Posted by: James Wapotich | May 1, 2012

Trail Quest: Santa Barbara Trail Runners

Given how many people already run in Santa Barbara, combined with how many great trails we have available to us here locally, it’s easy to see why trail running has so many enthusiasts. Trail running gives one the opportunity to take their regular run and explore the local mountains at the same time.

The Santa Barbara Trail Runners is an informal group of runners created by Nancy Kaplan and Brett Larson. The group was formed about 4 years ago as Ms. Kaplan and Mr. Larson started gathering and sharing contact information with their fellow trail runners so that they could stay in touch and meet up to run trails together. As the group expanded and with the advent of social media they created a Facebook group called Santa Barbra Trail Runners, which now lists the various informal runs and meet ups being offered by its members.

Santa Barbara Trail Runners Ultra Running

Santa Barbara Trail Runners

Last year, members of the group thought it might be fun to see how fast they could run some of the trails they regularly run on, and that was all it took for Ms. Kaplan to move forward with the idea and get the word out. The idea was well received and their first trail race was held in March 2011 and saw about 25 participants. The race followed an 11-mile course along the Romero Trail and Old Romero Road, forming a large figure-eight loop.

The next race, held in April 2011, was an 8.5 mile course along the San Ysidro Trail and saw Lance Armstrong show up as one of the participants. Mr. Armstrong’s participation naturally caused interest in the group’s race to grow. Their Facebook group page currently lists 230 members.

The Santa Barbara Trail Runners third race, held in June 2011 followed the Jesusita Trail from Steven’s Park out past Inspiration Point and back again, roughly 11.5 miles roundtrip. At the end of the race the participants gathered at Steven’s Park for a potluck celebration, reflecting the grassroots nature of the group.

Ms. Kaplan’s own introduction to trail running started about 5 years ago, when she and Mr. Larson were out hiking one of our local trails and another hiker told them about the 9 Trails Run, which was a 35 mile course from San Roque Canyon to Romero Canyon along 9 different trails. Thinking that sounded like a fun way to see the trails, they started training, ran the race and Ms. Kaplan’s been hooked ever since.

Buena Vista Trail Ultra Running Santa Barbara Trail Runners

Along the Buena Vista Trail

“Our trails are really humbling. Running on trails is something you have to develop and it takes time to learn all the trails to get the distance you need without getting lost. You also have to learn to eat and hydrate wisely, you learn to know when you should run or fast hike a hill. And it takes your body a long time to understand the mechanics of it, to actually be able to run down a hill without slipping or falling.” Ms. Kaplan shared.

The Santa Barbara Trail Runners first race this year, in March, was rained out, and I was impressed by how many of the runners ran anyway and completed the 11-mile Romero Canyon Loop in the rain.

Their second race, this past weekend, saw around 45 participants ranging from 26 to 69 years of age and like last year’s race started along the San Ysidro Trail. The route followed took the runners up the San Ysidro Trail to the Old Pueblo Trail, over to Buena Vista Canyon and then along Buena Vista Trail, returning to San Ysidro Canyon along the Edison Road. The runners then continued back down the San Ysidro Trail to the McMenemy Trail, along the McMenemy Trail to the Hot Springs Trail, back up to the Edison Road, returning along the Girard Trail and back to the trailhead, making a large figure-eight loop of about 8.5 miles.

Both races were benefit fundraisers with the Montecito Trails Foundation, which does trail maintenance along these same trails.

If you’re interested in comparing your own time along this same route, the first runner completed the race in an hour flat and the average time for all of the runners was 1:35. Roughly a third of the participants were women and their average time was 1:42, while the men’s average was 1:30. The route sees a gain and loss of elevation of about 2500 feet.

Santa Barbara Trail Runners Ultra Running

Running along the Buena Vista Trail

In talking with Ms. Kaplan the members have also run on some great backcountry loops, including the Little Pine Mountain loop from Upper Oso, about 12 miles roundtrip. And an epic loop taking the Romero Trail up to East Camino Cielo, continuing along the Romero Trail down the backside of the Santa Ynez Mountains to Blue Canyon and then over to Forbush Flats, sometimes running as far west as the Gibraltar Sunbird Mine, and then returning along the Cold Springs Trail to East Camino Cielo, and back down the San Ysidro Trail and making their way back over to Romero Canyon, about 26 miles roundtrip.

Their next race coming up in late May or early June will follow the same course as last year’s race, starting at Steven’s Park and following the Jesusita Trail past Inspiration Point and retuning along the same route and will likely be a benefit fundraiser for one of the local non-profit trail groups.

For more information you can find the Santa Barbara Trail Runners Group page through Facebook.

This article originally appeared in section A of the May 1st, 2012 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.

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