Gillen, Dillman climb to the top

Men's winner Aaron Gillen, left, and women's winner Sara Dillman are all smiles shortly after completing the 13.1-mile climb that is the annual Pier-to-Peak Half-Marathon

Men’s winner Aaron Gillen, left, and women’s winner Sara Dillman are all smiles shortly after completing the 13.1-mile climb that is the annual Pier-to-Peak Half-Marathon


While many understandably struggled to summit Gibraltar Peak during Sunday’s Pier-to-Peak half marathon, Aaron Gillen made it look easy.

The 31-year-old runner from Santa Barbara dashed from Stearns Wharf to the finish line, a total climb of just under 4,000 feet, in 1 hour, 33 minutes and 4 seconds.

To get an idea of Gillen’s domination, the second-place finisher, John Loftus, crossed in 1:42:15, more than nine minutes later.

“He was outta sight!” exclaimed Scott Devore, who finished two spots after Loftus.

Sara Dillman, a traveling nurse who is living in town until November, was the top female finisher and sixth overall with a time of 1:47:20.

Gillen, an elementary teacher at El Puente, becomes a three-time winner of the grueling event and added to a successful season in which he also won the Semana Nautica 15k race. He’s also prepping to race in the Long Beach Marathon in October, a distance he doesn’t normally run.

“I don’t have the perfect mechanics and every time I try to race a marathon, it just kicks my butt,” Gillen said after the race with only a small hint of fatigue. “I think the half is a good distance for me.”

That’s a safe assumption for Gillen, who also won the race in ’04 and ’06, the only other times he has competed in the race commonly referred to as the “world’s toughest half-marathon.”

When it comes to the Pier-to-Peak, there may be more prestigious races but few more scenic. After breaking through a dense fog that blanketed the city and foothills, the runners were rewarded with a view to behold. The marine layer’s thick tendrils surrounded the mountains a little like the Pacific Ocean lapping at the Channel Islands.

“It was beautiful on the way up,
you were running above the clouds
for a little bit.” Dillman said of the
sensation of emerging from the
mist into plentiful sunshine.”


Two hundred and sixty-two competitors conquered the 13.1-mile course that began at the dolphin fountain and quickly made its way uptown on Santa Barbara St. before heading past the Mission and along Mission Ridge towards Gibraltar Road. Once the trail crossed Mountain Drive, the course quickly increased its slope from hard to extremely difficult.

From here, other that Dillman, many who had success had been there before.

Second-place women’s finisher Andrea McLarty raced last year just three months after giving birth to her second child. McLarty, active in the local running scene, was happy with her performance considering she had just competed in the long-course S.B. Triathlon the week before.

Top men’s finishers Loftus and Devore also have plenty of experience with the course. They are two-fifths of a five-man team that competed in the Are You Tough Enough race in April. The steep climb on Gibraltar Road is just a small portion of that 100-kilometer relay.

One thing is for certain.

On this day, nobody better be asking Gillen if he’s tough enough; we already know the answer.


  1. Donna Gemberling says

    What a great Site! I am so happy that you began this! What a great and simple way to keep up on local sports, not to mention how fun it is for that athletes to see their names in print! Thank you!