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Getting Runners Off the Street

January 13, 1994|RICK VANDERKNYFF | Rick VanderKnyff is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition. and

Barry Hawley ("Baz" to his friends) is waging a sometimes lonely campaign to get runners off the pavement and onto the trails.

Since 1984, the gregarious English expatriate has organized the San Juan Trail 50, a 50-mile run held each fall along trails in the backcountry of Cleveland National Forest. A favorite event among that hardy breed known as ultra-distance runners, the race is nonetheless well beyond the limits of most weekend warriors.

So last year, Hawley launched a four-race series of shorter off-road runs starting from Blue Jay Campground off Ortega Highway. The winter series has been expanded to six runs for 1994, starting Saturday with a 12-kilometer jaunt and building up to a 50K run March 26. The races will be held every two weeks.

With a shoestring budget, Hawley is depending on word-of-mouth to build the series. Last year's races ranged from 40 to 90 runners. Some of the more popular street runs can draw thousands of participants, but Hawley sees hope for his crusade to get runners to try the trails.

Many runners over 30 years old "are really sick and tired of the 10Ks and that sort of thing," Hawley said. When they try trail running, he added, the injuries have fallen.

"Running slower and on softer terrain is definitely easier on the legs and joints."

Trail running has the advantage of some spectacular scenery as well. From the trails around Blue Jay, at about 3,000 feet, there are vistas that stretch such peaks as San Jacinto, above Palm Springs, and San Gorgonio, the highest peak in Southern California.

"Once they have tried the trails, I have never had anybody say, 'Hey Baz, that was terrible,' " Hawley said. He is counting on lots of repeat runners for the coming series, plus an infusion of newcomers.

Saturday's course starts off with a half mile on paved road to separate the runners before they hit the trail loop. The course includes some moderate elevation gain and loss.

The race begins at 8 a.m. Runners can register before the race, but there's a $5 penalty atop the $12 fee.

Coming events are a 16K on Jan. 29, entry fee $12; a 22K on Feb. 12 for $18; another 12K on Feb. 26 for $12; a four-by-12K team relay March 12 at $60 per team, and the 50K race March 26, with an entry fee of $40. Series T-shirts are $9.

The relay is something Hawley tried out at a recent race he organized at Lake Isabella.

"It worked out really fantastic," he said. "What I'm hoping for basically is for groups to get involved in trail running."

What: 12K trail run.

When: Saturday, Jan. 15, at 8 a.m.

Where: Blue Jay Campground, Cleveland National Forest.

Whereabouts: From the San Diego (5) Freeway, exit at Ortega Highway and drive north into the hills, past Ronald W. Caspers Regional Park and past Upper San Juan Campground. Turn left at Main Divide Road and follow the signs to Blue Jay Campground.

Wherewithal: $12 (T-shirt is $9).

Where to call: (714) 380-2666.

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