SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Hundreds of runners competed in one of the most grueling endurance races in the country called the Santa Barbara 9 Trails Ultra.
Early Saturday morning, Race Director Luis Escobar started the race with this caveat: "If I get hurt, lost or die, it's my own damn fault."
Runners repeated the mantra back to him before taking off on a grueling 35-mile run through the Santa Barbara and Montecito front country.
Runners navigated rocks, creeks and steep hills, traversing more than 10,000 feet of vertical gain.
Many of the trails on the course had to be rebuilt and restored after back-to-back disasters the previous year.
Men's winner Jim Walmsley crossed the finish line in 5 hours and 12 minutes shattering the course record set back in 1994.
"You can tell there's been a lot of work put into the trails to bring them back. Some of the parts look brand-new and still a lot of debris fall in sections,” Walmsley said.
Walmsley is a professional long distance runner widely considered one of the best athletes in the country. He is one of several other elite runners who showed up to this year's event-- the deepest field in the race's history. Walmsley lives and trains in Flagstaff, Arizona.
"We are getting hammered with a little more weather than usual. So why not come to sunny Santa Barbara and have some good spring training?” he said.
The top finisher for the women was Taylor Nowlin. She is also based in Flagstaff, Arizona and said the local trails are some of the best she's ever raced on.
"I'm just so thankful I got to see the trails. They were way more difficult than I expected, way rockier but super, super fun. I loved it," she said.
Escobar, who took over the race in 2004 and is also a well-known ultra runner, is grateful to the many groups, including The Montecito Trails Foundation which helped restore the trails badly damaged by the Thomas Fire and Montecito Mudslide just in time for race day.
Escobar hopes to keep the integrity of this gritty and typically under-the-radar race alive.
"If it's received well by the community, we'll do it again," he said.