Monday, August 4, 2014

Skyline 50K 2014: all chicked rise!

I'm on jury duty this week so I thought I'd use some court verbiage in my blog for a change, I'll explain the title later in this post.

As you could read from my previous post, I was in Columbus, OH last week. I was supposed to fly out from Port Columbus, the local international airport, at 8 pm but was able to get to the airport earlier and got on a stand by flight at 1:30 pm, which could have gotten me to SFO around 6 pm instead of midnight. I always try to get at least one good night of sleep 2 days before an ultra so that would have been nice. Unfortunately, some bad weather over Chicago got in the way and started derailing our plans, the Friday afternoon consulting commuters. It takes 47 minutes to fly the direct route between CMH and ORD but it took us twice that much to go around the weather, flying over St Louis instead (see the green line below).
By some miracle, and some loyalty to United Airlines, I managed to get on the 7 pm flight out of ORD and, from the 6.5 hours I had before my flight in Columbus, I ended up in SFO 1.5 hours earlier than the original schedule, all the rest was wasted in waits from stand by flights to stand by flights. Anyway, I got 8 hours of sleep, much more than the previous nights, at least...

I was excited to run Skyline 50K again this year. It was going to be my 8th consecutive run out of 33 editions of this event, one of the oldest 50K races in the US if not the oldest (see Sarah's great post about the long history and unique character of Skyline 50K). All the previous years I've been running against the clock on this hilly but quite runnable course. 3:48 in 2007, 4:17 in 2008 when I injured my quads in the Alps a week before then came up with the stupid idea of strangling it for 20 miles, then 3:54 in 2009, 3:43 (2010, my PR so far), 3:46 (2011), 4:07 (2012, taking it easy as I was still recovering from my broken shoulder) and 3:57 last year. Adding all these times, I am at 27h34 for 7 runs and I started thinking of a new goal of averaging less than 4 hours for as many years as possible, like the 1,000 miles in 10 days buckle at Western States (10 finishes under 24 hours). That's the beauty in ultra, you can always set your own challenges and goals, ultra running has no limit, by definition and design...! ;-)

This race has seen quite a few impressive young and promising runners so the age group course records are hard to set, but it's getting easier in the older groups. In our M50-59 group, Kevin Rumon from Tamalpa had set it to 4:13:24 in 2012, and I thought that one was at reach although I don't really need the extra points to win this year's Grand Prix again (a big shout out to Gary Wang for keeping all the race stats online on his website!, note to forget our Grand Prix standings for the past decades). But the real goal for today was to win the team competition and get the only point which is missing us to tie with Excelsior in the men competition.

Race Director, Adam Ray, allowed for quite a few runners to get an earlier start at 6 am. With the thick fog, it was still quite dark but thankfully, the first 2 miles are on a paved road.

The official start was at 7 am and off we were, with the bright yellow tops of the Excelsior team taking the first spots. I settled in 10th and heard John and Jeremy talking about a gal who ran a 2:38 marathon. Sure enough, she was just in front of me, I was already chicked, right off the bat, yikes! But I decided not to panic (!), that we had still 30 miles to go and things may change. Stephen, from our team was in 3rd, behind the lead guy with a white top and another Excelsior in yellow. I was running with another Excelsior, Karl Schnaitter. Karl is 18 years younger and getting stronger race after race, I was anxious to see how he and his teammates were going to fare on this course. And I was hoping John and Jeremy were just behind, covering our third base...

At mile 6, after going through the Grass Valley aid station, we were flying down Jackson Grade and I managed to unchick myself, phew. Well, just for a minute as Yiou passed Karl and I again on the next uphill on Stone Ridge. We didn't stop at Bort Meadow aid station and I could see Stephen and Yiou but not the lead guy anymore. I passed Karl, then another Excelsior, Tim Comay, and managed to keep Yiou and Stephen in sight up to the turnaround at Skyline Gate, at mile 14.4. I was now in 4th.

Karl was close behind for the next 3 miles and passed me by mile 19 before we returned to Big Bear. I felt like pushing the pace to be able to keep up with him which I was able to do for the next 8.5 miles, through the Bort Meadow and Honker Bay aid stations. It wasn't my pace, I would have gone slightly slower if it wasn't for the team competition, thinking that Stephen was still upfront neutralizing the lead runner. Approaching Honker Bay aid station, photo credit Erica Teicheira:
Unfortunately, I saw Stephen a few hundreds yards ahead of us as we exited Honker Bay and, now on the rolling trail along Lake Chabot, Karl was pushing the pace even harder. Karl passed Stephen as we had about 2 miles to go and I asked Stephen to stick with me, telling him that I didn't know what was going on behind us but that I thought every seconds were going to count. I kept pushing to get as close as possible to Karl and, eventually, we closed on Yiou. That gave me a kick and I decided to "attack" with one mile to go, passing both Karl and Yiou at the bottom of a short but steep hill. With that final sprint, I managed to finish second in 3:52, 9 minutes behind first place, Evan Sparling, who, unfortunately for us Quicksilver, was also running for Excelsior. The don't have Chikara Omine putting points this year but, jeez, a 2:26 marathoner, I'm really too old to match that! Here I am with Evan and Karl, for the Men podium:
Yiou, 29, took first overall and, in an outstanding performance, exploded the Female course record by 21 minutes (her time was 3:53:28, while the previous record was previously set by Danielle Widenmann in 2009 at 4:14:38, and she was 26). In a less dramatic performance, I did improve our AG CR by 21 minutes, this should stick for a few years.

Stephen finished a minute behind Karl so we were 10:14 minutes behind at this point with two runners each. There was quite some suspense while we were waiting for the rest of the teams to come in, the 3 best times counting for the points. And, 16 minutes behind Stephen was... Tim Comay from... Excelsior, followed by Jeremy, 8 minutes later. Bottom line: Excelsior: 11:46:33, Quicksilver: 12:04:54, still missing a point, yikes!
Our Club President, Greg Lanctot, had stopped by to witness and enjoy such an exciting and close finish. Thanks to Adam and his crew of volunteers, we had a great social gathering while the rest of the team and the runners were getting back to the barn. For Quicksilver: myself, Stephen, Jeremy, John, Tim, Stuart, Harris, Greg, Amy, Cecilia, David, Jim, Loren, Kat. Great way to rally and represent the club, all!

Overall, I was happy with my fueling strategy today, Vespa plus 3 GUs taken strategically before the key hills. All our run was in the fog or under the cloud, the sun making its appearance around 12:30 pm. I'm now at 31:26 hours for 8 Skyline races, a good margin under the 4-hour average (for what it is worth, that is nothing in particular... ;-). Ultra race #102 and 47th 50K race, getting closer the the 50x50K milestone!

By the way, back to the title, I really thought Yiou was going to chick us all, like Lisa did at the PCTR Summer Solstice in June. Not quite this time but it was close and I have a strong feeling that she will next time she joins us on the trails when not working on her Olympic Marathon trials.

Big thanks to Adam for perpetuating such an amazingly long lasting and friendly tradition in the Bay Area. Special mention to his kids who "had" to attend the post race party... Although I only stopped at one aid station to get some water, huge thanks to all the aid station volunteers for being out there and giving up their Sunday so we could enjoy this race and these great trails. That also includes all the park volunteers and Ham Radio folks who contributed to our safety again this year, many that I recognize year after year. And we had a few photographers on the course too, including the omnipresent volunteer, Noe Castanon (see my TRT race report):
Last but not least, and sorry that the picture didn't work out, big shout out to Steve Patt, the owner and software developer of Stevens Creek Software, for timing us with his handy timing system. The results were updated in real time and you can find them on line.

I look forward to many more of these Skyline runs, a summer treat on our local ultra running circuit. And, like if one treat wasn't enough for August, I'm in Tamalpa Headlands 50K in 3 weeks! Time to build back some speed after the longer races of the second quarter. Great seeing so many familiar faces today, looking forward to seeing many of you again on the trails!


Anonymous said...

Great run Jean! Putting the hammer down at the end, that was just impressive...


Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Great job, Jean! I wanted to stop by after napping after my 100 miler in Marin, but I would've eaten half the food and I hadn't talked to Adam about volunteering (though apparently Adam said I shouldn't hold back.)

Unknown said...

Great race report, I will have to come back and do Skyline 50k in a couple years after our stint in Boulder!

Karl Schnaitter said...

So, you're saying that next year you will be a year older, and I will be a year faster? ;-) I don't expect you to be slowing down, though. It was so amazing to watch your finishing sprint, that I started cheering for you! Very humbling to say the least.

Jean Pommier said...

Thanks for your notes, Jeremy, Mark and Tina.

And, Karl, THANK YOU for setting up the pace from mile 17 to the finish, I wouldn't have dared to push that much if it wasn't for our friendly team competition. With your great spirit you are getting stronger at every race, yes, you have many faster years ahead! ;-)