Hey – Guest Blogger F here. M can’t write this one, because she insists that after all her work, and all her talking and blogging about getting ready for the Montana De Oro trail race, there’s got to be a blog about the race itself. But she couldn’t go, because she can’t run right now (see No Gold For Me). She sent me to go run by myself, because her inability to run coincided with an unfortunate set of events in our childcare plans. So M stayed home and had girls-night, and girls-Sunday, and I ran MDO.
And it went a little something like this….
I was registered for the MDO 25k. I’ve never run that far before, and I’ve never run an organized trail race before. When I set out this morning, I was little bit nervous. I mean, 25k? That’s just over 15.5 miles. It’s no marathon, but it is on trail. The course record for the MDO 25k is 1:59:17. The women’s record is 2:15:27. By way of comparison, those bracket the range of the top 20 road marathon times. So as far as time it takes for an elite competitor to run the event, this one pretty much matches up with a world-class marathon difficulty.
So yeah, I was nervous. But I have also heard that these trail races are pretty low key. Top competitors are known to stop to help out the people they’re passing on the way back down. Lots of people go out just to see if they can finish. If you have to walk, you’re on a trail, so you’re just hiking -and it is viewed as a normal part of trail running to walk several times during a race. All that and more. So, I set myself some modest goals: 1) Go out slow, and finish upright on my own two feet. 2) Take the time to enjoy the trail and the views 3) Secondary goal: accomplish #1 without falling or getting injured. 3) Tertiary goal: accomplish number one without vomiting or crying.
To set the scene: the MDO race is set in the Montana de Oro State Park, near Los Osos, California. The start is at a place called Spooners Cove. It’s a pretty little inlet bounded by 30-ft high bluffs, with a small parking lot by the beach at the apex of the cove. The race start and finish were at the edges of the parking lot. During check-in, folks were friendly. Then and throughout the race I learned almost nobody’s name, but people introduced themselves with their home town, and the distance they were planning on running (options were 8, 12, 25, & 50k), and usually added something like “this is my first trail race in 4 years,” or “we’re doing the 12k as a team-building exercise.” Or in the case of the guy (from Visalia, CA, running the 50k) who I happened to strike up a conversation with on the way back to the car/heater, “This will be my 6th time running this. I usually try to just view it as a training run, because the course is brutal.” … long pause … “Pretty at the top though.” Great. Thanks dude. Did I mention I was nervous.
At the start line, I reminded myself of goals 1 & 2 over and over. Everyone seemed excited. I was feeling a little more optimistic, so I quietly (under my breath) voiced a challenge to the field of runners: “Let’s see if any of you 50k fools are fast enough to lap me on the 25k.” A modest challenge, and not boldly stated, but I thought it was fun. And then it was time to start.
What to say of the race itself? It started out pretty flat. There weren’t thousands of runners, but we were on a narrow trail, so there were times when we walked just because we were packed in. But it spread out pretty fast, and then it started to head uphill, and it spread out a little more, a little faster. By the start of mile 4, we had only gained a couple of hundred feet. By the end of mile 5, we had gained over 1300 feet. There was some walking involved. And I was all warmed up. The views from the top were very beautiful. Lot’s of brush-covered hills, valleys, and canyons extending from ocean’s edge as far as the eye could see in every direction. After checking the view, it was down, down, down. On the way up, it had been butt burning, hamstrings straining, calves on fire. Starting downhill felt good, then turned into quads on fire. And then it leveled off (the descent was as steep as the ascent), and we had some flat and rolling cruising back to the start area to finish the first 12k loop. Water refill was key, as the sun was really beating down now, and this trail had NO shade. Then back out for separate loop – should be 13k to the finish from that point.
The second loop was harder. First of all, it was after the first loop, so I’d already been running for a while. And it involved another 1000-ft ascent, a partial descent, and then another ascent back to around 1000 feet. And it was getting hotter. And hotter. I was sweating. My electrolyte-enriched water was pouring down my throat and immediately out my pores, leaving only a growing crust of salt on my shirt and my bald head, but no sense of relief. I made the first peak on the second loop, and thought things were looking pretty good. I was cruising downhill. There were some long lonely times in the sun as I wound my way down. I couldn’t see the people in front of me. And then I could… and they were about a mile ahead, and several hundred feet back up the next peak. Ouch. That messed with my head. I think I may have mumbled something non-complimentary about the race planners at that point. So I walked a little, and took in the view. Reminded myself of my main goals. Got happy again, and ran some more.
After the next (and thankfully last) peak, I caught up with a guy (from somewhere tiny in California’s Central Valley) who had passed me earlier. When he passed me previously, he had commented on my wisdom of carrying two water bottles, as he had only one and was running out. When I caught up to him, he was out. I gave him the last third of one of my bottles, keeping a similar amount for myself in the other bottle. While we were doing this, a woman in her 50’s (from Carpinteria, recently moved from Vegas) caught up to us, and asked to share as well. She got a swig from Central Valley guy’s bottle, and we all headed out together for the final descent. It took us a while. We spread out on some rollers, then regrouped. And then we could see Spooner’s Cove. We all were burning from the run and the sun at that point, but we all had a little something left, and picked it up to finish strong. And it felt GOOD.
In the end, I question the trail markings and measuring. I heard some muttering about it in the parking lot, and M’s Garmin told me I ran 16.88 miles (27.1k) and climbed a total of 3800 feet. That’s well over the advertised distance and 3200 foot elevation gain. Does it matter? Nope. I accomplished my goals. All of them. In the end, my final time was 3:30:20. A personal best, and all with no falls, vomit, or tears! Unfortunately, no-one was able to rise to my challenge and lap me during the 50k (running the 25k course twice). Oh well – I’m going to try to give them another shot next year. And I’m going to bring more salt.