Race Review: Camp Pendelton Races – The Buffalo Alley Run

Summary: This race is a hard and very rewarding.  No, it’s not the mud run.   That’s a different race.

Key Information

Race Name Buffalo Alley Trail Run
Location Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base
Elevation Profile Climb 500ft between Mile 1 and 2 and then climb another between miles 3 and 4.    All that climbing leads to a 500 ft. decent in the last miles.
Organization Military precision
Terrain Packed Fire Roads
Water Stations 3 stations covered 4 points along the route.
Highlights The Marines along the route cheering people on.  Has the most awesome long sleeve shirts you will ever get at a race.
Other Events 1K kids run and a 5K race
Good for Beginners? I wouldn’t suggest this to anyone who hates hills.
At the end of Mile 1, you are in those clouds

Introduction: The Camp Pendleton Buffalo Alley Trail Run is my favorite race of the year.   This is a very special event that will have you on cloud 9; not so much because of anything wonderful, but because during the first mile runners have to climb over 500ft and might be oxygen deprived as you ascend into the clouds that surround the hills of Camp Horno.

When you see this sign, you are almost at the top of the first hill.

The Venue:   This is my favorite race of the year and not so much because of the beauty of the trail run, but the fact that it’s right in the middle of Camp Pendleton.  One has to drive about a half-hour on the base to get to the race.  It provides a quick glimpse into the lives of these young men and women who protect our way of life.  The challenge of this course is also fun for me.

There is nothing pretty about this trail. It’s actually more of a packed fire road. It’s not well-groomed, there are no pretty flowers along the side, it rugged and hard. There are big tire tracks where trucks have passed and one will occasionally find large and small bullet casings on the ground.   Why bullet casings?   Because this is where Marines train.  During the race, expect to hear artillery fire off in the distance (don’t worry, it’s far far away).  It sounds like fireworks.

There are two very large hills on this course.    The first starts about a quarter-mile in and it will quickly measure the shape you are really in and how well your lungs are attached to your chest.  There is a water station at the top of that hill and from there it’s a few miles of nice (fun) rolling hills.

Running in the clouds
Marines will leave no runner behind!

About mile 3.3+ is the third water station.  That left turn starts the next major climb.  It’s long, rolling, but never too steep.   Marines are posted along the way and they will encourage you like you may have never experienced.

When you hit the last water station near the end of mile 4, it’s all downhill from there.  Don’t take that to mean easy, just down hill.  It’s a steep downhill that you could slide down on a piece of cardboard.    After that there is a flat half mile or so run to the finish line.   Maybe it’s due to the taxing nature of the run, but that last half mile seems to take forever.

The 5K Race:T here is also a 5K run which isn’t very appealing to me.  It’s basically up the lung deflating hill, a short fast rolling hill and then a steep descent to the finish.   The 10K course provides the enjoyment of running back into the hills and getting more time with the rolling hills.

The Weather:  The race typically starts early in the morning when it is cool.  By the time I hit the top of the hill, I was well warmed up.   There was no need for a jacket on this race.   The event will happen rain or shine.

Race Organization:  This race is well-organized.   The Marines manage bib pickup and shirt distribution without a hitch.  The course is well-marked and it’s just not possible to get lost.  There are well stocked water stations, Marines posted along the route, ambulances, the works.  I bet they even have helicopters you chicken out at the last hill and need to be air-lifted back to the finish line (odds are, they would just have two Marines carry you out).

The race is divided into Military and Civilian with age divisions in each.   There is also a Clydesdale division for slow runners like me.  My first year running this race, the overall winner completed the course in 37.5 Minutes.  The winner in my age group ran it in 43.25.   I completed it in 1:13.   This year, I ran it with my wife.  It was her first 10K run and I promised her that she wouldn’t finish last.   To keep that promise, I came in right behind her at a casual 1 hour and 50 minutes.

Drink up before the last big hill.

October 20, 2012, I am planning on running this race for the third time. I am looking to complete it in under an hour.  If you are in Southern California runner,  I would urge you to give this race a go.  This race is part of a series of races that include triathelons, bike races, mud runs, and a half-marathon. For more information, go to http://www.camppendletonraces.com/

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Race Review: Camp Pendelton Races – The Buffalo Alley Run

3 thoughts on “Race Review: Camp Pendelton Races – The Buffalo Alley Run

  1. Laura says:

    I just wanted to my second to this post and agree,this is the most challenging and rewarding race I also have ever done. If you want to push yourself and see all the you can do, this is the race for you. For me there was a huge satisfaction is just finishing this race, yet the experience was enhanced by the location. To run where the men and women train to protect my rights as a free American was amazing, then to have them cheer me on it race was mind blowing. If you race, run or even just walk this is a must do experience to have. I also thank my personnel cheerleader for being by my side the whole way, you also made the experience richer for me.

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