Monday, January 26, 2015

2015 Spooner's Cove 25K Race Report

Never underestimate a race, even a destination and/or training race.

I signed up for Spooner's Cove 25K because I wanted to do a trail run outside of the Bay Area. While the Marin Headlands and the trails in the East Bay Area are always a delight to run, I had been running them for over three years now and I was craving the sight (and challenge) of new trails. Spooner's Cove 25K offered that by giving me a taste of the trails at Montana de Oro Park, a three to four hour drive coming from San Francisco.

I chose the 25K distance out of the four distance options (5 mile, 8 mile, 25K and 50K) because it allowed me to explore all of the trails the race has to offer. I could have signed up for the 50K for "double the fun", but I wasn't feeling that I was ready yet to tackle another ultra distance so soon after the North Face Endurance Challenge last December. I also wanted more time to take the scenery in, take pictures, and enjoy the view without fearing that I was running out the clock. I wanted to explore new trails, but not finishing due to the time cutoff was something I wanted to be mindful of. I am very glad I didn't change my mind on this one.

The race started out at Spooner's Cove itself, a seemingly secluded beach with short cliffs. Parking was very limited at the beach, but I was lucky to get one of the last few spots after arriving an hour early before the start of the race. There was also parking a few minutes at the top, and they also allowed for additional parking for the latecomers (which irked a local runner who I talked to who had been going to the race the past few years).

There were roughly a hundred or so runners at the start. Most of them seemed to have signed up for the 5 or 8 mile distance, with the rest doing the 25K and the very proud few (27 of them) signed up for the 50K. The race started on time with everyone doing the same first few miles of the course.

We started running around the Valencia Bluff loop which reminded me of running the Big Sur Marathon last year. It never gets tiring to see the water on your side when it comes to running, at least for me. I started taking a few pictures here and there before deciding to leave the rest to my imagination and memory after I have had my fill of taking pictures. I decided to hang back from the very start, becoming a "back of the pack" run early on. I ran on the flats but took a walk break as soon as we started our climbing. And we had quite a few climbs!

Pecho, Rattlesnake, Badger and Valencia Peak trail were some very climbs within just a span of 3 miles. We're talking about a climb of almost 1200 feet at the very top. I don't know if I will ever conquer my fear of heights but I dreaded the climb as we kept on getting higher and higher. I even started getting scared of how we're supposed to go downhill. Luckily, I realized we were going down another way downhill. The 5 mile runners were lucky in that they don't need to get to the top of Valencia Peak (or maybe unlucky). The rest of the other distance runners had to go up and get a rubber band (placed in a precarious place at the top, mind you) to prove that you had indeed made the climb to the top.

After climbing the top, I took in the scenery, and then proceeded downhill. I talked to another couple who got to the peak at the same time I did and they mentioned they were doing the 8 miler. I told them I still had to do the other 8 mile loop going up and down Hazard Peak. At least we didn't have to do everything twice, we both mentioned. It was still a cruel thing for me to reach the start/finish line, where the only aid station was, and go back out to do the other loop. Mentally, it makes for a tough race as you're sorely tempted to just call it a day then and there.

There was some confusion as I arrived as I asked whether I should check in, and initially the volunteers had me cross the mat and another gave me a medal. I told them I still had to do the other 8 mile loop (although it's flattering they didn't think it was weird I finished so early for a 25K distance in just two and a half hours). I picked a couple of items to eat with me while I went on the second loop but I made a mistake of not taking in more water and electrolytes before I left the aid station.

It started warming up as I went up the second loop. I could see the struggling faces of the runners coming back from the second loop of the 25K course. A lot of them only had one water bottle (I had two from my Salomon hydration pack, but I chose to not bring and use my bladder, which was a mistake). Several of them looked like they had already used their water as well. I thought of offering my water to one who seemed in a daze but I asked him if he was okay and he said he was. I then thought that I shouldn't probably give water unless I think anyone really needed it, as I would run the risk of running out of water myself and I had barely started the second 8 mile out and back towards Hazard Peak.

Hazard Peak wasn't as treacherous of a climb as Valencia Peak, but the heat made it a lot more difficult. It was exposed all the way, and the turnaround point seemed like it took an eternity to get to. I decided to walk until I reached the turnaround point, but I also had to walk going back since it involved an uphill climb going back. Another runner stopped and seemed in pain and said she was cramping, so I offered her two of my salt pills (she had water still, fortunately). I saw the lead male and female for the 50K as I started reaching the top before a downhill descent. The lead male runner was young, either a teenager or someone in his 20s, I can't tell. I decided that I should at least beat his 50K time since he was running twice my distance.

I started running downhill with 2-3 miles to go. I drank all of the water I had left at that point and downed the last salt pill I had. I ate a mini snicker bar, but not much else. My fueling was not really the best, but at least I didn't have any stomach issues the whole time during the race (they had no porta potties except for at the start and finish, and really no place you can duck and cover if you wanted to).

I finished the race at around 5 hours and a few minutes. Not my best 25K by any stretch, but I was proud of the finish nonetheless. I got great heat training with this race. I still have to find a perfect balance of carrying too much water and too little water, but I think I'll almost always want to have too much water for any race going forward. Dehydration and heat exhaustion (or heat stroke) is not something I want to risk.

Never underestimate a race, even a destination and/or training race!