Wow, what a day! This event has been something that I have had in my mind for a long time and spent the last 10+ months working towards making a reality. I am extremely excited for the way everything went, for how much better it can be in the future, and mostly for having added another fun, successful trail event to San Diego’s calendar!
Like almost anything we do in life that results in a large success, there is no way it can be done alone. I never could have pulled this event off if it weren’t for the help of some amazing people and I would like to thank them before I get into the full recap of the day. First, the support I received from the veterans of the local trail and ultra community was amazing! Keith Kirby, president of S.U.R.F (San Diego Ultra Running Friends), was incredibly gracious with helping supply equipment and gear as well as his time as an Aid Station Captain. He was accompanied at his aid station by Keira Henninger, the amazing trail runner and Race Director. She puts on incredible events and having her there as well as providing support, encouragement and advice leading up to the race was fantastic. In case that wasn’t enough experience on hand, John Martinez, the race director for PCT50, Cuyamaca 3 Peaks, and Oriflamme 50K was an Aid Station Captain. He was also another invaluable source of advice and information leading up to race day and truly helped calm my nerves when I had last minute questions. These are only a few of the unbelievable people that joined forces to make this race happen. There were a number of ultra running veterans manning the aid stations and roaming the course to keep everyone safe, the San Diego Mountain Rescue Team was there providing medical assistance, numerous friendly and selfless volunteers and members of the soon to be announced Off Road Pursuits Endurance Team (more info coming soon!) were on hand to help make this a memorable day.
Now, on to the races!
There were so many incredible athletes on hand and story lines during the day that it’s impossible to name and list them all but I’d like to hit on a few notable highlights from the day. I was ecstatic to see how many first time 50K participants chose to make this their introduction to ultra running as well as how many runners were taking on their first trail race of any distance between the 5K, 15K, and 50K. This was a major reason behind bringing this event to Lake Hodges; the location, trails, and environment make this a very accessible venue for new trail runners while providing an honest course and challenge for top level athletes of which we had quite a few in the various distances.
The 50K was led start to finish by James Walsh who has recently transferred his athletic prowess to long distance trail running and is taking races by storm! A week after winning the Whoo’s In El Morro 50K in a time of 3:44 he set the pace and took the Lake Hodges 50K in 3:47:42. In his own words, despite WIEM having about 5,000 ft of climbing, this event was more difficult for him because of the constant, steady running that the course allows. I’m sure a hard 50K the week before had a little something to do with it too! The women’s race was won by Denise Jackson who came in with a very solid time of 4:50:53. Something that was often discussed when I talked to runners in the weeks leading up to the race was the under-rated difficulty that this course would provide. While it’s a fairly flat course the major climb of the day, Raptor Ridge, is something that has to be taken on twice. The first time at mile 13 you are still fresh but when you return to this climb 10 miles later you are substantially more fatigued from the long stretch of false flats and mild rollers that take you to the turn around and back. One thing none of us expected when I announced this race was the temperatures. It’s been an unusually hot summer in San Diego and race day was no exception. Despite the late October date we had a 40+ degree temperature increase from the 7AM start time with the highs exceeding 90 degrees on parts of the course. These temps combined with the exposed nature of the course definitely upped the ante for the runners.
The 15K course is a fun, fast route that follows the same trails as the start and finish of the 50K. There were a number of great runners and new runners out to take advantage of a course that combines single track, double track, great views, and the Lake Hodges footbridge for a scenic run. Slater Fletcher came oh-so-close to breaking an hour and took the win in 1:00:59 while Elisabeth Plastridge won the women’s race with a time of 1:16:32. Probably the most challenging part of the course for the 15K runners was navigating the trails near the turnaround. With a couple short, steep downhills there were a handful of runners earning their trail badges (scars, scrapes, blood, twisted ankles, etc.) and with having to return by climbing these hills it adds a nice little challenge to the distance.
With a lot of the focus being on the longer 50K and 15K events, the 5K was definitely the hidden gem of the day. Other than the start/finish line, the course is completely separate from the other distances and received rave reviews from the fastest and slowest runners alike. It’s a great cross-country style, out and back course all on trail that mixes curvy single track, double track, and switchbacks for a truly fun course. Mike Haydell won the overall race with an outstanding sub-20 minute time of 19:16 while Celestine Arambulo claimed another podium spot in San Diego races with the female win and 3rd place overall in a time of 20:20.
While there were many great athletes on the courses, for me the most amazing story of the day has nothing to do with how fast someone reached the finish, but the fact that they were even able to show up to the start line. I heard Sharlie Kaltenbach’s story from her brother, a good friend and running partner, and was immediately in awe and inspired by what she has gone through and how strong of a person she is. Sharlie has battled Cystic Fibrosis and is only 7 months removed from a successful Heart and Double Lung Transplant. Let me repeat that because it needs to sink in. Only 7 months ago this woman went in to a surgery that would require a miraculous transplantation of her heart and both lungs with the hope that not only would she make it through the surgery but she’d come through and finally be able to explore all the avenues of life that had been withheld from her before. The surgery was a success and she has been making tremendous progress and truly is living up to her parent’s claims that she is a natural athlete that was never able to compete. Prior to going in to surgery Sharlie’s mother asked what she wanted to do with her new heart and lungs and her response was, “I want to run with Dax,” her brother. I am beyond honored and touched to have been able to be a part of them running this 5K together. A special thanks to the folks at Laces Running Company who I told about Sharlie and insisted on doing something to show how amazed they are by her strength as well. They were generous enough to donate a $100 gift card to Sharlie to help keep her running and adding to her list of athletic accomplishments!
The events were wrapped up with a Kid’s 1 Mile event that was a blast to watch. The kids were led out by the “Fleeing Gecko” as they taunted him from the start line and proudly let him know they would catch him and run him right over! This was definitely one of the funniest parts of the day for me.
With the 2012 Lake Hodges Trail Fest in the books I would like to thank all of the amazing participants that came out to join me for this great adventure and made it such a blast to host. You are the reason I love what I do and continually strive to make my events as enjoyable and memorable as possible. You deserve it!
Lastly, I would like to thank our sponsors and vendors that helped complete the festivities. In addition to Laces Running Company, thanks to Inov-8 and Injinji Performance Toe Socks for donating great prizes for our overall and age group winners. Thanks to Outdoor Outreach for being involved but most importantly for doing what they do and having such a positive impact on the youth of San Diego. Thanks to the San Diego Ultra Running Friends for their support with equipment and advice. Thank you to Baron’s Market for donating the race bags and being on hand to give out fruit and water at the finish line. Lastly, thanks to the Touch Massage Team for being there to provide post-race massages for all the runners and get your recovery started right away!