Skyline Ridge Trail Run 50K | California | March 1, 2008
Enjoying the Cool Breeze
By Gary Dudney
The Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve, start location for the race, is part of the high ground of the Santa Cruz Mountains which march up the middle of the peninsula that ends in the metropolis of San Francisco. The lower end of San Francisco Bay is visible to the northeast from the highpoints of the course. To the west is the coastal range and beyond the Pacific.
About a third of the course passes through fern and moss covered forest. The other two-thirds visit “open space,” sweeping grassy ridges and meadows dotted with gnarly oaks and patrolled by soaring redtail hawks and turkey vultures keeping a watchful eye from above. In the distance are patches of chaparral and criss-crossing forested ridges that look like a painter had brushed them in to emphasize the great depth to the horizon.
Wind and fog sweep the area almost continuously in the morning hours putting the runners in a quandary over what to wear. Sitting in my heated up van, I weigh the benefits of a heavy long-sleeve shirt against a lightweight short-sleeve. I usually stay warm on the run no matter what, unless it’s freezing cold, which rarely happens on the California coast. A shell or jacket is out of the question. I go with the short-sleeve and have to laugh at the start when one of the jumpy 14K runners (there are 14K, 27K, and 37K alternatives to the 50K) in long pants and three layers up top tells his friend he’s going to stop by his car to get a jacket.
Out on Long Ridge, part of an initial lengthy out and back that accounts for nearly half the race distance, I’m happy as a clam with my shirt choice. The running heats me up but a steady breeze is keeping me comfortable. It reminds me of when I would play hard as a kid in sweltering Kansas and then sprawl out on my parent’s bed in the one room in the house with air conditioning. The cool air blowing over my hot, chigger-itching skin from the noisy window unit was a relief beyond compare. All through this section of the race, under the trees, out in the open areas, past the Christmas tree farm and down by little Horseshoe Lake, the cool wind robs the hilly course of its bite.
The one long loop is followed by two lollipop loops out on Russian Ridge, which includes a difficult climb up Ancient Oaks Trail. The coastal oaks that give the trail its name are impressive, not fantastically massive, but picturesquely twisted and mannered, covered with lichen and moss, hung with fungus. The nearby Sequoias, however, might take some offense at the appellation “ancient,” for the Sequoias are indeed the ancient ones, and insist on calling it Teenage Oaks Trail.
The second time through this section, though, I no longer care what the trees might be calling each other. I am spent and a flat, metallic voice in my head has started announcing my own thoughts to me like I was in a bad Scifi movie: “ENGAGING CRAMPING HAMSTRINGS TO ASCEND HILL…INITIALIZING POWER GEL OPENING SEQUENCE…ACTIVATING ANTI-PANIC MANTRA RECITATION.” This goes on until I reach a promontory that marks the final half mile descent to the finish and I can feel like I’m home free.
This being one of the Pacific Coast Trail Run Series events, the finish is a welcoming place stocked with soup, chili, and especially friendly banter. Introducing a race series to the PCTR events this year seems to be bringing out bigger crowds and pumping up the enthusiasm, but the atmosphere is still relaxed and more focused on the joy of trail running and less on the competition. Maybe the crowds are just a natural response to the great venues and well managed races.