by Larry Carroll
You can easily recognize cowboys, because they wear ten-gallon hats, riding chaps, spurs and bolo ties. You can easily recognize ultra-marathoners, because they wear running shorts, a numbered bib, and suck down gel packets. But now that it’s time once again for the Old West Trails 50K, don’t be surprised if the line is about to get blurred.
On Saturday, March 9, Pinnacle Endurance will hold the fifth annual installment of their signature event. Over the last half-decade, Old West Trails has earned a reputation as being one of the more beautiful races in North America, giving runners the opportunity to bear witness to Anza Borrego Desert State Park in springtime. With manageable temperatures (typically 40 to 70 degrees F), a pristine desert landscape and a rainbow-friendly route, runners may become so enamored with their surroundings that they silence the screams of their throbbing muscles. Okay, well, maybe not.
“Your adventure includes sharing ancient trails with the ghosts of the Kumeyaay People, this region’s earliest known residents,” explains the event’s site, describing the historic landscape located in California’s San Diego County. “Travelers and adventurers of yesteryear also included: Spanish colonials, explorers & settlers from Mexico, Kearney’s Army of the West (guided by the legendary old west scout, Kit Carson), and the Mormon Battalion. During the famous gold rush era, prospectors and settlers often chose this southern overland route to reach California and its fortunes … come run in their tracks and enjoy the lands which gave them all renewed hope and shelter.”
Browsing through photos of past runs, you don’t see many cowboys — although the race’s logo is the silhouette of a runner wearing the sort of Stetson you’d expect to see on John Wayne. Instead, you see gorgeous desert blooms, multi-colored Barrel Cactus, and even the occasional tarantula. You also see cuts, scrapes and bruises all over the runners’ legs and arms — the result of brushing past all those prickly desert flora and slipping on rocky, often dampened terrain.
“We pride ourselves on providing you with beautiful races in beautiful places,” Pinnacle Endurance says of their efforts. “Ones that you will enjoy, while challenging you to do your best.”
Touting 2500 feet of gain and loss, the Old West Trails 50K claims that many runners achieve new personal records. Since many runners bring their families for the weekend and stay at nearby campsites and western-themed accommodations, the event promises a memorable experience in more ways than one.
The Old West Trails event is also known for having a tight-knit, friendly staff and pre- and post-race socials fueled by campfires and camaraderie — further blurring the lines between the ultra-runner and the cowboy.