Santa Barbara ultra runner Jeffrey Stern started his new year by adding another record to his list of running accomplishments.
Stern set the “Fastest Known Time” for an unsupported runner on the 67-kilometer (42 miles) Los Padres Traverse earlier this month in the Los Padres National Forest.
He did it in 5 hours, 56 minutes, becoming the first person to break six hours on the rugged route without accepting outside support.
Fastest Known Time is an online site that serves as a sort of “bucket list” of the best running or hiking routes in the world. The route must be notable and distinct enough so that others will be interested in repeating, according to the site.
The previous record for an unsupported runner on the Los Padres Traverse was 6:28, set by Kris Brown in 2019. Stern’s time came close to beating the FKT for a supported runner, 5:55 by Chris Andrews in November of 2020.
The route started astarted at the end of Santa Barbara Canyon road and ran between the two wildernesses, San Rafael Wilderness on the West and Dick Smith to the East/South.
Stern’s preparation was key to his success.
“I really nailed the hydration and nutrition elements, carrying 128 ounces of water from the start, and didn’t have to stop once—despite dealing with snow fields in the first couple of hours on the north side of Big Pine,” he said. “To be able to run unsupported across a remote and rugged place like the Los Padres National Forest is a special experience, and I feel honored to have the ability and means to complete the task so swiftly.
“I had been eyeing this Los Padres Traverse for quite some time. Having completed a longer, 100-mile adventure starting from Highway 166 west of New Cuyama on mountain bikes back in 2014, I was quite familiar with 90% of this fastest known time route. Thus, it didn’t require the extensive scouting that I put into the Backbone FKT in November.”
The Los Padres Traverse was Stern’s fourth FKT achievement. He owns unsupported run records on Sulphur Mountain Road (round trip 20.5 miles, with 2,572 feet of elevation gain above Casitas Springs), and the Angostura Pass Marathon (42 kilometers from Mission Rose Garden to Gibraltar Dam). His supported ultra-run record is on the 68-mile Backbone Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Stern, the cross country coach at Laguna Blanca School, dealt with some challenges on the Los Padres Traverse. He said the temperature at the start the run on the morning of Jan. 16 was 34 degrees and there were “15 miles of sporadic knee-high snow fields” to slog through.
As the day wore on, the temperature rose to nearly 90 degrees and there was a strong headwind.
In addition to the weather issues, the course presented difficulties. There was 5,200 feet of climbing and 7,500 of descent.
Stern persevered and appears to have set the tone for a big 2021. He is already registered for six ultra run events, including the Black Canyon Ultras’ 100k in Arizona on Feb. 13.
“The Black Canyon 100k will be a redemption race for me,” he said. “I raced the 2019 edition, my first attempt at the distance, and the wheels came off a little after half way through. I’m a much more experienced runner now, and am ready to test myself against some stout competition. I’m really hungry for some real racing and I know everyone else is going to bring their top game.”
The first two finishers get tickets to the Western States Endurance Run, the world’s oldest 100-miler.