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

Friday, May 16, 2008

Heat Training with Power Tools on My Local Stretch of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, & My Extreme Green Ultrarunning Lifestyle, an Ohlone 50k Prelude

My older son's preschool requires all parents to put in 6 hours of volunteer work a year. The last "parents' work party" scheduled was once again a race day, May 3rd, the same day as Miwok, so that was out. I still needed to put in my hours for the school year.

The school director thus assigned me the task of fastening brackets to several desks with unstable legs. On Friday after my son entered his classroom, I unloaded my electric drill, set up outside in the front, and got to work.

sexy screw shot. I hope this is not too explicit for anyone.

I soon found that many of my screws weren't quite matching up with the holes on the brackets, even though I was drilling small holes in first. From installing a curtain rod years ago, I remembered that using a nail set kit (designed for countersinking finishing nails) to start a hole made drilling and screwing a lot easier and more accurate. Plus the drill I was using had this huge attachment that made it impossible to keep the drill perpendicular to the desk surface. Problem was, all these other tools were at home. If I weren't running all the time, I'd be more useful around the house and would've realized this earlier.

It's only a 2 1/2 mile drive in the Prius each way to home, but why drive and add even a little more carbon to the atmosphere on a super hot smoggy day, when I can run trail? I had rested enough after my Quicksilver 50 mile race on Saturday, my only exercise being 2-3 hours of bicycle commuting on Monday and Wednesday. And since the high in Livermore would be 90 this race Sunday, I thought it would pay to do a little heat training.

Face it, 99.99% of people in the same situation, not being in the crazy subset of the already unusual subset of ultrarunners, would drive.

I ran home slowly mostly down the trail (which I will illustrate below), hydrated, stuck the hammer and nail set in a small backpack, found the other electric drill, refused the lunch offered by my wife, then set off for the preschool.


So, now you get to see the section of the yet to be completed 550+ mile Bay Area Ridge Trail close to where I live. I call it mine, because the first 1/2 mile of this short 2 1/2 mile stretch to near my son's school is rarely maintained, so I end up doing a lot of trail maintenance (mainly trimming back poison oak). Volunteer work, I guess, but mostly in self-interest.

This segment is very hard to find and follow, and despite the East Bay Regional Park District's name of Chabot to Garin Trail, you can't really get all the way to Garin from Chabot (I tried once years ago, got stuck in a cul-de-sac and almost got mooed and trampled to death by a mob of angry cows.)

Most of the way from my house back to the school is uphill.

It has single-track...

...poison oak hanging from above or the side, as well as below, to make things challenging. I'll have to do some trimming with my shears soon.

After a short stretch of road in a residential subdivision, there is dirt path alongside this road. You can go under a major highway this way, but

there is the lower trail option as cars, trucks and trains thunder above.

uphill in shade...

and further uphill out of the shade...

Okay, maybe I look scrawny, but you try 25 minutes, mostly uphill, on a sweltering (upper 90's Fahrenheit) midday, carrying this baby....don't mess with me!

After running out of brackets to attach, I worked on a few chairs. My back is killing me from doing all that drilling while sitting in a chair sized for 3 and 4-year olds. My son and most of the school was in their midday nap. I was thinking of taking him out early to head to a nearby playground with a fountain, but still they wouldn't be for at least an hour, and maybe I should work out the pain in my back. So I stashed the tools in my car, and ran back home on the trail for the 2nd time that day, taking the photos above for this blog.

After a quick rest, my wife asked me why I left the car at the school, and I had no answer that would make her respect me any more than she already doesn't, despite doing the righteous, green, healthy, ultrarunning thing. "You probably ran so you could blog about it" she accuses me.
After more fluids, and whipping out some moves on Facebook Scrabulous. I head out again to jog the mostly uphill trail back. By this time, it was even hotter. I was starting to feel it a little in my legs, and having some doubts about the wisdom of all this running (it was ending up totalling to more than 1 hour 40 minutes), less than 48 hours before Ohlone 50k this Sunday, so I took it slow, but really, having left the car at school, I had no other choice.

My son was okay with my not running the AC on the ride home, so I could get a few more minutes of heat training before my wife and other son joined us in the car.

After playing in the water fountain at a playground in San Ramon, I could finally eat a real meal.

Our younger son enjoying the fancy melon soup soup of the day at one of our favorite local restaurant's, Mudd's in San Ramon, after which he seemed not to appreciate his usual baby food as much. I'm sure he would've enjoyed the Chardonnay had we given it to him.

first published Saturday, May 17th, 2008 at 3:10 pm

Monday, May 12, 2008

Saving the Sacrificial Calf--Exceeding My Expectations and Faking a Heart Attack at the Quicksilver 50-Mile Run

Not since my rookie days as an ultrarunner a few years ago have I approached a race seriously thinking I might not finish. Deciding to go ahead and run Quicksilver 50 mile this year was definitely the stupidest running decision I've made all year. But somehow, instead of "DNFing" I "DNC'd"--did not crump. If stupid and risky, my decision yielded in certain respects my best performance of the year.

Post-Miwok, Pre-Quicksilver

Even without injuries, Miwok 100 km would have left me beat up enough. But the right calf strain and the resulting biomechanical problems including right knee pain, which dashed my hopes of a sub-9:30 time and PAUSATF points (or simply, an enjoyable, "good" run) continued all week. I couldn't even fully stretch my right calf until Thursday, 2 days before Quicksilver. Walking up stairs remained a workout all week, especially when carrying my chunker baby. Running was out of the question. "Training" was limited to bicycle commuting: sub-4 mile bicycle rides to and from BART on Monday, and 7 miles each way to my other worksite on Wednesday.

On Friday at the playground to which I often take my toddler after his preschool, I taught him the numbering of bases and the order you run them in, having witnessed kids older than him playing organized T-ball and not having a clue about what to do after they hit the ball. My son enthusiastically ran about 10 "home-runs," but wanted his daddy to round the bases a couple of times too. Heading toward 2nd base at a slow 15 minute mile jog and not feeling quite right, with that lingering pain in my right knee, I had to convince myself that tomorrow would be a new day, and I would be a new person, with new legs.

Transportation Issues and Hybrid Cars

The family plan, enabling me to run this race, was that I had to find someone close to home to carpool to the race (thanks, Chihping!), and then convince our friends in Mountain View to have us over for dinner (thanks, Song and Tim!) My wife would pick me up in afternoon in our Prius, my older son napping during long car ride (thanks, Honey!)

Once again, I get up early-- this time 3am-- and can't get back to sleep. I drive off in our Rav and head toward Chihping Fu's house in Fremont. I think I'm early, but trying to get onto I-880 south, I hit a construction detour, which makes me do 3 loops before diverting me north to exit and reenter the highway so I can go south. It is like a deja-vu of my hell ride to Miwok last week, but fortunately, the highway itself is not closed off, so I don't have to do anything desperately illegal or dangerous.

Chihping is all ready in his driveway and I get into his Prius.

Chihping, driving. I took 3 photos by his car when we arrived, and for some reason the flash didn't work for any of them. For another lame photo of him (of his rear-end), see my Ruth Anderson race report. For pictures Chihping took during the race, click here. Chihping always takes photos of me running during races, and I return the favor with these lame shots. Don't I suck?

I thought I used to get great mileage with our Prius, even before the hilly commute to my older son's preschool every day, but Chihping is a master. Sorry to geek out on you all, but check this out:

Fascinating photo of Chihping's consumption display panel after we arrived showing his average mileage of 61.5 mpg since last filling up 515 miles ago. He probably can go another 80-90 miles before his tank empties. I don't know any other Prius drivers who get this. He does have the mileage advantage of forced low-velocity local street flat miles in his daily commute, but still over 60 mph average is damn good. He is a hardcore ultrarunner in more ways than one.

Despite arriving at 5:25, we can't park in the lot. It seems the number registered for both the 50 mile and 50 kilometer races increased more than 30% in one year, probably partially due to Miwok filling so fast. Despite the minor inconvenience, I'm glad this great, well-organized race is finally getting the enrollment it deserves. I have plenty of time to organize my start/finish drop bag, use the Porta-potty. My first year, 2 years ago, I arrived late, and despite getting a lift to the start, got my number AFTER the clock started, and found myself pinning on my bib-number bib over the first mile, which required a lot of finger coordination.

dawn at the start, full parking lot

I go to get my race number, and it's supposed to be something like 318, but it's missing, so they have to give me another. I'm a little disappointed they didn't give me 3 for coming in 3rd overall last year, but less for missing the mini-ego boost (remember, I'm expecting to run badly today) than for a practical reason. The numbers are huge and the bib feels almost as thick as cereal box cardboard and I can't fold it up small like I usually do. Little do I realize that the 344 I get as a replacement is very fortuitously portentous.

will name the front row only: Devon Crosby-Helms, Sean Lang, me, Jady Penko, Victor Ballesteros. photo by Scott Dunlap, ripped off his blog report

Steeplechase or 50-Mile Trail Run?

The course goes slightly down for about a quarter mile before going up up up on fireroads. I talk with 2 consecutive year course record setter and 2006 Western States Graham Cooper. He asks about the guy who literally sprints way ahead at the start, and I tell him he's Jady Penko, and that he will pass after a few miles. Graham says he feels he's in better shape than last year, based on his Wildflower performance last weekend. After about a minute or two, I call it quits with conversation with a true elite while running. I won't see him until around the mile 41 turnaround, on his way to breaking his course record again with a 6:35:28.

Graham Cooper later, when in 2nd place, photo by Chihping Fu

So far, minimal pain. As the course starts heading up, gobs of runners bolt up. I'm quickly out of breath. I feel somewhat demoralized. Obviously I'm going to be tired from my 100 km race 7 days earlier, but instead of accepting my fatigue and chilling out, I feel compelled to get left too far behind. It's not quite panic, but insecurity I feel at not being front pack or right behind. Sean Lang starts chatting with me, we're both breathing real hard. I'm thinking this is crazy. I hear Scott Dunlap and Devon Crosby-Helms chatting it up first behind, then ahead of me. They don't sound at all out of breath. I'm way too strained to even think of trying to join a conversation. (Scott would write in his blog that I was smartly pacing myself--whatever-- I was about to die!)

Sean Lang, lubing up pre-race

The sustained uphill finally ends, and as the fireroad descends, I find I can pass several runners, and then maybe a mile later there is a turnoff to rolling single track. I'm always happy to get on the very fun, gentle and well trimmed single track of New Almaden Trail (click for photos). I pass Adam Ray who I know is in my 40-49 age group, and catch up with Jady Penko. We run off and on with Sean Lang too. I am careful not to bowl over the skinny, anorexic-appearing Jady with my massive hulking body. :) We approach another runner, who unexpectedly pulls to the side to let us pass. Some people really hate to have people running right behind them, I surmise.

After the single track, it's a fireroad again, mostly uphill. I ask the guy who'd stepped to the side if I know him, he says he's Ian Torrence, from Ashland, Oregon. He actually works at Western States 2007 winner Hal Koerner's running store. Only after the race do I find out how chocked his running resume is-- about 90 completed ultras, a sub-9 at last year's Miwok, a 3:36 PR at Way Too Cool, eight sub-6:30 of JFK 50 mile finishes, a sub-18:30 PR at Western States, just to name a few. He's 35, so I tell him I'm not racing him.

We join with another runner. I ask his name, be says he's Tony D'Alessio. I recognize the last name--"yeah, you were the guy running right behind me at Rucky Chucky--great job." (He finished 6 1/2 minutes behind me. Since there were so many people I'd never met and didn't recognize at that race, I never learned what he looked like.) He gives me an "are you on crack" look, and a brusque "I wouldn't say I was 'just behind you.'" Hmm, maybe he's pissed I beat him? "So I think I saw your name was Joseph in the results...." He cuts me off, "That's just my legal name."

Well, I guess race etiquette does not require anyone to engage in chatty conversation.

Ian and I soon recognize a pattern, in which he passes me on the uphills and I pass him on the downhills, which will hold for most of the race. If you want a good course description, there are several good ones in the reports I list at the end of this posting. It's funny that even with my 3rd straight year running this, I run most of this race mildly disoriented. Following the course's written descriptions with a map of the park is like doing a maze puzzle. Yet despite all the looping back and turning in a different directions and not knowing exactly where all the trails are in relation to each other, I've never come close to getting lost or off course. Amazingly, when I check my splits against my times from 2007 (7:17) and the 2006 (7:51), I am only 1-2 minutes behind last year's faster times.

remnants of the old mercury mines--I can never remember when these will show up. photo by Chihping Fu

About a mile after the 2nd visit to the Dam Overlook aid station at mile 19, I try to pee walking up the trail, but all these female hikers start coming down. Hate it when that happens. Soon, I notice a pack of about 3 or runners closing in from behind, including (I think) Sean Lang, Jon Kroll, and Scott Dunlap. I hadn't seen Scott since I left him at the crest of the first hill. Didn't he just run a 2:47 marathon in Eugene, Oregon last Sunday? I'm blown away. Oh well. I try to pick up the pace, expecting everyone incuding Scott to catch up with me. I want to chat more about his marathon, and maybe get my photo in his very heavily viewed blog. Unfortunately, he doesn't keep up.

I finally catch up with the Asian guy ahead of Ian and me earlier in the race. His name is Toshi, and he actually recognizes me from this blog (you reading this are not alone). This is his first ultra. He tells me his girlfriend won't read my blog anymore because of the potty humor of previous postings. I tell him to let her know I've refrained from explicit defecation descriptions for months. Come to think of it, I think I did briefly describe a pitstop in my Rucky Chucky report from March.

Toshi (full name Toshikazu Hosaka) would finish 5th for the 50 km race in 4:27:49. (Too early for him to stick around long enough to get a post-race mugshot). Great job, especially for your first ultra! And you finished 12 minutes before the very fast Michael Buchanan.

It's up up up back to Dam aid station and then the huge hill overlooking the dam and I get to say hi to all the mid and rear pack runners as they come down. Chihping, as always, graciously takes a few seconds to shoot me.

apparently too fast for Chihping's camera, but I'd rather look at the pretty dammed lake anyways

The return to the Mockingbird start (and end of the 50k race) involves what is known as the "roller-coaster hills," a gauntlet of steep ups and downs in quick succession before running the final mile-long descent to the finish. It's pretty brutal. I approach this section carefully, but can feel the strain on my calf and knees.

At Mockingbird, I go to my drop bag and quickly dump my gloves, fluorescent green Moeben arm sleeves I got as Miwok swag, and put on my Julbi sunglasses, which fit over my glasses without making me look geeky. I am ready for the sun!d

After the 50k mark, it's up up up to start basically a 19-mile out and back into Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve. I pass by Ian as he relieves himself like a true gentleman at the side of the trail. Fifty mile racers actually have to do some of the roller-coaster hills again going out. On one of them, my calf comes the closest all race to spasming up. In fact, at this point, it's not just the right I strained at Miwok, but both. I have to slow down to a walk. I think Ian and Tony D'Alessio both pass me while I do this. Then the long ascent to Englishtown--I really have to take it easy to keep the calves from tightening. I add 2 minutes to split from last year. It's easier for Chihping to photograph me at my slower pace.

Finally arriving at Englishtown (mile 35.25), I'm surprised to see Mark Lantz, whom I assumed was 30 minutes ahead of me. "You're all alone now--I'm dropping." I'm in disbelief. He explains his ITB is flaring--it's too painful fighting it. No shame here, after his 9:10 at Miwok last weekend.

Rena Schumann and Mark Lantz, shivering at the race start. If you can't tell, Mark is sort of being dramatic here.

I feel bad for him, but don't cry too hard because wow, now I'm first in the master's division!

On the fairly flat single track coming out of Englishtown I catch up with Ian yet again. We stay fairly together throught the next aid station, Hicks Road only 2 miles farther.

I am able to stay with Ian on the runnable uphilll to the Sierra Azul aid station at mile 41.4 and highest elevation of the course, and we turnaround. After seeing Graham Cooper and then Chikara Omine about 20 minutes later, I am surprised we reach the turnaround without seeing Victor Ballesteros, Firetrails 50 mile 2007 winner, who I knew was ahead of us. As it turns out, lots of people, many quite fast, drop from the 50 mile race.

Chikara Omine, just undeR 7 hours, 2nd overall

Bringing it home: running like a scared chicken

Heading back down is suspenseful, as I finally get to see who's behind me and how close. My main concern is fellow 41-year old, Adam Ray, whom I had last left at behind at the first visit to the Dam aid station. I was able to open a decent gap on the shallow long uphill after that, but knew that my calf problems were slowing me down and he might be close. Still, I was sort of hoping he wouldn't appear for another 10 or 15 minutes.

Lap time reads 2:44 when Adam appears, running up the hill, looking pretty strong. That translates to just under a 6 minute gap--Crap! I was hoping for a nice relaxing finish, since I'm already injured and am running the very hilly Ohlone 50k next weekend. I tell Ian "sorry, there's my main competition, gotta go." Ian probably thinks I'm overly worried, but tell me to go do what I gotta do.

The whole run down is this constant balancing act. I run as fast as I can sustain, breathing very hard, but I continue with each step to monitor my calves, ready to act if they start to spasm. Many more runners appear. I'm running scared, trying to calculate the likelihood of Adam being able to run, say 7:30 mintue miles if I'm running 8:15 minute miles, where I'd be able to turn around and see if he's closing in.

I'm pleased to find I've cut off more than a minute off the 34 minutes I took last year from the Sierra Azul turnaround as I approach the Hicks Road aid station (mile 45.6).

My bottle is still half full, so I swig some Cytomax from a cup, grab a gel and bolt through. On the slight upgrade I hear footsteps right behind me, and I momentarily freak that it's Adam, although that would've required that he run 6 minute miles down the whole hill, but who can think rationally in these situations and didn't Scott Dunlap just cut 10 minutes off his marathon PR last week? Of course it's not Adam, but Ian, who managed to match my surge. He encourages and then passes me, and for the first time all race, our pattern is broken-- I can't catch him on the downhill. He would finish with a very strong kick, 3 minutes ahead of me, and I mind not in the least. Eighteen minutes to the last aid station (3rd visit to Englishtown) and again, no bottle fill just grab a cup, spill half of it on my shirt, one last thanks, and start booking down the hill.

blog author with the speedy and accomplished Ian Torrence post race

I'm sure if I could stay with Ian, he would tell me to chill and stop looking back so much, but I look back every time I crest a hill or clear a bend. I play in my head the plan if my calf spasms. At the finish line, I'm so happy I do one of my stupid bottle tosses. I'm so happy to be able to snap the following photo.

Adam Ray, coming in a mere 6 1/2 minutes after I did

Time to socialize and eat, and take various mugshots for my blog, most of which don't fit with the narrative since I ran with relatively few runners. So I've stuck them here. But please don't skip over the LITTLE MISHAP INVOLVING AN EVALUATION BY A PARAMEDIC below.

volunteers satisfying our stomachs. John Burton on the left. ID's appreciated.

Jon Kroll, 7:42:53, 6th overall (managed to pass the decelerating Tony D'Alessio)

women's 50-mile winner and 8th overall, Suzanna Bon in 7:45:53

realendurance.com (an indispensible endurance athletic tool) master Gary Wang finishing his 13th Quicksilver race in &:57, 9th overall

Top quality finish line food, although they ran out of tri-tip before I knew they were serving it.

again, forgot his name, with my perfectly grilled turkey burger with cheese (Thanks!--worth the wait!), someone please help ID

Rick Gaston finishing, less than 3 minutes over 8 hours, but an impressive 48-minute PR and 10th overall

After an hour or so of hydrating, grazing, stretching, and chatting, I think while talking with Rick Gaston, I start to get worried about my wife and family, scared something bad happened. Just at that moment, I see them! But that also means it's time to go soon.

my wife with Amy Burton & our baby boys (not the moment I first see my family)

911 Code 3? Ultrailnakaman almost....collapses and dies?

So right when we are about to leave, I figure I should relieve myself and walk behind some trees to recycle some nitrogen. As I reach over with my left hand to pull up the lower right part of my shorts (maybe because of that 344 ounce race number bib, but more likely because I usually carry around my infant in my left arm), my left chest goes into sudden sharp spasm. I can barely move my left arm or breathe. People see me grimacing, clutching my left chest. I actually have to grab my left pectoral and squeeze it really hard, because the pain feels it would get tons worse if I let go. Gosh I hate muscle spasms! As I TRY to relax (not so easy), the on-site paramedic guy comes over, recognizes something potentially very bad he's seen often before, and then I get the barrage of questions similar to that I ask my chest pain patients, although I have the advantage of usually knowing their medical history. I know exactly how to answer so can get through it quickly, and tell him I'm SURE it's muscle spasm and not a heart attack. After throwing the name of the Santa Clara County EMS medical director overseeing all the paramedics who used to work with me, he convinced I'm okay and brings me an ice pack.

I should've gotten a photo of the paramedic, but I guess I wasn't in the right position. At least I didn't pee in my pants, since come to think of it, I never did get to pee.

My wife is looking at me the whole time with this bored expression on her face. I get the feeling that she thinks this was a lame tactic to delay leaving so I could eat and chat more (she would confirm this later), so I try to hurry out, and get in the driver's seat.

my older son (behind) and his friend later that day. I though the T-shirt was too coincidental to leave out.

So I came in 4th (7:22:20, only 5 minutes slower than last year, when I came into the race uninjured and fresh). Here's where the bib number, 344, predicted my finish. Since I came in 4th overall in 2006 and 3rd overall in 2007, it was my destiny to come in 4th overall this year, even though 434 would've been cooler. Had I thought of this earlier, I could've relaxed more and not run so paranoid at the end. Sheesh!

race swag: T-shirt for registering with BBQ stains 5 minutes after I put it on that evening, medal for finishing, plaque for placing in my division

race results

OTHER BLOGGED RACE REPORTS, alphabetical by last name, link to the specific race report posting, please let me know of your so I can add it

Adam Blum, birthday boy apparently
Scott Dunlap
Ronald Horii's excellent unofficial park website

first published Thursday, May 15, 2008 at 4:25 pm (sacrificing a great heat-training opportunity!)