Foothill Flyers Race Reviews
Last update Dec. 10, 2015

Holcomb Valley 33 & 15 Mile Trail Run, Big Bear

2nd Sunday Meadows Edge Picnic Area, Big Bear Lake.
33 Mile 7:00 AM and 15 mile 7:30 AM start.
Limited to the first 200 Runners, no race day entries.
All runners must carry at least one water bottle.
Club party after race at Nancy and Richard Gilmores mountain palace.

App and info click on Holcomb Valley above

See Robert and Maria Vangilder's photos of the 2013 race.
Christine Eng said: "I'm beginning to realize why you crazy ultras do this. #1 every race is like a family reunion; #2 it's beautiful out here; and #3 it's much more fun doing your training mileage when someone is waiting for you at an aid station with M&Ms, pretzels, homemade cookies and champagne."

This is a loop course on the Pacific Crest Trail and US Forest roads in the San Bernardino Forest. 7 well stocked aid stations (3 for 15 mile) with water, gatorade, fruit, homemade cookies and more - Great margs at #1 and champagne brunch at #2. Spaghetti, chicken noodle soup and sodas supplied at the finish. Drop bags for 33 mile only. Finishers medals. Overall, Age group and Masters awards.

Biggest climb is about 1000 ft rise to the Pacific Crest Trail for 2 miles that is rocky at some parts. Once on top, the course follows wide jeep roads with mild ups and downs exept for one 600 ft climb from the meadow turn on to trail 3N12 to Aid Station #2. PCT is spactacular with wild flowers, woods, and views of Big Bear Lake. Challenging, but walkers can make the 15 mile in 4 hrs. Only experienced ultra trail runners should attempt the 33 due to the altitude and noon heat.

A Couch Potato's View of Holcomb Valley
by Tom O'Hara

This run in the Big Bear area has everything: high altitude, forest, lakes, meadows, wild flowers, rocks, abandoned mines, champagne and margaritas. For club members, you can even stay the night at the fabulous Gilmore Compound in Arrow Bear where you can kick back on the porch and feed the squirrels and blue jays as you relax waiting for the burgers to burn. Sure, Larry Gothardt was one of the last ones to take a shower and the stopped up drain pipe filled up which left him standing in 3 inches of water, but hey, for the price, whaddaya want? Oh, and you do have to listen to Principal Nancy's school stories, but after a few glasses of wine, it is all a buzz. Since the trail is not very wide (jeep road and single track) they have a stagger start with groups spaced every 2 minutes and the 33 milers go out at 7:00am and the 15ers at 7:30am. No problem for me since I stagger from start to finish these days. Both the 15 mile and 33 mile do the same first 12 miles. By the time I got to the top of the Cougar Crest Trail and on to a short segment of the Pacific Crest Trail toward the first aid station, the first 33 miler passed me. Hozer left early and was just going to be waiting for me and Nancy at aid station #1 to cheer us and Flyers Bill Dickey, Mark Ryne, Larry Gothardt, Manuel Garcia, Dina and then return. He told me on the walkie talkie that there was a Mexican theme at #1 and one guy had margs. I got there just in time to get one but it sacrificed some time such that fast walker Nancy caught up with me.

The area around jeep trail 3N09 and 3N16 is a wide valley with a beautiful meadow fed by a spring at one end. I could see horses and a ranch house about a half mile away - wish I had a camera.

Looking back, no Nancy. I was making good time jogging on the flats. But then rounding the turn onto 3N12 is a 700 ft climb above 7000' to aid station #2. My heart rate monitor was beeping at me at times even at a slow walk.

Then appears an aid station with a big sign saying "Champagne Brunch." It was all I could do to sip a cup of the bubblie without inhaling some up my nose. I asked the aid station people to tell Nancy that I passed through a half hour ago and that to call her SID as that was her nickname. I explained that she loved champagne and had been known to Suck It Dry - the champagne bottle that is. But then I hear the click of her ski poles and there she is! How can this be? I jogged most of the meadow flats; she can't have walked that fast.

After reaching the high point on the PCT, I figure this is where I pull ahead of Nancy cuz I love a good down hill single track. OK, so I slowed at a few points to take in the wild flowers and fantastic views of Big Bear Lake down below, but no way this walker can catch me now. Pulling into aid station #3 I find all the margs are gone, but that's OK we got good down hill the rest of the way so why not nibble on some of the goodies. With my mouth full of cookie I hear that "click, click, click" of ski poles and almost choke. No way Jose, she musta found a short cut.

Off down the last 3.5 miles to the 15 mile finish. All I gotta do on one 2 mile segment that drops about 800 feet is to lift my knees a little and let gravity do the rest. Unless Nancy has a hang glider hidden some where, I got her beat. Nearing the trail parking lot I chance a few glances back and listen for tell tail clicks - nada. An easy jog in the last half mile to see Hozer, Mary Ann, Larry, Emmy and Manuel relaxing in the shade at the finish line. 40 seconds later I hear "click, click, click."


Jimmy Downs 2011 Race Experience:
This is my second year at the Holcomb Valley 15 and 33 mile Trail Run. Like last year, I went for the 15 miler. Holcomb Valley is on the North shore of Big Bear Lake. You go from around 6000 ft. up to the highest of 8200 ft. in climbing. I stayed with some friends the night before in Running Springs. That way it was only a 30 minute drive to the start in the morning.

Not as cold as I remembered from last year on race morning. A little omen of what the day would be like. After a quick, painless check-in, I was ready. Or as ready as I was going to get. We start in waves. The 33ers went out starting at 7 in 4 waves. They seat you in your wave according to your last year's finish time or the time you think you are going to do it in, if you are a rookie. Due to my stellar performance last year, I was seated in the last wave. Just so I was out of the way of the real runners. Talking to a friend, she mentioned that the start was the portion she hated the most. Because it was up hill. I mentioned that; "Don't they all start up hill?"

10 minutes after 07:36, I remembered what she meant. We start in a parking lot and go up. Not very up at first. But after a quarter mile of minor climbing, I was having trouble breathing. Oh, yeah I remember now. After a half mile I had to walk and get my barrings. A couple minutes later I was okay. Just had to get that intitial shock out of my system. We continue up for a half mile. This is not bad. Nice trail with some rocks and roots. Then the rock garden comes. For the next mile of single track, it is real rocky. Really have to keep on it to keep from becoming a dirt dart or face planting. This guy comes by with a kid on his shoulders and asked how far we have gone and how far to the aid station. I wondering if I had information tattoed on my forehead.

Got to the split and made the turn for the mile run to the first aidstation. Like last year, this is where I cross paths with leader of the 33 miler. He is going up and I am down. Gives me a shout out "Good job". I have met this guy before. Great guy. Put almost an hour on the second place guy.

At this point I am slowly picking up people from the first waves. But we are still pretty spread out. Every once and while I will see a pink shirt get a little closer. A one point I can see it, then it is gone. As I turn a corner I see a runner stopped and someone on the ground, wrapped around a tree. Got closer and that pink shirt had become a dirt dart. Stopped to see what had happened and what can be done. She tried to get up, but we advised against it. Her one knee was pretty chewed. Got her to calm down and settled. Luckily the aid station was only 100 yards away. Went over and got them to send medical out to her. Grabbed some potatoes, soda and more gatorade and off I went.

Here we made a slight right turn onto a truck trail or dirt road. My least favorite portion. Hard packed dirt with rocks that almost act like marbles. But here is where I picked those 8 minutes I would later PR with. Now we are in the Holcomb Valley. You see the field of runners in front you and you can look across the valley and see where you have to go and the other runners. They raise horses here and you can see them in the valley there. This is pretty flat with some rollers. You're exposed to the sun and it is starting to get hot.

After about 7 miles, you leave the valley and start to climb. For us 15ers, this is probably our worst climb. All on truck trail, but up and up. For about mile and half. Slowly picked off 3 runners in this section. The last one, it was a matter of who could walk the fastest to the mile 8.3 aid station. Stopped and refueled with more Gatorade, should have brought an extra bottle. When will I learn?

Here we make a turn onto what I would consider the best part of the race. 3.9 miles of beautiful single track to aid station 3. However, like last year. That stupid climb gased my legs and I was climbing up over 8000 ft. That took the starch right out of me. Lost contact with those I had in my sights. Now I am all alone for a while. Someday I will crack the nut on this section.

Still getting warmer. After maxing out at 8200 ft., it starts to go down. As I drop below 8000 ft. I start to feel better. Still have not seen or heard anyone for 40 minutes. I make a turn, get a blast of cool air coming off the lake and get a great view of Big Bear Lake, 1500 ft. above it. What a view! Feeling a little revitalized. Continue on and now I can hear voices. Getting close to the next aid station. A quick trot through more trees and out I come. I see Hoser sitting there. Good to see a friend and get a little encouragement.

Ran behind a guy for a while, until he gave me the pass. Got to the split. I guess I snuck up on the guy there. He was little startled when I can up to him. Back through the rock garden. This is a pretty tough section. The legs are gased and weak. You are going down. Everytime I would hit a rock the wrong way, my legs would buckle to a point of almost collapsing. I would put my hand out on the cutbacks to stablize my turns. Can't see anyone in front of me and do not here anyone behind me. A mile and half of this and I am out in the open on a dirt path. A few hikers going up. I reach the asphalt and the tunnel.

This thing is in the bag. I see a guy about 50 yards ahead. Just kind of appeared. He went left or straight. I wondered why he could not see the big white arrows on the road pointing the right way. I was not going after him. I guess he would figure it out when he hit the lake's edge. Actually felt pretty good during those last 300 yards of parking lot to the finish.

What a day. PRed by 8 minutes. Stopped over and got some pasta and chicken soup. Also getting hot. I really felt for those still out there. You trail guys should try to get out there once. It is a great event and course, but very tough. I greatest feeling I get, is seeing the last people come in. I know what I can do. Watching the rookies come in over 5 hours on 15 mile course just beat to death. 274 signed up. 7 DNFed. 50 for some reason did not show or would not even try. 217 of us made it to the finish. Having been out there all alone from hours, but finishing. Next year, a buddy and I are shooting for under 3:15. We'll see.


The domain of this page is Foothillflyers.org Copyright ©2015 Tom O'Hara. All rights reserved. Webmeister contact: tomsmb at aol dot com