I was fortunate to run in another great Pacific Coast Trail Runs (PCTR) event this weekend at Skyline Ridge! This time I participated in the 50k run. I ended up finishing first place in 3:58:11, my first sub four hour effort over 50k on a relatively tough course with continuous hills throughout (some steep) amounting to 5,190 feet of elevation gain. The weather started out partly cloudy with temps in mid 40’s and finished bluebird with temps warming into the mid-upper 50s. Blustery 20-25 mph Northwest winds provided some additional challenges atop Russian Ridge. There were several points along this spectacular course where I felt very lucky to be a resident of the Bay Area!
Due to my relative inexperience, I didn’t have any specific goals for the run other than giving a good, consistent effort. I also wanted to take all the steps (hydration, salt intake, solids) to avoid cramping, which haunted me from my one other experience running a 50k – the Cle Elum Ridge 50k in WA state last September. At the Cle Elum event, I started out too fast and was not diligent in hydration resulting in severe cramping in my calf beginning 15 miles into the race. This caused me to jog/hobble for the rest of the race, substantially curtailing my potential. I have never had cramping like that so it was something new for me – a learning experience I did want to repeat!
The Skyline Ridge course is divided into two sections: the first 23k is an out-and-back south from Skyline Ridge to Long Ridge and features 2,170 feet of elevation gain and spots where the runner can get into a rhythm in the forest. The final 37.5k involves two identical loops north of Skyline Ridge to Russian Ridge. Each of these loops entails 1,510 feet and numerous hills to negotiate on an exposed ridge.
The first 23k was really nice and I felt super comfortable running 7 minute pace because this is my usual “long run” training distance and pace. I came through the 23k aid station at 1:42 and after fortifying myself for a few minutes, I set out for the first of two 13.7k loops at 1:45:40. The first loop continued to feel good despite blustery 20-25 mph Northwest winds on Russian Ridge. I finished the first loop in 63 minutes, arriving at the aid station just after 1:49.
At this point I thought about the course record (3:55:05 by Chikara Omine in 2005) and my chances of improving it. I was briefly encouraged by the fact that I beat his 37k split time of 2:52:47, but as I left the aid station at 2:50:28, I quickly realized running up the first hill that a 64 minute final loop would be a very tall order for me. I simply didn’t have the kind of finishing strength necessary to hammer out another 63 minute loop and I encountered difficultly with the hills over the final 8.5 miles. Also, due to a change in the finish location, the race directors told me an additional .3-.4k was added to the course (2-3 minutes by my estimate, so it may have still been close). I ended up doing the second loop in a little over 67 minutes, a noticeable slowdown from my earlier pace. Nonetheless, I am very pleased with the result and the fact that I did not cramp this time.
I was successful in staying on top of hydration and nutrition. I took in four gel shots over the course of the run, half of a Powerbar, and this new product – the Clif Shot Block Cramp Buster (7 blocks). I think the Clif Shot Block was pivotal because I was able to consume something solid (calories) and absorbable that my stomach did not object to. The Shot Block Cramp Buster was the source for the vast majority of my sodium intake and it was sufficient. I was intending to eat two Powerbars, but a half bar didn’t even sit well. However, I did feel the half Powerbar was ultimately helpful.
It was great to chat with both familiar faces and new friends at the end of the race and munch on the great post-race food. Congratulations to the other runners who participated in this fabulous event. Without looking at the results for other performances, I can already comment that the men’s 50k was definitely the finest field ever assembled for this event, including Jon Olsen (2nd – 4:08), Thomas Clarke (3rd – 4:11), Kevin Weil (4th – 4:15), Sean Lang, Ryan Commons, Scott Dunlap, and Mark Tanaka.
The effort today was a huge personal improvement from the inexperienced cramping debacle at Cle Elum. While I don’t plan on racing 50k for a couple months, I know there is also much potential for me to improve at the distance, especially in the latter stages where both physical and mental strength are imperative. Thanks PCTR for another fun day in the hills!