Sunday, August 2, 2009

Skyline 50K: version 3 of 28

I had very high expectations for this race. In 2007, I finished third behind Steve Stowers and Rich Boulet, with the 7th fastest time since 1991, times which included super fast performances and course records from the ultra legend Tom Johnson (Jon Olsen has run a 3:44 since then, in 2008). So it was my fastest 50K back then and I enjoyed reading again my enthusiastic race report (the benefit of blogging, to keep memories).

Last year was a completely different story. Still high expectations (I love the course and it is a very runnable one) despite some issues with my quads, more precisely the vastus medialis, after running in the Alps with Scott Jurek. To prevent further damage, I had striped my leg with a non-elastic bandage and managed to strangle the muscle, creating an injury which would take three weeks to heal. On 1.5 legs (could barely walk downhill) I still managed to finish in 4:17. And promised myself to come back, learning from my lesson.
This year I was pretty confident I could improve my Personal Best on this course. When Chikara Omine and Victor Ballesteros, I knew I was not going for a win, but thought some competition would even help us getting faster. I led the first two miles and thought Chikara was being quite conservative by staying behind me as we were crusing around 6:40 minute/mile on the South ridge of Lake Chabot. At the end of the Lake, we had lost the rest of the pack and were down to three runners: Chikara, myself and a runner whom I had never seen before, Joe Binder. (As I found out at the finish, Joe, 25, had just moved to Berkeley 2 weeks ago from Wisconsin.)
I was carrying two bottles (water and GU2O) so I did not stop at aid stations which helped me keeping up with Chikara and Joe. Joe actually took the lead on our way up the Bort Meadow aid station. I reclaimed it at Big Bear, then Chikara passed me in the steep uphill to the ridge; yet I was still keeping him in sight until the Skyline Gate aid station. There, I had planned on just grabbing a new GU2O bottle but Agnès forgot to prepare it. She told me later she was not expecting me so fast and so close behind Chikara (1:39 for 13.7 miles). I left the station with a very diluted mixture, taking more salt down on the French trail to compensate. With some cramps in my calves I had to slow down, but I still thought I could beat my PR and kept pushing the pace whenever I could.
Back at Big Bear, a volunteer told me Chikara was just 5 minutes ahead which I found optimistic. Then, a few miles later, just before Bort Meadow, I was surprised to see Joe coming back on me when I was expecting Victor. We left the aid station together and Joe proposed to join forces to catch Chikara. I passed on the offer, responding that I was unable to anyway and I lost sight of Joe within the next mile. I passed through the last aid station, Honker Bay, right on 3:30. With 3 miles to go that was leaving me with running 3 miles under 6 minutes/mile which I was incapable of at the end of this run and with stomach cramps. I looked behind several times to see if Victor was catching up and passed the finish line in 3rd position, in 3:54:20. Chikara had won in 3:40, setting a new course record for Men 20-29. Joe placed 2nd in 3:47, which was good for an age group course record if Chikara did not break it a few minutes earlier... Amazing performance from both of them, they have a few years in front of them to work on Tom Johnson's course record... Victor came in three minutes behind me, fresh as if he was ready to go for a training run.
Overall, this is a faster course than Way Too Cool despite a higher cumulative elevation (4,740 feet instead of 3,600 feet for WTC), but more fire roads, fewer single track trails. When you look at the map, it is hard to imagine a more optimized coverage of the two Regional Parks on the Oakland Hills: Anthony Chabot and Redwood (the course is the blue line in the green area, click on the image to enlarge):
There are quite a few ups and downs, forcing you to always change gear:
And, for the ones owning a GPS but did not record the course this weekend, here is the GPX trace in Google Earth.
Perfect organization by the Rays, Jennifer and Adam, and all the volunteers they have recruited again this year. I big THANK YOU to all! And I must apologize for the aid station volunteers as I barely took advantage of their supplies... With one Vespa before the start, three GUs which I carried with me, and one piece of banana at Skyline Gate while Agnès was working on the refill of my bottle, I experienced more frugality than usual this Sunday. Probably on the edge but my body keeps learning to be more efficient, and get more energy from body fat, as discussed in Born To Run (see my recent book review).

The marking was original with abundant bi-color bouquets of ribbons (red/white on the way out and blue/white on the way back). The only glitch though was that the markings were abundant after the turns, not before, so it was possible to miss them. A misadventure which happened to my teammate Adam (Blum) who got lost and dropped after wandering for a few miles in Redwood Park.
About 40 people signed-up in the morning, joining 100 pre-registered participants for quite a size able field. The weather was similar to previous years: chilly at the start, overcast for most of the morning, misty cloud at Skyline Gate and some sun at the finish for the post-race BBQ.

Agnès followed us diligently, from the start to Bort Meadow, Big Bear, Skyline Gate, back to Big Bear, Bort Meadow and the finish line. Seven stops to crew on a fast 50K, she was as tired as me after the race. Almost... With such a hectic logistic, she could not take that many pictures so the photo album is small this time.

Hope to be back next year, really a great race in the Bay Area!

PS: the results and splits are not published yet but will be available on the race website very soon (Jennifer was crunching the numbers this Monday).


Ted Nunes said...

Jean, Nice race... sub-4 is ALWAYS a good time... I posted some photos on my Picas web... you can download the one of you if you want it... nice work!


Ted Nunes said...

Oops....I guess I should post the link!!

Dave - Atlanta Trails said...

It looks like times were fast all around.

Nice job!

Scott Dunlap said...

Well done! A great time considering what you fought. Sounds like Joe is the new speed demon in town!


Rajeev said...

Way to go Jean. That's a fantastic time given the course and your stomach issues!


Anonymous said...

Avec du retard,mais je découvre cette course seulement aujourd'hui, je te félicite pour ces bon temps et place, ainsi qu'Agnès qui semble avoir eu fort à faire!