An OBcean Runs the Noble Canyon 50K While Out & About in the San Diego Mountains

by on October 25, 2019 · 3 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

By S. Grace

It’s 6:15 in the morning and freezing in this canyon as I’m fantasizing about that expensive long sleeve dri-fit shirt I bought a while back with the thumb holes in the end of the sleeves. Come to think of it, those running gloves I picked up at Big 5 down off Sports Arena…and could there possibly be a better time than now to actually be wearing them?

Instead my hands are tucked up under my armpits trying to keep my thumbs from freezing solid while all that nice running gear is resting soundly back in OB for those precious last few minutes before the airplanes start rattling the windows at 6:35.

My buddy and I are pacing around the starting gate for the Noble Canyon 50K trail run just outside Pine Valley wondering what it is again that made us think this was such a great idea. Then I remember back to a camping trip as a kid in the Midwest, probably 9 or 10 years old at the time, and I had just seen some National Geographic special on “Ultra Marathoners” and then, there in the bathroom at some state park, up walks this guy to the sink and his toes are all black and blue and I look up at him and ask “do you run ultra marathons?”

He smiled a little bit and said, “yeah, I ran a 100-mile race yesterday,” and I felt like I was talking to Superman. How could anyone run a hundred miles? What would make them do such a thing? And man his feet sure look like they hurt!

And damn it’s cold. Is this thing ever gonna start?

After what seemed like an eternity, the race director appears up on the podium and reminds everyone that although it’s pretty cold now, we’re actually set to get mighty warm in a couple of hours and that when we hit that point out there on the trail when everything starts to suck— because that’s going to happen— just remember… to smile.

Then BANG the gun goes off and away we go for 31+ miles of trails from Pine Valley up to Mt. Laguna near the corner of Anza Borrego State Park and back down to Pine Valley and hopefully, if all goes well we’ll get a little wooden medal, a tee shirt, and some cold pizza for our efforts.

For anyone who hasn’t heard of the Noble Canyon Trail then you’re really missing out.

Located just 45 miles east of Ocean Beach, Noble Canyon Trail is one of the truly great mountain biking /hiking/ running trails in southern California. In fact, it’s easy to actually forget that you’re still in southern California once you disappear under the canopy of Jeffrey Pine and ancient Live Oak trees hugging Pine Creek all the way from Mt. Laguna 10 miles down to Pine Valley.

And that’s one of the magical things about San Diego in my mind. There simply aren’t many places where you can experience three distinct micro-climates (coastal, mountain, desert) in less than 100 miles, and it’s literally in our back yard as San Diegans!

I try to keep reminding myself of how lucky I am to live in San Diego as we slog our way up to the first aid station around mile 9 and my thumbs are still numb despite the sun rising over the trail.

After this aid station there are about 6 more miles of steady climbing up toward the top of Mt. Laguna by the observatory where the trail turns south for a big loop around Laguna Meadow before joining back up with Noble Canyon Trail and retracing our steps back down to the start/ finish line.


From the Pacific Crest Trail near the top you can see Mt. San Jacinto to the north near Palm Springs and east past the Salton Sea over the Anza Borrego Desert and all the way south down into Mexico. It’s a view unlike any you’ll see in the “Coastal Living” magazines around town, although from a few places you can even see the ocean over the mountains 50 miles away.

By the time I finally make it to the last aid station and chug more soda and dip more boiled potatoes into a plate of salt than I ever even thought was possible, the scenery is mostly mountain chaparral with the occasional lizard darting across the trail.

It has been the longest run of my life, and I can’t wait to get back to OB to tell my friends how awesome the Noble Canyon Trail is and maybe even schedule an overnight backpacking trip out there under those oak trees halfway up.

Three miles later I slap the arch above the finish line and the race official gives me that coveted wooden medal and I high-five my buddy as we head directly for the cold pizza tent.

Now it’s time to head back to Newport Avenue for that cold celebration beer.

And to think we never even left San Diego County!


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Ray Flores October 25, 2019 at 4:44 pm

Fantastic account of trail running in the Mtns. above SD. Congratulations on your accomplishment, and thanks for the vicarious thrill!


mindi umbrell October 25, 2019 at 6:55 pm

This S. Grace sounds like a badass and all around awesome human! Love his article.


MelZ October 26, 2019 at 3:19 pm

Your zest for life and appreciation for it makes me SMILE. Well done Scotty Grace.


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