Sunday, May 27, 2018

Ohlone 50K 2018: late wings but just in time!

A week has passed and I wasn't able to find or make time in my tumultuous life for this race report... This is the tough part with racing on a Sunday, it doesn't leave much time for a same-day report before the start of the work week. Besides, my godfather died on Wednesday so I jumped on a plane on Thursday and here am I, in Paris, for an unexpected visit to my parents!

First, let me start by saluting co-Race Director, Chihping Fu, who stepped up to replace emeritus RD Rob Byrne, with Larry England accepting to continue on as the other co-RD. It's a huge endeavor, especially with such a point to point course through highly protected and remote areas, it takes a lot of time before and after, and many volunteers for critical tasks and places (course marking, checking of the course marking, getting the supplies at the aid stations with the help of the wilderness rangers, check-in at the start, but also at the finish, early on Sunday morning, for those taking the bus to the start, purchasing supplies, managing registrations, promoting the event, cleaning and storing supplies afterwards, ...). One more opportunity to admit that, with all my racing these past 12 years, I'm so much in debt to all these volunteers.
Back to Ohlone, my 7th race in 7 weekends but, more importantly, my favorite ultra race. Not only the 50K distance is my sweet spot (66 of my 156 ultra races) but the traditional heat at this race fits me well (I ran all editions from 2007 to 2017 but 2014, to attend Max's graduation and placed on the podium 9 out of 10, with my worst place being 4th, 15 seconds behind Rémi Delille, in 2016.

The scoop of this year's edition was that it wasn't going to be hot, darn! When I thought I had some good heat training at Quicksilver 100K a week earlier... The other big news was the return of Scott Trummer, the 2016 winner with a blazing time of 4:24. All the bets were on him, not only for the overall win, but to break Leor Pantilat's course record of 4:16, especially given the cool conditions.

It's not the first year we go through Mission Peak in the fog (see 2011 for instance), but it remained cloudy for a long time that Sunday. Despite pushing on the long climb to Rose Peak, and wearing short sleeves and my Brooks arm sleeves, I was still feeling chilly on the ridges, what a change from previous years!

Note that the whole race started with a chill for me when Chihping played a few seconds of Vangelis' Conquest of Paradise (you'll have to run UTMB to get that reference).

With that, I missed the start by one second and that was enough for Scott, in the starting blocks, to put 100 yards between us as he took on the uphill like a rocket! There were quite a few new faces in the front, a few who carefully stayed behind me but a handful who passed me to try to keep up with Scott. We start straight uphill so it's super hard to pace ourselves right off the bat.
I was actually feeling quite weak, both mentally for falling behind Scott so much already, and a dozen or so other runners, and physically too, with some tiredness in my legs. I started walking much earlier than previous years, trying to at least not lose my breath. Miriam Cater had hiked up to mile 2.5 of the course to take pictures, right at the bottom of the first switchbacks (with Marko Cater in the background, shortly before he passed me on the way up to the top of Mission Peak).
I estimated that I was in 13th position at the top of Mission Peak and, with the dense fog, I couldn't see much about what was going on in front and behind. (Next two pictures, credit Jay Hsu.)

I negotiated the rocky downhill section with extreme care, and slowness, but pushed hard afterwards, so much that I passed Marko Cater before the Laurel Loop aid station. I didn't stop there, just slowed down to tease Hollis Lenderking with "Hey Hollis, don't dare to tell me I started too fast, this time!" (in reference to Miwok, 3 weeks earlier). Assuredly, I felt really bad to be that far behind but was looking forward to the long descent where my road running skills help. I actually passed 3 runners on the way down to Sunol, with a couple of miles below 7 minutes.

Getting into Sunol, I was focused on making eye contact with a bin to drop the packet of GU gel I had just ingested so I barely saw the volunteers, only Anil Rao; my bad and apologies for flying by like a stranger, but I was on a mission (pun intended) to limit the gap with the front runners. At this point, I was still thinking I was on 13-4=9th place.

For the next climb, I recall feeling stressed by my inability not only to break from the 3 runners 1/4 or mile behind me, but not seeing anyone in front either. I did push harder in the super steep hill after the Backpack Area aid station, actually intrigued by the trail we were using this year, not going through Hawks Nest, but to the left side (still a similar climb); at least that effort seemed to have taken care of my immediate pursuers, phew!

Now, I was asking the trail gods or Indian spirits to show me a sign that I was still in the Ohlone race and, finally, I saw one runner ahead as I was approaching the Goat Rock aid station, half-way at mile 15. Well, it was Dan Burke who was testing out his knee and had started early so, after getting help from Dennis Connor and the aid station crew, I left as quickly as possible to continue the hunt.

Julia catching me as I was getting to Goat Rock.
And Robert Spencer, a mile or so later:
After some walking in the last 2 miles before the top of Rose Peak, I finally saw a runner exiting the summit loop as I was entering it. That was Nate Seltenrich and he was followed by Adam Zastrow and I think Nate Meiners or Matt Giusti. I exited the loop 8 minutes behind Nate Seltenrich and 6 minutes after Adam; with 11 more miles to go, there was still some hope!

I didn't stop at the next aid station (Maggie's Half Acre) and rushed the following downhills while trying to walk most of the uphills. With that, I took me less than 2 miles to close the gap with Matt and it was a big surprise for me to learn he was in 6 or 7th. Given the slow start, as much as I didn't want to fall off the podium, I would have taken 6th place. But with that news came some new wings and, not stopping at the water-only station, Stewart's Camp, I was now seeing 2 runners in font; I was quite happy to get back in the race and also to see teammate Nina Giraudo who was checking the course marking for us (she was supposed to run but DNS as she was just back from an ankle injury; ironically, she ended up running most of the course, at quite a fast pace!). These 2 pictures from Nina:

We were at mile 24 when I passed these two runners and, a mile later, I saw another runner leaving Schlieper Rock as I was getting to that aid station: that was getting really exciting! And hot, so I took the time to get some ice and water before rushing into Williams Glutch.

Rushing is actually not a good term as I was actually super slow and extra careful. The last thing I wanted to do was slip or trip and fall in the abundant poison oak in that section. I was so slow that I didn't feel I could take the time to enjoy the creek at the bottom and, climbing back on the other side, I couldn't see the runner ahead anymore but... now another runner about 2 minutes behind, yikes!

I wouldn't say that gave me more or longer wings but certainly more will to keep pushing, at least to avoid losing a spot hardly fought for. So much that I eventually saw Adam again and caught him just before the last down hill, as well as Nate Seltenrich, just before the ultimate aid station, Stromer Spring. (Photo credit Don Jedlovic)
Although this is one of my favorite stations, with the overflowing spring, I had told Agnès that I will only stop there if I had time. Here is the best place to soak in on hot years, 2 miles from the finish:
Well, definitely not this year, with Adam and Nate on my heels! They are both tall so I suspected that they'd fly down the last 2 miles. Thankfully, as opposed to uphill, downhill running was my forte that Sunday and I used my late wings to go as fast as possible.

Before the last turn into the finish, I passed Catra Corbett who was finishing her 200-mile run, with a personal best for her tradition, of 86 hours!
Remembering the 15-second gap with Rémi, 2 years ago, I sprinted to the finish, super happy to get on the podium again, for the 10th time (1, 1, 2, 3, 3, 1, 1, 1, 4, 1, 3, what a series!). With that, I need to come back again!
Photo finish, credit to Miriam Cater again.
Meanwhile, Scott had indeed won with a time of 4:31, having a second half harder than the first.
And Jonathan Kimura took 2nd in 4:48.
My time was 5:06, and I felt sorry for not taking advantage of the cooler conditions for a faster time, yet happy to take another big block of wood home, this is such a great and unique trophy! (Photo credit: Emi Yasaka)
With teammate, Dr. Mark Tanaka, photo credit: Miriam Cater.
I'm very grateful to Agnès for driving me to the start, and then picking me up at the finish. This time, instead of hiking to the top of Mission Peak, she explored the last 3 miles of the course, and back, and was impressed with the wilderness and views.

If you got confused about the course in my text above, here is a cool 3D flyover of this point to point course, from Fremont to Livermore (click on that link, or the image below).

After her 200-mile feat, and looking fresher than most of us who had only run 31 miles, Catra was selling and signing her first and new book: Reborn on the Run, My Journey from Addictions to Ultramarathons (I had the privilege to interview Catra during her 100th 100-miler, 5 years ago).
Still on my Keto/OFM diet (6 months and counting!), my recovery meal was made of some beef and salad. While I used 5 or 6 GU gels during the race, cutting on carbs right after the race helps getting a prompt recovery.
That was the end of a 7-weekend race series and I was looking forward to a one weekend break before my next race which happens to be a 24-hour on June 1 and 2 in San Francisco. One DNF at American River, a counter-performance at Boston but the 5 other races were pretty good, with some good hill training at last!

Speaking of back to back, the hero of the day in this register was our team captain, Loren Lewis, who ran Ohlone the day after finishing the grueling SilverState 50-mile the day before! And if you think the difficulty is only about the miles and cumulative elevation, think of the associated logistic for getting in two places the same weekend!
Again, huge kudos and thanks to Chihping and his crew of volunteers which made this 31st edition such a success!
And the must needed and appreciated sponsors to, e.g. GU Energy and ZombieRunner:


Unknown said...

Outstanding accomplishment! Congrats, Jean!

Nate Seltenrich said...

Nice work. Great to get some insight into your run. This was my first ultra and my legs couldn't take that last downhill...when you (and Adam) blew by me, I knew I was a goner. Before that, Adam and I were back and forth for at least ten to know you were chasing us too that whole time!