Six decades after it was established, the Fourth of July Semana Nautica 15K Race has changed themes: from “Hit the Road, Jack,” to “Hit the Trail, Jack and Jill.”
It began in 1955, when there were few people with the mettle to run for 9.3 miles in the heat of a summer day. The first 15K had 13 men finish the course of two loops on roads around the Santa Barbara Airport. Over the years, the course was moved to other routes in Goleta, always on flat, paved roads and paths. The distance was precisely measured, enabling the race to be designated by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) as its National Championship 15K on three occasions. Veteran racers such as Ventura’s Gary Tuttle smoked the course in a little over 45 minutes.
Women ran the 15K for the first time in 1971, and with the boom in recreational running, participation increased to the hundreds.
The Santa Barbara Athletic Association (SBAA), a grassroots organization devoted to running, has staged the race since its inception. After last year’s 62nd edition, SBAA boardmembers discussed issues surrounding the race. It was expensive to obtain permits and provide traffic control. Although the latest course was mostly on bike paths, runners had to cross Hollister Avenue to finish at San Marcos High.
“At best, it was a break-even event, a labor of love,” said SBAA president John Lofthus. “I didn’t feel comfortable with the risk of open roads, but running on bike paths was not exactly awe-inspiring. It has history, but nothing else about it was memorable.”
Committee member Patty Bryant came up with the breakthrough idea: Move the run to the trails at Elings Park in the hills off Las Positas Road. “We decided that if we’re going to change it, let’s change it dramatically,” Lofthus said.
Elings Park was already host to a series of 5K trail races, so a 5K option was added to the July 4 event. It took some doing to design a longer route on the 230-acre property. The resulting course was a devilish double-loop around the park. The homestretch was the steep grade from the park headquarters to Godric Grove, which the 15K runners had to climb twice.
It would have been a piece of cake for Bryant, an accomplished ultra-marathoner. The woman responsible for the 15K’s new look was scrambling around the Dolomite mountains in Italy last week. It was the annual Summit for Danny, an expedition that supports the Daniel Bryant Youth & Family Treatment Center for adolescent drug abuse. This weekend, Patty Bryant will be doing her own thing, running in Colorado’s Hardrock 100, a high-altitude endurance race that includes more than 33,000 feet of climbing.
The Semana Nautica 15K required a mere 1,000 feet of climbing, but the terrain was a challenge for runners used to flat roads. “Somebody told me, ‘Usually in a race, I look at my watch all the time. Today I didn’t look once,’” Lofthus said.
“I’m not a big trail guy,” said Gary Clancy, a 72-year-old runner and SBAA boardmember. “I was really concerned. You have to concentrate to stay away from falling. The volunteers were really helpful.” The SBAA recruited more than 60 volunteers, including the San Marcos High cross-country team, to keep the runners on course. “If it wasn’t for them, I’d still be out there,” Clancy said. He surrendered to the strain of the last slope and walked toward the finish line. “I thought I’d be very happy with a time anywhere around two hours,” he said. He made it in an hour and 44 minutes.
Runners who had GPS devices found that the course was perhaps a kilometer short of 15, but nobody was complaining. They will not be breaking any of the records set on the flat course.
The race winners were a pair of former Dos Pueblos High standouts. Sergey Sushchikh, 24, took the overall crown in 52 minutes, 32 seconds. He competed in track and cross-country at UCLA and is an engineer in Camarillo. Addi Zerrenner, 21, was the first woman, 11th overall, in 59:42. A senior at Arizona, she will be vying for Pac-12 honors in cross-country and track.
With varying degrees of exhaustion and relief, 152 stalwart runners finished the 15K. Another 123 ran the 5K, and 11 dog owners completed a short race with their pets. The Kiwanis Club treated all the runners to a pancake breakfast in the grove.
“We want to bring like-minded folks together to celebrate Independence Day with a strong sense of community,” Lofthus said. The SBAA will donate the proceeds to high school running programs.
Vanessa Bestetti, a native of Brazil and resident of Australia, gave the event a ringing endorsement. Planning a visit to Las Vegas and L.A., she entered the 15K after finding it on a “running in the U.S.A.” website. She received a prize of a bouquet of marigolds after being the top finisher in her age group, behind Zerrenner.
Afterward, Bestetti posted her impressions in a blog (minus some exclamation points): “A day I will never forget. … I had no idea at all it was a trail run in the mountains. …Elings Park was the location for the race, scenic trails with epic views of the Channel Islands. … Had to watch out every step, be focused 100% of time at the same time with the feeling of exploring a new place. … After crossing the finish line there was a breakfast for everyone with delicious pancakes made right there. … The announcer [Lofthus] said I should’ve ran backwards as I come from down under. … What a remarkable race!”
Foresters Player of the Week
The Wichita State junior is hitting .403 in Central Coast League games and is one of seven Santa Barbara players selected to this week’s CCL All-Star Game in Compton. Ritter has played in the outfield, in the infield, and even as catcher in a pinch for the Foresters.