2013 marks the first year since the first Ridge Run in 1985 that the Ridge Run will start in a different location.
It took someone to jog my memory that David (the race director of the Ridge Run) warned everyone at the start of last year’s 2012 race that in 2013 the start would be down the hill at the Fairy Lake parking lot.
A Little Bit Longer and a Bit More Climbing
In the process of expanding the Fairy Lake campground, the Forest Service relocated the Sacajawea trail head to a lower spot near the Fairy Lake parking lot. This adds a bit a distance and climbing to the traditional Ridge Run course. Recently I spent some time running and tracking the new portions of the trail with my Garmin GPS and comparing it to the old start area.
A rough estimate is the course changes for 2013 add a quarter mile in length and 100 feet of climbing.
For the fastest runners, this translates to taking about two and a half minutes longer to complete the course.
For the slowest runners, this change will add about six minutes to their times.
Ridge Run Course Changes and Evolution through Time
This is not the first course change to the Ridge Run since 1985. In fact, to the best of my recollection, since 1985 there have been five significant rerouting changes to the course at four different locations. I do not know the exact history of these changes, so I can only give some approximate dates these changes took place. Perhaps someone that can recall some more details can comment and share their knowledge.
We will take a look at these changes marching through the course from the start.
Change 1, Switch Backing up to Sacajawea Pass (approx. 1995)
The first major change took place when David became race director in the mid 1990’s. Up until that time, the trail from the start up to the pass or saddle near Sacajawea was a hodge-podge of trails and gullies cutting the current maze of switch backs. David started enforcing the rule of staying on the trail and taking the switch backs. The shortest route is usually the fastest route and going straight up to the pass instead of taking the switch backs is no exception. In my estimate, from looking at my historical race times and splits up to the pass, I would have to say that this change added about 5 to 6 minutes for the fastest runners and about 10 minutes for the slowest. This was a significant change and lengthening of the course. In the early 1990’s, I could get up to the pass from the start in about 18 minutes. Since then, it takes me about 23 minutes. With this year’s changes it could take me 26 minutes!
Change 2, Dropping Down to Foothill Trail from Sacajawea (approx. 2003)
Progressing along the course, the next route change is the section dropping down from the south summit of Sacajawea down to the foothill trail. This change took place sometime in the early or mid 2000’s. The Forest Service added a couple switch backs and a new well defined trail. Until this change, the route was open to interpretation and was more of a straight shot free fall. The old way was certainly faster, but caused a lot of damage and scarring to the area as the Ridge Run traffic increased. This change added another couple minutes to my split times and probably added up to 5 more minutes for the slowest runners.
Change 3, Ross Pass along Foothill Trail (approx. 1995)
The third area that has seen significant route changes is the area just after Ross Pass. This area has seen two significant changes over time. Prior to David becoming race director (mid 1990’s) the course headed directly up from Ross Pass through the trees along the Ridge. There was no trail and the exact route was a personal choice. When David became race director he routed and marked the course down along the foothill trail for a third of a mile or so to the west. Runners then made a sharp left turn off the foothill trail and back up the ridge. This sharp left turn caused many a runner problems as they tended to miss the turn and keep going down the foothill trail even when the turn was well marked and flagged. You can probably draw some conclusions regarding human behavior and their tendency to keep on going straight on the path they are on.
Change 4, Ross Pass New Trail up Ridge (approx. 2009)
About four years ago, the Forest Service put in a new trail from Ross Pass up through the woods along the ridge. This new trail follows the old traditional route and avoids the foothill trail. It is a bit slower than the original because it is longer and has a couple switch backs. But the impact on race times is probably not that significant, perhaps a minute or two.
Change 5, M to Finish New Trail (approx. 2000)
The fourth section of the course that has seen changes is from the college M down to the finish. The shortest route originally was down to the west from the bottom of the M. It was a steep but runnable trail with many short switch backs. The Forest Service removed this trail and put in a new trail to the east side of the M. The new trail was more direct and slightly shorter, but not any faster because of poor footing and steepness. This new trail has become a mess of erosion and scarring. It is puzzling why the Forest Service took out the old trail and put in the new one. This change took place around 2000 when the M parking area was improved and paved.
Route Changes Not the Most Significant Change
The biggest change to the Ridge Run Course since 1985 is not the changes in the route. What has impacted the run-ability and the faster times over the years is the grooming and wearing-in of the route by thousands of runners over the years. As the years go by, the course becomes less technical and smoother. This is especially apparent in the second half of the course.
The section of the course from the start to Ross Pass may have become longer and slower, but the second half has become significantly faster and easier to run. The net result is that overall the course is faster than it used to be and it will probably continue to get faster as time goes on.
The course has gotten so much smoother that we may have to change this blog’s byline from “America’s Most Rugged Trail Run” to “Formerly America’s Most Rugged Trail Run”!