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A year ago I went looking for some detail about the actual start of Skyline 50k when it was a point-to-point race. The first running was in 1982.

I started by asking Mike Palmer and ended up in this rich recollection of East Bay ultrarunning history with Mike, Carol LaPlant, and Dwight Hendrix.

This was an email exchange so in its original form, it wasn’t linear. I’ve edited it for coherence.

Adam writes:

Hi Mike,

Do you happen to know the route of the original Skyline course? I was thinking of doing a one-time-only running of it. 

I thought you might know. 

Hope all is well!

Adam

Mike writes:

Adam-

I did it once with Carol LaPlant.  It began in Wildcat Canyon, went over to Nimitz Way, up and down Seaview, then continued on the Skyline National Trail to Skyline Gate.  It followed the Skyline National Trail to the golf course near Lake Chabot (whose name I can’t remember at the moment–I think it’s changed ownership).  That’s quite a nice place to finish.  

I believe we went down the French Trail over to MacDonald and continued on to Brandon Trail dropping down to the golf course.

When Carol ran it it was an AAU 50K championship–regional?  

So, to get it right, I’d ask Carol.  I remember when I did it with her she was adamant that it didn’t go up San Pablo Ridge from Wildcat Canyon but went on some of those cow paths to connect to Nimitz Way. 

Dwight Hendrix probably remembers because he placed in the top five when he did it.  I’ve copied him and Carol on this email.

mp

Dwight writes:

Hi Mike, Adam, and Carol, 

Yes I did run the first Skyline 50k and Mike, your description fits my somewhat vague memory of the course. Yes, it started in Wildcat Canyon and you could drive to the starting area at that time (which is now marked by a picnic table roughly 3.5 or 3.75 miles from Tilden Nature Area) but the road is now closed to non-official vehicle traffic at Alvarado Park).

I think Carol is correct as I vaguely recall going up Havey Canyon and if I’m correct in this admittedly hazy recollection, it would have connected to Nimitz Way and not the San Pablo Ridge trail. I would be interested to hear if Carol remembers this part of the course and if my memory is correct.

I’m not sure if the first running of the Skyline 50k was a championship race but it definitely was the Pacific Division of the AAU 50k Cross Country Championship race the following year. That year it started at the Clark Gate in El Cerrito rather than Wildcat Canyon.

Sadly I don’t have race Director Steve Justice’s (RIP) course profile of the original course but here is the profile of the championship race from the following year which is similar except for the start and end points:

-Dwight

Sent from my iPhone

Carol writes:

Yes, that’s consistent with my recollection.  I think that was the only time the race was point to point, and it was put on by the Zephyr running club.  There was a different race director the next year, and it was just easier to change the course to a loop, although it seemed to me that the loop course was such a different experience that it shouldn’t have had the same name.  The start of the original race was exciting because it went through a meadow with a bunch of horses that reared up and shied when the lead runners went through, knocking down or at least threatening them.  Finishing at the golf course was nice but as the race grew we were disinvited by the golf course management because we were taking over their facilities.

Good luck!

Carol

Mike writes:

Wasn’t “Big Al” (a man who is about my size) the RD?  Or he had some affiliation with Zephyr?  I forget the name of the races he used to put on.  He did some crazy thing like the Happy Valley Road marathon near Briones.  He probably didn’t bother to get any permits for it.

Sam told me “Big Al” was his inspiration for Brazen Races although, IMHO, Sam and Jasmine are vastly superior RD’s compared to him.  I remember when his race series fell apart when a participant in one of the triathlons he used to do in Marin was fatally struck by a car.

I haven’t seen Big Al since the early 90’s. 


mp

Carol writes:

In those days the race directors were mostly flakey, typically with under-supplied aid stations and poor course markings.  Dollar-a-mile Dave charged more than other race directors and put on races in beautiful locations with miserable support.  That all changed when Dick Collins started putting on races – with good aid and course markings, charging just enough to cover expenses, he set a new standard.

Carol

Mike writes:

This will add to it:  I definitely remember Big Al walking around wearing a golden “Skyline 50K” jacket, sorta like one of those SF 49er’s jackets you see fans wearing, when he was directling one of his races.   So, I presume, he was the RD for Skyline when it was an AAU championship race.  I think he was affiliated with that Zephyr running club–maybe the president of it.

I frankly don’t know if Big Al is still alive.  He’d always do his trail races, that were about 10K or 7 miles thereabouts, on Saturdays.  When I did one of his races and followed it with a 20 miler on Sunday I got into the best running condition I’ve ever been in.

mp

Adam writes:

Dollar-a-mile Dave, now THAT is funny.

Adam

Mike writes:

Dick’s races had aid stations staffed by ultrarunners who knew what a runner needed when they went through an aid station.

I’ll always remember this about Dick, it’s my fondest memory of him.  At the end of Firetrails he’d stand at the finish line, smiling, holding a wine glass etched with the races’s name, that he’d place in your hand as soon as you finished.  He wouldn’t say anything to you; that simple gesture of presenting you with a wine glass, smiling, was enough of an acknowledgement, and an appreciation, of your effort. You didn’t get a T shirt but so what? 

And the race cost about $35.  That’s a thing of the past.


mp

Dwight writes:

Steve Justice was the race director for at least the first two Skyline 50K’s. I always assumed he was the organizer of Zephyr Athletic Club but at least he had a strong affiliation with Zephyr. He also was the RD for the early Pinole Marathons. He was quite a nice guy IMHO.

And Mike, before I forget, the first Skyline 50 ended at the Lake Chabot golf course, the subsequent year though it ended at the Lake Chabot Marina. 

I don’t remember Big Al but I do remember a large heavy runner who was affectionately known as Howard the Hulk. He ran in most of Steve’s races. Likewise I always assumed he was in the Zephyr AC. I don’t think this is the same person as Big AL as Howard was much larger than you. In any case, Howard was quite affable and you would usually see him with a sucker in his mouth after a race. I noticed he is listed in the race results of the second 50k as “The Hulk”.

And just for the record, I misnamed the governing body which authorized the 50K championship – it wasn’t AAU any longer at that point but rather the TAC (The Athletic Congress).

Lastly, I’m attaching an old trail description and map for the Skyline Trail. I assume Steve sent it out with registration material but I’m not sure. It’s an early publication by EBRPD. Adam, it may be more useful than the current map if you’re interested in running the original course. The map though, to my mind, is not very useful but I’m attaching it, just in case.

Those were the days…

-Dwight

P.S.: And Carol’s remark about the horses in the meadow shortly after the race started brought back a pleasant memory – I recall the fog was just lifting as the horses had started running parallel to us. I found it at the time pleasantly surreal in a connected sense. Shortly after, any surrealism ended for me when I approached a gate thinking it opened outward. Wrong! it opened inward and I was in the lead at that time and after I plowed into the gate, the several runners behind me plowed into me almost simultaneously in a three-stooges type fashion. 

Carol writes:

I remember Steve Justice and the Zephyr club (I was even an honorary member), and I ran their Pinole Marathon several times.  It was on roads, the highlight was pig farm hill, which was at the top of a hill where there was an actual stinky pig farm, memorable when you’re breathing hard from the hill.  Pig farm hill is still there, but the pigs are now gone. Indeed, those were the days!

Carol