Sunday, May 18, 2008

Ohlone 2008: two strikes!

Returning and defending champion... It was a very unusual situation for me, something unique which I tried to savor as much as possible. It certainly comes with some pressure although I had no goal to reedit last year's outcome, given some of the big names in the participant list this year. Although I knew through Will that Lon Freeman (2004 winner) and Steve Stowers (2nd at the US 100K Championships a month ago) were not going to run this year, there were still 8 former winners in (5 on the male side, 3 on the female one). What I found the most interesting from the experience is that it probably gave me some insight of what the elites are going through when showing up at a competition, with a lot of expectations from others. Of course, at a small scale in my case... ;-)

My lucky day started with Agnès finding a parking spot right on the parking lot next to the starting line. I was actually surprised with the number of hikers, some of them having started early to avoid the heat, many of them being upset with the annoyance of such a 200-runner group getting ready for a race.

While getting ready, here is a non-running but personal anecdote: a huge Saint Bernard passed by and I asked Agnès for a picture as a souvenir. The volunteer Ranger who was patrolling with his mountain bike told us that this dog was coming every year on race day to share some of the excitement.
So, especially for my sister Sophie and my parents, here is a similar picture of me with another Saint Bernard during a school ski camp, some 35 years ago... And, no, it's not my son Greg, it's me! And, yes, we both love dogs, but our backyard is too small to own one in.Anyway, I had checked in early then, before the buses unloaded the runners coming from the finish line. Many familiar faces for such a local race, actually more known faces since I joined the Running World forum and also as this was my second Ohlone.

It was in the low 60s at the start, not too bad for such a late time. For once I wished we would have started at 5 or 6 to get down before the peak of the heat as we were expecting temperature in the 90s. On Saturday I was actually in Gilroy and the temperature was just over 100F at the CCS championships of high school track and field where a few Pionneers (Tino) were representing Max and Alex' school. We went with Max to see Rio running the 300m-hurdles and Stephanie on the long jump. The pole vault competition was quite impressive: watching at the athletes in international meets, I had not realized how hard it must be to actually pass a bar that high (see some other pictures in my Picasa album).

Here is a very fast Eric Surprenant flying over his 300m-hurdles series:What a technique and a perfect jump:Oops, not this one (note that between the pole and the bar, everything is quite flexible in this sport)!

Back to Ohlone, Rob got us started around a few minutes after the hour and Ron (Gutierrez) took the initial lead. As usual, Mark (Tanaka) was telling the group stories, and Mark (Lantz) was just on my heels with Don (Hogue) on my side. After a few turns on this first steep hill up Mission Peak, I found myself leading and decided it was time to walk a bit in case I had started too fast. As a matter of fact, we were all surprised not to see Graham (Cooper) at the start and I told Mark (Lantz) we were going to miss him for leading us and setting the pace (I learnt at the finish that Graham was attending his son's triathlon competition). I had come to train on this side of Mission Peak last Sunday, so I was pretty comfortable. But that is not a good indication, I always feel comfortable at the beginning of a race...
Kept pushing the pace all the way to the top, followed by Mark (Lantz). I thought that it may be silly going out that fast but at least we would have put some miles before the inferno which was announced for mid-day. There was actually some breeze at the top and the way down to Laurel Loop aid station was a... breeze. It is there last year that I had passed Mark and Kevin to catch up with Graham just before Sunol (aid station at mile 9).

Last year, we caught-up with Lee (Jebian) just before the summit, as he had taken an early start in order to make the cut-off. This year, Lee started even earlier and I saw him before going down to the Sunol parking lot. There were about another dozen runners who had started early, whom I passed within a few miles after Sunol.

After Sunol it is about 10 straight miles up to the summit of Rose Peak so the strategy was the same as last year: "run when you can, power walk to catch your breath." The trail is very exposed in this section, but some breeze was still make the temperatures bearable. Was great to be welcomed by Carl (Andersen) and Ann (Trason) at the Backpack Area aid station, such an honor to be helped by two ultra legends! Ann proposed me some jelly-peanut butter sandwich and Carl was surprised when I said "oh yes!" He thought that was no proper food for a French guy, to which I replied that I was now almost American. With that it was time to continue up the hill although I had not seen any runner/pursuer since before reaching the top of Mission Peak.

Leaving Backpack Area is where Graham told me to take the lead last year, and when I wondered what I was doing, passing such an elite runner. Like I used Rob (Evans) as a virtual pacer at Miwok this year, I used Graham in my mind to estimate where he would walk in the steep hills or push. I'm getting into something with virtual pacing, that helps my mental...

A special thank to the volunteers at Billy Goat Road aid station. These guys have to camp the night before up there, as it is so remote and far from any road. In addition to carrying a big load to support 200 runners in such a heat. Needless to say, I was not expecting ice there, but it was great to get a sponge to cool my neck and back.

I kept running as much as I could in the uphill, still surprised not to see anyone behind. After more walking though I got to the loop at the top of Rose Peak. Completed the loop under 9 minutes and still no news of anyone (last year we were about 6 runners in the loop before I was done). Only Chihping (Fu) was enjoying his run up there (he started early too) and took a couple of pictures of me as I entered in the loop and after the Maggie's Half Acre aid station. Something new this year: to make sure everybody was actually going through the summit, we had to pick a nice "Ohlone Wilderness 50K - ZombieRunner" colorful bracelet from a box at the top. A nice souvenir, in addition to the great finisher RaceReady t-shirt. Photo courtesy of Chihping Fu, on my quest of the Ohlone 50K bracelet!
With a 15-minute lead, and no cramping (I started cramping last year around mile 20), I started believing this could be another win if I was not losing more than 1 minute per mile. I had eaten much more than last year but, despite carrying two bottles, felt a bit dehydrated. I paid attention on drinking more as the heat was really getting higher than last year. I had no idea of my splits from last year but could tell I was slower. For sure the course record was safe today, but I thought I had a shot at breaking 5 hours if I was not making mistake going down the last canyon. Photo courtesy of Chihping Fu:
I believe I missed the self-service aid station of Stewart's Camp. The volunteers at Schlieper Rock were helpful and great cheerleaders. One said I could see the lake, but I didn't even try. I remember the pain of getting through the last canyon and quickly left to get into the steep and technical subsequent down hill to the river. Stopped at the river down the canyon to fill my cap with cold water which helped in the last climb to the ridge.
I did a quick stop at the last aid station, Stromer Spring, which has plenty of water from the refreshing spring (splashed myself one last time!). Although I was flying in the downhill, I found the heat in these last two miles the most difficult of the day because of the lack of breeze. For sure the day must have turned to the announced inferno on Rose Peak for the rest of the pack.

Sprinted to the finish in a time of 4:57:36. 16:37 slower than last year, without Graham "pushing" me in the uphills, and a much hotter day, but good enough for another pole position.
The family (Agnès, Mom and Dad who are visiting from Paris, and Max and Greg) was at the finish this year but expecting me to get to the finish line from the other side. There were all surprised to see me sprinting from behind them, although they knew I was first from the radio reports.Kevin Sawchuck took second, about 22 minutes behind me, and was happy the heat preserved his 2002 course record for one more year! Mark Tanaka was third and will get his points to consolidate his first position in the Grand Prix. He was followed by Kevin Swisher, then came Beth Vitalis, sprinting for taking first of the female division and improving her own personal record on this course. A familiar race she also won in 2002, 2003 and 2006.
So, here I am, with another opportunity or obligation to defend my title, quite an expected outcome of the day for me! I was hoping to get this pressure off, but it's actually fun to finish first of course. Again, several serious runners did not show up, and some others had had many races lately. Mark (Lantz) had a great American River and Miwok, Mark (Tanaka) too, plus a win at Ruth Anderson 100K and a great Quicksilver 50-mile last week, and Ron ran Quicksilver 50K while I was just running a 10K (yet, a fast one), last weekend. Mark (Tanaka) is taking the Grand Prix very seriously and has quite a comfortable lead on Mark (Lantz) and I, and he was thrilled to finish 3rd overall and 2nd in our age group. I was impressed with the ease local Will (Gotthardt) finished 7th overall, what an improvement from last year, Will!
Great food at the finish with a fine barbecue and a real Chef! A very special thank to the volunteers who manned such remote aid stations, in this heat. Hope the runners did not give you too much hard time because of the conditions. I did certainly enjoyed seeing all of you!
Not to forget the amazing job of Race co-Directors, Rob Byrne (below) and Larry England. And the support of the sponsors: ZombieRunner, The North Face, Trail Runner magazine, GU (my favorite!) and Johnson (a lumber company, I believe having something to the nice awards).I really like the Indian spirit of these races named after the local Native American (Miwok in Marin County North of the Golden Gate, and Ohlone in San Francisco, the Peninsula and the East Bay). A great source of inspiration, connection with nature and endurance, and peaceful mind. That was my last race before Western States and I very much look forward to both the upcoming heat training and tapering. And I believe I will be back next year then!

PS: bonus tracks...
  1. Google Earth map of the course;
  2. The course on Google Maps;
  3. A few pictures from Agnès, posted in my Picasa album (start and finish, with the top 18 finishers);
  4. The elevation profile captured by my Garmin 205 (1st chart), quite close to the official one posted on the race website (2nd graph).

Last minute! As I write this blog on Sunday night, I just see on the RW forum that a runner fainted on Rose Peak and runners stopped to take care of him, and managed to call 911 which sent helicopters and the Park Police on site, followed by a medical unit from Stanford. That he got evacuated in critical conditions and I don't know more as of this Monday morning (he was reported as still unconscious last night). Our prayers to him and his family.

Dot, from the forum who was volunteering at the Billy Goat Road aid station (mile 15) reported that only 132 runners went through out of 183 registered runners (although not all of them actually took the start). An unusual drop rate.


GB said...

Congratulations, Jean! You are amazing. I'm so happy for you to have won AGAIN, and in that heat and on THAT course. Truly inspirational!

My 2 year old son loved seeing that big, gorgeous dog at the start line yesterday. I spotted you briefly, when you checked in, but then lost sight of you. So glad you had a great day! Way to go!

Rajeev said...
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Rajeev said...


What a performance. Only 16 minutes slower is amazing considering that it was at least 20 degrees hotter than last year!!

I am in awe of how fast people like you and Mark are able to run and make mincemeat of these brutal courses.


Anonymous said...
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Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Congrats on being the first guy to win 2 years straight in a decade (the first ever for the new course). Sub-5 when it was that hot was truly exceptional. This may become your trademark race... And, you're the first to finish blogging your report--probably by an equally large gap. You're too fast!

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

BTW, I was hoping to get a shot of my sone with the Saint Bernard, but he gets too scared up close. It might've been useful to have some Saint Bernards out on the course....

Andy B. said...

Great run Jean! You looked great coming in to the finish, and with the heat conditions, you really did a great job taking care of yourself to run such a fast time.

It was nice to meet you, as well. I hope to see you at more races in the future.

Again, congratulation on a fantastic run.

willgotthardt said...

Well now you'll need to get used to 'Two-time defending champion'...another awesome race Jean, as I said on the RW forum you left no doubt right from the start, congrats.

Always impressed with both your speed & recovery...amazing.

Thanks for the comment here and support at the finish.

Will G.

Scott Dunlap said...

You're going to hear "Two time winner and defending champion of the Ohlone 50k" when you cross the finish at States this year. Congrats! It sounds like you are ready for the heat.

Cheers, SD

Mark Nassi said...

Jean, what a great run! In later photos, you look as fresh as when you flew through the Laurel loop AS early in the day. Good luck @WSER.

Dave - Atlanta Trails said...

Jean, you are the MAN!

also, shoot me a quick e-mail at davidrschoenberg(at)gmail. I have something to share with you!

runstephane said...

Good job Jean !
Bravo pour cette belle perf, c'est un coup à prendre goût au stress du départ, en regardant les forces en présence : o )
Bonne continuation, et oh-hisse pour la WS

Jean Pommier said...

Thank you (merci, Stéphane) for the messages, guys and Lillie.

And see you next year then, with lower temperatures!


Anonymous said...

Impressive !

Felicitations pour cette nouvelle victoire. Surtout 15 jours apres Miwok !

A quand un ultra au Japon ?

Michael Kanning said...

First off, I must say, that is the biggest dog I have ever seen.

More importantly... CONGRATULATIONS! Another win in the heat against a tough field by a huge margin. Amazing. You've been doing awesome, and you've got many years ahead to go farther and faster. Keep it up.