Sunday, August 1, 2010

Skyline 50K 2010: a perfect #4

This is ultra running: sometimes it does not work like you had planned, sometimes you have a blast and perfect race. You have to keep trying, learning, guessing, pushing. In any case, it is hard, but rewarding.

It feels good to be back in the Bay Area and on my now familiar trails. Apart from the tough Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix (only 57 miles but as much cumulative elevation as Western States), most of my runs there were on the road, and against heavy traffic. What a blessing that all these well groomed trails we have around here! Overall I ran more than 250 miles over there and did quite a few blogging as you might have seen in my previous 5 posts.

It was my 49th ultra this Sunday and I had a perfect race, a great way to start August. Perfect weather, perfect company and competition, perfect trails (some sections improved from last year), perfect organization (a big Thanks to the Rays), perfect support form the volunteers on the course and at the aid stations, perfect marking, perfect crewing by Agnès (saw her 7 times on the course!), for a great performance. Here is the overview, and here are more details and account from the front of the race.

I like this race not only because it is a fast course but because the timing works really great for me as I have always came back from France a couple of days before and the jet lag works really nicely on this end: it is easy to go bed at 8 PM and fall asleep quickly, and wake up at 4 AM, well rested. A bit pricey as a preparation if you do not have the opportunity to fly there to visit family and friends, but France is always a great destination to visit, especially in July!

Anyway, Agnès drove this morning and we reached the Lake Chabot Marina just in time to grab my bib number, meet a few familiar participants and get ready for the 7 AM start. RD Jennifer Ray delivered a short race briefing, basically that the trail was marked with yellow ribbons (like at States) and asking that we all remain well hydrated despite the cool temperature at the start (overcast like last year).
And here off we were for a few hours on the trail:
With Chikara (Omine) and Victor (Ballesteros) quickly taking the lead, the start was fast, in the 6:20-6:30 min/mile pace range on the bike path.

A group of 7 quickly formed and that would be the same 7 at the finish, although you have to read on to figure out the final order! In addition to Chikara and Victor, we had Joe (Binder, 2nd last year), teammate Sean (Lang) and Ian, from the UK. Around mile 3, I saw that another QuickSilver/RhoQuick teammate of mine was close behind, Toshi. With this fast pace, and being the oldest of this gang, I settled in 6th between mile 2 and 3, thinking that I was going to lose sight the duel between Joe and Chikara. A few miles later however, I had more power in the hills and ended up taking the second position, wondering it was really reasonable that I pass Victor and Chikara in particular. Joe was now leading with a pace around 7 minute/mile, with Chikara close behind. Chikara actually passed me when we were going through the Bort Meadows aid station but I did pass him again in the following up-hill.
The next 7 miles up to Skyline Gate (turn around) were pretty much the same with me wondering if it was reasonable to keep contact with Joe. But the pace seemed right as we were now down to an average 7:15 with the up hills.

Both of us did a quick stop at the aid station, with Agnès giving me two new bottles, and here we were down on the rooty French Trail.
At some point I saw Joe passing two mountain bikers who stopped for him then I was following the bikers but I lost sight of Joe in the meantime as he must have accelerated in the up hill to Westridge Trail. at this point, I was still feeling great, so much better than in my three previous runs, but not to the point to accelerate. With this convoluted trail, my pace was down to 7:28 when I reached Toyon Trail on our way back to the Big Bear aid station where Agnès and Jenna were again.

I did not even stop at the station and passed Mark (Gilligan, master) before the steep climb. Mark was really excited and could not believe I was looking that strong and still in second position. He mentioned that Joe was just a couple of minutes ahead. To be honest, I was not racing again Joe but again the clock as I kept thinking of Tom Johnson's course records. I have never known Tom but he is the one who kept me pushing in all the uphills, not walking any step on the course today. A while back, Tom set an overall course record of 3 hours and 32 minutes, at 39, and repeated his fate two years later to set the Masters record at 3:36:20, that is a pace just under 7 minutes/mile! With the downhill to Bort Meadows and the following flat section, I was able to get my pace down to 7:21 again, then lose a few seconds again in the ups and downs to Honker Bay, then down again pushing the pace under 7 minutes/mile in the final 3 miles along the Lake Chabot, back to the Marina.
I pushed, pushed, and stopped just under the banner right under 3:43 (3:52:58), to realize that the finish line was 2-3 yards after the banner, costing me 2 seconds and an official finish time of 3:43:00 and 2nd overall. Ian came in 3rd, then Chikara, Victor, right under 4 hours, followed by Toshi and Sean, making a great team performance (team ranking takes the first three finishers).

Like Adam, who missed the start, said to Sean and I: "You don't look so good!" to which I replied with a friendly "I don't run hard to look good..." Indeed, I did run hard today and I'm really glad it worked out (no asthma, barely a cramp, very short stops to two aid stations, no falling). That's for such perfect runs that I keep competing...

The BBQ was great and abundant, providing us with the perfect opportunity to recharge while connecting with the ultra community, in the shade or the sun. Many stories, misfortunes or successes about the recent 100-milers in the area (Western States and Tahoe Rim Trail), and sharing about what was coming next (yes, we are hard core and insatiable ultra runners, it is the next challenge which counts...!).

Agnès was glad for me and she admitted that she really likes and prefers these short and quick races! She and Jenna did quite some manoeuvrings and driving to show up on time at 7 places on the course, including the start and the finish, thank you, Agnès! With that, we only stayed for another hour or so after I finished, with many participants still on the course. Something to note on this matter is the very first appearance of Team in Training on the ultra circuit. In a field which is never large for this race (surprisingly for such an accessible and well managed race), there were indeed many ultra rookies this Sunday, not all with TnT but a dozen or so wearing the purple attire now familiar at marathons. Way too go and congratulations to these new comers to our sport!
As for me, before Rio Del Lago 100-mile in September, I have a special event, albeit not an ultra: a half-marathon with Max (his first official one) at Donner Pass on the 15th. In the meantime, enjoy the trails and the outdoors all!

PS: see a few pictures of the start and the top 7 finishers, credit to Agnès (sorry she could not take more runners this time, moving from one aid station to another and out of batteries at the finish).

An exhaustive tour of Anthony Chabot and Redwood Regional Parks (all the green area on the map!) above Oakland:
Not super high elevation (1,200 feet only, the scale and image ration are misleading) but still about a cumulative 4,500 feet overall:


Sarah Lavender Smith said...

Hi Jean -- that's fantastic; congrats! It's exciting and informative to read an account of the elite runners. (You were an hour ahead of me!) I'm curious, when you're racing at that level, what is your calorie intake and how/when do you take in calories, and what kind, if you're barely stopping at the aid stations? Nice to see you there yesterday, and congrats again.

Steve Patt said...

Impressive indeed.

Was "Honkey Bar" an intentional misspelling of "Honker Bay", or a malapropism? Or an insult to Stan and the crew manning the aid station? ;-)

John Nguyen said...

Nice race! It was only my 5th ultra, but it was awesome as usual. I think the Team N Training rookies did really well. Great blog as usual, and always done as fast as your run your ultras! Mark Tanaka is your opposite when it comes to writing blogs! Keep up the great racing and reporting!

Jean Pommier said...

@Sarah: hey, you do have a much higher "Runner Rank" than I at UltraSignup, so you are the elite runner here! ;-) Re the calorie intake: for what it was worth, I really paid attention to that at States and was proud to maintain the same weight through the 8 checkpoints. Yesterday, I only had a banana, 1/2 a cookie, 2 GUs, 4 S!Caps and 1.5 bottle of GU2O, so clearly not as many calories as I burnt. It must be Vespa which is doing its job and filling the gap with fat-based energy.

@Steve: yikes, what a typo, thanks for catching it. I corrected the post not to confuse the search engines... Too much multi-tasking...

@John: thanks for the compliment (sorry, Mark... I know, the young kids keep getting all your attention). Congrats on completing this ultra right after your SF marathon. Way to go and endure!

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Louis Arquie said...

Congratulations on the result!
And thanks for the blog, great reading for me rookie. I discovered trail racing a few years ago, after my 50th birthday, and I love it. My goal is to be the second best French runner in Cupertino :-)

Runningmyspace said...

Congrats on your ultra run! Some day I would love to venture to the ultras. Reading your run makes me want to even more!

Anonymous said...

Je constate que les vives félicitations envoyées de Granville ne sont pas parvenues
Ns t'embrassons très fort
Papa et Maman

4d ultrasounds said...

Enjoyed reading this blog, just wanted to say thank you