Fire and mud can’t stop this Santa Barbara ultramarathon

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This weekend, ultramarathons are descending on Santa Barbara’s frontcountry for the annual Nine Trails Race , a 35-mile trail run in the Los Padres National Forest.

Some trails were completely washed out after the mudslide in Montecito. Photo credit: Montecito Trails Foundation

Last year, the race was canceled after the Thomas Fire and mudslides in Montecito damaged many of the trails, including Cold Springs, San Ysidro and Romero Canyon. Since then, trail crews have been hard at work to get them ready for this year’s run.

“This race is a celebration of dedication and resilience by the trail running community, the Santa Barbara Trail Council, the Montecito Trail Foundation and the Forest Service,” said race organizer Luis Escobar. “This has been a group effort to restore the trails and get things back to where they’re supposed to be.”

The Nine Trails Race map (Albert Woolfok 1990).

The race starts at the Jesusita trailhead and traverses the front country to the Romero trailhead in Montecito, where runners turn around and go right back.

“There are races that have more climbing, that are farther, that are hotter, that have more technical trails,” said Kris Brown, who currently holds the fastest men’s time at 5 hours and 40 minutes. “Nine Trails is just a really elegant combination of all those things in a way that makes it really destructive. It’s too technical to run fast, but not technical enough to go slow, so you just never get a rest. It pushes you right to the edge.”

Race organizer Luis Escobar running the first Nine Trails Race in 1990. Photo courtesy of Nine Trails

Patsy Dorsey started the race back in 1990.

“I was doing ultra runs, traveling to different places and training on our trails, and I thought, ‘I want to put something on here and have people come to my home and see how beautiful our area is,’” she said.

According to Dorsey, apart from the gorgeous ocean views, what makes this race unique is the constant up-and-downs and trail conditions that change dramatically from year to year.

“Many people have fallen. I’ve had people with broken legs and wrists and ankles,” she said.

(From L to R) Race organizer Luis Escobar, race founder Patsy Dorsey and current men’s champion Kris Brown. Photo by Kathryn Barnes/KCRW

But as brutal as it is, Brown says the race’s informal nature gives it a relaxed, friendly feel.

“The start and finish lines are pretty much arbitrary,” said Brown. “There’s someone with a watch who may or may not be in the bathroom when you’re crossing the invisible finish line," which he says is officially Patsy Dorsey’s hug.

The race kicks off at 6 a.m. on Saturday, March 23 at the Jesusita trailhead on San Roque Road.




Kathryn Barnes