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The Sean O'Brien 50 Mile: Would I Do It Again?

February 27, 2014 4 min read

The Sean O'Brien 50 Mile:
Would I Do It Again?

Personalized race reports are all fine and good but they rarely leave the reader with an answer to the question: should I consider signing up for this event myself? On Saturday, February 1st I raced in the inaugural Sean O’Brien 50 Mile. My girlfriend and I made a 3-day road trip weekend out of it, staying with friends who live in a house in Malibu with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean conveniently located about 30 minutes from the race’s start/finish venue in Malibu Creek State Park on the inland side of the Santa Monica Mountains. In case one paragraph is your maximum blog-reading attention span the answer is: heck yeah I would, and, yes, you should.

This race event offers up three distances to choose from: marathon, 50K and 50 mile, and although it is technically a new event its origins are in the few years old Ray Miller 50/50 that took place on the other end of the Santa Monicas in Point Mugu State Park. A few short months after the 2013 edition that area was charred by a massive wildfire and the search was on for an alternative staging area and course. Sean O'Brien went to work and soon enough a brilliant new course was mapped out, complete with new name.

The races are directed by Keira Henninger, a longtime ultrarunner from Southern California with seemingly endless ties to the local running community. She knows how to put on a great event, from pre-race through to the post-run hang.

The pre-race packet pickup was at the host hotel, a Hampton Inn in Agoura Hills, ideally-located about 15 minutes from the Malibu Creek State Park staging area. One of the keys, in my opinion, to a stress-free race weekend in SoCal is driving convenience and avoidance of gnarly traffic. The location of this race ensured a road-rage free experience. The race schwag included the obligatory technical tee (from Patagonia) and, also from Patagonia, a reusable canvas shopping bag, something I thought was a great idea and that will remind me of the good times at the race whenever I remember to bring it to the grocery store.

The course was incredible and with over 12000' of climbing (for the 50M), very challenging. With a 6am headlamp start racers got to enjoy one of the best things about these events, getting into a rhythm as the black turned to gray and the sun slowly rose to wash the rugged terrain in a rosy glow. The Santa Monica Mountains are surprisingly rugged, with relentless climbing and descending. The course ascended from the inland side to run along the spine of the range, utilizing sections of the iconic Backbone Trail which extends the full-length of the range, before dropping all the way down to near sea level at Zuma Beach before making the long climb back up to the top and returning down the inland side and back to Malibu Creek State Park.

The course has some singletrack but consists primarily of hard-packed fire roads that criss cross the range. When up high on the ridges the views were spectacular: out over the Pacific to Catalina Island, along the coast and across the LA Basin to the Santa Anas and inland to the mighty  and abrupt rise of the San Gabriels.

Even though a cold front had passed through a few days prior, weather was typical mid-winter SoCal: meaning it was dreamy for those looking to escape from harsher climates. After a cold start in the dark many people were in shorts and t-shirts for the duration. Out of the wind on the ridges it even felt downright toasty on the coastal side.

I didn't spend much time in the aid stations but they were all staffed with very friendly and helpful volunteers and the caloric offerings looked to be the typical and varied sweet and salty items. An abundance of options to keep you fueled and moving down the trail. The longest gap between aid was no more than 7 or 8 miles with most gaps being less.

The post-race food options were also plentiful and varied. Subway-style sandwiches and vegetarian soups went down smooth. The air was abuzz with lively conversations, old friends reconnecting, new friendships being formed. The only minor ding on the post-race hang was that it was a dry hang: no alcohol was allowed in the park. Microbrews and après-race recovery seem to be inseparable these days so for those looking to carry-on with the socializing later in the afternoon/evening the post-race party continued at a local microbrewery, once again very conveniently-located. There was even a unicorn sighting, well a top-five runner impersonating a runner anyway.

All in all this race offered up exactly what I have come to love about the ultrarunning scene... a sport that, on the surface, seems like a rather solitary pursuit being transformed into a very social deal with amazing views, people and athletic challenges as the catalysts to a memorable experience.

Should you consider putting this event on your calendar? Absolutely.

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