Mendocino 50K – An All Vegan, Visually Stunning Race

I’ve been to Mendocino so many times with my family, but we’ve always hung out by the headlands, the lighthouse and the rugged coast. Never explored the forest side. So when I saw the Mendocino 50K popup on ultra-signup, registered right away and got bib #3. I’d just come back from Nepal on a service project and was still recovering from jet-lag. Also my last real run was the Quicksilver training run of 18 miles, almost two weeks ago. But that’s been the story of my running this year. Lots of international travel, very low weekly mileage and somehow I manage to pull through these runs. Here’s my Strava activity from the run.

Mendocino 50K

I drove up the evening before and hung out by the headlands watching an epic double rainbow and listening to the waves. I was dragging my feet back to the hotel and didn’t want to leave the outdoors. It was drizzling a little and that made the trails moist, but not muddy. Caught Rick in action, placing course markers along the headlands. This course has it all: beach, redwoods, waterfall, river, single tracks and a short rope course!

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For an inaugural race, Sid Garza-Hillman, the race director and the local volunteers did an outstanding job with the food (scones, muffins and coffee in the morning!), logistics, course marking and of course, the beer. Giving all the runners reusable Ultraspire cups and compostable plates for the food were a real nice touch. Wish more races would do this to minimize garbage.

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Sid Garza-Hillman

Sid Garza-Hillman, Race Director

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Mendocino 50K - start line

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With Frank, fellow sandal-man

With Frank, fellow sandal-man

The weather was just perfect. Low 50’s with a little drizzle and overcast. We started out running across the beach, under the bridge and up over to the headlands and hugged the rugged coast all the way to the entrance to Russian Gulch. I didn’t have any water with me and didn’t really need any for the whole course. Slurped up some electrolytes at each aid station and one or two Mamma Chia pouches between. Did I mention all the aid stations were 100% vegan? The short little rope course preceded by a trail crossing was super fun!IMG_1817

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There were so many volunteers along the course cheering everyone. Some of them had parked themselves in little tents in perfect scenic corners along the course. Shout out to everyone! Visually, this course had a lot to take in. Bright green ferns brimming with moisture, misty redwoods dripping with water, loud waterfalls. gushing creeks, etc. I lost track of time, not that I cared much either. I felt the first cramp at around mile 15, which was odd. It was kinda early to be cramping, especially since it wasn’t hot. Something’s up, but not sure what.

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Jason, a local runner, caught up with me around mile 10 and we ran together for a while. Turns out he hadn’t run these trails either! Quite the best kept secret around here. The fire trail climb was probably the longest climb on the course. Just kept going up and up and up.IMG_1845

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The cramps were kicking in harder now to the point running downhill was painful. My toes were involuntarily curling up and I had to pause a few times to stretch them out. What’s going on? Then it hit me. Just as an experiment, I was exclusively on the Mamma Chia squeeze pouches and when I looked at the ingredients noticed that they only had 10mg of Sodium. Argh! Must’ve packed salt pills. Tried to cram a bunch of potato chips at one of the aid stations, but no go. Rest of the course was having to manage these cramps. So much for experimenting on race day. The Mendocino Woodlands were OMG pretty.

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The climb up on Eagles Roost was shorter, but much much steeper. The going was slow, but this was the last climb on the course leading up to mile 20. Rest of it follows the old logging road along the river leading up to the finish line.

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Made it to mile 20 right about 3:30. I was kinda rooting for a sub-5:00, but the cramps were starting to become unmanageable. The last 10 miles are pretty flat with no downhill recovery. My calves were firing and twitching badly every time my foot came down. More potato chips hoping to stabilize the sodium in my body, but wasn’t working. I was now going at a blistering pace of 10 minutes/mile. Oh well, might as well soak up the views since it was going to be a while before I finish. I was 16th at mile 20, but had a few runners pass me in this flat stretch.

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The last 10 miles took me a good 2 hours! But was so happy to pull through the finish line at 5:30 and 21 overall. What an amazing course! I’m so going back next year and try and break 5:00. Zach Bitter (holds the 100 mile American record) was there and of course he won the race with 4 hours and change. I think he was taking it easy. 🙂

Mendocino 50K - finish line

5:30 finish and 21 overall. I’ll take it.

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Got to hang out with Yew (what a cool name!), a local runner who placed 2nd overall. Was great to chat with him and his wife Meghan, while sipping a cold beer from the Mendocino Brewery. I don’t usually do medals, but this one being a bottle opener and all. And what better way to chill in the afternoon than head over back to the headlands and relish on some dark chocolate bar with espresso beans while listening to the waves. Did I tell you I love Mendocino?


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  • Peter Chan, Alex Voytov – great seeing you guys out there!

  • Great to see you! You were super fast!

  • Do you have to be made of plant to run it?

  • That was a good read. Thanks.

  • haha, no. You can pack beef jerky in your vest if you want. I’m sure Sid Garza-Hillman will let you run with it.

  • Wow. I’m not a trail runner, but that post made me want to do that race! Someday. 😉

  • Good to share the trail with you.

  • Lol how is a race considered vegan lol

  • I don’t know of any races where animals are killed lololol

  • you rocked your finish @mendocinoultra50K. Glad to meet you in person. Run free, far and fast.

  • If I weren’t running destination races already to do other vegan races or run with my vegan team this year and next, this would be awesome. Maybe in a couple of years 🙂

  • Love reading your write up’s. I will follow your lead and do one for the broken arrow

    • Thanks Nils. Broken arrow’s going to be epic! I’m doing the double dipsea (again) this year

  • So glad you came and checked out the amazing trails. Great read!

  • Such a great race and weekend! And great report Kowsik. You captured photos of everything I would have wanted to

    • That’s because unlike some of us, you were actually running 🙂

  • How do you take pictures if you can’t say “cheese”?

  • Joaquin Jones

  • roo

    Kowsik – Excellent race report! As the map maker and trail designer and flagger, we wanted to give you all a great representation of the trails on the Mendocino coast. This race came off so well, I’m looking forward to it again next year.
    For those who haven’t heard about the 150 miles of trails through the Jackson Demonstration State Forest (48,000ac) and Russian Gulch state park system you should treat yourselves and come for a visit to an undiscovered paradise. Mountain biking opportunities are huge here as well as trail running. See: write up in July 2014 issue of BIKE magazine. I authored the guidebook “Mountain Biking the Mendocino Coast and Beyond” which is available for biking, hiking, running or just finding peaceful spots while in search of the wild mushrooms.

    • roo, thanks for the comment. Definitely looking forward to next year. I’m both pleasantly surprised and shocked that even the locals didn’t know a whole lot about the trail system through Russian Gulch and the Mendocino woodlands. It was so much fun frolicking through these trails. Thanks for playing a huge part in this event.

      • roo

        I owe an apology to Rick Hemmings from Catch-A Canoe as he incepted the course route while I did some tweaking on it. I created the map and did the flagging for 28 miles of the 50K route. Rick worked tirelessly behind the scenes to really bring this race to fruition along with Sid Garza-Hillman.

  • Don’t like the ‘vegan’ label too much. A race is a race, it’s for all of us, inclusion and diversity. But it looks nice, admitted 🙂

    • It’s vegan & eco friendly – food-wise. Doesn’t mean it’s only for vegan runners.

  • RT @k0ws1k: Race Report: Mendocino 50K – An All Vegan, Visually Stunning Race – https://t.co/mhhje1v3VJ /cc @mendocinoultra https://t.co/i6…

  • Looks absolutely beautiful! would love to add that to my list next year

  • Tyler

    Hi Kowsik, sweet write up! Was great to meet you and chat briefly. I should’ve struck up more convos; guess I was feeling shy. Thanks for taking in the sights and snapping some great shots! I’d already forgotten about all the little bridges and stuff.

    Tyler

    • Tyler, thanks for the comment! Good to meet you too and the sandals are always a great conversation starter 🙂 Looks like you had a great run! Hope to cross trails in the near future. What’s your next run? I’m doing the Quicksilver 100K in a few weeks, Double Dipsea in June and Mt. Hood 50M in July.

      • Tyler

        Thanks, it went smoothly and that’s what I was going for (: I was leaning towards the Humboldt Bay Marathon in August, but now I’m not sure. The trails are calling and mountains coming to life with warm weather.

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