Posted by: James Wapotich | July 2, 2014

Trail Quest: Santa Barbara 100

While marathon running can bring to mind images of the original marathon run across the hillsides of Greece, ultra-marathon running or ultra-running, with its longer distances, can be more evocative of the feats accomplished by the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico or Incas in the Andes of South America.

An ultra-marathon is essentially any race longer than the traditional 26.2-mile marathon. Some of the more well known endurance races that take place in the mountains are Hard Rock 100 in Colorado and Western States Endurance Run in Squaw Valley, California.

Santa Barbara 100, formerly called DRTE 100, for Dirt Roads Trails Endurance and pronounced “Dirty 100”, takes place on the trails in Los Padres National Forest.

Santa Barbara trail run runners  los padres national forest

A runner in flight coming down Camuesa Connector Trail

Now in its fourth year, Santa Barbara 100 is one of the tougher endurance races around with close to 21,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. The route covers a surprising amount of single track trail, around 70 miles, and can be quite technical and demanding at times. The course also follows about 24 miles of unpaved road with just a handful of miles along paved road, making for a good wilderness experience.

The route leads through some incredibly rich scenery, starting along the Santa Ynez River and eventually making its way to the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains, dipping down into the Santa Barbara front country, before continuing along the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

This year, along the route runners were treated to late blooming wildflowers; from the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains views extending out across the city towards the Channel Islands; and, to the north, out across the expansive Santa Barbara backcountry.

Santa Barbara 100 endurance race trail run running 100K 100 miles miler DRTE

Santa Barbara 100 route

The race began at 5:00AM Saturday morning at Lower Oso Day Use Area, along Paradise Road, with about 70 runners hitting the trails in the pre-dawn hours.

The group was evenly split between those running the 100 mile race and those running the 100K race, about 62 miles. The 100 mile runners were also given the option to drop down to the 100K race at Cold Spring Saddle.

The course led runners along the road from Lower Oso to Upper Oso Campground, and from there along Buckhorn Road to Santa Cruz Trail. Here, the 100K participants continued up Buckhorn Road to the first aid station at the top of Camuesa Connector Trail. While the 100 mile runners continued along Santa Cruz Trail to Nineteen Oaks and then followed what’s sometimes called Mine Trail from Nineteen Oaks up to Buckhorn Road.

Both groups then continued down Camuesa Connector Trail towards Paradise Road, then west along the road to the next aid station. From there they followed a trail along the river to Arroyo Burro Road and followed Arroyo Burro Road to Matias Trail.

Santa Barbara 100 miler miler 100K endurance running ultra marathon DRTE

runners along Matias Trail

The route then continued east along Matias Trail, over to Matias Connector Trail and back down to Paradise Road. There runners continued east past the third aid station to Red Rock Trailhead. From there, they continued along the access road that leads to Gibraltar Dam. Near the dam, runners joined Gibraltar Trail, following it along the south side of the reservoir, past the fourth aid station, to Cold Springs Trail.

Along Cold Springs Trail, the route became more challenging, gaining 1,800 feet over the next three miles as it climbed to Cold Spring Saddle and the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

At the Cold Spring Saddle Aid Station, the 100K runners continued east along East Camino Cielo to Romero Saddle and the halfway mark of their race. While the 100 mile runners continued just a short way east along East Camino Cielo to the top of San Ysidro Trail.

Here, the 100 mile route brought those runners down into the Santa Barbara front country. The route followed San Ysidro Trail down to Edison Catway, then east along Edison Catway through Buena Vista Canyon and over to Romero Canyon arriving at the sixth aid station. From there, the 100 mile route continued along Old Romero Road up to Romero Saddle and the seventh aid station.

Endurance Running Ultra Marathon 100K 100 miles miler Santa Barbara DRTE

A runner approaching Ocean View Trail from Romero Saddle

From Romero Saddle, the 100 mile runners continued east along Ocean View Trail to Divide Peak OHV Road, and then followed the road along the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains to the eighth aid station, before arriving at the halfway point and ninth aid station. Here, runners began their return, retracing the same route they had just run.

The route can take, on average, anywhere from 24 to 36 hours to complete, and so a portion of route is run at night, with runners using headlights.

This year’s winner was Ginna Dhaliwal-Schneider, 30, from Toronto, Canada, who crossed the finish line at 5:42 AM on Sunday, completing the race in just over 24 hours. Originally from India, Ms. Dhaliwal-Schneider moved to Canada when she was 19. When not working, she spends her free time either running or climbing mountains.

“Combining those two sports together has always been a dream of mine.” Ms. Dhaliwal-Schneider told the News-Press, adding that in Toronto the trails are mostly flat, where she typically runs three hours a day.

“There were moments when I was so overwhelmed with the joy of being able to fulfill that dream, that I thought even if I don’t finish the race I’m just happy to be here.” Ms. Dhaliwal-Schneider shared after completing and winning her first race in the mountains.

Santa Barbara ultra marathon trail run runners los padres national forest

Race winner Ginna Dhaliwal-Schneider is seen crossing the finish line in the morning at Lower Oso

She had previously only run two other 100 mile races, both on more level terrain, winning the women’s division for each.

In many ways, the idea for Santa Barbara 100 began out on the trails. In 2006, after going through a challenging period in his life, Race Founder and Co-Director Robert Gilcrest took a backpacking trip into Sespe Wilderness which cemented his resolve to move his life forward in a new direction. Mr. Gilcrest, who started running in high school, decided to return to trail running.

“It’s very therapeutic doing a long run, you get into this place where everything just goes quiet, and all that thinking process just shuts down.” Mr. Gilcrest, told the News-Press.

“I like the trail system we have, and was seeing how our regional trails are not getting enough usage or repair.” Mr. Gilcrest added. And it was those experiences, out on the trails, that inspired Mr. Gilcrest to set about building a course and hosting a race that would showcase our local trails and help draw attention to the need to support them.

In 2007, Mr. Gilcrest began the permitting process with the Forest Service to host the event and develop a list of approved trails that could be used for the race.

The course has gone through several iterations and has faced a number of challenges along the way. In 2012, the race was canceled because of rain, and last year the race course had to be adjusted just a few weeks before race because of the 2013 White Fire, which burned part of the intended route.

This year’s route, with its mix of trails on both sides of the mountains, looks to be the official route going forward.

Mr. Gilcrest is supported by Race Co-Director Jakob Herrmann, who ran and completed each of the previous races. They’re in turn are supported by a number of other people associated with managing the event.

The race also sees over 40 volunteers who help staff the aid stations. As well as members from Santa Barbara Amateur Radio Club, who provide a crucial service of connecting the aid stations together with volunteer ham radio operators at each station. Santa Barbara 100 is also indebted to the Santa Barbara Ranger District for their support.

The next Santa Barbara 100 will be held July 11-12, 2015. For more information regarding the race go to

This article originally appeared in section A of the June 30th, 2014 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

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