Monday, June 11, 2012

Skyline to the Sea 50k, the race that almost wasn't.

Five days before the fifth annual Skyline to the Sea 50k, entrants received an email from race director Sarah Spelt that knocked the wind out of us all:
I am beyond sorry to announce that I am forced to close the doors at PCTR, effective immediately...
It's been no secret to the Northern California trail running community that Pacific Coast Trail Runs has experienced quite a bit of turbulence, especially in the last year, resulting in some cancelled races and even a no show. 2012 boasted a handful of successful races, the most recent being the Diablo Marathon and 60k just three days prior. Things seemed to be on the upswing, especially with the upcoming Skyline to the Sea Marathon and 50k being completely sold out. I'd been through the disappointment over previously cancelled races, but this time was different. I'd carefully chosen this race to be my first ultra. I was brokenhearted and angry, but it didn't take long for a runner coming from Illinois specifically for this race to create a Facebook page called "Let's run it anyway!" because, as she wrote, "I didn't run 710 miles since February for nothing". I joined to help plan this unofficial run along with people coming from Texas, Colorado, and Wyoming. I was hopeful again, seeing the supportive ragtag runners come flooding in with ideas and suggestions. Soon we had plans for a shuttle bus to the start and family members volunteering to post up along the course with aid. All of this came together just hours after the race was cancelled. We were taking things into our own hands.

Twenty four hours later, everything had changed again. Wendell Doman, original co-founder of PCTR, who left in 2010 to create Coastal Trail Runs, was now stepping in to put on the race. Other than the couple thousand dollars PCTR had put up for park permits, everything else would be coming at the expense of CTR. It was insane, to think someone could put on a successful race, starting basically from the ground up in just three days, but if anyone could, it'd be Wendell. He had been the one to engineer this race on the Skyline to the Sea trail five years ago. His message explained that everything was back on and that he wanted the runners to get the experience they'd paid for and deserved. Immediately, comments flooded the Facebook page. People wanted to volunteer, express gratitude, and runners wanted to know how they could donate money to help offset the cost (keep in mind we'd all paid our entry fees to PCTR of over $100 each with no promise we'd ever see that money again). The support was staggering.

Sunday morning, we parked our cars along highway 1 overlooking the ocean and boarded buses that would take us to the start of the race. Wendell boarded and introduced himself to immediate applause and shouts of "thank you Wendell!" He was greeted with the same applause and shouts at the start of the race as he thanked us for being there.

From check in through every aid station, the volunteers were incredible. I was clapped into every aid station and was immediately asked what I needed. Leaving one, I was even asked if I was sure I had everything I needed. They were attentive and upbeat, and I tried to thank as many as I could. The course was well marked with ribbons and signs. We had bibs with timing chips, and at the end I was given a coaster and hi-tech shirt. This race in no way felt like it had been organized in three days. As a first time ultrarunner, I couldn't help but feel like I was experiencing the epitome of ultra running experiences: a community of support and camaraderie. What came together on Sunday was nothing short of amazing, and Wendell didn't do this alone. Thank you to everyone who spent their Sunday making sure over two hundred runners were checked in, fed, hydrated, and crossing the roads safely. Thank you for handing me my first ultramarathon finisher's coaster when I crossed the finish line and my T-shirt at the end. Thank you to everyone who told me "looking good" when I wasn't. Thank you for making this day possible for me and everyone else, the day I got to call myself an ultrarunner.

Next up: My race report


  1. How incredible that this was your first ultra and it went down this way. Seriously inspiring! Congratulations x100. I ran my first 50K last Saturday and I know first hand what you may have been experiencing. The fact that it was pulled together under these circumstances makes it all the more sweet victory. I signed up for a PCTR in November, perhaps I need to check out CTR. Wendell sounds like a great guy.

  2. I was pretty impressed to hear they were running the race anyway, what a great running community the Bay Area has! I can't wait to hear about your race :)

  3. Nice story and thanks for summarizing the situation. Great read.

  4. Hi, Lia. Excellent summary about what happened. Is it okay if we post a link to your write up on the SttS event page?

  5. I can't wait to read your race report! What a great first ultra experience. Fortunately, all ultras seem to have that kind of support and camaraderie. You should definitely check out Coastal Trail Runs for the rest of your ultras :)

  6. SttS is an excellent first 50K, and like you, I was blindsided by its cancelation - that didn't seem possible with a sold out race. I'm so thrilled that the race went on anyway, and love that Wendell stepped in. I've done a number of Coastal Trail races and they are great, so I'm not surprised this one, which is a bit more complicated than the average trail race, also came out great.

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