Look forward to reading about your races in 2017!

    • Mike says:

      Thanks, Kristina! Honestly, it was tough holding the camera steady for some of those shots. There were times during the race when—silly as it sounds—I had the fleeting thought that a strong gust may just use the race bib pinned to my shirt as a parachute and float me out over the water. I can definitely confirm that running in 40 mph winds is not the best time to lack body fat. 🙂 And yet somehow, it turned out to be an easier day than Boston had been. Ah running, what a fickle mistress she is…

  4. Dan says:

    It was about time you posted this. Granted, I already knew the result, but it’s always great to read and see pictures of this awesome bucket list race. It was tough to go through this journey with you and not grind my teeth enviously, as both of the races carved into that tantalizing medal are life goals of mine … but alas, I will have to keep trying.

    It’s cool that Krishna recognized you and said hi. I haven’t ever met the guy face to face, just exchanged messages or the occasional mid-race supportive whoop. Hope to one day get a chance to get to know him.

    Happy New Year!

    • Mike says:

      Admittedly this one took a while to squeeze in, but that seems to have become a once-a-year theme here—I didn’t post my Dec 2015 Tucson report until Feb 2016, and my Avengers Half report from Nov 2014 didn’t go up until Mar 2015. On the bright side, I’m already caught up for 2016! And better late than never I figure, since Big Sur is such a unique and memorable race.

      Awesome meeting Krishna at the start line, which is so much more low-key than the one in Hopkinton, where you could cut through the nervous energy with a knife. He ran both races really well, particularly Boston, so much so that (as he mentions below) he’ll be doing the B2B Challenge again this year. And ICYMI, his recap of each race which he posted on Facebook is great. Hopefully we’ll all have the chance to meet & race together soon.

      And YES, do run all your training miles in 2017 chasing not one carrot but two, knowing that as soon as you ring that BQ bell, you’ll be in line to conquer two top-5 bucket list races in a single week. That’s some serious motivation! Happy 2017 back at you Dan, and thanks for hanging in there for this recap.

  5. csohaskey says:

    Big Sur is a great race. Boston is a great race. I am not sure if I would want to do them both so close together. Although I admit I would like to do both races again. And it is always fun to read about horrible wind and/or rain at a race when the weather was perfect the year I did it.

    You certainly got some amazing pictures at Big Sur. At least I am assuming most of those pictures are West Coast.

    Nice medal and jacket!

    • Mike says:

      Funny thing is, I almost feel like 6 days between races would be easier than 13 days (as it is this year)—though in the normal world, I guess either one sounds absurd. Then again, we stopped living in the normal world a while ago. I look at recovery time the same way I do the finisher medal, gotta earn it.

      I’d agree that adverse weather is best experienced vicariously… which is why we live in SoCal and read about what other runners wear to run outside during the winter. It’s like we’re living outside the rest of the country’s snow globe.

      And yes, I’m confident that between Boston & Big Sur, this was a weekend of medals I won’t be topping anytime soon. Not that I’d want to.

      Thanks, Chuck!

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