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Exploring Montaña de Oro with Pacific Coast Trail Runs

The rain passing & sun rising with clear skies on the horizon

Community Manager Jeffrey Stern raced at Pacific Coast Trial Runs Montaña de Oro 36k this past weekend, snagging 2nd and breaking the course record along with first place finisher Max King. Below is his recap from the day spent racing in San Luis Obispo.

Nestled just to the south of the small Central Coast hamlet of Los Osos is Montaña de Oro State Park, or "Mountain of Gold" the name born from the golden wildflowers found during the spring and summer months in the park. Boasting 8,000 acres of sandy beaches, rolling hills, coastal plains, streams, cliffs and canyons as well as a few 1,000-foot peaks, MdO provides countless options for runners, hikers, bikers, equestrians, campers and surfers. The many trails with varied terrain features and paths looping around the park for the MdO 36k created the perfect backdrop for a pre-spring race. 

Having just finished my first ultra of the year just 14 days prior, I opted for the 36k to test the fitness a little and get a solid, vert heavy training run in for Lake Sonoma only a month out. 

Pre-registration indicated it might be a solo day off the front, but I knew better than that from the promise of Salomon runner Cat Bradley there. I had a sneaky feeling her photoshoot counterpart for the week at Running Warehouse was going to show up one way or another, likely not in the 50k. 

Max King taking selfies on the start line!

Sure enough, as we gathered on the soft sand beach under the PCTR inflatable arch, Max King, winner of the Way Too Cool 50k in emphatic fashion, popped up on the start line. 

I didn't let it phase me, as I knew this would be the first of a handful of big runs in the last few weeks of hard training. My main goal for the day remained the same: to apply what I learned regarding cold, wet and muddy running in Cool, but on a slightly more climbing heavy race in preparation for the Lake Sonoma 50...I really felt like I learned so much from WTC and was giddy with excitement to experience something similar so soon. 

Go Time! Photo: Kevin Cody

For a 40-degree start, my attire was proper as I used the lightweight best in showshorts, custom Santa Barbara Mountain Running  ez tee, a super simple and snug fitting Nathan Hipster waistband to carry food, mister miller's arm sleevesfor a little extra warmth and my favorite BoCo Tweenerhat. 

On the bluff trail, Photo: Sage Fireidman

Max didn't want to run on the front, so I took up the charge, but since no one wanted to pass, I set a nice easy tempo to work into the day. Our splits were mid-7s for the first 3-4 miles of rolling terrain and I got to enjoy a beautiful trail to Oats Peak. It was like a magical journey through a Lord of the Rings scene. Being on the front, picking my own line working on quick, smooth steps and not feeling like I was working too hard was a great experience. We weren't really racing, I was just running and having so much fun leading the pack at my own pace.

Once we made the left turn to head up the first climb, I put in a small dig to draw out Max around from my Santa Barbara friend Joe DeVreese and the selection was made. We wound our way up a super muddy switchback section at the base of the climb that led to this mystic manzanita tunnel and onto the spine of the mountain's ridge with 360-degree jaw dropping views of the park, Morro Bay and the Pacific.

Dropping in off Oats Peak, Photo: Max King

I told Max to pass if he wanted too, but he said he was fine, so we just climbed the spine together, passing 50k runners suffering up the rocky, steep single track to the peak. At the top we stopped for a quick photo and then kept moving. For the five mile descent back to the beach we just cruised and chatted about Way Too Cool, his three race experiences at Lake Sonoma (got some good tips!), Salomon shoes, common friends in Bend and was fun to keep it social. We both exclaimed how swoopy and enjoyable the five miles back to the start line was. Another must run trail to add to your list for your next visit to MdO.

We crossed through the start/finish together, I dropped the warm gear refilled a bottle and we began the second loop and climb of the day. Within a couple minutes we joked about catching all the 50k racers and within seconds Max took off from me, shifting it into his next gear. I knew I wanted to keep it chill, so bid him adieu knowing that'd be the last I'd see of him until the finish at Spooner's Cove. The dude is a straight mountain goat as he proved at WTC. My mind shifted gears to the race ahead and how I wanted to continue to practice my 50-mile race pace and keep it relatively comfortable. So, from mile 13 to the finish I ran by myself as I watched Max slowly start to fly away.

Climbing to Hazard Peak, Photo: Noah Tillmann

I finished the final five mile rolling net downhill by clicking off a few sub-7 min miles while not working too hard, and really kicking on the pavement section through the campground to secure a sub three hour finish only 10 minutes off the King and with my good buddy Joe coming in third. Max and I both broke the old course record and Joe was only eight seconds away from making it the three of us in one day!

Post-race all smiles

As always, it was fun to hang and chat with other racers, the very well organized and kind race director Greg Lanctot, drink a beer, eat some tacos, take some pictures and then get on the road for a short, two-hour drive (rare for us Santa Barbarian racers) home to a nice warm shower, an afternoon dog park session and still have enough time to take a nap before dinner.

The whole day has me fired up for my last few weeks of hard Lake Sonoma training and excited to find another PCTR race to checkout later in the year!

Podium L to R: Joe D (3rd), Max K (1st), Jeffrey S (2nd)

Stay tuned for a race preview on all the rabbit athletes at Lake Sonoma as well as a upcoming blog from rabbitPRO Eric Senseman on how his training is going for his last Golden Ticket opportunity to join the Western States 100 squad with fellow rabbit runners Kate Elliot, Kris Brown, Nick Presniakov, Adam Kimble, Dave Odell, Rachel Bell Kelley and Coree Woltering. 

Not a bad place for a race, Photo: Max King



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