Sunday, May 19, 2019

Ohlone 50K 2019: what was that?

Oh my, what did they do with my fetish race?! Pouring rain, slippery mud fest, creek crossings, 2 loops, 48F at the start, no wood block trophies, no pilgrimage to Del Valle, a revamped and super fancy website, a BBQ under a tent, a singlet with a new logo, the 32nd edition of Ohlone 50K was completely unrecognizable this year!
I'm kidding, this isn't my race of course, I'm just a big fan, and I'm in awe with what new Race Director, Andres Vega from BAUR (Bay Area Ultra Runners) and his team of dedicated volunteers managed to produce this year. By all accounts, based on what happened in 2015, this edition would have been cancelled given the weather circumstances, if it wasn't for the extra planning and diligence of Andres, as well as his negotiation with the park rangers and their collaboration and willingness to accommodate these crazy ultra runners!

Thanks to the volunteers so attached to this event, we got the first warning and heads-up on Tuesday on Facebook, that a loop format from Sunol could be the option saving the race this year. Later, Andres shared that, like 2015 again, he looked at the possibility to postponed to September but the Rangers didn't want to have a repeat of what we ended up with, 4 years ago, one of the hottest year and many drops because of that (while I strive in such conditions, go figure...).

The new course was confirmed on Friday and we received the new runner instruction packet on Saturday at 6 pm.
Upon checking in at 7 am this Sunday morning, I asked Andre how muddy the trails were going to be and he replied it shouldn't be bad as the Rangers had recently graded the trails so the water could flow over. And then it started pouring rain while I stayed in the car until 10 minutes before the start. Hmm, that was getting really interesting, again, nothing I've seen at Ohlone over the past 12 years (that was my 12th run over 13 years as I missed 2014 to fly to Max's graduation that year after running and winning Silver State 50-mile). Andres was nice to keep the option of asking for a special bib number upon registering; knowing local Scott Trummer and 2017 and 2018 champ was returning, I asked for 3 (my 2018 finish) or 12 (for 12th run) and got 12. I assume I wasn't meant to get an 11th podium this year... (The only time I didn't make the podium was in 2016 when I finished 4th, 15 seconds behind Rémi Delille, that was close!)

Anyway, on the start line, I openly admitted that this wasn't going to be my year. For one thing, I'm rather tired after running 7 major races the past 6 weekends: the 100K Road Nationals 2 days before Boston (although I dropped at 80K/50 miles with asthma in freezing temperatures), Boston, Napa Half Trail Marathon, Big Sur Marathon, Miwok 100K and Quicksilver 100K last week, phew! Crazy schedule with two last-minute additions, the 100K Nationals and pacing at Big Sur. I've never done so much hard back to back racing over 7 consecutive weekends, and I'm of course not getting younger.... Plus all the blogging and 72,000 miles flown in 3 months... Second, I still suffer from a gluteus injury which started in November. Although, after three 10-15K runs this week and extensive stretching on Thursday-Friday, I felt some good progress and was quite excited to see how it would play out this Sunday. With that my main goal was to not fall off the podium cliff too much still and assuredly win my M50-59 age group. Not only for the Pacific Association MUT Grand Prix points, but also for my 12th block of wood!

Andres sent us on park road at 8 am, under the rain. As soon as we hit the trail, it was like we were running in a creek, actually against the current. Scott quickly took the control of the race and I believed I was in 8th or 10th place. Teammate John Burton was not far behind, then a few runners I didn't know. After a few switch backs the single trail was so muddy and slippery, it was like trying to climb on a toboggan. It would have been comical and laughable if it was a group run but that was a race and it made my progression really difficult. Actually, it wasn't just me and, quickly, we closed the gap with Jon Kimura, 2nd last year, who was struggling even more than us. apparently with the wrong choice of shoes (Hoka road shoes?). Myself, I was wearing a pair of Brooks Mazana which I had used only twice in 2017 (Skyline 50K and the Golden Gate cross-country championships) and never since.

With the gluteus injury, I barely did much trail running. Besides, I focused mostly on road racing so far this season: in February, I missed our local 50K Trail Nationals in Auburn (FOURmidable 50K) as I was in Vegas, breaking the M50-54 100-mile Road American Record at the 100-mile Road Nationals. 3 weeks later, I missed Way Too Cool 50K as I was competing in the 50K Road Nationals in New York where I improved the M55-59 American Record as well. Both were mud fests and I see today's conditions mostly as a personal punishment for having attempted to escape the winter trail conditions! You see, guys and gals, it's all my fault, sorry about that... ;-)

After this painful first mile in which we gained 1,000 feet, the downhill wasn't easier either: twice I sled so much laterally that I thought I'd fly in the cows' pasture, scary! And the bad news: for every step I was sliding, either laterally, backward in the uphill or forward in the downhill, the gluteus was hurting so bad, that really got on my mind.

Finally, there was a short section before the first aid station at Welch Creek Road, mile 3, which offered good footing, plus a few hundred yards of smooth asphalt on Welch Creek Road itself. And then we were back to the mud fest for most of North loop. (Photo credit for next 3 pictures: Noah Simcoff)
Only 10 or so runners had gone through so I could still see some patches which seemed to offer some traction. Later on, it was like 100 cows had gone on the course, turning it into a really messy battle field. A posteriori, I still wonder how the Rangers authorized to use this trail because, it's no secret as of Sunday evening, we quite damaged it...

I ran most of the loop not too far behind another teammate, Stuart Taylor, Quicksilver 100K Co-RD, and another runner with a blue rain jacket (I kept my black rain jacket the whole way today as rain showers kept coming and going).

I actually passed that other runner as he made a quick stop at our second passage through Welch Creek Road aid station at mile 9, and ran the next 5 miles behind Stuart without being able to close the gap. We didn't stop at the Backpack aid station (cool to see Catra there), and I could see John not far ahead, but I lost Stuart in the Cerro Este trail and even more at Sunol as I stopped by my car to take care of some chaffing with all this humidity.

I stopped quickly at the Sunol aid station, hoping to get some Coke, to no avail, and swallowed another GU gel instead, before returning on the second loop, starting with this ugly slippery and steep uphill. It was raining but not as much as at the start, so the water stream on the trail had stopped. Instead, I let you imagine the conditions of the trail after 150 runners had gone through earlier in the morning: not pretty and really impractical. As I mentioned above, the first time it was somehow laughable, now, with tired legs, it was ugly and I had so much difficulty moving up with by left gluteus yelling at every other step. (Photo credits x2: Cynthia Chiu)

After that painful climb, I tried to push more on the slippery way down and eventually passed a runner at the bottom of Flag Hill Road. A runner not in the race, Tom Qin had pointed me in 8th place (while I thought I was in 6th), that made me 7th. Picture and video from Tom:

Alternating walking and jogging on the loop I couldn't see anyone behind for that whole loop but I could feel I was really slowing down in every uphill. As I entered this loop for the second time, I was blown away to see Scott finishing it! I had just passed mile 19, he was at 25. I told him he was amazing but I was also thinking how insanely fast that was in such conditions! And to my second surprise, he had two runners not far behind him, wow! I typically do well at Ohlone when it's super hot and others falter, but also when I have enough traction to run the uphills. Well, certainly no podium today, even the Ultrasignup ranking was going to get a big hit! From this point I tried to focus on keeping my placing and, as I stated above, win my age group. That meant keeping moving and not cramping. To this point, and I can't remember such an occurrence since I started running ultras 13 years ago, I had forgotten my S!Caps at home. Thankfully it was rather chilly today yet I was sweating under my rain jacket so I paid extra attention to drink both my GU2O/GU Brew bottles today.

Shortly after I left the Welch Road aid station for the 4th and last time, I heard some clapping and feared that must be a runner catching up. Sure enough, that runner with the blue jacket caught me in the big climb on Vista Grande Road, and I could even see a runner with a white top less than half a mile behind. Geez, top 10 today might be even more difficult than I thought. I managed to stay close behind him all the way through the Backpack Camp aid station and, like with Stuart in the morning, I lost him on the narrow Cerro Este trail. I did check several times behind me while pushing the pace on the fire road, around 7:30 min/mile finally, and managed to finish in 7th place, in 5 hours and 38 minutes, my worst Ohlone in 12 years, geez, not my conditions at all! (Photo credits: Keith Blom)

I stayed at the finish for 2 hours, seeing other runners finish and enjoying some food, including a delicious burger prepared by volunteers cooking under a canopy this year as it was still raining consistently. Scott had won in 4:24 as I could recall. Our Quicksilver Ultra Racing team did quite well with John taking 4th for his birthday, and Stuart a few minutes behind in 5th (~5:25).

Well, not quite... I wrote this post earlier this evening, while waiting to drive to SFO to pickup Agnès and Greg, on their way back from Alex's graduation this time (yes, I missed it to run Ohlone and attend the Toastmasters District 101 conference yesterday...), and before the results got published on Ultrsignup (super promptly I must say!). While Scott won in an amazing 4:26 indeed, second place was Adam Zastrow just 7 minutes behind, quite a remarkable performance to win the Masters division too! 3rd Jason Harcum, 30 minutes after Adam, then Damin Resh, 5:11, John in 5th (5:30), Stuart (5:33), Doug (5:37) and I in 8th (5:39:13, 32 more seconds than the elapsed time on my GPS, odd).

Well... and this is another update a week later, it appears that, very unfortunately, Adam made a wrong turn on the course and missed the Backpack Camp aid station and got disqualified, bumping all of us but Scott by 1 slot up. I'm still so impressed by Adam's performance as I'm sure this only accounted for a few minutes.

Also, if I lost you with this convoluted description of the loops and muddy ups and downs, here is Relive's 3D flyover. Note the elevation profile on the upper right of the animation (click on the image below, or that link).
Again, what a special/unusual edition for Ohlone but kudos to Andres and his whole team of volunteers who managed to keep the tradition alive for Year 32! Vey sincere thank to all of you, you rock!!! Keith capturing me joking with Andres right after the finish:
There were several photographers on the course, also braving the elements, I look forward to getting a few pictures to include in this post and prove you that I'm not exaggerating above when talking about the mud. Meanwhile, and to allow for another same-day report, here is one before a much needed leg wash at home...
I'll post an update later with more pictures then but, meanwhile, the crazy-super-cool-and-dedicated volunteer driving this special car challenged me to post a same day race report again, so here you are!
And with that, time to drive to SFO, then take a much deserved break, while many of you are now firing up for by goals and a few big 100-mile events for example in June and July! Stay healthy all!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You forgot some to mention the ladies in the QS Ultra team... some scored points too. Also, that's Chihping's car with all the awesome decals.