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The Monterey County Herald
Sports – Front Page Friday, April 24, 1998

Big Sur Marathon a sellout
By Sedona Callahan

The 13th Big Sur International Marathon has run into some bad luck .

For the first time in the marathon’s history, the scenic 26.2-mile course has been altered because of damage caused by winter storms to Highway 1.

State Department of Transportation crews have been working to get the road open, but recent rains have made the ground continue to slide, especially around Hurricane Point.

But even if the road was ready by race time, it wouldn’t be paved. And logistically, it would be tough to let the marathon run its usual course Sunday morning.

“I’d have to move 88 buses over the road in the dark, [shuttling runners and support staff to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park] and for safety reasons, I’m not prepared to do that,” race director Wally Kastner said. “There’s still a lot of dirt piled on many of the shoulders. We’d have to adjust our aid stations and relay exchange points, our ability to move our ambulances – all those factors led to a conclusion that to execute a good marathon, we had one option. We have runners coming from all over the world. We need to get them safely to the start and have a safe course to run on. We decided to do the loop course.”

The marathon loop begins at the Carmel River Bridge and continues to Bixby Bridge, 13 miles to the south, where runners will loop back and head north again to the finish line adjacent to the Crossroads Shopping Center in Carmel.

Until this year, the race has begun at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and continued north to Carmel, a length equal to the 26.2-mile certified race distance.

Kastner says this year’s marathon is sold out, in spite of the difficulties, largely due to the high ranking of the Big Sur run.

“A new publication release, ‘The Ultimate Guide to International Marathons,’ has ranked the top 100 marathons in the world, and we’re number five,” he said.

The publication lists other top ranking marathons as No. 1 Stockholm, No.2 Berlin, No.3 London and No.4 New York.

While the scenery from Bixby Bridge to Carmel is spectacular, marathon officials have tried to offset some of the difficulties encountered this year in using a looped course by increasing the music provided along the courseway.

Jonathon Lee, playing the grand piano on Bixby Bridge is enormously popular among runners, who often stop to have their pictures taken with him. “Probably all the classical music along the course, including the grand piano at Bixby Bridge, is one of the biggest draws of the race,” Kastner said.

The four marathons listed ahead of the Big Sur marathon in the “Ultimate Guide” are races that include more than 30,000 runners and are held in major cities of the world. All are professionally organized events. This year Big Sur race officials expect 3,000 marathoners, 150 relay teams, 300 power walkers, 2,200 runners competing in a 5-kilometer race and 1,000 walkers. All of these and other race-related events are organized by some 1,800 volunteers handling the hundreds of details, including doctors staffing the medical center, nurses in charge of the eight first-aid stations and bi-athlete police officers patrolling the course on bicycle.

Other volunteers fold the 9,000 T-shirts given out to race participants and put together an equal number of “goodie” bags. Area ham radio operators coordinate communications along the course. Volunteers assist in parking thousands of cars, getting food set up in the food tent and handing out water to runners.

“Marathons in the past have had the entire course to stage all our support on, and there was ample room for everything,” Kastner said. “This year we have to support everything on 13 miles, get all the people down and make sure the road is clear. Our volunteers are very active in making this happen.”

© 1998 Sedona Callahan