Monday, March 17, 2008

Montaña De Oro 50k Race Report

Another 50k race? You must be kidding me? I know that's what you are thinking. But I planned in January to do an ultra a month, and, so far, I'm sticking to it. This is my way of getting some good training leading up to AC100 in September. This past weekend, I was near beautiful Morro Bay, CA in the Montaña De Oro State Park. This race location was, by far, the most beautiful place I have ever ran in. With the mountains extending right down to the ocean, the physical geography created a magical blend of coves, cliffs, and sandy beaches. The rugged coastline was breathtaking, especially at the top of Valencia peak. At one point during the race, I almost wanted to stop and enjoy the view :) If you know me, that say a lot about the view.

I left home at 3:00 am on Sunday morning and drove to the race site and got there around 7:00 am. I was the second car there, other than the race volunteers. There were no entrance fees, no parking fees, and no fees of any kind. How can such a beautiful place be free to the public? This is sure a hidden gem of a State Park along the central coast of California. As I got there a little bit early, I took an early morning stroll along the beach and took some pictures.


The race course was a two loop course. The loop climbed Valencia Peak and Hazard Peak; so, for the 50k race, we climbed each peak twice. The trail surface was similar to our So. Cal. dry, hard packed dirt, with occasional sharp rocky sections. One advantage of a looped course is that you learn the loop the first time out; then you know what to expect on the second and finishing loop. The climate was semi-arid, and the hillsides were covered with golden wild flowers and low slung bushes. The "Montaña De Oro" means "Mountain of Gold" in Spanish; and the "Gold" was referring to these golden colored wild flowers that bloom about this time of the year.


A cold weather front moved in a few days before the race; so, on race morning, it was about 40 degrees at the starting line. It warmed up a little bit as the day progressed, but the cold wind coming off the ocean kept things chilly. I always prefer to over-dress than under-dress; so, I wore tights, arm warmers, and gloves.

This was my second PCTR (Pacific Coast Trail Runs) race; and as before, the race atmosphere was very low key and the course well marked. The starting line was staged right on the beach at Spooner's Cove. There can't be a more spectacular starting location; it was fabulous. I lined up in the front this time. As I took off with the front group, I saw Cheryl running along. I meet Cheryl at the Javalina Jundred in 2006. We exchanged greetings and had a few words, then I took off and never saw her again until the finish line. She took third place female overall.

After leaving the beach, the course went on to the Bluff Trail, which winds along the rugged coastline overlooking the water. It was a very enjoyable 3 miles to start the race. As we turned inland and hit the first climb which is up to Valencia Peak, it stated to get warm and I took off the arm warmers and gloves. I felt really strong. I carried two 20 fl. oz. water bottles this time, as the aid stations were about 7-8 miles apart.

This race, my hydration and nutrition worked perfectly. I used NUNN tablets and a homemade mix of maltodextrin, soy protein powder, and ground almonds. Liquid nutrition worked a bit better than solid food. But I still took some boiled potatoes and salt. I'm getting really close to dialing in my exact hydration and nutrition needs.

As I approached the top of Valencia Peak, which was an out-and-back section, I can count the number of people in front of me. I counted about 7, so that leaves me in 8th place. I wanted to stop and take in the spectacular view at the top of the peak, but I was in a race, so I had to go. One of these days, I like to do a race where my goal is to take pictures. The second climb, Hazard Peak, was not as steep; but the downhill was more of a rolling gradual descent. This roller section turned out to be very hard for me at the end of the race. After the first climb, the front pack thinned out quite a bit. I didn't see many people on the second climb and the rest of the loop.

As I started the second loop, I was pretty much alone. I caught one of the guys in front of me going up to Valencia Peak, he was dehydrated and struggled to keep going. He dropped out at the next aid station. Coming off of Valencia Peak, the turn around point, I saw three guys hot on my heels; they were probably about one to two minutes behind. I got a good pace going and flew down Valencia Peak. I still felt good at this point. But when I hit the aid station at Spooner's Cove, I felt the legs tightening up and I knew I had better take it easy for the fourth and final climb. I power walked most of the final climb and at the top of Hazard Peak, I saw no one coming up. I guess I had put more time into the guys behind me. Going down Hazard Peak, I had to resort to run/walk along the gradual rolling descent as my legs were cramping up. I knew I slowed down, but still, no one passed me.

As I came to the beach, I stopped for a moment just short of the finish line. I couldn't find it, it was so well hidden behind some bushes. That was a little amusing. Still, I finished 6th out of 33 overall 50k finishers; 3rd in my AG @5:52:19. The race distance was actually 31.7 miles and 6400 feet of cumulative elevation gain/loss.

I got a hotel room for Sunday night as I knew I didn't want to immediately drive home after the race. I rested for the rest of the afternoon and went to bed early. Monday morning, I felt good considering what I did the day before. I recovered really well, and even felt like going out for a run.


The hotel was in downtown Morro Bay, which is a very quaint commercial fishing village. The cost was $39/night and the location was three blocks from the beach. What a deal! The room also had Wi-Fi, so I worked a little bit in the morning right in the comfort of my bed. Then, I took a stroll along the Embarcadero and took pictures of Morro Bay and the Morro Rock. Then I went to the Farmer's Market in Bayview Park, a neighboring village. In the afternoon, I drove out to Montaña De Oro and did a little sightseeing and picture taking. I hung around the area until sundown because I wanted to take pictures of the sunset at Spooner's Cove. It was fabulous. What a beautiful place to spend a relaxing day in!


It was a wonderful trip. I enjoyed it very much. Until the next adventure, happy trails!

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