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Changing Course Big Sur Marathon runs a new route.

Changing Course

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Posted: Thursday, April 23, 1998 12:00 am | Updated: 3:26 am, Sat May 18, 2013.

In spite of extensive damage to Highway 1, there will be a 13th Annual Big Sur Marathon this year. But it won''t start in Big Sur. Although the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) hopes to get Highway 1 open to Big Sur by the end of April, race organizers decided two weeks ago to change the traditional course of the race, in light of extensive flood damage and road washouts done to Highway 1 south of Bixby Bridge.

On Feb. 3, heavy rains caused mudslides that closed Highway 1 in 20 different places. The decision to change the route was made because CalTrans couldn''t be 100 percent sure the road would be open, given the continuing rainy weather and the unpredictable nature of repairing major landslide damage. Even if it opened, the road might not be paved, making it too hazardous for runners. CalTrans spokeswoman Val Houdyshell says the agency wanted very much to get the road open for the race. "We''re continuing to try to open the road by the end of April, and the Big Sur Marathon gives added importance to that goal. But this is still an emergency operation and our first priority is to give relief to the people of Big Sur."

For three months now, over 150 road workers, geologists, truckers, and engineers have been working ''round the clock without a break to get the road open. They''ve virtually been living on the job, but Easter weekend they got a break to see their families. "We thought it would be prudent," says Houdyshell. "Safety is a factor because people are really tired, and they''ve sacrificed so much already." So far, repairs on Highway 1 have cost $12 million and race or no race, the work will go on until repairs are finished. "The decision by race officials not to run the race into Big Sur does not mean we will slack off on our work to get the highway open," adds Houdyshell.

Business owners in Big Sur have mixed feelings about the race''s truncated route. "It''s a disappointment not to see it come here," says Janet Lezniak, manager of The River Inn. "We hoped the marathon would be the kick-off event to signal to everyone that Big Sur is open again." The Big Sur Marathon isn''t as big a money-maker for local businesses as might be imagined, given participation in the race. With the road closed for the runners, regular tourists can''t get to Big Sur. The spectators who do, sleep in Big Sur, but tend to spend their time and money in Monterey and Carmel. Nevertheless, this year any business at all would have been a welcome change. "Right now we would be thankful just to have our rooms full." says Lezniak, who has had no customers since late January.

Fear of roadwork delays is what pushed race organizers away from banking on finishing completion by race day on April 26. As a result, the 26.2-mile route, instead of taking its usual south to north path from Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, will be an out-and-back, starting at the Carmel River Bridge. Runners will proceed south down Highway 1, turn around on the far side of Bixby Bridge, and run back north to the finish line in Carmel.

The view will be a little different as well. The road will be down to one lane in places, and dirt piles may obstruct some of the spectacular views down the coast. But there are many other parts of the road that remain unscathed by landslides, and ocean vistas that will still make this run the most breathtaking marathon in the country.

Race Director Wally Kastner says he thinks the new route will actually be easier for runners because racers will only have to fight headwinds half the way, and they won''t have the two-mile climb up to Hurricane Point.

Liz Nilsen, who has run the marathon for the past eight years, says she thinks the race might be more interesting because of the variety of terrain, but perhaps a little slower. Nilsen, who has also run the LA Marathon, says Big Sur is unique because there are fewer spectators to cheer her on. "I have to imagine the mountains and the ocean are rooting for me. This year will be the hardest so far, but the most memorable."

Kastner says this year''s marathon will mean extra work for the event''s 1,800 volunteers. "It''s going to take a lot of work, and a lot of luck," he says. That work this year involves coordinating the movement of 8,000 participants from a myriad of locations to the starting point. Runners will have to pick up shuttle tickets at the expo at the Monterey Conference Center and be picked up at 4:15am the day of the race at the parking garages in downtown Monterey, between Tyler, Washington, Del Monte, and Franklin Streets, and from Monterey Peninsula College. Meanwhile, relay runners will be picked up at 5am at Carmel High School. Walkers will get picked up at Carmel Middle School at 6:15am, and participants in the KION 5-K will get picked up in the Barnyard parking lot. Spectators will park in the Crossroads area.

This year''s race will also encompass a new traffic plan. Everyone will be descending on the Crossroads area in Carmel, whereas in the past, they were more evenly distributed along the coast. Sand City and Monterey city police departments have contributed officers on bicycle who will be on hand to spot problems along the race route. Ham radio clubs are gearing up to help with communications. "You put all this together, and it should go off without a hitch," says Kastner.

In addition to the full 26.2-mile marathon, this year''s events will include a 26.2-mile, five-person relay, a five-K run, as well as seven-, 10- and 21-mile walks. The walks will this year will loop through Point Lobos State Reserve for the first time.

In recent years, the race has drawn upwards of 25,000 spectators and 8,000 participants. Kastner, says he expects similar crowds this year, and a record number of racers. Last year the Big Sur Marathon raised $80,000 for local charities, with half of the money going to the community of Big Sur for their library, health center, and other services.

On April 24 and 25 race participants can register at the Monterey Conference Center, where there will be several pre-marathon events. Jeff Galloway, the country''s foremost authority on marathon racing, will speak at Saturday''s Marathon Clinic. That event takes place at 1pm and is open to the public. Race registration fees range from $14-75, depending on the event. There will be no race day registration. The race attracts 1,800 volunteers from the area. People interested in signing up to staff water stations or other support jobs can sign up at the race office in Carmel or call them at 625-6226.

One major change from past Big Sur Marathons is the parking logistics. Shuttle buses will run from various locations in Monterey, including the back of the Del Monte Shopping Center parking lot and Monterey Peninsula College. CalTrans officials say they are working with race organizers to prevent traffic congestion throughout the region. As in the past, classical music and food concessions will provide onlookers with other diversions.

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