Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Skyline 50K: fast and foggy

I flew back from France last Thursday, after some great training on the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) course. I was so excited to see how much energy and red blood cells I had accumulated during this "recovery" month in Europe after Western States. So excited that, on Saturday morning, I woke up at 3am (thanks to some jet lag) to get an early breakfast and drove up to Lake Chabot (40 miles from home). It was 6am there and very few cars on the parking lot, when I realized the race was actually on Sunday, the next day... "Every first Sunday of August" like the website says... I got confused because the Headlands 50K at the end of the month got moved from Saturday to Sunday, and usually, races are on Saturdays, not Sundays.

Anyway, one day later, woke up at 3, early breakfast, some time on my UTMB blog post before driving up to Lake Chabot again. Welcomed by a nice group of volunteers, Bill White the RD (Race Director) and his wife, and Stan Jensen, always here to help out and check what's behind all his statistics and numbers on his incredible Run 100s website (which is for instance used as a reference in the official qualification rules for the UTMB!). Like Stan told me, volunteering so consistently and enthusiastically is his way to give back to the community, as he enjoyed the support himself, having ran 130 ultras so far.

Met a few known faces as we were gathering at the starting line (Chuck, Lee and Winnie Jebian, ...), yet not as many as I thought for a local race and a Pacific Association USA Track & Field event. The field was limited to 250 runners but we were less than 120 actually. Recovery from the recent 100-milers, vacation, date (Sunday morning), there was several possible reasons. I was not surprised not to see Chikara though as I knew he is focusing on marathons this year.

I didn't run with my camera, so I don't have any picture of the beautiful course. As it turned out we didn't see the sun that day, so the pictures would not have been so great.

I started upfront on the nice paved bike path. Chatted with Mark (Tanaka) for the first half-mile. At the start he told me I could get under 4 hours on this course. I replied, no way, even Chikara didn't do it! I had not much clue about our pace as I forgot to change the units of my Garmin from metric back to statute (statute is not much of a use in Europe...).

I kept a close lead over Oswaldo Lopez and Steve Stowers for about 6 miles. Oswaldo didn't even stop at the first aid station and was faster in the downhills. We were on a 45'/10K pace, or 3h45 for the course which I found aggressive, yet doable. I'm not training on this course, but I had some memory of it from last year's Fire Trails 50-mile; yet we were not running the same sections, and some sections the other way.

Steve took off in the hill after Big Bear aid station (mile 9.35) and I was not going to see him again. We got in the cloud/fog as we were approaching Skyline Gate. It even got windy and rainy. The wind was lifting the dust from the trail, so I once again enjoyed my scarf (a Buff actually, something very versatile which I highly recommend - A product originating from Spain, Leo!). That saved my lungs from the dust and the excess of humidity, and eventually from exercise-induced asthma, which I sometimes get (see my Boston and Miwok race reports).

In such a weather, it was comforting to be welcomed at the Skyline Gate aid station by champions Carl Andersen and Ann Trason. With the cool weather and the strong/fast start, I was not feeling that well, so wanted to hang out for a while. But all the volunteers pushed me out, and I left as I saw one runner coming in. With a white cap, I thought that was Mark already, but it wasn't. Anyway, I left, getting a first cramp in my calves as I was exiting the station. Not good, we were only half way...

I rushed in the next downhill, flying over the tree roots, trying to keep the distance with my follower. Was no less than Richie Boulet, the fastest guy around on road (5K to 10 miles)! I actually didn't know Richie, I found out at the finish. He was parked next to my car and I saw his Adidas Transports singlet, so I asked him if he was here to win. He replied he'd be happy to finish. Sure...! ;-) Was his first ultra though, welcome to ultra and trail running, Richie!

Richie passed me around mile 18, mentioning we were not going to break the course record today. Well, between trying to finish and breaking the course record, that was quite a revised goal, all of a sun.

The rest of the course was uneventful, just a few cramps (calves) when switching from up-hills to down-hills, and a few stops before passing horses from behind (the mounted park patrol). And of course it was great to get to the well-stocked aid stations and so nice volunteers.

At the last aid station (Honker Bay, 3 miles to go), I could see Richie leaving as I was coming in. Stan was prompt to hand me a glass of water, it was my shortest stop at a station. From having followed him after he passed me, I knew Richie was much better than me on downhills and flat pavement. And with my cramps, I had not much expectation to see him again. Yet, less than half a mile from the finish, I almost caught-up and we ended up 7 seconds apart. A close finish for 2nd and 3rd place after 3 hours and 48 minutes of running...

Steve had finished in a blazing 3 hours and 41 minutes. Over the past 17 years (1991), and beyond Steve and Richie today, there have been only 6 better finish times than mine, including 2 from Tom Johnson and one from Carl Andersen (of course!). To show my ignorance of the ultra history, I will admit that I didn't know who Tom Johnson was, so I did some research on the web.

Among other achievements, Tom won Way Too Cool 50K in 1997 and 1991, placing in the other editions in the 90's. He won Western States in 1991 with a time of 15 hours 54. And he was named USA Track and Field Ultra runner of the Year four times in a row (1994-1997). So a legend for our sport. As I wrote to Bill, I think the course records which Tom holds (both open, 3:32, and 40-49 division, 3:36) are pretty safe for many more years. We'll see what Richie is up next year with is revised goal!

The surprise was then to see Chikara coming in 4th, right on 4 hours. Not the first time Chikara had missed the start (Way Too Cool 2006)... By 3 minutes this time. He ran the San Francisco Marathon one week before, placing 4th overall in 2:37. So he was very happy and all smile to PR (set a Personal Record) today. Even with these 3 minutes lost at the start, Chikara PR'ed for his 3rd Skyline 50K.

To be honest, the weather all helped us to run fast. Temperature can reach 100F on this course, early August, and I believe we got a mere 58-60F. Quite an advantage. Also, my new Garmin (Forerunner 205) indicated 49K on the finish line (30.45 miles). It's only a 2% error margin, so maybe the distance was right after all, and I was just flying too fast in the downhills and switchbacks. I posted the course on Google Earth and Google Maps.

Mark (Tanaka) was not happy with his 4:19 finish, missing his PR by one minute, ouch! He put some blame on the stress (the baby expected this month), and some on me for having chatted in the first mile and started too fast. When I think that he and Rob (Evans) chatted for the first 15 miles of our Fire Trails 50-mile run last year, I felt the comment was unfair. Just kidding, Mark was kidding.

Caren (Spore) took first again in the women division, yet she showed some fatigue after so many races this year and outstanding performances (1st at last year's Fire Trails 50M, the first 50-miler for both of us, 1st at Ohlone, 4th at Western States). She also mentioned that her leg were not going so great in such a unsual cool weather, living and training in the heat, in Davis, CA.

Richie had to leave promptly to open a store. So here we are, below, without him (Steve, 1st, on the left, Chikara in the middle, 4th overall, and I, 3rd).

Steve receiving a pack of the now famous coffee of sponsor Zombie Runner, from Bill's hands:

Caren holding (firmly!) her prizes as the Women Champion. Champagne!
Like a kid at Christmas, Chikara receiving his age-group award, great sleeveless fleece, flocked with the colorful Skyline 50K logo:
Oswald, who kept me on my toes in the first 6 miles, finishes 5th overall, 1st of his age group:
Overall, and as a conclusion, here is what I wrote to Bill yesterday:
Bill, Thank you again for setting up such a race. From the registration,
the website and course marking to the awards, the post-race BBQ, the aidstations
and the volunteers, everything was perfect. You are THE chef of Skyline 50K!
And his response:

Thanks very much for your email and for passing along the google earth link. It worked beautifully and is very cool indeed! ! We played with it for quite a while last night. Also like the little shoe symbol you put at the start, nice touch. Please do pass along or post wherever you like. As for the course distance, Ken Gregorich worked it all out based on EBRPD maps, so that's the source we've used for course statistics. Finally, thanks for your comments on the race. It's a lot of work to put together but hearing that the runners had a good time makes it all worthwhile. Both Bill and I ran lots of races for many years and we do this to give back to the ultra community. Hope you are recovering well. We are volunteering at Firetrails (Sibley) so may see out there. We'll definitely look for you. Best, Lee Remick (and Bill)

Unfortunately, I have a business trip to Paris the weekend of FireTrails, so I won't be back this year to celebrate my wonderful memory of my first 50-mile and Dick Collin's award.
For what comparing ultras on different hilly courses is worth, that was my fastest, so still working on my "Farther Faster" definition of endurance.
See you at Golden Gate Headlands 50K, the US National 50K trail championship in 3 weeks! And, yes, that will be on Sunday morning, I know... ;-)


Olga said...

Really awesome running! Came over from Mark's blog, didn't see him blaming you there:)

Jean Pommier said...

Thanks, Olga. Indeed I read Mark's blog and was glad to learn I didn't make it to the list of ghosts he was chasing and blamed for missing his PR by so little. Phew! I'm also thankful to have such a supportive wife, a more regular job, and much older kids than Mark. That definitely helps.

See you on the trails,

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Oh, I'm just a whiner who wussied out at the end! Just kidding :)

Great run (and report). You're putting out some consistently great performances; I think your times at longer runs will continue to improve a lot. Alas, maybe my days of running with you for more than a few minutes are over...

Anonymous said...

Wow! You have quite the experience here. Thanks for the post.