Pacifica Trail Run 50K | California | June 21, 2008
Not So Pacifica
By Gary Dudney
Pacifica, meaning “peaceful,” was the name given in 1957 to a series of oceanside communities that had grown up in several small valleys along the Pacific Ocean just south of San Francisco. But “peaceful” hardly describes the place. At seven o’clock on a Saturday morning, the long beach below the town is brimming with surfers, fishermen line the shore, mountain bikers labor up formidable trails, and half the town, it seems, is out walking some of the world’s luckiest dogs. So a tough 50K trail run in the city’s San Pedro Valley County Park seems just about right for this bustling community.
The race course follows two distinctive loops. One is a rugged ocean facing climb up the Brooks Falls Overlook Trail and the Montara Mountain Trail to the top of Montara Ridge, which is done twice. It is all climb and descend over some very rocky singletrack. But the work is rewarded with spectacular views along the coast.
The other loop, repeated three times, showcases the pastoral San Pedro Valley, a grass carpeted dreamscape with grazing deer, bunnies, and babbling San Pedro Creek. The footing is uniformly good and the elevation changes are more gradual on this loop. The climb out of the valley on Hazelnut Trail includes twenty-three switchbacks giving runners plenty of time to contemplate the flower-choked brush they’re passing through. There are Sticky Monkey flowers, Buttercups, Wild Mustard, Milkweed, Indian Paintbrush, and tangles of wild Blackberries and Raspberries. Near the park headquarters are tall stands of Eucalyptus trees which have dumped quantities of leaves, bark, twigs, branches and pungent buttons all over the trail.
Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola visited the area in 1769. From an overlook on Montara Ridge, perhaps right where runners step today, he realized he’d overshot his goal, Monterey Bay far to the south, when he recognized the Farollon Islands farther north. And from another ridge nearby he got his first look at San Francisco Bay. The party had labored mightily through the Santa Cruz Mountains to get here. It made me wonder if perhaps Mrs. Portola hadn’t spotted the flat land next to the bay from the ridge and said, “Gas-PARR, I told you we should have stayed on Highway 101, flat as a pancake all the way to the Bay Bridge!”
Race day marked the second day of record high temperatures all up and down the California coast so despite the oceanside location and some moderate breezes in open areas, heat was a factor in the race and slowed the field noticeably. It was difficult to run up the hills or work too hard at running down them without overheating. Lots of water and plenty of salt tabs were a must. Returning to the start/finish over and over was a godsend as water, ice, energy drink, and food needed constant replenishment. A couple of minutes with my head under a cold faucet also helped me past the gut check of having to pass my car and go out on one loop after another.
This was the second time this year the Pacific Coast Trail Run series visited this venue and it was well worth another look. Alternate distances of 9, 21 and 30 kilometers brought out a couple of hundred runners to join the 50Kers. After experiencing the beauty and the adventure of this great course, I’m sure many of the shorter distance folk will be wanting to move up to the ultra distance.