Sam Breed

Product Developer, Investor

Big Sur Marathon 2023 Race Report

Race overview from my very first marathon at Big Sur on April 30, 2023

me, completely spent after sprinting to the finish line
me, completely spent after sprinting to the finish line

We stayed about 2 miles from the start line in Big Sur, which meant that I didn’t have to wake up at 3am to catch a bus from Monterey down to the start. The resort we stayed at was able to shuttle me to within 1/4 mile of the start line, which bought me some extra sleep and spared me a bumpy 90 minute ride down a windy, hilly stretch of highway.

I woke up at 4:30, ate the breakfast I had packed, and was to the starting area by 5:20. I waited around for a bit before checking my gear bag, and then found a place to stretch. It was really crowded, over 5000 people! I downed 1 gel about 15 minutes before the start of the race. Based on my (self-reported) projected finish time, I was in the “A” corral and was at the very front. Gulp.

I started slow out of the gate, as there was a lot of traffic and it was tough to get locked into a good cadence for the first few minutes. I was shocked by how many people (dudes) peeled off the pack to go relieve themselves in the woods during the first two miles. The lines for the bathrooms were really long before the start but there was quite literally nothing else to do but wait in line for the bathroom. Weird strategy. The other odd moment from the opening miles was the significant amount of clothing that was collectively shed in the first 10 minutes of the race. Any clothing you dropped would get donated, so maybe a bunch of people planned on that?

I was feeling good and moving well after the first 5km. I ate another gel around 20 minutes in, knowing it was early but figuring that I should take something in while I was feeling good.

The race moved out of the trees and into a long, straight section of coastal highway with gently rolling hills. I was about 10 seconds behind the 3:30 pace group, which I knew meant that I was going too fast for my race plan. I slowed my pace a little bit, aiming for around 8 minute miles, which widened the gap between me and the pace group. This was a minor mistake. The wind started to pick up significantly, swapping between a crosswind and headwind every few minutes, but never stopping or losing strength. People’s hats were blowing off. Out of the pace group in no man’s land, it felt like I was running with a parachute. I took another gel around 45 minutes in and struggled running into the wind.

After 20 minutes in the wind, I honestly needed a break and had to pee, so I stopped at the 8 mile aid station for a little under a minute, used the bathroom, and drank some of my sports drink. When I stopped I could still see the 3:30 pace group, but they were long gone by the time I got going again. The wind didn’t let up and the course passed the lighthouse at Sur Point and started to climb as the highway lifted up along the cliffside for the next 4 miles. Climbing in the wind was brutal. There was some release at the crest of the first big hill, except that’s exactly where you come around a corner to see the next 3 miles of climbing immediately ahead of you. That section was punishing. I didn’t worry about pace at all, just tried to keep moving well, and remembered to keep eating and drinking.

I passed the half marathon mark around 1:48:00 so I felt like I was in pretty good shape. The second half of the course had lots and lots of rolling hills. Let me be more clear: the second half of the course was as grueling as the first half. I finished my handheld with a good portion of the race left, and I started to be on the lookout for aid stations to get water at every opportunity. I went through my gels a little before the 3 hour mark, having taken 8 up to this point, I was probably 1-2 short of what I needed. I only felt mild stomach discomfort once or twice during the second half, but nothing serious or prolonged. I took the cue to slow down a bit. I did not look at my time much, any watch glances were to see how much distance I had left until the next pace increase. I definitely wasn’t holding 7:45 in all those hills.

I felt ok but not great when I passed the 20 mile mark. I knew that it would be very challenging to step on the gas for the next 10km. I did my best to maintain pace, trying to maintain speed coming downhill and keeping my arms moving as my legs were starting to get heavy. At the very end, I had enough in the tank to sprint the last 1/10th of a mile. Maybe I could have done more, but I’m glad that I finished strong. I did not stop and I did not walk.


Finishing in the top 500 in such a big field is very cool! I think I approached the race cautiously, didn’t make too many mistakes, and stuck with the plan. I’m very proud of this result and I know I have room to improve.

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