Though Santa Barbara’s Nine Trails 35-miler last month was Tyler Hansen’s debut in trail racing and ultra-marathoning, he is no stranger to the mountains. Hansen finished an impressive 58 minutes ahead of the next runner while winning the event. An assistant cross-country coach at a local high school, Hansen has been exploring Santa Barbara trails for a few years now. He’s developed a unique set of skills that has helped him enjoy the variety of trails here and his training helped him win a 35-mile race so difficult, it runs more like a 50-miler.
The blessing and the curse of the Front Country trails is that you always get more than you bargain for. Despite being just a few minutes from downtown, the steep terrain can be extremely difficult to overcome (Nine Trails climbs over 11,500 feet in 35 miles). However, all that climbing pays off immensely once you reach the tops of the trails and soak in the view.
Whether going for speed, distance, or simply slowly enjoying the ride, running Santa Barbara’s Front Country trails is one of the most satisfying ways to enjoy their incredible vistas, winding routes and challenging climbs. RootsRated talked to Tyler Hansen, the newly christened trail running expert in town, to provide the essential advice for anyone looking to begin trail running.
Stay Low at First
In order to prevent a trail running experience to revert to a hike, it’s best to start off with some easier routes. For beginners Hansen recommends San Antonio Creek Trail as it offers the flattest front country running with winding, rolling singletrack. To move up a notch, Jesusita Trail, one of Hansen’s favorites, begins with 2 miles of relatively flat trail before beginning to climb toward Inspiration Point. Another good route to take is Romero Canyon, not the trail, but the fire road, which is less steep and has a better running surface that climbs 6.8 miles to a beautiful panoramic view.
Get Out Early
Unless you are training for a race that will be in high heat, morning is the best time to run. Hansen explains, “the temperature is often 10-15 degrees warmer on the mountain than it is in the city, so it’s always important to bring water. Also the cool part about starting really early is you can get up above the fog and enjoy the sunrise over the fog. There are so many awesome sections to run to where you get an incredible view over the city, ocean and islands.” Hydration packs and energy gels become very important for longer runs, but a good rule of thumb is the earlier the start, the better. To truly beat the heat, Hansen recommends running with a headlamp before dawn.
Don’t Be Afraid to Walk
If you’re an avid, experienced runner, sometimes it can feel like a cardinal offense to walk in the middle of a run. However, on the steepest sections of Santa Barbara trails, walking can actually be a great asset. When the grade of a climb is too steep for your running stride to generate sufficient power, it is both faster and easier on the body to power-walk up. For added benefit push off of your knees with your hands to give yourself a little more power and save some of those precious leg muscles. Elite trail runners have used this trick for years to race up the extremely steep faces of Mount Olympus and it can work well on the steepest portions of Santa Barbara trails.
Mix and Match
Once you’re comfortable with some of the trails, the next step is to link routes between trails. Hansen adds, “with the network of trails your options for different routes are endless: you can run up one trail and down another by using the connector trails or running along Gibraltar Road or Camino Cielo to get to different trailheads.” A great 10-miler is to run up Cold Spring Trail, turn right on Camino Cielo at the top, and come down Romero Canyon.
One great way to learn more about trail running is to plug into the incredible trail running community in Santa Barbara by running with some folks from one of our favorite groups, the 400+ member Santa Barbara Trail Runners. Hansen says, “It is a very active group with people of all abilities.”