"Dude, why are your shoes wet?" - Greg Lanctot. Me: "Because I sweat a lot". Him: "Oh, do you have hair growing out of your toe nails?" Wha?
So I got roped into this race sorta last minute: seems to be a reoccurring theme. All of the sudden 50k's became important to the Quicksilver Racing Team in our quest of PAUSATF MUT (mountain/ultra) team title. Usually it's the longer races that are worth more points and get less team participation that end up being key in the season standings, but this year it is coming down to maxing out our 50k points. There is a lot of complicated math and scoring rules that had to be considered, but the gist of it is that we wanted to have a good showing at the Skyline 50k against some rivals. I looked at the calendar, considered my fitness and decided to give it a shot. It could be a good training run if nothing else, and I knew the post race party was going to be superb with the twenty QS runners that were going to finish.
A little intro for the Skyline 50k: The race starts and ends at Lake Chabot in the east bay hills. It is a pretty hilly run with perhaps 4500 ft of climbing, but consists of a mix of terrain from miles of flat bike path, to hilly dirt roads, to twisty single-track. A very runnable course where some fast times have been put down over the years. Winners generally go under four hours. This is one of the oldest ultra's around with results being recorded back 33 years. It uses a lot of the same trails that the Dick Collin's Firetrails 50 uses. I have done good at Firetrails so figured I might be a good fit for this race as well.
I lined up with the front group and we were off. The first couple of miles along the edge of lake are flat and fast with everyone venting their nervous starting energy. I was running with Johnny B. for a while trying to prod him into some convo, but he would have nothing of it, maybe because he just finished hardrock three weeks ago, or maybe because he had been puking his guts up because of food poisoning, whatever: cowboy up man! I started inching forward on the random downhills when I asked him one final question: Yellow shirts are the badguys? He sounds annoyed when he had to confirm that the yellow jersey's did in fact represent the reason I was out there. I started zeroing in on them. There were so many! As we hit the dirt I passed a couple of them that I didn't recognize and then came up on Jason Reed. I harassed him about his unlawful trespassing ways and why he punked out on Toshi when Toshi wanted to crawl through some thorns and poison oak to climb a random rock. After a while he made up some excuse about wanting to "enjoy" the bbq at the end of the race and then let me run ahead.
I locked onto my next target. It was going to be a chore. The guy had a decent lead on me and I knew we were mostly climbing up to skyline gate. And I don't like to climb. I just decided to gut out the climb and figured I would make a move on the most technical part of the course: the french trail. By the time I hit the aid station at skyline I didn't know where he was, but I knew it was time to rock! The French trail is fantastic. Up and down single track, rocks, roots, giant trees, ferns, it is one of the gems of the bay area. It was on one of the downhills that I found him again. I closed in on him and ironically was able to power past him on an up-hill hike. Dan Rhodes and I made our greetings. We actually shook hands as I hiked past him. That is a first for me in a race... Nice guy. I knew there was a possibility I would see him later. The older runners seem to be a little better at pacing themselves and I knew there was still a lot of ground to cover. I continued to blast the hilly single track, loving every moment of this stretch. Eventually I hit some flattish dirt roads that just seemed to go on forever, and I wasn't seeing anyone. Basically out for a run by myself in the forest. I somehow held it together for this stretch, but as soon as I got dumped out onto the blacktop for the last three miles around the lake to the finish I was spent. I couldn't see anyone within striking distance and didn't have anyone pushing me from behind, and in my glycogen deprived state didn't even consider that it was my finishing time that might decide whether Quicksilver wins or not. Basically it is the top three times turned in by the racing teams that get added together and compared. I had my mind set on keeping my position, so I pretty much went into survival mode for the final stretch. About a quarter mile from the finish line I glanced over my shoulder and saw Dan closing, so I sprinted it in, lol. In retrospect it probably isn't the most honorable way to race, but when you are that toasted you will take almost any reason to let off the pedal.
I ended up finishing in 4:18:20, good for 7th overall. We ended up losing to the "bad guys" by about ten minutes. It was an epic battle up front where there were some seriously close finishes. Quicksilver top dawg in this race, Jean Pommier basically put on a late charge to take second place. Young Stephen Wassather (only 24!), was battling in the front of the race all day and then faded a little at the end, but still ended up fifth. Big Johnny B rounded out the top ten (I think he made all of that stuff up). Between the two rival running clubs we put together a vast majority of the competitive performances on the day. It was quite a meetup! Lot's of fun.
The post race BBQ was that much better because of the fun stories coming out of the friendly rivalry and basically just great hang-out time with friends. I knew I pushed hard in the race, but I actually didn't feel too bad afterwards. I am still trying to decode what the ingredients are to being able to "enjoy" these things. It seems that for me it is really putting in the mileage and paying my dues with the long training runs. It sounds pretty intuitive, but I have been experimenting with other ways of attaining the "ultra" fitness, because I always perceived big mileage as being unsustainable. The more stories I hear of the older runners who claim to only run 30 to 50 miles a week, and the fact that I don't hear of very many "mileage monsters" still running ultras into their 60s and 70s, the more I want to find another way, because I do want to be in this for the long haul. It's all a fun experiment.