Sunday, March 02, 2008

Ridge Running at The Skyline 50k

On Saturday I had the pleasure of joining 200 runners for a sold out race at PCTR’s Skyline 12k/20k/37k/50k in the hills of Palo Alto, CA. This course romps through the Santa Cruz Mountains in a two loop format full of hills, views, and 5,000’ vertical feet of single track and fire roads. The weather was great for running, the competition was fierce, and we all had a stellar day in the mountains.

I caught up with friends and new faces in the chilly parking lot, and found out I wasn’t the only one who had caught the nasty sinus-plugging, hacking virus that Sophie brought home for us last week. I tell you, it would not surprise me at all if we found out the ebola virus originated from a neighborhood day care. I shook the worst of it a few days before, but wanted to be careful not to push myself to the limit today and lose another precious week or two of training. This could all be a convenient excuse, however, since I knew that there would be some fast runners in the 50k here today. PCTR speedsters Kevin Weil, Tom Clarke, and Ryan Commons were going to be joined by Jon Olsen (2x Rio del Lago 100 winner) and Mark Tanaka (Kettle Moraine 100 champion), and all of them were fast enough to put pressure on Chikara Omine’s seemingly untouchable 3:55 course record.

(Kevin Weil and Elizabeth McCleneghan before the race)

As I caught up with Kevin Weil (and letting him know how much I enjoy the PicLens plug-in his company released – well worth it for you picture junkies) and his fiancée Elizabeth McCleneghan, we were joined by Kelly Bennett and her training partner Sean. Kelly came up from Las Vegas, NV, to tackle her first 50k, and she was sucking in any last minute advice we could dish out. The three of us grinned and happily share the mountains of advice we garnered through mistakes of our own – “put your ego aside and walk often”, “carry a water bottle at all times”, “eat at aid stations and take something to go”, “don’t worry about your splits”, etc. But we could tell from her optimism and multiple 3:15 marathon times that she was going to be just fine. Sean was tackling the 23k as a warm up for an upcoming marathon of his own, and would crew for the remainder of the day.

(Gathering at the start)

(Jon Olsen, Mark Tanaka and others are ready to get going!)

At 8:30am, RD’s Wendell and Sarah sent us off on the first 23k loop into the Skyline Ridge and Long Ridge Open Space Preserves. Leor Pantilat set a blistering pace for the 20k, and led us around Horseshoe Lake and into the hills. I paced along with Mark Tanaka and Ray Sanchez, catching up on life as we walked the steep uphills. Mark was nursing a sore knee, which meant he would be running with us mere mortals for a while. Ray was tackling yet another ultra, one of 30+ he would do this year. We tackled the steep hills along the tree farm and spread out on the single track in the thick oak trees.

(Tackling the climbs near the tree farm)

(Mark Tanaka blazing down the single track)

The trail soon broke lush tree cover, revealing stunning views of mountains on either side of the ridge. Hawks were soaring in the wind, searching for breakfast in the lush green fields. Runners speckled color into the ridge trails etched into the hills, bringing vibrant life to the usually still landscape. As we ran in small packs, everyone commented on the perfect cloud cover. You never know with Skyline Ridge – the last time I was here it was 30 mph winds and mud slides. This time, perfection!

(The ridge trails hug the mountain range)

(Perfect cloud cover today!)

Leor Pantilat came flying back on the trail about two minutes ahead of Jason Wolf (37k), Dave King (23k), Kevin Weil (50k), and Tom Clarke (50k). A couple of turns later, we hit the aid station (mile 6.1) and volunteers filled our water bottles as we did a short out-and-back down to Skyline Road. Mark Tanaka considered this enough “easing into it” and took off with his trademark bombing descents. Within minutes, he was just a white spec on the horizon ahead.

(Tom Clarke is right up front in the 50k race)

(David King smiles his way to a 2nd place in the 23k)

(Jason Wolf on his way to another 37k win)

(Ryan Commons chasing a 23k runner after hitting the aid station)

(Sean Lang grabs a snack on his way back from the aid station)

(Jon Olsen sets a killer pace in the lead pack of the 50k)

The return trail was filled with smiling faces enjoying the afternoon. I was impressed with how many were running the steep hills – even the short races here are tough! I caught up to Adam Blum, who was fitting in a 23k just a day before the Napa Marathon. I met Adam through the Trail Runner Magazine Trophy Series a few years back, and have always been impressed with his ability to double up races on the weekend. He recovers like Wolverine from the X-Men!

(Adam Blum charges the single track)

I enjoyed catching with Adam, and hearing about the Fat Ass 50k he put on earlier this year. Before we knew it, we were back at the start, 23k already finished. Good luck in Napa, Adam!

(It takes work to get to the views, but they are worth it!)

(Vladimir Gusiatnikov charges the downhill on his way to another strong 50k run)

Ryan Commons was just a few steps ahead of me at the aid station, and charged into the 14km loop through the Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve (we would do this twice). I tried to pick up the pace to run with him, but he was too quick on the single track uphills. He stayed in view as we crossed the ridge trails, and he soon caught up with Sean Lang. The two of them paced about a ½ mile ahead of me, which made it easy to see what was coming up next. The beauty of the course was amazing, even overwhelming at times. We are lucky to have all of these connected Open Space Preserves that allow us to intimately experience nature.

(Racing the ridge)

At the next aid station (mile 18), Will Gotthardt and the other volunteers took care of us. They let us know that Leor had opted for 50k, and continue to set the pace up front. Kevin Weil was in second, but looking a little ragged. Tom Clarke and Jon Olsen were third and fourth, calm and collected. Mark Tanaka, Sean Lang, and Ryan Commons made up the chase pack just a few steps ahead of me.

(Runners are like specs of color along the trail)

(Long ridge trails help keep other runners in view)

As we crested the ridge, the wind picked up and required us to lean into it to stay upright. But as soon as we turned left down into the valley, the air was still and (dare I say it) warm. The single track was fun and fast, and we took the next mile and half quickly.

(Another photographer/runner and I exchange shots)

(Sean and Ryan flying down the windy Russian Ridge)

The trail soon pitched up, and I caught up to Ryan and Sean. Sean set the pace, pulling us up the warm ridge. As I passed Ryan, we both commented that it felt like we were digging a bit too deep on this second lap and the last one would certainly hurt. We compared iPod playlists – his Goo Goo Dolls and my Prodigy – and it was clear that both of us were pulling out the big gun songs and we had a ways to go. At least Ryan was smart enough to start out with a little Pink Floyd to chill his pace early in the race.

(The backside of Russian Ridge)

I caught Sean at the top of the hill, thanked him for leading us, and we charged back down towards the end of the loop. We saw the other runners heading out for loop #3, and the order was exactly what Will had said – Leor well up front, Kevin in second, and Tom and Jon lurking just a minute behind and still looking strong. There was just one thing missing – no Mark Tanaka! That means he either took a wrong turn or had a REALLY long pottie break. Neither of those are good options. ;-)

(Kelly is still looking good at mile 20)

(Powering down the ridge trail)

We refilled and reloaded at the aid station (mile 23), and headed back out on loop #3. About a mile up the trail, Mark Tanaka came down the other way and smiling and saying something about “bonus miles”. He still looked good, so I was sure I would see him on my shoulder in no time.

As I hit Alpine Pond, Elizabeth McCleneghan was slowly staggering up to the water fountain. She mentioned she took a good spill, but was going to walk it off and perhaps cut back to a 37k. She better decide fast though – about 12 minutes behind her, first-time 50k’er Kelly was still smiling and having a great race!

(One of the many breathtaking views)

As I hit the climb up the Ancient Oak Trail, I got dizzy and felt the phlegm building up in my throat. I usually have a “wall” to get though around mile 22, but the symptoms felt more flu-like than usual. I decided to walk the uphills (another convenient excuse, perhaps?) and Ryan Commons soon passed me. He said “yup, dizzy…I know just how you feel”, but he’s a bit tougher than me and kept a solid running pace up the hill.

(Steve Ansell cranking out his 50-miler)

The wind was definitely a factor on this loop, and I could see runners in both directions swaying back and forth in the gusts. Up ahead along the ridge, Sean was still making long strides and looking great. Seeing him running fast along the ridge reminded me of that great movie On The Edge (a must for you trail runners). I looked behind me and saw the familiar fast turnover of Mark Tanaka about five minutes back. Just a matter of time, I figured. Will Gotthardt filled us up again at the aid station (mile 26), and I took an extra cup of flat Coke to try and keep Ultrinaka at bay.

The descent and climb felt much tougher this second time around, but the company made it easy to tackle in packs. Lots of 37k runners were pushing their pace and working together. Steve Ansell was doing a 50-miler today, running 9 miles to the start of the 50k and planning to head back along the same route. Suddenly I didn’t feel so tough!

One last descent, climb, and descent and I crossed the finish line in 4:32, good enough for 8th place (once again, a whopping one point towards the PCTR Series!). The finishers relayed the final standings for me – Leor Pantilat led from end to end to finish in 3:58 (only his second 50k), with Jon Olsen charging in the last lap to get second in 4:08. Tom Clarke (4:11) managed to catch a fading Kevin Weil (4:15), and they finished third and fourth. Sean Lang (4:24) and Ryan Commons (4:29) both finished under 4:30. Mark Tanaka (4:40) finished just a few minutes behind me. (full results here)

As we ate chili (except Jon, who was holding out for his In ‘n Out Burger celebration) and caught up, Elizabeth McCleneghan (5:06) cruised in to win the Women’s division, somehow back from the dead. Mark Nutall came in just ahead of her, winning the unofficial “best battle scar” award. Before too long, Kelly came in (5:27) for second Woman and looked fantastic. I suspect this won’t be her last 50k!

(Mike Nutall's battle scars)

(Kelly finishes...2nd Woman overall!)

With a few more smiles and “see you at the next one” chatter, we each headed out as more and more finishers came down the chute. The ear-to-ear grins reflected what I was feeling all morning out there – there is no place I would rather spend the day then out in nature with friends both new and old. My thanks to the volunteers and RD’s for putting on a fantastic race!

See you at the next one… ;-)



  1. Scott,
    Great picture of me feeding my face! Thanks for pushing me up the ridge! It seems like the PCTR 50K continues to get more and more competitive. There were 11 runners with sub 5:00 times! Is it the point series? or increased interest in trail runs that is fueling these fast times?

    See you on the trails,
    Sean Lang

  2. Scott -- I really enjoy the blog and thought I recognized you out there, looking strong. I did the 37k and managed to chat a bit with Kelly, who seemed to be enjoying her (very successful) first ultra. I feel better about her pulling away from me learning that she's a 3:15 marathoner :)

    Anyway, fantastic photos and description as usual. I noticed the views but not all the rest of the detail you remember!

    Good luck at WS,

  3. Great race & report. Good to see Thomas Clarke (in pic) looking both tall and young.

    Will G.

  4. Dear Scott,
    while you were busy getting 8th in the mens 50k I was busy winning the envirosports 5m in Huddart park. Great race and race report as always. Hope you feel better.
    Will Baker-Robinson

  5. Scott,

    Great run yesterday! It was good to see you out there. Sean is right. The PCTR races are getting more and more competitive, but I think that is the sport in general. In the end it is great news. I really had to battle yesterday to finish second. It was great meeting Tom Clarke. What a nice guy. We are doing a team run up on the WS trail on the 15th if you or anyone is interested.

  6. Great photos Scott! Always great to see familiar and new faces.

  7. Nice job yesterday and great report! It was a gorgeous day for a run!

  8. Great writeup as always, Scott! Thanks for hanging around afterward until I was human again, and of course thanks for the piclens plug! :) If Blogger would only open up a bit, we'd get you a blog plugin in no time...

    See you out there again soon,

  9. Great pictures and write up!

    I definitely made plenty of excuses myself this weekend! But sometimes it's good just to enjoy the time on the trails...and spend a little more time out there :)

  10. It never ceases to amaze me what you guys do for fun and health! I love the views, but I think I'll just keep cheering you on from the flats!

  11. Wow, that's a lot of pictures! Well done, Scott, a point is a point:) There is a Russian Ridge? And wait till I post my battled knees...

  12. Hi Scott,
    Thanks for the nice report. Your pictures are worth 29,000 words!

    Love the Piclens plugin, and also highly recommend their CoolIris plugin for quickly previewing blogs.

  13. Great to see you out there Scott. I am always impressed by how many pictures you take in these races and equally as impressed by how detailed your write ups are!

    By the way, your photo of me actually helped me finish my run as I figured it might end up on your blog and I would feel like a loser if I stopped at 40m and caught a ride back to my car. The final total came to just over 49m with huge thanks to Harry Walther who ran the final leg with me.

    Also, the "photographer/runner" exchanging shots with you is Miki Higuchi who designed the race T-shirt.

    Finally, your finish may not give you many overall points, but it counts for 6 points in your age group keeping you in 2nd place. Congrats!

  14. Thanks for coming out again to run, Scott, and for once again doing such a fabulous job documenting your day in words and photos - incredible that you're able to do that, really, not to mention doing it and running so well, too!

    Sorry that you've been sick, but glad that you had fun out there on those trails.

    Thanks again, and hope to see you again soon.

    Sarah (PCTR)

  15. Hey Scott! I was the other runner you exchanged photos with on the trail. Nice to see you out again and hope your run kicked your cold out. Check out my blog. I have your pic posted and it's a really great one. Couldn't get this bloggy thing to send an image to you outside of posting it.

  16. Wonderful pictures, Scott. The out and back courses give you a chance to capture a lot more faces! It was good to see you out there and I will see you at Rucky Chucky in a few weeks.

  17. Great running and great photos, Scott! I'm sorry I missed the chance to run and talk to you more. Thank you for putting a good photo of me (so often I look dorky) in your blog anyways, even though I couldn't keep up with you, and can't blog as fast or as prolifically as you either.

    I will see you at Rucky the Chucky Cheeses 50k, and will try to bring better aerobic capabilities for better challenge. Bring your camera, as I will be wearing yellow, and welcome more opportunities for press exposures to impress the women of your community and bring greater glory to Ultrarunning .

  18. Scott,

    Awesome pictures mate. One thing about running in NYC, I wish we had the scenery that you have out there in CA.

    Good luck :)


  19. Scott,
    I've just taken up trail running this winter and got a chance to see you there taking pictures (i'm the blue shirt guy huffing up the hill in 2 of the shots). If i wasn't talking much it was only because i was maxed out! You and whole group who can go that pace, that long, take pictures, be friendly to strangers and competitors alike is impressive. It inspires newcomers like me (doing 23k that day). I also couldn't believe somebody (ie ray and adam) would do the napa marathon the very next day. Thanks for the inspiration/motivation to keep training!

  20. Scott,

    I would be curious to hear your thoughts on the recent marathon deaths in the news. I believe there is 3 that I can think of in the past 6 months? Do they bother you at all, or is it something that I shouldn't dwell on? I'm thinking of running my first ultra, but I've let the news affect my thinking.



  21. Paul - You were rockin' that course! Tanaka and I kept saying you never walked, and just kept charging every hill. Nice work!

    Erik - Congrats on thinking about your first ultra! I wouldn't worry too much about the marathon deaths in the news. There have been more and more each year, but there have also been a lot more participants. When 35,000 people start an endurance event, there is bound to be 1 or 2 that get into trouble no matter what shape they are in. The choice to run is really up to you - if you feel you're in good shape and health, your doc says it's okay, your peers think you can do it, then you should be just fine if you take it at a reasonable pace. Don't think about the 1 or 2 that had issues, think of the 100,000+ who made it to the finish with a smile and lifetime bragging rights!


  22. Gosh Scott!!

    I bet there are more photos than words in your report!!

    It's amazing that (a) you ran the race so fast and (b) took so many pictures.

    You have a lot of talent in both departments!!!


  23. Kelly Bennett Reid2/13/2012 04:23:00 PM

    Hi Scott! This is the first time I have ever read this blog entry and I was really excited to see my pics and my name in the article. I was looking up this race because I wanted to know the name of the trail we ran that day and I came across your entry! I wanted to say hello and I will never forget how nice you were to give me a water bottle for my race. And, for the awesome advice for my first 50k. I am signed up for the AR50 in April 2012! Also, I ran NYC marathon 2011 and CIM 2011. I see you ran NYC and are running CIM in 2012. After running the full CIM, I flew back to Vegas and ran the Vegas half. 39.3 miles in one day! Happy running to you!


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