Well, this race has long been on my "to do" list and it certainly did not disappoint.
The journey to get there and back however, was no easy feat. It involved getting up at 3:30am the morning of to make the approximately 3 1/2 to 4 hour drive up near the San Luis Obispo area to Montana de Oro state park on very little sleep (actually had to pull over at one point to close my eyes for 10 minutes or so). And on the drive back, had to fight traffic many times over with the total commute coming to 5+ hours.
Ultimately, it was a small price to pay for having fun on new and beautiful (albeit challenging) terrain. I got to the race with plenty of time to spare before the 8:30am start time. After picking up my bib, saying hi to the RDs in Sarah and Michael, I just used the rest of the time to get in my head a little bit and shake out any apprehension and anxiety I had about my knee coming into it. I had originally wanted to do the 50K distance but I knew even the 25K might be pushing it. My plan was to just take what it would give me, run smart and take it easy on the descents - steep ones at that.
Runners checking in at the start on an overcast day.
When it was time to line up at Spooner's Cove, I settled in somewhere among the front 1/3. The 8, 12, 25 and 50km runners would all be starting together so I didn't want to get swept up by the pace of the shorter distance racers. After final instructions from Michael, the runners were off.
The course started on fairly flat, windy sandy paths above the bluffs. I fell into a pretty comfortable pace for the first couple of miles averaging about 8 minute/mile before the gradual climbing began. After a couple of up and downs, the steeper climbing hit us after mile 4 to Valencia Peak. The course became more technical and rocky and at times so I took turns alternating between power hiking and running. The day was pretty overcast so you couldn't see too far below you but given my slight fear of heights, it turned out to be a good thing for me. Nearing the peak, the first of the frontrunners were making their way back so we yielded what little space there was to make room to pass for them.
View from Valencia Peak on a clear day (that was not this day).
I finally hit the peak after about 51+ minutes, rounded the summit before I too made my way down the tricky, rocky descent. Thankfully, the path we shared with the out and backers didn't last too long as we veered right down a narrow dirt road back towards the start of the race (our one and only aid station). Frustratingly though, given that I was babying my left knee on the downhills, I got passed by about half a dozen runners who I'd easily beat to the summit. Finally, I said "eff it" and when I heard the footsteps of more runners coming up on my tail I just let loose and sped up, knee be damned.
Elevation profile of the 25K.
I cruised into the aid station completing the ~12K Valencia loop in about 1:12+. Since I was carrying my 26oz of Malto/Nuun mix, I just grabbed a cup of water to chase down a Salt Stick pill before heading out to run the longer (~14K) Hazard Peak loop. Since most of the shorter distance runners were done, I ran alone for awhile. The next section started on fireroads that gradually climbed for a couple of miles. After running solo for several minutes, I caught sight of a runner up ahead who I could tell was struggling a bit. He was walking by the time I made my way up to him and as he was letting out a "good job", I urged him on to run with me. He obliged and we ran together for a short bit and chatted a little about the race.
Signs then pointed us up towards our next big climb of the day up a series of switchbacks. I dropped my new friend somewhere along here and was again running and hiking solo. Except a new unwelcomed friend veered its ugly old head in the form of leg cramps. That all-too-familiar feeling started in my right hamstring and I knew it would only get worse as the race went on. I decided to pull out another Salt Stick pill and focused on the climb ahead of me instead of obsessing over it. One good thing was: it made me forget about my left knee altogether.
I started gaining on a pair of runners ahead of me and focused on that. There were about 2-3 "false summits" in that once you think you made it to the top and the road started dropping, it would start to climb again. The marine layer and clouds certainly didn't help one gain perspective of where they were exactly. By the time we began the final descent, I was running behind a 50K guy and a gal who later turned out to be 1st female of the 25K. Given the narrow single-tracks, he was running ahead flanked by the gal and me on the rear. By now, I could feel tightening on my right calf too and started altering my stride to keep them shorter.
While they were running at a pretty brisk pace, I felt that it was slow enough to let whoever might be coming up behind me to make up ground. Their chatting was a telltale sign of that. Finally, I had to break up the party and asked them if I could pass. The gal knowing that I too was running the 25K, took off ahead of me with me on her heels. Her setting the pace was fine by me and together we ran off down the long descent. After running together for a bit, I felt I could take it up a notch so I wished her luck and ran by her.
Once I did that, I could feel that my right leg was absolutely on the cusp of full-blown cramping. But still, I kept the currently pace going as best I could knowing I was gaining ground the gal behind me and the guy in front of me. I narrowed the gap between me and him from about a 100 yards to about 50. However, one little misstep on a turn on the switchback almost caused my right calf to seize up entirely. With that reminder, I said screw it and decided to just keep a manageable pace to not pass or get passed. Last 2 miles were 7:19 and 6:51.
I made the final turn into Spooner's Cove where the finish lied and crossed at an official time of 2:31:18 or about 16 seconds behind the guy ahead and 54 seconds ahead of the first female finisher. It was good enough for 11th overall. The race measured out to 16+ miles and over 3,000+ ft of elevation gain. A little bummed about not placing top 10, but quickly got over it considering my low mileage in the past couple of weeks and my bum left knee.
My rebelling legs getting their due punishment.
Post-race, I made a beeline into the cold ocean Pacific where I proceeded to "ice" my legs for about 15 minutes. Then after changing into warmer clothes and downing a couple of Cokes and chicken noodle soup, I hung out with Sarah and the other finishers exchanging war stories and lent her a hand working the t-shirt tent.
With one of my favorite people in the world, Sarah the RD of PCTR.
I stuck around long enough to see the first 50K guy finish but then it was time to buckle down for the long...LONG drive down.
1st 50K finisher crossing the line...his 1st trail race!
The knee was definitely sore at the finish and had some achiness in both feet, but otherwise I'm pretty happy with the outcome. Still, my race yesterday taught me that my knee needs more resting and that some upcoming races will have to be sacrificed if I want to finish out the fall/winter schedule strong.
Thanks for reading everyone!