On the other and positive hand, this is my favorite race. Having ran it 7 times and won it 4 times, this made for a special connection with the Native American Ohlone spirit, this course fits me well! Also, the temperature was forecasted to reach 100F today, and I'm doing much better in the heat than the cold.
With 14 members of our ultra racing team, our QuickSilver Club had a great representation today. Here are 11 of us, seconds before the start:
Agnès drove Frédéric, Louis and I at the start and we arrived just before 7 am. A sample of our local ultra French Connection! ;-)
Here is ultra volunteer Stan Jensen (see the bottom of the article I posted yesterday) welcoming Mike Palmer:
With the challenging course profile and the expected heat, a few opted for an early start at 7 am.
The rest of us started at 8, after a briefing from Eric, the son of Race Director Larry England. The temperature was 64F in the shade of Mission Peak and it felt good to finally get moving before the sun showed up. It wasn't as a crazy start as when Leor set the course record to 4:16, but still, I wasn't going to try keeping up with the group of 6 ahead of me, led by youngsters and speedsters, Rickey Russell and Yew Ferrara. Rickey, 30, is a teammate and did beat me by 2 minutes at both Skyline 50K and Tamalpa 50K last month. I actually didn't knew Yew before meeting him at the finish, I learned later that he had placed 10th at our recent 50K Nationals in Marin Headlands, finishing 17 minutes ahead of me. And then there was another young and tall runner, carrying a blue hydration pack, whom I assumed was our visitor from Ashland as I saw him in the distance taking the overall lead in our climb to the top of Missions Peak. Here is Yew, leading right off the starting blocks!
I used to not walk any section of this climb but I wasn't in the mood today and when I saw Yew alternating walking and running, I thought the walking part was a good idea in the steepest uphills. We traded places a few times but he was then passing me back really fast, showing great climbing power. With that, I reached the top of Mission Peak in 7th position and I could point the 3 leaders right at 2 minutes ahead. I reached the first aid station, Laurel Loop, just under one hour, and passed 2 runners who made a quick stop there. As opposed to the previous years, I did stop at the second aid station, Sunol, mile 9.5, to get some ice in my water bottle and cap. Poto credit, Peter Hargreaves:
I saw Peter and Peggy there, from the Stevens Creek Striders, who were enjoying the shade and, in a rush, took a wrong turn, getting down straight to the creek! Thankfully, there was water so I knew this wasn't right--we are supposed to cross over a bridge-- and Peggy and other volunteers were already yelling to catch my attention. Hmm, thinking about it, I would have set the aid station differently, on the other side of the trail leading to the bridge. Phew, back on track (well, on bridge), photo credit, Peter Hargreaves:
Anyway, I had already about 90 minutes of running and I was now at the bottom of the climb beast. I couldn't see the leaders anymore but I had the feel that they couldn't be very far because I kept moving reasonably well in the uphills. I did pass a few of the remaining early starters in that section, and was chased by one of the two runners I had passed at Laurel. It was already hot but there was no time to lose so I ran, or rather jogged, most of the uphills, hoping to reconnect with the 4 runners now ahead of me at some point. Before too long, I passed the runner with the blue pack first but he wasn't from Ashland after all. I was now in 4th place.
I begged for some more ice in my water bottle and my cap at the 3rd aid station, Backpack Area, and took 2 small cups of Pepsi, 2 S!Caps and 1 piece of banana. The next climb through Hawks Nest is brutal and I was looking to damping my head at the faucet for a few seconds like I had done back in May but there wasn't any water left in this severe drought.
Continuing on, I passed another runner who was struggling and then saw Rickey who was struggling too. At the start, Rickey wasn't sure he had recovered from Tamalpa yet, and the heat and fast start didn't help either. I asked him to hang on as we needed points for the team. I was now in second but it took me another couple of miles before I could see the front runner. I maintained my effort and was closing on him but, with this heat, didn't want to kill my self only half way in the race, so did some walking too.
It was Yew, and I saw him leaving the 4th aid station, Goat Rock, mile 15, just as I was getting in. This is a very remote access aid station and ice was very scarce here, with a volunteer spending a lot of energy trying to break the ice... A volunteer who knew my name helped refill my GU2O bottle and, in the meantime, I assumed that the water was in the blue tank, but it was the electrolyte, so I inadvertently added electrolyte to my water. It didn't taste very good (I'm picky so I carry my own citrus GU2O powder bags with me) but thankfully it was quite diluted as my bottle was already almost full of water. I tried to convince myself it wasn't going to derail my progression... ;-)
Despite these few minutes at the aid station, I could still see Yee not too far ahead and we alternated running and walking up to the top of Rose Peak. We passed teammate Keith Blom who was volunteering today, had started at 6:30 and ran the entire course to check all the markings, and add a few more ribbons here and there: way to go, Keith!
We got our bracelets proving that we had completed the loop at the summit, and flew down the next aid station, Maggie's Half Acre, at mile 19.7. This time Yew and I were in the station at the same time but he still left first. I had thought of passing him by mile 17 but that's when I felt a first cramp in my left hamstring, yikes! By the time we reached the top of Rose Peak, both my hamstrings were hurting so I was just happy to stay behind at that time. Thanks to more S!Caps (3 to 4 an hour), drinking a lot, a couple of cups of Pepsi and some water melon, I felt better and passed Yew at mile 22. Knowing what was ahead before the finish, I made sure to do a quick stop at Stewart's Camp at mile 23.5, to water my cap and buff. Conversely, Yew probably skipped this unmanned station as I found him right on my heels at the bottom of this long downhill. As I started climbing again, both my legs froze and I thought I was finished but, with strong determination and painful effort, forced myself to keep walking at least. That worked and, a few hundred yards later, I was able to run strong again to build up some distance between the two of us. I saw Race Director, and IBM colleague, Larry just before Schlieper Rock, and he didn't seem surprised at all to see me in the lead again... Ah, if people knew the effort this is requiring... ;-) Anyway, my GPS was showing 4 hours and 30 minutes of running and I almost apologized to Larry how slow of a year that was going to be. We were are mile 26 and with 5 challenging miles to go, I wasn't even sure I was going to improve our M50-59 age group record which Jeff Boote set last year at 5:23. When my initial goal was to break 5 hours again. Yet, having Pierre-Yves' heat stroke in mind, it wasn't safe to push much harder.
Anyway, I was really hoping to get a lot of ice at this aid station but got only a few cubes which melt right away. The quads and hamstrings were hurting really bad in the countless switchbacks down to the river and I'm glad I didn't cross any hikers as it would have been hard to stop on this slippery dirt. At least, I was grateful to Mark Tanaka's clean-up of the poison oak which he did in May, as I couldn't see much of it as opposed to previous years. Thanks Mark (and maybe the drought help)! Getting down to the river, I was super disappointed to find it dry as I was dreaming of damping my hat in it. Going up again was super hard on the legs and I imagined Yew was making up time in the switchbacks. That motivated me to push as hard as I could in the last and very exposed uphill of the course which was now radiating heat like a furnace. I kept looking over my shoulder and was really relieved when I got to the top without saying anyone behind.
I kept pushing and, this time, was really relieved to find the Stromer Spring flowing: I put the top of my head down into the reservoir, that was so refreshing! And a volunteer was kind enough to fill my bottle with ice so I could drink more to help with the cramping. Flying down to Del Valle, I thought of Tom Kaisersatt who was brave enough to climb this last mile despite his late stage lung cancer, to encourage his Stevens Creek Striders club mates. Yes, Tom, you are still such a running and life inspiration!
I was so happy to win this race for the 5th time in 9 years and 8 participations (couldn't run last year because of Max's graduation), I let my joy explode before crossing the finish line in a time of 5:05.
And what better way to celebrate than in company of the ultra running queen, Ann Trason, and Dirt Diva, Catra Corbett?
Or even Catra's ultra elite dog, Dirt Doxie, aka TruMan, who got his very own and special award for running a 50K?
This is the first time I don't finish under 5 hours but, given the circumstances, I'll take it as we say! Speaking of circumstances, it wasn't pretty behind. In addition to the 79 or so entrants who didn't start, there was an unusual rate of drops/DNFs (Did Not Finish), with people backtracking to Sunol. And I think only 6 runners broke 6 hours this year...
We were supposed to drive Frederic back home but he dropped at mile 20 after experiencing nausea and dehydration. Without any cell coverage at the finish, but thanks to a network or radio amateurs covering all these remote aid stations, it took us 2 hours to find out. We drove back to Sunol which we reached moments before Fred arrived with other runners in a Ranger's pick-up. Always going there by foot, I had never realized how remote even Sunol was, and more so the other stations which have no road access at all. No wonder why this is called the Ohlone Wilderness...
The results are not published yet but I think Yew finished 10 minutes or so behind me.
By the way, while this appears to me like a feat beyond my dreams, do you think winning Ohlone 5 times is a record? Despite what I thought and mistakenly told Ann, not even! Dave Scott won 8 editions, even breaking 4 hours (yes, four) twice! And Beth Vitalis won 6 times (and, would she have started this morning, I bet she would have had a good chance to get a 7th title). Anyway, I wasn't running ultras when he was and never met him, but I'm certainly not in his league, and I know Leor could win every year would he focus on that event. But we are all glad to see his splendid pictures and accounts of his high country hiking adventures instead.
A quick word on nutrition: 3 Vespa (2 before the start, one at the top of Rose Peak) did their magic again! I ate 2 pieces of banana, 8 small cups of Pepsi, 4 GUs, 2 pieces of watermelon. And drank 2.5 bottles of GU2O. Less than 800-calorie intake and more than 3,500 calories consumed, you do the math, I still have fat to burn to fuel my races! ;-)
Overall, Ohlone is traditionally hot anyway, the temperatures we experienced weren't that exceptional. The difference though is that, this late in the season, the ground is much warmer already in the early morning. And the air must be dryer too. I think the second factor explaining the high number of no shows and drops is that we are late in the season. Many people had tough races this summer, and were still tired.
This time I stopped at most of the aid stations exceptionally, so I'm even more grateful than ever to the volunteers who spent their Sunday in such a heat to attend to our needs. And of course to all the volunteers who worked on the pre and post-race logistic, and the flawless course marking. And a special mention to Eric England who came from Portland to support his father's race, and took over the BBQ, a very hot place to be on such a hot day...! And, of course, huge thanks to Race Directors Larry England and Ann Trason for taking on the big responsibility of organizing such an event in a wilderness and having offered us this unusual Fall edition to make up for the May no go (without any additional cost!). I bet they will hear from the Rangers who got busy transporting runners from the Maggie's Half Acre aid station back to Sunol all afternoon...!
I hope everybody made it back home safely, and that we all have a cooler end of the season, easing up into El Niño hopefully. Run Happy and stay cool...!