Kida makes it 4 in a row; Vargo wins in his Pier-to-Peak debut

It’s all downhill from here…

We’re talking high up in the heavens at La Cumbre Peak in the uber-bright sunshine.

Down below are 400 runners and walkers enduring a little personal hell in their half-marathon grind up the mountain in the annual Pier to Peak run on the Sunday before Labor Day.

At various times over a few hours, they’ll eventually break out of the morning’s marine layer into the sunshine at about Mile 6 — almost halfway up.

Several hydration stations are strategically planted along the route and staffed by happy volunteers, like Jerrett McFarland and Kelly Knowles, who also provide encouragement to the hot participants.

In the end, it’s Sacramento’s Chris Vargo, 29, who finished first in 1 hour, 35 minutes, 43 seconds and several minutes ahead of local favorite and repeating champ (2008, ’09, and ’10) Eric Forte, 44, who was second in 1:40.40.


“I’m feeling a year older and was a few minutes slower than last year,” Forte said. He only took up running again four years ago at age 40 after running cross country in high school.

For Vargo, it’s his second trip to Santa Barbara and all a prelude to next month’s Chicago Marathon.

On the women’s side, Sara Kida, 30, is no stranger to the P2P Winner’s Circle – she’s been here the last three years and again in 2011 with a time of 1:51.36 (10th overall).

She is quick to give credit to her dedicated coach, and training partner, Geoff, who also happens to be her husband.

The 2011 Pier to Peak winners are Ojai's Sara Kida (for the 4th year in a row) and first-time Chris Vargo of Sacramento. (Photos by Randy Weiss)

Erin Wachter, 24, of Sacramento was the second woman to cross the finish line at 1:55.14

“Incredibly challenging, really fun and a great group of runners,” said Jessica Smith, 37, of Pier to Peak.

She ran for the first time and finished with a time of 3:03 after informally training with friends who call themselves Moms Who Run Mountains.

Smith could have shaved some valuable time had she not stopped for several minutes to show appreciation to her dedicated support team — husband, Kelly, and their two kids and friendly dog.

And for Jake Clinton, longtime P2P race director, it was “a great day.”

“The only problems were that the porta-potties weren’t where they were supposed to be and one water station misplaced 800 cups,” he offered.

Aside from that, his only concern was getting everyone off the crowded mountain safely.

Afterwards, Clinton provided a $1,500 sponsorship check to Echelon Bike Club in support of their juniors program.

Obviously missing from usual celebratory photos was Forte, as he was doing his usual cool-down lap with his girlfriend … all the way back to town.

Yes, he’s the only one to make the roundtrip on foot — again.