The SJRT: an alternative to running in traffic

  • This was printed in October of 2014 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 74th installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

Madera is flat. That’s not news to anyone, of course, but it’s a depressing fact for local

runners who are training for races that include some hills.

The only decent hill in town is the Ellis overpass, and those who run on it have said

motorists and nearby residents have been rude.

There are also few options for terrain running in town. You can either pound residential

sidewalks or country roads, or the dirt alongside the country roads. And it’s all flat.

In the city you have to deal with stopping at red lights and trying not to get hit by

motorists who don’t keep an eye out for pedestrians. On the country roads you have to

worry about speeding cars and those who don’t stop at the red octagons. On top of that

there is the occasional loose dog that turns you into a sprinter.

Last week I wrote about a team that I am now a part of, the San Joaquin Running Team,

which organizes races and promotes local trail running — which I adore.

You don’t have to travel far to enjoy the wilderness, run on challenging terrain and catch

some breathtaking views — and there’s no traffic.

The San Joaquin River Trail, or SJRT, is a combination of existing hiking, mountain

biking and equestrian trails that will join new and reconstructed trails to form a 73-mile

path from Friant Dam to the Pacific Crest Trail in the High Sierras, according to the SJRT

Council. My favorite part of the trail begins at the dead-end of Sky Harbour Road near

Millerton Lake, a short drive from Madera.

I encourage walkers and runners to give the trail a try.

The great thing about the trail is that it always kicks your butt. No matter how fast or how

far you go, you will feel it in your muscles the next day and you know you’ve had a great

workout.

On Saturday a few friends and I ran nearly 13 miles on the SJRT, including one of the

toughest portions, nicknamed “the loop” — three miles of climbing followed by two

miles downhill on technical, or difficult and rocky, trail.

Although it’s a lengthy 1 hour and 10 minute drive from Madera, “the loop” is also a

great place to go for a half-day hike or a morning run. Find a map to the San Joaquin

River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area, 40060 Smalley Road in Auberry, and

drive a bit past it to the Ya Gub Weh Tuh campground/day use area. The trail starts at the

end of the small parking lot.

It’s one mile downhill to the San Joaquin River Gorge Bridge, which makes for some

excellent photo opportunities. After crossing the bridge, take the Pa’san Trail to the right

and hike or run the loop counterclockwise, making sure you follow signs for the Bridge

Trail to complete the loop and get back to the gorge bridge. Once you get back to the

parking lot you’ll have completed nearly 7 ½ miles.

San Joaquin Running has hosted two events on the river trail so far, the SJRT Half

Marathon and the one-mile Pincushion Hill Climb. My first ultramarathon, the SJRT 50-

miler, (a 50K, or 31-mile, option is also offered) is coming up on Nov. 15. Check out

sanjoaquinrunning.com for details on upcoming races.

My 27th birthday is tomorrow, so on Saturday I’m going to run 27 miles of the SJRT,

including “the loop” and parts of the trail I’ve never been on. Contact me if you care to

join!

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