Santa Barbara is known for having some spectacularly beautiful and incredibly difficult running terrain. When you’re not cruising along the coastline or rolling over farmland hills, often the only other way to go is straight up the mountains. Even though it can be quite painful at times, these seemingly never-ending and sometimes tortuous routes have a mysterious quality about them that seems to continually entice all kinds of runners, walkers, and cyclists alike.
What draws people to put their normal, flatland lives on hold to pursue an incinerating climb to the tallest peak in Santa Barbara? It could be the majestic views, or the “runner’s high,” the sense of accomplishment, a need to blow off steam, or simply the desire to mix things up and do something crazy. Whatever it is, taking on the Pier to Peak challenge is a Santa Barbara classic, and RootsRated has some helpful information for ensuring the best possible experience:
What is it : First of all, there is an official, sanctioned Pier to Peak Half-Marathon race that will be happening on August 31st, and you can sign up here . Although you can also do it by yourself or with running partners. Starting at sea level, the route climbs a mean 4,894ft, descends 9,87ft, and finishes at 3,906ft on La Cumbre Peak. The race itself begins at 6:30 AM, and if you’re doing it on your own, we highly recommend an early start too, as it can be quite hot and dry as you climb. Water and food are a must. Even if you are a marathoner conditioned to run 13 miles without water, this route will likely be harder on your body than anything you’ve put it through. The race has water every 1.5 miles, but for someone trying to go solo, a SAG wagon, shuttle-car, or caches along the way would be ideal to ensure a safer and more enjoyable journey.
How to train : While building up the endurance and strength to run 13.1 miles up a mountain may not be easy, finding places to train in Santa Barbara couldn’t be easier. Of course you can train on sections of the actual route, like Gibraltar Road, and it is always beneficial to be familiar with the route you will be running on race day. But whatever training level, it is always important to mix in hilly, difficult routes with flatter, easier ones. Some of the best recovery routes you can run are the Carpinteria Bluffs Trail, Bird Refuge and back, and the Cabrillo Beach Path. While you don’t want to train exclusively off-road for an on-road race, we recommend adding some trail running to your routine at least once a week because the steep Santa Barbara trails like Cold Springs, Arlington Peak, and Tunnel will provide great strength workouts for your legs and get your lungs burning similar to how they will be during the hardest sections of Pier to Peak.
Where to Refuel : So you’ve reached your goal; you’ve either collapsed in exhaustion or you’re standing with wobbly knees and a heart throbbing out your ears on top of La Cumbre Peak. The view is breathtaking, but certainly not as breathtaking as all that climbing you just did! Whether you feel like throwing up or putting down an entire pizza, your body needs to refuel. Those nice banana slices and mini sandwich wedges at the finish are a nice gesture, but they’re not cutting it for you, so here are three of our favorite options after you drive back into town. For the health-conscious athlete or weight watcher, a large Backyard Bowl with some protein will do the trick at least until your afternoon snack. For the breakfast-lover, Tupelo Junction gives you a full assortment of some of the tastiest comfort food in town with breakfast and lunch served 8am-2pm. For the I-earned-it-and-I-know-it runner, Santa Barbara Brewing Company opens at 11:30am for some incredibly delicious (and greasy) foods to go with their excellent beers brewed on site in decorative and functional copper tanks.