Steve Kniffen accomplished an incredibly demanding 100-mile challenge last week. He ran from Cambria to Big Sur (in three days of 25-mile shifts); and once there, he ran the 26.2 miles of the Big Sur Marathon — into a cold and brutally relentless wind from Big Sur to Carmel on Sunday, April 24.
In addition to that foremost challenge, Kniffen accomplished two additional goals: he wanted to run the Big Sur Marathon in less than six hours (his time: 5 hours, 51 minutes, 43 seconds); and he wanted to raise at least $10,000 for charity ($7,000 for City of Hope and $3,000 for the Ronald McDonald House in Los Angeles was raised).
“It’s kind of like climbing Mount Everest,” Kniffen explained, referencing his 100-mile effort Tuesday morning in a phone interview. “It comes down to this: you have to be mentally strong. How mentally strong are you, and how much pain can you endure?
“That was the test I wanted to take. It is the test that all crazy people do: How far can you push your body? When the body breaks down physically, how strong is your mind to be able to overcome the pain in your body?”
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Kniffen called the event the Yudovin 100 in honor of the late David Yudovin, a Cambrian who pioneered the art of courageous long-distance channel swimming.
It comes down to this: you have to be mentally strong. How mentally strong are you, and how much pain can you endure?
Yudovin died last year of a heart attack at the age of 63. A renowned channel swimmer who had been active since 1976, he is a member of the International Swimming Marathon Hall of Fame.
His wife, Beth, who served as support staff for Kniffen, said it was “an amazing, amazing high-energy weekend.
“The fortitude that Steve showed was incredible,” she said. “Knowing he had to get up the next morning and do another 25 miles. The attitude was incredibly positive … because it was so dangerous. There’s no bike trail” along much of the hilly part of Highway 1 near Big Sur.
“‘One step at a time’” Beth recalled Kniffen saying. “And it was just a wonderful experience. It was incredible.”
Four days earlier, on a crisp Thursday morning, Kniffen set out on his quest with a small contingent of runners and cyclists, running up Moonstone Drive, where they received a sendoff from four firefighters in a Cambria Fire engine across from San Simeon Pines Resort.
“We’re all family out here,” said fire Capt. Emily Torlano, who was joined by engineer Joe Gibson, SAFER firefighter Ian Van Weerden Poelman and reserve recruit firefighter Leonell Salas for the sendoff.
Cambrian managing editor Stephen H. Provost contributed to this report.