The alarm rang at 4:00 AM. I had only been asleep for 3 hours, but it was time to go. I stumbled around Tyler’s apartment grabbing anything I thought I’d need…my running pack, some granola bars, a beer koozie, and toilet paper. Check. By 4:30 we were out the door, heading to Toro Canyon for the start of the 2014 Are You Tough Enough 65 mile race.
I had run the complete Are You Tough Enough race in 2013 with my buddy Rob DeCou. Immediately following the race (the longest of my running career) I told myself, and everyone else, that I would not be doing that again…ever. Tough Enough is an amazing event. Each year 20+ 5 person teams come out for a relay race across the mountains behind Santa Barbara, from Carpinteria to Solvang. Each year a few brave souls toe the line 2 hours before the relay teams to attempt the same course solo. That’s what Rob and I had done the previous year and I had no intentions of doing it ever again.
Are You Tough Enough 2014
This year a few of our friends had signed up to run it solo and Tyler and I were going out to run with them and use Tyler’s truck as a rolling aid station. Tyler and I decided to split the course in two, each of us effectively running a 50K and switching in the middle. Tyler said he didn’t necessarily want to run up Gibraltar Road this year so I volunteered to start the course.
Friday evening, knowing that I would only need to run 31 miles, I decided to head out to happy hour after work. As happy hour turned into happy hours I joined some friends in the local pubs and eventually ended up on the dance floor of a disco joint at 1:00 AM. Oops.
The alarm was early and annoying on Saturday, but I had to go. My friends would be at Toro Canyon and I didn’t want to miss them. Besides, it would only be 31 miles. Half way through the day I could drive the truck, relax, and drink some beers.
Tyler and I pulled off the road a few minutes before the 5 o’clock start and found our friends Tiffany Guerra, Maurico Puerto, Luis Escobar, Jadd Martinez, and race director Jim Kornell. Five of us donned headlamps and toed a non-existent starting line on the road as Jim let out a muffled “go!” and we were off.
Jadd had showed up to run hard on the longest race of his running career. A quarter mile in we were already watching Jadd’s headlamp bounce down the road and disappear around a corner. And then there were 4 (and a big red truck).
I ran with Maruico, Luis, and Tiffany through the dark rolling hills of Montecito until we took a sharp right turn up Gibraltar, a long climb up to the top of La Cumbre Peak. Somewhere on the grueling climb up the mountain as the sun was cresting over the range I thought out loud to Luis and Tiffany “maybe I should just run the whole thing with you guys…”. Note to self, stop thinking out load.
Once I verbalize something I’m pretty much dedicated to it, so next time we ran past Tyler’s pickup truck aid station I filled him in. “I think I’m running the whole thing today, so we need to figure out what to do with the aid and gear.” Tyler called in reinforcements. He sent a message to our friends Sean Garbutt and Cat Bradley to see what they were up to. They agreed to meet us at Highway 154 and take over from there.
We ran on across East Camino Cielo enjoying the morning sunshine high above Santa Barbara. At Highway 154 we made a sketchy road crossing, waiting silently to listen for oncoming traffic before making a mad dash across the 4 lane highway on top of the mountain. The relay teams would have a walkie talkie on one side of the road to call the other side to send the next relay runner on their way. The first runner would then get a ride in their crew car across the traffic, but we didn’t have that option.
On the other side of Highway 154 Tyler parked his truck and loaded our gear into Maurico’s crew van. Tyler put on his running pack and we took off down the winding road to the Winchester Gun Club…our group of 4 had turned into 5.
At the Winchester Gun Club, more or less half way through the race, we resupplied and prepared for a tough 9 mile dirt road that would climb a gnarly mountain up to Broadcast Peak. Just before we left Sean and Cat arrived and Sean offered to drive the dirt road with us. Jeff Cygan, another Santa Barbara trail runner, also joined us and our running group grew to 6, with 3 crew members and 2 aid vehicles.
By now the relay teams were passing us, a bittersweet event as I wished I was only running 2 legs of the course rather than all 10, but it was also a morale booster, having fun and talking with other runners and crew.
From the top of Broadcast Peak it was a long run down Refugio Road to the Santa Ynez Valley. A few miles before the Gun Club a dog had jumped a fence and started running with us. We tried unsuccessfully to turn her around and stopped several times to call and text her owner. The text we received back was “Tell her to go home, she knows where it is.” When we received this text we were almost to the top of Broadcast Peak, already 10 miles away from “home”. No amount of yelling and pointing would get her to turn around…she wanted to run with us and that was that.
We descended the mountains, dog in tow, and got back on paved roads winding through pastures and ranches in the valley. The dog, having already traversed 15-20 miles, would run with us along the road, then see a squirrel in a pasture and take off sprinting for a quarter mile chase. She would pounce around a bit, then b-line back to join us on the road. As we neared Highway 246 we found a leash in Maurico’s van to rein her in a bit. Sean and Cat tried to put her in his truck so she could rest. It was a good idea, but within minutes she had jumped across Cat’s lap, out the window, and back onto the road with us. She wanted to run.
The section along Highway 246 is always my least favorite of the run. We were all together, but to run along a paved highway with cars speeding by in the heat of the afternoon is a rude awakening after spending the day in the mountains. Sean had stopped at the main corner in Solvang and we took a quick break to hydrate and refuel. From there we ventured out separately, running through downtown Solvang and then back out into the rural countryside.
By this point everyone was on their own. Tiffany was out in front with Tyler chasing close behind. Mauricio was moving pretty fast and I followed with Luis right behind me. I attacked the last long hill climb knowing that the finish was a few rolling hills away. Jon Zaid stopped to check on me, he had ridden his bicycle the entire 65 mile course and we appreciated his help!
I came over the last hill just before sunset and saw the long straight stretch of road cutting through a pasture and ending in a grove of trees where I knew the finish line would be. I plodded down the road, excited to be done with the race, wondering what the heck I was even doing out there. I neared a group of cheering friends and runners and ran straight to Jim Kornel and the makeshift finish line. 13 hours and 55 minutes, just 2 minutes slower than my time last year. Success! Now beer!
Luis came in right after me and we pulled out camp chairs and cold beers and watched the last rays of light fade into the darkness. It was unplanned, unintended, but entirely worth it. It wasn’t the miles that were the accomplishment, it was the hours that I spent out in the mountains with some of the best friends I have! Who knows…maybe I’ll do it again next year. If you see me on the dance floor on a Friday night in Santa Barbra in early April it might mean that I’m running Are You Tough Enough the next day. https://areyoutoughenough.wordpress.com/
P.S. The story ended well for the dog too…after a 30+ mile day Tyler and I loaded her in the backseat of his truck and she relaxed there until we made our way back to the top of the mountain to drop her off at her home’s open gate. I’m sure she’ll be watching for runners again in early April next year.
Sean Garbutt, Cat Bradley, Tiffany Guerra, Muaricio Puerto, Chris Clemens, Luis Escobar, Tyler Clemens
More Ultramarathon running race reports here.