Sunday, March 2, 2008

Ditched by Dunlap at Skyline Ridge 50k (I got the ham!)

view from the Vista Point, photo by Will Gotthardt

All I have to say is that I had my chance to be all over Scott Dunlap's blog, and I blew it, cause I couldn't catch up with him. And when I mean all over, like most of his race report would've been about me. As my son would say "Man, poopy!"

Well, actually, there are other things I can say.

How I came to run Pacific Coast Trail Runs' Skyline Ridge 50k on Saturday, March 1, 2008:
In an amazing demonstration of originality, after Scott Dunlap posted an offer to sell and transfer his entry to Way Too Cool 50k because the RD took it off the PAUSATF Ultra Grand Prix, I then commented that I was thinking of doing the same. Main reason--domestic political. With Rucky Chucky on the 17th and AR50 2 weeks later, too many runs held around Sacramento and beyond. I figured I should look for something closer. Still, this needed to be negotiated, since we were holding our son's birthday party the next day. Aside from this, I chronically feel guilty about not doing more PCTR runs because my schedule is filled with PAUSATF races. Finally I did this race 4 years ago, and remember it being very pretty. Besides an obvious PR, a repeat was overdue.

flashback photo: blogger-me, 4 years earlier, at the start. photo by my wife--crap, I've uploaded this twice and it still disappears--sorry.

How I thought I was going to have plenty of time, but actually barely made it there:

Basically, I forgot how long it takes to get up those windy hills above the peninsula. Plus, if I get up early (as I did), I still never leave on time. Marisa Walker helps me get to the start line on time, filling up my bottle. She also lets me stand by the heater. Thanks, Marisa! (Forgot to take your/her photo.)

At the start, I see and exchange a few words with Jon Olsen, who I think will win, Jason Reed (doing the 37k), recent subject of mainstream press ex-boxer Ray Sanchez, who makes no mention of his running the Napa Marathon tomorrow, and the blogger man himself, Scott Dunlap, decked out in yellow and geared with that Nathan pack. I know Scott kicked ass at PCTR's Woodside a month earlier, and had an extra trail race 2 weeks ago in Redwood Park, so I'm expecting to be running close to him all day.

Ray Sanchez (12th, 5:03:12; 113th and 3:15:32 at the Napa Valley Marathon the next day)

After Wendell Doman starts the race, I know not to sprint with the leaders, since there are always people doing shorter distances. I fall in with Scott and Ray, but feel like I'm going too fast. Not enough warm up. Or else out of shape.

We head this way for the first half of the 50k (as well as 37k and 23k) course.

Scott gets ahead, but I'm able to catch up around before a mile or 2 and we have that sort of extended conversation limited by our breathing and distance between us, which fluctuated. When not trying to chat or in the zone, I kept hearing Howie Day's "Collide" in my head, because it was on the radio on the drive up. Nearing the aid station I talk with Adam Blum, who says he is only running the 37k or 23k, but is also doing the Napa Marathon tomorrow. Apparently he does these back to backs almost every weekend, and you can see his out-of-control race schedule on his blog. phenom, Scott Dunlap (7th, 4:32:04), post-race, decked out in yellow

I get to the turnaround and first aid station, Hickory Oaks, at km 11.7, ahead of Scott at about an hour (I recorded all my splits, but would later nuke them before writing them down) and even doing the short out and back to the road before him. For this reason, I run back to the start thinking I was ahead of him.

On the way back, I really enjoy myself, neither slacking nor building up lactate like I was at the start. The ridge is beautiful, with a layer of clouds below the tops of the mountains to the west, which I asked Scott to photograph on the way out, but he said he'd do it on the way back since it was more uphill. As I see mid to back of the pack runners coming out, the theme song from "The Sound of Music" pops into my head. Fortunately, the other songs from that musical like "My Favorite Things" or that yodel song don't make it in, maybe partly due to our mutually encouraging remarks.

I get back to the start (km 23.2, about mile 14) at about 1:56, the faster return split mostly attributable to a drop in elevation. I grab 2 Cliff Shots and then start running down about 50 years toward the finish food area until I figure out I'm supposed to go the other way. The 2nd half of the course goes out into the next open space preserve and then does a counterclockwise loop before returning to the start, and then you repeat this 14km. Looking up the first hill near the top, I notice Scott with his bright yellow outfit is ahead of me. Not that I'm dead-set on racing him, but he's at least a minute ahead. I try pick up the pace, but the more exposed surface is harder than the softer trails in the woods, and my recent knee issues become an issue on the downhills. I'm a little skeptical of myself--he's got his tunes, no doubt listening to White Stripes' "Icky Thump" and other upbeat thrasher songs, while maybe Julie Andrews singing in the alps will come back to my unwired head. Different gorgeous views, including those to the east, with the Peninsula, Stanford, Mount Diablo in the distance.

entrance to Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve and the loop done twice during the 2nd half of the 50k course

The aid station up at Vista Point is 5 km out. Four years earlier, I think I (and several others) went the wrong way and did the loop backwards, but this time either I'm smarter or it's more obvious. Will Gotthardt is taking photos. He has gotten fast this year, and is winning the PCTR ultra series. I tell him about 3 times he's kicking ass. Will, if you're reading this, keep it up, you are kicking ass; you are gonna beat me.

blogger me looking faster than I am, photo courtesy Will Gotthardt

The loop then drops down in elevation and when it goes into the woods, I come to an intersection with ribbons going two ways. Plain ribbons going up to the left, and a striped ribbon going straight. I stand there for a while, deliberating which way to go. Obviously someone (who hopefully will die soon) has vandalized the course. My instinct says go up to the left, but then the striped ribbon is where you are supposed to go per the instructions. Also, the straighter way would probably be the longer way, so I don't want to inadvertently cut the course. Marisa had handed me the written course descriptions with distances between turnoffs when I registered, straight from the website, which of course, after pinning my number on, I forgot to stick in my pockets. Fatal preventable error. I go straight on what I later figure out was Mindego Trail, rather than turning left onto Ancient Oaks Trail.

The trail keeps going down. I try to remember after how many minutes of running without seeing a ribbon I'm supposed to assume I'm off course, and can't remember. I end up going more than half a mile, and since I don't see any trail going up to the left, I decide to go back. Oh well, bonus mile. I would try to think "well, this is not a race" but Wendell and Sarah appear to have removed the "runs that aren't races in beautiful places" from the website, since at least the front-runners, always have and always will race these just as hard as any other ultra.

Nonetheless I'm not really upset, except that I figure that now I'm about 8-10 minutes behind Scott, and am unlikely to be able to catch him, and will not again be part of his blog-narrative. As I get back to the turnoff, I deliberate fixing the ribbon, but I haven't actually confirmed that I really was off course, and then I'm scared someone will see me with the ribbons and think I was vandalizing the course. I hear a couple of voices and eventually catch up with Adam Ray and someone else. Adam says he looks at the ribbons for about 1-2 minutes, then intuitively decided to go left. Obviously, he has something in the intuition of common sense department I'm lacking, and I suspect so does everyone else. I suspect that I'm the only one dumb enough to go straight. Adam is still recovering from a hernia surgery (or that's his excuse, read on below for my many excuses).

Adam Ray (9th, 4:46:08) taking a well-deserved rest, waiting for his wife Jennifer to finish (which she did within an hour).

Coming down from the first hill to the start/finish, I see the leaders coming back the other way, and then Scott, to whom I mention my bonus miles. I'm at the start aid station at about 3:18.

At the Vista Point aid station, I repeat my compliments to Will, who's probably embarrassed at this point. Coming down and around, I pass an older guy either doing his first loop. Since I actually have time, I mention to him about the vandalized ribbon intersection. "Don't go straight, go left up the hill."

So down the trail, no yet in the woods, I see another intersection with a trail going sharply back and left. Crap. I hope he doesn't think this is the interesection. I look back and can't even see him--I'm hoping he can see me going straight. Then, when I get to the intersection, I find the ribbons have been fixed. Double crap--what if this further confuses him? I'm feeling potentially guilty. As I climb the hill, I pass a couple of hikers going down. I tell them "if you see an older guy running--" (what great, specific descriptor--I'd be the key witness is a crime, huh?) "--please tell him the ribbons have been fixed."

So much for trying to help.

With about 3 miles to go, I start pushing the pace, feeling the burn, and breathing quite hard. Unfortunately, this causes Madonna's "Burning Up for Your Love" and that Saturday Night Fever "Disco Inferno" with the "burn baby burn" to pop into my head. I rarely feel a need to listen to music especially for these shorter races, but apparently I am having difficulty staying in the zone. Also some hip hop song with dirty words, burning something down that I didn't know well enough. Fortunately this only lasts a moment. "Note your thoughts, let them pass, breathe." I crank up the last hill, passing Steve Ansell, who says something about my lapping him.  (He was actually running almost 50 miles that day, I later learned--link for his report.)  Beatrice Song, who works in my hospital and has returned to ultrarunning after a 2 year hiatus comes the other way, looking good, commenting on how she is surprised I didn't lap her.

Beatrice Song at the finish 4 years ago, June 2004. finish line was up in the parking lot then.

I run into the finish. 4:40:12, almost half an hour faster than 4 years ago, but I don't even bother to ask what place I came in. 30.12 miles per my GPS, or 51.7 km. PR by almost half an hour even without prorating the extra distance, but besides my being much less experienced 4 years ago, I think it was hotter (was in June) and because a runner tragically died of cardiac arrest on the course, the course got diverted so we had the option to do a short 3 mile out and back to make up the distance.

Let's see, last year at Quicksilver 50 mile, my 50k split (actually 31.5 miles, with 5440 elevation change) was 4:22:59. Need to way get back into shape? Slow day? Hmmm...well, running today definitely didn't put me OUT of's all good!

I tell Scott I think he beat me, even without my bonus mile. Later, I realize had I gone the right way that I probably would've caught up with him and we could've had an intense sprinting duel to the finish. Had this happened, I would've played a greater role in his own blog narrative, which is read probably by a thousand to a million more people than this sorry, never published on time, lame excuse of a blog. Gosh, that would've been so cool.

I head for food, aware that another clock (to get birthday errands and get home) is ticking.

Sean Lang, 5th, 4:24:38 (NOT Leor Pantilat (50k winner, 3:58:11) as I previously posted, despite having talked with Sean post-race and taken his picture. I had runner's high, right...) Sean's blog race report

Four years ago, I ran several miles with and barely came ahead a couple of women who still holds the female course record. I remember talking to them not even that long at the finish, when I got the distinct impression that she thought I was hitting on her. Like, whatever, woman! --man I've come a long way (fewer times getting chicked, if nothing else...). But I must add, I have not come nearly as far as Scott, who gets thronged by women after every race. You have to see this to believe this.

Leor Pantilat (winner, 3:59:11, and NOT Thomas Clarke (3rd, 4:11:29) as Mr. Clarke was so kind to point out to me later in his comment, PCTR's Sarah Spelt (thanks Wendell and Sarah and all the volunteers!), Ryan Commons (6th, 4:29:11)

my doggie cup, since I can't stay and talk and eat and take photos any longer. photo by Thomas Clarke

This time, much better conversation, and I get to at least briefly meet all the fast guys who came ahead of me, but unfortunately my "race" is not close to being over. I have to pick up a preordered honey baked ham, cheesecake and side dishes in Palo Alto and then pick out and order balloons, both for my son's 3rd birthday party tomorrow. Then in a couple of hours try to make up for being absent daddy.

The Ham Guy gives me our (Honey Baked) ham. I'm not a ham kind of guy, but this was really good, and got lots of positive feedback at our party. I have no financial interest in this company, in fact they took a lot of our money, but maybe I should see if they will sponsor me...

blog author me, still unshowered 5 hours after finishing, on hike with son, who shot the photo

He kept wanting me to carry him, but he ran about a mile altogether.

part of why I'm late with this post (along with 40 hours of work the next 3 days). don't ask why I'm dressed up like a cow. not my idea.

finally first published 3/6/08 at 10pm


willgotthardt said...

Oh yeah Adam is gonna love the fact that pic can be expanded to near life-size...awesome.

The party scene resembles something from either a Fellini film or perhaps some crappy Jackie Chan caper.

Not embarrassed at all with your aid station comments, though the only chance/reason I'll ever have in finishing ahead of you in the standings is by running 5X the amount of PCTR events (I figured the math out long's a decent plan).

Another fine race & report...great stuff.

Will G.

Harald said...

You're a brave man to publish that cow pic - the sky's the limit with the photoshop possibilities!

great read!

Sean Lang said...

Mark, nice to finally meet you in person (you are usually way ahead of me). That being said, I am humbled that you think that I am Leor and ran a course record 3:58. Alas, I can only dream of being that fast.

Picture is of Sean Lang (long hair, beard that looks like frost on dog poo), finished 4:24, 5th place. author of


Will said...

Crap, how embarrassing, Sean. I knew I'd get someone mixed up. Will change this.

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Crap, I was signed in as my nephew, Will.

Michael Kanning said...

Mark, it took me a minute to climb back into the chair I was laughing so hard at the cow photo. Ultra For A Cure, Facebook, bulletin board at school-that picture will go everywhere, my friend!(and no matter how many times you talk abuot how "relieved" I look :)

Anyways, congratulations on the race-even if you did get lost. I ran at Russian Ridge last Saturday and it is one of my favorite parks in the Bay Area.

Hope you are able to get some solid training in, and I look forward to our next meeting at AR! Don't let me "pull a Dunlap"! :)


Michael Kanning said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rajeev said...


I always love your posts. Your self-deprecating humor has me LOL.

Congratulations on a wonderful run in spit of the extra mile.

See you in AR next month.


Peter Lubbers said...

Fun report, Mark.
Will you be wearing the cow-suite at Rucky Chucky? (We might be able to keep up with you that way :)
Take care,

T Clarke said...


Great post but we need to work on your photo journalism.

The 10th photo is of Leor Pantilat, Sarah D. and Ryan Commons.


miki said...

Were you showered by the time you put on the cow suit? :)

Scott Dunlap said...

Good stuff, Mark! Great running with you. If it was a 32 miler, I think you would have had me even with your extra miles. It's much tougher to get lost at Rucky Chucky, so we shall duel again! ;-)


Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Thanks everyone.

Tom, you are so right. Will amend, thanks/sorry. (I thought I'd taken a photo of Leor, but thought it was the one I'd taken of Sean Lang.)

Miki, yes I had showered by then since the party was the next day (Sunday). I'm nasty, but not that nasty.

Scott, don't put it beyond me to get off course on the simplest of courses. I actually did that at Jed Smith, which takes extra special talent. Maybe I'll wear a cowbell...

rick said...

Sounded like a great day. Hey didn't Scott run a race last year where folks were dressed as cows? You can resurrect the cow costume for that race.

Jonathan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan said...

Sup Tanaka,
Good read. Give me your e-mail and I'll send pix of you at Quad Dipsea and DCFT50. =)

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Hey, Jonathan--
Kimura or Olsen? I have Olsen's but not Kimura's email.

Jonathan said...


Dave - Atlanta Trails said...

"Honey, what's so funny?" (expecting some reference to Family Guy, which is on TV)

"This blog I'm reading"

"Oh, ok"

This conversation just happened in the Atlanta Trails household.

Always enjoy reading your blog. Hope you're doing well, Mark!