The minute I looked at the Stevens Creek 50k map I knew it would be a great course. The 31 mile route completes an aesthetic and comprehensive tour of the gorgeous Upper Stevens Creek watershed and Skyline South Region, including narrow single tracks in Douglas Fir and hardwood forest, stream crossings, and wide views across expansive meadows to the Pacific Ocean and the entire Bay Area. I train in this area, but seeing all the landscapes from Saratoga Gap to Rapley Ranch at once was truly rewarding. It is indeed one of the most scenic 50k courses in the country.
More photos and details after the jump!
Weather is a big factor in this area of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The open areas on Long Ridge and Russian Ridge are susceptible to strong headwinds and searing heat this time of year. In the days leading up to this race, the Bay Area was going through a mini heat wave with temperatures soaring into the 90’s and I was worried about a repeat of last year’s extreme heat. Fortunately, the weather pattern radically changed on Saturday and by Sunday a bona fide weather system was approaching leaving race day conditions overcast and comfortable in the lower 60’s – idyllic running weather as far as I’m concerned. There was a bit of wind on Russian Ridge, but I took solace from the fact that it can be much windier up there. Later that afternoon/evening, the system moved ashore producing the first substantial rain of the season in the SF Bay. It was unsually early for such a soaking rain. In fact, San Francisco Airport has never before seen rain on September 13th and yesterday it rained 0.27 inches!
Through my training runs in the area, I knew that the previous course record of 4:27:25 by Lon Freeman was feasible but going sub 4 hours would be difficult. There is over 5,000 feet of elevation gain on the course and virtually no flat real estate to push the pace. I reached Saratoga Gap aid station in about 1:22 (11 miles) and the Skyline Ridge aid station in 2:24 (19.5 miles). With 11.5 miles to go and 95 minutes to go sub 4 hours, it seems very possible, right? Well, the last portion of the race is challenging with five separate hill climbs – none of them huge, but each of them are taxing. I temporarily talked myself out of sub four climbing the Ancient Oaks Trail, but when I arrived at the Russian Ridge parking lot in 3:43 with a little over 2 miles to go I knew I could do it with one more hill to go! I made it in 3:58:37, tired but happy to enjoy such a beautiful day on the trails. I felt pretty solid throughout the run and I think I am finally starting to nail down a hydration and nutrition routine.
Race organization was fantastic – so good that RD Steve Patt gets to run in his own race! There is no race fee, but donations are suggested for the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, which has played a large role in helping to protect habitat and open space in the Bay Area. All finishers received a sweet bandana with a trail map of the South Skyline Region Trail system. Sandwiches and chocolate zucchini bread also greeted the runners and volunteers at the finish. For the win, I received a very nice plaque with a picture of Stevens Creek. For the course record, I received a bottle of wine from Picchetti Winery! Pierre-Yves Couteau finished in second and Jason Reed was third. Complete results here. Congrats to all the participants and thanks to the race director and all the volunteers for a great day on Skyline!