The Whoo’s in El Moro 25K/50K takes place in Crystal Cove State Park, which sits right next to Pacific Coast Highway and the ocean. It is a popular park location for hiking, running and mountain biking as there is a wide variety of technical and non-technical terrain and no shortage of hills. I run in El Moro a few times every year, but my favorite visit is always to run the Whoo’s in El Moro (WIEM) trail race. The event has a small and intimate feel to it and the course isn’t for the faint of legs. My ultra-running friend introduced me to the 25K race in 2013 and it became a permanent resident on my race calendar. Molly, the race director, puts a lot of heart into the event and it is apparent from the packet pick up to the post-race parking lot barbeque catered by TK burger. WIEM is also backed by some well-known sponsors: ASICS, 2XU, Oakley, Jamba Juice, Vita Cocoa, Road ID, Honey Stinger, Boxed Water, and Bobo’s Oat Bars. That equates to approximately one sponsor per 5K!
I went into this year’s 50K having slept for 2 hours and highly caffeinated. The two balanced each other nicely because I felt neither tired or overly anxious. I rarely drink coffee before a longer distance race, but the late night necessitated it. As a non-running side note: our entire staff and a few others went to see Knyght Rider, who will be performing at an upcoming running event, the night before WIEM. Perhaps all of the dancing loosened me up for the next morning! Fred and I carpooled to the race; it was his first 50K and first Whoo’s in El Moro, so I spent the car ride explaining the course and what to expect. We arrived, picked up our race items, pinned our numbers on and walked over to the small start line. Molly gave a short speech, wished us luck, and the herd departed at 6:30am.
I’d remembered the course as having a 3ish mile climb right from the start, but we were on flat ground for the first mile, during which I chatted easily with Fred. We made a right turn to run up I Think I Can and then visited the first aid station of the day at mile 3. Fred and I met Jim at this point on the course – he was a 2:3x marathoner in his youth, a great ultra runner, and usually wins his 60+ age division. Fred dropped back for a bathroom stop, Jim had implemented some walking intervals into his run, so I found myself alone around mile 5 or 6. My plan was to re-fill my water at the third aid station (mile 10ish) and gauge my level of hunger at that point, eating if I felt the need to. I did not carry any calories as I knew the aid stations would be well stocked with food and drink. After descending Slow ‘N Easy and continuing onto El Moro Canyon, I traversed the West Cut Across and was greeted by friendly faces (including Matt!) at the WCA aid station. I wasn’t quite ready for more water or food yet, so I grabbed a paper towel to mop the sweat off of my face, and began the technical climb up Rattlesnake. I was thinking about the 2012 race when, during the descent down this trail, I thought to myself “those 50K runners have to run UP this! That would be tough.” The elevation change isn’t severe, but the technicality of that section requires extra concentration and agility. It was at this point that I passed the 5th place woman and was still feeling very good.
The trail flattens out for a few miles and we hit the WCA aid station again before the steepest trail of the day: Poles. I’d heard the name thrown around before the race and sensed some angst and dislike toward this section. It was definitely the steepest section of the day and I was barely running; I would estimate my pace was 14-15 minutes per mile. However, it wasn’t long and I did not feel totally trashed at the top. I recognized this next section (No Dogs) as bringing us closer to the turnaround, so I was happy to know that I was almost halfway done. I grabbed four pretzels, re-filled my water bottle, and ascended No Dogs again before going back down Poles. The pretzels turned out to be a bad idea – too dry and difficult to swallow while running uphill.
I felt good coming back into the WCA aid station for the third time and nibbled on some banana chips. I was feeling slightly nauseated at this point, but a small cup of ginger ale settled my stomach. From this point, we took No Name Ridge to Ticketron and then descended Rattlesnake. My legs were less sturdy with 19 miles on them, so I was nervous about this technical downhill section. Unscathed, I reported to the WCA aid station for the fourth and final time.
This next section, between El Moro Canyon and Slow ‘N Easy, was difficult. I felt slightly better between miles 20 and 26ish than in 2014, but started to implement some walking intervals. The terrain isn’t technical nor are there any drastic changes in elevation, but the preceding miles and climbs had worn my legs down. I was recalling memories of the 2014 race and simply trying to enjoy the solitude of the trails. I made an effort to keep my focus on the positives of my situation, versus very tired legs and general fatigue. I was over half way done, a burger awaited me, and I could spend the next day recovering and relaxing. I came upon an injured runner and inquired as to what mile we were at. Admittedly, I was a bit disheartened to hear that we were only 22 miles in. I would’ve estimated us to be around mile 25 or 26. I fought off a bit of anxiety and continued toward the next-to-last aid station, at the top of Slow ‘N Easy.
When I’d arrived at this same aid station in 2014, I was a mess. I remember sitting down on a cooler, standing back up only to become dizzy and sit back down. The aid station crew expressed concern for my ability to continue. I even remember having a small amount of trouble speaking, either from dehydration or mental fuzziness. It was definitely warmer last year, and that may have had a greater effect on me than I realized at the time When my friend Mike arrived at the aid station a few minutes behind me, I started running again. Knowing that he was close behind reassured me that if I was to go down, he could easily run back up and alert the aid station crew.
This year, I arrived feeling tired and ready to be done, but fully coherent. I took another cup of ginger ale, some salted peanuts, and took Missing Link back to Moro Ridge. The knowledge that I was close to finishing propelled me to the finish and when I saw Ardy in the distance directing runners, I gave him a happy wave. I could see ribbons signalling runners to make a right turn down I Think I Can. I knew that the last 2-3 miles were downhill and I was more than ready for that. Unfortunately, he informed me that we would be running one mile toward the first/last aid station, one mile back toward him, and then would start our last descent. I thought he was joking! I really dislike short out-and-backs, especially at the end of a race. It is mentally difficult to run away from the finish line when it was so close.
As I ran toward the last aid station, I noticed that the distance between myself and a female in front of me was becoming shorter and shorter. I’m not sure if I had sped up or if she was slowing. Since there was prize money for 1-3 overall female, I tried to remember what place I was in. Was I in fifth or fourth place? I believed I was in fifth place, but what if a female had dropped? Even if I wasn’t “in the money,” moving up a notch is always nice. I needed to make a decision, however, because there is always that chance that it will turn into a race to the finish. Soon after we made the u-turn, she tripped and and almost hit the dirt. She wasn’t hurt and kept running, but didn’t seem happy to see that I was passing her. I don’t consider myself competitive, but decided to push to the finish and see if the effort would earn me a spot on the podium.
I ran as fast as my tired legs would carry me down I Think I Can, slowed slightly on the flatter El Moro Canyon section, and felt rejuvenated as the trails became more populated with hikers and walkers. I could not wait to see the bridge which would take me to the finish. I finally crossed the line in 4:49. Though the course was longer and hillier, I’d completed it 4 minutes faster than in 2014. I was also the third female to cross the finish line, earning me $200 and a bag full of swag including some very nice Oakley sunglasses, 2XU compression sleeves and visor.
I enjoyed some Boxed Water and waited for Fred to finish. After we polished off our TK burgers and chatted with our fellow finishers, we headed back to Long Beach.
Overall, I am pleased with my effort, both physically and mentally. I feel like I conserved where I should’ve, pushed where it was needed and distributed my energy expenditure correctly. One aspect of longer distance running which needs more experimentation on my part is nutrition. I don’t think I could complete a race longer than 31 miles on a handful of dried snacks and water. If I ever decide to run longer than 50K, I will need to put some serious thought into this.