Skyline 50K – 2011

August 7, 2011

Doing Skyline 50K marks my 2nd ultra in 2 consecutive months.  While that doesn’t seem excessive, time was that I considered 2 marathons in a YEAR to be excessive!

This weekend, I have pulled a couple of other people into my evil machinations… namely Mark Vishnevsky and Nick Kincaid.  Mark had already done a couple of 50Ks and 50Ms and I have known OF him for several years, but we became closer friends in the last year or so.  He is ten years younger than me, and about 10 minutes per mile faster than me (not really, but he has done a marathon in under 2:50… so faster than my sister).

Nick Kincaid and I ran “together” in the Father’s Day Marathon, where I came in 3rd and he won.  Nick is 10 years OLDER than me… but has recently improved to be faster than me… or at least, he is comparable to how fast I used to be.  Nick and I had talked about good 50Ks as “starter” races, and I convinced him to do Skyline.

Nick, I think, decided semi-last minute and drove or flew up on his own, whereas Mark drove up with me on Friday and is hanging out with my family.  The drive took the usual 6 hours and change and both of us were pretty exhausted.  Mark got the privilege of staying in the guest room… or as we call it, The Catacombs!  It was basically a storage area that my parents converted into a guest room… there are no windows, so once you turn out the light, it is pitch black inside.  Mark took a little post-drive nap, and was out for 5 hours!

In the evening, we went to my favorite restaurant, “BFT.”  (Bay Fung Tong.)  This is a Chinese restaurant in Oakland with good, inexpensive fare… where all the Chinese people hang out.  It is rare to see other “White people” in there… probably why it is so good.

Since Skyline is on Sunday, I don’t just want to sit around all day Saturday.  And I know Mark would be OK with that, but it would be a bit boring… so Mom offers a couple of ferry tickets and we plan to ferry from Jack London Square in Oakland to San Francisco… and then walk around… a little.

The “a little” walking around turns into more than I wanted to, basically going around to the Farmer’s Market at the Ferry Terminal, up to Pier 39, and elsewhere.  The highlight was the Mechanical Arts Museum, with a bunch of old games and “pinball”-like machines mostly from a long time ago.  When we got back to Oakland, my feet were on the sore side… not a good sign for the race.

The race started at 7am on Sunday and I felt OK, despite hiking around too much yesterday.  I know that Mark will have to wait around quite a bit, but at least he can talk to all the folks who finish in between us.  Ideally, I would like to finish in 6 hours, but hope to finish in under 7.

The first four-odd miles of the trail are mostly paved and go around Lake Chabot.  I walk the hills and run the rest and average just under 11 minute miles.

The next couple of miles are mostly flat, single-track trail through a pastural area.  I have seen some cows in the past, but not today.  I slow a bit to 13 minute miles.

The next 5K is probably the most technical of the entire course (and we will see it on the way back, too).  It is basically a mile climb up, and then 1.5 miles down, and a half mile of single-track to the aid station next to Fish Ranch Road.  Because of the downhill section, I am able to skip/gallop at a 11 minute pace once again.

Now there is about 5 miles to Skyline Gate.  The first 1.5 miles is a lot of minor up-and-down on single-track paralleling the main road.  There is a tiny part of this where we will come back, but it is the last 1/4 mile just before the aid station.  About a mile in, I encounter another runner (with a Skyline number) coming back on me on the single-track.  What?  Was the course changed?  Hmm.

Once we clear the single-track, then it is a very steep fire road for about 3/4 mile, followed by 2-1/2 miles of (mostly upward) fire road seesawing to the top.  I reach Skyline Gate in 3 hours, 1 minute (about 29 minutes ahead of the cutoff), and at a 15 minute pace.

From Skyline Gate, we are heading back to the last aid station, but in a different way (not back the way we came).  There is quite a bit of downhill through redwoods, but there is also quite a bit of uphill section, too.  This is one of two sections that seemingly go on forever.  Truthfully, it is the longest section – 5.9 miles – so it is appropriate that it feels like the longest section.

As I am making my way through the single-track part just before getting to the aid station, I am thinking, where was this guy running earlier?  Because… I didn’t run on the same course he did… and I don’t think I made any wrong turns.  I get into the aid station maintaining 14-1/2 minute miles… and still about 30 minutes ahead of the cutoff.

From here, we retrace our steps 5K back flat, UP, and down.  I do not skip/gallop back up the hill… and on the downhill, my feet are starting to hurt a bit, because it is more rocky than dirt-y.  Despite the more uphill in this section, I manage 14:17/mile (slower than earlier, but faster than the last section).

Now I come to the last longest-feeling section (the 2nd longest section by distance, unironically (5.3M)), where we retrace our steps a bit, but then roam around a lot of single-track trail with glimpses of Lake Chabot fooling us into thinking that we are “almost” there.  I continue to maintain a decent pace by jogging the flats, running the downhills and walking the uphills.  I reach the last aid station in 6:16 (so… obviously, I am not going to finish in 6 hours, with 3 miles to go), improving my pace to 12:43.

The last section is around 3 miles, with quite a bit of steep downhill, and then a meandering (mostly flat, mostly paved) path around the opposite side of the lake.  With about a mile and half to go is my favorite part… the suspension bridge… about 100 yards long and lightly bouncing.  All I really want to do on this last section is finish under 7 hours.  That means I need to do the last 5K in under 43 minutes.  While that seems like walking, I am pretty tired at this point, and the weather has warmed up quite a bit.

When I see the dock (which signifies that I am less than a minute from the end), my watch says 38 minutes and change… so I know I will break 7 hours.  (Yay.)  And I finish in 6:57:00.  Nick finished about 30 minutes ahead of me, and Mark 2-1/2 hours ahead of me.

There is an interesting result on the board and that it a finisher with a time of around 3;29, which would be a HUGE course record!  That person is the same person that I saw on the course coming back at me… on what I totally thought was NOT the course.  Apparently, when he got to Skyline Gate, instead of continuing straight on the fire road, he decided to turn around and go in the opposite direction, cutting off about 0.8 miles… and thus being disqualified.  I’m just curious… how do you ignore the course markings and the volunteers when you are the leader?

We drop Nick back at his hotel and then we drive back to my folks for a quick bite before driving back to Long Beach that same night.

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