The San Joaquin River Trail Half Marathon will challenge endurance runners like no other 13.1-mile course.
But the challenge of the March 8 race isn't its distance — it's the cumulative 2,500-foot elevation gain across three stretches of significant uphill and downhill on the course that crosses out-and-back over the river in the San Joaquin River Gorge above Prather.
That's the sort of course generally reserved for ultramarathons or 50K trail runs.
"I guess it's just the sick mind at work," said race organizer Nathaniel Moore. "I designed the course to be difficult and really get people on the good portions that are hard but enjoyable."
Moore, 30, of Clovis, runs regularly at the gorge and wanted to share the beauty of Fresno's backyard with other distance runners.
Moore started running the gorge in 2010 while training for an ultramarathon and heard from some friends about the trail runs at the end of Sky Harbor Road above Millerton Lake.
"When I first trained there I was humbled beyond belief at this 2-mile run and how many hills there were," Moore said. "I almost feel guilty that I'm hogging it to myself because it's right here."
Moore secured permits from the Bureau of Land Management to put on the race that uses parts of old Native American trails — the Pa'san Ridge and Wuh-ki'o trails.
"It brings out a sincere enjoyment for those that like being out in nature," he said. "I want people who haven't been out on the trail to get out there."
Competitors will have three aid stations along the course to get through the tough terrain. At the finish line, they'll receive a tri-blend race shirt and an official SJRT Half Marathon pint glass, and awards will be given to the top three overall male and female runners and three-deep in each age group.
Sara Fry, a 23-year-old backpacker from Clovis, and partner John McKinney of Colorado in November were the first to complete the SJRT 100-mile thru-hike from Friant Cove to Devil's Postpile. The half-marathon course does not sit exactly on the SJRT, but Fry said it will give competitors a good taste of the terrain, with panoramic views extending beyond the trail.
"The single track trail puts you right in the SJRT wilderness and will hopefully bring more people out to the trail," Fry said.
A limited number of spots are still available for the half-marathon, as well as volunteer and sponsorship opportunities.
Registration costs $55 through today and jumps to $60 starting Friday, before it closes on March 1 or once capacity is reached. Register at fblinks.com/SJRThalf, or visit www.facebook.com/SJRThalfmarathon for more details.
Interested volunteers and sponsors should contact Fry at (559) 903-8087.
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