Sunday, August 11, 2013

Skyline 50K: runnable hills, at last!

After the treacherous trails in Corsica and the Alps, after my aborted TRT 100 (dropped at 62 miles), I was so very much looking forward to running on the smooth trails of this East Bay race. It was my 7th consecutive run but it's nothing compare to the history of this race which is now in its 33rd year!

I was also looking forward to the "late" start of the race, 7 am. Yet, I was up before 4 am in order to take, and digest, my breakfast 3 hours before the start. We also got 5 more minutes as the start had to be delayed to allow for the last runners to check-in. This is a very popular race, kind of a "back-to-racing" event after the July holidays, and Race Director, Adam Ray, was able to squeeze in a few additional dozens runners for a record 281 entrants.
With that, there were a few fast competitors in the mix and I wasn't expecting to place well today. Right off the start line, I was still running around 6:30 min/mile, yet was barely in the top 10! I wasn't too concerned though as all these guys appeared way younger than me... ;-) I had seen Cliff Lentz in the entrant list. It has been a few years since I saw him in an ultra, I just recalled how fast he was especially on the road. We ran a few miles together and he told me that, between family and a new business he started, he wasn't training enough and using this race as a training run before the Tamalpa Headlands 50K in two weeks. And that he was looking for running a 4:15 today, and cruising along, while not walking the hills. Well, we were in 5th and 6th at that point and "cruising" at 7:10 min/mile pace over the rolling hills, quite a good pace.

It was very foggy, and humid, and I had hard time keeping a sight of the two runners ahead of us, respectively with white and red tops. Carrying two bottles (Gu2O and water), I didn't stop at the first 3 aid stations and lost Cliff after the second aid station. I maintained a 7:20 pace until Skyline Gate, pushing up the hills. The visibility on the ridge leading to the Skyline Gate aid station and turn-around was a couple hundreds yards, making the huge eucalyptus and pines surreal and magical.

I was surprised to be welcomed by Will Gotthardt at Skyline Gate. Will was in the entrants list but told me he was still injured. With the humidity of the fog, I had not drunk all my Gu2O bottle and didn't need a refill. However I was looking for some Coke and banana, two usual items at aid stations, but none were to be found today. I grabbed and swallowed a Gu and off I was after asking Chihping and Will how far ahead was the runner in 4th: "2 minutes" they replied! I tried to go as fast as possible down French trail, flying over the roots in particular, but I couldn't see a damn soul in the next few miles, apart from the amazing Park and radio volunteers at a few key turns. As Adam told me after the race, these volunteers show up years after years, in an organic and self-organized manner. How cool for the RD and us, runners. A big thank to these dozen of course marshal volunteers!

Despite feeling like I was flying, but due to the uphills, the switch backs, and some fatigue after the mid point, my pace was slowing down and it was now around 7:45 when I left the next aid station after stopping for 40 seconds to refill my Gu2O bottle and take a second Gu before the upcoming big uphill. I say around because the indication of the distance on my GPS was slightly off the mileage displayed on the new and nice boards.

Still no runner in sight, neither in front or behind. I ran the entire Big Bear hill, thinking of the great time I had in this climb with Chris Calzetta a few years ago (and I just see that the race website has a picture of Chris and I in the course description section, leaving Skyline Gate, how cool! ;-). Kept pushing down the Bort Meadow aid station, which I crossed without stopping, like the first time (sorry volunteers!) and finally caught up with a runner, Benjamin Beeler, 21. Benjamin told me that the runner with the red top was a few minutes ahead and that I was now in 4th. I didn't stop at the next aid station either but asked Stan Jensen about that lead which he said was 4 minutes. I continued pushing but I knew I wouldn't gain 4 minutes in 3 miles so I was just now aiming at breaking 4 hours which I did with 2 minutes and 47 seconds to spare, phew!

Top three were ultra stud Chikara Omine, 31, in 3:40:09, Enrique Henriquez, 35, in 3:49:24 and Noah Brautigam, 24, from Truckee, in 3:53:45. I took the M40-49 age group again and got a great hoody from Adam for that in addition to the nice finisher t-shirt and tot bag, not to forgot the ginger candies from our Quicksilver ultra running team sponsor, Zombie Runner! ;-) Cruising (!), Cliff finished 6th overall in 4:06:57 and second in our age group.

Thanks to Steve Patt on the finish line and the great timing software that he wrote and markets himself (Stevens Creek Software), the results were posted on the web in a near-live manner., another great perk of this race. And speaking of organization, let's not forget the top-class BBQ, rich buffet, fresh drinks and even draft beer.

Our team had a big show off with 25 entrants, almost 10% of the field! On his birthday, Dan Decker won his age group in a blazing 4:17:57, just 4 minutes shy of the M50-59 course record. He actually finished 2 minutes ahead of the next M50-59 runner, Mark Richtman, from Tamalpa. I chatted with Mark afterwards and learned that he had made the USA 100K team a while back (he is now 58) and he still enjoys speed, assuredly! Amy Burton also won her age group and 4th overall in the women race. A race which was won by Tera Dube --wearing Brooks Pure shoes!-- just 2 minutes shy of Beth Vitalis Master Course Record!
See in my Picasa photo album a few more pictures, mostly of the finishers passing under the race banner.

Tomorrow is a big day, I'll be speaking to the Silicon Valley Triathlon Club about sustainable running, sharing stories and tips about marathon and ultra marathon training and racing. Hope to recruit a few fast guys for some new competition on the trails... You know, competing with young and fast runners keep me young... ;-)

PS: I'll add a few more pictures, later, gotta run for now...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Jean, depuis le New Jersey je te salue bien bas pour cette belle perfomance
Un grand bravo et desolée de nenpas t'avoir vu cette fois çi
Je vais continuer à suivre tes aventures avec admiration