Saturday, October 16, 2010
Race Review: Buffalo Alley 10k
Know someone who could stand to be humbled by hills? Send ‘em to this trail 10k deep into Camp Pendleton’s northern realm.
It’s already part of our race plans for next year.
This was the final race in the U.S.M.C. Hard Corps endurance series, and the moniker Hard Corps was just one indication that this would not be easy. Another was universal advice from past participants to beware of big, big, big hills, both going up and down.
You must drive about 8 miles once you are on the base, but parking was not a problem. There were plenty of portable toilets (with sinks!) and a very well organized expo to pick up race bibs, D tags and T-shirts. We gave ourselves plenty of time to arrive, which made a big difference in helping quell pre-race jitters.
Once we were all corralled, there were the obligatory instructions livened up with a lecture from the morning’s emcee. He warned that no one was allowed to die on the course, and he urged those afraid of heights to not look down. I’d never done a true military-sponsored race before (the Marines Corps Marathon is a very different, more commercial animal). Every single entrant looked fit. And during the moment of silence for fallen soldiers, the crowds immediately and universally halted all talk and lowered their heads. Prayers noiselessly punctuated the surreally still air.
You hit the first and biggest hill about a quarter-mile into it. I got to the top of the ridge at 500 feet and thought, “This wasn’t bad at all.” Turns out this also wasn’t the end of the climb. In all, we’d manage 1,000 feet in a little over a mile before we got rolling.
Once we all realized around that first bend that we still had a ways to go, virtually everyone around me started power walking. Who was I to not show some solidarity? Sure it cost me time, but it also saved some energy for what was to come: more hills.
The middle miles were a series of ups and downs surrounded by pristine mountains blanketed in fog. It kept temperatures ideal and was a nice change of scenery for this city girl. All total, we passed 4 water/Gatorade stations during this stretch – three more than I would have expected at this distance. The central station that we’d pass going out and back included rock music, which resonated all along the ridge with nothing around to absorb the sound.
Just beyond Mile 5 we hit the dangerous downhill. It’s a steep, rut-riddled descent that is impossible to actually run down, at least full force. Strategies around me included zigzagging if you had room, sliding sideways and just tiptoeing till you felt safe.
The good news is once you come off that stretch, you have a swift final mile to the finish, passing fields of fragrant wild fennel and woodland before those blessed balloons at the finish finally appear. I went under them around 1:05, which would be slow for me in a road race but surpassed my private predicted time by 5 minutes.
I immediately wanted to try it again next year, but some of the others took more convincing. After breakfast at the excellent Beach Break Café in Oceanside, we were all onboard. After all, we may have struggled, but we also did as instructed at the start.
We arrived alive.
Thanks to Deborah J. for the photo.