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.
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
(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
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!
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. ;-)
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!
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.
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!
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… ;-)