Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ending My May Race Triple Taper Through the Brutal Heat and Hills of the Ohlone Wilderness 50km Run

After a somewhat frustrating Miwok 100k on the 3rd, and pleasantly surprising Quicksilver 50 mile on the 10th, I approached the 21st annual Ohlone Wilderness 50K Run on the 18th of May not expecting much.

If anything, the field of the fastest registered runners was deep: last year's winner Jean Pommier, who missed the record by only a minute (and probably would've beaten it had he known he was so close); course record holder Kevin Sawchuck; Mark Lantz who's had great PR performances at AR50 and Miwok this spring; Ron Gutierrez, who beat Pommier at Whiskeytown last October; 2005 winner (and Western States 2006 winnner) Graham Cooper; 2006 winner Truman Long; Will Gotthardt, running very well this year; 2003 winner Simon Mtuy from Tanzania; Adam Ray, who finished close behind me last weekend at Quicksilver; Jed Tukman only a few minutes behind me last year. I doubted I would place high enough in the Master's division (most of the above runners are over 40) to get any usable points for the PAUSATF Ultra Grand Prix. I signed up largely for course loyalty, and to continue my longest ultra streak-- this year would be my fifth straight running.

Besides it's fun. It's a point to point course. And it keeps me from doing the other point to point course the same day:

my rapping older brother at the Bay to Breakers the same morning

Last year, I managed to finish under 5 hours, despite being out late the night before, eating Asian fusion in San Francisco to celebrate a friend's 30th birthday (we didn't start eating until about 9pm). This year, I opted out of another party, largely because now we have too small children. If I'm going to run all morning Sunday, I should at least help put the kids down Saturday night.

I drive my entire family down to the Stanford Avenue staging area of Mission Peak. Lots of familiar faces. The bathroom line is too long, but I end up not having to really do anything. Race Director Rob Byrne confirms several no shows--Graham Cooper, Truman Long, Thomas Clarke--the field is a little thinner. But still enough fast runners left, most of them fresher than I.

with RD Rob Byrne. All volunteers got the cool tie-dye shirt.

For those unfamiliar with this course, here's the elevation profile:

The first triangle is Mission Peak. The second bigger one is Mount Rose. So basically you go up and down, then you go up up up and down down down. But note (especially note if you ever run this for the first time) that even after you summit Mount Rose and start heading down, you have several other ups, that look small, but really aren't, and they hit you when you thought you were done with the ups and just going down.

click for a virtual photo tour of the course, taken in 2007 by Chihping Fu

towards the left from me in the yellow Sportiva jersey: Ron Gutierrez, Kevin Sawchuck in the red shorts, Jean Pommier, photo by my wife

At the start, Jean Pommier takes the lead and never relinquishes it. After Mission Peak, I don't think I ever saw him even up ahead in the distance.

Gets the same bib number next year, the first male run to win 2 straight years in a decade.

Mark Lantz after him, then Ron Gutierrez, Kevin Sawchuck, another unidentified runner. I run close with Will Gotthardt, who paces well (last year he took off with the lead pack), and yet able to hold some conversation, probably better than I. Beth Vitalis and Adam Ray are close behind. On one of the few slight downhills on the ascent to Mission Peak, Beth compliments me-- "you're running like a deer." This is ironic, because my wife told me earlier that morning that I was thumping around noisily downstairs and got her. Well, she had to get up anyways to drive the car back...

cows on the course 2 hours earlier, photographed by pre-sweep & finisher Chihping Fu

Lots of cows on the trail heading up. The first metal cattle gate is unlatched, but I think it's latch, so in trying to unlatch it, I latch it, then have to apologize to Will for the 3 second delay. The trail is ruttier and less muddy than in years past. Near the top of Mission Peak, I decide to stop and tie my loosening right shoelace, giving Ron, Kevin and Will about 10 seconds.

Will Gotthardt at the start

Usually it's cool and breazy at the top. Today, nothing of the sort. You can tell already it is going to be a scorcher.

I can catch up to Will, and we go down pretty close. After the Sunol aid station (mile 9.1), Will says he's going to drop back. However, he doesn't drop back much, and we continue to be able to see each other for miles. We end up overtaking several runners.

Backpack Area aid station crew setting up when Chihping Fu passes through earlier

Ann Trason volunteering at the Backpack Area aid station (mile 12.5) asks me if I don't want to get anything more. In retrospect (actually about 20 minutes later), I would realize I missed very experienced cue. I probably was buzzing a little too fast through the aid stations. If I was only going to carry one bottle on such a hot day, I should drink extra at the aid stations. I would only pee twice the whole race, and not much each time. Normally I do much more plant fertilizing during races. I should've taken the lateness of my first micturation as a sign. I keep thinking I'll pee again soon--but the urge would come only close to the end of the race.

Consistent with the mismanagement of my fluids, for some reason I kept missing the lap button on my Garmin Forerunner 305, and so I wasn't recording anything until I noticed the time wasn't running. This made calculating my splits impossible. Not that it really mattered, since I wasn't going to run nearly as fast as last year (or even the year before).

After backpack aid station, I pass Mark Lantz, who is hurting. I'm in second! I've never been in 2nd at this race before. Gotthardt isn't far behind at 3rd. Pretty cool!

Mark Lantz at the start

The leader Jean Pommier too far ahead, it felt like I was 1st in the race for 2nd. With a bunch of fast guys chasing my tail. And the titillating suspense of knowing who was maybe about to snatch it.

I come to another gate, and can't figure out how to release the safety lock on the other side. After several seconds and some expletives, I decide just to climb over it. Luckily my legs are not so tight yet--this would have been too tricky and resulted in some muscle spasms had it come later in the race. Will says something to me, but I can't hear him since I take off. I'm not sure if he could open it, or climbed like I did.

Throughout the race, we in the lead pack pass by many runners opting for an early start. I always try to give them encouragement. Approaching Rose Peak, the high point of the course, I run into Catra Corbett and Andy Kumeda, doing Catra's annual 100 mile run in which the Ohlone race serves as the last 31 miles. I tell her they're the true studs of the day...and night.

the bracelet box photographed by Chihping Fu earlier

At Rose Peak, we pick up the Zombie Runner Ohlone 50K bracelets from a box carried there by Boy Scout volunteers, to prove we went there. This was a new feature to prevent course cutting. There was also a volunteer with a British accent at the turnoff to direct the way. This was much appreciated, as I actually missed the turn after the loop last year, despite having run the course 3 times before, and added a 1-2 minutes to my time.

coming back down Mount Rose, photo by Andy Kumeda

Kevin Sawchuck easily finally catches up to me during the longest split between Maggie's Half Acre (mile 19.7) and Schlieper Rock (mile 25.7). I tell him I think his record's safe this year, he comments it's definitely safe from himself. I'm too sore, tired, and mildly nauseated to mount any response. I knew he was fresh from NOT having run Miwok and Quicksilver or anything other races the previous 2 weekends. Third overall is still higher than I've ever placed.

Kevin Sawchuck after he passes me for 2nd place, shot by Chihping Fu

Near the end of the stretch I see Chihping's trademark fluorescent yellow Ohlone 2007 shirt and he again does me the favor of taking photos of me. Thanks also for all the other photos I used!

The awkward position of my arms perhaps indicates the bad shape my legs are in.

What running form!

At the aid station. I drop my orange bandana in the sponge bucket as a volunteer fills my bottle with Gu2O.

Beatrice Song suggests I slow down, since I'm in 3rd. I'm thinking since I'm in 3rd and not by much, I should move my butt. I'm in such a hurry, I don't realize that I've forgotten my bandana, a souvenir from pre-Ruth Anderson Paintball, until I'm 30 feet down the hill. Oh well.

It's just as well I had lost Sawchuck earlier, since things get rougher.

On the technical single-track switchbacks that go on down forever, one of my feet, which otherwise do very well on technical downhills clad in Sportiva Lynx, snags a rock (operator error). I almost fall, my calf nearly goes into spasm. Luckily I can regain my footing, stop and my muscle relaxes-- major disaster barely avoided! I take the rest of that hellacious section (which is also full of poison oak) more slowly, realizing that whoever is trailing me is going to gain some ground. Invest a minute or two to prevent losing a half hour and 10 places.

I've done that descent 4 times before and faster, but this is the first race in which it leaves my quads feeling there are about to go into spasm even after I've finished the descent. After the steep uphill climb (the last) the course flattens. I stop to try to grab my toe and stretch, but my hamstrings tighten up--so I give up. Ugh-- I'm on the verge of whole leg and body spasm. So I have to run cautiously this section I usually run fast. I KNOW someone is gaining on me.

The last big descent already begins before the last aid station, 2 miles from the finish. I manage to knock over a cup of soda onto a holding about ten S! Caps, which I've been taking about every hour. I'm very embarrassed and apologetic, but the volunteers tell me not to worry and get me going.

My quads are thrashed and I know I'm descending slower than the last several 3 years. Fortunately, I never see anyone behind me when I look back, and I don't have to do any sprinting to keep my 3rd overall place. At the finish, I feel really awful, but don't collapse or have any chest muscle spasms requiring paramedic attention like I did at Quicksilver last weekend. I have for the first time successfully completed the "Bay Area PAUSATF May Triple" (Miwok + Quicksilver* + Ohlone). This is my first Ohlone top 3 finish (after 3 straight years in 4th place overall), and I get PAUSATF points worth using.
*(Since I'm coining this term, I'm saying you have to finish the 50 Quicksilver 50 mile to finish the BAPAMaTriple.)

race swag (including some for placing) and trail post award

Shortly (2 minutes and 15 seconds) after me, Kevin Swisher, whom I've never met, comes in. At the finish, he appears to cramp up all over and almost collapses. Apparently catching sight of Kevin Sawchuck and me several miles earlier made him feel like he was going too fast, but he realized this was a great day and kept closing the gap behind me. He's been training more and trying to take the running to a new level. Very successful--great job!

Volunteer Rick Gaston and Kevin Swisher

Beth Vitalis come in only 31 seconds after Swisher as the first female, and 5th overall, winning her 4th Ohlone. Last year's female winner Caren Spore finishes 2nd, 12th overall in 5:45:31. I'm particularly impresed with Will Gotthardt for sticking close behind me for so long and finishing 7th in such a thick field, and Gary Wang close behind him in 8th after a great Quicksilver performance the previous weekend.

I go soak in the lake with Mark Lantz, who has a tough race (Lantz is faster than I, but somehow I always manage to beat him in Ohlone). Unfortunately, good swimming water is less ideal for soaking (it's not cold enough). Some schmoozying. Steve Stowers formally introduces himself. He was originally in the race, but due to ITB problems after his (2nd place 7:14:34 finish at) Mad City 100k, dropped Ohlone at the last minute. He tries to get me to replace him as pacer to Michael Wardian (who won Mad City) at Western States, but I'm noncommittal since I'm currently working that weekend (and actually not my first request to me to pace at that race).

Steve Stowers (click for his Jed Smith report on Jeffery Roger's blog, when he finished 50 miles under 5:40)

Ron Gutierrez proudly shows off his blister.

juicy blister up close, suitable for printing and hanging on your wall

Before long, my family shows up and I can take some post-race photos. Then at about 2:45 my wife gives me the 10 minute warning, because we have to take a friend working at a camp up in Napa during the week who was staying with us this weekend to our BART station by 4:30. I volunteer to retrieve the car, which she had to park in the 2nd parking lot from the finish area--it's quite a hike. Jeff Barbier walks and chats with me out and I give him the quarter mile ride back before I notice there are still no parking spots in the first lot, so I park it in a red curb zone and go to get my family, my goodie bag and the marinated pork plate I'd been given but hadn't had a chance to eat since my son wanted to play catch with someone's beach ball. My wife isn't as ready as I'd thought. Suddenly I notice the park ranger's green car--crap, he's going to ticket me. I sprint across the field in my flip flops, and shout to him that I'm moving it now. Unplanned post-race sprint--luckily nothing snaps. After parking it half-way down the closer lot for a net gain of maybe only 200 yards, I go back to get my family again. I notice I forgot my water bottle somewhere, so I run back and retrieve it, then run back, fast since I forgot to give her the car keys. Ohlone 50.8 km Wilderness and Parking Lot Run. I should've left my Garmin Forerunner on.

Direct links to other blogged reports (will try to keep updated).

Catra Corbett (did her Ohlone Triple Plus 100 mile run)
Rick Gaston (volunteer)
Glorybelle Lillie (1st female rookie, her 1st ultra)
Jean Pommier (winner, 2nd straight year; also first to finish blogging this year)

Chihping Fu (pre-sweep volunteer, ran the whole course starting at 6am (2 hours ahead))
Andy Kumeda (went most of way with Catra)
an unidentified hiker (with fellow runners aiding a fallen runner on the course, and the helicopter transport out)

blogged reports by ultrarunners doing that other "race" in S.F.

1st published Tuesday, May 20, 2008, at 3 pm


Rajeev said...

Congratulations on your 3rd. place finish and the PA/USATF points.

As I have stated many times before, I love reading your posts. They go by at top speed and make me feel out of breath!


rick said...

Mark congratulations on finally breaking through to 3rd place. I hope you are getting some rest after 3 hard weeks of racing. Pretty gutsy performances all three weeks. Kevin Swisher's performance was amazing and Will G. also had a great race. See you at Kettle Morraine.

Jean Pommier said...

Great report, Mark, and on Tuesday after a race on Sunday, really good! I enjoyed learning what happened behind me: at some point I thought you had all decided to stop at Sunol for a private party and kidded me to see how far I was going up on Mount Rose before noticing! ;-)

Was nice to see the whole family again. OK, you really deserve your tapering now! And congrats for the insane lead in the GP, you rock.

Farther Faster

GB said...

Hey Mark, this is the first time I've visited your blog and I am hooked. I found you through Rick Gaston's blog.

Before I ran Ohlone (my first ultra ever) I did not know ANYTHING about ultra/trail running except that it was probably going to hurt at Ohlone, so I really appreciated this statement in your report:

"But note (especially note if you ever run this for the first time) that even after you summit Mount Rose and start heading down, you have several other ups, that look small, but really aren't, and they hit you when you thought you were done with the ups and just going down."

Oh my goodness, that brought back bad memories. I also appreciated that you had to alter your normally fast descent through the single track downhill in the last miles of the race. I realize now that even the hardest core ultra runners like you have to make adjustments sometimes. :) But you're still super human!

I admire your toughness, especially hopping over the cow gates. Good stuff.

Congratulations on taking 3rd under such brutal conditions. And for completing the Bay Area May Triple. You are AMAZING! I hope to learn a lot from reading about your training and racing.

I was actually standing by Rick at the picnic when we saw you run by and when he asked why you were running, you said you had to save your car from getting towed. Glad you got there!

Ohlone has kind of put a fear in me, but I have a feeling I'll be back. I have a whole year to mentally recover from it, after all. But now it's back to road marathoning for a while.

Thanks for sharing your experience, and wonderful job!!!

willgotthardt said...

"Will says something to me, but I can't hear him since I take off".

After having locked us both out of the first latch on Mission Peak, then watching you push/pull/shake the one near Billy Goat Road in every/all but the correct manner (before finally hopping over), as I easily passed through I yelled that if you just knew how to open an F-ing gate you'd have a 10-minute gap!?!?

[BTW I've filed an official protest with RD Rob for those three seconds back on the first climb].

Well there's nothing quite like taking 'Dr. Tanaka's Ultrarunning 101' class first hand, you are a master of the early pace setting, and I've learned more running behind you for a few hours then I have in countless solo training runs. Straight up, I truly respect your abilities in this sport. Good day for me overall, appreciate the comments.

Congrats on another great race & report (though surprised you omitted the early ankle deep mud you alone found on Horse Heaven). ;-)

Will G.

Michael said...

Great race report. I felt like I was there, minus the pain and fatigue. Unfortunately, I was forced to run the "other" race; by the time I discovered Ohlone, it was sold out. Next year!

And it's cool you list so many of the runners by name; it took me a while but I finally remembered why Kevin Swisher sounded familiar: I finished the 2007 Tahoe Marathon stride for stride with him. It sounds like he's running much faster now!

Bea said...

I fished out your orange bandana from the sponge bucket and it will be arriving interoffice mail.

I am thinking about changing specialities so that I too can run races every weekend and write a lengthy and entertaining blog.

Great work, Mark.

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

I usually don't comment much on my own comment section, but thanks everyone for all the kind words.

Will, you're right, I almost did lose my shoe in that nasty mud. I also forgot to stick in the family photo. Damn gates-- next time YOU lead! (You'll finish faster too.)

gb, wow-- I may work on trying to complete your conversion to the dark side (of ultrarunning).

Bea--too funny! Thanks for volunteering, and especially for fishing out and mailing my bandana. But you know you should never envy us docs in the ER pit...

209Mike said...

Great job as always Mark. Congratulations on 3rd place. Also congrats on the triple - that is unbelievable. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I wanted to introduce myself and thank you personally before the race, but already couldn't catch you. I really became interested in trail running because of you and Scott Dunlap. Not sure if it was smart going from zero (marathons) to ultra distance, but it turned out to be a great experience and very rewarding. Keep up the great work and I look forward to reading about your continued adventures.

- Mike

Eudemus said...

Nice job Mark and congrats on the 3rd place! Really enjoyed the race report. You finished that quicker than expected as well!

Anonymous said...

Congrats on the trifecta! You are like a machine out there every weekend.

jen said...

Congrats on the 3rd place finish and completing the ultra-trifecta! Excellent work. :) Great report and pictures.

Michael Kanning said...

Wow, well congratulations on the entire month of May! 3rd place in the heat, not bad at all. Enjoy the recovery and taper for Kettle Moraine before you KICK BUTT!!

Dave - Atlanta Trails said...

Nice job! and way to hang in there.

I'm slowly catching up on all the blogs. All my subscriptions were on my work computer and some dude is kicking my a$s in chess...

again, nice job, especially considering the triple you did!

GB said...

Hi Mark! I'm seriously considering running both the Skyline 50K on Aug. 3 and then the Firetrails 50 miler on Oct. 11. I still have a 3 hour marathon goal for the CIM on Dec. 7. I know you're a good marathoner! You know I'm new to Ultra running. I need your input and opinion... should I even be contemplating the 50 miler before attempting a 3 hour marathon 8 weeks later? Help! Thanks. :)

kate said...

Mark- Congrats on your triple- I think you are AMAZING!!! Would LOVE to see how you would do in WS!!! I also love your looooong titles on your blog :) a story in themselves.

Anonymous said...

Looking lean and mean brother. You ought to fly out in Wisconsin. I'll be happy with a top five there. Plan is to try and feel good though the 100km and see what I have over the last 20 or so. Doesn't look like you'll have any pressure from anyone this year. Might be a few frontrunners but if you run the same as last year you'll do fine.

Bob Gentile said...

Juicy blister up close, suitable for printing and hanging on your wall
lol...yes that is very worthy & frame it too :-)

OK Mark I hope ur enjoying ur taper and I so look forward to watching you tear up KM this year and defend ur title ... after u finish u will have plenty of time to shower, sleep, play with the family probably run another 50 miles and then meet me at the finish line to say Congrats--lmaoooo as I shuffle on in !

See ya soon!!!!!

GB said...

Hey Mark, are you still doing Kettle? And I'm curious as to what your career is. I work shift work too (when I'm working full-time).

GB said...

Okay now I have to take a look at Sportiva! Damn, so many choices. I'll definitely read your Kettle race report from last year. I hope your taper is going well. Sounds like you're working a lot. Hope you get a little time off before the race. I wish I could say my career was as intriguing as yours, but it's not... police officer.

Man, there are some seriously smart ultra runners around here. You, Clare, Beth, and on and on.

Donald said...

Dude ... your last few comments on my blog have been cracking me up! You're totally funny. You should leave a reply e-mail on your comments so I can write back sometime.

Addy said...

Congrats on all the 3s (3rd place and 3 tough races in May).

That's definitely a race I'll be wanting to do at some point (maybe next year if my leg agrees with me) since I'll be somewhat close now.

As always, a great report of the race. It's always fun to 'ride along' with such a fast runner.

Runner Brewer said...

Great posts. I read your last years Kettle report and see that you will be there to defend your title. Good luck.

I will toe the start line there for my first 100. Hope to meet you there.

Carilyn said...

Great report, Mark! I especially loved the blister photo :) Congrats on the 3rd place finish - it sounded like a tough race!

I'll see you at KM100. Looks like it is going to be nice and toasty. They're saying we need to bring our bug spray!

Joe Kulak said...

Hope your taper is going well. All is good here. See ya at KM 100! Cheers. Joe