Stories

Congratulations to all of our Grand Slammers from the first Battle of the Bay Challenge. Sixteen runners took on all eight routes exploring the different regions of the Bay Area. We interviewed these runners about their experiences from throughout the challenge.

Give us a one liner intro of yourself: where you’re from, how long you been in the Bay Area, what you do for work?

Originally from Australia. Came to the bay area in 2000. I work at LinkedIn.

What was your favorite trail across the BOTB? And why?

Each run has something special about it. The most memorable was the last run from the rainbow flag which I ran the morning Biden was announced winner. The spontaneous celebration in the streets was unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Just pure happiness and joy. The Diablo run has an amazing section of trail that has a wow factor. When BOTB was starting, I saw a Garmin Fenix 5x sapphire with course/map navigation on special ($399) on Amazon. I figured that if I bought it I could do BOTB, and have something interesting to do for the next few months and explore some new trails. Learning how to use it was part of the fun of BOTB. Trails like the SF crosstown were fun to run with the course preloaded onto the watch. I didn’t have to worry about taking wrong turns, because my watch would alert me.

Were any of the trails or routes completely different to what you expected?

The SF crosstown trail had lots of surprises. The Diablo ridge section is awesome. It’s amazing standing on top of Black mountain and seeing so much wilderness in the middle of the Bay area. The South Bay skyline run is surprisingly good. Some great trail running.

What was your biggest struggle and challenge across the routes?

Trying not to upset my wife when (a) I take too long or (b) I forget to leave a note.

What were your original running goals for the year? How did that change with the pandemic?

My original running goals for this year were the normal local marathons and ultras. Almost all the races were cancelled, although I really enjoyed the virtual AR50, where I ran around the bay (Richmond bridge, GG bridge, Bay Bridge, with a bus to take me from SF to TI). The BOTB was enough to get me thru until now. I might try Mt Tam to Mt Diablo. I live about halfway, so over the next few months I’ll do both halves, then try the whole thing around May next year (maximum daylight). Looking forward to the Big Basin run when it reopens as well.

Had you ran a trail race or ultramarathon distance run before this year? If not, was an ultramarathon on your horizon before 2020?

I do a couple of ultras a year (50m and 100k).

Peter McHugh

Give us a one liner intro of yourself: where you’re from, how long you been in the Bay Area, what you do for work?

I’ve been in the area for a little more than a year, having moved here from Vermont for a job opportunity. I’ve lived on the West Coast (OR, WA) for most of my working life and have always enjoyed visiting the Bay Area and am really happy to now be living here. For my professional vocation, I’m a fisheries biologist and spend most of my days (and a lot of runs) thinking about salmon.

What was your favourite trail across the BOTB? And why?

A tough call–I really enjoyed all of the long routes because they were more like point-to-point adventures than long runs, with each offering a different experience of the natural or urban world. I especially enjoyed contouring along a hillslope in the redwoods and firs over the last several miles of the South Bay Skyline, the French Trail section of the East Bay Skyline is always fun, and the SF Crosstown Trail was also a blast (what a fun way to see different corners of the city, pocket parks, hidden trails, etc.). And of course, the Diablo route (as a loop) offered a really cool (and challenging) ridge run. I guess it’s a draw, but those are my top 3-4!

Were any of the trails or routes completely different to what you expected?

For sure. The Tam route was more difficult than I anticipated, in places trending towards the kind of steep, rocky, and technical trails that are more Beast Coast than Bay Area. And the South Bay Skyline route had surprisingly long stretches of people-free solitude (but maybe it was just a function of the weather/day?), a pleasant surprise.
What was your biggest struggle and challenge across the routes? My 2-3 mile slow-slog finish on the East Bay Skyline route was for sure my biggest struggle/challenge among the 8 routes. It wasn’t a particularly hot day, but I was a little bonky and running low on fluids, so I ended up walking some of the fastest, most runnable terrain. Good thing I’m not a contender for an FKT.

What were your original running goals for the year? How did that change with the pandemic?

Being new to the area, my main goal for 2020 was to become familiar with both the trails and running community of my newly adopted home/region. For races, I was planning to run the Lake Sonoma 50M, as well as either Quicksilver or Waldo 100K. When the pandemic hit, I shifted gears but basically continued to run per what a normal year looks like for me, albeit with a little less structure/purpose. During the early, most restricted shelter-in-place days, when all parks/trails were closed, I managed to run every street in Sebastopol (https://www.strava.com/activities/3318329240), which was super fun; and I spent the remainder of the spring/summer exploring local trails. I put in several 10-20+ mile runs over that period, with a loose plan to run the EB Skyline Trail eventually (in fact, I actually stumbled onto the BOTB site while looking for a GPX of that route). And of course, BOTB gave me a focused and fun way to engage in running for the late summer and fall.

Had you ran a trail race or ultramarathon distance run before this year? If not, was an ultramarathon on your horizon before 2020?

Yes indeed, I ran my first 50K in 2015 and have put in 3-5 ultra-distance runs each year since.

Zuzana Trnovcova

Give us a one liner intro of yourself: where you’re from, how long you been in the Bay Area, what you do for work?

I am originally from Slovakia but have lived in the US since 2005 (first 5 years as a student). Up till January 2018, I lived in the greater Boston area (and southern New Hampshire for a few years), then moved to SF in February 2018. So it’s been almost 3 years!. I am a (part-time) software engineer and a professional triathlete (since 2019).

What was your favourite trail across the BOTB? And why?

I loved the Mt Diablo trail. Beautiful views, fun trail (I really enjoyed the varying terrain - surface and gradient) and I ended up running better than I thought I would despite making a few mistakes.

Were any of the trails or routes completely different to what you expected?

The second half of Mt Tam (and especially the final scramble!) was definitely rougher than I expected! Also, the steepest parts of Black Mountain felt even harder than I expected :-D So nothing “completely different”, just a bit of a surprise sometimes.

What was your biggest struggle and challenge across the routes?

The distance / time to run to complete some of the routes. I’ve been struggling with a hamstring injury since the beginning of the year and back in August I didn’t expect to be doing 2+ hour runs unless they were part of an Ironman. After completing the crosstown trail at the beginning of September, I became a bit more confident in my ability to run longer without injuring myself but I still wasn’t sure if I’d be able to complete the very long routes (over 20 miles). As more and more triathlon races got cancelled, I started doing more trail running and I think it both helped with my injury and made running the ultra-distance routes a real possibility.

What were your original running goals for the year? How did that change with the pandemic?

If not for the pandemic, I would have probably focused almost entirely on triathlons (Ironmans and half Ironmans). I might have done some local running races, including some fall trail races but probably only up to half marathon distance. Battle of the Bay was an excellent change of focus once it was more or less certain that even the fall races were not happening (though I was lucky to do one half Ironman this year - Bear Lake Brawl in Utah/Idaho in September). I’m very glad I got to explore at least some of the trails in the Bay Area this year - I had very little idea of what was out there!

Had you run a trail race or ultramarathon distance run before this year? If not, was an ultramarathon on your horizon before 2020?

I did the Mt Tam half marathon with Inside Trail racing last year. Also, at least two 10-mile trail races back on the east coast but those were nothing compared to the Mt Tam race (in terms of hilliness). I really enjoyed the Mt Tam half (not just because I somehow ended up being the first woman across the line ;-)). The big climbs were definitely a challenge, even though I thought I had done plenty of hill running within SF. I was supposed to do another trail half marathon in February but I skipped it because of the hamstring injury. At the beginning of the year, I definitely didn’t think I would run an ultramarathon any time soon and I wasn’t very sure whether I would attempt the East Bay Skyline Trail until mid October. Now that I finished it, I’m much more confident that I can finish the South Bay Skyline as well (barring any further injuries etc).

Arnaud Hebert

My name is Arnaud, my close friends call me Nono. I am a software engineer in a big tech company. I was born and raised in France. I moved to the Bay Area 8 years ago and started running road races like Bay to Breakers and half marathons. A friend of mine then took me trail running and I loved it and have never looked back. I have raced a few times on the trails, but mostly OCR races (Obstacle Course Racing: Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, etc…). I have been a successful semi-pro (age group) Spartan Race athlete with 2 US National Series Championships and 2 podiums in the Spartan Race Ultra World Championships in Iceland and the Spartan Race World Championships in Lake Tahoe. This year, I had ambitioned to take on the pro field and try to reach the podium. My efforts were stopped when the pandemic started, and I had to find new goals for myself. I set a goal of 1000 feet of running and 1000 feet of biking on average every day of the year 2020 and I already have clinched the goal with more than a month to spare. Also, when I learned about the Battle of the Bay, I was interested in getting out of my comfort zone and running in places that I haven’t yet. It didn’t take too much effort to convince everyone in my running group of friends to participate!

Living in the city, I was already familiar with the SF short segment and I enjoyed pushing my heart rate to its max over the climb that I ran regularly. Shame on me for never crossing The Bay, the East Bay Skyline was my first run on the other side of the Bay Bridge and I absolutely loved it. Well… besides the fact that we decided to run it on the warmest day of the year (Labor Day) and ran out of water after 15-20 miles because all water fountains were turned off due to Covid.

The most memorable of all the routes was Big Basin Skyline to the Sea. Our unfortunate choices of planning made us run this route maybe on the second warmest day of the year (Aug 16th), and also what became the day when most of the California fires started. Remember that night when lightning struck every 5 seconds and when it was still 90 degrees at midnight? Well, our group was probably the last to run through Big Basin park on the Skyline to the Sea trail for a while.

Besides the Battle of the Bay, one of the highlights of this year has been to be able to complete The Grand Canyon R2R2R.

Lindy Zeng

Give us a one liner intro of yourself: where you’re from, how long you been in the Bay Area, what you do for work?

I’m Lindy, a software engineer at Square and a Bay Area native — I grew up in the East Bay and have now been living in San Francisco for almost 2.5 years, after a few years on the East Coast for college.

What was your favourite trail across the BOTB? And why?

My favorite trail is The Ninja Loop. I love the view of GGB from SCA (after Alta), especially when there’s a sunset above Karla the Fog.

Were any of the trails or routes completely different to what you expected?

I didn’t expect the gigantic redwoods on the East Bay Skyline Trail (and neither did my GPS).

What was your biggest struggle and challenge across the routes?

The biggest challenge was NAVIGATION! I’ve learned that I’m terrible at reading signs and maps while running.

What were your original running goals for the year? How did that change with the pandemic?

My original 2020 running goals were — (1) break 3 hours at my third Boston Marathon, (2) finish my first ultra at the Ohlone 50K (Mission Peak holds a special place in my heart), and (3) race the PAUSATF XC season with West Valley TC. During the pandemic, I started running Mt. Sutro/Twin Peaks 1-2 times a week and took longer weekend trail excursions once the parks started opening back up. Then I heard about Battle of the Bay and it seemed like a fun thing to train for and complete, in lieu of a cross country season.

Lindsay Klassen

Give us a one liner intro of yourself: where you’re from, how long you been in the Bay Area, what you do for work?

Hello! My name is Lindsey. I originally grew up in Canada but moved to the United States 12 years ago for medical school. I moved to the Bay Area in 2012 for residency training and have called it home ever since. I am a Foot and Ankle Surgeon at Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara – which comes in handy for friends with running related ailments!

What was your favourite trail across the BOTB? And why?

It is hard to choose just one favorite Battle of the Bay segment because they were all pretty amazing! Especially because all but two were completely new routes for me, taking me to places I would otherwise not have travelled. I loved Big Basin Skyline to the Sea. Previously being on that route for a race a few years ago, I knew the trail was beautiful and it lived up to my memories of it. The best is the ocean endpoint where you can dip your feet into the water – a totally unforgettable experience. The crazy and sad thing about this route is that myself and my running friends were probably one of the last groups to do this trail, as the sky was still filled with lightning bolts from the prior evening’s lightning storm when we started and Big Basin was subsequently ravished by forest fires over the next few days. I hope that eventually the forest/trail can recover to its once graceful beauty.

What was your biggest struggle and challenge across the routes?

The most challenging route was undoubtedly East Bay Skyline. I seem to have a knack for picking the longest routes on the worst days (just ask my friends hahaha). The above route (Big Basin) was done on the second hottest day of the year (August 16) and this route on the hottest day of the year (Labor Day), where temperatures soared to 108F on the open treeless ridges. Due to Covid, all water sources were turned off except one around mile 10, so the last 15-20 miles of the course were spent on conserving every last drop we had. I am very thankful to the kind generosity of a few hikers who spared a sip or a bottle if they could. The other interesting fact about this route is that I used it for my “virtual” Boston Marathon, as the iconic race in April was cancelled due to Covid. I don’t know for sure, but of all 20,000+ participants, I have a hunch that I ran the route with the most vert (6,100’), 8 extra miles, and quite possibly the slowest time!

Were any of the trails or routes completely different to what you expected?

The East Bay short segment, Mount Diablo, was the most different than I expected. Never running in the East Bay prior to this, I was unfamiliar with the terrain. The description on BOTB says “burly and beautiful” – this could not be more true. A bit of scrambling and a few near spills left me humbled as I reached the summit. I was up for an extra challenge, so I did the 4 Peaks of Diablo as was recommended by Paddy – a must for sure!

What were your original running goals for the year? How did that change with the pandemic?

I love that I was able complete many of these routes with my running friends (SF Long/Short; South Bay Long; North Bay Short/Long; East Bay Long)! The miles and hours shared on the trails with people who share the same passion as you are undeniably the best experiences. 2020 will be an unforgettable year for many reasons, but I am happy to say that completing the Battle of the Bay’s Grand Slam, in the face of every organized running event being placed on hold this year, was a great accomplishment. Another epic adventure this year was running the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim in October. One more trail checked off the bucket list!

Thanks Paddy for organizing such an amazing event! Now…just need to complete the BONUS ROUTE!

Ravens Brook

This was such an incredible challenge and experience, thanks for designing and running it! A few photos attached and stories below.

Give us a one liner intro of yourself: where you’re from, how long you been in the Bay Area, what you do for work?

Originally from Houston, TX but I’ve been out here 17 years now so it’s home. Currently in sales operations in the payments industry.

What was your favourite trail across the BOTB? And why?

Favorite trail was the Diablo summit. I did the other 2 summits for my 40th birthday and I’d never run these two, plus the descent into Mitchell Canyon was incredible. We made it a 20-ish mile day and got a dark start, caught the sunrise and the trails and exposure were incredible. At the top we were treated to a gorgeous fog inversion and the first cyclists from one of my tri-clubs were summitting about the same time. Now I want to do all 4 in a single run.

Were any of the trails or routes completely different to what you expected?

In general I discovered a lot with the routes. But the East Bay Skyline one surprised me the most. I’ve lived in Oakland almost 6 of those 17 years now and many of the sections of that route are my everyday runs. But there were parts I didn’t know existed and didn’t know connected and it’s really opened up a ton of new possibilities.

What was your biggest struggle and challenge across the routes?

Biggest challenge was probably fitting in the training once I decided to do it. Started training in the summer when I was still visiting my parents for an extended period in Houston. So getting in lots of volume when it was 80 degrees and 95% humidity before the sun was even up wasn’t fun. Then once I was back home it was lots of sacrifice. I’m a single dad with nearly full custody of a then 6 year old. So it wasn’t like I could just take off for a few hours and run. So I got up at 4 am most weekday mornings to get an hour to 90 minutes in before he was up, shower, and get some work in before the craziness began. Then we went to Angel Fire, NM in Nov/Dec before the last run for a month so had to maintain everything with snow and ice, 9000+ mountain elevations and avg temps in the teens. A few of my long runs were a bit more adventure than I bargained for.

What were your original running goals for the year?

Originally I was after PRs this year at the Full and Half Ironman distances. Everything was cancelled/deferred by the summer and I was feeling pretty bummed out. That’s normally what I’m training for. My buddy Dave Nicely told me about this challenge and asked me to join him in running it. He sadly didn’t complete the Grand Slam after some injuries. But running was easier to do given the circumstances so I flipped my goals for the year. And also set a goal of 1000 miles too. I not only hit that but notched off a triple Everest on the year, both personal bests.

Had you ran a trail race or ultramarathon distance run before this year? If not, was an ultramarathon on your horizon before 2020?

I had experience running trails but mostly just for fun with friends or to mix it up on weekends. I’d done Ragnar Tahoe but that was the extent of my trail racing experience. I’d never run anything longer than a marathon before, but doing ultras was on my list and I thought I’d enjoy them. They just weren’t very compatible with Ironman training. So as part of this challenge I ran my first two ultras ever. And I’m hooked, I want to do more and I want to shoot for my first 50 miler.

And one other important piece of my story with this - when I started running these I was in a fairly new relationship. My girlfriend, Isela Rosales, had a similar athletic background as me, had done one street ultra, but had never run on trails. I took her on a pretty hot 13 miler around Briones Reservoir for our second date. She joined me for the first couple challenges and thought she’d just cheer me on and jump in for a few miles here and there once they started getting long. But we got up for head lamp starts nearly every weekend for a while and did these beautiful and punishing runs together. It’s been a big bonding experience between us and for that I’m also grateful.

Pics are below, use what you want!:

Isela Rosales

Give us a one liner intro of yourself: where you’re from, how long you been in the Bay Area, what you do for work?

A local who grew up in Santa Rosa and living in San Francisco. Currently working for a real estate company and building their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) program.

What was your favourite trail across the BOTB? And why?

My favorite BOTB run was the Marin Ninja Loop. Not only were the morning views of Marin stunning, it was also the run that solidified my decision to embrace trail running. Immediately after I finished that run, which my boyfriend and I converted to a 20 miler overall, we went straight to Presidio Sports Basement on foot where I bought my first pair of trail shoes, the Saucony Peregrines.

Were any of the trails or routes completely different to what you expected?

Given I was a rookie to trail running, all the routes were new to me, even the ones in my own backyard of SF. Each trail legitimately challenged me which was always rewarding, even if while on the run I wondered how on earth I would finish in one piece! The picture worthy views also made the experiences far more memorable than what I typically saw while running the road routes that were historically part of my marathon or triathlon training. Now I know why trail runners say their running takes them to a whole other world!

What was your biggest struggle and challenge across the routes?

While I’ve done many Ironman races and Boston marathons, the focus that I had to maintain while running on the path was far more intense than I’d anticipated. I am used to road running where I can zone out and the legs keep doing their thing. After a few tumbles and many more close calls, I learned that my eyes couldn’t ever leave the dirt path as the trail could be unpredictable.

What were your original running goals for the year?

Even prior to the pandemic, I had planned on the 2020 year being one where I mostly mentored and supported triathlon friends with their goals and I would dedicate more attention to rehabbing a nagging hamstring injury. I had focused mostly on cycling in the past 2 years since my hamstring tear and thought I wouldn’t be able to run long distances again without significant pain. Combined with many ankle sprains over the years, I never thought trail running would be on my horizon, let alone long distances on the trail. That all changed when I met Raven Brooks late summer and on our second date, he took me to run 13 miles on the Briones trail. He had also mentioned that the BOTB Challenge as among his goals for the fall. I was intrigued and said I would join for a couple of the shorter ones and potentially for a few miles of the longer runs or just cheer him on. Over the months, our weekend dates would comprise of pre-sunrise wake up calls, long miles on the trails, and then cooking delicious meals for each other (Raven is definitely the better cook between us!).

Had you ran a trail race or ultramarathon distance run before this year? If not, was an ultramarathon on your horizon before 2020?

Trail racing is a new sport for me and I had completed only one ultramarathon before BOTB though it was 100% on the road, the Knickerbocker 60K in New York City back in Nov-15. Before joining my boyfriend in the pursuit of the BOTB Grand Slam, an ultramarathon, let alone 2, where nowhere on my radar for 2020!

Heather Mashhoodi

I have been sort of desperate for a running community and recently made the final plunge to get on Strava : ) I saw your challenge and thought it would be a nice way to publically explore trails that I wouldn’t normally run. I come from through hiker stock (PCT 2015, CDT 2016) and am slowly training to be fast. The short trails and hill climbs were the funnest challenges for me, and a good way to increase mitochondrial efficiency.

A goal of mine for winter is to get an FKT on the bay area ridge trail circumnavigation, so some of the long trails provided a good excuse to get beta on a few of the sections.

Give us a one liner intro of yourself: where you’re from, how long you been in the Bay Area, what you do for work?

I was recently laid off from a business development job in biotech. Naturally, I took it as a sign to buy a van and commit to full time adventure athletics. I climb, mountain run, ski, and surf.

What was your favourite trail across the BOTB? And why?

My favorite trail was the south bay long route. It was mossy, green, forested and had that plush pine needle ground cover that is so iconic of our coastal redwood habitat.

Were any of the trails or routes completely different to what you expected?

YES! the SF long route. I would have never done that on my own. I am a surface snob (just not tough enough for pavement) so I was adverse to doing the crosstown trail. I found so many new greenways and beautiful art through the city that made it all worth it, and it was relatively mellow on the old knees. Also my first time visiting beautiful hunters point… Fun being the only small blonde girl at sunset desperately waiting for my Uber .

What was your biggest struggle across the routes?

Trying to be fast on the short routes!

What were your original running goals for the year?

My biggest goal is to connect with a running community. I’ve always been a long wolf, but the pandemic forced loneliness on me in a big way. Long runs are better shared, even if I have to slow down or do something less intense. Other than that, I had no races planned. I want to get the FKT for the bay area ridge circumnavigation in January and the AT self supported NOBO in the Spring.

Had you ran a trail race or ultramarathon distance run before this year? If not, was an ultramarathon on your horizon before 2020?

Yes. Yes. I did a 100K trail race called go loco.

Ruben Larsson

Thanks for hosting! Definitely motivating in a year where everything else was cancelled!

Give us a one liner intro of yourself: where you’re from, how long you been in the Bay Area, what you do for work?

Originally from Sweden, but ended up in the bay for work after going to school in Canada. Been in the Bay area for 5 years now, still loving the weather.

What was your favourite trail across the BOTB? And why?

Loved the mix of trails included but very impressed by the length of trails linked together for both the east bay and skyline long routes. Got to enjoy some beautiful views along the way as well.

What was your biggest struggle and challenge across the routes?

Likely due to my timing but was surprised to be slipping around in mud on both of the SF routes.

What were your original running goals for the year?

2020 was supposed to be my first year running Boston, we’ll see if it happens fall 2021 instead? BOTB was the first introduction into anything longer than a marathon, especially on trails: opened my eyes to a whole new set of challenges.

Would love a BOTB 2.0!

Emily Kuo

Give us a one liner intro of yourself: where you’re from, how long you been in the Bay Area, what you do for work?

I’m originally from Chicago, but I’ve lived in San Francisco for a little over 7 years and work as a software engineer.

What was your favourite trail across the BOTB? And why?

The SF Crosstown Trail was probably my favorite route during the challenge. I’d been meaning to run all parts of the route for a while, but wasn’t expecting to run it all in one go. It was great getting to piece it all together and experience the few parts that I hadn’t yet explored. To top it off, the conditions for the run made for a more whimsical experience. It’d be raining all day, but let up right before the start. What followed was a peaceful jaunt through hazy and mystical San Francisco.

Were any of the trails or routes completely different to what you expected?

The South Bay Skyline trail wasn’t totally what I expected, but I had also never been on any of those trails. I was surprised by the amount of trail variation I encountered, not all of which I was a fan of, but I did enjoy much of the single track trails along the route.

What was your biggest struggle and challenge across the routes?

For the overall challenge, my biggest struggle was being able to fit in all the routes without totally wrecking my body. I had been totally content going out on 3 mile runs but somehow had to squeeze 2 ultramarathons and the 6 other hard efforts into a short time period. I mentally checked out a couple times but completed them all! The hardest and final route for me was the South Bay Skyline trail. My original was to get through the run feeling good, but things didn’t quite go as planned. A late start had me going out way too fast as I was racing against the sunset. Things started falling apart about half way through and I really hit a wall around mile 24. I almost called it quits multiple times, but clearly the allure of the grand slam was too much to resist and I was able to shuffle my way to the finish.

What were your original running goals for the year? How did that change with the pandemic?

I didn’t really have any running goals set. I’ve been wanting to work on breaking my 800 PR and that was definitely on my mind for the year but I hadn’t made any concrete goals. Running has generally taken the backseat to soccer for me and I’m not always successful in runs around my soccer schedule, especially when that gets very busy. The pandemic put a pretty hard stop to soccer so I’ve been able to focus more on running, especially upping my endurance.

Had you ran a trail race or ultramarathon distance run before this year? If not, was an ultramarathon on your horizon before 2020?

I’ve run the double dipsea (2017) and done many Spartan races, but in general I almost never run over 10 miles. Marathons were barely on my horizon, let alone ultramarathons before this challenge.