Sunday, March 2, 2008

PCTR Skyline Ridge 50K Race Report

I'm always up early the morning before a race. I thought I would do something a little more constructive than sitting in the car reading the newspaper so I drove to the vista point off of Skyline Blvd. at the base of Borel Hill just before 6:30 AM. I jogged up the hill with my camera and tripod hoping to take some pre-dawn shots of the bay. After a few hundred meters I realized the sky was brightening faster than I was moving up the hill and I was in danger of missing the sunrise. Too make matters worse a bank of fog was looming over my shoulder and edging towards me. I broke into a gallop and made it to the top in time to get the tripod set up and get a few shots in between veils of fog floating by.
Without fog...
Borel Hill at Sunrise 2

My last race was the PCTR Woodside 50K and my training was a little sporadic in the subsequent weeks due to family commitments. Like Scott I took a dip in the germ pool and came out with a sinus infection. Fortunately Dr. Bob Nishime helped me get back on track and antibiotics erased any excuses I might have had earlier in the week.

I walked to the check-in with Carol Cuminale and chatted about her entry into the Coyote Two Moons coming up on March 23. Will Gotthardt was there as well getting ready to unleash his speed demon on the 14K course.
Back at the car I saw Ryan Commons and Kevin Weil. Leor Pantilat was there as well parked close by. This cagey competitor had just switched from a shorter race into the 50K and Ryan correctly noted we had another adversary to worry about.

I lined up at the start next to Jon Olsen and Mark Tanaka. I had a chance to congratulate Jon on his victory and course record at Rio del Lagos before Wendell sent off the 23K, 37K and 50K races together. Jon's time of 15:32 at Rio del Lagos is the equivalent of running 3 50K's back to back each in 4:48. Needless to say I was appropriately intimidated!

Out and Back
Leor P. was off like a shot and I set off after him around the lake and then up through the douglas fir trees. The race at the front quickly divided into to groups, Leor leading the front group and I the second squad. Kevin Weil was descending the fire roads around the Christmas tree farm so quickly that I regretted giving him some tips during the Woodside race. A few miles on Kevin made a move as we climbed out of the woods and I couldn't match his acceleration. By this time the group behind me had splintered. I pushed on, trying to keep to my race plan but not wanting to lose contact with the leaders.

This plan didn't turn out to be very successful. The only contact I had with the leader, Leor Pantilat, was at the turnaround of the first out and back segment and then again on the last lap. He blitzed the course in a phenomenal time of 3:58. Kevin Weil put about four minutes on me in the first 23K.

Leor Pantilat

50K Winner Leor Pantilat

My goal was to run as close to 4 hours as I could. I pushed hard to run 55 minutes out to the Hickory Oaks aid station right on pace but never felt like I settled into a smooth stride. Jon Olsen was less than a minute behind me at this turnaround. Ryan Commons and Sean Lang were just behind Jon. Scott D. was clearly enjoying himself with his camera at the ready.
I surprised myself by running the second leg of the first 23K faster than the first. I came through the 23K in 1:48, two minutes ahead of my goal pace. I would have finished 6th in the 23K if I'd stopped here. I'm glad I came out to scout the course three weeks before, both because it helped to know the terrain and so that I could enjoy the views that I missed while trying to catch Kevin.

Loop 1
The race changes at this point from an out and back along the ridge line and runs up a single track trail connecting Skyline Ridge park to Russian Ridge. The trail moves across the leeward side of Skyline Ridge, through meadows, chapparral and under the shade of oak trees.
I made it to the Vista Point aid station in 2:14 exactly as planned and from there the race and my legs started to unravel. My hamstrings knotted up and turning my legs over quickly became more difficult. The chill wind picked up past Borel hill on the Ridge Trail and made the Hawk trail on the leeward side of the ridge seem warm and cozy in comparison. I arrived at the 37K mark at 2:58, four minutes behind schedule with Jon Olsen less than a minute behind.

Loop 2
Every time I saw Kevin off in the distance I would mark his position passing a rock or a tree and then time myself to the same point. I thought I wasn't making up any ground so I was surprised to hear from Scott that Kevin was only 45 seconds in front of me. Scott was coming down the connector trail as I was going back up it on my way for another 14K loop. With Jon close behind me and Kevin not too far in front I had plenty of motivation to speed up.
I passed through the tunnel into Russian Ridge park. The climb up to Borel Hill is gradual enough that I could keep my speed up but someone behind me was shifting into fifth gear. As I climbed back to the ridge line I could see Jon gliding fluidly up the hill. Fortunately I also saw Kevin and accelerated to catch him. But nothing is ever easy in a 50K race and as the trail wound around the hillside Kevin looked back, saw me and took off.

Jon stopped at the vista point aid station and I ploughed right through hoping to gain some time. I powered up the hill as best I could on shattered legs, wishing for another gear that I'd used up too early in the race. Jon was bearing down on me with long strides and a bright blue shirt. Part of me wanted to stop and cheer him on as he went by. He was supremely focused. His eyes never left the trail in front of him. The tractor beam wasn't aimed at me anymore. It was reaching for Kevin, ready to reel him in.

I kept pace with Jon for a grand total of about five seconds but seeing him running so strong so late in the race did help me to lift my pace. I was afraid Jon would similarly inspire Kevin and that I might not catch a reinvigorated Mr. Weil. When I did catch up to Kevin farther on we found each other in a world of pain, legs torn up by Leor's fierce pace. As I turned up the Mindego trail and started to climb again I could feel the finish line getting closer. The pain in my legs subsided and I surged forward hoping to limit the time gap to Jon.

Back on the connector trail, down the single track and a sprint across the line into third place in a time of 4:11:29. I left everything out on the course, too much of it in the first 23K.

Once again, I enjoyed chatting with my fellow racers over post-race chow.
Harry Walther fuels up
Harry Walther fuels up
I hobbled over to the car to get my camera after a bowl of chili in time to get some photos of Mike Nutall, Elizabeth M. and Vladimir G. finishing strong. Mike and Elizabeth both fell during the race. Mike cutting up his knees and Elizabeth scraping her thigh. That didn't stop them from finishing with a smile! The rest of my photos can be found here at flickr.
Mark Nutall finishing with a smile
Mark Nutall finishing with a smile

Elizabeth McCleneghan floating to victory
Elizabeth McCleneghan floating to victory
Vladimir Gusiatnikov
Vladimir Gusiatnikov


Sean Lang said...

Great Race Tom! It was nice meeting you at the finish line.


Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Nice blog, report, and run. I didn't realize you were so fast as in win-PCTR-50k and almost-catch-Jon-Olsen fast. Also very impressed by your ability to wake up and get to runs so early. I look forward to more great performances.

Sarah said...

Thanks so much for coming out again, Thomas, and congratulations on another fine run!

Great report and pics - and thanks for not taking/including the one when I was bending over to get more soup cans.

It's always great to see and talk with you, and so much fun to read your blog in between events. Thanks again.


rdljon said...


You have no reason to be intimidated by me. I was in your shoes just two years ago. You have a lot of drive and potential and your love for trail running is evident. That in itself with help you to get better. Great race! I really enjoyed the competetion. It made me focuse that last 28km. Thanks and I will surely see you on the trails soon. What is next up for you?