The Skyline 50k is one of my favorite races. It's got about everything that I want: Mix of running surfaces, moderate elevation gain/loss, almost guaranteed relatively cool weather, Pacific Association series points, big club participation, and great finish line BBQ. I had so much fun this year and this is how it went:
After the guy said go we were off on the rolling bike path that contours the west side of Lake Chabot. I was running with a group of speedsters before we started thinning out, jockeying for position. I ran with Jean for a little while, recognized Devon Yanko who I figured would be contending for the woman's win, and chatted with Jason Reed. On one of the first decent downhills Jason let me go and I found myself cruising alone all the way up to Redwood park. I bombed the downhill down to Redwood road, got filled up at the aid station and then hit one of my favorite sections of trail, the golden spike trail - which is a nice winding single track through a rainforest like setting with plenty of rocks to hop on. At the bottom of the trail I caught up with a train of runners that included Devon and a couple of guys. I tagged along just behind them for the entire climb up to skyline. On the steep stuff it seemed we all were hiking and they wouldn't put any ground on me, but they would always create a gap on the moderate ups, and I might make up a little bit of ground on any small downhills through this stretch.
The train of runners did end up getting out of my sight just before we hit the big aid station at skyline, so I was again cruising by myself enjoying the wonderful marine layer and beautiful views. I had kind of expected that they would move faster on the climbs, but had anticipated running the downhill on the French trail pretty hard to try and catch up with them. The skyline station is at about 14 miles, or almost halfway through the race. It is always a little bit of a psychological boost for me to know that the race is mostly downhill from there. Plus, the French trail is another one of those gems of a trail through some deep coastal redwoods and some fun, sometimes technical type running. To my surprise I didn't catch anyone through this section. I moved pretty well and enjoyed myself, but those other runners were moving just as well.
After I bombed the downhill back to the Redwood road aid station I was surprised to see Stanley Peng hanging out. He ran hard from the start, going for a PR and was now paying the price for a tough early effort. I quickly grabbed some water and gu and moved on. I stayed steady on the hike back up on the Macdonald trail, getting back up to the ridge in no time. Again I was just cruising by myself, trying to stay motivated to move efficiently while starting to get tired. This is about at mile 20. I ran the downhill assertively till I hit the valley floor. This is usually the low point of the race for me because between mile 22 and 25 there is some pretty lonely flat running with few views. Then you hit what I term the "insult hill" of skyline 50k - one more 300 ft climb that sort of hits you right when you don't need it. Then one last downhill before you have to run 3 flat miles around the east side of Lake Chabot to finish. Basically mile 22 to the finish is a "gut it out" kind of thing. But this is also when the most interesting racing comes in.
In the flat section, maybe mile 24 to 25 I got to see my first action. Some Excelsior guy (guy on rival running team) caught up to me and passed hard. I didn't have the legs to do much about it and kind of figured it wasn't going to matter much because of the climb coming up that I was sure was going to kick my butt anyways. I hiked as fast as I could up the insult hill, and then a couple of more guys were starting to catch up to me. Finally, before the top of the climb, a tough looking Japanese dude slowly trotted by, taking advantage of another of my weak hiking breaks. I knew this was going to be a battle. This guy had definitely saved some legs for the end of this race and I didn't know if I could match him. I followed him down the hill into the final aid station. He blew right through it. I kind of saw that coming: of course the this guy was going to skip the aid to put the nail in my coffin. I cruised in with my empty water bottle and empty stomach and glanced fleetingly at the wonderful buffet table before me. The aid station volunteer, understanding my conundrum, offered to be super quick. But I declined and chased after my target. As I attempted to close the gap on the downhill, something that would have happened rather quickly in any other situation, the legs started folding on me. Every time I tried to extend my stride they would just sort of buckle and I had to just sort of hobble down the trail. The cramping in my calves was destroying my downhilling ability. Nonetheless, I was still able to pull even with him at the bottom of the hill. I turned to him and exclaimed: "Time to bring the pain, right?" I don't know how he took it, but I was trying to communicate that being neck and neck with 3 flat miles to go at the end of a 31 mile race, it was going to be a painful fight. He sort of waived me by, expecting to chase me for a while and I imagine break my will and finish me at the end. I moved as fast as my legs would allow me to with the cramping I was dealing with - working through my head if I could even keep this up or whether the cramping would just get worse, or I might even bonk and be toast. He stayed right on my tail. We hit the bouncy wooden bridge over the marsh with one mile to go. I never looked back - I didn't want to give him the satisfaction that I was worried about him. But I wanted to back off and jog it in so bad! Halfway across the bridge I heard and felt his stride on the bridge and thought to myself: this is going to suck. I just kept hammering, seemingly finding some extra muscle fibers that I didn't know I had and was so grateful to see the finish line! I crossed in 4 hours 30 minutes in 13th place. Japanese guy showed up about half a minute later and we shook hands. I then proceeded over to a bench in the shade and buried my head between my knees for half an hour while dealing with the nasty after-affects of the hard effort at the end of the race.
After coming to my senses, I started taking in some calories and feeling better. I congratulated Jean on another amazing sub 4 hour performance, hung out with Bjorn who was the third scorer from our Quicksilver team, coming in a few minutes after me. He is going to be running the Ultra-tour-du-mont-blanc in France in three weeks - and that is such an epic undertaking, it was fun to hear him share about his prep. As the other quicksilver runners and running buddies rolled in, we shared an awesome BBQ and war stories in the sunshine of a beautiful afternoon by the lake. The memories of the grueling effort of the race already subsiding into that strange gap in an ultrarunners brain where all the pain seems to be forgotten.