This past weekend the founding Race Director Scott Mills and myself, the current Race Director Brian Gonzales, ran the entire 2017 Noble Canyon 50k course – the whole enchilada! It was a special day for me and something we have talked about doing together for many years.
In order to avoid as much heat of the day as possible we kicked off the run with an “alpine” start; our feet hit the trail at 5:30 a.m., about an hour before sunrise! Twilight was just starting to hint, plus the first mile of the course is on asphalt so no headlights were needed. We started from the new grassy field at the Pine Valley Bible Conference Center and headed out the main entrance. Soon the sun came out and rose up above the mountainside. We enjoyed the classic climb up the main Noble Canyon trail.
We navigated the technical trail and passed the Big Tree aid station, completing the fun Noble trails up to Penny Pines. After crossing Sunrise Highway we turned right on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). We were treated to the most spectacular views of the Anza-Borrego Desert, which somehow never disappoint. This single-track trail skirts along the edge of a big drop-off with great views of the desert and includes the last big climb of the first half of the course.
We passed through the Rat Hole aid station, crossed back over Sunrise Highway and set out through the Mount Laguna trail network; which includes more single-track, tall pine trees, and a cruise around the edge of Big Laguna lake.
The run down Noble Canyon was so much fun! Sweeping single-track for the first few miles under the canopy of more trees, then we hit all the very technical, rocky, and exposed sections – including the “stairway to hell.” It was starting to warm up. We came across other runners and all of us shared some time on the trails together. I did take a small tumble on one of the rocky sections; I walked it off then continued the gallop down the mountain.
We reached Pine Creek Road and I retrieved the ice water I had previously stashed. The cold ice was fantastic! By mile 28 Scotty was true-to-form as an endless energy machine and kept up the steady pace. I was starting to feel the miles and the warmth of the day so I told Scotty to go ahead and wait for me at the Bible Camp. He cruised up Big Sandy and finished strong and chilled for me on a rocking chair in the shade.
The final climb of the Noble Canyon 50k course has many names: Big Sandy, Sandy Knoll, The Sierra, The last twist of the knife, The Sandy Devil, The Gauntlet… you get the idea. This climb is like a right-of-passage for San Diego ultrarunners. Ask anybody about their Noble Canyon experience and they’ll likely include this climb in their story. And though I have heard all the stories and have run that exact section countless times, as the RD I have not run Big Sandy on 29 mile legs in the heat of the day, until now. All I can say to those who have not experienced it yet: it does live up to its name(s).
After cresting the final climb I trotted down the final scenic trails to the lower trail-head, then finished the last mile along the asphalt and was happy to enter the Bible Camp and the Finish area!
31 miles with a great friend and trail-running mentor. It was a day to remember and be grateful for. I love this year’s course. It’s tough, beautiful, and worth all the effort. Good luck to everyone running the Noble Canyon 50k this year, you’re in for a real treat. We know.
And thanks Scotty!
See you on the trails. – Brian Gonzales, Noble Canyon 50k RD
Gonzo, thanks for inviting me and planning such an iconic day….I’ve never had more fun running the Noble Course….and that includes all the variations over the years. I agree, this year’s course is the best and I look forward to seeing all the runners pass by Big Tree Aid Station twice…. Scotty
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