Wind. Gusting freakin wind! The first thought that pops into my head when looking back on the Montana de Oro 50K is running some great trail in the hardest wind I have ever felt in my life. Don’t get me wrong, this race was a blast, but damn the constant wind gusts really added a level of difficulty and had me drained by the time I crossed the finish line. Looking back on the race… dang that was fun!
I headed to the race start the Sunday morning (February 15, 2009) after camping in Morro Bay State Park (just west of San Luis Obispo) with some friends Saturday night. We were up constantly because of the tents flapping in the gusting wind. I’ve had better nights of sleep but it was still fun to camp out, grill and laugh over the open fire, and make s’mores a la Kristina and Linsey’s request (s’mores of course = great pre-race diet).
Pacific Coast Trail Runs and their volunteers did a good job setting everything up (taking the wind gusts into account). Wendell from PCTR gave us all the pre-race directions and then the race began right around 8:30 am on the spot. All distances started at the same time so I knew there would be a fair amount of 12K and 25K speedsters up at the front. I settled into a comfortable pace a hundred yards back from the front runners as we separated from the main crowd. The first segment ran south along the coast with some great views.
The primary climb of the race was Valencia Peak (right around 1,400 ft). The climbing started right around 4K into the race. Under normal conditions (no 50mph winds) the climbing would not have been all that bad for in-shape hill runners. However, the last 250 vertical feet were pretty gnarly and were on some loose-rock trail. I think I hit the summit at right around 48 minutes and then made the fun descent back down. There were times even on the steep descent where the wind basically had you at a standstill; I’ve never felt anything like it in my life. I got back to the start/finish after the first 12K right around 1:05 (I think).
The course was basically a figure 8 of two loops, a 12K (Valencia Peak climb) and a 13.5K (Hazard Peak climb). Those of us in the 50K ran each loop twice. The Hazard Peak loop really was not all that bad and the second half of it was pretty much a gradual descent on fire roads. After Hazard I made a quick stop at the aid station at the halfway mark and then continued on. I met up with a couple 50K runners as we began to make our second climb up Valencia. I ran with Daniel Waddle for a while and we chatted about the course and some upcoming race plans. We could see Eric Wickland only a couple hundred yards behind, followed by a few other runners back in the distance. Daniel mentioned that Eric had really solid endurance and would probably catch us by the peak. I gradually pulled away from Daniel half way through the climb and could see that Eric was also gaining. I could not see any other runners in front of me but figured I was roughly in third or fourth place (but somewhat unsure).
True to Dan’s word, Eric caught me half way into the descent and we ran into the aid station chatting about races and our upcoming schedules. I was pumped to hear that Eric got into the Miwok 100 this May and also had plans to do the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim sometime in the next couple months with some friends. Eric got a good laugh that this was my second 50K trail race in 8 days and I mentioned that I had my sights set on my first 100 miler, the Tahoe Rim Trial 100 this July.
I felt decent starting the last 13.5K Hazard Peak loop but the constant wind really started to wear on me. Eric passed me for good about 5K into the loop and never looked back. He was running strong, especially bombing the down hills. My legs felt like they turned to lead for the last 8K but I could not see anyone behind me so I coasted down the fire roads and finished 3rd overall in 5:04.58.
A big congrats to Shigy Suzuki for taking first in 4:47.33, the guy ran really strong and is 50 years old! After the race Dan and Eric mentioned that Shigy probably jogged in the last couple K’s with no one behind him as they figured he was probably capable of posting even better times. Eric Wickland ran second in 4:55.58, way to finish strong and break 5 hours. Randall Vander Tuig ran 4th and Dan Waddle rounded out the top 5. On the women’s side Kimberly Gimenez finished first in 5:48:44 followed by Juliet Morgan in second, Lora Liu in third, Laura Guest in 4th, and June Gessner rounding out the top 5.
In the 25K, La Sportiva runner Bill Raitter (profile) won the 25K in 2:11.15, holding off San Jose’s Sean Lang who finished just over a minute back and Bakersfield’s Scott Harrison who ran third. On the women’s side, San Francisco’s Jennifer Klafin came in first followed by Reno’s Sarah Raitter in second and Ogden, UT’s Amber Mounday in third.
As always, a big thanks goes out to Sarah and Wendell from Pacific Coast Trial Runs on directing another great race and to all of their volunteers for helping out to make the Montana de Oro Trail Run possible. You guys are great!
The distance is actually about 51K. The last couple hundred feet of the climb up Valencia Peak are tough. Trail shoes with solid baseplates are recommended as a lot of the trail up Valencia is large, loose rock. The only aid station (very well maintained) is at the start/finish and the 50K runners pass it three times. A handheld bottle is recommended for hydration. There is barely any tree-cover on the course, runners are exposed most of the time. The Hazard Peak climb (2nd loop, 4th loop) is very manageable with the last 7K-ish being a gradual downhill on fire road.
Race Website: Click Here
Full Race Results: Click Here
Other Montana de Oro Trail Races:
PCTR Montana de Oro Trail Run – Summer (August): Click Here
– Brett Rivers