Sunday, December 07, 2008

A Great Fall Run at the Woodside 50k

On Saturday, I had the great pleasure of joining 350 trail runners for the Woodside 50k/35k/17k/10k in my hometown of Woodside, CA. We had a perfect day of sun and 55 degree weather, which was more than enough to put smiles on faces all around as we enjoyed the romp in the redwoods. Another fantastic race put on by Pacific Coast Trail Runs!

(Leor Pantilat is ready at the sunny start)

(The 50k runners are ready to roll!)

I was pleased just to make it to the starting line thanks to a nasty cold bug that Sophie brought home from school a week ago. I’ve been hacking up enough green oysters over the last week to stock a fishbowl. But I was on the final stretch of my recovery, so I just loaded up on cold medicine, planned to drink plenty of fluids, and lined up at the start of the 50k with no intentions other than enjoying the Fall colors and crisp air. The weather was unusually clear at the starting line, and we squinted into the sun as RD’s Wendell and Sarah (and Aaron) Doman gave us last minute instructions. At 8:30am, we were off!

(Sarah and Wendell give us the low down)

The front runners set a brutal pace from the beginning, with speed demon Leor Pantilat, collegiate track star (28:50 for the 10k) and Stanford graduate student Keith Bechtol, perennial top finisher and PC Trail Runs Series top contender Will Gotthardt, and Redding, CA’s Trevor Nelson taking off like they were being chased. I was impressed that Leor and Will had any legs at all, since both of them had run the Quad Dipsea last weekend. Given the perfect conditions and newly groomed trails, the 3:52 course record was definitely going to get some pressure. I paced along with Jason Reed and Jamie Olsen as we launched into the big climb to the top of Huddart Park.

I recognized the back of Jason’s head and his efficient stride, and we quickly figured out that I had run along with him at a couple of races this year. He was tackling the full 50k this time which was, and I’m dead serious, his 87th race this year. Yowza! He also did the Quad Dipsea last weekend, but you would never know from his effortless climbing and friendly banter.

Jamie, a swimming and wrestling coach from Sacramento, CA, was a road racer (marathon and ultra) who was giving this “trail thing” a try. He and Jason really hit it off, talking about the best marathons and races in Northern California and their various experiences. Jason and I were familiar with this course, so we had plenty of tips to share. My big one for this race was “don’t go anaerobic until you hit the first aid station, then make up ground by charging the downhills on the way to Wunderlich”. I had figured this out at the Woodside 50k earlier this year, where I clocked my best 4:14.

(Jason Reed and Jamie Olsen take on the newly-groomed Crystal Springs trail)

The trails were fast, much in thanks to most of the Crystal Springs Trail being smoothed and paved with some base asphalt. I missed the roots and rocks, but this was definitely faster. We made the first aid station (5 miles) in 50 minutes, with a chorus of coyotes bringing us in. The awesome aid station volunteers said we were already 10 minutes behind the leaders. Wow! One of the volunteers handed me a note from Christi and Sophie which they left on their way out a few minutes earlier (the aid station is next to our driveway). Go, Daddy, Go!

Jason, Jamie and I kept a comfortable pace on the Skyline Trail towards Wunderlich. I kept telling them what was ahead and when to sprint, and Jamie asked, “how many times have you run on these trails?”. I shocked myself when I did the math – it was nearly 1000 times! Guess I don’t have to pre-run this course. ;-)

(Cruising along the lush hills of the Skyline Trail)

About halfway in, I took the lead to show the other guys how to bomb the little downhill stretches. My feet found the right footing like only a local could, and I quickly gapped them by two minutes before reaching the second aid station (mile 11). The crisp Fall air cleared up my throat and sinuses, allowing my lungs to soak in the oxygen. It felt great! I made a quick stop for refills and headed down into Wunderlich.

The next stretch of downhill was just gorgeous, and the trees were full of birds singing the praises of a beautiful Fall day. I couldn’t see a soul in front or behind me, and for a moment it felt like I was just out on my weekly long run. There was no need to turn on the iPod – my senses were alive with the sights and sounds of the lush and leafy canyons. Is there any better place to be on a nice sunny Fall day? My heart filled with joy knowing hundreds of people were out today enjoying the trails I am so lucky to frequent.

(The ever-smiling Luis Velasquez and Janet Thomson charge down into Wunderlich)

(Tom O'Connell from Conifer, CO leads a pack down the fire road)

(No PC Trail Run race would be complete without the smiling Fred Ecks)

About half way down, I caught a glimpse of Will and Trevor about a ½ mile ahead. Maybe I wasn’t that far back! I did my best to pick up the speed but went miles without seeing them again. I reached the climb back up and knew that Will was probably mountain goating up and trying to break Trevor. Ten minutes later, I caught up to Trevor walking and regrouping with some tunes. I should have warned him about Will and those climbs!

(Trevor takes a breather on the climb up Wunderlich)

The climb back became an out-and-back, and the smiles of other runners powered me up to the top. I reached the aid station (mile 18) and Will had definitely put 7-8 additional minutes on me. Even scarier, Keith and Leor were 30 MINUTES ahead of me. And we’re only half way! The course record would fall for sure. I chugged a Vespa, grabbed some jelly beans for the road, and joined the 35k runners to head back home. Trevor entered the aid station as I left, so he was rallying!

(Scott Laberge and Clare Abram do a running hug)

(John McKiernan charges the downhill)

(Hollister, CA's Brian Harvey keeps a solid pace)

I ran the whole stretch back, chatting with runners along the way. All of them were smiling ear to ear and enjoying how the sun was breaking through the redwood canopy. The temperature remained ideal – mid-50’s with a slight breeze, just enough that you couldn’t overheat if you tried. I came into the last aid station (mile 26) and got one last refill before taking on the final downhill descent. They mentioned that Bechtol and Pantilat were well on course record pace, with Bechtol a few minutes in the lead.

My pace was good down the last hill, but not good enough to hold off Harry Walter who was having a PR kind of day. He looked great! He quickly put 30 seconds on me, so I picked up the pace to keep him in sight. I knew some fire roads were up ahead, and suspected I had the leg speed to catch him again. I hit the roads and turned up the pace to 5:45 min/miles, and caught him with a mile to go. I offered to run in together with him, but he said, “nope, we should race to the end”. You gotta respect that! So I turned up the speed and charged and Harry stuck right on me. The last 800 meters were flat out, and I crossed the finish in 4:22:30, narrowly beating Harry by less than a second. We both staggered to the rest area and held off dry heaves, patting each other on the back for a well-earned finish. Harry did PR by a large margin, and was quite pleased. I was so proud of him!

Keith Bechtol did bring home the win in a smokin’ 3:35:15, taking nearly 20 minutes off the course record. Leor Pantilat was second, just three minutes behind and also well below the course record. Look out Krupicka and Skaggs – we got some new California young guns to give you a run for your money! Will Gotthardt finished third in a respectable 4:08, bringing him within a few points to win the PC Trail Run Series. Heather Burcar from Golden, CO, won the Women’s division in 4:53:19.

(Keith Bechtol, Leor Pantilat, and Will Gotthardt finish 1, 2, 3)

(Heather Burcar looking great at the finish)

In the short course races, Elliot Wright (2:45:37) and Jennifer Dolson (2:58:28) won the 35k, Gary Gellin (1:10:39, new course record) and Bonnie Niesen (1:28:32) won the 17k, and Michael Skaff (48:36) and Christy Haddad (53:37) brought home gold in the 10k. (All results here)


(Birthday girl Sarah Doman and her son, Aaron)

As we ate chili and snacks in the sun, more smiling runners came flying down the home stretch. Sarah Doman was surprised with a birthday cake, and hopefully got a slice before the hungry trail runners devoured what was left. I smiled into the sun, listening to the laughter and camaraderie around me as friends new and old wished each other a happy holiday. Another epic day in the mountains!

- SD


  1. Great late season run, Scott. Nice work.

  2. The weather was great, the course was fast and pretty, and your post captured it very well, though I wasn't in a position to watch the leaders like you were. My only complaint was that were way too many of us in the 40-49 age group. ;-)

    You got a picture of me in the back of Tom O'Connell's pack, so I feel strangely famous.

  3. Oh well! Very nice race in a perfect weather! A bit distant indeed from here...

  4. Nice job, once again Scott. Good write up as usual. Two obtuse questions - since he qualified at Eugene, is your dad going to go out to Boston? And, did you hear how K.A. did at Sunmart? Lonn in Eugene

  5. Hey Scott, great to see you out on the trails! Hopefully Luis and I will see you up at Muir Beach this coming weekend.


  6. I try to run the PCT races every chance I get. They are a blast. Happy Birthday to Sarah!!

    Wish I could have made that one.

  7. I looked, but didn't see you at the 50k start (I ran the 17k), but I should have figured you ran all these "backyard runs". BTW, I'm constantly amazed that you find time to take so many pictures during these races; I'm way too preoccupied just trying to stay upright to even consider it.


  9. Scott... your blog is inspirational... and your running too..

    Hoping to see you at Muir woods this weekend.. :)

  10. Scott,
    It was a pleasure meeting you this weekend at the Woodside 50K. Thank you for the race report and for sharing the photos. Great race! It was a gorgeous course and the weather was a real treat. Best wishes in 2009 and all of your upcomig races!

  11. Excellent race & report Scott...

    Glad you mentioned the coyote's, that was very cool, they were definitely worked up about something.

    I had no intention of breaking Justin, he had been on a 4hr:10min finish pace throughout (my pre-race goal) and was pushing me to limits on descents. I just felt soon after we began the long climb out of Wunderlich that it was an opportunity for me to push back a bit.

    He was a very successful young runner with Vasque (up through 2005?), so I had/have a great deal of respect for his ability. I just think he is recently coming back to the sport, which is great. Didn't get a chance to talk with him, even while running just yards behind for the first 18 miles or so, as he had his iPod cranked, then I never saw him back at Huddart.

    Congrats to all finishers.

    Will G.

  12. Wonderful to see y'all out there!

    Lonn - Good question about my Dad. I'm going to enter him in Boston as his x-mas gift and we'll see if that's enough to get a commitment. I'm sure if his granddaughter is there, he'll go for it. ;-)

    Janet & Luis - I will see you at Muir next weekend! Let's hope the weather works out again, although I'm sure it will be epic either way.

    Ron - For me, it's all about the pics! On days I can't run, I can always go back into my blog and relive past runs. It's also a good excuse for a few recovery intervals.

    Heather - Awesome to have you out this way!

    Will - A gentleman to the finish. Perhaps you just don't realize when we're all dropping like flies trying to keep up with you on the climbs. ;-P


  13. Holy crap! Congrats guys, especially to Bechtel!

  14. Thanks for the report/photos and great job! It was nice to chat after the run and enjoy the beautiful place that we live in!


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