San Diego 50 Mile & Trail Marathon Review

Recently I competed in my first 50 mile race. A friend and I both decided it would be something fun to do. Because it's winter. In the desert. And we 'run' out of things to do. Hah! So anyway, our first steps were to find a race that was right for us. We looked for a race within a specific time window, that would expose us to new, scenic trails, and wasn't more than an 8hr drive. We settled on the 2nd annual San Diego 50, in Escondido, CA. It was an out-and-back course with a marathon option as well.

Photo courtesy of

There are 300 combined runners in the 50mile and marathon event. The 50mile race costs between $80-$100 depending on how early you register. To put this in perspective, Bishop's own local ultra, the Bishop High Sierra, costs between $110-$120. A high demand 50 miler, such as the American River 50, costs $185! So basically the race is very affordable. The cost includes the support of aid stations every 5 miles, a long sleeve synthetic race t-shirt, a race mug, and post race food. The race directors were very generous in their pre-race updates. They sent multiple e-mails every week in the weeks immediately before the race discussing event changes, logistical recommendations, and current weather status. It was great to see this expression of their enthusiasm for the event and it continued throughout our SD50 experience.

All us Bishop ladies who completed either the 50 mile or the marathon, posing in our race Ts
Photo courtesy of Eric Lodge

When we arrived at the home where we were going to stay the night before the race, we were both relieved and a little disappointed to hear that the start of the race was just a 10 minute drive away. If we were staying at a house in the city...and the race was just 10 minutes away...that meant that the race was also in the city?! But what about all of the impressive tree studded hillsides we had pictured? Uh oh.

The race started on time (6:30 am) and had a 13 hr cutoff time. It offered an 'early-start' option (5:30 am) for people who wanted the extra hour to try to make the cutoff time. Drop bags had to be thrown into a pile next to the start line by 6 am. By the time the race began, the sun had risen enough for my friend and I to get a better view of some of the course. The first few miles the trail followed highway 78. It wove through citrus groves (a memorable event if you live in the desert) and past a constant stream of small farms. According to our noses, it was also in the close vicinity to a dairy. Around mile 5, the course climbed 400 ft (it's largest climb) to Raptor Ridge. It was the most scenic part of the race. We descended the climb and hit our first aid station. Then we got bored. The trail, which was really more similar to a road than a trail as it was so flat and compact, followed a metal fence for several miles. We ran past produce fields and watched trucks spraying some mystery substance onto crops. We watched this solution run off of the crops, through the fence, and pool on the trail. We were forced to cross it. Not the kind of exciting water crossing I was hoping for...

Courtesy of

After trying to forget about the super-power-inducing-mystery-liquid we waded through, we hit another aid station and ran along a cement path through the city for a few miles.  We ran under a highway, past a JCPenny, and finally exited into some more 'remote' terrain. This was around mile 11. Miles 11-25 were still within sight of the city, but did feel more trail-esque. You ran past a reservoir and some wooded sections (but still followed a major road).
Photo courtesy of Eric Lodge

Aid stations were well manned and had decent food selections. They had combinations of water, soda, an electrolyte drink that seemed too diluted to be useful, energy gels, fruit and other easily digested carbs (chips, pretzels, etc). The inadequate electrolyte drink and the inconsistent stocking of gels (my main caloric consumption) were my main complaints. I took far less food than I had planned from the aid stations. Since I am the ever skeptical runner, however, I carried enough extra calories with me that my nutrition didn't suffer. On a more positive note, the volunteers were extremely friendly and seemed genuinely enthusiastic about each and every runner. I would like to thank a special volunteer at aid station 30 who prohibited me from leaving the aid station without my water bottles, which I was too tired to remember to collect. What a lifesaver! 

Photo courtesy of Eric Lodge

The course was well marked with marking flags and chalk and I never found myself confused as to where to go, despite running almost entirely by myself from mile 35 on.The wife of the race director was at the finish line congratulating runners as they finished. The post-race food I was so looking forward to was again, a disappointment. I failed to mention thus far that the temps of the race during the day soared into the mid 80's. So I was let down when I approached the food vendor at the finish line and found the only options to be hot tomato soup, hot eggs with cheese, and hot bean chili. Don't get me wrong, I ate it anyway and it tasted perfectly good. But, there was not nearly enough food to go around (food was long gone with my friend finished in 11 hrs) and it seemed a bizarre menu choice considering the local weather. Drop bags arrived promptly after the race, a convenience to having the aid stations next to major roads.

So, now I should make a few other comments about the race. My friend and I who ran the race live in Bishop, CA. We left our town in search of 'new, inspiring trails' and were disappointed. I mention this fact because as anyone who has ever been to Bishop knows, it's pretty much awesome here. We have incredibly scenic trail running either in, or near the Sierra, at all times of the year. So we should have known that we were setting ourselves up for disappointment when we signed up for a race in a city with a quarter of a million people.

If I weren't a running scenery snob, I would recommend the SD50. It is a small event, relatively noncompetitive, you get a cool shirt, and the organizers are friendly and helpful. The aid station food and post race food weren't great, but they were adequate. It is a budget friendly race and a great 'intro' 50 miler as it has little elevation gain and the trail is nontechnical. I am thankful for the friendly atmosphere of the event organizers and think that the SD50 has a lot of potential to grow due to its good organization and fast course. If you are just getting in to trail running and want to run your first 50, are an experienced trail runner but want to PR a 50 mile, or live in southern California, don't pass up the SD50!

A colorful representation of some of Sage's footwear options
My lucky, and equally filthy, shirt!