Dizzy, shivering and fatigued, Chris Thoburn shuffled back onto the trail after a 24 minute rest. While this doesn’t sound like the triumphant scene you’d imagine if you had just set a new record, that’s exactly what Chris had done. On November 28, 2020, he ran the 32 mile East Bay Skyline National Recreational Trail in 3:59:01, the fastest known time (FKT) for this trail.
The East Bay Skyline National Recreational Trail (Skyline Trail) shares much of its route with both the Bay Area Ridge Trail and the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail. At the north end, the trail begins at Alvarado Park and the entrance to Wildcat Canyon Regional Park in Richmond. Along the way this trail provides a mix of epic views along the ridgelines and shady redwood groves as it winds through Tilden Regional Park, Sibley Volcanic and Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserves, Redwood Regional Park, and finally ends at Proctor Gate in Anthony Chabot Regional Park near Castro Valley. Find maps for these Ridge Trail segments here.
Chris was initially inspired to run the Skyline Trail after learning about Brian Gillis’ BART to BART runs. When he heard about Paddy O’Leary’s FKT on this trail set in 2018, Chris decided to take on the challenge. During 2020, he attempted to run the Skyline Trail with the FKT –and in under 4 hours– a total of 3 times. He set these goals before he knew about the Battle of the Bay, a competition organized by Paddy O’Leary where trail runners compete to set the FKT on trails in four different Bay Area regions, including the Skyline Trail. After learning his goals aligned with the competition, he joined the “Battle” as well!
The first time he attempted these goals, Chris was still recovering from lung surgery from a few months prior. On his second attempt, he achieved the overall (and unsupported) FKT, but hadn’t quite reached the under-4-hour mark. The third time was the charm. Chris became the first person to run the Skyline Trail in under 4 hours, with less than a minute to spare!
But the run wasn’t over. Not only did Chris aim to set the FKT for the Skyline Trail, he wanted to set the FKT for both out and back – a total of 64 miles. However, with only 9 months after his lung surgery and with the exertion of the 32 miles behind him, Chris ended the return run attempt after 6.7 miles. While this may have felt like giving up in the moment, Chris had set a record, accomplished a huge goal, and eventually came around to his success.
With the cancellation of most races this year due to COVID and with the East Bay Ridge Trail right in his backyard, Chris enjoys exploring the trails near his home. He runs about 3 to 4 times a week on trails throughout the East Bay and says of the Ridge Trail,
“I really appreciate the connectedness of this trail; it links so many parks together with so few road crossings. You can forget you’re close to civilization and really get immersed.”
As for Chris’ advice for others who want to try out trail running? “You can’t go wrong. There are so many trails out here, just go out and get a little lost. Explore and have fun –and don’t be scared of a steep-looking hill!”
We have a feeling it won’t be long before Chris is back out on the trail–getting lost, having fun, and chasing that next FKT.