Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Ohlone Wilderness 50K: Chasing... myself!

[More pictures from Agnès and I - As usual, don't forget to download the ones you like before I clean up my Picasa space]

Wilderness. The nirvana of trail running. The perfect recipe to find your inner self.

The race actually started the night before, with a pasta party at my house. We were 23 to celebrate the visit of Leo in the Bay Area this weekend. Leo has moved to Eugene, OR, last year. We were used to do tempo runs on Saturday morning at the Los Gatos High School track with Derrick, Bob and Tony (see Bob and Tony in my Boston Marathon race report). In 2005-2006, we extended the workouts with two speedwork sessions at Homestead on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:50 (am!). We still hold these sessions when we are not traveling, with Bob, and everybody's welcome. I named our group LEATHER for LEo Athletic Track Homestead Early Runs, so LEATHER we celebrated that night. I had also invited other running buddies from my club, the Stevens Creek Striders, as well as Tim and Amir (see Human Race). Perfect company to enjoy Agnès' pastas and deserts. Just passed on the wine and beer, not part of my pre-race diet. Leo and Bob in the hot tub:

Because Ohlone is a point to point course, there is a bit of logistic around. Runners are asked to park at the finish in Livermore, and take the bus (sic) to the start line. A bus? You must be kidding me, I thought a moment I joined the wrong race, after all, Bay to Breakers was starting at the same time, that same Sunday morning. Look at one of the limos! I don't think there is another ultra in the world offering such amenities...
Anyway, Agnès was nice enough to drive us (Peggy and I) to the start line, so we saved 1 hour of sleep. Everything counts for a long day on the trails. At every race there is more people I know, very enjoyable. I said it in other blogs, it is so special and different from the anonymous marathon crowds, and also from the pride of some runners in short(er) distance races. With Agnès at the start I could enjoy using the camera and taking pictures of familiar faces. Including the long line to the porta-potties, less than 15 minutes to the start... At least, this we share with marathoners! ;-)
Here are a few running buddies from our Saturday morning Mid-Penninsula runs, also called the "Pierre Tardif" group: Mike, Greg, Chris, Jean, Craig, Denise, Charles.

Also, from the Striders: Mark, Peggy, Christina, Charles, Terry, Dennis, Anil (and I! ;-). Peggy and Christina:

Agnès took control of the camera for the start. Among some great pictures, I particularly like this one, as we are taking off and all focusing on starting our clocks. No false start and, despite taking off for several hours on the trail, every second counts!
Just before the start, local runner (and body builder!), Will Gotthardt, stopped to introduce himself has he had left a comment on my Miwok post. He shared some tips about the course profile, which happened to be precious for me. Basically he told me the first hill was really really steep, but the second more gradual. Although so knoweldgeable about the course, and it was his first ultra, he started upfront and took the lead on a trail so steep, it seemed like we were climbing stairs. 2,000 ft in the first 4.5 miles, that's almost double Rancho San Antonio's PG&E (a South Bay park). PG&E (the trail, not the company!) is my favorite hill and mental training. Before Miwok I had done 4 of them (4x8 miles). According to the elevation chart, Ohlone represented 5 to 6 "PG&Es" in terms of elevation. Here is an overlay of Ohlone's elevation profile, with a simplisitic one of Rancho's PG&E, and the (in)famous Quad Dipsea.
After the first "PG&E" (1,550ft), we had a nice recovery down hill through some Alpine meadows. Cows on the side of the trail were wondering why we were rushing climbing to Mission Peak. A bull, right in the midle of the trail, started getting upset and nervous with the traffic, not sure how he behave with the rest of the pack. This reminded me of some runs in the French Alps, great memories. Very different from the woods we run in, on the other side of the Bay.
I passed Will after the meadows, getting in Kevin Sawchuck's footsteps, not far from Mark Lantz. Alterning power walk and jogging like us, Graham had already a few hundred-yard lead. Right before the sumit: Mark (Lantz), I, Try, Kevin, chasing Graham (photo credit:
Jeremy Graham, a student photographer, shot from the Mission Peak summit, courtesy of his friend Will Gotthardt):
Before the summit, we passed Lee Jebian who had taken an early start. Lee turned 65 on Monday, so a nice way to celebrate, with Winnie volunteering and crewing throughout the day. Such a nice couple, so dedicated to ultra, and appearing at so many events, to either run or help out!
Troy Howard passed me right after Mission Peak, in a section a bit too technical for the road shoes I had picked for the day, betting the cushioning will help on the downhill fire roads (Brooks brand, like Graham, but the Trance model for me). A bet which proved good quickly as we were flying down to the Laurel Loop aid station on a nice fire trail. Seems like I was the only one stopping to the aid station, albeit shortly, so I had to sprint to catch-up with the others. My marathon training gave me quite some speed in this first downhill and I caught up with Graham just before Sunol. Grabbed a peanut butter/jelly sandwich and got off as he just stopped for fluids.

So here we were, at the beginning of a 10-mile 3,200 ft up-hill. As we started the climb I told Graham that, if he'd wait for me at the finish, I'd like to interview him for Ultrafondus, a great ultra magazine in France. Nice stop at Backpack Area, greeted by legendary Ann Trason and Carl Andersen. Some food again for me, but not for Graham. Here is Ann, all smile at photographer, runner and blogger, Chihping Fu (more pictures of the course and runners in Chihping's Ohlone photo album):

I was quite intimidated to be in the race lead but felt the slope was not as bad as I feared from the profile. So we kept going and, by mile 13, Graham let me take the lead. Was nice to find the Goat Rock aid station, at about half way to the summit. Yet another 1/4 of a sandwich, electrolyte refill, 2 glasses of coke. All the way up I was thinking we will top at 5,000ft. So I kept looking at my GPS thinking we had way more to go. At the top, we had a short loop, allowing to see other runners. I saw Troy, Graham and Mark Tanaka, I was not sure where Mark Lantz was. We were still at 3,500 ft, so I was expecting another "PG&E", especially as I remembered the warning "at this stage you are not done with up-hills" in the course description posted on the web. Indeed, yet other steep climbs before and after Stewarts Camp and Schlieper Rock aid stations, making the presence of the volunteers in bright orange t-shirts even more welcome. Then, from the last aid station, Stromet Spring, a "chute" of 2 miles to the finish. Racing against the clock, although I didn't know what the course record was exactly.

A thrilling experience to finish first of course, but a lot of respect for Graham's performance who finished 2nd, shaving 35' off his 2005 winning time, passing Troy after the summit, all that after setting a course record at Quick Silver 50-mile, a week ago! Troy, Mark T and Mark L followed, under 5 hours. Kevin was next, happy to keep the (new) course record with a 101" margin. As for me, I did improve by 30' the 40-49 age group record, set by Mike Topper, whom I train with on Saturday mornings, and who completed 5 consecutive top 10 Western States finishes between 1998 and 2002. Records are meant to be broken, and will continue in the future for sure.

Great post-race buffet with an amazing and entertaining chef, who is now an artist, sculptor, yet remembers very well his cooking years!
Caren was the top woman, improving the course record set by Kami Semick in 2004, quite a reference! Interesting how Caren and I were both the Dick Collins Rookie awardees at Fire Trails 50 miles last year. Caren complained she was not feeling well at the start and the finish, but rightly noted that the steep profile may suit our short sizes better. Here is our "little" secret! ;-)
Graham was kind enough to respond to my interview questions, I learnt a lot on such an accomplished and cool athlete. Will work on the transcript shortly, although maybe only after next weekend WS training camp. Although meant to be published in this French magazine, some of you have asked to see it in English, so stay tuned...
A big thank you to the RDs, Rob and Larry for keeping this Ohlone Wilderness 20 year tradition so enjoyable, the outstanding support of the volunteers at every 5 miles, despite very remote locations, and the friendly ambiance among this 150-runner field.
Overall, it was hard on the legs, as expected. Wonderful Alpine landscapes. Good mental training, accumulating the "PG&Es". Good fluid and food management experience. Thrilling experience to run strong when asthma is not kicking in like at Miwok or Way (not) too cool. And with all that, I'm still amazed at how yesterday's Silver State must have been so much more brutal with 20,000ft elevation over 50 miles. If you look back to the above elevation charts, seems like there is no easy correlation between elevation and time. 4:20 last November at Quad Dipsea (a way more technical trail with hundreds of stairs), 4:30 in a 4xPG&E training run last month, 4:40 at Ohlone. A good potential "business intelligence" problem for mathematicians and physiologists. No matter what, there is alway farther and faster achievements in ultra. And back to the title, countless challenges to find your inner self.

Ready for more miles at training camp, then tapering in June!


Catherine Granger said...

Super le blog! Sympa les photos! Moi, je me contente de faire mon petit jogging d'une 1/2 heure tous les matins...

willgotthardt said...


Again, congrats on an amazing effort...as obviously impressed as I am with your running abilities, even more so with your friendly & humble demeanor.

Great to meet/chat with you.

Bodybuilder?!?! ;-)

See you around, all the best at WS100.

Cheers, Will G.

Chihping Fu 傅治平 (超馬阿爸) said...

Congrats on your winning. Thanks for the wonderful report. Very impressive performance!

Glad to run with you for a while at lunch time today. It's a thrill to run with the winner a few days after the race. Now I know how your easy jog is like my tempo run :-)

Enjoy the WS100 training camp and have a blast in States! I'll be safety patrol there.


Scott Dunlap said...

Now the Ohlone champion! I have big expectations for States now. ;-)

Congrats on the win. I knew it was only a matter of time!


Zachi Baharav said...

Great Blog, and great run!!

There's something special about making that cut to being the first, and you made it: congrats!

It is always a pleasure to run and chat with you.

Enjoy the memorial-weekend training runs, and good luck in WS (i'll be visiting France during that time: strange world) !!


Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Big congrats, Jean-- it was definitely your day, and a great report to match. You rock.

A lot of us must've been extra happy with how well we ran. I doubted if I could cut another 13 minutes from last years time to come under 5 hours.

I also find the altitude/time correlation interesting. I think it has a lot to do with the runnability of the downhills (allowing you to make up time lost going uphill) and how interspersed (faster) vs. clumped (slower) the climbs and descents are. But I am not a rocket scientist... Also remember also that Quad Dipsea is almost 3 miles shorter than a 50k.

Hope training for States goes well--won't see you for a while.

Jean Pommier said...

Thanks for reading, guys, and the encouraging comments. See you all on the trails in the coming weeks, to learn and push our limits.

Catherine, it's good to know you are running too. I like your cool website. You surely need to run one mile per wine you taste, deal? Maybe two when you finish the bottle... ;-) And living right on such great trails, Matthieu has no excuse not to follow you!


Anonymous said...


Awesome job! I'm psyched to see you finally pick up the big win, and looking forward to seeing you put it together at Western States.

See you soon,

Anonymous said...

Some words in french :

Bravo pour tes performances renouvelées et ta passion ...

Super reporting !

Mes amitiés à toute ta famille.