Lots of familiar faces were at the starting line of the 50k, including Bev and Alan Abbs, Rajeev Patel, Paul Charteris, Will Gotthardt, Chuck Wilson, Karyn Hoffman, Benjamin Muradyan, Tom Zinkle, Vance Roget, and many PCTR regulars. Eight were signed up for their first ultra, while another handful were trying their first trail run. So exciting to see the new faces! They probably could have picked an easier race to start with – this course has almost 5,000’ vertical, with a good chunk of it in the first five miles. Then again, it’s a heck of a way to christen a new sport!
RD’s Wendell and Sarah Doman sent us off at 8:30am, and we quickly whittled down to about eight folks rushing through the single track of lower Huddart. Tom Clarke (who had gone sub-5 hours a few weeks ago on the very tough Pacifica 50k) and 24-year-old Kevin Weil went right off the front, with Will Gotthardt, Bev and Alan, and a few others keeping them in sight. The weather was brisk, which made for good running conditions, but the clouds were threatening rain. All in all a classic winter day in Woodside!
I ran with Kevin as we zigged and zagged up Huddart Park, just 20 yards behind Tom. Kevin told me he was fairly new to ultra running, but had the advantage of living in Portola Valley (near Woodside) with Open Space trails right off his front yard. Proving that this is a small world indeed, we quickly figured out that he was in a technology start-up like me, and that his fiancée, Elizabeth McCleneghan (also in the 50k), was going to be in a meeting I had on Tuesday. How weird is that?
Tom set the pace for most of the uphill grind, showing his roots as a former 5k college track runner for Dartmouth. He stepped aside to let Kevin lead the last section, and Bev came right along with us. There was a fifth runner as well, already cranking heavy tunes and charging hard. Seems like only yesterday I learned at the Woodside 50k not to put too many metal songs on the BEGINNING of the playlist, lest you go too hard in the first part of the race. But he was doing great!
As we peaked near Skyline and headed towards AS #1 (mile 6), my watch read 47 minutes, which is a 4 hour finish pace for those who can keep it up. I was trying desperately to stay aerobic (since I have yet to incorporate speed/hill work into this years training), and watched Tom, Kevin, Bev, and the Rocker head off from AS #1 without me. They disappeared into the thick clouds that saturated the towering redwoods, floating like ghosts.
As I began the traverse over to Wunderlich Park, I popped a Nuun Kona Cola tablet into my water bottle and chugged. I had been introduced by Nuun through a friend just a month earlier, and really enjoyed how the electrolyte tablet added just enough flavor to the drink to quench my thirst. And with 360 grams of sodium, potassium, and magnesium, I was certainly going to keep up on my electrolytes! I brought along a few flavors for a change of pace, stashed in my shoulder pockets.
My legs found a fast and familiar rhythm on this trail. It was a bit fast for a 50k, but I’ve charged this trail so many times on regular 10-mile out-and-backs I couldn’t get myself to hold back. By mile 9, I caught Bev who was being careful not to stress her sore Achilles too much before Way Too Cool. Soon after, I caught the other three. The fog was as thick as gravy now, and it was fun to charge down the hills and see the moisture billowing behind me. A few downed trees made it more like a steeplechase in some sections, but volunteers had clearly done the heavy work to get the worst out of the way. Tom and Kevin let me by to lead, and my legs went berserker despite warnings from my brain that the pace was too fast. I found AS #2 (mile 12) in 1:31, and couldn’t see anyone behind me. Alas, it’s too late now!
The heroic volunteers of AS #2 were braving the winds and some fresh rain, and still had me outta there in less than 20 seconds. I charged solo down the hill into lower Wunderlich Park, enjoying the sounds of rushing creeks that usually are as dry as a desert all year long. This is a wonderful section of trail that cleanses the spirit as it draws you deeper and deeper into the park, and the rain helped wash away any day-to-day stresses. I felt like a kid as mud splattered in all directions with each step, soaking my Inov-8 320’s and Injinji socks and speckling my legs and face with rusty dirt freckles. It was a full rejuvenation of the soul.
I broke out into a clearing around mile 16, and the dark grey clouds signaled that more rain was a-comin’. But so far, the cool weather and mist was perfect running conditions. My scenery-stealing glance got the best of me when I caught a toe on a fallen branch and went down around Salamander Flat (mile 17). Luckily the handheld water bottles kept my hands safe, but I pulled something in my hip that required some walking to get back on track. Nothing too devastating, so I caught up on hydration and calories while I walked.
Kevin soon caught me on the uphill Oak Trail, and he had an aggressive pace heading back up to the top of Wunderlich. As luck would have it, he soon saw Elizabeth and gave her a high five and she headed into the loop. Tom was about 100 yards behind, as calm as a mountain lion stalking his prey. We had a chance to cheer on the other 50k runners coming down this out-and-back section, and everyone was in great spirits despite the rain coming down harder. Rajeev, in his bright orange rain gear, was the best prepared of everyone for sure!
When I found AS #2 again (mile 20), they let me know that Tom and Kevin had gapped me by about 3 minutes in the last two miles. I was feeling unusually tired, to the point I stopped on the trail for a few minutes to collect my breath. Not sure what was happening here, but I suspected it was just proof that I hadn’t done many 20+ mile runs in the last few months, and certainly not as hard as I just did the last 20. Perhaps it was the fast-charging downhills catching up to me. I pocketed a handful of M&M’s, had some Coke, and took it easy over the next few miles.
Within 20 minutes, I had my groove back albeit a bit slower than my starting pace. I was still fast-walking some of the uphills to keep the exhaustion at bay, but it felt like a decent pace. 35k runners were heading in both directions on the single track and had plenty of words of encouragement for me and each other, and their smiles kept me motivated to keep moving.
I exchanged a few words with Charles Wickersham, a 35-year-old runner from Modesto, CA, who was trying his first trail run with the 35k. He had a few flat marathons under his belt in the last six months, and I was really impressed with how well he was doing on the technical section on his way back. He definitely has the trail bug now!
One last stop at my driveway aid station for some Coke and water (mile 27, 3:40), and I took the final plunge down the Chinquapin Trail. The rain was coming down in sheets now, filling the air with fresh energy. The skies exclaimed “this ain’t nothin’ yet”, and it was obvious this was going to be a more challenging run for anyone over 6 hours. I thought of the chili waiting for me at the end, and kept up the pace.
Before I knew it, the finish line was in site and I crossed the line in 4:14, good enough for third place. Despite the rest/walking, this was 10 minutes faster than I have ever done this course! Still not enough to catch Tom (who won in 4:02) or Kevin (second in 4:09), but just enough to come in ahead of Bev Abbs (first female, course record 4:15), Ryan Commons and course record holder Mike Buchanan (4:20), and Will Gotthardt (4:22) who all proved to be a lot closer than I thought. Elizabeth (Kevin’s fiancée) held on for second Woman in an impressive 4:55, just a few minutes ahead of the super-fast Karyn Hoffman. 61-year-old Carl Maes from Oakland, CA, broke 6 hours in an incredible run (5:56), just behind Kathleen Stabler who had come all the way from Albuquerque, NM. Everyone was crossing the finish line with ear-to-ear smiles.
In the 35k, 23-year-old Leor Pantilat set a course record 2:38:45, while Monica Erdosh from Foresthill, CA, claimed the Women’s title in 3:27:55 (other results can be found here). We ate chili and soup to ward off the cold, and cheered on the finishers as they came in. Mother Nature dished out a good one for us today, but she was no match for the collective spirit of the ultra community breaking in a new ultra season. Reconnecting with nature and friends, enjoying a challenging race…my heart was overflowing with anticipation and optimism for the year to come. With a few hugs and congratulations, we headed out, our sore bodies already looking forward to the next race.
Thanks so much to Wendell, Sarah, and Aaron Doman and the fabulous volunteers who braved the weather to put on a fantastic race. It is days like today that I understand you are the backbone of this great sport, and set the standard for the tenacity and positive spirit that encompasses these races.