Big Sur International Marathon: First timers Ricci and Bilo bring home titles

CARMEL — Simon Ricci thought he was pacing himself with the leader over the first 6 miles.

And he was — sort of.

“It was the relay runner,” Ricci said. “At the 10k mark, he switched. I’m thinking now I have to chase this guy with fresh legs.”

Simon Ricci, 26 from San Francisco, took the lead early in the Big Sur Marathon and maintained his place, finishing first. (Arianna Nalbach – Monterey Herald) 

Yet, the 26-year-old San Franciscan felt comfortable, maintaining a pace that separated him from an elite field Sunday, turning his first Big Sur International Marathon experience into a men’s title.

“I hadn’t seen the course,” said Ricci, who completed the revamped race in two hours, 29 minutes and 30 seconds. “I just knew it was hilly. I tried to be conservative. I don’t know if I did a good job at that. It was challenging.”

The 38th running of the world-renowned event had two new winners as Peyton Bilo made her first-ever marathon look easy in being the only woman to dip under three hours, clocking 2:55.04.

When a portion of Highway 1, which was also part of the traditional course, slid into the ocean last month, the course was reconfigured. It started and finished at the Crossroads in Carmel instead of starting outside Pfeiffer Park in Big Sur.

Runners turned around at the 12-mile mark near Rocky Creek Bridge, running the final half of the race into a headwind with a stop in Point Lobos to create a certified 26-mile, 385-yard run.

“The out and back was kind of nice,” said Ricci, who showed little signs of having just run for over two hours. “That kind of gave you an idea of what you had to do coming back. The winds hit you on the turnaround. But it so scenic and beautiful.”

While Hurricane Point and its grueling climb were missing from this year’s marathon, there were still portions of the revised course that were hilly, with the winds picking up on an overcast morning on the return.

“At the 14- to 20-mile mark, you know you’re still far away,” Ricci said. “There were a lot of uphills that exposed you to the wind. I had to look out at the ocean as a distraction. Then you kind of forget the pain.”

Simon Ricci wins the men’s Big Sur Marathon

— John Devine (@JohnJDevine) April 28, 2024

One of the benefits of the course shifting into Point Lobos for a few miles was it enabled Ricci to see where his challengers were as the finish line began to come into focus.

“I could see the second and third runners,” Ricci said. “There was a solid gap. But the race wasn’t over. You don’t know if there are unforeseen challenges, how your body will react over the final 2 miles or so.”

Ricci, who averaged 5:42 a mile, finished five-plus minutes in front of runner-up Dominic Henriques of Reno, with Jonathan Ladson of Woodbridge, Virginia, placing third.

A pair of local runners rounded out the top five with Seaside’s Jonathan Argyle running 2:37.07 for fourth, while five-time Big Sur Marathon champion Adam Roach of Pacific Grove placed fifth in 2:39.07.

Roach, who won his fifth title back in 2018, has produced a top-five finish in each of his last 10 Big Sur Marathons, having run a career-best 2:27.46 in 2013.

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Bilo’s decision to make Big Sur her first marathon was simple. Her mother ran the race when it was altered in 2011 due to a landslide that shutdown part of Highway 1 that year as well.

“My mom ran this same course the last time it was revamped,” Bilo said. “So I was able to pick her brain a little. All I knew is it would be hilly.”

Bilo, who lives outside of Sacramento in Rescue, made her first marathon memorable and look effortless in winning the race by more than a mile.

“I’m more of a trail racer,” the 26-year-old Bilo said. “This is an epic marathon. Why not make it my first? I wanted to follow in my mom’s footsteps.”

Asserting herself after the leaders went back and forth, Bilo took off around the 13-mile mark, gradually increasing her cushion, while battling the elements — notably the wind.

“The headwind coming back was hard,” Bilo said. “I was by myself. That might have been a big mistake taking off too early. It got really hard.”

It wasn’t until Bilo was running through Point Lobos with roughly 4 miles remaining that she realized she had a commanding lead.

“I saw my friend on the other side when I was coming out,” Bilo said. “She told me I had a big lead. I couldn’t tell. But I was still nervous.”

The closest competitor to Bilo was Frida Falk of Panama, who finished in second at 3:02.03. A native of Sweden, the 43-year-old recently ran a 1:29.49 half marathon on Feb. 11 in Barcelona.

The gleam on Bilo’s face was priceless as she stretched her arms up out in crossing the tape.

“This was so fun,” Bilo said.

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