Ohlone 50k 2011

The Ohlone Wilderness 50k, always arduous but strikingly beautiful, is a classic point-to-point course travelling from Fremont to Lake Del Valle in Livermore. The terrain of this part of the Diablo Range is characterized by gorgeous grassy hillsides, heritage oaks, and gray pine forest. The high ridges leading up to the 3,817 ft summit of Rose Peak offer spectacular views of the Bay Area and surrounding mountains. With around 8,000 feet of often steep climbing and equally steep descending, it’s a real test of toughness, both mentally and physically. Last year I was able to run solid throughout and post a nice time of 4:16:28, breaking my own course record from the previous year by over 13 minutes. I had set the bar high and was eager to see if I could go even faster this year. I went out aggressively with exactly those intentions, but for a combination of reasons described below I wound up with epic cramping in the last seven miles of the course and came up short of this goal coming in at 4:31:20. Nonetheless, I am extremely proud of winning this awesome event for the third consecutive year and, as always, it was pleasure to run through the trails of the Ohlone Wilderness.

Finishing up, tiiight legs. Photo credit Agnes Pommier.

Ascending Rose Peak. Photo by Jørgen Randrup.

There are some valuable lessons to take away from this experience to improve for the future. Obviously something went wrong in my execution to have such severe cramping requiring walking some of the downhills in the last few miles. I think there are three factors that contributed to the cramping episode, all equally important to take into consideration for next time. First, I started out much too aggressively. I describe the first steep climb up 2,517 ft Mission Peak and then down to Sunol (9 miles) as an appetizer for the rest of the course, so I should know better, right? Well, I failed to heed my advice and extended myself too much on this portion. I gambled in my attempt to improve on splits from the start, came in to Sunol a couple minutes faster than last year, but I would pay for it later on. Second, the relatively cool weather belied the need for hydration in the early stages and I was disappointingly complacent with hydration and nutrition. I only started drinking and eating adequately after the cramping began to set in. I have done enough ultras to understand that retroactive does not work, especially on a course like Ohlone with its relentless steep climbing and descending. Third, I had run the Quicksilver 50 miler three weeks prior (my first 50 miler) which took a lot out of me. While I felt recovered in training, the Ohlone course is much more intense in terms of climbing, duration, and energy expenditure than my normal training routes, ultimately manifesting some latent fatigue. Once the cramping set it, I instantly realized improving my time from last year would not be possible. Instead, I focused on fighting through the adversity and getting to the finish while listening to my body and taking a conservative approach to the situation – I felt there was no need to extend myself further potentially causing a tear or strain. In the end, I was extremely grateful to push through the adversity, avoid strains, and win this classic event for the third time.

Top three. Photo credit Agnes Pommier.

The start. Photo credit to Agnes Pommier.

This year only four participants dipped under the five hour barrier. Jesse Haynes was second in 4:46:18, Jean Pommier was third in 4:55:35 (Jean has placed in the top three for five consecutive years with wins in 2007 and 2008!), and Scott McClennan was fourth in 4:58. The top woman was Keira Henninger in 5:38:10 and 2nd through 4th place women were separated by less than 3 minutes! A huge thanks to the race directors and volunteers for putting on another flawless event. Every year I’m always amazed at how well this event is organized despite the logistical issues encountered on this point-to-point event that travels through remote wilderness. Everybody from the race check-in, course marking, aid station crews, and finish line staff did a fantastic job. The BBQ at the Lichen Bark picnic was delicious as usual and it was great to chat with fellow participants and the legendary Dave Scott (aka Mr. Ohlone) who won this event eight times over a ten year period between 1989 and 1998. Thanks to everyone who helped organize this race and congratulations to all the participants!

Complete results HERE.

Photo credit Chihping Fu.

Lots of climbing. Photo credit Keith Blom.

Spectacular scenery. Photo credit Keith Blom.

Post-run relax. Photo credit Chuck Wilson.

Running the gorgeous green grassy hills of the Ohlone Wilderness. Photo credit Keith Blom.

Sweet view of the Ohlone 50k course as seen from space by Joe Swenson and annotated by me (click for larger version).

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