Saturday, September 8, 2012

Stevens Creek 50K 2012: a slow vintage

This was my second participation to this race, the first being last year for the 10th anniversary of the event, with an overall win and the 2nd fastest time (4:15:40). While the course remains unchanged, it is difficult to compare the editions as the date has moved from March, close to the Race Director's birthday, to August or September this year. Between the Spring conditions when the creeks are in full force, to the heat of the Summer, the finish times have evolved significantly, one way or another. Not to mention the difference of timing within our ultra running season.
Last year, I didn't know what to expect as I had never raced the previous year top contenders, Jay Thomson (2010 winner) and runner-up Juan De Oliva Martinez. We started quite fast on a course which was new to me and I took the lead at mile 9 but we were still less than 10 minutes apart by mile 25 before Juan missed a turn and got lost. I won, one week after winning Skyline 50K, a nice back to back double  and recovery. Race Director, Steve Patt, called us the "three J's", not the 3 jays (Steve's passion is birding --he is a guru-- and he organizes this event to raise money for the local chapter of the Audubon Society, with his wife.
This year, none of the other 2 J's signed up and I was expecting another one, teammate John Burton to push me on the first section, if not the whole course, but he didn't show up. Last night, Kent Dozier had checked my blog and 2011 race report and left a nice note: "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. =)" He actually ran the first mile close behind me before I pushed the pace on Canyon Trail. I had been on the Table Mountain Trail twice last weekend (see my 90-mile Labor Day weekend), to get more familiar with it. My pace was 7:30 at the bottom of it but slowed down significantly on the long 4-mile climb. I was paying a lot of attention to the rocks and roots to avoid a fall (I can't afford to fall with my shoulder still very weak after the June fracture), yet was thinking of last run climb on Juan's heels (before he actually felt himself) and with Jay just behind me. We were really moving, and I didn't have much reference for this year, except that I don't feel as much in shape as last year (especially after Skyline's counter-performance and slower training runs). The shoulder is still painful, wakes me up during the night and prevents me from carrying a water bottle, but it doesn't explain everything, I'm surprised at how much I lost during the 6-week break.

Anyway, I started catching some of the 16 early starters before reaching the Saratoga Gap Trail, or crossing some of the fastest of them like Anil Rao before the turn around and 11-mile aid station at Saratoga Gap. I reached the station 7 minutes slower than last year (1:34), I was definitely missing the competition and emulation... Michael Jimenez was about 15 minutes behind then, being slower than last year, I saw many more runners on the way back on Saratoga Gap Trail (Lina, Charles, Chris, ...). It was really nice to run in the shade, before the exposed and sunny Long Ridge Road. My favorite section of the course is when we get back into the woods on Long Ridge Trail, around the half-way mark.

I was back to the main aid station, the start/finish area and mile 19.8 AS, in 2:42, 11 minutes slower than last year. Despite the great assistance of Penny Beeston (refilling my bottles and putting more sun screen on my arms) and Steve, I didn't feel much pressure and urge to leave the station at which I stayed for 4 long minutes. Yet, as opposed to last year, I ran most of the uphills in the second loop. Penny was also at the next aid station, Rappley Ranch Road, along with fellow Stevens Creek Striders. I passed the station to go at the end of the road and touch the gate, the official turn-around, and stopped for a couple minutes to the station on the way back to drink a few cups, get my bottles refilled and grab a GU (I used 3 packets of Vespa, 3 GUs and a few potato chips and pieces of watermelon).

The first runner I crossed on the way back was actually an early starter, who definitely had miscalculated his time (8am early start is meant for those running more than 7.5 hours). Then I crossed another runner about 15 minutes from the turn around (that is a 30-minute lead). I kept running most of the uphills, trying to at least break 4:30 but the course was longer than I remembered and I finished in 4:32:47. Far behind the age group course record I had set last year, yet, still the 5th time of the 11 race editions. Well, the event isn't very competitive, except when Leor Pantilat was the first and still the only one to break 4 hours, setting a solid 3:58:35 course record 3 years ago (with ideal temperatures in the 60s)!
Overall, I felt it was not as hot as last year, thanks to the date pushed a month and also the Ocean breeze. The course was extremely well marked, thanks to the efforts of Penny (first loop) and Steve (second loop), last night. Last year, folks had removed some ribbons on Howk and Ancient Oak Trail, leading to runners getting lost. Thankfully not this year, at least at the time I passed by these trails. In case, counting on me to be in the lead, Steve had given me 4 ribbons at the start. I used 3 of them at points where I got minor hesitation, just to make the marking perfect.
I stayed for more than an hour after I finished, but only saw one runner finish (Siming Li, above). The results will be promptly posted by Steve on his very informative event website.

A big thank you to sponsor Zombie Runner who offered GUs and GU2) for all the aid stations and the ritual ginger chews and gin-gins boosts which Agn├Ęs appreciate so much! To the aid station volunteers who were very helpful and friendly. And of course to Steve and his wife who combine their passion for ultra running and bird conservation to put up such a top class event for our local running community: a challenging course but a very friendly and relaxed atmosphere with no cut-offs! By the way, great tote bag displaying a few local birds: way to shop with class! ;-)

That was my fourth overall win this year (Ruth Anderson 50-mile, Quicksilver 50K, Ohlone 50K and this Stevens Creek 50K), I didn't even expect to repeat last year's feat in this area especially with three of these wins as part of a 5 back to back events over 5 weeks in April-May. For sure I'm not getting younger, but I keep racing... including some lower key events ;-). 35th 50K race since I started running ultras in 2006, ultra #76 and counting... I missed the registration window for the Dick Collins Firetrails 50-mile in October and I'm still 42nd on the waiting list (I started at 160 or so, so there is progress...). I'm in Whiskeytown at the end of October and the 50th anniversary of the JFK 50-mile in West Virginia in November, followed by the Turkey Trot 10K on Thankgiving morning, to which I have the permission this year to invite my fellow IBMers to participate (long story...). All that between more business trips (Arkansas, Brazil in the short term and likely other countries to follow), so it's going to be a busy Fall. No, I didn't write... fall!

See you on the trails, Run Happy out there!

A few bonus pictures...

Ultra veteran Roger Jensen and his famous yo-yo:
Craig Heinselman already wearing the colors of Sweden where he will relocate to in a few months:
Briefing #1
Briefing #2
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1 comment:

Toshi Moshi said...

Great to hear you're running strong again and picking up speed. You're #22 on the waitlist for Dick Collins!