I have looked forward to running the inaugural Skyline to the Sea 50k ever since I learned about it in the Spring. The concept is fabulous – a point to point 50k running from high on the dividing ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains to the Pacific Ocean at Waddell Beach. The trail passes through Castle Rock State Park and the famous old growth redwoods in Big Basin State Park. The Skyline to Sea trail itself is just over 26 miles long, so in order to make the 50k distance, a 7.2k hill loop was added on within the Big Basin redwoods. Total elevation gain is 3,000 feet and 5,600 feet of loss. The event was flawlessly organized by Pacific Coast Trail Runs (PCTR) who always provide beautiful courses that are superbly marked. I had a great run finishing together with Lon Freeman (8:09 Miwok 100k course record holder, 5:58 American River 50 miler) in 3:38:33 to tie for first place, a full 20 minute PR for 50k. The perfect weather (50’s to 60’s and mostly cloudy), net downhill character of the course, and nice trails made for fast times.
The point-to-point nature of the run necessitated a shuttle departing from near the finish at 6:30 am. The shuttle was reached after driving an hour from home so it was an early wake-up. The good news is that by the time I laced up in my Fireblades for the 9 am start, I was wide awake. The course started at Saratgoa Gap (2,600 feet) and the first 10.5k to Waterman Gap was mainly downhill allowing for fast times. By letting myself flow down the hill, I reached the Waterman Gap aid station in 40:20. The course heads up from Waterman Gap over the next 7.4k with a series of hills reaching the high point at the next aid station on the China Grade (1:14:47). I felt good throughout this section and down to Gazos Creek Aid Station in Big Basin Park (1:44:52) which is just over the half way point. I was in the lead at this point and not sure where second place was but Lon was just a few minutes behind me. From Gazos Creek begins the additional 7.2k loop which has a 650+ ft vertical hill climb (after all, there is still 3k feet of elevation gain on the course). Here is where the legs started to feel a little tired and I had to walk a steep part near the top of the hill. I made it back to the Gazos Creek aid station at 2:19:28. I knew it was 14k to the next aid station and 16.8k to the finish so I took a Clif Shot along to energize about halfway. The final hill up to Middle Ridge went fine, but my legs were tight for the long downhill on the other side.
At the point where I really needed a boost (where the single track switched to the fire road) the Clif Shot malfunctioned and I could not get it to open. After a couple minutes of struggling with it, Lon Freeman came up from behind and I had no choice but to start running and forget about the gel. I was never able to open the Clif Shot and carried it all the way to the finish! Lon was running a very even pace along the fire road and I ran beside him for the last 6 miles. It was great to run with such an accomplished ultrarunner that I admire. We chatted along the way which took my mind off my increasingly tight quad muscles. At some point we decided that a brutal kick to the finish would not be productive for muscle recovery and we would instead finish together (photo finish!). After all, we were already running far below both of our prior PRs. Lon was hoping to run under 7 minute pace for the 50k, but there was just a little too much course at the end and we finished in 3:38:33, just shy of 7 minute pace. In third place was Chris Ratliff of Santa Cruz in 3:49 and in 4th was Gary Gellin, running an awesome 3:52 for his first ultra.
After the race I enjoyed chili and snacks with other finishers. I then took a dip in the chilly Pacific Ocean as a natural ice bath – yes!!! The Patagonia Capilene shirts awarded to all finishers were awesome and I love the design for the event.
Overall this was a fantastic event and definitly one of my favorite courses. Congrats to all the participants and thank you PCTR and volunteers for a great trail run!