August 7, 2016
The race is back to Sunday again. I liked last year when the race was on Saturday. On the one hand, I had to run the day after I drove up, but conversely, I had a day to recover and hang out with my family on the way back.
Then again, Mom and Dad aren’t around this weekend because of Dad’s HS reunion this weekend in Southern California. I suspect that we are passing each other in Central California. I did, however, get to have a nice BFT dinner with my sister Marisa and our friend Shauna and watched some of the opening ceremonies of the Olympics (though not exactly conducive to getting a good night’s sleep before a long race).
The course this year is a bit different, having to do with some construction going on around the dam area (dam it), so we will start out in the same direction as at the Dick Collins Firetrails 50M and work our way over to Bort Meadow from a different direction. On the map, you cannot really tell how different it will be or if it will be tougher, but if we are heading in the direction that the original Skyline Course used to end, there are some dramatic uphills that I don’t necessarily want to tackle.
For the past few years, starting with Skyline 50K 2013, I create a laminated pace sheet to carry with me and on the back side, I do some kind of dedication (starting with an inspiration to my HS friend, Brian Kelly, who unfortunately died at 42 the day before the race). Last year, Skyline was my 100th marathon or ultra (27 mararathons, 73 ultras) so I dedicated it to the 10 people who most influenced me getting into running.
Today, I am at a different milestone – my 80th ultramarathon, so I have decided to dedicate it to eight people I met while running ultras that made a difference in my life. (See attached PDF for the pictures.)skylinepace16
First is Ken Michal. I met him as we passed in the dark during the Santa Barbara 100M/100K. Later, I learned he had spent 8 hours in a port-a-pottie because the aid station blew off the mountain and it was the warmest spot available. We have since met at many other events, and he is a pretty amazing (All Day!) athlete.
Next is Amy Dodson, who I first met at American River 50M in 2010. She had a lung and leg removed as a teenager, so she is hard to miss. I thought she was another one-legged athlete, Amy Palmeiro-Winters, who had run the North Face Challenge a year prior, and when I asked her if her name was Amy, who knew that there was more than one Amy with a prosthetic leg running an ultra? We ran a few miles together, but our real great experience was at Miwok the following year when we ran together for several hours. I received the “brunt” of good wishes as fellow competitors cheered us (her mostly) on.
Next, a pair together, Dave McCaghren and Jerry Hollingsworth, who I met perchance at the Sunmart 50M pre-race dinner. Pretty much I sat down at a lonely table because I didn’t really know anyone from the Texas location of the race. We ended up on the same race shuttle to, and from the race, had cocktails at the hotel post-race, and ended up breakfasting the next morning, too. A few years later, I stayed with Jerry and a friend the night before my first (and so far, only) 100 miler, the Rocky Raccoon.
At the Santa Barbara 100M (attempt #2 where the race didn’t actually get cancelled), I got lost and then fell apart by Mile 29 (though more than 30 miles for me at that point). When I got back to the finish (to then help out and cheer people in), I met a guy from Long Beach (that I never knew before) who had some ultra experience (including Barkley). I haven’t (yet) given into some of his insanity, but he (and dog Lacey) were invaluable in pacing me at Twin Peaks 50M last year (my first and only pacer to date).
A few years ago at Skyline, I ran a few miles with another early starter. She was no slow runner, just starting early because her friend was. We are not really alike and follow different tracks in life, but I have always enjoying running and talking with her (and reading about her various trail and ultra adventures). Meg Deverin Cheng and I met up again at the start (and finish) line today.
Two years ago, at the High Desert 50K in Ridgecrest, I ran cumulatively a few hours with Darrell Price, ten years my junior and local to Ridgecrest (and occasionally works in Long Beach, too). Both of us are big guys (I’m taller, naturally.) so we had that to commiserate about. Last year, I stayed with him at his house less than a mile from the Start Line, and hope to do so again this year.
Finally, Laurin Miertschin, who I met at Twin Peaks 50M my first year. Both of us ended up doing the 50K drop down. She has also ventured out on my hash events, and convinced me to run a number of tough local races. I hope she gets back out there soon since she seems to be injured a lot these days.
Besides, my eight ultrabuddies motivating me to do well, I did a countdown of my 8th most favorite ultramarathons and the 8th hardest ones. (If you are on FB, you can revisit my posts from July 29 to August 6th.)
Something different that I am doing today is wearing my GPS watch to both see where I am on the course and also, it shows me my best pace on each section. I always have a vague idea of where I am on the course, but I also enjoy knowing EXACTLY where I am at.
The race starts out on time and they recognize the folks who have done 10+ Skylines. This year is my 9th. Hoping for some special giveaway next year.
As mentioned above, the course is different and we are heading towards the suspension bridge. I wonder if it will be crowded when we get there as for Dick Collins I had to wait 2-3 minutes to cross, so I hung back a bit… but when I get there, we go, not over the bridge, but around it. That’s kind of disappointing. I hope to cross it en route to the finish, just because I feel like that makes the whole race for me.
After the bridge, we go to the right (in the final miles, we come from the left) and begin heading up a fairly steep road. I have to walk this. At the first aid station (a mere 5K from the start), I’ve done 38:37, so a pretty slow start. GPS says that my fastest pace was 6:30 (probably a short downhill stretch).
The course continues paralleling a paved road, and crossing it a couple times. After about 3 miles, the terrain becomes familiar and I know I am on the path to Bort Meadows. I don’t like the trail leading there, because it is single-track and rutted, which is not great to run on. At least it is still overcast. Four miles more, 50-odd minutes, a much better average pace. If I want to break 7 hours, I will need to get a better pace in soon.
From Bort to Big Bear (basically the Fish Ranch Road crossing) is around 3 miles, a mile-and-a-half of gentle uphill and a mile-and-a-half of decently steep downhill. I am always reminded that we have to do this in reverse. Another 38 minutes here (but that does include stopping just before the aid station to put my inserts facing forward again (they slip because my shoes don’t fit perfectly)).
Once I cross Fish Ranch Road, it’s a bunch of single-track, uphill, mostly familiar trail, but then we do take a slightly different route to get up to Skyline Gate, a more circuitous route. It just makes the long uphill suck more. Four more miles, 63 minutes. It’s looking less likely that I can break 7 hours. Yes, my total time is 3:11 and I am just about halfway there, but I know there are some sections ahead where I will definitely lose more time.
Marisa and Shauna meet me at Skyline Gate and I convince them to at least walk with me to the French Trail turn-off. It’s nice having some familiar company.
French Trail is a steep downhill and there were a bunch of people hiking on it. This is my best chance to make up a little bit of time, before I lose a bunch of time later (as my feet hurt more and more as the event goes on – last year, I wore the better cushioned Hokas, this year, the shoes aren’t as soft).
Unfortunately, it isn’t ALL downhill, and on the really steep uphill, I got a bit gassed out and then my feet started to hurt more than usual. (Might be a recurrence of my plantar fasciitis.) According to the GPS, 5.7 miles in 100 minutes (so not really picking up any time).
Now, I have the 3 mile segment, in reverse, with the steep uphill and the gentle downhill. I am struggling more than usual on the uphill portion. Typically, my times in either direction are comparable (within 5 minutes of each other), but I was 10 minutes off in the reverse direction. Even on the downhill, I don’t feel like running.
From Bort Meadows, I now have over 5 miles to Honker Bay, and if I remember this section correctly, it seems like a whole lot more than 5 miles. You essentially parallel some of the earlier trail and then there are a number of long switchbacks uphill and then a slight drop, and then more and more uphill. I know that when I get to the treeline, well, I’m not getting any closer. Feels closer, but never is exactly.
I am watching my GPS overall time, and at this point, I am just hoping to get to Honker Bay in under 7 hours… but officially, 7:00:09.
Now there is about 2.3 miles to the finish, and hopefully I get to have the soothing bounce of the suspension bridge to carry me through to the end. Now I am in the sun of the day and my feet are really sore. I am just trying to get through the last bit. (I mean, I WILL, but it is a struggle.)
When I get to the bridge, it is disappointing that we are going around it again; I will talk to the race director. We should be going across it at least once… that’s the best part that I look forward to.
Once across the bridge, it is paved to the finish. I try and walk briskly on the uphills and flats and shuffle/soar on the downhill sections. I am able to pass a few stragglers in this part, and get to the finish in 7:46:38. Definitely one of my slowest times, though, given that it was a different course, it is a personal best on this particular course!
I can’t hang out very long at the finish line as I need to drive back to Southern California afterwards (stopping first to shower and pack up at my folks’).
Looking forward to at least 20 more ultras and to reach 100!