Big Sur: Sensory treat of wind, waves and vistas

The Big Sur International Marathon follows one of the most majestic coastlines in the world. Not a fast course by any means with relentless hills and the potential for cold weather and heavy winds, it’s the scenery that attracts most marathoners to this race.

Vermont runner Dot Helling rallied together some girlfriends to do the marathon in late April and spend a long weekend exploring the California coast.

“It was the first time I didn’t have a conflict with (the) Boston (Marathon) and have been in marathon form. I have always wanted to do this race,” Helling said. Placing third in her age group, she felt steady and strong throughout the race while enjoying the sights and sounds the whole way. “The course was really superlative (with) lots of energy and music along the way,” she said.

Fellow Vermonter Debbie Tirrito agreed.

“I like the openness of the course, the scenery, the hillsides and the wind, although it was challenging,” Tirrito said.

This was Tirrito’s third Big Sur, and although she was unable to train on hills, having wintered in Florida, she felt pretty good.

Tirrito’s advice to others running Big Sur: “Don’t be too quick to dump your clothes. It got so cold and windy after the first six miles and didn’t warm up again until the last six miles.”

Acknowledging her lack of training, Oregon resident Merill Creagh still appreciated the views and the beautiful music along the way.

“It was a testament of pain and suffering, but I can’t complain. I didn’t train,” Creagh said. “I would definitely do it again, only next time I would train. That’s kind of an important piece.”

Spending a few extra days before and after the race was a luxury for all of the women, and their recommendation to others making the trip.

A huge factor at Big Sur is weather, which can range from gale-force winds, hail and fog to mild temperatures, clear skies and gentle breezes. This year, the wind proved challenging after Mile 5.

“I didn’t expect the hellacious headwind and fog. That was kind of a surprise,” Creagh said. “Bring gloves and extra clothes. I forgot it can be so cold on the coast. Be prepared for everything.”

Race officials estimate that the wind can add up to 20 minutes to your best marathon time. This year, the gusts were formidable in some places. However, it’s best not to worry and embrace whatever Mother Nature sends your way. This race is all about the scenery.

In addition to the splendid views, it was a weekend of friendship, fun and sightseeing. The group truly enjoyed each other and packed many memorable moments into the long weekend.

“It’s been so wonderful to be around all these high-energy, positive women,” Creagh said.

“I would do it again if my friends would do it with me,” Helling said. “It was a great group of women, and I had a wonderful time.”

The tough reputation of this race is definitely offset by the stunning views and beauty of the rugged California coastline. Taiko drummers, grand-piano music, whimsical mile markers and fresh strawberries are just some of the unique and special treats that will tickle your senses.

Registration for Big Sur 2013 will open July 16.

Reach Marjorie Brinton at runswim55@gmail.com.