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Morro Bay Triathlon Race Preview & Tips

Updated 11/03/23

Here we preview the 2023 Morro Bay Triathlon based on my experience doing the Olympic event in 2017, 2018 and Sprint in 2022 and the changes reported to the course since then.


For the Olympic, the swim is, according to the website, two clockwise (note in 2017 we went anticlockwise - see video above) loops from Coleman's Beach, the original course. Thank goodness because I wasn't looking forward to explaining the cluster of a swim course that was 2022. The bay is fairly protected and very smooth, clear (but cold!). The start line is on the small beach. If you want to pick a side, pick the right side so you're not pushed wide around the buoys. There is some running on the sand between loops but it's just a few steps and not that complicated. Just a little annoying to get vertical in the middle of the swim.


Mercifully the first transition is also back to the original as it was a rough and rocky trek from the water's edge to your bike last year. They do make you do a "U" through the entire transition area to get to your bike, which means there isn't a huge advantage in having your bike near the bike exit as I normally recommend. Unfortunately, doing the "U" around the transition wasn't well enforced in the past and a few people cheated. If you put your bike shoes on in transition, which you shouldn't be, you probably want your bike close to the bike exit so you're not clacking around in your cleats. There's an argument I suppose, to have your bike close to the entrance of transition from the swim because although you're forced to push your bike through T1 longer, you'll have more time in your running shoes getting out of T2. I'll leave it up to you, folks.


In 2017 there was headwind, but not ferocious and it was probably blowing a bit more in 2018. The point is, you're probably going to be faster on the return so don't freak out if you're not on your average target goal pace on the way out as you might be able to get back on track on the return. You have to go by feel or power.

There's one 5% grade at 6 miles but that's the only time you're out of aero. The rest is undulating. All and all an interesting course. I did hear some people got stopped on the way back into town by a light but I must've struck it lucky because I was never impeded. This course is notorious for the seemly random manner the police will stop athletes (instead of cars) at some intersections along the course. This of course can be extremely frustrating to be forced to stop in the middle of a race but them's the rules. The table below shows distance, time and average speed of the 1st half to the turn around and 2nd half on the way back. As you can see that's a 3.5-4.8mi/hr differential between out and back.

1st half

2017 12.5 mi, 0:39:15, 19.1 mi/h

2018 12.5 mi, 0:38:37, 19.4 mi/h

2nd half

2017 12.3 mi, 0:32:37, 22.6 mi/h

2018 12.3 mi, 0:30:23, 24.2 mi/h


As mentioned you come in the same way as you came in for the swim and have to run around the entire "U" transition area again. A little painful on the footsies but they are likely still frozen anyways. 


The run is BRUTAL. There are some normal sections on the way out, a mix of sandy trail and suburban roads but also about half a mile of real soft sand. You won't regret holding back in the first half because before the turn around you hit some hill and stairs and then on the way back it is ALL in the sand. Some sections (like 1:50 on the video) you're forced onto soft sand. In 2017 on the way back, about 2.5 miles, you had the choice between quick sand near the water edge, or powder dry soft sand. I couldn't tell you which was the worse option. Either way you're going to be running at least about 1 min/mi slower on the way back if the sand was like it was in 2017 and 20-30sec/mi slower if it's a little more hard pack like 2018. So factor that in as you're running to the turn around and make sure you've saved plenty of energy for the return. Probably worth trotting down to the beach in your warm up to check out what it's like. Oh, and don't take your shoes off. I don't think anyone was disqualified but it's actually illegal so you could be. The finishing straight is paved and feels like heaven. 

Look for TCMTriSquad athletes out on the course this year and come say hi!

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