Nine trails. The hardest thing I’ve ever done. Seriously, I know that I haven’t done that much yet, but when compared to running Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim in the Grand Canyon (45 miles and 20,000 feet of elevation change) or the 65 mile Are You Though Enough race, the 35 mile Nine Trails course is the hardest run I’ve done. I first ran Nine Trails in the fall of 2013 with Luis Escobar, Bryan Toro, Lisa Carr, and 2 other friends. We finished in 12 and a half hours, which was crazy considering that I had finished the Are You Though Enough 65 mile race earlier in the year in 14 hours. Only 2.5 hours more for an additional 30 miles? Yeah, Nine Trails is tough.

A Nine Trails run in early 2014
A Nine Trails run in early 2014 – Tyler Clemens, Cat Bradley, Chris Clemens, Luis Escobar, Sean Garbutt, Crista Scott, Greg Lowe

Recently a group of us have been running Nine Trails quite often. Maybe too often. Monday May 26th Cat, Tyler, and Bryan Toro ran Nine Trails with myself and Crista Scott as a mobile aid station. Cat would soon be taking on her first 100 mile race, the Bryce Canyon 100, and she wanted to spend a night on the trails to prepare. Try running Nine Trails at night? Sounds hard. Sounds stupid. I’m in.

Nine Trails At Night

Nine Trail Runners After Dark
Nine Trail Runners After Dark

Friday May 30th around 8:00 PM we all met at the Cater Water Treatment Plant. The sun was setting as I joined Tyler, Cat Bradley, and Bryan Toro at the trail head. We ran for 30 minutes before we had to turn on the headlamps, something we would need for the next 8 hours.

We pushed through the trails of the first quarter of the course and made it to the no shooting sign on Gibratlar Road in good time. There we met Crista Scott. She had parked her car and waited for us with aid and her running gear. We refueled and Crista joined us for the next section of the course.

As we ran this section Cat realized that she wouldn’t be able to run the entire trail, she needed to catch a flight out of town at 6:00 AM on Saturday morning. We all discussed options and someone mentioned that maybe we would just do half of Nine Trails tonight. This was not an option for me. I had skipped Friday happy hour and had mentally prepared myself for this, not to mention that my 100 mile training required me to do a 26 mile run this weekend…so it was either 35 miles tonight, or I’d have to wake up Saturday and do another 26 miles. I was already out, might as well do the whole thing and get it over with.

Cat Bradley and Chris Clemens after an earlier Nine Trails finish
Cat Bradley and Chris Clemens after an earlier Nine Trails finish

When we reached the half way point at Romero Canyon Crista offered to drive Cat to the airport and Tyler offered to drive them both back to Gibraltar Road to get her car. Bryan needed to work in the morning so I suggested that he take off too and get some sleep. My plan was to run back half of Nine Trails at night by myself. I wasn’t worried, but it would be a long night.

Ultimately Bryan decided to go with me from Romero back to Tyler’s truck at Gibraltar Road and see how he felt. We refueled and the two of us, long after midnight, headed back up Romero Canyon Trail in the dark to make the long crossing back to the start.

We ran together, sometimes talking, sometimes not. I was pretty beat up but managed to push forward, incredibly happy to have someone to run with me. Bryan was pushing pretty hard and kept me going at a good pace. The USS Ronald Reagan was docked off the Santa Barbara Harbor and we could see the ship deck’s blue lights flashing past the glow of the city lights below.

A few hours later Bryan and I made it to Gibraltar Road to find a Tyler fast asleep in the back of his truck. We woke him up, refilled our water and calories, and took off, Bryan and I down the trail and Tyler home to go to bed. We kept moving, and somewhere around Inspiration Point the sky turned gray, then orange, and then the sun started coming up over the mountains. Finally, after running 8+ hours in only the tunnel vision of a headlamp we could see the world coming alive.

Chris Clemens and Bryan Toro after an all night Nine Trails run
Chris Clemens and Bryan Toro after an all night Nine Trails run

We ran together the last few miles down Jesusita Trail, passing a few hikers coming up and I wondered what they would say if we told them we had been out on the trails for the entire night. Toro and I completed the trail and entered the parking area to very little fanfare. There was no finish line, no fans, no friends, just our cars parked on the side of the road. Done.

I grabbed a couple of warm beers from the back of my car and we celebrated our adventure with the breakfast of champions, PBR.

Sure, I had done Nine Trails at night, but Toro had done Nine Trials at night after doing Nine Trails just 4 days before. Now that was epic.

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