Race Report: PCT Pacifica 21K

I ran the PCT 21K in Pacifica, California, this morning. It was hot!

I really enjoy the trail running events put on by Pacific Coast Trails. I think they do a nice job, provide a valuable service, and are a fine group of people. Across the board, I recommend the PCT experience.

Having said that, I am not sure I would run this specific event again. My perspective is somewhat tainted by the heat wave we are in, which basically sucked the life out of a number of the runners. Had it been cooler, perhaps I would feel different.

The Story

A friend from the running club and I decided to do this one together. We arrived with only eight minutes to spare. I mention this because a defining characteristic of PCT is “low-key”. It was easy enough to check in, grab our numbers, make a pit-stop, and join the crowd. Try doing all that in eight minutes at another event.

As the race started — with nothing more than, “OK, let’s go,” — we were chatting and reviewing the course map instead of getting to the front of the pack. We ended up mid-back. Not a big deal except that the first 2.5 miles were single track up… up… up. We ended up walking a majority of it because of the “runner traffic”. This was not really how we envisioned our run. My friend joked, “This was kind of a long way to drive for just a walk.”

Once we got going we hit a little rhythm but we still had to go a good mile up. I am usually a decent hill runner since I train on them weekly, but I have been nursing a sore throat and cough. I think whatever ailed me all week spilled over to the run today. On the inclines I was breathing very hard and having trouble taking in enough air. This isn’t normal for me, and I told my friend to go ahead. But we were only there for fun, not time, and he stuck with me.

After 3.5 ascending miles you reach the top (elevation gain of about 1800 feet). There is even a little sign that said, “I made it!”

It was stunning! You are surrounded by the ocean and a breathtaking panoramic view of the Bay Area. Fantastic. Aww-inspiring. We even noticed a running couple who took in the view with a sweet kiss. How lovely. Alas, little time could be spent on romance because what goes up must come down. Off the couple went and so did we.

The next 3.5 miles were a pretty easy down hill. Having said that, the entire run felt “technical” – as my partner said. The rocks and turns meant paying attention to every step. It wasn’t hard per se, but it required maneuvering. I ended up with a couple odd blisters and I am sure it was because of how I had to angle my feet.

At around seven miles we hit the aid station and the end of part one. We quickly filled our bottles, grabbed some snacks and were off.

It was around 10:30 and extremely hot. Because of the pelting sun, we both felt that the second half of the course was too exposed. On a cooler day, I am sure it would have been perfect.

The next four miles were up, but not as steep. It was a gradual climb followed by an easy two miles down. The second half lacked the views of the first, making it sort of ho-hum.

I was still running out of breath pretty quickly on the inclines, but after the first big one I generally managed to run the rest of the way – give or take a few moments to catch my breath. At some point, I started getting the chills. I couldn’t remember if chills were a sign of dehydration or of an imminent stroke. Either way, it didn’t sound fun. I slowed my pace, encouraged my friend to go ahead and just kept a steady run the rest of the way.

All in all, it was an OK run. I am very glad I wasn’t doing the 50K as it was just a repeat of what I had already done. That would have made for a very long day.

After we finished, we made our way down to the beach and into the Pacific Ocean. I had no idea how soothing it would be to have the cold waves crash into my legs and sand rock back and forth between my toes! It was a perfect recovery. I only wish we’d had more time to enjoy it. In fact, I think it was my favorite part of the run. Perhaps it is reason enough to try it again.

Results: 4th in age group. 38th overall.

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