In 2009 I ran the Skyline 50k, my trail ultra and first ultra in California, as a way to get to know something about the ultra community here in northern California. Running 3:47:59, I finished second to Chikara Omine, a dominant force in the open division of the PA USATF trail series. While we both eclipsed the previous 20-29 age group course record, Chikara claimed the new record with a 3:40:06. I decided to return to Skyline in 2010 to get some more ultra experience and maybe take a shot at a rematch.
I was very slow about signing up for the race, and I almost didn’t run it. On Sunday the week before the race I came down with a cold, the first I had gotten in over a year. Not wanting to try a 50k feeling sick, I shelved my race plans. Nevertheless, I started to feel better as the week progressed and had a few good runs. By Friday I was feeling a really strong itch to get out and compete, and I decided that if my sniffles were gone Saturday morning I would do the Sunday race. Thankfully, I woke healthy, and prepped for the race by doing a three mile run and a seven mile hike in Marin with some friends. I slept very soundly for a race night, and was ready to go on Sunday morning.
At the course, I did the race day sign-up (pretty sweet for an ultra!) and strapped on my trusty Fuel Belt. At 7 am I toed the line and headed out with the lead pack, including Chikara, Jean Pommier, and Victor Ballesteros. Chikara set a good pace from the start, I followed him, and we came through 3 miles in about 19:35 with Jean not too far behind. One thing I found funny about this part of the race was the comparison between the printed course profile and how it felt to me. Looking at the course profile one would think that the first 2.5 miles are flat, when in reality they are seriously rolling. It is simply that these 100’ bumps bear no comparison to the 700’ climb awaiting in Redwood. Even though these were short climbs, we took them fairly easy, saving our strength for later challenges. Around mile 4 I rolled down a hill and dropped Chikara and Jean. They caught up to me as we headed up the gradual climb on the Grass Valley Trail, and I wondered if 2010 would be a repeat of 2009 in which Jean and Chikara and I stuck together through this area and over to Bear Meadow until both of them dropped me on the climb up the Golden Spike Trail.
The three of us remained together until the Bort Meadow aid station (6.29, 42:07), where I ran on while they stopped. As I eased my way up the hill they narrowed the gap but did not catch me entirely. I screamed down the hill to Bear Meadow station and crossed the road to the Golden Spike Trail. As we climbed up this singletrack, Jean slowly caught up to me. We ran pretty close together over to the big climb up to the East Ridge Trail, and it was really nice to have his company a few meters back for the challenging East Ridge climbs. We both hit the Skyline station, where I refilled a couple of bottles and grabbed a gel. I pulled out ahead of Jean and tried to put a gap on him before heading down the French Trail.
Doing the French Trail was a lot more fun this year than last year because I knew what to expect and felt more in control of the race. I pulled away from Jean a bit, and then passed some mountain bikers as they were going up hill. Getting in front of them gave me some added motivation because I was pretty worried that they would hit me coming from behind on a downhill. At one point it seemed really dicey as the cyclists and I headed toward an oncoming group of hikers. Luckily we all dodged each other and I stayed ahead of the bikes. It helped that I didn’t have to stop to cross logs!
Around this time I started calculating what I would have to do to break Chikara’s age group record. I had come through Skyline ahead of schedule for it, and I figured that if I made it back to Bear Meadow by about 2:20 I would be able to do it. After what seemed like a meteoric descent of the Toyon Trail, I reached the station at 2:20:57 and began a serious hunt for the record. Working at a steady pace I climbed back up the MacDonald hill, and then I started rolling, first down to Bort Meadow where I got a couple more bottle refills and then on the way down the nice, straight, smooth, downhill Brandon Trail. I concentrated on running as fast as possible while staying aerobic, which worked out well. The only mishap here was smacking into a post near the Bort station.
The long downhill was great. It was interrupted by the climb up along the shore of Lake Chabot to head into the Honker Bay aid station. It seems rude of the course to demand more climbing after such a nice downhill so close to the finish. Even so, I had enough left to climb the hills, motivated largely by a vision of reaching Honker Bay and having only a flat 3 mi run along the lakeshore to bring me home. Sadly, when I reached the last segment, reality did not match my mental picture of a flat, fast stretch on which I could run say, 16 minutes for 3 miles. As I should have expected, it was actually strongly rolling and even included a set of stairs! Despite these obstacles I managed to run 6:32 pace for this last part of the race to finish in about 3:37, three minutes faster than the previous 20s course record. Jean was not too far behind with an impressive time of his own, and Chikara finished in third overall. Later he explained that he has been dealing with some injuries since late spring and has had a demanding race schedule including WS at the end of June and the SF marathon just one week prior to Skyline. (Joe Binder)
I’m glad I didn’t stay home sick for this one!
Lake Chabot and Redwood Regional Parks, Castro Valley, CA
Course record by 3:01