I headed to the race with my friend Dale Reicheneder (the 2005 Trail Runner Magazine Trophy Series Marathon-and-Under Overall winner), who was returning to short-course trail running this season after recovering from heel surgery last year. He was signed up for the 25k and was ready to go fast, while I was signed up for the 50k and saving myself a bit for the Silver State 50m next week. It was great to catch up and hear about his exciting trip to race the Dolomites in Italy (the grand prize for the 2005 winner), and his new running partner, Misty the German Shepard. Thank God Dale is much more organized than me and brought a race packet with directions, which saved me from nearly missing the 6am start of the 50k!
I hustled to make the starting line, just in time to say a few hellos to the ever-present Chihping Fu, returning-to-glory Troy Limb, 10-time Quicksilver racer Rena Schumann, Injinji teammate and 17-year-old phenom Michael Hayden, and more. Some of the runners were doing the Miwok/Quicksilver/Ohlone May trifecta...that should have a belt buckle all of its own! Or perhaps a headdress in honor of the Indian tribes. All the runners smiled at the light cloud cover that would keep the sun off of us for our morning miles, and the 58 degree weather. At 6am, we were off!
It didn't take long for the course to start climbing, with a 500' climb in the first two miles. I was thinking I probably should have reviewed that packet a little bit more before starting - I knew there was 5,000' vertical in the 50k (8,000' in the 50-mile), but wasn't sure how it would be dished out. It turns out the appetizer was a mouthful! It didn't stop the elite runners, as last year's 50-mile winner/course record holder, Graham Cooper, set chase after 2:30 marathoner Thomas Reiss (50k), with Jeff Riley (50m), Mark Tanaka (50m), and Ron Gutierrez (50k) right on their heels. I walked the uphills, and found myself pacing along with Devon Crosby-Helms and Michael Hayden as we plunged down the hill and entered the single track.
Devon had pulled me to a marathon PR at the Napa Marathon in March (where she won the 2007 RRCA National Marathon Championship, natch), so I knew keeping pace with her would stretch me. However, she said she was taking it easy on this one, still recovering from her 2nd place finish at the 100k USATF Nationals and trying to get her iron levels back on track. Perfect! Although Devon going easy is still going to stretch me. ;-)
We summited Hacienda (mile 2) while catching up on life, school, great ultra runs, and pointing out how Spring has sprung all over the park. If Devon and I got yapping too much, Michael was happy to step up the pace and pull us along. By the time we exited the single track (mile 4), it felt like we were the only ones out there, except for the cheery volunteers who were more than happy to stock us up.
I noticed that Devon wasn't stocking up as much as usual, and she told me about her experimentation with chia seeds, a naturally absorbent seed used by the Aztecs that helps turn your existing hydration into a "slow drip" system. This turned out to be one of the many interesting natural food lessons I would be getting in the next three hours, much in thanks to Devon's recent immersion class in whole food/natural cooking. Unfortunately this first lesson just reminded me that I didn't have enough time to hit the restroom before the race, so I let Devon go ahead as I took a bio break.
Refreshed, I went past the first Dam Overlook (mile 9) and began a steady climb up past Capehorn (mile 14) to the high point of the race (mile 17). Quail scattered at every turn, and birds filled the hills with chirps and whistles. It was a pleasant scene, and the grade was mostly runnable. At the high point, a volunteer (William?) gave me the full stats - I was 16 minutes off Graham's pace and 2 minutes behind Devon. Well, I could catch one of them anyway!
I leaned forward into the downhill plunge to the aid station at the second Dam Overlook (mile 19), refilling my water bottles before continuing the sprint to catch Devon. She laughed at my "picture intervals", and promised not to wait too much so I would stay on pace. As many of us often find in ultras, when two people run at an "easy" pace, the combined energy and comraderie can make a faster pace faster than a typical solo race. For Quicksilver, Devon was my comrade-in-arms (or legs, I guess). At the bottom of the hill, we began to see the Almaden dogs out walking their people and some of the 25k runners making their way back. It's a good thing these trails were marked so well - it would be easy to take a wrong turn among the figure 8's of this course!
Devon set the pace on the climb back, and after a brief stop at the Dam Overlook aid station again (mile 24) we tackled the big hill. On the way down were lots of smiling faces (isn't that always the case on the way down?), enjoying the sun that had begun to burn through the clouds and raise the temperature to about 70 degrees. Our faithful volunteer gave us our splits again - this time we were 21 minutes behind Graham. See, Devon? We're gaining on him! Well, he's not losing us as fast anyway.
The Englishtown aid station (mile 28) let us know we had another mile of downhill and then the last "steep" set of climbs. Devon had been forewarned by her friend Hollis to save something for the last few hills, but thanks to a comfortable pace, we felt like we had enough in us to go hard. I checked my watch (4 hrs 15 min) and were both surprised at how fast our pace had been. Chatting and chugging along had gotten us pretty far! It felt like sub 4:40 was within reach.
Alas, we should have checked the elevation chart. The last few climbs were so steep (20+ degrees), it was downright confusing. I thought "fire road" meant that a fire truck could make it up, no? Apparently, no! Around every corner was another 50' cliff we had to escalate - tough both psychologically and physically. The only part that was tougher was going DOWN the other side! I did my best to save my toenails and shuffle down, but Devon had no problem at all. She heard the crowd at the finish line and took off like a rabbit to finish in 4:37:14, 4th overall and 1st woman (25-and-under course record). I finished a few seconds later in 4:37:48 for 5th.
At the finish, Dale let us know he had won the 25k in 1:59:44, just beating out local speed demon Jason Wolf (2:01:30) and first female Rosemarie Lagunas (2:03:10). The 50k had been won by Thomas Reiss in a blinding fast 4:04:14, with Ron Gutierrez getting second (4:19:54, 4 minutes faster than his course PR here last year) and 47-year-old Antony Nispel (4:30:43) getting third and winning the Master's division. We took a rest, hit the massage tables, and enjoyed some fabulous BBQ by Master Chef Paul Fick as we cheered on fellow runners.
It didn't take long before Graham Cooper came cruising in to set a new course record for the 50-mile (6:39:18), showing everyone he is ready to defend his Western States title this year. A few minutes later, Oregon's Jeff Riley took second (6:46:23), and Mark Tanaka finished third (7:17:38).
<-- Graham Cooper resting after his course-record-setting run
As they chatted about the race, it appeared that Graham chased Thomas Reiss for 6 miles, then set the pace until mile 33 before slowing down to catch up on salt and food. Jeff Riley took the lead for the next 10 miles, and when Jeff slowed up on the last return to refuel, Graham led the way home. Bree Lambert, whom I met at the Woodside 50k in her first ultra, continued her streak by winning the Women's division in her first 50-miler (8:51:05), just a few minutes ahead of Rena Schumann (8:59:14).
Among the 50k and 50-mile results were many spectacular performances. Speedy 53-year-old David Ruvalcaba got 8th in the 50-mile with his 8:03:52 finish, just a few spots ahead of Michael Hayden who finished in 8:21:50. They weren't the oldest and youngest finishers in the 50-mile though - those awards would go to 72-year-old Dieter Walz (11:11:14), 63-year-old Wini Jebian (12:35:01), and 15-year-old Michael Kanning (11:09:14) hot off his first 50k at the Pacifica 50k.
In the 50k, 63-year-old Wally Hesseltine put in a screaming fast 5:35:38, finishing to the roar of the crowds. The most impressive finishes went to Rena Schumann, Gary Wang, Nick Bassett, Carol Cuminale, Eric Ianacone and Dan Marinsik, all whom received the Miner's Award for 10 races completed. Now that is tenacity!
Dale and I said our thanks to the volunteers and race directors and made our way to the airport so Dale could get back to Misty at his home in Malibu, CA. It was one of those days that didn't need explaining and we sat quietly in the car, smiling in serenity on a day well spent. It was a great race put on by great volunteers, and we would certainly both be back.
The next morning, I staggered downstairs to make breakfast for Christi's first Mother's Day while Sophie played a "song" on the piano. My quads were sore, and I realized why after downloading the GPS tracks - it was a steep one! Hopefully I will be back on track for the Silver State 50m. But for now, it's time to enjoy the well-earned soreness, and know that it's nowhere near what Christi had to do to be eligible for Mother's Day. ;-)