Monday, February 18, 2008

The Gorgeous Sequoia 50k

This Saturday I had the unexpected pleasure of joining 450+ runners for the Sequoia 10k/20k/30k/50k in the hills of Oakland, CA. I hadn’t planned on racing this weekend, but part of my Valentine’s Day gift from my wife was an afternoon off for a long run, and I had been meaning to cross to bay to visit the redwood trails of Joaquin Miller Park that I had been hearing so much about. What better way then to sign up for a leisurely-paced 50k put on by PCTR?

As I arrived in the chilly glade, it was clear that many were here for more than a leisurely run. Steve Stowers was coming off a sub-5:40 50-miler at the Jed Smith 50, Quad Dipsea top finisher Victor Ballesteros was ready to rumble, and Eric Poole and Chris Rennaker had come down from Ashland, OR to represent the Rogue Runners Club. PCTR Series front runners Will Baker-Robinson (10k), Jason Wolf (30k), Leor Pantilat (20k), and Will Gotthardt (50k) were also here to ensure that pace would be fast in all races. But there were plenty of others here just out to have a good time, and a few first timers too.

(Ready to roll at the start)

I said my hellos to many at the start, including Rich Lapachet (who got married in this park “way back when”), Luis and Beverly Escobar up from SoCal, and local Garett Graubins who was hanging with his 1-year-old son. Technu was spread generously (as was sunscreen) as the sun began to warm the air into the low 50’s. At 8:30am, Wendell and Sarah Doman sent us off and up into the hills.

The pace was furious from the start, with a dozen folks blazing out of the meadow and up some single track to a nice fire road. I ran with 20-year-old Max Shchemelin, in what was only his second ultra (although he placed 2nd in his first 50k at Muir Beach just a few months ago). He was definitely out to race hard today and doing a good job of not letting the front runners force too fast a pace on him. We caught up to Bree Lambert, who was “only doing the 30k” as a warm up for the Rucky Chucky 50k next month. That’s still a solid day of running, Bree!

(Heading up towards the French Trail)

The rolling fire road was smooth and soft, and gave us a chance to spread out before we crossed the peak of the hill and hit the first aid station (mile 2.7). Bree, Ray Sanchez, and I made a quick stop in the sun before plunging down into the eucalyptus groves of the next valley. It didn’t take long for us to get to the French Trail, which took our breath away with the soft, rolling hills that carved a path through the redwood giants. Within a mile, we were all saying this is one of the most beautiful running trails in the Bay Area!

(The awesome French Trail)

As it got steep, Ray Sanchez and I paced together and took the spur off the loop course for the 30k/50k runners. Ray had just finished a crazy 100+ mile race in South America, and I enjoyed living vicariously through his stories of being lost in a foreign jungle, night running without flashlights, and still managing to come in 2nd place overall. How does one recover from that? Well, by getting into the Badwater Ultra and continuing to train, of course! Ray is a madman.

(Ray gives me a hand in deciphering the course markings)

My downhill running was a bit faster than Ray (honestly, it’s amazing he can run at all this soon after a 100-miler), so I hit the bottom of the hill running solo. It didn’t take long for the race leaders to come the other way, indicating they were already 1.5-2 miles ahead of us at the halfway point. Steve Stowers was charging up front with a 5-6 minute lead, with Victor Ballesteros, Jason Wolf (30k), Eric Poole, Chris Rennaker, and Will Gotthardt in hot pursuit. I hit the aid station (mile 12) in 7th place, which meant I wasn’t doing a very good job of holding back. Garett Graubins had told me that’s why it’s tough to do a race as a long run – you rarely can control yourself when mixing it up with your favorite runners! As fate played her trump card, Garett was at the turnaround to cheer us on, and I got the message. ;-)

(Victor Ballesteros flies along the fire road)

(At the turnaround, photo courtesy of Garett Graubins)

There were lots of smiling faces along the single track as I headed back. I munched on a PB&J square and shed a layer of clothing to accommodate the rising temp (now in the low 60’s). As we rejoined the loop, we caught the rear pack of the 20k runners along the ridge. I slowed to talk with a few of them, and was glad to find them all in high spirits. These mid/back of the back 20k runners are always so impressive to me – you can tell that many aren’t natural runners, yet they are out here busting ass on a tough 20k course and enjoying nature. Their energy propelled me forward!

(On the single track ridge)

As I ran through the last aid station (mile 16), Max caught up with me and led us through the downhill to the start area. He picked up a bottle from his crew and turned on the afterburners, disappearing into the trees. It was tempting to stop and hang out with the families enjoying their picnics in the meadow, so I just charged right through to repeat the 20k loop again.

(These views poked out at every turn)

I put on some tunes to give the second lap a different vibe (U2, Daft Punk, and Icky Thump by the White Stripes), and decided to walk all the uphills to ensure I wasn’t going too hard today. A convenient excuse, for sure, since I was already feeling the 5,000’ vertical this course was going to dish out. At the aid station (mile 21), Marco and the volunteer crew got me set up with Coke, M&M’s, and water. We all chatted about the perfect day and the wondrous trail variety of both the Joaquin Miller and Redwood Regional Parks.

(The trail winds down into the glades)

The French Trail was even more fun on the second loop. The rolling hills were smooth and run-able, with just enough roots to keep you on your toes. A few horses, hikers, and mountain bikers provided a new kind of obstacle, but all were gracious in stepping aside when needed. The equestrian saw my race number and asked “how far today?”, and I hollered out “50k, 15k to go”. His only reply was “you poor, sick bastard”. ;-)

(Charging up the hill on a section of single track)

The sun was HOT as I hit the ridge and started the slow climb back. Rob Silva caught up with me, having no trouble at all with his first ultra. He said the best part of the race was “you can do anything…walk, run, go fast, enjoy the view…I’ve never been in a race like this!”. With that, he charged down a section of downhill and gave me one last wave. I think he’s hooked. ;-)

(A quick howdy before finishing up)

With a quick stop at the aid station for a handful of Goldfish crackers, I took a slow and steady jog for the last two miles to the finish. I crossed in 5:04, good enough for 8th place and one whole whopping point towards the PCTR Series. I was nowhere near the front runners – Steve Stowers had won in a course record 3:55, with Victor Ballesteros just a few minutes behind. Will Gotthardt rallied for a solid third place (4:33), holding off the boys from Oregon. Max Shchemelin had gone strong right to the end, finishing in an emotional 4:34 for 4th overall. Nice work, Will and Max! Juliet Morgan, who had come up from Redondo Beach, CA, won the Women’s Division in 5:37.

The short course runners tore it up, with Jason Wolf (2:29:55) and Marianne Baldetti winning the 30k (2:51:53), and Leor Pantilat scoring another course record win in the 20k (1:22:35). Caitlin Smith won the 20k Women’s Division in an impressive 1:36:09. (all results here)

(Will Gotthardt replenishes after an impressive 3rd place finish)

(Women's 50k winner Juliet Morgan with RD Sarah Doman)

I ate more than my fair share of chili and snacks as the smiling runners came trickling in. What a great day in the Oakland hills! My thanks to the great volunteers and RD’s for another fantastic day, and an excuse to see a part of the Bay Area I may not have found otherwise.

I'm glad I had some energy left for the long weekend and on Sunday, Sophie and I checked out the Amgen Tour of California bike race that was in Palo Alto, CA. Those guys sure go fast!

(The cycling pros make mincemeat of University Ave at the Amgen Tour)

- SD


  1. Thanks for coming out again, Scott, and for the neat write-up following another fine run on your part! Glad that you enjoyed running on some new trails. I love to read your reports to hear how the day was for folks out on the course.

    Too bad we didn't see you guys in Palo Alto yesterday - we went to the prologue, too. Fun day!

    Sarah (PCTR)

  2. Hi Scott,
    I'm a big fan of your blog. I was one of the mid/back of the pack 20K runners that you passed. I was walking and trying to grab a Shot Bloc out of my pack when you walked up beside me. I think you said something about the beauty of the trees. I glanced over and realized it was you. I was slightly star struck and was trying to think of something more clever to say then "Hey, are you Scott Dunlap?" You took off running again before I got a chance to talk to you, but it was great to share the trail such a talented runner.

  3. Sounds like a great race! I was helping register runners, and keeping the finish line buffet stocked. I had a chance to run the 20k loop at the end of volunteering, and it was quite a beautiful course.

    See you at the Skyline 50K!


  4. Thanks for yet another excellent race recap, great talking with post-race.

    [Nice to see you on the fast side of the Bay].

    Will G.

  5. Scott -

    Thanks for walking with me for a bit. It was great to catch up. I guess the photo didn't turn out, but if it's reasonable I would love to have it.


  6. Hey poor, sick bastard!

    What a great Valentine's Day gift!

    All those pictures are simply gorgeous and even a non-Bay Area runner knows that "one of the most beautiful trails" in the area really must mean something. You have so many!


  7. Gorgeous indeed! That looks like an awesome location for a run. On those fast downhills did you feel like Luke Skywalker on a speeder bike? :)

  8. What gorgeous pictures!!! May be I should start making travel plans for 50k's? So much to see! Good run too, Scott!

  9. Great talking to you, pre-race, Scott! I turned my ankle pretty bad after about 10k, and so when I made it back to the finish after the first 30k, called it a day. Hope I'll see you at Skyline.

  10. Scott, your pictures seem a lot darker than usual. What haps?!?

  11. Thanks for stopping by, everyone.

    If you recognize me on the trail and I'm screwing around, be sure to ask for a pic! Not all come out, but it's fun to try. This was a good race for taking pics.

    That being said, I did have the sport setting on most of the time and that cut my light tremendously. Why isn't there a "sport deep in the redwoods" setting? (ha, ha)


  12. nice run and trail too...I wished we had trails like these in Malaysia...but ours is thick tropical jungle, so it's kinda different experience.

  13. Great photos! I like a runner who carries a camera.

  14. It was great to see all the smiling runners at the first aid station, and at the road crossing. I was also watching out for cars with my bright orange vest and flag as your all crossed the road at the top of the hill. too bad I could not participate on such a beautifull day. I have to put in my volunteer time for TRT later in the year, and doing volunteer time for Sarah and Wendell is great. See you at Skyline in a couple of weeks. This time I'm running!

    Marco D

  15. Great work teammate! Looks like it was a stunning day!

  16. What a spectacular venue! Nice pictures and thanks! good job.

  17. I think your pictures look really good - I think a little dark helps deepen the colors, and gives a sense of what it's like under that tree canopy.

  18. Hey Scott,

    This write up of Sequoia is great! I'm glad you enjoyed our 'backyard'. If my running is ever in a slump, Sequoia-bayview trail usually sets it right. Excellent work getting those photos while you're out on the trail too.

    I wrote up my race here.


  19. Scott,
    Catching up on your posts.
    Isn't French Trail great? I think you're in good shape for States. I don't know if your Sophie likes White Stripes, but my son Peter and I like that Icky Thump song; it has to be played loudly. I've never run to it. See you at Skyline Ridge this Saturday.

  20. By the way, if Will Gotthardt is reading this, you are kicking major ass this year. Strong work / you both have my permission to beat me...


I LIVE for comments! Please add your thoughts, let me know you stopped by, etc., and be thoughtful of others. Always best if you sign your name, of course.