I last ran the Calico 50K race back in 2008, it was only my second Ultra race and I went into it pretty naive and managed to fudge my way round. Fast forward 7 years and while I might be a bit greyer I am for sure a bit wiser. This race is one of the first ultras on the Southern California circuit and as with most trail races it’s pretty relaxed and low key. I had a couple of goals for the race, my “A” goal was a sub 6 hour finish, the “B” goal a sub 12:00 min mile. Overall I wanted to run a sensible race and not go out too fast, blow up and have to hang on to the finish. The goal was a solid pace throughout. It was also a good opportunity to continue the real food experiment that Becca and I have been using for our last few long runs.
The race itself is just outside of Barstow in what is known as the high desert. Calico sits at approx. 2300’. This area has very little vegetation, summer highs average 105F and winter lows in the 30Fs, it’s best described as harsh! To put that into some perspective here is a screen grab from Google Earth of the course, see what I mean, not a lot of green!
Calico is an old/restored silver mining town dating back to 1881 and is now a California Historic Landmark which receives tourists all year round. The area is used for ATV and quad-bike off-roading and it’s not unusual to see folks out with rifles shooting, I certainly heard my fair share of automatic weapons being discharged!
The race was scheduled to start at 7am and despite some kerfuffle with bibs a couple of minutes before 7am we were ready. There were roughly 150 runners ready to start including those running the 30k. Without much fuss the race was underway. Becca and I had gone back and forth on whether we would or should run together. We hadn’t come to any definitive decision but Becca had said she was ok being on her own or being with me and I should run my own race. The first couple of miles are on the road out of town. It’s a nice easy downhill which takes you onto the main road, in fact the only road. From there you’re directed onto a Jeep track and you’re onto the trail proper and the trail continues through until the last mile which is back through the paved parking lot
The race is definitely a race of two halves. The first half is a steady climb up to the 18 mile mark. There are few rollers and a couple of short technical sections but essentially you are on a jeep trail for the entire time. I tried to take a photo every mile or so, here are the best of them. As you can see, this day I was a better runner than photographer but you do get an idea of what the desert looks like!
I ran past the first couple of Aid Stations, I was wearing my UD Wasp which was full of water. I also carried a UD Handheld which had High5 in it (think of Nuun but less fizzy). On the solid food list I had stashed several brioche PB&J rolls, I also has some Plum “Mash Ups”, essentially baby food and a couple of Peanut Butter Company single servings. My goal was to have one thing every 38 minutes and work my way through them until I reached the Drop Bag which had more of the same and I could just refill there.
At the 18 mile AS I sat down and made a point of emptying my shoes. The trail was dusty and rocky and with hindsight gaiters would have been a good call. I was feeling pretty good and I had been catching and passing people for the last 5 miles or so and had only been passed once. I tried to minimize my time at the AS and this allowed me to get out quick and pass a couple of people who had had arrived before me and were still doing stuff. At this point in the race the field was very strung out and usually I could only see one or two people ahead and the same behind. With that perspective it’s very hard to judge anything.
The next mile or so was a short climb up and then you had a technical shale decent. This crazy section is followed by 3 miles of downhill, you can let rip and click off some quick miles but by the time you got to the very bottom you have another 9 miles to the finish. If I was to make the sub 6 hours I needed to cover the last 9 miles in 1:45…kinda doable. However after the downhill you have another 3 miles of climbing. It was going to be very close.
I decided to keep it steady and cruise along. I was passed one more time by someone who I then caught up with at the next AS and then left ahead of. The folks at the AS told me I was #32 coming in so in my mind I decided my goal was to try and get in the Top 30.
Finally around the 26 mile mark you start the last downhill section, I use downhill loosely as it’s really a roller coaster that has a net downhill at the end. That said when you get to the bottom there is the penultimate short sharp climb that puts you on a ridgeline where you can see the finish and has you running in the opposite direction! I was still picking off people all the way back into town! The final climb is at the back end of the town and then you run down Main Street much to the amusement of tourist who have come to visit the old mining town!
I crossed the finish line just over 6 hours with an official time of 6:03:26 8th in my AG and 18th Male and 27th OA.
Overall I was really pleased. Despite missing my A goal I ran a completely sensible race. I passed enough people to come in the top 30. My hydration and nutrition was on point and I actually felt really good the next day which was great as this race fell into the first weekend of the Tour of Sufferlandria! I also beat my course PR by 31 minutes! Not bad for someone who was seven years older…and wiser!
If you’re looking for a challenging race that is low key but highly organized this could be a great race for you, if 50k is too long there is a 30k option too although your get to skip all the challenges that the second half of the 50k offers.