Summer Special : Shufflebarger Finds Happiness by Running Off the Beaten Path

Times Staff Writer

Fred Shufflebarger is an avid off-road runner and racer. A look around his Laguna Beach home offers ample evidence of his passion for running in out-of-the-way locales.

Eighteen pairs of running shoes--all with a dusty brown tint--are arranged in neat little rows along one wall of his studio apartment.

On shelves nearby, first-place trophies rest on race numbers like paper weights. An inscription on one reads: Mule Run '86, first place. Race numbers are from the Pacific Crest Trail Run and the Lone Pine Marathon.

Copies of Ultrarunning magazine are on the desk. Next to them are a pair of strange contraptions called fanny packs--a belt with small water bottles attached by Velcro--that allows Shufflebarger to drink on his sojourns into the wilderness.

Shufflebarger has two models. One is designed to carry two bottles and is used for training. The other has only one and used for racing.

He runs most of his 3,000 miles a year--an average of almost 60 miles a week--on mountain trails in Orange County, training for such ultra-distance events as the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run.

One recent afternoon, he wore a belt with a silver buckle that he earned for finishing the Western States run in less than 24 hours.

The race began June 25 in Squaw Valley, Calif., traversed the Sierra Nevada mountains on a narrow, rocky path and finished 100 miles later in Auburn, a Sacramento suburb. Shufflebarger, 40, finished in 23 hours 23 minutes, about in the middle of the 250 runners who completed all 100 miles.

"It's more of a challenge on the trails," Shufflebarger said. "I'm just not that fast on the roads, whereas I'm pretty doggone fast on the trails. I'm used to taking short, choppy steps, running over stones and logs. Your stride is always changing."

Most marathons, 50-kilometer and 50-mile races are contested over flat, paved streets, but Shufflebarger prefers running long distances over trails, though fighting the terrain is often as difficult as completing the race.

When he was younger, Shufflebarger took an easier, more traditional approach to his running. He competed in cross-country and track and field while in high school in Pennsylvania. He continued running at Penn State, but did not compete for the school's team.

One day, having settled in Laguna Beach a few years ago, he decided to start training seriously for the 1986 San Francisco Marathon. He ran 2:45 and was encouraged by his performance.

His next race was the Mule Run in Bishop, Calif., a 50-kilometer (31.1-mile) race over trails. He won.

"After that there was no turning back," Shufflebarger said. "I just grew into it (running on the trails), and I'm good at it. There is no other type of running that I could finish near the top. I'm close to being a force in the sport."

Shufflebarger, who also won the Pacific Crest Trail 50-mile run in February, said he does his best training on steep, narrow trails in the Santa Ana mountains.

"The San Juan Trail (off the Ortega Highway) is just a delight," he said. "I like the way it twists and turns. You just can't get bored with that. You have to stay mentally alert. And the faster you go, the more fun it is."

Shufflebarger makes a distinction between hiking trails, such as the San Juan Trail, and fire roads, such as the El Moro Canyon trail, just up Pacific Coast Highway from his home.

The fire roads are wider with better footing and less underbrush in a runner's path.

"I like them (fire roads)," he said. "I prefer being off the beaten path. There's no acrobatics about running the fire trails. It's just more interesting. You see more too; they (the hiking trails) are lesser traveled."

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