Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Fort Ord Half Marathon report

Inside Trail Racing put on another great event this passed weekend, Feb 1st, down in Monterey. The big deal of the day was the Ordinance 100k that got started at 5am. That's a bit much for me. I was there too run the half marathon.
 If you look at a map of the Monterey peninsula you will see Fort Ord National Monument is due east of Monterey and south of that location is Laguna Seca recreation area, the place where we started and finished the race. Pre-race announcements got under way at about 8:20 and this is where we informed that the course was somewhere around 13.5 miles long with about 2100 ft of elevation gain. The extra little bit was no big deal to me and the elevation gain sounded like it was on the low side for most of the halfs I have run. Don't be fooled by this. The hill climbing is no joke in this race.

Fort Ord Half Marathon at Laguna Seca
The half got started promptly at 8:30 am along with the 10k runners. Both distances combined was only about 160 people give our take, so the "crowd" thinned out pretty quickly. The first 3 miles of the race is mostly downhill. This can be a race killer for those who "just let their legs go" on the downhills like I do. You can burn out way to fast with many more miles to go so I tried to hold back and stay conservative until we reached the bottom which was about the first aid station. I ran with the same 3 or 4 people around me the entire time and I wondered if these were going to be my running mates the whole way or were they 10k runners that would split off?

I was never really able to answer that question because it seemed like quite a few people were stopping at the first aid station. I made a sharp left around the refreshments and kept on going while the 10k runners continued straight down the trail and back to the start/finish area. Up until now most of the course was wide dirt fire road which is fine but a little boring. Now we start in on the single track. I think I like single track trails so much because it forces you to be engaged with the trail. You have to pay attention and you have to move a lot more right to left compared to plodding down an easy dirt road. Sometimes I imagine myself being like a marble rolling down a bobsled course just flying through the curves. It is what makes trail running fun for me. The fast downhill would have to wait as this single track started to climb immediately. It was a long slow grinder to the top where we bounced up and down some rollers for a while. On those rollers between miles 4 and 5 I came across "Hurache Man", nicknamed for the obvious reason. He had passed me early on in the race and I took note of him because of the Injinji toe socks and Hurache sandals. My first thought as he flew past me this morning was that he must be an awesome runner to tackle 13 miles on these trails barefoot style, and the speed he was starting out with backed up that assumption. Here we were maybe 4.5 to 5 miles into this race and I caught back up with him! He ended up being a really great pacer that was always trading the lead back and forth with me for the next several miles. Neither one of us could get more than 25 yards ahead of the other before the tide started to turn.
 
The hills of Fort Ord in Salinas
The second section of this race is about 4 miles long and it basically rises for a mile, rolls along for a mile and drops down for a mile where at the bottom you run fairly flat for about a mile until you reach the aid station. I stopped at this one to fill my hand held and eat a few snacks. It was a quick stop that lasted only a minute or two and then I continued down the dirt road we had been on.
 
The third and final section is where all of the climbing would come and I knew it. The course turns up at about mile 7.5 and is really steep for the next 2 miles or so. I did a walk/ run protocol that kept me moving along pretty good but my average pace started dropping like a rock. People were passing me quite frequently and all I could hope for was that they were going to burn out and I would catch them in the end. We reached the top of this crazy climb just passed the 9 mile mark and Hurache man had to pull off and deal with his feet. Looked like he was removing a pebble from his sock or something like that. I never did see him again until the race was over but that was ok by me. He had been replaced by SCARAB.
 
SCARAB was another guy that kept trading positions back and forth with me ever since I started my walk/ run protocol. I called him that because his shirt said S.C.A.RA.B. (Southern California Adventure Racing Buddies) on it. He seemed to be around my age and in better shape than me. He would pass me on the uphills and then I would retake the lead on the downhills. At one point when he was passing me by he said "see you on the next hill." which I thought was funny and probably true. It actually ended up not being true. On the next big downhill section I could see him quite a bit ahead of me and to my surprise I did not catch back up to him by the time we were climbing again. I never did see that guy again but he was fun to run with for a few miles.
 
If you plan to run the Fort Ord half I would advise that you save your strength for the end. The last section is brutal and never ending. It is nearly as long as the first 2 sections combined and it is almost entirely uphill. By the time you come back into view of the Mazda Raceway you are overjoyed to be near the end but that is a false hope. The sight of the racetrack makes you think that the end is just around the corner. It is not! It is about a mile and a half until the end and when you are hurting and wanting it to be done that mile and a half seems like 10 miles, especially when its mostly uphill.
 
 My wife and son were waiting for me at the finish line which was really nice. I got post race kisses from both of them which instantly took away my aches and pains, at least temporarily.  I crossed the line at 2:31:36. That's not terrible considering the amount of running I have been doing lately. That time put me 8th in my age group and 40th overall. 5th, 6th and 7th were literally all within 3 minutes of me which says I need to get some more miles under my belt before the next race so I can make up those places. Inside Trail Racing always does a great job with their events. The course was well marked and the aid stations were fully stocked. The finish line food was great and the results were posted quickly. If you haven't run a race with this outfit yet I would highly recommend it. The price is right and the events are always well organized and well run.