Aaron Gillen, a three-time winner of the World’s Toughest Half Marathon, realized it’s also a rather beautiful race. “It was so quiet,” Gillen said last Sunday at the pine-scented summit of La Cumbre Peak after he finished the 15th Annual Pier to Peak 13.1-mile race that started in the ocean-scented mist at Stearns Wharf. “The wind was blowing. I was looking around. I had to say ‘Focus, focus.’”
It was quiet for Gillen because he finished more than nine minutes ahead of runner-up John Lofthus in one hour, 33 minutes, and four seconds. Many of the 262 finishers were still grinding their way up Gibraltar Road through the merciful marine layer that blanketed the coast halfway up the 4,000-foot mountain slope. “I’ve never been so happy to see a finish line in my life,” said Sara Dillman, the first woman to reach the top. She was a remarkable sixth place overall in 1:47:20.
Gillen, 31, mentioned a couple of motivating factors behind his speedy ascent. His grandfather, the late UCSB dean and former member of the City Council Lyle Reynolds, was a track star at Cal who encouraged him to run. He also wants to inspire the youngsters he teaches at El Puente High, a continuation school. “They said, ‘There’s no way you can run all the way to the top,’” Gillen said.
The coming weekend brings an array of outdoor sports to watch in Santa Barbara.
UCSB SOCCER: The nationally ranked Gaucho men host Kentucky at 8 p.m. on Friday, September 5, in a game to be televised on the Fox Soccer Channel. Chris Pontius, a dynamic senior striker, scored both goals in UCSB’s season-opening 2-1 victory over the Air Force Academy last week before a Harder Stadium crowd of 2,385-an impressive turnout since the fall inflow of students is yet to come. They were delighted by the nifty moves of Gaucho first-year Bryan Dominguez, a 5‘4” mighty mite from Atlanta. Kentucky, meanwhile, is coming off a scoring feast. The Wildcats pounded Central Arkansas 6-0 and Detroit 5-0 in their season-opening invitational tournament. On Sunday, the Gaucho women take the field at 1 p.m. against Sacramento State. They defeated both San Diego and Pepperdine with last-minute goals.
BEACH VOLLEYBALL: It is no hype to say the world’s best players will be on the West Beach sand Saturday and Sunday at the AVP Crocs Cup Shootout. The top-seeded teams will be the Olympic champions-Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser, who consider Santa Barbara their home beach, and Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh. Todd and Phil picked up where they left off in Beijing last week, sweeping to the AVP title in Cincinnati. But Misty and Kerri proved nothing is certain. They lost for the first time in 113 matches to Elaine Youngs and Nicole Branagh in a tough three-set final. A busy Olympic aftermath may have taken a toll on the pair. May-Treanor has been chosen to compete in the upcoming Dancing with the Stars TV series.
SATURDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: After the last volleyball spike dents the sand Saturday, it will be just a short walk to La Playa Stadium, where the Santa Barbara City College Vaqueros will kick off the 2008 football season at 6 p.m. against Hancock College of Santa Maria. One of the challenges faced by SBCC coach Craig Moropoulos and his staff is to pare down the squad-156 hopeful players reported on the first day of practice. Former Dos Pueblos standout Conner Rehage will start at quarterback if he’s recovered from an ankle injury. Waiting in the wings is College of the Canyons transfer Austin Civita. Count on Hancock’s Bulldogs to field another big, physical team. They have punished SBCC in recent years.
SADDLE UP: The championship game of the Bombardier Pacific Coast Open, the climactic event of the high-goal season at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club, will be played at 2 p.m. on Sunday. The fast-paced sport-powered by tough and speedy ponies-features players from the U.S., Argentina, Mexico, and Australia.