Monday, August 8, 2016

Skyline 50K 2016: the 10th time's almost a charm!

10th consecutive year I toed the line of this early August event: I was so excited I had to post something on Facebook the night before. And what a night... After flying back from South Korea and Japan where we stayed for 13 days, and with the 16-hour time difference, I was seriously jet lagged this weekend. On Friday, I worked at the office from 8am to 12:30am, went to bed on Saturday morning at 2am and woke up at noon, oops! I always like to put a few hours of sleep in the bank, 2 nights before an ultra, at least I had this taken care of. But with that, I barely slept 4 hours the night preceding the race which isn't that good. Apart from that, I was feeling great after logging 123 miles while in Japan, including a few hilly long runs. And I was so much looking forward to a redemption race after the DNF at TRT, this time with a distance which is my sweet spot: that was my 58th 50K race today, in 10 years. And in these 10 years, I've ran each of the Skyline 50K edition, an event which is said to be the longest running 50K event in the US with 35 or 36 editions (co-race director, Adam Ray, wasn't sure, and Gary Wang has 32 years on his RealEndurance reference website, but Stan Jensen 36 years indeed on his page).

With 269 running races in my log, I've given away many t-shirts, but there are a few events I like collecting Ts of, like Ohlone, my fetish race, Miwok, Western States of course and this one.
After this hectic night, the day started early as I arrived at the Chabot Lake Marina in time to see the 6am early start. I apologize for not staying until the last runner gets in, but I like this opportunity to see the ones who are going to battle the cut-offs and leverage this opportunity to start earlier, a nice option offered by a few race directors.

Here is Race Director, Brian Wyatt, giving his pre-race briefing/instructions before sending a dozen or so runners on the trail.

Meanwhile, there was this wonderful volunteer who was handling the bib pick-up all by herself! (Here seen as serving our very own John Brooks.)
The venerable Quicksilver ultra racing team members, Jim Magill and John Brooks ;-)

We started right at 7am but going on the North shore of the lake this year because of some construction at the dam. I had looked at the map but admit that I'm not familiar enough with all these trails to have internalized the course and was going to rely on course markings. Fortunately, there were plenty of these pink ribbons, plus a myriad (maybe 20 total) of Park volunteers at major intersections, that was very helpful to remove any doubts.

A bunch of runners from Excelsior were at the front when we started (Brian, Karl, Jason, and more), two other runners with blue tops whom I didn't know, and Chris Calzetta and I from Quicksilver. I've seen way faster and even crazier pace in the past, so the 6:50-7:00 min/mile we were at didn't seem unreasonable. I actually pushed the pace a bit in the first climb and Chris was the only one to respond and follow. I've such found memories from running these trails with Chris back in 2011 (Skyline and Firetrails) it was a delight to run a few miles again together, although I had no illusion that this would last for too long as he got stronger and faster these past years. But, between my faster speed in the downhills and his stops at the aid station (and me not stopping), we kept going on and on until we arrived together at the turnaround, the Skyline Gate aid station around mile 14.5. The excitement of still being in the lead about half way in the race even doubled as we got welcomed by Greg Lanctot, our Club President, always providing a ton of motivation and encouragement through his radiating energy. Here are 2 shots he captured of us at this station which, I learned later, was manned/hosted by our Quicksilver Club; thank you club mates!

With the third runner on our heels, we did not have the luxury of spending much time to recover and were quick to leave. I had planned on refilling my GU2O bottle but I had only used half of it anyway so not the right time. But that showed that I hadn't not drunk enough electrolytes, and even less water, despite a good sweat as I was still wearing my arm warmer/compression sleeves. A few people had told me it was going to be chilly but the temperature was actually quite nice despite the overcast. Sure enough, the low fluid intake translated into some cramps as we were flying down French Trail and, on the next steep uphill, I told Chris 'go for it!', meaning I couldn't keep up with his pace anymore. I drank much more in this section and took 2 more S!Caps plus a pouch of Vespa concentrate. I didn't mention above that we reached Skyline Gate in 1:45 which appeared to me like a slow time compared to previous years. I was so confused with the new trails we took in this first part that I couldn't figure out if and how much that first section was harder. Passing through mile 16 after 2 hours of running, I started to doubt that I will break 4 hours today, which was my biggest objective today (out of 9 editions, I missed 4 hours only twice but for injury reasons). Better keep pushing for the last 15 miles then and, the cramps persisting, I could predict some trouble and suffering...

This time, I arrived at Big Bear (mile 20) with empty bottles, having forced myself to drink much more than in the first half. A few volunteers helped me refill them, and I also drank a large cup of Coke, getting some sugar before the next big climb. I was very pleased to have the stamina to run/jog the whole hill, still no walking so far! I had to stop at the top of the hill though because of a severe cramp in my calves, but was able to keep the cramps under control in the descent to Bort Meadow (mile 23) where I didn't stop again (sorry George Rehmet and team...). I felt good when the volunteers told me that, like at Big Bear, I was just 2 minutes behind Chris. With this boost, I maintained a good pace until about mile 25 where I realized that, unless the end of the course was cut short, it was going to require running sub 7 min miles to break 4 hours, darn! I did walk a bit but not too much, however my running had slowed down. When I finally reached the final aid station, welcomed by ultra volunteer Stan Jensen who was recording our splits, I realized that I had less than 18 minutes to cover 3 miles, which wasn't going to happen. Yet, I flew through the aid station to keep moving and protect my second place, telling to myself that, to balance the deception of missing the 4-hour mark this year, I should at least cherish these podium opportunities given my age (and it surely helps that the faster and younger dudes typically popping up at this event didn't this year!).

I had not seen anyone behind Chris and I for 15 miles since the turnaround but, bingo, one runner passed me at mile 29. I had no intention to counter, still content with third place but when, a mile later, I saw a runner with a yellow singlet (Excelsior) closing on me, this gave me a kick and got me to sprint the last mile this time. Oops, does that imply that I'm competitive? Yes, some times... ;-) Well that worked, I managed to finish in 3rd place overall, in 4:07, and I'm glad I did because 3 Excelsior runners crossed the finish line within the following 2 minutes! Dang, so long for the Grand Prix points because Loren was third for our club but quite behind. [Photo credit: Eileen Francisco]
Chris had won the race this year in 3:55. Here is the 2016 men podium:

When I shared my disappointment about my finish time with Brian, he said that he thought the new course had between 1,500 and 1,800 more feet of elevation, that surely counts. I look forward to hearing about what others have found from their GPS recordings. And that being said, I know that I may have to live and start accepting slower times, especially with my stroke hiccup of last March...

3rd place earned me a nice cap from event sponsor Victory Sportdesign. Although I was sorry he couldn't run today because of a cold, it was great to meet and catch-up with Victor again (and Lorna and Lucy). Hope everybody stopped by to check Victor's latest invention, a super organized and handy sport bag/luggage which can be carried as a backpack. If you missed the opportunity, make sure to check his website!
Special mention for Joe Swenson, another Quicksilver teammate, who becomes the second runner with 17 Skyline 50K finishes, equaling Barbara Elia's record. At the finish, Joe said he is going for 20! (Assuming he keeps running consecutive years, in two years he'll have run half of the editions...)

Big kudos to Brian and his Scena Performance team for perpetuating this great tradition and maintaining the very high standard of this event. As a side note, I chatted with two runners who were visiting from France and were impressed with the quality of the markings, the number of course monitors, the quality of the food at the aid stations and also blown away by the helpfulness and the kindness of the volunteers everywhere, their ears not believing the loud encouragements that they received when entering and leaving the aid stations. Great testament to the quality of our local races from a fresh perspective. Indeed, volunteers, you rock!!

What I also like in this event is that it marks for me the start of the second half of our ultra running season. Indeed, there have been so many great ultra accomplishments by many already this year, but we are barely half way, Summer isn't even over yet, let's keep running! And see you on the trails then...

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