Monday, May 22, 2006

Ohlone 50k: A Race Report

Ohlone 50k course profile. Photo courtesy of
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for more photos.

Super Long Report but you can always just flip through the pictures:) No more wine while blogging!

Me: So Jason do you know who Ellen is? You know the one who took over Stephen's race number since he couldn't make it today.

Jason: Yup, see that woman in the other Quad Dipsea shirt, that's her.

Me: How'd you find that out?

Jason: Oh a little bit of detective work, I was at that truck looking at the course profile for the race and....

Me: (interrupting...) course profile??? huh, oh right maybe I should take a look at that too...hmmmm

a few minutes later....

Me: Holey Crap!!! You're kidding right.

That pretty much sums up what I thought of Ohlone 50k heading into it Sunday and my eventual rude awakening. I went in with a total lack of respect and excitement on my part about the race. Blah, blah, blah,it's just a 50k, it's half of the Miwok 100k - how bad can it be? Besides I'm just doing this as a training run while pacing Jason for his first official 50k. I've mentioned this before but will repeat for those that missed it. Jason along with Stephen, my pacer for Miwok 100k, is a finisher of Marathon Des Sables. A grueling multi-day race across the Sahara dessert in Morocco, 6-days and 151 miles while carrying all your food for the week on your back - yes while running sand dunes in hot weather! He's no slouch but this was going to be his first official trail ultra-marathon, complete with aid stations, competitors, a finish line and a bbq - the whole works. I wanted to be there.

So anyway, I've pretty much stopped doing most 50k's. Too short for me to spend the money on renting a car, the race fee, gas, etc. I run 50ks and longer in my training anyway. Sure it's lonely but it's free. If I have to spend the money it might as well be long. So the big draw here was really to share in Jason's first trail ultra and get in some training to boot for Western States 100.

Saturday I worked all day, ran hard for a little over 2.5 hours and went back to work till 2AM. Got up at 4AM, hadn't packed a thing, snoozed till 4:30. It's only a training run right?, I felt confident I'd get it all together in the half hour that I had before Jason picked me up. Pondered whether to use my best trail shoe but decided it wasn't worth bringing, it was just a training run and nothing more. Sleepy, tired and unexcited.

We parked at the finish to catch the bus to the start. I see the other runners, still noting. I meet up with Don Lundell. I bought some stuff from his online store, ZombieRunner and he saved me the shipping cost by just bringing the stuff over him. I'm happy with my new stuff but not excited to run, very, very relaxed. We fiinally get on the bus for the drive to the start, still not psyched. In fact I was uncomfortable because I needed to pee, damn that coffee. "hmmmm....those are some hills, are we going through there?" I pondered to myself, "nah" I pondered further. I was a perfect picture of ignorance and bliss.

I was busy at the start. Yakking it up and taking pictures. Meeting up with old friends and making new ones. A couple of stops to the boys room, a Cliff bar here, some sunscreen there and more water. Very relaxed, by all appearances cool, calm and collected. This was around the time that Jason brought my attention to the course profile. "It's only hard if you try" I say to myself.

Felt bad from the get go. Didn't have a good breakfast, ate something I shouldn't have, drank too much water and I loathe starting with an uphill. My heart rate was high even though I was just walking. The front group was off, so was the mid-packers with Jason among them. So much for the plan to run with him. I just couldn't get going. I'm a slow starter but not this slow. Walking alone was making me wheeze. I was all the way in the back of the pack. "Was it 4 miles to the top or 5?" I pondered to myself. Jason had a chart taped to his water bottle; aid stations and their mile location on the course and the mile distances between them. Why didn't I do that? Oh right, I'm an idiot.

It wasn't until the 45th minute did I start to feel better. By this time I had choked down a caffeinated energy gel and took in some 10 ounces of water. 45 minutes is about when my body starts to feel better usually, when my "endurance gear" engages. I read somewhere that the body switches from burning primarily glycogen to burning primarily carbs after 45 or so minutes. I'm sure that plays a part. So I start to get going, time to catch up to Jason. At the start of the downhill I make the acquaintance of Karen Hoffman. She says we ran part of Miwok together, this year or last or both. I apologize for my lack of memory but glad to properly meet her again. After that I bomb the downhill, it felt good and my favorite type too - fire road. Fire roads are basically dirt roads, flat and not quite as soft as single track but the footing is predictable and you can always find the "straight line" in the twists and turns. Bomb baby bomb, downhill is my favorite and my strength. This continued until we came to our first aid station. I ate my usual fare; energy gel, boiled potato slices and energy drink. They didn't have salt pills but they had rock salt for electrolyte replacement. I pee'd out a lof sodium at the start. I had coffee with breakfast and drank lots of water prior to the race, so I thought it prudent to start the salt regimen early. I shove everything in my mouth, the rock salt being smaller pops out and lands into the ground in front of me. Do I walk back the 10 feet to the aid station or do I just dust it off and eat it anyway. I do neither, I pop the whole thing back in my mouth, dirt and all. I was now the opposite of a relaxed mood. "Don't be a pansy. You're running in the stuff, breathing it in as it gets stirred up by the others and you're telling me you're gonna be squeamish about a little of it in your precious salt. Pop it in your mouth already!" I thought to myself. Still smilin' but getting psyched. We can be so hard on ourselves sometimes can't we? This wasn't a training run anymore. Gloves came off at this point.

They say there are no flats in trail running, well maybe in Orlando, but it was definitely true in Ohlone 50k. We were either going up or down. On an uphill Karen catches up with me. We were on a fire road and there was a cow in the middle of it. Cow was not happy, snorting, eyeing us - maybe we woke it from a nap. Runner in front of me runs by and the cow runs with him for 5 yards before finally giving up. The hell is that cow doing?! After it was done with him, it started looking back at us. Hahaha I never experienced this. I should have taken a darn picture! Karen yells from behind something intelligible but I get the gist of it, she's worried too and wanted me to stick with her. Oh sure we knew a cow wouldn't bite or anything crazy like that but we didn't want to be run off the trail either. ASSAULT AND INJURED BY COW!, I can see the headlines now. However I finally come to my senses and realize that I'm faster than the cow. Guys, the day I can't outrun a cow is the time ya'll should tell me to hang up the shoes! Just as it weaved left I shoot to the right with Karen right behind. We laugh after we get past. Karen makes me laugh even more when she tells me that on the downhill earlier, she witnessed me passing people like they were standing still. Flattered, I say goodbye as it was the start of another downhill, this time it was much longer. Burn baby burn, I pass more runners.

A real race strategy starts to develop in my head - go hard till the finish. Treat it like the second half of Miwok, attack, attack, attack. I was going to hike/run the uphills, go moderately hard on what passed as flat and bomb every single downhill. There was no point in holding back it was only a 50k. Saving my legs and energy for what? For the finish? Forgettaboutit. I was trained up to the 100k distance - I had the endurance. I knew from looking at the profile that it was going to be hilly with two major climbs. I wanted to be smart with the uphills but reckless on the downhills. The views were amazing by the way. The East Bay trails are exposed, not much by the way of trees at the top of these ridges. The views are amazing. It can however be uncomfortably hot but not today, with storm clouds threatening and a light breeze it was perfect for this San Franciscan.

At the mile 15 aid station, the volunteer who greeted me and offered to fill my water bottle was no other than Ann Trason herself. It's not an understatement when I say, when people say, that she is a legend. in the world of Ultra Marathon. She is one of the greatest ultra runners in the world. Her records go on and on but the one I remember was her streak at the Western States 100-miler, first woman finisher 11 times. This is ultra, we all serve each other, even the living legends. That was an experience.

I saw Jason exit the aid station but wasn't able to call out since I was star struck at the time. I catch up with him eventually, 10 minutes later on a climb. This is how that conversation went:

Jason: Hey Rick!

Me: Hey. So hey sorry about not being able to pace you. You took off and I couldn't catch you until now.

Jason: My heart rate has been the same since I started.

Me: Really? Not mine's. It was offf the chart at the beginning and I was only walking. Bad start. So hey, while trying to catch up with you I made new friends along the way. I also caught up with old ones and herein lies the problem, I dropped them all but they are not too far behind. J, I have to keep going, those guys would love to see me again and but I don't:)

Jason: Yeah no problem.

Me: Well alright J. See you later. Sorry again.

I make my way through Jason's group and soon I was alone. The runner in front of me was far ahead and runners behind me were out of sight and earshot. It was here that I make a critical mistake. Alone with my thoughts I start thinking about work, about my Monday AM deadline. I start thinking about the issues that dragged me down the past few weeks and how emotionally beat up I felt. HUGE, huge mistake. I take myself out of the run mentally. All of a sudden it was hard to run, even downhill!!! Up to this point I hadn't paid attention to the mileage but all of a sudden I had a burning desire to know. How much of this crap is left? What was beautiful stopped to matter, what was fun became a bore and what was a challenge became slow torture. Crap, crap, crap....pull up baby pull up, you're flying too low. Daydreams, happy thoughts, I threw it all in with some success. Get psyched, get psyched, they are starting to catch you. Eventually I catch up to a runner with a brightly colored jacket. I close but not enough to pass him. I'd come close, he'd run away, I'd get close and he pulls away again. I focus on the jacket, determined to keep it in sight the whole time. Unbeknownst to me at the time he was having problems too. Eventually I catch and drop him after 2 miles of this cat and mouse game.

Still down but starting to pick up again. The highest point of the run is the top of Mt. Rose at 3800 ft. At the top there is a short down and back loop, the race director wanted to make sure we got to the very, very top. It's short, I'd say half a mile to three quarters for the whole thing. As I start the loop I see Scott Dunlap, then Brian Wyatt go by, guys I know I can be competitive with. That completes my recovery, the sight of them snaps me out completely. I start chasing again. I can't chase ghosts, I need rabbits.

Every race I've run with Brian I've always managed to get to the finish line before him. In the beginning I simply thought it was because I was faster and maybe I was. However his time at AR50 this year was faster than my time when I did it and he had to contend with mud and sloppy conditions. That fact woke me up to his true capabilities. At Miwok 100k I was chasing him but he ended up with stomach problems. No big deal though, his friend Georgia chased me all over Marin that day:) I'll see those two at Western States 100 this year, Brian is pacing Georgia. I love these two. Anyway I had to haul to catch up to Scott and Brian. On the way down the loop I meet up with Jason, tearing ground up as I flew by. He was in good spirits, still smiling - a good sign.

I get close to Brian, I would say 100 yards. I see him at the top a hill that I'm climbing but when I get to the top he is nowhere to be found. In fact for awhile I though I got lost because I just didn't see him in front. He must have really turned on the gas after the hill. He was just nowhere to be found. I don't seem him again until the finish. I run hard regardless. Pretty much all the downhills are fireroads, mwahahaha...burn baby burn. I fly past people but still no Brian. At the bottom of one hill, where a creek flowed, I come upon two runners. I catch and pass them right at the bottom, splitting the two while leaping over the water. It was a thing of beauty.

Scot is a great guy. Of the only two races that I've run with him, including this one, he has always been pleasant and friendly regardless whether it was the start, on the trail or the finish. He is also the 2004 Trail Runner trophy series champ for the marathon division and hosts a super popular blog dedicated to running. I've seen him take time out of his race at Miwok to console and walk with a fellow runner who had "blown out". On this race I saw him at the post race bbq chatting with a couple of the ultra newbies - Oliver and Adrian. A man of the community. I catch Scott around mile 27, tired but still in good spirits. I say hello and move on, searching for Brian.

At the bottom of the hill was another creek crossing. You're supposed to go right, I go left. The trail disappears completely but I can feel through the thick grass that the ground was shaped by moving feet. I also saw vegetation disturbed by moving people and so I keep going. Smartly, not seeing a ribbon after awhile, I turn back and back track. I lose about 5 minutes. Angry I start chasing with renewed vigor, on a hill no less. I had to catch up with folks I already passed. They say hello and ask how I got behind them. The truth is always the best, "guys I'm an idiot". Heart rate was off the charts but I'm pissed and didn't care at this point. "If you get back your place in line all will be forgiven", I say to myself. So the question is, where is Scott Dunlap?

The finish of this race is down hill, two nice downhill sections. I finally see Scott on the top of a ridge but chasing him is a runner who's got his second wind. Remember those two runners I split at the bottom of the creek? This guy chasing was one of them. He left his buddy and was now charging home. He passes Scott and keeps on trucking. I pass Scott but now had to chase this other guy, I wish I remembered his name - he introduced himself right before we left the post race bbq. The last aid station is two miles from the finish. I had enough in me. I didn't need to stop but I was looking to see if he did. He doesn't and blows by the station. Damn!, oh well at least I'm closing. Finally, I catch him right before a downhill. We chat briefly and I congratulate him on his second wind. He asks me where I got lost:) Soon as the downhill starts I haul, knees, legs are all stiff at this point but I continue to push. I'm not a quiet runner either. I crunch rocks and dirt as I go. On a fire road downhill filled with loose stones and rocks, haulin' fast, you can multiply the noise factor by 10. People can hear me coming from 20 yds. away. Near the bottom of the hill I pass by a boy scout troop on my right, two runners on my left. Adrenaline was in abundance and I was anticipating/smelling the barn. The bottom of the turn was tight and it pitched uphill on the exit. On the apex of the turn was the rest of the boy scout troop waiting for their buddies. Flowing with all that momentum, with an audience behind me and in front of me, I showboat and punch the gas even more. I hit the bottom flying and I STICK the turn, wind loud in my ears. The turn was so sweet, that was the point where I could have ate it. Thank you, Thank you Montrail Leona Divides. Rest in Peace (discontinued line as of this year). With all that momentum the uphill was less of a problem. Wanting to catch my breath for the next downhill I walk as I neared the top of the hill. Feeling very much like a stud at this point. Surely I dropped someone with that excellent piece of running. I look back, the guy who I caught and was desperately trying to drop, was only 20 yards away. Oh God, that made me laugh. I just did what I thought was incredible and this guy was still behind me. Ahahahaha dude you're friggin' awesome, I wish I remembered your name. However he stopped at the same point I did to walk and catch his breath. "Ah so he's tired too I see", I thought to myself. "Well it looks like another downhill and probably the last one since there's only a mile left to this race, let's see if he has in in him to do it again", I thought to myself further. Burn baby burn, burn all that's left. Burn that glyco, burn that carb. Coming in loud like a freight train, stomach imploding on itself, heart rate past lactate threshold, legs strained, I catch Oliver 30 yds. from the finish. I blow by him and do something crazy and unnecessary, call it adrenaline, show boating or whatever; I go at full max and sprint. Woof, woof, woof what a finish.

Guess who was waiting for me at the finish? Brian Wyatt, that magnificent bastard with a time of 5:52. I came in at 5:57. Had I not gotten lost would I have caught him? Dunno but it's a moot point. Finding your way, knowing where you're going is part of the race. Mark Tanaka was there too but this guy was out of our league. That animal did it in 5:15, for fourth place. I might as well chase Scott Jurek, the result will be the same. Saw a bunch of friends and familiar looking runners come in. Saw Karen too, her husband and son were there at the finish. She was awarded, I believe, the first place in her age group: 40-49. We had to retell our cow story to her family and other runners. Hung out with Brian, Mark and Scott. Talked with that runner with the strong second wind. Traded stories with other folks. Met Kevin, a triathlete on his first ultra.

Jason came in under 6:30. I was there to capture the moment on camera. We then went and had burgers and chips for at the post race bbq. Sat with who else, Mark, Brian and Kevin. Scott went to get cleaned up.

Schwag was great. A nice new shirt, a wooden plaque souvenir for finishing and some assorted food items. Also snagged some water bottles for my bike. Nice.

The drive home was uneventful but by time I got back it was too late for church. Oh well, there's always next week.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. You beat me in LONG report! Ann Trason is 14 times winner of WS. You ARE a show off at the finish. Other than that - wow, what a race! Great job on sticking in and putting an effort! Wish I were there, though fire roads are not what i call trail running:)

  3. 13 huh, even better. Yes it's quite the novel I wrote this is what happens when I drink and write:)

    Can't wait, can't wait to see you and the ultra community again at WS100.

  4. Squirt6:19 AM

    I can't believe I just read that whole entry.
    Very interesting report though.
    I like the random cow scene and your idiotic mind. Like who the heck thinks about work while running? Oh, that's right YOU!
    You nut head. Glad you snapped out of it though and congrats on finishing without getting attacked by a cow. =)
    And the pictures-very pretty.

  5. Hey Squirt. I can't believe you read the whole thing either. You're not into running (not yet).

    Yeah the cow was not happy, maybe it could read my mind - I was thinking steaks and burgers!

  6. Wow! What a race report!!!!! Congrats!!!!