April brought us out to Pine Valley for our annual “Pine Valley Duathlon”, a cult classic race of TCSD. Deviating from the traditional setup of our duathlons, Pine Valley is just a bike and a run. The catch? The bike is a 16mi. trek up Sunrise Hwy with 2,000+ ft. of climbing, and the run is a hilly, 4mi. trail run through some of the most scenic areas of San Diego. All of this while starting at over 5,000ft. of elevation.
The race began at 9am due to Pine Valley’s distance from greater San Diego. The town of Pine Valley consists of about two blocks of small shops, restaurants and community buildings. We arrived at 8am to the parking lot behind Major’s Coffee Shop, only to see a couple carloads of participants already stretching and setting up their bikes. As more people began to arrive, we began signing people in and going over final aspects of the course.
At 8:55am, our host Daniel Powell gave a quick course talk to all participants and we got everyone in place for the start. Being a very grass roots race, there was no air horn or gun. This was simply everyone lined up on the side of the road, and with an old school “on your mark, get set, GO!” they were off. We had the official race clock started (my Target purchased Ironman wrist watch), hopped in our vehicles and began our ascent up Sunrise Hwy.
We caravaned up the course, getting a great view of all the participants hammering up the hill. The bike portion broke up into several packs, with our more “elevation inclined” athletes jumping off the front. The first pack saw the overall Duathlon Series Champion Mike Clinch, Matt Dixon and Phillipe Krebs keeping a close watch on each other as they took turns pulling up the hill. They were closely followed by other Duathlon regulars, as well as many others who came made the drive out to Pine Valley for this great event.
After watching everyone on the bike course for a couple minutes, we sped ahead to go set up the transition area which, in continuing with the tradition of this race, was simply a small park with an old wooden fence for people to lean their bikes against. We set up everyone’s running gear and began laying out a small spread of bagels, coffee and fruit. Soon after we finished, a gentleman arrived into the park and asked if this was where we finished. Thinking no one could have made it up the climb that fast, I replied with “finished what?”. He said “the Duathlon”, to which my jaw dropped since he ended up arriving 3-4 min. faster than everyone else on what appeared to be an old Cannondale road bike. After asking around, I learned he was a bit of a legend out there, notorious for only coming to this event and climbing that course like it was his job. He didn’t do the run though, so we waited for our first full participants to make their way into transition.
The first participants arrived and with quick transitions headed out on the run. Soon after, more and more participants began trickling in to transition to change and take on the run course.
The women’s race saw Kathleen Stafford come off the bike first, with an decent lead on her competitors Jennifer Neuschwander and Whitney McFadden. With all competitors starting the run with a steep hill and quickly turning out of sight, we were all left making bets on if Kathleen could hold off her pursuers.
As the final cyclists arrived into the transition area, we saw the race winner and overall Duathlon Series champion Mike Clinch claim his fourth title this year, sweeping the series. He was followed by Matt Dixon and Phillipe Krebs to round out the podium.
And sure enough, Kathleen Stafford put together a strong bike and strong run to win the women’s division, finishing just over two minutes ahead of second place Jennifer Neuschwander and four minutes ahead of third place female Whitney McFadden.
As it neared 11am, racers continued to finish the demanding out and back run course, gassed from their efforts. Everyone gathered for a quick cup of coffee and a bagel, recapping their race with fellow participants. Once the final person finished, we packed everything up and made our way back down to Pine Valley, passing participants who got to enjoy the perks of their effort as they bombed down Sunrise Hwy back into town.
This was the first year I’ve been able to experience this event, and I have to say if you have not had a chance to participate it should be a must on your calendar for next year. It combines a low key, friendly environment with a very demanding course. Group that with the fact that you’ll see some outstanding views of San Diego and the Imperial Valley, and you really can’t beat it.