Skyline to the Sea 50k 2011

I look forward to Pacific Coast Trail Runs (PCTR) Skyline to the Sea 50k every year and it was no different on my fourth year running the event. The point-to-point route from Saratoga Gap to Waddell Beach utilizes some of the best single track trails anywhere and passes through the heart of Big Basin Redwoods State Park with its monolithic redwoods and awe inspiring Berry Creek Falls (pictured below). For more details on the course, check out reports from past years: 2008, 2009, 2010. Nearly perfect weather (sunshine and 60’s) greeted runners once again. Surprisingly, trail conditions were great with few blowdowns to negotiate and relatively little mud – a big thanks goes out to trail crew volunteers who take care of these trails so well! As usual, race organization and volunteers did a fantastic job and thanks for all your hard work that went into putting on this logistically complex event.

My goal for the day was to simply go out and enjoy some of my favorite trails while keeping a consistent tempo. This was also my first time racing in the new La Sportiva Crosslite 2.0, which handled the course extremely well. It is hard to not be inspired by your surroundings on this beautiful course so the enjoyment component was easily fulfilled. Overall, the running effort was fairly consistent and my split times (below) closely mirror my splits from last year. However, the last section from Gazos Aid Station to Rancho del Oso Finish was approximately 0.5 km longer this year due to a reroute to avoid a slide on the Skyline to the Sea Trail. The re-route also featured an additional bit of rather steep climbing so I’d say it added about 2.5 minutes to my time. My hamstrings felt a bit twingy on some of the downhill, but I was happy to avoid full-blown cramping with consumption of Margarita 3x Shot blocks and First Endurance EFS Fruit Punch energy drink powder (quick dissolving, great tasting, and effective). Course experience proved invaluable on the long fire road stretch at the end and I was able to find a nice rhythm for the last few miles and lower my Course Record from last year (despite course re-route with the additional hill) by over a minute to 3:24:09. This was also a new PR for the 50k distance. North Face runner Leigh Schmitt arrived in second place in 3:38:19 and Joel Lanz was third in 3:54:35 (complete results here). Congratulations to all the participants and thanks again PCTR for putting on a fantastic event!  My full photo album with a few more photos here.

Comparison between 2008, 2010 and 2011 times:

Aid Station Distance 2008 Time 2010 Time 2011 Time
Waterman Gap 10.5k 40:20 41:03 39:14
China Grade 18.0k 1:14:47 1:14:08 1:12:18
Gazos Creek 25.5k 1:44:52 1:41:55 1:40:17
Gazos Creek 32.7k 2:19:28 2:14:30 2:13:47
Finish 50k 3:38:33 3:25:17 3:24:09

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Race reports from prior years:

My complete photo album.

Quad Dipsea

Muddy but happy at the finish!

The 7+ mile trip from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach along the Dipsea Trail is legendary. Since 1905, a single crossing race of the Dipsea has been held almost every year making it the oldest cross country running event in the nation. The course is spectacular with sweeping views of the rugged Marin Coastline, San Francisco, and Stinson Beach. The trail entails 671 steps in just the first half mile out of Mill Valley and there are also hundreds more steps in the lush, redwood-filled Steep Ravine. The annual Dipsea race in June attracts thousands of people. The Dipsea is a big deal in Marin!

Fortunately, there are fewer runners jumping at the opportunity to run the Dipsea Trail four times, with a cumulative elevation gain of 9,276 ft packed into only 28.4 miles! The Quad Dipsea is held annually on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and this year was the 28th running of the event. I had run the Quad in 2008 in virtually idyllic trail and weather conditions, but was unfortunately sick before, during, and after the event. This year, I wasn’t feeling sick so it was definitely going to be more fun, but inclement weather would make the course even more arduous than it already is.

There was a break in the rain as the event started and I took advantage as best I could running the first leg to Stinson Beach in ~53 minutes. I felt comfortable and continued a similar pace back to Mill Valley in ~55 minutes for a 1:48 double. I was feeling pretty good at the turnaround, but I knew the trail would not be in good condition after 230 people stomped through the wet surface. Moreover, the weather was starting to deteriorate again with moderate rain showers and a cold wind picking up on the ridge. The trails became a muddy, slippery mess, but I still made it back to Stinson in ~61 minutes. The course record (3:52) was within reach at this point and it was great to have the encouragement of Ann Trason, the most accomplished ultrarunner of all time, at the Stinson turnaround. However, sliding in the mud was beginning to take its toll and I became tired climbing the stairs out of Steep Ravine. I still had a chance at the record at the top of Cardiac, but alas, the trail conditions were not in my favor for a sudden acceleration in my pace. Approaching the steep section along Dynamite heading into Muir Woods I took one of several falls, but this wipeout caused some painful cramping that hindered my ability to run up the final climb up to Windy Gap. An extremely generous participant kindly handed me a couple salt tablets that definitely helped keep the cramping at bay (if you’re reading this posting, thank you!). Heading down the final flights of stairs into Old Mill Park, I knew I fell short of the record by a couple minutes, but I was extremely pleased with the effort on this challenging day, finishing in 3:54:29. I am grateful to join Erik Skaggs and Carl Anderson as the only men to run under 4 hours at this venerable event and run the fourth fastest quad ever.

A huge congratulations goes out to Caren Spore, who broke the women’s record running a 4:38:33 (fifth place overall!). Also, my training partner and co-director of Boggs Mountain Trail Races, Gary Gellin, ran an amazing race for second place coming in at 4:02:32. Congratulations to all the participants for braving the conditions and especially those who have finished numerous Quad Dipseas! It was great to chat with other runners after the event and enjoy the snacks and soup. A big thanks to Race Director John Medinger and all the volunteers who make the Quad Dipsea the classic event that it is.

At the bottom of the first flight of stairs

PCTR Stinson Beach 25k

I had a fantastic time at PCTR’s Stinson Beach Trail Run event last Saturday! I ran the 25k, but there were also 12k and 50k options. With perfect weather (sunny and temps rising to the 70s), great trail conditions, excellent race organization, and lots of friends, all the ingredients were there for a fun time. This arduous course in Mount Tamalpais State Park serves up 3,556 ft of ascent for the 25k and 7,097 ft for the 50k. The scenery along the course is simply spectacular with amazing variety. From the old growth redwoods and waterfalls along the Steep Ravine Trail, to the inspiring views of the Marin Headlands and San Francisco descending the Coastal Trail, this course is awesome!

Beautiful view behind the finish area

My run started in a bit of a frenzy. I realized I forgot my race jersey in the car less than 5 minutes before the run was to start. I sprinted the couple hundred meters to the car, got the jersey and then ran back to the start area making it just as the countdown to the start was getting underway. This is not an idyllic way to start a run, but I was able to ease into it as we began our ascent up the Dipsea Trail. I felt good running up Steep Ravine, then down Coastal Trail, and then the flatter Redwood Creek Trail. Running up Deer Park Fireroad and the Dipsea Trail was challenging – it’s a long climb and it was starting to feel warm – but soon enough I was back at Pantoll. The final descent on the Matt Davis Trail is technically challenging requiring full focus, and even more so when the majority of the 12 kilometer runners were still on the trail and very tentative! It’s a long descent back to Stinson Beach, finally exiting Matt Davis Trail and opening it up for the last quarter mile to the finish, coming in 1:52:24.

2nd, 1st, and 3rd in the 25k

La Sportiva Crew! Mark Tanaka, Nathan Yanko, and me

As usual, PCTR put on a fantastic event with flawless course marking, impeccable aid stations, and a great finish area. It was all smiles from participants at the finish area, who relaxed in the fall sunshine enjoying post-race snacks, soup and chili, and hanging out with friends. Stinson Beach looked more like July with tons of people out enjoying the sunshine! A huge thanks to the organizers and volunteers for making this a great event and congratulations to all the runners.

More photos here!

Spectacular Stinson Beach

July or November?

GHTM Splits

Here is a comparison of splits between 2008 and 2010 at the Golden Hills Trail Marathon. For a complete race report, see prior posting here.

Distance (miles) Aid Station Time 2008 Time 2010 Difference
4.3 Steam Trains 33:31 32:07 1:04
7.6 Sibley Park 58:12 54:53 3:19
11.0 Skyline Gate 1:22:20 1:16:52 5:28
15.5 Fern/Canyon Meadows 1:59:04 1:50:44 8:20
20.3 Bort Meadows 2:34:49 2:25:31 9:18
23.2 Bass Cove 2:55:46 2:45:36 10:10
26.2 Lake Chabot 3:16:53 3:06:39 10:14


Golden Hills Trail Marathon 2010

This is my fourth year in a row running the Golden Hills Trail Marathon, which is run in conjunction with the Dick Collins Firetrails 50 mile race. I have enjoyed the event every time and this year was no exception. In 2007, this was a breakthrough race where I was able to establish a new course record and finish well without cramping. In the next two years, I was able to better my course record by 2.5 minutes and then another 1:20. With nearly 5,000 feet of gain and the challenging French Trail to negotiate in the middle portion, this is not an easy course and I found it was difficult to substantially lower my course record. Thus, I approached this year with the goal of simply running faster again.

Fortunately, course conditions and weather were nearly perfect (it was perhaps slightly hot in the exposed sections in the last third, but I’m not complaining). I felt ok at the beginning with some tightness in my shins but fortunately, the legs loosened up allowing me to have a great middle section and gain ground on my previous splits. By the time I got to the last aid station I was nearly 10 minutes ahead of the prior year’s pace and wound up finishing in 3:06:39, nine minutes ahead of 2009’s time of 3:15:34. The first woman was Caren Spore setting a new course record of 6:43:47.

Progression:

  • 2007: 3:19:19
  • 2008: 3:16:53
  • 2009: 3:15:34
  • 2010: 3:06:39

The Firetrails 50 mile is run in conjunction with the Golden Hills Trail Marathon, doing an out-and-back to the marathon starting point, but minus the 1,400+ feet of steep and challenging elevation gain on the French Trail single track (the 50 miler uses the gradual/flat Stream trail fire road instead). Dave Mackey won the race for the second year in a row breaking Carl Andersen’s long standing course record in an amazing 6:19:39 (Carl Andersen ran 6:26:42 in 1994). Former Firetrails champion Chikara Omine was also under the previous record in a blazing 6:23:05. Gary Gellin was third place in 6:43:49, Leigh Schmitt was fourth in 6:52:56, and Victor Ballesteros was fifth in 6:56:09. With five men dropping under the 7 hour barrier, this was easily the most competitive Dick Collins Firetrails 50 in the history of the event.

It is always a joy to run this point-to-point course, which features some great technical single track, sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay Area, and lush redwood forest. Also, the post-race BBQ is one of the best around and in particular, I enjoy the amazing  selection of tasty desserts. As usual, race directors (and ultra running legends) Carl Andersen and Ann Trason did a fantastic job organizing this event (pictured with Gary Gellin and me below). Thanks to the volunteers for all your hard work, it was much appreciated. Lastly, congratulations to all the participants!

Ohlone Wilderness 50k 2010

The Ohlone Wilderness 50k, with twenty three years of history, is a challenging and 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 grassy hillsides, heritage oaks, and gray pine forest. With 8,000+ feet of often steep climbing, and equally steep descending, it’s a real test of toughness. Last year I ran the course for the first time in 4:29:45, setting the course record by about 10 minutes. This year my primary goal was to better my time from last year, and in particular, improve performance on the last third of the course which is deceivingly challenging. With unseasonably cool weather helping, I was able to improve my time by over 13 minutes to finish in 4:16:28. I also ran the last third of the course faster, although I still came up with cramping at the bottom of the last steep climb (something to figure out next time!).

The first 9 miles of the course travels up and over 2,517 ft Mission Peak which is just an appetizer for the rest of the course. The climb up Mission is steep and this year the trail was severely overgrown. The meadows on Mission’s slopes are used by cattle and their uneven hoof prints were concealed by tall grass creating precarious footing. Nonetheless, I was able to make good time into Sunol (~1:10) where the long 10 mile climb up 3,817 ft Rose Peak begins (nearly 4,000 ft of elevation gain). There are always points on this arduous climb that are mentally difficult but I did my best to stay focused and work through the rough spots. The steep hills on this stretch are relentless and virtually the entire way is exposed to the elements, usually sun and wind. I finally made it up to the summit of Rose Peak and enjoyed the spectacular 360 degree views from the summit. The cold northerly winds scoured out any air pollution providing remarkable clarity. I could see San Jose, San Francisco, and Sacramento in the same sweep. The San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean were shimmering and the Diablo Range peaks were bursting with green grass and wildflowers. Inspired by the beautiful scene, I cruised down to Maggie’s Half Acre (~2:48) and refueled for the last 11.3 miles of the course.

Rose Peak might be the highest point on the course, but it is far from the end of the climbing. The route drops into at least three canyons which are followed by steep climbs. From Schlieper Rock Aid Station (mile 25.65) there is only one climb left, but the base of this final hill is an all-to-common cramping spot, myself included. The same thing happened last year so I knew what to expect and I took it easy getting up to Rocky Ridge to keep the cramping at bay. Once atop the last hill, the cramping subsided and I negotiated the steep downhill to Lake Del Valle knowing a BBQ and refreshments were waiting!

Six participants went under the five hour barrier today, something that has not been done on the modern course. Gary Gellin finished in second in 4:33:03 and two-time former Ohlone champion Jean Pommier was third in 4:37:39. Beth Vitalis won the women’s race in 5:26:40, her fifth Ohlone victory. Complete results here. A huge thanks to the race directors and volunteers for putting on a flawless event. I can only imagine the logistical issues that are encountered in organizing this point-to-point event that travels through wilderness. In fact, many of the volunteers at the remote aid stations backpacked in to their spots. The BBQ at the Lichen Bark picnic area is always delicious with great camaraderie among participants. Thanks to everyone who helped organize this event and congratulations to all the participants!

For contrast, here is a video of a foot of snow on top of Rose Peak last December and my gallery of one hundred snowy photos!

Quicksilver 50k

I had a great time at the Quicksilver Trail Races this past Saturday in the scenic and hilly trails and fire roads of Quicksilver Almaden County Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains south of San Jose. The 50k and 50 mile ultras have been held for 27 years with the 25k option added more recently. The ultra races started at 6 am under clear skies with crisp temperatures. After a few minutes, there is steep climb for a mile followed by a steep descent back to near the starting area where a left turn is taken onto the single track of the New Almaden Trail. The 6 miles of single track is a delightful stretch of trail traversing through canyons in oak woodland with wildflower meadows. After the New Almaden Trail, the course is all fire road, but equally scenic with spring wildlfowers in full bloom and spectacular views of the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Clara Valley. While the 5,440 feet of cumulative elevation gain in the 50k (8,530 ft in the mile) means that the course is inevitably hilly throughout, there are several miles of relatively gradual fireroad allowing for a nice rhythm.

My plan was to run consistent throughout by focusing on staying comfortable and refueling. I was able to accomplish these objectives and stay below split times I thought would be feasible. One of the most difficult parts of the 50k is mile 29-30, which features a series of super steep short climbs on the Hacienda Trail, but I was able to muster the energy to move through this challenging area knowing a downhill finish would follow. I ended up crossing the line in 3:30:10, lowering the previous course record by Tim Monaco (3:44:30) set in 2002 by nearly 14.5 minutes. There were great performances all around. Zach Landman won the 50 mile in 6:50 and Gary Gellin took the 25k in 1:44 to break my 25k record from 2008 by a minute.  Congratulations to all participants!

Quicksilver Running Club knows how to put on a great post-race party with a BBQ billed as the “best in the nation.” It’s tough to argue with this statement with a spread that includes all the traditional BBQ items (burgers, hot dogs, baked beans, salad), appetizers, beers, and a marvelous selection of deserts (apple pie, brownies, cookies, ice cream bars, cheese cake, etc.). I even saw some sushi! The race has a great “community” feel with runners mingling at the finish enjoying the beautiful spring weather. Thanks to the Quicksilver Running Club, race directors, and all the volunteers for putting on a top notch event!

Complete results here.

Splits:

  • Dam (mile 9.7): 1:05:57
  • Capehorn (mile 14.5): 1:35:20
  • Dam (mile 19): 2:04:43
  • Dam (mile 23.7): 2:37:12
  • English Camp (mile 27): 3:00:50
  • Finish (mile 31+): 3:30:10

Skyline to the Sea 2010

My third time running Pacific Coast Trail Runs’ (PCTR) Skyline to the Sea 50k was my favorite! With perfect weather (sunshine and 60’s), great trail conditions, and phenomenal race organization, all the pieces came together for a fantastic time on some of the most inspiring trails anywhere.

Berry Creek Falls from Skyline to the Sea Trail

The Skyline to the Sea Trail is a gem travelling from Saratoga Gap along the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains (2,650 ft) to the Pacific Ocean at Waddell Beach. Along the way, it passes through diverse ecosystems, including fir and hardwood forest, knobcone pine over exposed sandstone, and the majestic old growth redwoods of Big Basin State Park, which comprise the most impressive stand of old growth redwoods south of Humboldt Redwoods. The 50k includes an additional 5 mile loop within Big Basin that includes the steepest hill on the course with great views from Ocean View Summit to the Pacific Ocean. While this aesthetic point-to-point is net downhill, there is still over 3,000 ft of climbing and 5,600 ft of descent, often on technical trails which can be tiring.

Having fun at the finish area!

On my past two efforts here, I started out strong only to have some cramping on the long fireroad finish. This time I decided to run more comfortable at the beginning to save myself for the stretch. My time through the China Grade aid station (18k) were very similar to the prior years, but I then allowed myself to get into a rhythm. It helped to descend into the lush and refreshing old growth redwood forests of Big Basin. I felt good coming into the Gazos Creek aid station (25.5k) near the park headquarters and knew I had a great chance to finally run up the entire hill to Ocean View Summit (the past two times I have had to walk portions of this hill). When I crested the hill without walking, my spirits were lifted and I cruised down the Meteor Trail, which is a fantastic descent, but I made sure to not extend myself too much. Back on the Skyline to the Sea Trail and through the Gazos aid station the second time (32.7k), there is one major hill remaining and then it is mostly downhill. I felt good all the way down the single track to Berry Creek Falls with the lushness and beauty of my surroundings spurring me forward.

Majestic Redwoods

I felt relatively strong for most of the fireroad section and only began to feel fatigued with a couple miles to go to the finish. The final stretch along the dirt road in the sun is never easy, but I knew what to expect on my third time running this course and the finish line came soon enough. I crossed the line 3:25:17, a substantial overall PR for 50k and considerably faster than last year’s CR that I set (3:38:05). While the finish of the course was changed resulting in a distance that is 0.6 km shorter (~2.5 minutes) than last year, the time was nonetheless a large improvement and would be under 3:30 and well under 7:00 per mile pace regardless. On the women’s side, trail running superstar Caitlin Smith ran very close to a sub 4:00 performance, coming in at 4:00:48 – congrats on the PR and CR bettering her own record from last year by nearly 17 minutes!

Rancho Del Oso

As usual, PCTR put on a fantastic event with flawless course marking, impeccable aid stations, and a great finish area. It was all smiles from participants at the finish area, who relaxed in the spring sunshine enjoying post-race snacks, soup and chilli, and the wonderfully designed Patagonia Capilene long sleeve shirts. A huge thanks to all the volunteers and helpers who made this event such a resounding success. Also, I’d like to mention the  Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Association, whose hard work the past few weekends cleared the trail of dozens of downed trees from winter storms. While we still had about a dozen trees to crawl under, over, or around, their work made the run considerably easier – thank you for maintaining these beautiful trails! Congrats to all 230+ participants in the marathon and 50k!

Towering giants

Gear:

  • La Sportiva Fireblades – Light, nimble, great traction on all surfaces of this course.
  • First Endurance EFS Fruit Punch – The new formulation is awesome – quick dissolving, effective, and tasty. I haven’t tried liquid calories until recently, but I think the calories and electrolytes consumed early on to supplement gels and chews helped.
  • Ultimate Direction Fastdraw Plus – The classic handheld water bottle that gets the job done every time.
  • PowerBar Berry Blast Fruit Smoothie Energy Bar – Tasty pre-race fuel to energize.
  • Waddell Beach from the finish area

    Comparison between 2008 and 2010 times:

    Aid Station Distance 2008 Time 2010 Time
    Waterman Gap 10.5k 40:20 41:03
    China Grade 18.0k 1:14:47 1:14:08
    Gazos Creek 25.5k 1:44:52 1:41:55
    Gazos Creek 32.7k 2:19:28 2:14:30
    Finish 49.5k 3:38:33 3:25:17

    Finish!

Way Too Cool 2010

I was looking forward to this year’s edition of the Way Too Cool 50k, not so much because I had won the race last year, but more so because it was an opportunity to mix it up with super elites Max King and Geoff Roes. It was an awesome experience to run with these superstars and at the end of the day I was able to successfully defend my title in 3:41:47 with some help from Geoff who ran off course in the late stages of the race after he had come from behind and took the lead.

I arrived the day before the run in heavy rains which dropped an inch or more of liquid on the course. I knew we were in store for lots of mud and wet stream crossings, a stark difference from the dry course conditions the previous year. In fact, there were over a dozen wet stream crossings; one of them was waist deep! Last year, my feet stayed dry the entire race. By comparison, my feet were soaked about 90 percent of this race. Every time we dunked in a stream, the shoes became heavy until the water squished out. I estimate that the muddy and wet trail conditions, especially in the last third of the course, added on another 5-10 minutes.

The morning was cold and frosty, but with a brilliant sunshine I knew it would warm up as the run progressed. I decided to run aggressively from the start and took off in the lead with Max just behind. The pace felt comfortable and the mud was negotiable for the most part. I continued to lead into the first trip through Auburn Lakes Aid Station (~15 miles) with Max King just behind. At this point, Max took the lead but I kept him within my sights as we did the loop back to the second trip through the Auburn Lakes Aid Station. I could not see Max on the return trip of the  Auburn Lakes Trail section, but the participants running in the opposite direction verified that he was only 45-60 seconds ahead. The going along this section became tiresome and slow because nearly 500 hundred runners had stomped through the soft surface creating a slick and muddy mess.

Closing in on the finish

I passed Max just before the Goat Hill Aid Station, but a few minutes later Geoff Roes came flying by on a technical and water-logged downhill. He obviously had more in his tank and was poised to finish strong. At the next stream crossing I misplaced my foot and slightly turned my ankle. Fortunately, the pain went away after 30 seconds so I knew it was only a minor sprain and continued running. What I had lost, however, was my focus. I resolved myself to finishing second and the mud and boggy conditions that continued all the way to the end did not help. When I crossed the finish line I assumed I was in second, but I was nonetheless proud of my performance in the difficult conditions. Then I realized that I had run through a finish tape and thought something must be wrong. Geoff Roes had taken a wrong turn at the junction with the Quarry Trail, heading downhill instead of uphill towards Hwy 49. By the time Geoff realized he was off course he had lost a lot of time and wound up finishing third. Max was running strong until the Goat Hill Aid Station, but struggled in the last few muddy miles and finished in second. Gary Gellin, whom I train with and has accompanied me on several local adventure runs, had a great performance to finish fourth and was the first masters finisher. Also congratulations to Joelle Vaught for winning the women’s race and her second Way Too Cool victory (first time in 2006).

Max King and Me

It was great to chat with runners after the race and soak in the sunshine despite the cool winds. Congratulations to all the participants for braving the muddy and wet conditions and thanks to race director Julie Fingar, all the volunteers, and everybody involved in putting on this fantastic event!

Race coverage:

PCTR Woodside 17k

Fun times at the PCTR Woodside Trail Runs at Huddart Park! This was my third year in a row running the event, which features distances of 10k, 17k, 35k, and 50k. I call it my “home course” since I often run at Huddart. Last year I did the 17k in 1:11:00 and was coming in hoping to break 1:10 this year. Weather forecasts all week predicted  rain for Saturday morning and that is exactly what happened. It was wet out there and I was completely covered in mud by the end. Fortunately, the majority of the trails were resurfaced over the past year with hardpack gravel making it fast even in wet conditions. However, the unimproved sections were covered in sticky, slippery, and deep mud and you can imagine what kind of a mess it was after 500 runners stomped through it!  I had a good run coming in at 1:07:40 (6:23 pace) indicating that I still have some speed despite doing no speed work in months. This PCTR event was excellently organized, as usual. Congratulations to all the participants and thanks to the directors and all the volunteers for making it a great day!

Redwoods in McGarvey Gulch

Bay Tree Trail