November 21, 2010
I had been looking for another ultra to run, and happened upon the Santa Monica Mountains events. Some members had run this previously and also the race is directed by Pacific Coast Trails, which do some nice trail races and ultras for a reasonable cost.
I did a little bit of recruiting as there are distances here other than 50K (9K, 18K and 30K). I’ve convinced John Nowak (a fairly new runner to AREC) to try the 18K (and Tammy Roether is doing that, too, because she will be in the area visiting family or something), and Dylan to do the 30K. I have convinced Chris Rosario to do the 50K with me (and by “with me,” I mean, he will run it, but not with me, except in an ‘also running the race’ status).
The 50K has an earlier start than the other races, so Chris and I carpool up together. You can either park in the Park (for a fee) or out on PCH (free). Since we got such an early start, we park on PCH and VERY close to the park entrance.
While we are picking up our bibs and reviewing the course maps, I run into two people that I recognize from several races earlier in the year. One is Ed Ettinghausen, aka The Jester (because he often wears colorful pants, non-matching socks, and a jester’s cap), and the other is World Record seeking Yolanda Holder. It’s exciting to know that I will recognize a bunch of people in the race. While that isn’t necessarily important, it’s still nice.
It’s already pretty muddy out, because it has rained the past few days. I don’t know if that will make the course more challenging or make the ground softer. I’m hoping for the latter.
The course is divided into 4 loops of varying lengths:
The first loop is 11 Kilometers long and the most technical of the loops. Within the first mile, there is a rocky dry river bed crossing, and a half dozen switchback turns which are basically climbing rock-to-rock. This is followed by a couple of miles of flat single-track trail, and then another mile of single-track relentless ascent. From the topmost point, you head gently downhill on fire-roads to single-track, which pops out near the top of the switchback turn section and you head back to the start.
The 30K competitors also follow this route and some of them pass me in the middle of my trek. I finish the loop in 1:51 (close to 20 minutes/mile).
The second loop has an immediate sharp drop-down to a double-track winding uphill trail. It’s not super-steep, but is continual for about 2-1/2 miles. (The 9K runners just go up and down this trail and that’s their entire race. The 18K does it twice.)
At the top, you get onto a fire-road and gently work your way down to the bottom of the opposite canyon (Sycamore, I think, and is where the Lasse Viren 20K race is). Once you get to the bottom, you take another fire-road about a half-mile to the aid station. Then you turn around, head back on that fire-road, but you don’t turn-off and head back up the hill at the same point. Instead, you get onto a single-track, mildly ascending trail, which suddenly turns and goes straight uphill, essentially covering the downhill distance in a shorter mileage! It’s tough to get any kind of speed here, because it is so steep.
This trail deposits you back on the original fire-road and you head uphill for a short distance before hitting the double-trail downhill section back to the start.
On my initial uphill, I encountered both Dylan and John heading downhill. I was confused by Dylan, since he should be following the same route as myself, but he says that he dropped down to the shorter distance. It is also on this same ascent that it starts drizzling a little. I pass two gals as they struggle to put on rain gear and protect their I-Phones. It never really starts raining, though, and the trail is surprisingly dry (wet in a few spots, but not that bad).
I finish the second loop (about 19K) in 2:34 (about 13:00/mile)… a better pace.
The third loop, unfortunately, is that 11K loop again. The switchbacks (up AND down), plus the steep coastal climb in the middle are tougher the second time out. Also, there is a bit of mud here, though by the time 100 runners have come through, it is more ‘thin layer of peanut butter on the ground’ than trouble.
The other problem with this loop is that in the beginning I had some company… but now I am mostly on my own. However, just after I begin the descent off the coastal climb, I am passed by the Jester (I can’t believe he was behind me!), and just seeing him in the distance for a while is encouraging. For my second time through, I do an unbelievably slow 2 hours and 5 minutes (for less than 7 miles).
The final loop is the 9K double-track ascent and descent. Again, it is a difficult trek up when I am so tired, but the descent is actually quite nice because you don’t need to do anything but let gravity pull you down the hill (OK, OK, I am moving my feet of my own accord and not rolling down the hill.). I reach the bottom in 7:43:10 – the time limit was 9:00, so I was OK all day.
This race gives you a bowl of chili and more aid station food at the end, and ONLY the ultramarathoners get anything special – a coaster.
There are not many people around. John and Dylan are LONG gone. Tammy never showed up due to the weather (the non-factor), and most of the shorter distance racers finished hours ago. Chris finished in 6:02, but could not leave because we carpooled together. We don’t hang around to see the final finishers (yes, there were people behind me), but I read later that Yolanda finished in 8:52.
This is a challenging course and I’m not sure if I would do it again unless I really needed the mileage and heartache.