The Big Sur Marathon Foundation mourns the passing of Big Sur International Marathon Founder, Bill Burleigh.

CARMEL, CA-  Big Sur International Marathon (BSIM) and the non-profit Big Sur Marathon Foundation (BSMF) communities are saddened by the passing of BSIM Founder, Bill Burleigh. Bill died at 8 December 5. 2023, three days short of his 89th birthday. The  founding father and founding spirit of an event that in 2023 was named the Best Marathon In California, Bill created what has become a prestigious bucket list item for marathoners internationally since its start in 1986.

Born in Alexandria, Virginia in 1934, Bill graduated cum laude from the University of Colorado, Boulder wearing his sergeant’s stripes earned as a Marine. He went on to graduate from Boalt Law School at UC Berkeley, and to serve as Carmel’s city attorney, and to then serve as a Monterey County judge for 22 years.

Along the way, Bill traded his wingtips for running shoes, completing his first marathon on his 50th birthday. He went on to launch the Big Sur River Run in 1980. Then in 1984, he noticed a simple road sign near Rio road in Carmel that read “Big Sur – 26 miles”, with that sign, an idea that would ultimately lead to the creation of the Big Sur International Marathon was born.

Not everyone was as enthusiastic as Bill about the idea, but if persistence is a virtue, Bill was a very virtuous man. After two years of refusing to accept no and overcoming one major obstacle after another, he secured the myriad necessary permits and permissions to close the iconic route for a marathon. Bill organized an inaugural group of volunteers that would later become known as the BSIM “Blue Jackets” Events Committee. This dedicated group of local individuals were assigned working areas up and down the coast to ensure that a marathon could be successfully hosted on the ‘ragged edge of the western world’ –  a slogan that would ultimately become the tagline for the Big Sur International Marathon. On April 29th, 1986 the first presentation of the Big Sur International Marathon was run.

Bill’s vision for the event remains largely unchanged today. He saw it not only as an experience, but in some ways as a performance with Highway 1 as the natural stage. After every two miles, a surprise would entertain and encourage the runners, whether it was a tuxedoed piano player on a baby grand piano at Bixby Bridge, or the Monterey County Symphony greeting runners at the top of Hurricane Point.

“Over the years, Bill traveled the country observing other marathons and to make sure he adapted good ideas to his Presentation of BSIM. he added music and mile markers along the course to make sure it was a whimsical, fun and ever improving event.” – Dr. Hugo Ferlio, BSMF Governance Board

Underlying the entire event was Bill’s enduring love and respect for  his community of Big Sur. He ensured that the proceeds generated from the event would always benefit vital services for community members both in Big Sur and on the Monterey Peninsula. To this day, the non-profit Big Sur International Marathon remains a community-wide event made possible through an expansive network of local non profit organizations and more than 2,000 volunteers.

“It’s hard to put into words what an impact that Bill Burleigh has had on the lives of thousands of people from our region and from around the world. Bill’s unique vision to create the Big Sur International Marathon has meant so much more than running shoes hitting the pavement. Empowering the community was a central motivation to his extraordinary efforts. On behalf of the Big Sur Marathon Foundation, we are saddened by Bill’s passing and grateful to have the opportunity to carry on the incredible legacy which he created.” – Josh Priester, Executive Director / Race Director.