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Charity and The Beast

Posted: December 8, 2008 9:34 p.m.
Updated: December 9, 2008 4:54 a.m.
We met this guy in different ways.

We, being members of The Signal's Sports Department.

We thought he was quirky, even neurotic.

The ones who stay in contact with him still feel the same way.

But one constant, besides still taking too much care on his stories (like the time we sent him to Anaheim Stadium for an Angel game, and it took him eight hours to write the story), has been his big heart.

Our friend and longtime Signal sports contributor, Craig Leener, had an epiphany after the steep climb up "The Beast" last December.

The Beast, for those who don't know, is a dirt-gravel fire road that begins at the park-and-ride where San Fernando Road dead-ends just east of Highway 14 in Newhall.

The roundtrip distance is 9.72 miles. Its peak is 3,864 feet at the summit of Los Pinetos Peak.

It is the premier proving ground for trail runners in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Local running enthusiast Don McLean, who operates his own running blog at, organized a pre-Christmas climb of The Beast last year.

Leener came up with the idea to ask participants to ante up $10 at the base of the mountain, and that would go to the Santa Clarita Valley Food Pantry.

Shortly afterward, he came up with a better idea.

Anyone who knows Leener knows his incomparable, almost manic preparation.

He's been known to arrive at a game four hours early.

Leener started talking about a December climb of The Beast for charity back in January.

Others would organize something seemingly so simple maybe a month or a couple of weeks in advance.

But he wanted to do it with intense attention to detail.

He sought sponsors.

He sought out someone to design a logo for the event.

And there are two reasons for this event, which takes place Saturday at 7 a.m.

One is for charity.

All proceeds from the climb will go to the SCV Food Pantry again.

The ante was upped to $20 per participant.

This year, though, participants get a T-shirt that reads: I Conquered The Beast 2008.

The shirts were provided by Leener's brother's company, Superior Alarm Systems of Canoga Park.

Leener says he "hornswoggled" his brother to donate the money for the T-shirts.

The second reason is for his love of running.

In 2005, when Leener was just a contributor to The Signal, he was given an assignment on the running courses in the Santa Clarita Valley.

All roads led to "The Beast."

In a bit of immersion journalism, he packed up a tape recorder and two granola bars and decided to challenge the mountain himself.

Later, when he became a staff writer, he was given the cross country beat.

Like many of those who haven't seen the sport, he had a misconception of the athletes.

That misconception was that they were a bunch of skinny kids who participate in a boring competition.

He quickly changed his mind.

The skinny part was right, but he was soon attracted to the sheer will, belief and determination an athlete has to have to be a cross country runner.

I joined Leener for The Beast climb last year.

We saw runners from Saugus, Golden Valley, Canyon, Hart and College of the Canyons run, not walk, up and down The Beast.

It made me a believer of the sport, just like it had Leener a couple of years before.

Leener says he's now challenging runners of all kinds to run, jog, walk or whatever for something other than a trophy or ribbon.

He's challenging them to conquer The Beast for others - for the hungry.

It's not as difficult as it seems.

We walked it last year as a 9-year-old girl ran right past us near the midway point.

We all agreed.

She had a lot of heart.

As does Leener.

Cary Osborne is The Signal's sports editor. He can be reached at His column reflects his views and not necessarily those of The Signal. For more information about The Beast Charity Run/Walk to benefit the Santa Clarita Valley Food Pantry, visit It begins at 7 a.m. on Saturday.


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