Monday, August 15, 2011

Stevens Creek 50K 2011: fast recovery run!

Yes, the title is ambiguous: is it about a run toward a fast recovery or a fast run to recover? Let's see...

After last week's good work at Skyline, I was able to run 44 miles this week. I didn't run on Saturday, a short 1-day tapering before this Sunday's new 50K race. And Thursday was my shortest run as you are going to see.

Thursday night All-Comer Los Gatos meet

As you know, I still do a lot of speed work at the track thanks to my running buddy, Bob. That is when our busy work and travel schedules allow us. While I'm focusing on longer distances, Bob has made significant progress on the 400 meters in particular, breaking the 60 seconds barrier. He participated in a few of the summer all-comers meet at Los Gatos High School and I was excited to join him for the final one, this Thursday night. Unfortunately, he broke a rib in a mountain bike fall a week ago. I went anyway and decided to focus on the 5,000 meters. Like the 10,000 meters at the World Masters mid-July, it was the last event of the evening and we started around 8:30 pm. And like that same race, I started on the outside. Quickly settled in 6th or 7th place for the first two laps, but soon realized that wasn't sustainable. With tired legs, I wasn't able to extend the stride and I was grasping for more air. In the next laps, I got passed by a handful of runners, I had hard time keeping track as we were about 30 runners on the track, all at different speeds. I passed the lap counter: 7 laps to go, 6, 5 and 3! Yes, I got lapped by the first runner who was really fast. Yet, because I was pushing hard, I thought I was going fast with a 4:04 for the first 3 laps and 8:14 for the first six. I'm so not used to these races, I didn't realize I was actually slower than for my 10K in Sacramento. There, we were each assigned a judge who was counting the laps for us in case we got lapped. I crossed what I thought the finish line just under 16 minutes, sincerely not realizing that I was missing one 400-meter lap, yikes! What a rookie mistake and a shameful situation as a few other runners stopped by afterwards and wondered what happened. My GPS was indicating 3.12 miles but it's only when I got back home and looked at my splits that I realized my mistake. Although there was actually no recording of the times for that particular race, I want to apologize to those I told that I ran 5K under 16 minutes... My PR is 16:42 at the San Jose Turkey Trot in 2009, and that was already a tough one to pull...

Here is a picture of Bill Dodson, with the pain on his face illustrating that speed work on the track is tougher than running 30 miles, for us ultra runners... ;-)

Stevens Creek 50K

Stevens Creek is the name of the river running on the other side of Black Mountain in the Cupertino hills and flowing through the Stevens Creek County Park  into the Stevens Creek reservoir which is, by the way, still full in August (we kayaked with Alex on it, 2 weeks ago, I highly recommend!). Stevens Creek Striders is one my two running clubs and I logged most of my marathon training miles on the Stevens Creek trail. That's a lot of Stevens Creek but let's add two more: Stevens Creek 50K and Stevens Creek Software are two of Steve Patt's babies. With the first one he combines two hobbies: ultra running and raising money for the Audubon Society to preserve the environment and also support his passion for bird watching. With the second, his professional activity, he sponsors the race he directs: quite a close and sustainable ecosystem! Steve and Chihping:

I was going to help out at an aid station like in 2008 but Steve was interested in heating up the competition at the front of the race so it was too tempting to pass on the coveted spot. Before seeing how the head of the race would unfold, my goal was to run with Pierre-Yves to improve together the age group course record he set at 4:36 last year (which was an unusual cool year). Here is Steve delivering his pre-race briefing in which he included the reading of a text from the sixties about the protection of the hills over the Peninsula, hills which we can now enjoy so much as our playground for trail running:
We started promptly at 9 am and I settled in 4th, chatting and catching up with Mark Tanaka on his latest family adventure in Montana. My GPS hadn't properly charged on Saturday so I was just running with a stopwatch, something very unusual for me. It felt odd but good to be freed up from the pressure of tracking the pace and mileage though. Pierre-Yves was happy to have run the first mile with me and said I should pass and keep close contact with the two leaders, who happened to be the first two of last year's race: Jay Thomson from Santa Cruz and Juan De Oliva from Reno.

I kept some distance to avoid breathing (or eating...) the dust raised by the front runners and, in the long descent in the Stevens Creek canyon, finally took the lead. Juan was the first to catch me on Canyon Trail and passed me without a word as I hesitated between two trails at a creek crossing. We kept climbing up Table Mountain Trail, the three of, Juan, I and Jay.

Although we were only 7 miles in the run I would call the Juan's tripping the turning of the race. He passed me when I hesitated on the way to cross the second creek and was doing great in the uphill. Being on his heels, I noticed how he was breezing through the nose, much more silently than Jay and I. Also, his super efficient low and short stride. Eventually though, this led him to trip on a rock and fall flat on his knees and hands. I was so closed behind that I had to pass him but I turned back to check he was ok and he indeed followed not far behind as we continued our ascent to Skyline. I kept pushing the pace and arrived alone at the Saratoga Gap aid station, for a 30-second stop to get my water bottle filled in by Peggy. From the start to both aid stations, Peter and Peggy where omnipresent this Sunday and I'm glad they helped out, you'll see later why especially. Chuck Wilson, who had also ran Skyline 50K last week, had taken the earlier start and was refueling at the aid station.

I left the aid station just as Juan and Jay arrived, my split was 1:28. I crossed more bikers and hikers than runners on this out and back but saw Pierre-Yves followed by Mark, and a couple of others including the early starters. Then at Charcoal, I switched to the other side of Skyline for what will turn out to be a solitary run. After the exposed area but great views, this section leads us back to the start and has wonderful shady trails (Bay Area Ridge Trail and Long Ridge Trail). And the course marking was amazingly precise for such a low-key and close/small-field event. The good news is that there were far less bikers on this side so I was moving quite fast, until one biker told me he had seen a rattle snake on the trail. I slowed down for a few hundreds yards to carefully scan the trail but didn't see it, fortunately.

Steve and Ernesto helped me at the main aid station (mile 19) which I left with a 2:33 split. Unlike last week, I did some walking in a few uphill sections as the temperature was rising and my legs felt heavier and tired. I twisted my left ankle twice (~ mile 16 and 21) but it is flexible enough for it to hold. I felt better when I was approaching the aid station and was hoping to find there a sponge and bucket of water as I prepared when manning the station 3 years ago. Instead, I found Peggy and Peter wrestling with a canopy as they had just arrived to set up the aid station! Nothing was on the table yet when I first passed before going to the gate for the turnaround, and they weren't even scheduled to man this aid anyway, but, as experience ultra runners and long time volunteers, they know the drill and were able to help other volunteers getting me some ice and water in my bottle. My split when leaving the aid station was 3:20.

I crossed Juan 6 minutes after I had left Rapley Ranch Road, then Jay less than one minute behind. Knowing they were between 10 to 15 minutes behind motivated me to keep pushing in most of the hills. On the way back, there was a clear sign indicating to go on Hawk Ridge Trail although there was no ribbons after the trail crossing. I was relieved to finally find one pink ribbon/marking at the bottom of this long descent but then, no ribbon nor any indication at the next intersection between Hawk Ridge and Ancient Oaks Trails. I stopped for a minute, trying to figure out the way to go and decided to reach out to the course description that I had luckily printed out and I was carrying in my pocket. A few dozens yards after the fork, I found a tiny piece of ribbon, one inch long, on the ground. This happens from time to time in races, sometimes must have removed the ribbons in this area. Among the top 5 guys (Jay, Juan, Pierre-Yves, Mark and I), I was the only one not having run this race, so I was hoping they wouldn't get lost.

Some walking in the uphills again before sprinting down to Alpine Pond (crossing Everitt), then up again on BART and sprinting down to Horseshoe Lake, crossing Chihping who managed to take this picture:
I crossed the finish line after 4 hours 15 minutes and 40 seconds of running. I had run all day thinking that Leor Pantillat had set the course record two years ago in 3:36 so I wasn't particularly impressed with my performance. That was before Steve tells me that Leor had actually run a "jaw dropping 3:58:35" and that my time was the second fastest in the 10-year race history. Given Leor's elite status, that was putting another perspective on my time.
While I looked behind several times in the last miles if Juan was closing on me, he actually finished in 4:38, 3 minutes slower than his time last year. But he was very disappointed because he got lost three times in the last section. Jay finished 3rd in 4:47, against 4:24 last year. The 2011 podium:
Pierre-Yves took 4th in 4:56 and Mark 5th in 4:59, followed by the women race winner, Pamela Kennedy, in 5:08. 3 of the top 5, plus Chihping, Jim, Adam, Larry, that was a great show of QSURT, our Quick Silver Ultra Running Team! Not to forget Kat who volunteered at the start.
Western States has about 1,500 volunteers for 400 runners and likely more than 1,000 spectators and crews. Stevens Creek 50K has 80 registered runners, not all of them starters, 51 finishers this year, but likely less than 20 volunteers to man 3 aid stations and mark the entire course so meticulously (and deribonning...). A great thanks to all of them for allowing us to run this great course and a very special thank you to Race Director, Steve!
That was my 30th 50K race, versus 21 marathons, this has become my second most frequent after the 10K (36 of them). I really like this distance combining speed and endurance!

And, for me, another great Vespa story with such an amazing recovery between races. Yes, back to the title, both a very fast recovery and a fast run. Not farther this time but faster...

PS: for those not running ultra in the area, Catra is a "figure" on the circuit with 54 100-mile finishes listed on UltraSignup, not counting the unofficial ones she does while we "only" run 50K at Ohlone. After last week's Headlands 100-mile, she was running this weekend.
Unfortunately, she had a bad fall, as you can see...
What a tough and resilient ultra lady!


Scott Dunlap said...

Nice work! I love that you can switch so easily between 5k's and 50k's, and have a great time at both!

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Jean, you are on fire.
Scott. My Hero Zero...

Calvin from Cupertino said...

Great race and nice report as usual Jean. I finally ran my first 50K here and finished in 6:39. It's amazing to me that you are able to run races not only weekend after weekend, but during the week days as well, and then compete, take pictures while racing, and still win. Congrats!

Anonymous said...

Bravo, fils, pour ce succès dans ta 30ème 50 fallait le faire...tu l'as fait!

Jay Thomson said...

Heck of a race, Jean! That was the time I was hoping to run, but I just had an absolutely horrible day. I really fell apart around mile 20 and those last 11 miles weren't fun at all. Congrats on an exceptional time!

Jean Pommier said...

Thank you, guys!

Jay, sorry for the issues you encountered. I didn't know who I was passing down Canyon Trail, much less a 2:29 Boston marathoner... It's actually a section I usually run upward, so it felt so much easier flying down.

Calvin, good job in completing this course. Not an easy one with the heat at the end. See you again on the trails then!

Unknown said...

Are you going for a repeat win this year? My 50k PR is 5h10m so I'm going to shoot for keeping you within 1 hour ahead of me. =)