Skyline 50k

Last Sunday I had a great experience running the Skyline 50k in the East Bay hills. This race is a classic Bay Area event with 32 years of history. While the course has 4,750 ft of cumulative elevation gain, the route includes 17 miles of fire road and 3 miles of paved road allowing for a relatively fast pace. The remaining 11 miles of the course are on single track including the legendary French Trail in Redwood Regional Park traversing a thickly forested hillside with stately redwoods. The days leading up to the event were very hot in the bay area hills so I was not expecting cooperative weather. However, Sunday morning dawned foggy at Lake Chabot as a little extra push of marine air served to keep temperatures in check throughout the morning. In addition, the early start of the race at 7 am helps to mitigate heat issues.Photo by Adam RayI moved along nicely through the early stages of the race finding a rhythm on the fire roads reaching Big Bear Aid Station in about 58 minutes and Skyline Gate in 1:35. The French Trail was inspirational as usual, despite the inevitable fall-off in pace due to its twisty and technical nature. I was able to move at a consistent pace up the MacDonald climb, a short but steep climb that is never easy but I knew it was the last major climb of the course.  I got into a nice rhythm heading down to Bort Meadows that continued along the Brandon Trail and Cascade Trail. The final stretch of single track around the north side of Chabot on the Columbine Trail included some small hills that slowed the pace down and I was happy to finally reach the Honker Bay aid station. I passed through that aid station in 3:12 and I knew it was going to be close for breaking the legendary Tom Johnson’s course record from 1997, which I recalled was somewhere in the 3:32s. With 20 minutes to run the last 3 miles, I moved at a decent clip through the bridge crossing at the far end of the lake. The pavement for the last 1.5 miles is deceivingly difficult on tired legs with its rolling hills, but with about a quarter mile to go I realized that if I picked up the pace I would have a good chance of breaking the course record. After a hard charge, I arrived at the finish in 3:32:05, lowering the previous course record (3:32:37) by 32 seconds.The organization for this event was phenomenal and a big thanks goes to race director Adam Ray and all the volunteers for making this a great day on the trails for all the participants. The course was well-marked, aid stations were superb, and the post-race bbq was delightful. It was great to mingle with runners as they came in and spend the afternoon picnicking at Lake Chabot. Thanks to all involved with this awesome event!

Inside Trail Marin Ultra Challenge 50 Mile

Photo by the Endurables

Photo by the Endurables; Sunbeams through the fog on Willow Camp Trail

Last Saturday I participated in the inaugural Inside Trail Marin Ultra Challenge, which features 50k and 50 mile distances. It took me literally half of 2012 to do my first race (due to injury), but this was a great one to chose for my first outing. Both courses, designed by Jim Vernon of the Endurables, are arguably the most aesthetic, scenic and challenging ever created in the Headlands and Mount Tamalpais region. There were only a few miles of repetition on the entire course and virtually all the my favorite trails were included. The 50 mile course also featured an ascent of the challenging Willow Camp Trail which gains nearly 2,000 ft in 2 miles from Stinson Beach topping out on lovely Bolinas Ridge. Total elevation gain for the 50 mile event was nearly 11,000 ft with no shortage of hills throughout. Inside Trail did a marvelous job organizing the event with excellent course marking and plentiful aid stations.  A huge thanks goes to the volunteers for cheerfully staffing four aid stations and keeping them well-stocked. Despite the difficult course, all the runners seemed to be enjoying the day and finished in high spirits. Congrats to all the participants for tackling these challenging courses. If you haven’t tried Inside Trail yet, I highly recommend it!

The day dawned foggy and cool, but nice for running. It was great to catch up with Brett in the early miles as we traversed foggy hillsides. Heading over the Tennessee Valley and up the Miwok Trail the sun peaked through the marine layer providing a spotlight affect on the hills. The long gradual climb up to Cardiac went well and then swiftly down to Stinson Beach on the famed Dipsea Trail. Willow Camp was an arduous climb with some steep hiking sections, but the views at the top of more than compensated. Sunbeams shined through the foggy oak forest creating a surreal moment and then once above the marine layer, the fog could be seen streaming up the golden hillside from below. The single track to Pantoll and then down to Muir Woods was delightful. A little bit more hiking on the stairs of the Lost Trail was followed by a stroll by the Tourist Club (it wasn’t opened yet so no beer stop) continuing to the Sun Trail and then back down to Muir Woods. The Redwood Creek Trail was inundated in high grass and brush making it slower than expected.


Back at Muir Beach, the cumulative climbing was taking its toll and I knew the last few steep climbs were going to be arduous. While I’ve been doing some adventure runs recently in the 8-13 hour duration (see prior and future posts blog posts), I have not done long training runs with consistent running yet after my three month layoff from running due to injury (a pinched back nerve sustained after a freak accident hitting a tree on my head pre-dawn). I felt this lack of fitness as I transitioned to hiking the last climbs. Coming out of Pirates Cove I was surprised to see Gary Gellin coming in the opposite direction to run with me for the last few miles. It was great to catch up and hear about his big plans for the summer (Tahoe Rim Trail FKT attempt in mid-August) and distract me from my tired legs on the climbs. Closing in on foggy Rodeo Beach we ran down the last few flights of stairs and into the finish area for a time of 7:26. Brett Rivers finished second in a strong 8:05 and Ron Gutierrez was third in 8:38. My primary race goal today was to stay on top of hydration and nutrition for a 50 miler and I think I accomplished that with no cramping. The primary goal, however, was to enjoy the beautiful trails and gorgeous scenery of this trail running playground. Not surprisingly, this was also a success, with many thanks owed to Inside Trail, the volunteers, and Jim Vernon’s sweet course design!   

Saratoga Fatass 50k

Every year shortly after New Year’s (this year January 7th) there is a great low-key run along a fantastic 29-mile loop in the heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains known as the Saratoga Fatass. There is no official start time although most start between 7:30 and 8 am. There are no course markings and only one aid station along China Grade at the top of the Butano Ridge cross-over into Big Basin Park. I have run this loop several times before but never on the date of the fatass so it was great to see other runners along the route (usually I see nobody) and chat after the run. I’m a big fan of names that accurately describe things so I like to call this the “Pescadero Watershed 50k” or “Upper Pescadero 50k” since this route completes a giant and aesthetic 29+ mile single circumnavigation loop around the upper part of the magnificent Pescadero Creek Watershed.

With  idyllic weather conditions, I got into a nice solid rhythm and let my feeling dictate the pace. The unusually dry early winter also resulted in great trail conditions which helped as well, although there was a large area of blowdown (giant old growth redwoods over the trail and lots of messy debris) heading down the Slate Creek Trail and a few down trees on other parts of the loop. I made sure to leave enough in the tank for the 6+ miles of climbing at the finish (toughest part of the course at the end!) but it is never an easy stretch. Overall, conditions were fantastic and it was great to complete one of my favorite loops in 3:50:45. The remainder of this post is a written description of the loop that might be of interest:The loop around the Pescadero watershed is quintessential Santa Cruz Mountains, with all the things you expect to see in these mountains wrapped up into one pleasant loop, including spectacular vistas from grassy ridgelines, ancient douglas firs, chaparral with stately knobcone pines, and lush redwood forest. The route passes through a collection of parks and preserves, including Saratoga Gap Open Space Preserve, Long Ridge Open Space Preserve, Portola Redwoods State Park, Pescadero County Park, Big Basin State Park, and Castle Rock State Park. 99% of the loop is on trails, almost all of which are delicious single track.

The route starts at Saratoga Gap and follows the Saratoga Gap trail for 2 miles before crossing Hwy 35 and entering Long Ridge Open Space Preserve. The next section along the Hickory Oaks Trail includes open viewpoints that provide a great overview of the Upper Pescadero Creek Watershed and you can essentially see the entire route. After a sharp descent along Ward Road (becoming single track), a right turn is taken on the Slate Creek Trail. After more descending you cross Slate Creek and are treated to a fantastic rolling section among mature redwoods with a lush carpet of redwood sorrel and the cascading Slate Creek nearby. A slight rise brings you to a trail camp and the intersection for the Peters Creek Grove Trail – continue on the Slate Creek Trail. After a pleasant traverse near the ridge crest, you leave the Slate Creek Trail and make another steep descent on the Summit Trail. At the bottom of the Summit Trail, run along the park maintenance road (the only real pavement on the entire route) for about a quarter mile, crossing Pescadero Creek and (if needed) refilling water at the maintenance building.

A short steep climb above Pescadero Creek puts you at Old Haul Road. Cross Old Haul Road and take the Portola Trail, which makes a gradual ascent up toward the Butano Ridge Trail, including a nice section next to Iverson Creek. The climb continues along the  Butano Ridge trail, at first gradual, but then steepening in an area known as “40 corners” due to the plethora of tight switchbacks. From Pescadero Creek to the top of the climb up Butano Ridge is around 1,600 ft of net vertical gain. At the top of the climb there is a junction – the Butano Ridge Loop continues to the right and the Basin Trail starts to the left. Go left and traverse below the crest of Butano Ridge, passing by a viewpoint that is becoming obscured by trees (you can still see Pescadero and Skyline Ridge). Eventually you enter an easement section of property owned by Redtree logging company. This area can be a little confusing with old logging roads crisscrossing the forest so look out for the small signs directing the path of the easement. A short steep climb leads to the top of China Grade and Lane Camp in Big Basin State Park (2,280 ft). You might feel like you have come a long way from Saratoga Gap, but this only about the halfway point of the loop.

Route map by Jean Pommier

Elevation Profile by Jean Pommier

From Lane Camp/China Grade, continue on the Basin Trail, which has sharp contrasts from redwood forest to chaparral. The trail also passes through a nice knobcone pine forest with a technical section along sandstone. This trail is becoming overgrown in places as the chaparral is starting to encroach. The technical nature of the Basin Trail along with the brush make it a relatively slow three miles to the junction with the Skyline to the Sea Trail and China Grade crossing. From this point you remain on the Skyline to the Sea Trail all the way up to Saratoga Gap – 11.2 miles. The first portion to Waterman Gap is generally rolling in a nice redwood forest and goes by relatively fast. The final 6.5 miles is a real slog with 1,700+ ft of total climbing (~1,350 of net gain) with Hwy 9 always nearby.

Overall, this is one of the finest loops in the Santa Cruz Mountains and the entire Bay Area. While not quite 50k (about 47k or 29 miles), you will feel like you ran 50k or more by the time you make it back to Saratoga Gap. While the ~4,500-5,000 feet of total elevation gain does not seem so daunting, a good chunk of the gain comes in the final stages of the loop and sections like the Basin Trail are tiring despite not having much elevation gain. The route is largely under forest canopy which makes it a good choice during the summer months and the trails generally drain well making it a good wet season choice as well.

Brazen Racing Summit Rock Half

The Brazen Racing Summit Rock run was another great Brazen event at Sanborn County park in the hills above Saratoga. I ran at this gorgeous venue in June at the Trail Quake event and couldn’t resist running these lushly forested trails one more time this year. The course is different than the Trail Quake event as it is a pure out-and-back with a couple extra climbs thrown in along the Summit Rock Loop. It was a solid effort for me and I felt good throughout finishing in 1:31:47.

It was another beautiful December day with crisp conditions pre-race but very comfortable once the run got going with warm sunshine piercing the redwood forest. The San Andreas trail switchbacking up to Skyline is lovely mix of redwoods, douglas fir and madrone. There was a thick coat of needles and leaves on the trail providing an ultra cushioned surface and a very autumn feel which is not always manifested in coastal California. Once atop Skyline Ridge, there was copious branch debris on the trail from recent winds and a few trees down, but thankfully not too much of an encumbrance. The turnaround was on the single track just past the dirt parking lot for the Summit Rock Loop. Once I crested the hill out of the Summit Rock Loop I knew it was largely downhill and I got into a great rhythm on the Skyline Trail. The descent through Sanborn Park back to the finish area was interesting with tight switchbacks and runners from the shorter events to pass but it seemed like everybody was enjoying the morning on the beautiful trails. Congrats to all the participants!

As usual, Brazen Racing did a fantastic job organizing the event, including superb course marking, awesome volunteers, great photography of all the participants, a tasty spread at the finish area, and a super cool shirt design with an eagle on the front and back. Thanks to the organizers and volunteers for a super fun morning at Sanborn Park!

Brazen Rocky Ridge Championships Report

Last weekend I ran the Brazen Racing Summit Rock Half Marathon at Sanborn County Park outside of Saratoga, but before I get to that report, here is a report from another Brazen event I did a couple months agao, the Brazen Racing Rocky Ridge Half Marathon Championships at beautiful Las Trampas Regional Wilderness outside of San Ramon. The Rocky Ridge course is known as the most difficult of the Brazen series. The half marathon course was actually about 13.75 miles long and featured nearly 4,000 of elevation gain. Some of the ascents along the way are some of the steepest inclines I have ever run and one half mile climb in particular about half way through is affectionately known as “The Wall”! All the climbing and terrain made this a true mountain course and it would be idyllic for a mountain running championship venue.

Due to a prize purse being offered, I suspected some fast runners would show up, and indeed, one of the fastest road runners in the nation, Sergio Reyes toed the starting line. At the start I settled in near the front and tried to be as comfortable as possible entering the first major hill. At the first ultra steep ascent Sergio asserted himself and took the lead charging up the steep in good form with me in pursuit. It seemed as if he might run away with it from the start, but I caught up at the high point near Las Trampas Peak. On the downhill portion, Ivan Medina blew past both of us and continued to push an incredibly fast pace with Sergio in tow that I could not sustain. I would not see either of them until near the end of the large loop about three quarters of the way through, but I maintained a good pace and ran the entire way up the Wall. As I started the descent back to the parking area I could see Sergio far ahead and Ivan a minute or so back from Sergio.

Immediately upon beginning the last major climb of the course I began catching up to Ivan and eventually overtook him about half way up the climb. I was closing in on Sergio and by the time we reached the top of the hill I was only about 20 seconds back. However, from this point onward, the course was mainly downhill and I was unable to close the gap between us completely. Sergio finished in 1:37:55, 12 seconds ahead of my 1:38:07. I was proud of my performance and the strong finish!

Brazen Racing did a phenomenal job from aid stations to course markings to post-race food; it was an awesome event! A big thanks to the Brazen race directors, staff, and volunteers for making this such a great morning and congratulations to all the participants for tackling those daunting hills in the Las Trampas Wilderness!

Quad Dipsea 2011

The Quad Dipsea is held annually the Saturday after Thanksgiving and completes the legendary Dipsea Trail four times. The Quad entails over 9,276 ft of ascending including literally thousands of steps as the runners traverse the slopes of Mount Tamalpais from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach and back. While the trail is arduous, breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, San Francisco, and Stinson Beach inspire and delight. The trail also features enchanting redwood groves, lush ravines, and the iconic staircases. This year was the 29th running of this classic event that has been directed by John Medinger since its inception. The event quickly grew and established a loyal following among new and veteran ultra runners and has sold out for 17 straight years. Last year there were no views as fog and rain hugged the mountainside and made the course increasingly slippery and muddy as the day progressed. This year, conditions were great with relatively dry trails, mostly sunny skies, and pleasant temperatures rising into the low 60s.

Second leg above the Steep Ravine climb; photo by Joel LanzFinal descent into Stinson Beach; photo by Leor Pantilat

In 2010, I pushed through challenging the conditions as hard as I could but came short of the course record by a little over two minutes. This year I hoped to maintain my form on the last leg and lower the course record.  The difference in weather and trail conditions surely helped my effort. My splits on the first half were similar to last year as I came into Mill Valley in around 1:48:30 for the double Dipsea. I knew I was in a position to go for the record if I could maintain a good pace. I felt pretty good ascending the staircases out of Mill Valley for the second time and running up dynamite hill back to Cardiac. One of my favorite sections of the course is the short stretch after Cardiac that travels through an open meadow area with gorgeous views in every direction. This section also happens to be the only flat section so it’s fun to open up the stride a bit. My split for the 3rd leg was 58 minutes and I began heading back up from Stinson Beach in around 2:46:40. It was mentally helpful to know that all I needed was a 65 for the fourth leg in order to lower the course record so I could focus on running steady, preventing cramping, and keeping up with hydration and nutrition. The climb out of Stinson Beach is never easy, especially after three Dipseas, but I made steady progress. It was a great feeling to crest Windy Gap knowing it was all down hill from that point. I headed down the final flights of stairs as fast as I could (with a few slips for good measure) and finished the last few meters strong to come in just under 3:49 for an official time of 3:48:58, a new Quad Dipsea course record by 3:18 (previous record was 3:52:16 by Erik Skaggs in 2008, who lowered Carl Andersen’s 3:52:29 from 1992). Gary Gellin came in second in 4:10:05 emerging on top of a close race with Alaskan Matias Saari who was third in 4:12:45. Cedar Bourgeois of Seward, Alaska was the women’s champion in 4:59:18.

Heading towards Cardiac on the 4th leg; photo by Joel Lanz

Focused; photos by Coastal Trail Runs

Big congratulations to all the participants and the 233 finishers (a record)!  It was great to see fellow participants three times throughout the course and it looked like everybody was thoroughly enjoying the picturesque views and pleasant late-fall weather. It was great to chat post-race and enjoy soup, hot dogs, snacks, and drinks under the cool redwoods of Old Mill Park. A huge thanks goes to the race organizers, including Director John Medinger and Assistant Directors Errol “Rocket” Jones and Lisa Henson, and all the other people who put in many hours behind the scenes to make this event a success every year. In addition, all the volunteers were absolutely fantastic – their spirited support and enthusiasm was invaluable.  Complete results are here or here.

Beginning the descent to Stinson Beach on the 3rd leg; photo by Joel LanzLeft: Finish kick (photo Lisa Henson, UltraRunning Magazine); Right: Heading up the Moors on the 4th leg

Footwear: La Sportiva Crosslite 2.0

Nutrition (~1,100 calories): 4 servings of First Endurance EFS Drink Fruit Punch; 2 packs of Clif Shot Bloks (tropical punch & margarita); 1 EFS liquid shot gel; 2 SaltStick caps (carried a few more just in case)

And we’re off! photo courtesy John MedingerThe start at Old Mill Park; photo by Keith Kirby

Tamalpa Headlands 50k

I had a great time at the Tamalpa Headlands 50k last Saturday! It’s tough to argue with an extremely aesthetic single loop course traveling through the most famous trails in the Marin Headlands and Mount Tamalpais region including Dipsea, Coastal, Matt Davis and Miwok. These trails are renowned for good reason – the coastal scenery is spectacular! Along with the beauty, the course also packs a punch with over 7,300 ft of elevation gain over seven separate hill climbs. After a couple year hiatus, this classic event is back and doing extremely well! Race directors Tim and Diana Fitzpatrick did a phenomenal job organizing this race and a huge thanks goes out to the multitude of volunteers that did a fantastic job at the aid stations, directing runners at key intersections, and at the finish area. I had solid performance finishing first overall in 3:53:03, 3.5 minutes shy of the one and only Dave Mackey’s impressive course record. It was great to finally run this classic course and event!

The start at Santos Meadows, photo by Dwight MorejohnThe start at Santos Meadows, photo by Dwight Morejohn

The morning dawned cool and foggy which was nice for trail running and it stayed foggy the entire way except for a couple mile stretch from Cardiac Hill to the beginning of the descent of the Matt Davis trail into the forest towards Stinson Beach. I felt good for the first 8.5 miles to Rodeo Beach except for a wipe out on a slick bridge through lower Tennessee Valley. I acquired some sizable scrapes, but it was only a short diversion from the task at hand. I was running nicely through to the aid station at Hwy 1 (14.5 miles) – a good clip but yet still comfortable. I started to feel bit tired on the big climb up the Dipsea trail to Pantoll and lost a little focus here. I was reegenergized when I climbed above the marine layer to enjoy stupendous views over a sea of fog with the hills at Pt. Reyes and the Santa Cruz Mountains rising above the marine layer.

Passing through Tennessee Valley, photo by Dwight MorejohnPassing through Tennessee Valley, photo by Dwight Morejohn

Above the Fog on the Matt Davis Trail, photo by Dwight MorejohnAbove the Fog on the Matt Davis Trail with Sutro Tower (SF), photo by Dwight Morejohn

The descent of the technical Matt Davis trail was arduous and time consuming. There is so much abrupt shifting on this tricky descent and I was reluctant to run it too aggressively with another large climb up Steep Ravine remaining. When I made it down the Stinson Aid Station at the bottom of Matt Davis, I knew that Dave’s course record would be safe on this day.

Famous Steep Ravine Ladder, photo by Leor Pantilat

The climb up the lower Dipsea and Steep Ravine was challenging, but the refreshing redwood forest and the ladder climb was a treat as usual. Finally topping out at Pantoll, I knew it was all donwhill to the finish and I opened up the stride on the descent down Coastal Trail. The final bit along the Heather cut-off was a bit cumbersome with its tight switchbacks, but I finished in good form. Gary Gellin finished in second and Sean Pont was third, closely followed by Brian Lucido in fourth. In the women’s race, Suzanna Bon was first and Bree Lambert was second. It was great to hang out with friends after the race at Santos Meadows. Thanks again to the race directors and volunteers for a highly enjoyable day in Marin!

  • Complete results here.
  • Tamalpa Headlands 50k website.
Post-race, photo by Dwight Morejohn
Post-race, photo by Dwight Morejohn
Lushness on the Matt Davis Trail, photo by Leor Pantilat

Sanborn Trail Quake Half

Last Saturday I ran half marathon at Brazen Racing’s Sanborn Park Trail Quake event. As with most Brazen events, the distance options include a 5k, 10k and half marathon (Brazen Racing primarily focuses on the non-ultra shorter distances with over 20 events per year to chose from). I have heard great things about Brazen races so I was eager to finally check out a Brazen event firsthand. Also, Sanborn County Park is a gorgeous park outside of Saratoga with single track trails under a lush forest canopy including redwoods, Douglas fir and madrones. The event is aptly named since the San Andreas fault passes right underneath the park! It was a great opportunity to visit these trails that I don’t run as often as the parks near my house. My expectations were surpassed with top-notch event organization, careful attention to detail and a great experience in all respects. It also didn’t hurt that the weather was phenomenal with sunny skies and pleasant temperatures.

The arduous half marathon course was actually close to 13.5 miles according to GPS measurements and entailed over 3,000 feet of elevation gain. The first 2.5 miles are a steep climb from the base of the park up to Skyline Ridge. It was a challenge to keep the pace under 10 min/mile on this initial climb. Once atop the ridge, the course featured two out-and-backs along the Skyline Ridge Trail that are more rolling in nature allowing me to get into a nice rhythm and pick up the pace. However, virtually the entire run was either ascending or descending with no substantial flat areas. The final couple miles descended the heavily switchbacked San Andreas Trail with the tight turns naturally keeping the speed in check. It was cool to gauge my pacing via the distance markers placed every mile and the course was exceptionally well marked with volunteers positioned at all key intersections. I felt fairly strong once I got into a rhythm on the ridge and finished with a 1:34:07. Peter Birney finished second in 1:44:49 and the top female was Justine Owen in 2:06:18. Chip timing allowed for remarkably fast compilation of times and complete results are here.

All finishers received super cool medals and were greeted by a nice spread of bagels, snacks, and fruit. In addition, FRS Energy was on-site providing samples. Congratulations to all the participants, many of whom in the shorter distances were running their first trail run. It was a great morning at Sanborn Park; thank you Brazen Racing and all the volunteers!

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).

Quicksilver 50 mile

I had a great day at the 28th Annual Quicksilver Trail Races this past Saturday in the hilly and scenic trails of Almaden Quicksilver County Park and Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve, located in the Santa Cruz Mountains south of San Jose. This was my first attempt at the 50 mile distance so coming into this race, I did not know whether the extremely high course record benchmark set by Chikara Omine in 2009 (6:15:41) would be feasible.  As the run progressed and I remained under his record pace, I gained more confidence in the potential of lowering the esteemed record. In the end, I was extremely happy to lower the record by 14 minutes to 6:01:45! A special thanks goes to Joel Lanz for his fantastic job pacing me from 50k to the finish, providing encouragement at just the right times, and taking some great photos (utilized in this note).

Finish video by Joel Lanz.

The event starts 6 am which is a bit early, but becomes favorable later in the day when the exposed sections become warm. The weather was great with clear skies and relatively mild morning temperatures thanks to stiff breezes. Those same winds helped to keep temperatures down later in the morning and provided excellent clarity with spectacular views of the Santa Clara Valley, Diablo Range, Santa Cruz Mountains, and points beyond. 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 my favorite stretch of trail on the course and traverses through oak woodland canyons and wildflower meadows. After the New Almaden Trail, the remainder of the course is virtually all fire road (except for the Yellow Kid Trail), but equally scenic with spring wildlfowers in full bloom and spectacular views of the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Clara Valley. The 8 miles of running in Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve on the 50 mile course are particularly pleasant with a shady forest canopy and delightful vistas. While the 8,530 feet of cumulative elevation gain in the 50 mile means that the course is inevitably hilly, there are several miles of relatively gradual fireroad allowing for a nice rhythm.

The plan was to go out feeling as comfortable as possible for the first 50k and see what I had left for the balance of the 50 miles. I knew that the most difficult part of the entire course was between mile 32 and 35.5 with several steep climbs up to the English Camp aid station. I wound up running the first 50k a bit faster than I had planned, coming in about 3:31, only a minute shy of my 3:30:10 performance in the 50k last year. However, I felt relatively comfortable and not overextended. At the 50k point, I met pacer Joel Lanz and we set off to attack the crux portion of the course. I faired well on this section, but the arduous climbs took a lot out of my legs. After English Camp, any substantial incline became difficult as my hamstrings were twingy. The good news is that cramping was kept at bay with copious hydration and electrolyte nutrition, in turn allowing me to run the downhills and flatter sections reasonably well to maintain a nice overall pace. I had never visited the stretch of the course from English Camp through Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve so I was eagerly anticipating the turnaround aid station. When it finally appeared around the corner I felt a sense of relief knowing most of the return trip to Mockingbird start/finish area would be downhill. I got a second wind at this point and finished the last 8.5 miles nicely. There were great performances all around: Bree Lambert won the women’s 50 mile in 8:13:07, Gary Gellin took second in the 50 mile in 6:29:41, Chriz Calzetta won the 50k in 3:54:21, and Adona Ramos won the women’s 50k in 4:56:26. Congratulations to all participants!

First year race director Pierre Couteau did a phenomenal job organizing this event and all the volunteers were fantastic. As usual, the post-race BBQ was spectacular with an amazing spread of delicious food that extended well beyond the normal BBQ fare of hot dogs and hamburgers, including ice cream, sushi, pies, cheesecake, brownies, cookies, etc.!  It was great to hang out with friends new and old after the event. Thanks to Quicksilver Running Club and everybody involved with this event for putting on such a great trail race!

Another finish video by Joey Cassidy.