Fort Ord Trail Run 50K | California | February 2, 2013
A Nod to the Bureaucrats
By Gary Dudney
You hear “Fort Ord” and you’re thinking maybe an old timey palisade fort made of logs or a monster set of fortifications bristling with cannon. You’re probably not thinking pastoral green hills adorned with drooping oak trees, stretches of Manzanita chaparral, glimpses of the Pacific ocean, cool breezes, and miles of sweet single track winding through meadows of fern and tule rushes past vernal ponds and lichen splotched rock formations.
Old Fort Ord, located next to the Pacific Ocean just north of the Monterey Peninsula on the Central California coast, was closed down as an active military base in 1994. Most of the land became an open access park and was recently declared a national monument as bureaucrats in Washington for once got it right preserving this area for its unique flora and abundant wildlife, which includes as it so happens ultrarunners, mountain bikers, and horseback riders. The business end of the fort has been converted into a California State University campus, CSU at Monterey Bay, but the Inside Trail Racing organization that put on the Fort Ord Trail Run 50K has wisely chosen to use the more remote inland part of the park for their run.
In fact the character of the race owes less to the military history of the area and more to the fact that much of the course follows roads and trails that are part of the annual Sea Otter Classic Mountain Bike cross-country race that is headquartered at Laguna Seca Raceway, where the trail run begins and ends. Since the trails are groomed and maintained primarily for mountain biking, you have sweeping curves where you might expect corners, endless humps and dips, plenty of mid-trail tire ruts that have been baked into the mud, and switchbacks that don’t end in sharp turns, but rather feature high curving banks. Descending you learn you don’t need to slow down for the turn. Run the high bank fast enough and you get this odd sense that your body is parallel to the ground.
The start of the race, shared with a 25K division, is a 50Kers dream come true: three miles down a gently sloped jeep road through an oak forest to the first aid station. Then if you haven’t sorted out who should be in front and who behind, there’s another half mile climb up an asphalt road to get it straight before you finally turn onto the first swooping, bumpy, twisting single track.
Aid stations with much better than average peanut butter and jelly sandwiches pop up at regular intervals. There are energy gels to take, a good assortment of chips, crackers, cookies and fruit, and the vibe from the plentiful volunteers is super positive. Everything about the race seemed to go off like clockwork even though this was an inaugural event.
The final third of the race brings the runners all the way back across the park up and down a series of spectacular hills covered in fresh green grass (and this is early February!). Where Humvees and helicopters used to patrol in the dead of night and machine gun fire used to rattle on all afternoon from the direction of the urban combat training facility, now you have a string of tired but peaceful runners padding along through the final twists and turns of the course down in Couch Canyon, so named by locals from an old couch that had been dumped there and persisted for some ten years.
Overcast skies and early morning fog contributed to a thoroughly enjoyable and fast 50K experience. Look for this race on the calendar again next year. Monterey is a great destination for a mid-winter break from snow and ice, and you get a masterfully produced 50K thrown in as a bonus.