Sunday, August 5, 2018

Skyline 50K 2018: Cliff and I

No, not Cliff Bars, my energy brand is GU (born and raised in Berkeley!) as you can read in all my Race reports (disclaimer: I’m a GU Pro athlete too). And, no, I didn't fall off a cliff. But I'm talking about Cliff Lentz, who is keeping me on my toes in our M50-59 age group. Or keeping me honest. Or keeping my ego in check I should say...

I first met Cliff at the 50K Trail Nationals in 2007, when he won our Masters division at the Tamalpa Headlands 50K, easily. Cliff focuses more on road races, long and short distances, and runs 50K Trail races occasionally. For a few years he had other priorities so wasn’t training much and that gave me an edge. But he is back at it and that shows. I took second in our Age Group at the Impala Stow Lake Stampede 5K, 20 seconds behind who? Cliff of course!

I was looking for our “match” at Skyline last year but some GI issues derailed my plans. Thankfully, such issues are now history since I switched to Peter Defty's Keto/OFM diet 9 months ago, a great thing! Yet, I haven’t been running as fast this year, so my head was filled with doubts at the start. Starting with the extra 4 pounds which I couldn't get rid off while tapering this week...

I car pooled with one of our newest and fastest Quicksilver member, Jay Hsu. Jay is getting faster and faster on road marathons, he is going to get under my 2:37 PR sure, I’m sure! Last week, he actually took 2nd overall at the hilly SF Half in 1:18.

We got to the start around 5:50, ample time to pick our bibs and snap a few pictures of the early start, then chat with other runners before our 7am start. Here is Race Director, Adam Ray (Scena Performance), sending off the early starters at 6am.

Right off the bat, at 7am, our race was dominated by Excelsior, whom I nickname yellow jackets with their bright yellow and black tops (except Cliff who is running for them but wears a white top).

Despite a sub 7-minute first mile, I was already in 7th or 8th place, I couldn’t exactly tell. The course was changed again this year and it was quite a long gradual climb for the first 7 miles, but I managed to stay behind Cliff, not without a good sweat and deal of effort. Yes, it had been a long time since I trained that hard in a uphill, I could feel it!

Carrying two Ultimate Direction bottles, one with GU Energy Brew, and getting my energy from fat (my new diet) and Vespa, I didn’t need to stop at the aid stations so we alternated positions when Cliff was making his occasional refill stops. A sustained effort got us to pass 2 other runners (1 Excelsior and 1 Pamakids).

On the climb to Skyline Gate, mile 15.5, Cliff actually passed Jay, but I was too short of breath and torque to respond to the acceleration. I saw Jay leaving the aid station as I was getting in, but had to refill my GU2O bottle at mid course, which took me a couple of precious minutes.

From there, it was a sprint to see if I could make up some time on Cliff. I caught up with Jay at the bottom of the treacherous French Trail, and we climbed back on the other side of the canyon together, unfortunately with some walking on the super steep sections. I actually passed Jay before the ridge, then closed the gap with the next runner ahead. That was Nate Seltenrich, whom I caught up with as well at the very end of our Ohlone 50K race in May.

Actually, we both passed another runner, just before going through Big Bear aid station for the second time, I think it was Erik Gobbell. At Big Bear, I asked a volunteer who was recording our bibs, how many runners were ahead and he said that Nate was in third. That meant that Cliff was now in second, wow! That gave me a surge to push in the next big uphill, so much that I did pass Nate before reaching the ridge. I then flew down the next section to Bort Meadow where I just slowed down to ask how far ahead Cliff was: "2 minutes!"

I still had about 7 miles to go, and I had to double on S!Caps as I could feel some nagging cramps coming. Yet, my next mile was 6:47! I was actually visualizing Cliff running strong and fast too but thought that maybe, if I could shave 15 seconds off every mile...

At this point though, it became even more important for me to keep pushing in order to break 4 hours. But finishing 3rd was a great outcome if I was going to miss the age group win, so I did check behind too if someone was also accelerating in the last miles.

The last mile was on a new asphalt section so I ran as fast as I could and managed to finish in 3 hours, 58 minutes and 57 seconds, phew! I was really happy with that but my joy got tarnished a few seconds later when I heard the announcer say that I was in... 4th place. Dang, so long for the tip I got at Big Bear, although that probably helped me pushing harder actually!


Meanwhile, as a matter of fact, Tim Comay (Excelsior) had won in 3:44:03, followed not by Cliff but Jay's friend, Yu Hsiao, a competitive triathlete, who took second in 3:50:48, for his first ultra! And Cliff? He had finished in 3rd indeed, 56 seconds ahead of me, that was close, but that emulation doesn't impede our camaraderie, on the contrary!
Kudos to the top 3 then:
By the way, Jay finished in 6th, in 4:04:12
On the women side, Kristina Randrup, 19, had great hopes after taking 2nd here last year. While she indeed led for a good portion of the race, that wasn't counting on the experience of Caroline Boller who holds many National Championship titles. Caroline ran 4:25:41 today, Kristina, 4:33:51.
Out of 12 consecutive Skyline 50K, that was my 8th time breaking 4 hours. I felt I ran strong today,  the weather was perfect and everybody had a shorter course (about 0.9 mile short) so, looking at others' times, I'm not sure why we haven't been faster. For one thing I found the first part harder. Looking forward to hearing from other veterans of this event.

Speaking of which, Adam went out of his way to create 5-year Skyline 50K awards, that's a cool 3D memorabilia to add to the collection!
I stayed for an hour and a half to enjoy the BBQ and meet other finishers but we had to drive to Berkeley to meet Greg early afternoon so missed quite a few of you, sorry! Still managed to see our team Captain, Loren, finishing, a day after racing The Ridge 60K, this is bold!
A great morning on the trails anyway, hoping that everybody finished today! With a 3:50 am wake-up call, better get to bed early this Sunday evening...
Thank you to Adam and his team (Brian, it was great to see you again, good luck at Pine to Palm 100 next month). Thank you for keeping this super long 50K tradition running in the Bay Area and maintaining high standards in both camaraderie (e.g. reminding us of the essence of the trail spirit at the start) and professionalism (e.g. chip timing). Oh, and thank you for the extra burden of recreating the legacy logo on the t-shirt. Here is a nice series!
And special thanks to all the volunteers, especially those at the aid stations I snobbed by not stopping, hope you forgive me! ;-)

Next race: TDS (Tour des Ducs de Savoie) between Courmayeur and Chamonix on 8/29. Where I will regret the smooth and easy trails of Skyline 50K... ;-)

PS: additional pictures from the finish (credit: Agnès)

Tim Comey
Yu Hsiao
Cliff Lentz
Brendan Washburn (8th, and also a 50K Rookie)

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