Monday, May 20, 2013

Ohlone 50K 2013: thank you, Leor!

I've run Ohlone 6 consecutive times since 2007 and won it the three times Leor didn't compete (2007, 2008 and 2012). Leor Pantilat that is, our local speedster who sets course records at almost every event he is racing, no to the mention many FKTs (Fastest Known Times) on trails he runs by himself in the Sierras. Now, for this 2013 edition, Leor was in, so long for another win... Note that it was a challenging race to get in: not because of the ultra gods luck (no lottery) but because the registration opened at midnight on December 31st and the race filled in a few hours. Luckily, I wasn't partying that night at Lake Tahoe, but I woke up at 4 am and decided to have a quick look at the website, just in time to get one of the coveted spots...

Gary Gellin holds the course record for Masters since he placed 2nd to Leor in 2010 with a blazing 4:33 (this is a tough 50K, nothing to compare with Way Too Cool for instance). 2010 was also my best year, time wise, with 4:37, yet only good for 3rd overall that year. But Gary wasn't in Ohlone this year.

Ian Torrence was back and, as a "young" Master (he just turned 40 ;-) and very experienced and fast ultra runner (close to 150 ultra races listed under his name in ultrasignup), he was a favorite this year and given bib #2. (Photo: Agnes Pommier)
Kevin Sawchuk (bib #4), who still holds the M30-39 course record and won the rave in 1999 and 2002, was at the front of the pack on the start line for his 9th Ohlone. And so was Quicksilver teammate John Burton.(Photo credit Judy Chu-Hosaka.)
Here is for the competitive context of the race. From a weather standpoint, the week leading to the race wasn't too hot with actually a very nice breeze cooling down the hills all Saturday.

With the point to point format, we are given the option to drive very early to the finish in Livermore, park there and take a shuttle to the start, back in Fremont.
It seemed to me that there were many more cars parked at the start and far less runners in the 2 buses though. Omnipresent ultra volunteer, Stan Jensen, used his organization skills and vocal power to expedite the registration process and avoid the forming of a lane at the check-in.
I also noticed that the number of port-a-putties doubled this year from 2 to 4, also helping keeping the line under control. By 8 am, everybody were fired up and ready to spend the day on the hot trails of the East Bay. We had another great representation from our Quicksilver Ultra Running Team this Sunday (Photo credit Judy Chu-Hosaka):
Race Director, Larry England, another Distinguished Engineer at IBM, got us to start from the parking lot this year, making the course a few yards longer, and more mileage for our bucks! ;-) After a few strides, John took the lead and I was happy to have someone to follow in the fist uphill. I always find difficult to determine the right pace and intensity when we start with a climb and I don't want to start too fast so, following someone is still a good excuse to push a little. Enrique Henriquez was in third after a few turns.

In the middle of the climb to Mission Peak, we have a down hill section when turning right toward Horse Heaven (which is more a paradise for cows actually). I caught up with John who shared that this was his 40th birthday so he was all geared up for a great run. I passed him on the down hill and kept pushing the pace in the switchbacks to the top of Mission Peak, thinking of all these years were Leor was already way ahead. Wait a minute, but where was Leor this Sunday? At the start, Larry told me that Leor wasn't toeing the start line because of a nagging injury. Instead, I learned on Monday that Leor had hiked 45 miles around the Yosemite Valley. Still a pretty strenuous exercise for most of us, mortals, but a routine hike for Leor who wasn't going to risk his Achilles tendons running after his own record on this tough Ohlone course.

So, yes, here I was, feeling so lucky to be in the lead again, before Mission Peak. At every hole, or rock, or root, or switchback, I thought that I had a shot at the win if only I remained calm and didn't fall. I paid a lot of attention at the slippery and rocky section at the top of Mission Peak, then kept a good pace flying down to Sunol, not even stopping at Laurel Loop or Sunol aid stations. My first stop was at the Backpack Area aid station, mile 12.5, to get both my bottles refilled. It wasn't too hot thanks to the breeze, yet I appreciated a couple of ice cubes in my bottle then showering my head at the tap after Hawk Nest. Looking behind, I figured I had already a 8 or 10 minutes lead before the big climb to Rose Peak. I was feeling great and kept running all the uphill section, event sprinting in the few short downhills. And, bang, I smashed one rock with my left foot, tripped and felt flat on my left side, luckily the other side than my broken shoulder of 11 months ago! Unlike last year though, I had time to put my arms forward in some sort of protection of my face and body. Yet, I laid down in the dust for a few seconds, first to wonder what happened so suddenly, assess the situation and get leg cramps to pass before I could even turn sideways. Left knee, thigh, hand, arm where bleeding but, nothing seemed broken, phew! My left bottle had flown a few yards lower down the trail and the cramps triggered by the sudden fall made it for a little adventure to get it back. After dusting off what I could, I resumed running and that's when I felt a big pain in my left big toe. I was 14.5 miles in the race, not good... Yet, running the uphills felt ok as I could keep my weight and the impact under the ball of the foot. But any downhill was hurting and I had to transfer the weight on the outside of the left foot, in an awkward limping. 16.5 to go, that was going to be an interesting ride.

I didn't stop too long at the nearby aid station, Billy Goat, mile 15, just to get my first Gu and a volunteer to pour some water on my hand wound. I chose to use my foot pain in a mental way to enjoy the uphills, which there is plenty of, not only to the summit of Rose Peak (mile 19), but in the remaining part of the course too. That helped me running most of them... However, it was quite frustrating to have to spend so much effort slowing down in the down hills. Frustrating and tiring for the quads too. At the start, teammate Joe Swenson who marked most of the course the day before told me about the abundant dust which covered the fire road after Rose Peak as the road has just been resurfaced. This became very handy for two reasons: first, there were less rocks than previous years, making running easier, especially when you run on the outside of your foot. Second, the deep dust made the impact much lesser so, for once, I enjoyed getting really dusty (not to mention that, on the climb for Mission Peak, I did get half my tibia in the mud of a creek, so I was really dirty when I got back home! ;-).

At the top of Rose Peak, I entered the loop at 3:03 and exited 7 minutes later without seeing another runner. I ran as much as I could of the subsequent downhills and most of the steep uphills, trying to preserve this lead. I did a brief stop at Stewart's Camp to shower my head and Buff and kept going. I was welcomed by Rajeev at the last aid station, Schlieper Rock, mile 25.6. Someone said that I had a 13 minutes lead by mile 20 (Maggie's Half Acre aid station). While there were only 5 miles to go, the worst was yet to come, getting down to the creek (Williams Gulch), a section I almost felt 4 times, putting too much weight on my heels to slow down while avoiding the poison oak and trying not to slip in the dusty switchbacks. I was relieved when I got down to the creek and watered my hat to cool down. With the comfortable lead I did walk some of the uphill to the final ridge, appropriately named Rocky Ridge. As much as I enjoy dipping my head in the water reservoir of Stromer Spring, I didn't stop this time, knowing that I still had a few painful steep downhill miles ahead. While I usually enjoy this part as a way to fly down the Del Valle Regional Park and Lake, this wasn't fun except for the joy of this potential win. The outside of my left foot was burning but I wasn't going to let anyone catch me in this final stretch. Besides, I was now running against the clock, to make sure I stayed under 5 hours one more time (all my previous finishes had been under 5 hours).

I did cross the finish line in 4:54:47, with Judy capturing some of the emotion (photo credit for the three pictures below: Judy Chu-Hosaka):
I was so happy with this unexpected 4th win, yet anxious to discover what was burning inside my left shoe. Back to the title, I use to thank volunteers or my crew for their support but I thought I'd include Leor since my win was only due to his no show. As for my fall, it's all on me, I'm not blaming the rock I tripped on... ;-)

Catra, who had just run 131 miles in 49.5 hours on the course (slightly more than 4 Ohlones!) brought me a Coke (I had only eaten 2 GUs, thanks to Vespa) and it was time to give a visit to the Red Cross volunteers near the finish line. My big toe was dark purple and it felt like it was going to explode under the pressure of all the blood trapped at the end of it. But it looked like I could move the toe so we just iced it for a couple of hours. Red Cross volunteer John took care of the bruises and I spent 3 hours, my toe under a bag of ice, looking at the finishers and watching the BBQ party from a distance. So long for the photo shoot opportunity of all the finishers, another time...

John Burton came in second, 6 minutes behind.
Then 3 runners came sprinting together: first was Kevin who took third overall, followed by Ian, in 4th like last year.

The results are not posted yet but I believe all fourteen of our Club starters finished. Including Toshi and Loren who have run the Silver State 50-mile on Saturday!

Like I did in my last post, another opportunity to thank a very special category of volunteers: the Red Cross ones who gave up their Sunday to provide safety and care to all the runners, from 11 am to 7 pm. Thank you, Steve, John and Kevin!
Of course, a big thank goes to the aid station volunteers, especially those in remote places, we couldn't do it without all of you. And the volunteers setting up and tearing down the event, and the Chef cooking so many burgers, what another ultra party!
With such a foot injury, I'm so glad I didn't have to jump right away on a plane this Sunday evening (as opposed to last year). After London last week (it felt weird to run in the rain there, the day after a warm and dry race at Quicksilver), I'm now on to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, this coming Friday. Way to celebrate Memorial Day weekend by working Saturday and Sunday there... Anyway, this absence of travel for a few days gave me the opportunity to get an x-ray and, great news, nothing is broken inside, just a painful and ugly purple toe on the outside:
I should be back then, this is my favorite ultra by far, as I feel some connection with the Native Americans who used to live in these hills and valleys. As I was mentally pushing in the uphills, I even thought that they could have given me the nickname of "Head Down..." Yes, I'll be back, for the beautiful views and challenging hills!


Big Johnny Burton said...

Hi Jean, congrats again on the win and on toughing it out after your hard fall. I hope the toe heals up quickly.

Also, I hope you don't mind but I borrowed some of your pics for my blog post as well:


Unknown said...

Jean - Great run with true grit! The race results are posted on UltraSignUp -

Heal quickly!

Kyria @ Travel Spot said...

Great job on your win! I'm not sure how you made it down that last hill with your injury, because the downhill with rocks and poison oak to avoid was difficult even without injury!

Anonymous said...

quel courage!
je n'avais pas réalisé tout cela quand nous avions appris ta bonne place.