The morning greeted us with heavy cloud cover and a 60% chance of light showers. This ironically disappointed many of the runners at the starting line who were "hoping for a scorcher" more typical of the past hot-and-humid Ohlone 50k's. Hey, do you hear that rattling? Apparently somebody has a screw loose. ;-)
As we rode the bus to the start, I decided the mellow weather provided an opportunity to try out a few new gadgets. I strapped on a Garmin ForeRunner 201 wrist GPS unit, an Amphipod fanny pack (to carry the camera, natch), and a new iPod Nano sleeve by Nike. Although each item looked great individually, I was realizing that altogether I was looking a bit cyborg. Did I really need all these gadgets? Well, no, but the geek in me just loves trying them out. What harm could come from trying out new toys?
As the 8am start arrived, it was warming up to a nice 60 degree day. The clouds kept the sun off our necks, but tempted us with a downpour. I took one last look at the sky and decided I probably didn't need a jacket. Even if it was wet, it would be warm. I strapped on the gaiters, topped off my water bottles, and stretched out my calves. We all grouped at the bottom of the hill, and the race began!
We were going to have NO trouble getting warm on this course. The first four miles go straight up 2,000 vertical feet to Mission Peak. The road turned to a trail, and the trail to a cow path as we slowly zig-zagged up the lush hills. Graham Cooper (who won last year), Simon Mtuy, Gus Long, Mark Lantz, Mark Tanaka, and about five others had already disappeared over the hill as I got to the ridge. By the time I reached the top, I was soaked in sweat. I can only imagine what this course is like in the heat! The views were spectacular; even with the cloud cover, we could see endless waves of oak-pocked golden hills spread out in all directions.
As we embraced gravity and headed downhill, a light rain began to fall. It was just enough to keep the dust at bay. The volunteers at Laurel Loop (6 miles) made sure we all filled up with as much water as possible, and reminded us that the weather could change quickly. I ran with two or three different packs of people over the next few miles, as we traded off setting the pace. My pace seemed faster than Miwok, although I was still fast-walking anything steeper than a 10 degree pitch.
I shared some research I had done about the Suenen Ohlone people, the Native American tribe for which these parts are named. Similar to the Miwok tribes, the Ohlone history goes back 14,000 years. They led a harmonious life with surrounding nature in a mystical way. Many aspects of the Ohlone life did not discern between the spiritual (such as praying or fasting) and the material world (such as hunting). I've often felt a conscious blur of the spiritual and material worlds are the ideal ultrarunning state of mind. Oh, yeah - the Ohlone people also had dogs. Very cool.
Before too long, we had made it to "the bottom" - the well-stocked Sunol aid station (mile 10) that marked the beginning of a 10-mile, 3,000 vertical foot climb. Nearly all of us took a full pit stop at Sunol to load up on calories. I went for my favorites - PB&J, potatoes, and M&M's - and filled the water bottles one more time. Despite the cool(ish) temperature, I was still drinking ~30 oz water/hour.
As we began the climb, a thunderclap echoed across the valley and the sky began to darken. As if it was some sort of omen, I started to have all kinds of issues. As we neared Goat Rock (mile 16), the wind really began to pick up, and I was yearning for the jacket I had left at the starting line. If that wasn't enough, the rain had seeped into my salt pills, turning the pouch into a Lik-a-Maid salt stew. My ForeRunner GPS unit died (water? batteries?), and my iPod was jumping from song to song randomly due to the moisture trapped in the Nike iPod sleeve. Meltdown! Note to self - the more stuff you bring, the more stuff that can go awry. That's alright - there's nothing wrong with turning it all off and enjoying the sounds of nature.
Jeff Reifers caught up to me as we made the final push to Rose Hill. He was all smiles, even as he braced against the pelting rain that was now blowing sideways. He let me know that work and three teenagers had cut into his ultra running quite a bit, but he managed to keep Ohlone and a few others on the calendar at all costs (a "required sanity check"). It was clear that Jeff had the right attitude - no matter what Mother Nature may dish out, there isn't any place he would rather be. With that boost of morale, we crested the peak and quickly made our way down to the Maggie's Half Acre aid station (mile 21) to refuel. I asked if they had soup and they all laughed - apparently not to many people ask for soup at Ohlone!
My teeth were chattering from the cold, but it was good motivation to keep moving forward. It hadn't quite become the "shivers" of hypothermia, and Jeff and the others looked good, so I didn't worry. As we hit the last few climbs before our long descent, Rena Schumann passed us with a few runners trying to keep up with her. I knew that meant we were probably 3/4 done, since that's when she ALWAYS passes me. ;-) We hung with Rena for a mile or so, but I couldn't keep pace on the climbs. I ran solo, heading up the last ridge. I had memorized an Ohlone song for my race mantra, and it was fitting for this section of the course:
On the rim of the world I am dancing!
I dream of you
I dream of you jumping,
Rabbit, jackrabbit, quail.
With a quick stop at Schilipor Rock (mile 27), I headed down into the last steep valley. The trees provided some cover from the wind, and I felt myself warming up again. Rick Gaston went flying by me, similar to how he had at Miwok (I have to learn his secret!). I crossed the stream, and crawled up the last brutal climb alongside of some very wet hikers. I stopped at the top to take one last picture of my soaked-to-the-bone self and headed down the last hill. Rick passed me again after a brief unplanned detour at the creek, and he was going even faster this time. He was unstoppable!
I bombed the last steep hill and came into the finishing chute in 6:00:11. Had my watch worked, I'm sure I would have found it in me to break 6 hours, but I felt happy with the finish. Truman "Gus" Long had won in 4:49:32, just holding off a surge from Graham Cooper, who placed 2nd in 4:50:28 (and won the Quicksilver 50m last week!). Simon Mtuy came in third in 4:59:10. Mark Lantz won the 40-49 men's division with a 5:13:33 (even after a 4th place finish at Quicksliver 50m last weekend), and 62-year-old Al Brosio cleaned house in his age group with a staggering 5:58:04, taking 10 minutes off the age group record he set last year. Adrian Jue got 3rd in the 30-and-under division in his very first ultra, finishing in 6:36:52.
The women's division was dominated by the 40-year-olds - Beth Vitalis won the women's overall in an impressive 5:35:19, with Rena Schumann placing a strong 2nd (5:53:07, a personal best for this course), and Susan Anderson-Ayers placing third in 6:14:20. Carol LaPlant won the women's 50-59 age group - her 10th Ohlone finish, and 152nd ultra. Catra Corbett finished her personal 100-mile Ohlone trek (she finished up on the Ohlone course), looking more refreshed than most of the 50k runners. Way to go, dirt divas! (All 2006 results are here)
We all relaxed at the finish line, ate BBQ, and congratulated the many first-timers (really, Jeff, there ARE easier courses!). I enjoyed the fact that Mother Nature forced my hand to see the Ohlone Wilderness, even if she had to wreck a few gadgets to get my attention. How else would I have known to face the rain and 'dance on the rim of the world' the Ohlone Way?
A special thanks to Rob Byrne and Larry England for directing a great race, and to their SPECTACULAR volunteers who hiked all those goodies up to the aid stations and braved the weather for us. You made it a very special day!