Saturday October 7, 2006
Saddleback Mountain Trail Marathon

(26.2 miles with 5,100 feet of ascents)
- Page 1
Rated "The Toughest Marathon In California"

Michelle places 1st female  and 6th overall with a time of 3:58:04

(67.5 year old "Foxy Grandpa" Doug finishes this insanity too!)
(Click on any thumbnail picture to see a larger version. 
Click on the underlined word
(VIDEO) to see a related video clip.)

There are big differences between trail races and road races.  Check out the the two charts below!

#1 - ELEVATION GAIN: The famous "Heartbreak Hill" of the Boston Marathon that occurs between mile 20 and mile 21 is an elevation gain of 80 feet according to Wikipedia.  The total ascents in this trail race was 3.5 Sears Towers = 5,100 feet!  Perhaps that is the main reason 10,000 runners don't show up?

The current world record holder for a road marathon averaged 4:24 minutes per mile!  The long climbs and altitude definitely slow you down.  Top female Michelle averaged 9:05 minutes per mile, while the top male, overall winner Rob McNair, averaged 8:21.  What is rather interesting is that trail runners do not look scrawny and anorectic as do many of the world class road marathoners.  Totally different genetics, muscles and training.

#2 - SCENERY: Hah! Take a look at the pictures that I took along the course!  Spectacular, beautiful.  (I bought a mini digital camcorder for backpacking that takes 10 mega pixel still photos and DVD quality mpeg4 video.  Only weighs 6 ounces (4" by 2.5" by 1.25" thick), so I rigged up a way to attach it my Camelback!  It was worth it!)

#3 - CROWDS, TRAFFIC AND POLLUTION: Huh?  Clean mountain air, quite peaceful solitude and #2!


After the race I downloaded these two charts directly from my Garmin Forerunner 201 (a wrist watch GPS) onto my computer (I added the notations and titles).  My 201 is older and does not pick up the satellites very well down in the deeper canyons or under heavy tree cover.  Newer Garmin models supposedly do?  I had to do some guessing whenever I saw long interpolated straight lines of no information that obviously dropped out some ascents, descents and distance.  This type of lost data error really pops out when you look at the expanded view of each separate mile of the course on the computer. All elevation readings obtained out in the open are accurate to 50 feet.

AND - just a couple of day after I posted the first pictures on this website, I get EMails from from my East Coast running buddies, Doug Schumann, PhD and Bart Guthrie, PhD.  They both have the later Garmin GPS's that are "supposed" to pick up better in the depths of the canyons and under heavy tree cover.  Bart also gave me a link to

WHOA!!  Awesome!!  You join and then upload directly from your Garmin GPS watch to their website.  Their software then does a complete analysis of everything.  I was especially interested in verifying the claimed total ascent accuracy!  I eyeballed a total sum of about 4,800 feet of ascents for the Saddleback Mountain Marathon using a ruler on the elevation profile (above).  Figured that was decently close to the advertised +5,100' of ascents to give credence to it truly being the toughest Marathon in California. 

This software, however, takes every single little up and down change in elevation and counts it.  Would you believe I actually did 6,010 feet of ascents!  

The second feature is even neater!
 The collected and stored Garmin data is in reality merely a bunch of GPS latitude and longitude data points.  This new software simply drops all the GPS points (the route) onto existing street maps or topo maps IN THE PROPER GPS LOCATIONS.   I was blown away - so cool!  You can see the Saddleback topo (below right) and how closely the route made from those multitude of GPS data points follows the visible trails.  Be sure to look at this map full size, so you can see the actual trails we ran.  You can also see where the Garmin is not quite reading right and just interpolating linearly to the next time it picks up a good signal and misses a part of the real trail.  COOL! 

You can also use to drop your route into regular street maps as shown to the left.

This was a 20.6 training run I did in the Chicago area a week before Saddleback (unfortunately very flat).  It was quite amazing how the Garmin GPS data path (blue line) dropped so accurately onto the actual roads and paths I ran (I added the red notations).  The only scenic trail running I got in was in the Sweet Woods Forest Preserve.  Rather unique scenery - I quit counting after spotting 25 plus white tail deer!

Did I mention that using is FREE!!


Photos taken along the trail during the race
Location Still Photos

Mile 2.5

On the fire road up to the Main Divide Trail.  This is the full moon setting a few minutes before 7 AM.  It is not the sun rising.

Mile 3.5

Further up the trail on this first 1,000 foot climb.  Gorgeous cloud cover below. 

Mile 3.5

In the opposite direction I could see the sun rising in all its glory!

Mile 5

View of Santiago Peak as I cruised down the Trabuco Trail.  (VIDEO)


Mile 9.2

Done with the easy, fun descend.  Starting the climb up the Holy Jim Trail.  2,350 of steady up to the top of this killer. (VIDEO)

Mile 9.5

Entering a tunnel of trees! (VIDEO)

Mile 12

Way, way up there!  You can see the last switchbacks to the top of Holy Jim trail.  I have done this trail  several  times.  Always takes me 1 and 3/4 hour to climb this 2,350 feet. (VIDEO)

Mile 15.5

I reached the top of Holy Jim.  Finally past the halfway point!  Now am trotting along the Main Divide Trail.  Great view of all the nearby hills.  (VIDEO)

Mile 16

Good view of Lake Matthews way off in the distance.  (VIDEO)

Mile 17

Daughter Michelle and Guillermo catch and pass Doug.  (VIDEO)

Mile 19

Heading along the Main Divide trail.  Lots of ups and downs.  A great view of Lake Elsinore way down below.  (VIDEO)

Mile 22.5

Aid station volunteers, Ann & Steve Harvey and ??.  This is the 5th and final aid station. Only 3 miles of down hill plus a mile of near level remain.  Woo Hoo! (VIDEO)

Mile 26.2

Within 10 yards of the finish!  Quadruple Woo Hoo! (Finish photo by Michelle) (VIDEO)

DONE!  Sweaty Doug  (VIDEO)


Robert Baird, an Angeles Crest 100 mile trail race finisher is telling Doug "OK 'Foxy Grandpa' - you can take your nap now!"
Doug with Race Director and three time Western States 100 finisher, Baz Hawley.
Doug after getting cleaned up & taking that nap!  Proudly wearing his new Saddleback Mountain Marathon T-Shirt!
So how come Michelle didn't pass me until mile 17?  
Because I cheated and started at 6:20 AM, an hour and 40 minutes before the official 8 AM start!  Some fun stuff I cooked up with Race Director Baz.  I was the 67.5 year old turtle that the hares were trying to catch.  Any racer who caught and passed me earned a $10 gift certificate to Fleet Feet Sports of Laguna Niguel.  20 did just that & I for once got to see the top people ON THE COURSE, and finished before the awards and party festivities were already over.


And now for an interesting little tidbit about Michelle
(you won't believe this!)

This is an Arizona sunrise on Thursday October 5th -
two days before the Saddleback Mountain Marathon.

This is Michelle that same morning getting ready to
run the Desert Classic road marathon with her ultra friend Dean Karnazes.  Check out Dean's bus.

Michelle & Dean.  
Dean is doing 50 Marathons in 50 days - one in each state!  This marathon in Surprise, Arizona was his 19th in a row.  31 to go.
Check out: Endurance 50

Michelle & James Bonnett at the inflatable Start/Finish line.  Two days after this 26.2 mile marathon, Michelle would run the toughest Marathon in California and WIN!

Leah "Turbo" Corbin with Michelle

Oct. 5th Arizona Marathon finish with Dean
(VIDEO - SMALL 1mb;  VIDEO - LARGE - 4.7 mb)
J. B. Benna from Journey Films (with wife Jen).  Journey is doing the 50 Marathons in 50 days documentary .
AND here is HER story about the Saddleback race:

The Saddleback Mountain Marathon was fantastic, I couldn't be happier with my race and I have never worked so hard in my life for this win. Right from the start a woman took off ahead of me and she maintained a strong steady pace. I predicted she would fade eventually, since she was not carrying any water, but I was completely wrong. Throughout the entire race she was always 40 seconds - 2 minutes ahead of me. I always kept my eyes on her from the quarter to half mile distance that separated us. As badly as I wanted to catch up and pass her, I knew my legs were lacking turnover on the long climbs. I was probably feeling the effects from the Desert Classic road marathon I ran with Karno in Arizona, two days before.

As I approached the top of the very last climb at mile 22. I blasted past passed the woman at the last aid station as she stopped briefly for a drink. In an instant, she passed me back and I decided this was my moment to blast. I flew down the last four mile main divide trail to Blue Jay campground. As the trail ended, I approached the final road to the finish and caught up with two men, one of whom was my fast friend Calvin on the home stretch. I finished first overall female and only 5 guys finished ahead of me.

The woman I battled with ended up finishing a mere 30 seconds behind me. I gave this race every ounce of energy every step of the way. I think this race will make me stronger because I was running out of my comfort zone the entire 3:58:19. My Dad was so Awesome, he finished the race in 6 hours 51 minutes. Pretty great for a trail marathon with 5,100' of ascent.

Michelle with Race Director Baz Hawley before the 8 AM start.

Guillermo Medina, Michelle and Gabriel Flores

With 2005 Angeles Crest 100 mile race finisher Robert Baird before the race

Guillermo & Michelle
Passing out the Awards
1st place over all was Rob McNair, age 52 who won in a time of 3:29:28

2nd place overall male - Ed D. A. age 37, with a time of 3:39:30

4th place overall - 23 year old Brian McDermott with a time of 3:49:03

1st in the 40 -49 age bracket - Calvin Mulder in at 3:58:17 (2 seconds ahead of Michelle!)

Baz gives one of the "I passed Doug" $10 certificates to Robert Baird who finished in 5:03:19

3rd place overall female, Marla Randell with a time of 4:46:46

2nd place overall female,  Maria Delgardo with a time of 3:58:49 (a mere 30 seconds behind Michelle)

Michelle is called to get her FIRST place overall award.

And a hug from Baz
One more from Bill Ramsey

Wow!  I'm happy!

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