Organista, Blackwell reach La Cumbre Peak first

It was a test of patience and perseverance for Matt Organista at Sunday’s grueling Pier to Peak Half Marathon from Stearns Wharf to La Cumbre Peak.

Organista is a standout at shorter running distances and in sprint triathlons. But running 13.1 miles … and going up hill to the finish at 4,000 feet? He had to make serious changes to his game plan.

The Carpinteria athlete managed to keep a steady pace, and his competitive juices kicked in near the finish, enabling him to hold off ultramarathoner and Ironman triathlete Van McCarty, of San Luis Obispo, to win in his Pier to Peak debut. Organista’s time was 1 hour, 38 minutes. 35 seconds. McCarty ran 1:38.58 and Santa Barbara’s Matt Dubberley finished third in 1:42.42.


Santa Barbara’s Martha Blackwell repeated as women’s champion. She crossed the finish line in 2:04.27. Brook Warner of Shell Beach was second in 2:05.13 and Goleta’s Christina Knapp took third in 2:08.04.

“It wasn’t my best time,” Blackwell said of her performance. “I know I’ve run under two hours before. It was a little warm. But it was fun. It’s always an accomplishment.”

Running up steep and windy Gibraltar Road, Blackwell said she pushed hard in the shady spots on the road.

“The good thing about getting up there early is the sun is a little lower,” she said.

Things were going well until her hamstring cramped up after the Mile 12 water station.

“I had that happen to me in a couple of other longer races. I call it the ‘Blackwell Hamstring Cramps.’ My brother and I get it and my father gets it, too.”

She stepped to the side of the road to stretch and massage her leg before continuing to the finish.

“It reacted better than it had before,” a relieved Blackwell said. “I knew I had to really pace myself that last mile.”

Blackwell saw Warner as she came out of the cutout section of the course and back onto Gibraltar.

“I knew she wasn’t too far behind me, but you never know how they’re doing,” she said. “I didn’t look back. I didn’t need the extra stress.”

For Blackwell, this was her fourth Pier to Peak race. Organista was a rookie. The winner of last week’s Santa Barbara Sprint Triathlon had to fight the urge to take off and pull away from everybody.

“I don’t really know how to race a half marathon,” he admitted. “I went out really conservation. The 5k, 10k , short triathlons, I want to hammer it every time. I just had that urge at Mile 3, Mile 4; I had to keep reminding myself, ‘I feel good now but let’s wait to Mile 8 and Mile 9 and see how I feel.’ Sure enough, Mile 6 comes around and my hip flexor started to tighten up. That was tough … it was really tough, man.
I would say (Pier to Peak) is one of the hardest athletic things I’ve done.

“It’s just a different type of pain I wasn’t ready for,” he added. “It’s like doing squats for an hour and a half. That’s what it felt like. Or, walking up stairs for an hour and half.”

Organista not only had to cope with the pain in his hip flexors, he had to deal with the experienced McCarty, who two weeks ago completed the Nine Trails 35-mile ultramarathon in the front country and last week did the Santa Barbara Long Distance Triathlon.

“McCarty does the Ironman and Half Ironman stuff. We were talking about it on our run early in,” Organista said. “He was saying he does longer stuff; he does Nine Trails. And I say, ‘Great,” this guy is a freak ultramarathon runner.’ I don’t think I’ve run more than 10 miles in one thing this year. Having that in my head definitely didn’t help. I’m glad I held him off.”

The flatter cutout area turned out to be the difference maker for Organista. He was able to open up his stride, which helped loosen the hip flexors and create a little distance between him and McCarty.

He stayed in the lead, but it was painful.

“The last 1200 meters I was dying and he was closing,” Organista said. “I just put my head down and grinded away. I don’t know if I opened up space or not, but I know that the last 800 meters was some of the hardest racing I’ve ever done.”

Organista next plans to do the Carpinteria Triathlon on Sept. 28. He has competed in his hometown in two years. After that it’s the Life Time Tri Series finale in Oceanside on Oct. 26. “There’s going to be some really good athletes there,” he said. “I want to go and see how I measure up against them. It will give me some goals for next year.”

Blackwell said the Pier to Peak was her last race of the season. “I’m going to hang up my running shoes for at least a week, maybe two, just to do some other things around Santa Barbara, and l look forward to some new things in the future.”