Overall Rating
Overall Rating (2 Reviews)
5
(2 Ratings)(2 Reviews)
DIFFICULTY
5
SCENERY
4
PRODUCTION
5
SWAG
4
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    Profile photo of Mike Sohaskey
    Mike Sohaskey FIRST-TIMER '16

    The first thing you’re likely to notice about this race is the name—you’ll want to pay attention to that. This is a one-of-a-kind trial-by-fire, and if you’re an endurance snob … MORE

    The first thing you’re likely to notice about this race is the name—you’ll want to pay attention to that. This is a one-of-a-kind trial-by-fire, and if you’re an endurance snob who looks down on shorter distances, trust me you’ll look up to this one. Pulling into the parking lot adjacent to the race venue, my brother @CSohaskey and I immediately noted the number of vehicles sporting “26.2” stickers; clearly this was not your typical family-friendly 10K. This was a race that attracted masochists and those in search of a singular challenge. And they’d found it in quiet, suburban Newbury Park.

    What makes this the Toughest 10K in the USA is of course the hills, made more challenging by the uneven, single-track dirt trails used to access them. By the time I reached mile 4, I found myself longing for a nice flat 26 miles. My brother’s Garmin recorded a total elevation gain/loss change of 2,123 ft while mine logged 1,954 ft up/1,945 ft down. Ironically, in 76 races this was the first timed 10K I’ve ever run, so it’s now officially my 10K personal best and less than 12 minutes short of my half marathon PR.

    The race begins (and ends) with ~½ mile on asphalt, circling the Newbury Park Academy that doubles as the staging area before transitioning to dirt and making its first real ascent. This initial uphill is steep enough to require your second (and third) wind, and will cue the nervous voices in your head to start questioning what you’ve gotten yourself into. This is just a warm-up though, so don’t listen to them since the rest of the course will only get steeper. And keep in mind the uphills are the easy part—after all, what goes up must come down. That said, at each peak you’ll be rewarded not only with an aid station but also with amazing panoramic views in all directions. To the victors go the spoils.

    Much of the course is narrow single-track, so at the same time you’re babysitting your own suspect footing, you’ll be watching out for other runners approaching in the opposite direction at varying speeds and varying levels of body control. On one steep grade I put a momentary scare into the woman ahead of me, who could hear me shuffling quickly downhill toward her and was bracing for the collision that (fortunately) never came. On another descent—a narrow single-track with slanted sides and a narrow groove down the middle that made for tenuous footing—I could hear the fellow just ahead of me respond to the steep grade in real time: “Shit, shit, shit…” before finally regaining control of his momentum. At one point, hoping to slow my own momentum I reached out to grab a thin branch which broke off in my hand as I slid by. Sorry, Mother Nature.

    Despite all this, I lost my footing and ended up on my backside only twice. And I never fell forward (this is the key to success—your butt was designed to land on, your face was not). And though the Toughest 10K is a definite challenge and a race your quads won’t soon forget (my left quad and IT band were still tight 5 days after the race—5 days after a 10K!), it’s not a dangerous course. As long as you maintain focus, take your time and avoid being reckless, you’ll get up and down just fine. Unlike the Mount Marathon course in Alaska where runners routinely cross the finish line bruised and bloodied—and where one fellow disappeared mid-race, never to be heard from again—this was not a group of reckless runners. Everyone was careful and courteous, and even the two 70-year-olds in the group eventually found their way down from the hills, completing half a loop on the Newbury Park Academy dirt track before finishing on the field.

    The Toughest 10K isn’t cheap—we paid $65 a month before the race—but then again for an experience this unique, the price is actually very reasonable. Certainly more so than a $190 Disney half marathon. And given that my calves, quads and IT bands have a year to forgive & forget, I can definitely see myself running again next year.

    Pro tip: For greater success on uphills, power-hike with your palms resting on the tops of your quads, to help drive each leg downward like a piston. I followed this strategy at Ice Age, and it helped tremendously by lowering my center of gravity, improving my balance and providing more power on steep ascents. And on particularly steep descents, sideways is the only way to go.

    PRODUCTION: Low-key and easy peasy, as befitting a race of ~100 finishers. We rolled up 30 minutes before the 7:30am start, parked next door in The Home Depot lot and quickly picked up our bib, timing chip and t-shirt. This left plenty of time to visit the indoor restrooms at the Newbury Park Academy. There’s something very special about low-key trail races, particularly when you can talk your intrepid brother into running with you. The course was well marked, so there was no concern about taking a wrong turn and, you know, accidentally bypassing one of the killer climbs. 🙂 And Alex, who was manning the finish line mic, enthusiastically announced each and every approaching finisher while encouraging others in the crowd to cheer them across. Thanks, Alex!

    After taking a start line selfie with all his runners, race director Caleb encouraged us to take our time, hike the steeper hills sideways to slow our momentum, and basically treat the race as a beautiful 6-mile hike. And he and his team had an impressive post-race party awaiting us at the finish on the Newbury Academy sports field, with plenty of snacks (see photo), a few interesting sponsor tents, a raffle for cool prizes and a series of competitions that I watched while seated atop a foam roller—including a 40-yard dash (yes, you read that right), a push-up contest and a plank competition in which the 67-year-old winner held perfect planking posture for over EIGHT minutes. So much for 6-second abs.

    SWAG (see photo): It’s been a while since I got a cotton race t-shirt, but this one’s a definite keeper with the wicked course profile printed on front, and in fact I’ve already worn it proudly a couple of times. The medal too is unusually eye-catching for a trail race, depicting (what else?) the hills of Newbury Park, so your quads will always be reminded of what they accomplished, even after the joyful muscle memory fades.

    DIFFICULTY
    5
    PRODUCTION
    5
    SCENERY
    4
    SWAG
    4
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    4 members marked this review helpful. Agree?

    Kieran Wong Dec 12, 2016 at 10:13am

    Thanks Mike for the great review! Definitely a race to think about doing next year.

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    Profile photo of CSohaskey
    CSohaskey FIRST-TIMER '16

    This race was brutal and fully lived up to its name. Expect your finishing time to be at least double what you would do on a flat road 10K. The … MORE

    This race was brutal and fully lived up to its name. Expect your finishing time to be at least double what you would do on a flat road 10K.

    The Toughest 10K in the USA features 6 hills. None are that long, but all are very steep. Very steep. In many cases you go up the hill just to turn around and head back down it. I was not only unable to run up most of the hills, they were also too steep to run down. I spent a lot of time inching sideways down the hills.

    But I would highly recommend this race. If you are looking for a extremely tough 10K you will not be disappointed. If you sign up for this race thinking the name is an exaggeration, and you don’t really need to train for it, well you will have lots of time to think about your stupidity.

    The organization was pretty much perfect. The course was well marked so there was absolutely no chance for a wrong turn. There were numerous water stops which I very much appreciated as my race time got longer and longer. Despite it being a small race of probably less than 150 people there was a good assortment of goodies at the finish line. The race shirt was very nice and they provide all finishers with a very impressive medal.

    DIFFICULTY
    5
    PRODUCTION
    5
    SCENERY
    4
    SWAG
    4

    3 members marked this review helpful. Agree?

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