Liam Lonsdale, an Oakland resident and professional trail runner (among other things), has made the Bay Area Ridge Trail some of his main stomping grounds since moving to the Bay Area in 2018. He’s held Fastest Known Times (FKTs) on some parts, competed for records on others, and taken in the overwhelming natural beauty and scenery for countless hours and miles whilst exploring the area. Liam noted that: “Passing one of your trail markers is always a reassuring and familiar sight.”
When his footwear sponsor, Speedland, offered to make a donation to a trail charity of his choosing, Liam felt the Bay Area Ridge Trail was more than deserving of the donation for the exceptional work we do. Read more about Liam’s experience running the Ridge Trail (and beyond), and why he was inspired to give back to the trail.
RT: How long have you been running/climbing and how did you get into it?
LL: I’ve been running since I could support myself on two feet, and exploring trails and nature for almost as long. I grew up in the UK, and lived in a town in the Lake District, a national park famous for its brutally steep terrain, ancient mountain trails, and as the name suggests, its multiple beautiful bodies of water. I started climbing in my late teens and really found a deep love for the sport and the lifestyle. Combining the two meant I could climb in places that were difficult to get to, either because of a long walk or difficult terrain. For the past few years my sole focus has been on running, but I am excited to get back on the rock again very soon.
RT: How did you learn about the Ridge Trail?
LL: Honestly it was by accident. When I first visited San Francisco I went for a run in the Presidio and whilst exploring the trails there saw one of the RT sign posts … once I had noticed that one, I started to notice more and more, especially as I found myself exploring trails outside of the city, around Pacifica to the south, and the Marin Headlands to the north.
RT: I hear that you hold a few FKT’s on parts of the Ridge Trail, and have competed for records on others. Tell us more about your running adventures on the Ridge Trail (and beyond).
LL: So the FKT was on the San Francisco Crosstown Trail which traverses the city from Candlestick Point to Lands End … on the way it crosses the RT just below Twin Peaks, so not an FKT on the route itself, but intersecting it. I ran with another Englishman, my friend Luke Wicker.
After running that FKT we both turned our attention to a bigger project. We had a vision to run every single hill in San Francisco, in one continuous push in the spirit of an English “Round”, a concept that links up multiple significant peaks in an area, starting and ending at the same point, often self-supported, and often with a 24hr time limit. For various reasons I had to bow out of running the entire route, but supported Luke on his successful and the first ever ‘San Francisco Round’, another route which intersects with the RT many times over its course, and also joins it in a few too.
Following on from that I was looking for a point to point route again in the Bay Area and at the same time moved to the East Bay. Naturally, the East Bay Skyline Ridge Trail became an obvious choice. I scoured and scouted every section of the route, training on it, refining sections and figuring out my running strategy. Sadly, less than a month before my planned attempt at the record I picked up an injury, followed by two more (one of which I am still rehabbing at this moment). The FKT attempt is still in my sights, but just getting back out onto the trails at all is my first goal.
And then of course there is the Bolinas Ridge Trail, a trail which I stumbled upon by accident. One morning I decided I wanted to go for a long run and took the chance of a free ride to a trailhead on the way to Point Reyes as a sign. I plotted out a route very quickly, following what seemed to be major trails, and set off about an hour later with a plan to run the 35 miles or so back to San Francisco. I spent the afternoon running, and finished in the dark on Crissy Field (after a ride in the back of a police cruiser across the Golden Gate Bridge, but that’s a story for another time). Three years later I was running with a friend who was telling me that a new FKT on the Bolinas Ridge Trail had been recorded. I looked it up and realized my route several years earlier was the exact same route (minus the police cruiser ride and finish in the city. Turns out I’d been faster than the two previous FKT’s by a decent margin and hadn’t even known. Nevertheless, it’s a stunning trail which again incorporates several miles of the RT.
Beyond the Bay Area I’ve run all over the world, on four continents, in countless countries, on thousands of miles of trail. I’ve run in the desert in +100ºF heat, and I’ve run on mountain ridges in -20ºF, and everything in between. There really is nothing like moving at speed through nature, especially the mountains.
RT: Any good Trail stories or encounters? What has been most surprising out on the Trail?
LL: I feel like the Bolinas Ridge one is pretty good. Ha
There’s always a story to tell on the trails in the Bay Area, be it chance encounters with wildlife (I’ve had plenty of coyotes running with me along the trail over the years, and some special bobcat sightings too), to breathtaking views, weather phenomena … you never know what you might get. The most surprising moments are always the snake encounters, generally when I’m jumping over them whilst running at speed, it certainly keeps the heart rate up!
RT: What are some of your favorite Ridge Trail sections? How has the Ridge Trail inspired you?
LL: I’ll never forget my time running in the Presidio when I first moved to The Bay, and that section of the RT has some really beautiful trails through the forest and out onto the cliffs above Marshall Beach heading to Fort Point. And then of course you’re onto the Golden Gate Bridge itself which is about as iconic as it can get, right? Even though it’s not necessarily your traditional trail terrain, it links up the Presidio and the Headlands which are exceptional spaces to run.
Another firm favorite is the section from Tilden to Redwood Regional Park, and onto Anthony Chabot. I’ve run every trail on that section more times than I can remember, and still they never get boring. I adore the trails in this part of the Bay.
If I had to choose one more favorite I’d say the section through Sanborn County Park and Castle Rock State Park. The sandstone formations are eerie in the fog, and epic in sunshine, the trails are varied and technical, and I can stop for a spot of bouldering on the way too!
To talk about how the RT has inspired me is to talk about how adventure inspires me. I love the way that the Ridge Trail Council has sought to create something really incredible. The way that the RT will link up the hundreds of miles of trails, counties and cities and towns, millions of people … I mean, how can that NOT be inspiring.
RT: Would you ever see yourself circumnavigating the Ridge Trail? What’s the next big outdoor adventure or race on the horizon for you?
LL: I absolutely DO see myself circumnavigating the Ridge Trail, and that’s why this donation to the Trail Opportunity Fund is so important to me. The thought of a complete 550 mile circumnavigation in one push, self-supported, fills me with excitement. I know that every donation is a step closer to completion, so yeah, you could say I’m doubly excited. In the meantime, I will continue to use the RT as a means of exploring the wider Bay Area, and linking up new sections. There is another FKT route that follows a large section of the trail, but as far as I am aware nobody has attempted it before so I’ll keep it under wraps for now … at least until I get back to training.
Which goes some way to answering the “what’s next?” question … getting “un-injured”, back to full strength and returning to the trails is my focus. Once I have done that, then I can start planning outlandish and audacious adventures and goals… And so that means getting back to hiking first … with a section of the RT literally a mile from my front door, that’s where I’ll be starting!