I was barely trained to run a 50k, let alone race it. And yet, 6 days ago I signed up for the Fort Ord 50k Trail Run. My running season started just 5 weeks ago, with my target race being the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) 100 in July. Well, running a 50k is one way to get trained up for a 50k real quickly.
Fort Ord is a decommissioned Army base in Monterey, California. It’s a couple of miles inland, so it doesn’t boast stunning ocean views, but there are distant views of Monterey Bay from the high points of the course. The place is massive and has a huge network of dirt roads and trails, including a bunch of singletrack optimized for mountain biking fun. I had wanted to do a long run here last Spring, but was just too overwhelmed to even figure out where to start. So I enjoyed my go-to road run along 17-Mile Drive instead.
This was Inside Trail Racing‘s second year producing a suite of trail runs at Fort Ord, and this year included distances from 10k up to 100k. The race had a great “hometown” feel, even though it’s not my hometown. I felt so comfortable and literally embraced by the runners. In fact, a runner (Daniela) that I had met just once on a run in Truckee invite me to join her and her boyfriend for a pre-race dinner. Daniela and Judd are the kind of people that make us happy to hang out with other runners! Judd ran the 50k and then spent the rest of the day volunteering at the last 50k aid station. Sounds alot like a couple of Tahoe superstars that I know! (Read Gretchen’s TRT Race and Volunteer Report here.)
Getting to the race was easier than I expected – I was worried about finding my way once I got inside the park gates. The route was well marked and parking was easy and ample. I found all of the pre-race instructions and online directions to be very thorough and very well-presented.
The locals found the morning to be quite chilly, but it suited me perfectly! I started the race with just one concern… how will I deal with my new hairdo? It is just short enough that I can’t get it back, and just long enough to make my neck sweaty. Oh, the things a girl will do for natural curls! I decided on a running cap.
The first 15 miles I had the unusual experience of running in first place (first woman). Yeah, the field was that small. This, naturally, caused me to run harder than sustainable for my current training level, but I didn’t really care. It was fun to be first for a little bit. There was an aid station just before the mid-way point, and this seemed like the right place to take it back down to a training run. Better to notch it down than implode.
It took me another couple of miles to be really okay with this being a training run, but I knew I was there around mile 18, when I saw a bench at a lookout spot and dug out my phone for a photo. Yeah! Fun! My goals for the remainder of the run were: 1.) to run with joy; and 2.) to not give away any free speed. In other words, if it was flat or downhill, I would run it.
At one point in that second half, I encountered a delightfully runnable downhill singletrack. It was a bit exposed and there was a light breeze – just enough to blow through my newly rediscovered curls – it was fabulous! (I had packed away the cap hours earlier, as it ended up just overheated me.)
I arrived at the last aid station (just past the marathon point) where I found Judd ready to refill my hydration pack. It’s always so heartening to see a familiar face at an aid station! (Last year I was surprised to see a friend at one of the Gold Rush aid stations, and the effect was like a double shot of caffeine.) Judd also warned me that the course measured quite long by his GPS… what’s a mile or two among ultrarunners, eh?
While Judd was refilling my pack, I dumped water over my head and shirt to cool down a bit. Then, I inadvertently dumped some Tailwind Nutrition sports drink over the back of my neck and hair. Turns out, the stuff makes quite the hair gel. Kinda like the kind that Cameron Diaz uses in “There’s Something About Mary.” And on that topic, not only do I dislike the taste of vanilla gel, it happens to look a lot like that special kind of hair gel. Ewww. Never again.
Leaving the last aid station, the next 2-3 miles looked like a death march… up a long, dry dirt road. It was completely exposed and you could see runners plodding ahead on the ridge for quite some distance, which really enhances that “death march” feeling. Thankfully, Judd had also let me know that a sharp left turn would take the course back to single track for another 3 miles before the finish. I was prepared for a long, slow grind to the finish, so it was delightful to find a number of short, runnable downhills before the day was done.
I finished second woman and was in a pretty good mood at the finish. All finishers received a custom-printed pint glass. I briefly possessed a second-place medal, and then decided that I just didn’t need it… part of my pact this year to reduce the introduction of additional possessions in my life.
I didn’t love the finish-line spread, but the vibe was great and I enjoyed hanging out, visiting and cheering. On that topic, the aid station grub was your standard fare, but all very good and exactly what one needs. All the volunteers and staff were very friendly and seemed to know what was going on. It felt like they were all runners themselves – they just knew how things should work.
The course was much more lovely than I had envisioned: more shade, more green, more singletrack, and more climbing than I was expecting. The course markings were excellent and especially appealed to my logical way of thinking. All turns were marked in advance with striped ribbon on the side of the turn. All “wrong way” paths were marked with blue (easy to remember: Blue Bad). There were two turns that I almost missed (possibly due to vandalism?) but I was able to correct quickly and it was not a problem. Fort Ord is a massive area with many trails and intersections. I’m glad I had the opportunity to explore there without needing to drop breadcrumbs.
Overall, the day far exceeded my expectations and my only regret is not bringing the family. I know that it was easier and more relaxing by leaving them at home, but I also miss them a even more when I want to share a life’s experiences with them. Oh, and I still love my road run along 17-Mile Drive, but I’m happy to add the Fort Ord trails to my repertoire.