Sean O’Brien 20K Race Report – 2022


This was my third trip back to Malibu Creek State Park in the past few months. The first time was to race the Sean O’Brien 30k which a monster 30K PR and probably my best race in many years. The second time was to volunteer for the SOB 50 miler/100k race. This time it was time to tow the line for the Sean O’Brien 20k, my first time doing this race distance.

I was excited to see what I could do in this shorter race. My main race strategies were to be as light as possible without freezing or dehydrating myself. At the Paramount Ranch I spent a chunk of time  fussing with my my clothes as it was freezing at the start and I carried around my light rain jacket the whole time. 

This time, I did a temperature check before the race and it felt at least 10 to 15 degrees warmer than Paramount so I did not wear a jacket and only had one medium thickness tech shirt on. Also, for 20k I thought I would be good with just one hand held bottle and no hydration pack at all. That meant everything had to go in my handheld or in my shorts. 

I also tinkered with my coffee intake leading up to the race. I had no coffee for a week then I added some liquid flavoring drops to my water bottle and that had a shot of caffeine in it. The experiment would be to see if not having coffee or caffeine then having it during the race would make a difference. Would it serve as a turbo boost when I needed the kick? We would see.

Race morning.

The weather gods were good and it wasn’t crazy cold as we made our way through the medium fog to the start line. I had caught up with Chris, Steph and Nicole from the Ultrarunning Misfits group and also with Daisy, Dick, Esther, and Saeed from the New Basin Blues crew and selfies ensued in the dark.

Miles 0 to 4

This would be a fun start because all 4 races would be going at the same time. We hit the starting line and the next thing we were gunning it.

I lined up at the back but then darted through a bunch of runners in the beginning. With only a 20k race I was going to have to put my foot on the gas as much as possible. I got to the Angry Chihuahua first hills amongst others who were still running and made quick work of the hills. By the time we finished the descent the sun had pretty much come up and I didn’t need my head lamp any longer.

I felt like I had to press here because I’ve seen long lines at the creek crossing other years after a good rain and it could turn into a long wait there. 

Yes, the creek was shooting by and when I stepped through I was hanging onto the rope line pretty well. You can take a few steps and be fine but the next thing you know you can slide on a rock and go down. The water went up to my shorts and I’m glad my phone didn’t get totally submerged.

I managed not to dunk myself and came up on the other side and felt rocks in my shoe. Having had some issues with blisters before, I was not going to play that game today and when I got to the little paved road I stopped and shook out the rocks and sediment from my shoe. 

During the rest of the initial climb along the side of the mountain, I heard a group of runners behind me and one person said that this was where the race would separate the men from the boys.

My insecure self told me that they were addressing me, as they finally caught up to a Boy. Even at 53 years old that kind of stuff still pisses me off. I still haven’t figured out if people say that kind of stuff around others without thinking about it or if they do it on purpose.

Now, I will say that if I had heard something like that when I did the 30k race a few month back I would have picked up the pace and passed them up and made them work for that first big climb. This time I let the comment go and didn’t feel the urge to dig deep yet only at mile 3. 

As the big climb started, I was feeling pretty good but still wasn’t feeling the extra turbo boost I wanted. I was hoping that when I saw a steep part of the climb I would knock out a short sprint run and work to stay under a 20 minute per mile pace. That didn’t happen more than like once or twice in the 2 mile climb.

By mile 4 most of my friends who were still behind me finally caught up to me. I did push a bit harder there and I leap frogged with a few other runners. 

Miles 4 to 7.3

I kept a steady pace, took a few photos along the way and stopped to shake out more rocks. Those stops can add up in time. I had a goal to hit the halfway point within 2 hours but missed the goal and got there at 2:11 into the race. I didn’t feel too bad about it. I knew at mile 2 that I wasn’t going to have all the magic of the 30k race and didn’t want to get discouraged when I still had a fun downhill to crush.

Miles 7.4 to 11

I left the Corral Canyon aid station with a couple of slices of watermelon and a freshly filled water bottle. The clouds had just started to scatter and  the sun would soon start to dry out my drenched shirt even though it was still only around 55 degrees. As I made my way up to the moon rock formations I saw a photographer and she was at the top of the hill which meant that I had to dig deep and run a bit so I didn’t look like I was dying on the run. When I passed her she apologized for making me run and we both chuckled. 

Half a mile later I ran into Luisa and we had a quick chat and snapped some selfies. At that same time, another woman who I had leapfrogging with passed me. I was still talking to Luisa as she sped by. That had to be another person in my race. Since we all left at the same time and had the same bib colors it was impossible to tell who was running which race. Regardless, catching up to another runner would come second to quickly catching up with Luisa today.

After I got back to running, I started to need to take a pee. There wasn’t a good place to do so, so I kept running. Little by little the left side of my abdomen started hurting whenever I picked up speed on a downhill. This sucks, I thought.

My pace slowed down quite a bit but I was still running. I got to the steep downhill running portion and had to slow down over and over again when the stomach pain intensified. This continued for another couple of miles.

Miles 11 to 14.7/finish

Just before turning off of the big descent portion, I saw a woman coming up the trail and she had a strange grin. As I passed by her I saw her gentleman friend emerge from a little side path, most likely having just relieved himself. That’s what I needed to do.

As I got back on the little trail next to the mountain that drops us to the creek, I started to look for a place to take a pit stop. I untied my shorts to get ready for a quick stop and – my abdomen pain went away. 

It wasn’t that I need to take a pit stop, my frigging shorts were tied too tight and the left side of my stomach was hurting because I had my phone in that pocket and the cumulative pull on that side had thrown my body off.  This has happened to me before on long training runs but this time I mistook it for having to go to the bathroom.

Back to the race.

I got to the creek crossing and now one else was around. I took my time and still also fell into the drink. The creek water was still up to my shorts.

Shortly after the crossing a couple runners passed by then another. I finally was able to muster up a run again on the little straightaway to the YMCA center and picked up a stick to help with my climb up the Angry Chihuahua. 

Once again, I didn’t feel the same fire as I did in the 30k and only ran tiny bits of the climb. But, the same as in the 30k I heard people coming up behind me just before cresting the last climb and they passed me up. I overheard some of their chatter and it seemed very familial. After the train passed by I took off after them but they were hauling ass.

I was able to run but was running out of gas quickly. I could see them a couple of turns up ahead still so I kept digging deep. 

Finally I got to the bottom of the hill and hit the last road down towards the finish line –  they had disappeared but I kept pushing. I didn’t have any higher gears but kept going towards the last turn before the finish line but then saw the group hanging back on the fence along the road. They weren’t even part of the race but had given me a little bit of a second wind to get my butt to the finish line.

Shortly after finishing I flopped on the ground to chill out for a bit. I have a habit of walking around after a race, looking for somewhere comfortable to sit and that usually takes around 20 minutes to do which is a waste of energy so I just laid down. Shortly after someone approached me and asked if I was OK and I said I wast fine, just tired.

I did have a time goal based on my 30k splits. I wanted to finish in less than 4 hours but I missed that by 22 minutes with a 4:22 finish (unofficial). If you factor in that I slowed down to take some photos, chat with a friend, and had wet shoes after a couple of creek crossings then I wasn’t too far off my target time. The other goal that I hit was to negative split the race which did by a few seconds. 

The volunteers were so great and it was fun seeing so many friends out there. Once again, race director Keira Henninger put on a great event and I can’t wait until the next race.

At this time, my next race will be the Leona Divide 50 where this time I will finish and intend to PR. 

What’s next on your race calendar? Will I see you at Leona Divide in April?


Photo credit: main image by Paksit Photos