In Memory of Races No Longer With Us

AJWs TaproomSome of my fondest running memories of the past 15 years have come in small, low-key, off-season races. This time of year, especially, I find myself reflecting back fondly on three races in particular that were wonderful little events and that are, sadly, no longer with us.

The San Juan Trail 50k in the Cleveland National Forest outside San Juan Capistrano, California was a long-time staple of the Southern California running scene. Beginning and ending in the Blue Jay Campground, the SJT50k was joyfully directed by the inimitable Baz Hawley for years. I recall running it back in March of 1999 along with a who’s who of ultrarunning at the time. Among others toeing the line back then were Ian Torrence, Nate McDowell, Tom Nielsen, Ben Hian, and Scott Jurek. I was sad to see the race discontinued but also heartened to know that the memories live on.

In January, 2000, while living in Arizona, I had the pleasure of running the Phoenix National Trail 50 Mile in South Mountain Park south of downtown Phoenix. This great race, directed by Joe Galope, was only around for a couple of years but garnered quite a following. I recall that year in particular being impressed with a young 24-year-old kid who came down from Colorado for the event. He was a tall guy with a hat pulled down over his eyes. Over a couple beers at the finish line he introduced himself. Little did either of us know that seven years later Hal Koerner would snag the first of his two cougars at Western States.

Perhaps my favorite off-season winter race was the Ghost Town 38.5 Mile in Hillsboro, New Mexico. I traveled down from Idaho twice to run this little gem in 2009 and 2010, finishing second both times, including to the up-and-coming Nick Clark. Susan Reynolds was the race director and she did an extraordinary job of welcoming us all into this wonderful little corner of the world. From her tremendous pre-race hospitality to her extraordinary post-race, green-chile enchiladas, Susan knew how to put on a first rate, low-key, old school, boutique ultra.

To me, it’s always sad to see races discontinued but there is also something neat about it. When a race is gone, the memories seem a bit more rich. Capturing a moment in time that cannot be replicated somehow makes the impact meaningful. And, in the end, isn’t that one of running’s greatest gifts? I tend to think so.

Bottoms up!

Great Lakes Brewing Company Edmund Fitzgerald Porter AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Great Lakes Brewing Company in Cleveland, Ohio. They have produced what is to me the perfectly balanced Porter, the Edmund Fitzgerald Porter. And, what’s not to like about a beer named after one of the legendary road ultras of all time. A race that, too, is sadly no longer with us.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What races have gone from your local communities and do you miss not running anymore?
  • Can you share a story from a now-gone trail race?
Chase Duarte, 1998 Phoenix National Trail 50-Mile, Phoenix, AZ

Chase Duarte, 1998 Phoenix National Trail 50 Mile. Photo: Ken Gray

Steve Mahieu, 1998 Phoenix National Trail 50 Mile, Phoenix, AZ

Steve Mahieu, 1998 Phoenix National Trail 50 Mile. Photo: Ken Gray

Eric Benson, 1998 Phoenix National Trail 50 Mile

Eric Benson, 1998 Phoenix National Trail 50 Mile. Photo: Ken Gray


There are 10 comments

    1. @ethan_salter

      When/where was that? I live about 3 miles from Castle Rock. There's a yearly 50K from Round Valley to Castle Rock nowadays. I always thought someone could put together a "UTMD" circumnavigation of Mt Diablo, which would be pretty cool.

  1. TxUltraRunner

    Sunmart – never got a chance to run it as I wasn't a runner then. Heard great things about it. Elites from all over came to Texas for the event. Don't really know what happened but it would have been nice to have run it. The director brought back the race but renamed it Texas Trails and it doesn't feel like the old Sunmart I've heard good things about.

  2. pacifictrek

    On that note, there are some trails that I will never run again. I ran on the trails and I had experiences on them that I will not forget and will never have again.

  3. SeanMeissner

    Sisters Poker Run was a really fun, low-key, end-of-the-season ultra organized by Sisters Little Ultra Team member #2, Fatboy, for about 5 years in the mid-2000s. We'd usually get about 30-40 runners/poker players, run anywhere from 34-38 miles on the trails around town, and collect cards at each aid station along the way. The person with the best poker hand at the finish won. A couple times, the first finisher would say they won. They didn't, as it didn't matter how fast you ran, but just how good (lucky) you were at picking cards. Since we were playing poker, naturally, adult beverages (and jello shots) were provided at the aid stations, and possibly even in a water bottle or two. There were vandalized markers, lost runners, dogs leaving their owners at aid stations and running with other people, precipitous river crossings on flimsy planks, wet river crossings, and always rice krispies treats (Fatboy's favorite). Good times on the Peterson Ridge, Metolius-Windigo, Sisters Tie, Black Butte Base, and other area trails with great friends!

  4. Ty_Johnson

    The San Juan Trail 50k is still going on. Baz is still running it. I ran some of his other races out of Bluejay Campground last year. I had never met the man before then, but first thing he did when he saw me was give me a hug. He is an awsome guy and those are great races.

  5. LGarten

    Sierra Nevada Endurance Runs with NorCal Ultras. Lake of the Sky 36 miler in Tahoe. Last Chance 50 miler. Bishop 100k. There are lots of races in the Northern California area that have gone away. On the bright side, there are tons of new ones put on by great race management companies.

  6. pellirunner

    My first ultra, 1990 Mad River 50k. Had to travel a ways, so knew no one there. Who would know how poorly I would do? I was reciting poetry en espanol:

    "Vida sin amigo,
    "Muerte sin testigo"

    I think it was the last year it was held.

    Doc Holliday 35 mile, 1991, in Glenwood Springs, CO. Big race. I guess it was too successful and was never held again.

    And, yes, Lake of the Sky 36 mile. I ran the last one. Dang…


  7. gag4u

    Cheat Mountain 50-mile in WV was a cool event. A summer night run, it began at 9pm. It was like running the second half of a 100-mile, running into sunrise.
    The event is gone, but the good folks who directed and volunteered there are still around, just doing different things._

  8. Jay Anderson

    Baldy Peaks 50k. RD (the late) John Davis said to expect your finishing time to be about your 50 mile PR. In my case 50 mile mountain PR (8:11 vs. 8:12). Legendary climbs of 6k in 6 miles, then 4k in 4 miles. Mr. Trail Safety was RD the year I ran it. I also ran a modified version on my own, finishing on the 3 T’s trail.

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