Monday, June 1, 2009

Ticks, Chicks, Kicks & Licks On My Ohlone Wilderness Run Number Six

photo by Chihping Fu

The Ohlone Wilderness 50K Trail Run is usually held the 3rd Sunday in May, but this year the RD's moved it to the last. I had thought this would increase the heat risk, but as it turned out, this year the weather was milder on race day on the 31st than it was on the 17th, when temperatures reached 100-ish in Livermore, maybe hotter than last year. Though today's high of 81 degrees can still feel hot.

This race is the only one I've not missed once since I started running trail ultras with my move to the Bay Area almost 6 years ago. It was also the last of three point-to-point 50 km races this spring, after the inaugural Diablo Trail in March and PCTR's Skyline to the Sea in April.

Despite no acute injuries, I had run my slowest Quicksilver 50 mile three weeks earlier (report pending). Even allowing for recovery from my 150 mile run, I had figured out that I wasn't in as good shape this year as last year or the year before. This race would be the first where I had no sandbagging excuse for performing below my potential.

The night before I confirmed with my wife that she could drive me to the start at one of the Mission Peak staging areas in Fremont, as well as pick me up at the finish at Del Valle Regional Park in Livermore. This is probably the only race that I ask her to do this-- my kids get their afternoon nap as she drives to the Del Valle, then they get to run around as I finish eating and socializing. "If we have to leave by 7:10, no problem, they'll definitely be up by then" she told me.

I wake up at 5, don't really fully get back to sleep, but since I've been working mornings and days, it's okay, and I've actually slept a miraculous almost 7 hours.
By 6:50 I'm fully dressed to go, but still no sound from the bedroom or monitor. They're out cold! I start to get a little nervous. I no longer try to be as quiet as possible downstairs. My kids must need the extra sleep-- I feel bad they might have to get woken up early for a dubious cause.

It's a very late 7:21 by the time everyone's in the car. I'm very glad we have a Navi, as it gives us the time of arrival-- 8 minutes before the start. Whew! My wife explains that our younger son woke up at 4:30 and was running around the room (quick explanation-- the kids usually sleep with their mom in our bedroom and I sleep in my son's bed-- long story, but has to do with my irregular work hours and my wife being a very light sleeper-- apparently I am not the only emergency physician with small kids exiled from his own bedroom). After that ended, he later showed off his lexical abilities by naming things like lamps and noses, before finally going back to sleep. Short end of it is that my wife is a little cranky today.

Being an early morning terror sure gets makes you hungry! Furthermore, while I was running, he managed to climb onto a chair at Great Clips and turn off all the lights in the salon.

As a consolation to my older son, who was a little unhappy on awakening, we play Philadelphia Chickens the whole way down, even though my wife and I are sort of getting sick of it (and the other 3 books/CDs in the series).

We pull into the parking lot with 8 minutes to spare, and I have just enough time to say "hi" to a few fellow amused runners (who'd probably been there at least half an hour), register, fill my water bottle, grab a coulple of gels, and run behind a bush to pee, before I make my way to the front. No time to dig up and hand my wife the camera (sorry!)

This year I had bib #3 due to a surprise 3rd place finish last year. I hadn't given this year's race the race much thought until the night before, but I had looked at the registered runner list, and noticed a very thick field. I identified 3-4 runners who would definitely beat me and another 10-12 who definitely could beat me. So, despite a few no-shows, I am not in the least surprised that at the start, about 10 runners quickly run ahead of me, including co-Sportiva Mountain Running teammate Caitlin Smith. The other teammate, Leor Pantilat, runs way ahead of even the front pack.

Another fast female, Prudence L'Heureux catches up and I try to talk to her as we run close to each other up much of the ascent. The problem with this race is that even if you try to pace yourself, you still get out of breath ascending the 2500+ foot high Mission Peak. She drops back.

Two weeks' delay in the normal race date result in fewer puddles on the slope, as well as longer grass. I notice the grass is much taller on the short flat stretch through a field about halfway up, requiring lots of extra pink ribbons to navigate--thanks volunteers! The week before I ran similar tall grass on one of a four hour commutes to work. Despite checking myself, showering and changing, I discovered a tick crawling across my belly almost four hours into my shift. The rest of the run any slight itch I feel I actually reach down to feel for one of these awful bugs.

At the summit I'm 4 minutes behind my pace two years ago, but feeling like today should be a good day.

runners summitting Mission Peak, photo by Craig Heinselman

I catch up with both Ron Gutierrez and Caitlin near the end of the 5-mile downhill and we three set out of the Sunol aid station (mile 9.1) together. Caitlin is soon slightly ahead and Ron and chat some, but once again, it's uphill, so it gets hard to talk. Eventually I leave Ron behind, but like Mission Peak, I know he is still back there.

photo by Chiping Fu

Caitlin slowly increases her lead over me. I was thinking it would be cool to be able to stay with her and pace her to the new course record. I wasn't sure she had ever met Ann Trason, so also thought it would be cool to introduce them to each other at the upcoming Backpacker aid station (mile 12.5). But having run this 5 times, I'm know what pace I can keep without getting into trouble later, and she's going faster than that. Instead I admire her graceful stride (bounding like a gazelle I think I told her later) from a few hundred meters behind, with the ever changing gorgeous scenery as a backdrop, feeling a little guilty I don't carry a camera (of course, then I would never be able to keep up). Apparently, Caitlin does appreciate seeing my yellow Sportiva jersey following her to let her know she is on course.

Caitlin finishing, photo courtesy of the Pommiers

At the next aid station, Goat Rock (mile 15), Chihping Fu who started early checking course markings tries to take a picture of me, but either I'm TOO FAST, or his camera doesn't focus fast enough. I'd wait to get the picture, but I'm having a decent run, only a few minutes behind my 2007 sub-5 hour PR, and there are people gaining on me, and by apologizing I get over my inability to keep up with Caitlin (still a bit ahead of me) and convince myself I'm TOO FAST.

Chihping with Steve Ansell

At 2 1/2 hours, I make a mental note to soak my Rio del Lago Moeben sleeves with the sponge. Unfortunately, none of the aid stations have the salt tablets out (a common disadvantage of being front pack), and I'm too time-conscious to wait the extra minute for them to find them. But manage to avoid cramping with the salt they have out.

Often in this race I run most of it alone after Sunol, but with a thicker field at my level this year, there is a lot of more people contact. I pass a few, get passed by a few. Kevin Swisher, who I edged out last year, catches up with me approaching the final ascent of Rose Peak and is soon ahead.

I get my Zombie Runner bracelet from a volunteer, as proof that I went over the summit.

Maggie's Half Acre aid station (mile 19.7) is soon after returning from the out and back to Mount Rose summit. I drink an extra cup of Gu2O in addition to filling my bottle since I know two years ago it took me 55 minutes to cover this longest stretch the next aid station.

I pass one guy I've never seen before, who's almost walking from cramping. I try to relax and enjoy the scenery, but I feel the pressure of people coming up from behind.

Prudence L'Heureux, running only her second ultra of the year after a disappointing Way Too Cool due to a bunch of minor nagging injuries, catches up with me on what novices mistakenly think is the long downhill to the finish from Mount Rose, but which is actually a bunch of down and uphills-- you're not finished with the steep uphill climbing until that last 3 miles. I leave her behind on the uphill, but on the choppy ground coming into the Schliepper Rock aid station (mile 25.7) she zooms past me and then dusts me on the following switch backs-- the 1200 foot drop into William Gulch. Not that she cares about chicking me-- she knows Caitlin is only a 2-3 minutes ahead of her, and is hungry to catch up.

this photo actually taken earlier in course by Chihping Fu

I have on my La Sportiva Wildcats (which I chose for their cushioning), but tied them intentionally a little loose to make sure my calves and shins didn't tighten up (some almost fully resolved issues leftover from my McNaughton run), but I'm wishing I had them tied tighter on the mildly technical single-track. Steep downhill technical is probably my terrain weakness.

I keep hearing the runner behind me, whom I suspect is Ron Gutierrez, closer and closer on the way down. Near the bottom, I see Catra Corbett, nearing the end of her self-designed Ohlone 100 mile she starts the day before, and she's in good spirits, 3 hours ahead of where she was last year. (And running San Diego 100 miler next weekend.)

I cross the stream and power walk the steep uphill, and put some distance on my pursuer. I don't see him looking back on the ridge. Then the downhill on the fireroad to the last aid station, Stromer Spring (mile 29). I chug some coke in a cup and take off. I'm better able to run the fireroad, which is a little less steep and with a wider choice of terrain. Nonetheless, the predator behind me is really fast, as I start to hear footsteps again. As the hill bottoms out to a gentle upgrade, I'm a little more confident-- I lost him on the last uphill. A bunch of hikers yell "runner!" and I use this moment to look back, to see, yes it's Ron Gutierrez, behind me probably less than 30 yards (or should I stay metric and use meters in a 50k race?)

I have a flashback to Firetrails 50 (mile) in 2007, when Ron and I ran neck and neck from Bort Meadow (mile 44) on the way to the finish. After I thought I'd lost him, Ron popped up behind me at the bottom of a small hill I just just crested with 3 miles to go. What a scare!

So, once again, time to PANIC, SPRINT and breathe REALLY hard. Ron is one tough cookie. Ugh, I hate forced acceleration while being pursued at the end of tough races. At least I haven't strained or sprained anything badly. My kick suffices; the above photo of Ron by Agnes Pommier is taken about a minute after the one of me below.

By chance, I make it a few seconds under the round number of 5:10. More than 13 minutes off my 2007 PR, but still my 2nd best time on this course. Thanks, Ron!

My wife comes with the kids about an hour after I finish. My 4-year old asks if I was able to stay away from rattlesnakes, mosquitoes, mountain lions and ticks as he advised me pre-race. Both of my kids are intrigued by the Lisa Henson's large terrier and a black lab under the trees. My 1 1/2 year is petting the terrier when it licks him on the face. Despite that fact that he periodically drools on everything and everyone, he gets all upset, so I have to hold him for a little while.

left to right: holder of new men's course record, Leor Pantilat; holder of new women's course record, Caitlin Smith; holder of early morning and haircut place terror who nonetheless people tell us is cute so we'll have to keep him; likely holder of something that he shouldn't stick in his mouth but probably will anyway. photo by Serena Yang

And thanks all the volunteers, including burrito and enchilada chef Tom Harnell.

My only regret is that I didn't hit the burritos sooner or manage to find the beer, since I've barely eaten when my wife gives me the 15 minute warning. We have to pick up a couple of whole tilapias at the 99 Ranch in Dublin on the way home (no easy feat on a Sunday afternoon) since we have friends over for dinner, which turns out to be excellent, and helps partially make up for my caloric deficit.

Other blogged reports (some pending-- damnit I cranked this out early for a change, and probably missing some I don't know about):

Steve Ansell

Leor Pantilat (new male course record holder)

Jean Pommier (2nd, master's winner)
Brett Rivers (Trail Run Times)
Caitlin Smith (new female course record holder)

Photo Albums:

Other Stuff:

Results-- The cool thing is that after 4 straight years without getting chicked, I got DOUBLE-chicked.

My Ohlone report from last year (2008) --let me mention that I had NO trouble opening any gates this year!


Rajeev said...


Have I before that your reports are very funny? You have a great sense of humor to go with your amazing running abilities.

Congratulations on a superb run.


Baldwyn said...

I can't believe there are other people out there who correctly refer to the store by its real name, and not its transposed name!

Jean Pommier said...

Cool report, Mark, was great to see you out there. And funny to get the story behind your rush to the start. Surely you need to act quickly in ER! No offense we appear as dumb to show-up an hour early at these races ;-). But some need to keep the early bird volunteers entertained and busy, right?

Farther Faster

Hua said...

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Anonymous said...

Great report as always. Looks like a fun one. Sounds like you've been racing it up lately. Where I'm just enjoying some downtime and vacation with the family. You doing Kettle again this year or taking a pass?

Victoria said...

Great title. And report. And you used my favorite verb, "to get chicked."

Anonymous said...

hey mark, that guy who was almost walking from cramps was me, andrew sullivan -- and i WAS walking! seems i wasn't quite ready to hold the pace i was aiming for. it was a pleasure to be passed by you and congrats on keeping the pace and being so jovial. see you on the trails. -

chris mcpeake said...

Congrats on a great race. Fantastic race report.

Catra said...

Awesome report..You did great. I'm happy it wasn't hot. That's for sure.