Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Race Ready at the 2011 Sequoia 50k

Every weekend I've been looking for hills to run in preparation for the Wasatch 100m (and its 57,000' of vertical change, yikes!), and last Sunday I had a chance to squeeze in the Sequoia 50k in Oakland, CA, as part of a big mileage training weekend. Here I thought California was hill country, but if you're looking for a climb of 3,000'+, you ain't gonna find it around here. 250+ other trail runners also joined in for this local favorite put on by Pacific Coast Trail Runs, with 10k/20k/30k/50k loop options to choose from. It was a beautiful warm day to test my race ready fitness for W100!
(Best part of the Sequoia 50k - the French Trail!)
"Race ready" was what I was shooting for, so I brought all the gear I was planning to use at Wasatch, did a pre-race hill workout to beat up my legs, and planned to stay aerobic the whole 50k, eating and drinking as if I had be ready for 70 more miles.  I definitely got a few stares as I packed my new Salomon Advanced Skin X-Lab Hydration Pack with a jacket, gloves, hat, and enough food for the weekend in the 70 degree morning.

One thing for sure is that I was relaxed. Just two weeks ago, Christi and I were seriously contemplating moving the family to Washington, DC, or Austin, TX, in pursuit of some fascinating career opportunities, and I thought for sure my life of California trails would be over within the month. But a Silicon Valley company swooped in at the last minute and the match was good, so we're staying. Phew! I start my new job on September 12th...two days after Wasatch...ensuring the first day faux pas of Frankenstein posture in flop flops. But it also leaves me with a rare few weeks to focus on training and getting Sophie Jane into kindergarten. The trails feel brand new to me again, and I swear with every step that I won't take them for granted!
(Hanging with ultra God Marshall Ulrich, photo courtesy of Sarah Lavender Smith)
Ultra legend Marshall Ulrich was here for the 50k, and also to sign copies of his great new book, Running on Empty. After running across America and climbing the Eiger for his 60th b-day, I'm sure this 50k is just a warm up jaunt! It was also great to meet Marshall's wife, Heather, one of my heroes from the book, and see that her enthusiasm was as contagious in person as it was in print. Before we knew it, we were called to the 8:30am start (30k and 50k runners first), and headed up beyond the cloud cover.
("know your ribbon colors, getting lost is half the fun...")
(Up we go!)
A group of eight went out fast, led by past 50k winner David La Duc (training for the Bear 100 and easily capable of a sub 4 hr 30 min finish time). My self-imposed heart rate governor had me walking within the first half mile, chatting with fellow 50k runner Chris "call me Granger" Granger as we settled into a rhythm under the redwood canopy. It was warming up quickly, but would likely cap out in the high 80's, and we had some nice deep wooded canyons ahead to keep the sun off our shoulders.

Thanks to the hydropack and packed food, I skipped the first aid station and went straight to dessert - the gorgeous French Trail tucked along the back of Joaquin Miller Park and into Redwood Regional Park. This trail never ceases to amaze me with its runnable single track and deep redwood gulch. We tackled the climbs with Rachel Niehuus and Sharon Medina, two female front runners in the 30k, leading the way.
(Granger gettin' it done)

(Rachel Niehuus sets the pace)
It was a long way to the second aid station (mile 11), and most folks were out of water by the time they arrived. David La Duc was in front with two others about ten minutes ahead of me, and I found myself in about sixth place. I refilled the hydration pack, plus filled an extra water bottle that I would use as a shower for the exposed climb back out. It was sweaty hot now, but I was feeling good at cruising speed.
(Sharon Medina still smiling at the turnaround)

(Barry Smith joins in on the refueling for the climb back)
Rachel Niehuus and I reached the ridge together and began picking our way through the 20k runners who had started later. The rising temperature was taking its toll on many, and with 10-12k between aid stations, there was little room for error for those not keeping up on water intake or sunscreen. I handed my shower bottle to a few runners along the way, happy to be the only one insane enough to bring "too much" water. The mini-showers felt great, but unfortunately some of it got in my camera and it went kaput. Darn. Well, good to know.

(Cody Hanson runs the ridge)
(Niveen Ismail bombs the downhill)

(Eureka's Karen Kidwell charges the single track)

(Look out! Passing on the single track is always fun...)

(Sarah Tantillo enjoys a bit of shade)

(Aaahhh...isn't that canopy nice?)

(Gravity is good!)

We hit the aid station again (25k), where dirt diva Catra Corbett and friends were happy to give some Wasatch pointers (bring Gore-Tex, it gets cold!) as I gulped down some Coke and PB&J. I was in a good place, and the miles were flying by.

As I finished up the first loop (30k), I suddenly found myself all alone on the course as the 30k runners finished up and chilled in the shade. I slipped on the headphones and cranked up Soundgarden and Dead Weather, staying in that 150 bpm groove. Why 150 bpm? I had tested myself at the Stanford Human Performance Lab and found out that my aerobic zone goes to about 154 bpm, and I naturally feel a quickening of my breath at exactly 150 bpm, so it's easy to regulate without a heart rate monitor. It's also surprising how smooth a run can feel when you stay in this zone! I was all smiles.

As I zoomed through the aid station again (35k), Brian Callejas from Fremont caught up to me and we tackled the French Trail together. This was Brian's second 50k ever, and he was doing great! Clearly his cycling and short course running was keeping him very fit. He meticulously asked me about anything he could learn, and was happy to ease up the pace if a long answer was required. I loved that he had so much energy!
(More French Trail!)

(Another great "mistake" shot! I think that's Shiran Kochavi)

(Heading down from the aid station to the French Trail)

(I'll take a double double French Trail, please)
At one point I got caught up in a story (who, me?) and tripped on a root, going down in the dirt enough to create a nice little cloud. I learned there is one drawback to carrying water bottles on your chest, and that is they will try to dig into your rib cage if you face plant! Brian helped me up and walked a few steps with me as I caught my breath, and within a few minutes we were chugging along again. Ah yes, the, where was I?

The last 10k was very hot and exposed, and Brian and I caught a few runners along the way as we picked up the pace to get to the shady parts. Shiran Kochavi was still looking good, but in need of water, as was Oakland's Barry Smith. Barry had just run the Pikes Peak Marathon LAST SUNDAY, and Brian and I were very impressed this 52-year-old was running at all! He let us know there had been a few drops, as well as few people kicking down to 30k once the heat started, and we were likely in 2nd and 3rd place. David La Duc was certainly out of reach at this point, but the rest of the podium was empty! Go as fast as you can without exceeding 150 bpm! The perfect 100-miler training.
(Trail trolls planted these waist-high bastards everywhere)
Brian smartly took his time at the last aid station (45k) to catch up on liquids, so I descended down to the finish alone in 5:00:18 for 2nd place. David La Duc had won in 4:50:30, with Brian coming in 2 minutes behind me and Barry Smith hanging on to finish just a few minutes behind Brian. Seaside's Anna Komitov had picked her way through the pack to win the Women's division in 6th overall (5:14:00). Zephyr Cove's Steve Rodriguez (2:36:43) and Christa-Lynn Vampola (2:50:57) from Mountain View won the 30k. Marshall Ulrich cranked out a 6 hr finish in the 50k for 12th place! What a stud. (results) All in all, great performances by all of these runners on a hot day.

I felt great at the finish, knowing I could go all day at this pace. I have more mountains to climb this week before the big day in Utah, but my confidence is up. On top of it all, I have a solid foundation of gratitude knowing that our roots will continue to deepen in Woodside, CA. These are the very same trails where I ran my first casual exploratory one mile trail run in 2001, my first trail race in 2002, and my first ultra in 2005. Deep roots allow you to reach for the skies, yes? And so to the skies we shall run...

Thanks to Sarah and the PCTR crew for a great day!

- SD


  1. Nice post, Scott. A couple of corrections:

    1. The race takes place entirely in Oakland (not Berkeley, as written).

    2. The race starts in Joaquin Miller Park, but quickly moves to Redwood Regional Park, which is where the French trail and probably all of the aid stations (excluding the start/finish) are located.



  2. Scott,
    you can always do a training run in Mt Diablo. It has 3000'+ of elevation. just start at the old mitchell canyon road entrance. Use the old Mt diablo 50 miler map to guide you all the way to the top, if you don't remember the way. I know you ran it before. I always go there whenever I can to get my hill training. Good luck in Wasatch!!

    Marco Denson

  3. Nice post and great pictures. Always nice when I find someone has snapped an action of photo of me (Heading down from the aid station to the French Trail). Thanks!

  4. Glad to hear you're staying! Beautiful trails and congrats on the good day.

  5. Scott, it was great to meet you at the race. Thanks for the post, and all of the great photos. It was nice to see some of the trails you and Marshall were running out there. Since I only saw the start/finish area - which was beautiful! - while selling Marshall's book Running on Empty, I really apprecate the trail photos...and the nice photo of both of you. CONGRATS on your great finish!!!

  6. Nice post and some stunning pics here.

  7. Good luck at Wasatch! I'm looking forward to the pictures.

  8. thanks for the write-up and the pics. it's always humbling to get your pic taken by someone running hours ahead of you, carrying extra equipment, and not breathing particularly hard, but between you and Jean Pommier I'm getting used to the experience...

    PS: good seeing you yesterday at the woodside arts fair; you may have just been delivering plasticware to the family but you looked ready run up any collection of high elevation peaks, in Utah or otherwise. good luck at Wastach.

  9. ooops. Last post was by Shir Kochavi. I continue to stand by it.

  10. For years, I've read about you running on trails in your back yard -- well, welcome to *my* back yard! :) Nice to meet you and your dad at mile 53 of the Wasatch 100. Hope the rest of your race went well.
    - Jeff


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