I'm not sure if it was the promise of lovely trails through the Santa Cruz Mountains,
the free entry including aid and T-shirt, or the fact that Bay Area ultrarunners
were hankering for a birthday run after John Medinger's Epiphany Ultra was cancelled
this year, but the inaugural Stevens Creek 50K on March 23 attracted 30 starters,
along with 8 in the accompanying 20-miler. Alas, it also attracted a rare day of
rainy, cold (Bay Area cold - 50's), and windy weather.
The race starts from the main ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains and drops quickly into Stevens Canyon, crossing Stevens Creek less than a mile from its headwaters. After a day of rain, what is usually a dry- foot crossing was anything but. Fred Vance, "El Cuervo Loco", took off like a shot and led the runners down the canyon to the point where the route crosses the creek yet again, this time at ankle level. From there the route climbs for five miles up Table Mountain to the turnaround at Saratoga Gap. By this time, favorite Andy Black had taken the lead in the 50K, led only by Ian Hersey and several other of the 20M speedsters.
Doubling back from Saratoga Gap, the route crosses into Long Ridge on the west side of the ridge, which normally affords beautiful views all the way to the Pacific. Normally, but not on race day. Instead, the runners had to concentrate on foot placement in the mud (claims in the course description that "course drains well and only minor mud will be encountered" notwithstanding) and keeping the wind from blowing their hats off, something which no doubt contributed to a number of runners, including Andy, getting off course at one time or another in the race.
The first one back to the start at Horseshoe Lake was indeed Ian Hersey. Ian, a sub-3-hour marathoner, had scoffed at the idea that 3 hours would be a challenge on this "mere" 20-miler. He actually didn't arrive at the finish line until 3:09:35, but had "finished" at 2:57:52 and then spent 10 minutes wandering around parking lots looking for the cleverly hidden finish line. His 9:02 pace is indeed impressive for the course and conditions. Beverly Anderson-Abbs, who came all the way from Red Bluff, was first female in 3:53:58, edging out Lina McCain by just 20 seconds.
In the 50K, self-proclaimed mudder Fred Brooks had overtaken Andy Black, and led into the 20-mile aid station by a minute and a half. The rain had actually stopped just as the race started, and most of the first 20 miles is run under tree cover anyway. But by the time runners reached the 20-mile point, the rain had returned. For nearly half the field, the prospect of heading out for the last 11 miles across an exposed ridge was too intimidating. The R.D. might even have joined them had the prospect of DNF'ing one's own birthday run not been too much to contemplate. 17 hardy runners pressed on through Skyline Ridge and Russian Ridge to the turnaround and then back to the finish. Fred, Andy, and Kap'n Kirk Boisseree took the top three places for the men and Kristina Irvin finished as first, and only, woman. The winning time of 6:03:04 was undoubtedly affected by conditions; the course record is unlikely to stand after next year.
Finishers were treated to racing T-shirts with a full-color picture of Stevens Creek on the back courtesy of Stevens Creek Software, sub sandwiches, and delicious carrot cake cupcakes featuring the Stevens Creek Software logo. As with most ultras, and even more so because of the rain and windy conditions, the real heroes were the volunteers - my wife Debi Jamison, who served as chief organizer at the finish line, and aid station workers Karen Wells, Rick Schaefer, Bruce Linn, Susan Vance, Nicky Vance and her friend Nola, and Chuck Baughman. Also pitching in with critical help and food were Fred Vance, Kristina Irvin, and Andy Hergert; Greg Favor helped with course marking. All were invaluable.
As an R.D., I was shocked by the number of people who the race attracted (I was initially expecting 6-10 people!), quite pleased with the overall result, and definitely bummed by the weather. My primary reason for putting this race on was to share some beautiful trails with my fellow runners, and in general I did succeed in that. But part of that beauty is the spectacular view from Russian Ridge, which is one of the few places where you can see the entire San Francisco Bay Area and the Pacific Ocean at the same time. On race day, however, the views were non-existent. The course was also atypically muddy, which means runners had to spend more time looking down and less time looking around and appreciating their surroundings. Needless to say, planning for next year's edition on March 22 has begun; good weather and no mud are virtually a certainty.
Complete results for the race are online