San Elijo Hills Trail Marathon -- Race Report

I could only see about 3 feet in front of my car, the white sheet of fog bouncing the light back in my eyes, and covering everything on the short 5 minute drive from my house to Double Peak Park. Turns out the park doesn't open until sunrise. We parked at the bottom of the hill and hiked the steep, rocky trail to the top, to the start of the Inaugural San Elijo Hills Trail Marathon.

There is a solid group of consistent runners that meet every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning between 5:30 and 6 (an email circulates the night before to determine the time and distance). There are about six people who show up regularly to run give or take 6 trail miles while the neighborhood sleeps.

It was on one of these early morning trail runs that I mentioned, between gasps for air, that we could probably string together a bunch of these trails into a marathon. Luckily there were only three of us on this particular run. The voices of reason chose to sleep in that morning, and about three hours, and some fervent typing on Gmap-Pedometer, I had a course mapped out and a Facebook group. I invited some friends, and the group grew, then shrunk when people saw the course and the elevation profile, then grew again.

On the morning of July 7th, 18 of us hiked above the layer of thick fog, I said a few words about the course, clapped my hands and said go. We descended down the steep, rocky hill for a loop that would take all 18 of us on 18 unique courses. At various points on the course, every one of us would get lost, be reduced to a walk, and at some point, curse me. Everyone would marvel at the amazing aid stations, stocked with juicy watermelon, fresh oranges, ice cold water and Gatorade, cookies, rice balls, pretzels, potatos dipped in salt, and vitamin B shots (seriously...syringes) set up by friends, girlfriends, parents, wives, and kids. It was about a 1:1 ratio of supporters to racers, and we all felt very spoiled. The aid stations were so good that it was hard to leave.

Assembling at the top of Double Peak for a beautiful sunrise start

Hiking to the start

How can this not motivate?

Ultraman, Mark Ford, telling us which way where we're going next

The group did a good job of sticking together and looking out for each other. There were a few people that lost the way, but I warned everyone that they would prbably get lost. It was an impossible course to mark, or maybe possible for someone who wasn't so lazy. And, as Carlyn points out, the one specific navigational instruction I did give turned out to be wrong.

These are the boring course details, for future reference, or for anyone who is foolish enough to try to recreate the course. We started at Double Peak Park, ran down the steep, rocky section to the Ridgeline trail, quickly veering off on a singletrack trail (Tent Trail, named for the guy who used to live in a tent here), then another singletrack trail that took us to the microwave tower. From there we descended down the short, steep switchbacks to the Shrek Trail (this is called something else, but my kids always call it the Shrek trail because it reminds them of Shrek's swamp). We crossed the road at Promontory Ridge, then hit the singletrack trail that took us to San Elijo Rd. which we crossed and climbed to La Costa Preserve, then descended the Horned Lizard switchbacks, went through a beautiful connector trail then behind the old dump and climbed to the water tower. We circled the water tower, then descended into Elfin Forest. We ran through Elfin Forest to the back side of the Elfin Forest Preserve connecting to the Equine Incline Loop, then down the Way Up Trail, crossed the street to the jeep trails to the East of San Elijo Hills. We ran down Atterbury Rd., crossed over to the Twin Oaks trailhead, then ran the Lakeview Trail to Double Peak Rd., ran halfway up Double Peak Rd., then ran the Secret Trail to the back side of Double Peak, finishing with a hands on the knees ascent to Double Peak Park. We ended up running between 25 and 27 miles with about 5,000 feet of elevation gain.

Unmarked, unsanctioned

Yes, that is a skull hanging on a tree

This event encompassed everything that I enjoy about running right now. Close friends sharing a trail, some struggle, some pain, a challenging course on a variety of terrain, a makeshift paper-towel finish line, and a celebration with friends and family at the end.

This is how legs should look after a good trail run

My new favorite race shirt
I couldn't have asked for a better day, or a better group to share this run with. I also realized that I have no business being a race director, but I can't wait to do this "race" again next year, hopefully with many of the same people, discovering new ways to get lost on the trails of San Elijo Hills.


  1. Surely someone must have a Strava or GarminConnect route for this bad boy they can provide.. Wish I would have known this was happening, sounded like fun.

  2. Your description of the course sounds like a treasure map. Aw, that was a special day. I'm in for next year :)

    1. We'd love to have you out there next year. I'm so happy that you are running well and injury-free.

  3. Can you rename Tent Trail to 765? Any Strava ride segment will show it as that. 765 is the combined fine paid to the city of San Marcos by three individuals who were busted by the sheriff making that trail. Oddly enough, they never closed it down and it has become one of the best trails in the park. Those three persons who shall remain anonymous are just happy it was not called 3600 trail. That was the original combined fine amount before the commissioner agreed to lower the fines. The infraction was called "destruction of natural resources" which is ironic when you look around at what the developers have done to the surrounding area.

  4. Keep us posted for next year! Shacky and I want to run it :)

    1. Vanessa, I'll definitely let you know next year.

  5. Wish I knew about this race! Please let San Elijo know ahead of time next year! I run many of these trails for hours 3 times a week and love it! Beautiful! Congrats to all the competitors!

  6. This looks awesome! Let me know if and when you guys do it this year!

    1. Will do. Looking at July 4th weekend this year with a leisurely pace on Saturday and a faster group on Sunday.


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