For the 3rd time, I will be racing the Run to the Top 7 miler on Labor Day this year. While the race doesn’t technically qualify as a Skyrunning race, it’s the closest damn thing we have in Southern California, so deal with it.

The course is a grueling 7 mile climb from the base of the Mt. Baldy ski lifts (6,000 ft.) to the summit of the tallest mountain in Los Angeles County (10,064 ft.) via a service road and single track trail. The race generally draws a good crowd of about 600 runners and hikers, many of them local residents of the small mountain town of Mt. Baldy.

The course is a point-to-point course that takes you from the base to the summit, as stated earlier. The first 3 miles take you up a winding service road to The Notch, the ski slopes only lodge and location of the post race award ceremony – and more importantly, cold beer. Once you reach The Notch, you hop onto a double track trail for the next mile or so, and then the trail narrows to a single track with technical footing. The trail above The Notch is a steeper grade than the service road at the start of the race, which leads to screaming quads as the air gets thinner. The last half mile of the race is the steepest section and runners choose one of a few footpaths to the summit. It’s easy to take a longer route on the left here, so a tip for noobs is to stay to the right at this point. The grade of the hill is pretty intense, somewhere between 25 and 40% at points, and footing is challenging on the shale rock above the treeline. You’ll really have to dig deep at this final stage of the race and push through the pain to reach the summit, which seems to get farther away somehow.

I like this race a lot and I’m looking forward to a bit of redemption for my performance last year, which was quite pathetic. This year also happens to be the 50th running of the race, making it one of the oldest trail races in the area. They’re making a few changes to the format this year with the addition of a 5k (start to The Notch) and medals for all participants. One unique aspect of the race is that since the course is point-to-point, you have to back-track the trail from the summit to the Notch (4 miles) as slower runners and hikers are still making their way to the summit. I use this as a bit of a cool down usually, and I do enjoy cheering on other runners and thanking the park rangers dotted along the trail as I head down.

If you’re a glutton for punishment and have some billy goat blood in your family tree somewhere, come on out to Mt. Baldy and Run to the Top!

Goals: Top 10 age group, 1:33 finish time

Summary of my last training run up Baldy: