(Running the redwoods of Huddart Park; photo courtesy of Darcy Padilla)
The Woodside 50k climbs 2,200 feet in 7 miles up Huddart Park, cuts across the Skyline Ridge Trail to Wunderlich Park, then does a loop in Wunderlich before coming back and descending down through Huddart. In total, there is about 5,000 feet of vertical, nearly all of which is in the first half. The entire course is lined with second growth redwoods, lush ferns, and sorrell. About 60 runners came for the 50k, with another 230 or so doing 10k, 17k, and 35k races.
The starting line had some familiar faces, including last year's winner and course record holder Mike Duncan, Rob Evans (recovering from the Javelina Jundred a few weeks ago), Chuck Wilson, Donna Yee, Rajeev Patel, Chihping Fu, and many more. There were also some new faces, such as triathlete Bree Lambert, Rory Fuerst, and the usual handful of first-time ultra runners that Pacific Coast Trail Runs always manages to attract. Lots of smiling faces, each looking to make friends and commune with nature.
Race Director Wendell Doman warned us that "this is the last of the sun you're going to see until the end", which I knew was true. As we headed down to the first section of single track, the redwoods gobbled up the sun and the temperature dropped into the 40's. Mike Duncan led out a group of eight of us at a brisk pace, and didn't slow down when we hit the hill at Richard's Road about 1 mile in. Rory and I stuck on Mike's heels while the rest faded back. I have raced with Mike enough to know this - he's not trying to burn us out, this IS his race pace! I let Rory know that Mike has been running these trails for over 40 years, so don't let the grey hair fool ya. Rory lives in Tahoe City, NV, but was in town to visit his parents. Although Rory was fairly new to ultra running, he did clock an 8th place finish at Zane Grey 50 last year (9:52) so he had the chops to rock this course. I had my sites set on Mike's course record of 4:29. Last year I finished in 4:39, but I felt I was running much stronger this year. Plus it was the last race of the season, on my home course, so I should go hard. The only thing in my way was Mike, Rory, 3 hours of sleep (from flying in from Philly), and quads still healing from last Saturday's Quad Dipsea. No problemo.
We cranked up Crystal Springs at a near-lactic pace, decimating the 2,200 foot climb to the first aid station (mile 7) in about 55 minutes. Mike led us 99% of the way, per usual. Rory took the lead right before the aid station, and since he didn't stop, quickly put 1000 yards on us. Mike and I gobbled some food and chased after him. The wind had picked up a little, so I decided to keep my hat and left glove (the right one already missing).
Mike got the jump on me out of the aid station (I need to work on my "speed grazing"), and it took me a mile to catch him again. We kept peeking ahead to look for Rory, but he was already out of sight. We cruised along for four miles, making the most of the downhills and chatting about running, gadgets, and how lucky we were to have this playground as our backyard. I thought we might catch Rory in the last climb up to Wunderlich, but instead we met up with a gale-force wind that chilled us to the bone. Luckily John Fors and his son were manning the aid station at the top of the hill, eager to feed us warm goodies and fill our water bottles while they braved the wind. They told us that Rory was about two minutes ahead, so he had put a few seconds on us with every mile. Food, stats, and smiles in the howling wind...these volunteers were awesome!
I spent less than 10 seconds at the aid station, put on my hat, and kept up the pace to stay warm. Luckily the wind only lasted about a mile, and soon we were deep in the redwood-sheltered trails of Wunderlich. I love this section of downhill along the fire road, so I pushed hard and left Mike to run solo for a while. I ate a few Clif Bloks and switched back to my visor as the trail warmed up; one clearing gave me a chance to take a quick pic looking over Palo Alto and I couldn't help myself. ;-)
I whizzed by Salamander Flat (the bottom of the Wunderlich Loop, about mile 18), and began the big climb up. My goal was "no walking", and with that mantra, I started chugging up after Rory. After a mile of climbing, the trail merged with the downhill part of the loop and I got to see some of the other 50k runners smiling and having a good time. They said Rory was ahead, and looking strong. I kept my pace, peeking around every corner in hopes to catch the lead dog.
Instead, I returned to the Bear Gulch aid station where the wind had died down some. They let me know that Rory was 6 minutes ahead, so he was continuing to put time on me despite my fast pace. I didn't lose hope, however - we still have 11 miles to go, and I know the Skyline Trail is deceivingly difficult on the return to Huddart. I went for the power combo at the aid station (flat Coke and m&m's), and headed back as fast as I could.
I charged up each hill, feeling comfortable in pushing my heart rate to my lactic threshold since I knew of each downhill where I could recover. It sure does help to know the course intimately! I kept the water flowing and ate a few more Clif Bloks along the way. My watch was showing I was about 8 minutes ahead of last year's time, so I was on track for a sub 4:30 pace. But as we all know, it's the last few miles where the rubber meets the trail, so to speak.
Back at my home aid station (mile 26), they let me know that Rory was 4 minutes ahead and didn't stop. That meant I was gaining on him, but not fast enough! I refilled my water as fast as possible and bombed down the Chinqapuin Trail, letting gravity pull me down at a sub-7 minute pace to the point that my quads were screaming. Hold on, quads! Just a few more miles!
I was surprised to find that the last section of the course had been changed, allowing us to go all out down a fire road instead of zig-zagging the switchbacks. I continued to go hard, right up to the finish line where Rory was already chilling. He had won the race in 4:14, and I had come in second in 4:24. Just like at the Seacliff 50k, I reached my goal of beating the course record, but finished second to somebody who just CRUSHED it. Rory had gone all out on the last section, and when adding his speed to his time savings from the aid stations, put an impressive new course record on the books.
I was still very pleased with my run. I had managed to come in ahead of my target time, which was 15 minutes faster than last year (albeit some of that gain came from the course change). I also felt surprisingly fresh at the end of the race. Hmmm...perhaps I'm not going hard enough most of the time? As Matthew and the other volunteers served up hot chicked soup and chili, we cheered on the other 50k finishers. Mike Duncan came in at 4:36 for 3rd place, soon followed by Rob Evans (the only guy I know who can get 4th on an "easy" day), Bree Lambert, and Eric Pacenta in 4:41. Bree was running her first 50k ever, and won the Women's division with a course-record 4:41:02, despite falling and cutting up her elbow. I think she has a future in this sport!
In fact, a quick check of the results showed that new course records were established in all distances for both men and women. My congrats to Ralph Lewis (10k in 47:09), Jessica Langford (10k in 51:57), Kevin Keenan (17k in 1:21), Joan Ellison (17k in 1:26), Brent Wright (35k in 2:45!), Patricia Rios (35k in 3:36), and Rory and Bree. Nice work, you guys!
I returned home to find out I didn't get the Western States lottery slot for 2007. On the bright side, that makes me a two-time loser (who thought I would ever say that?), so if I'm up for it, I can get an automatic entry for 2008. Right now, that seems so far away it's hard to imagine. Instead, I'll just read through Ultrarunner Magazine and start obsessing about my 2007 schedule. ;-)
Below is a the Garmin Forerunner map of the Woodside 50k. I've had a great time in the last couple of weeks playing around with the new Forerunner 305 and uploading tracks to Everytrail.com and Motionbased.com. Expect a full report soon!