Coastal Trail Runs understands how to run a proper trail race. No fluff, no ridiculous expo, no fireman at the finish line – instead your entry fee gets you a solidly marked course (albeit a little long), with an on time start, a quality tech race shirt, and the best stocked aid station and lunch after the race you could possible ask for. Furthermore, the raffle is done ahead of time and awards are given out on a rolling basis as people finish. And if that wasn’t enough, the weather this year was perfect for racing as opposed to the usually socked in fog and rain the race usually sees.
An Americano and muffin had me awake for the 8 o’clock start and after a little milling around and a short warm up we were called to the start line. A big climb and hike in Yosemite the past weekend had taken its toll on me with a number of off days from running and a knee and groin that had nagged me on my runs in the week prior to the race, but as soon as the race started I found the mental race zone and felt smooth. After a short road section, Janosch Kowalczyk, a German exchange student studying at Cal Poly, and I hit the flat bluff trail together at the front of the race pack. We clipped off a sub six first mile and I opened a slight gap the second mile knowing its a lot harder to be chased on the climb up Valencia if I could get out of sight. Valencia plays to my running style being a rocky steep two mile climb and I grabbed my purple rubberband at the top of the peak to prove I had made it to the summit before opening up my stride for the descent back to the starting area.
Racing at Montana de Oro is as much about the uphills as it is about the downhills, you get about two miles of flat at the start but everything else is either uphill or downhill. Coming down from Valencia you are routed on to a much smoother and more runnable trail than the climb on the way up letting you really open your stride on the smooth descent. My stomach took a turn for the worse on the second half of the descend holding me back a little but as I dropped down through the campground and back to Spooners Cove I was feeling better and cruised through the aid zone without stopping.
The second half of the course is an out-and-back climbing Hazard Peak and descending to the park boundary before turning around. The grade is less steep and the trail much wider and smoother making for an easier climb. The descent off the backside of Hazard always drops further and father than I remember, but soon enough I had my second rubberband from the turnaround point and only had a single climb and swooping descent left. The climb back up Hazard was made easier by seeing fellow 25k and 50k racers making their way to the turnaround point. I hit the final ~3 mile descent and checked my watch. I was aiming for a sub 2 hour finish with a sub 1:50 being the stretch goal. A slightly long course pushed me past 1:50, but I managed to cross the line in first at 1:54:32 lowering the course record by 13 minutes. The top three all went under the old record and my friend Chandler Morehardt finished 4th in his first trail race and longest run ever.