August 12, 2012
I returned to the Bay Area once again for the Skyline 50K. I feel like this is a must-do, both for the relative ease of the course, the beauty, and the chance to either visit with my folks or with friends when I visit.
On this particular iteration of Skyline, I felt like my fitness was at the best it had been for a while, or at least I felt that I wasn’t going to really struggle into the end, but rather be able to finish in under 7 hours (possibly a tall order seeing as my best 50K of the year was 8:08 at Malibu Creek in March). The plan is to be consistent, try and run some of the hills and finish in a satisfying matter. Ideally, that means to finish close to my time from last year (which was 6:57).
The first 4.3 miles are mostly paved, running around the left side of Lake Chabot (left of the dock by the boathouse), and it is rolling hills. I would prefer to walk all the hills, but I am trying to be more practical from the get-go because most of these hills are not horrible. Once we leave the “friendly environs” of paved-ness, there is a bunch of uphill, leading to the first aid station, consisting of a water cooler. It takes me 44:06 (10 minute pace!!) and I don’t really stop at the aid station. [I am about 3 minutes ahead of last year’s pace.]
Now there is about 3 miles to the next aid station and the first stretch is considerable downhill. I run conservatively – there is a tendency to overdo it, and then tire out the quads for several ensuing climbs. Most of this section is a double-rutted fire road through a flat valley (some rolling hills), through a couple of gates (mostly open this year), then up a paved road to a parking lot aid station. I keep maintaining a consistent pace, and have covered the first 6.3 miles in 66 minutes… still maintaining the 10-11 minute miles [and pick up a few more minutes on my last year’s pace].
Out of this aid station, there is a gentle uphill for about a mile and a half. While it is not steep, it goes on and on and on and on… better to walk… but with authority. At the top of the hill, it flattens out for a few hundred yards and then begins to descend precipitously. Again, I try to run conservatively, since the 5 miles after this are 75% uphill. For the third straight section, I manage under 11 minute miles (11 minute miles x 31 = 5:41 – that’s under 7 hours!).
Now I have a little over 5 miles to Skyline Gate. The weather is almost ideal – chilly and a little foggy. Certainly, I do not want heat on this uphill. I am not just walking up the hill; I am doing modified racewalking (modified, in that my knees are bending a bit, but I am still moving well). Not all of the 5 miles is uphill. The first section is single-track switchbacks up and down on the other side of what is probably Fish Ranch Road, followed by a mile of paved road on the level. Then the uphill is BA-A-A-D for at least a mile before it becomes a series of slopes and flat sections all the way to the top. I slowed considerably on this section, covering it in 66 minutes (about 13:00/mile). [I am now 16 minutes ahead of last year’s pace – about a minute per mile.]
Even though I am not quite halfway (14.5 miles), Skyline Gate is the de facto halfway point of the race. Last year, the DQ’ed winner turned around and headed back the same way and came up a few miles short on the total distance. The course on the way back heads out the opposite direction from the aid station, but goes back to the same aid station we originated from. Instead of 5.1 miles, however, it is 5.9 miles. Also conversely, it is not all downhill. There is an awful section about 2 miles from the aid station, where I am climbing on a steep single-track out of the redwood forest. This eventually deposits me above the road. It is extremely frustrating to hear cars driving on the road, and have the trail seem to go on forever and not reach the aid station.
Once I start hearing cars, see, I think I am close… so I start calculating just how great I am doing… but then I realize, no, I am not doing that great… and soon I am thinking, I wonder if I will make the cutoff. This 6-mile section takes me 87 minutes… and now I have slowed to a 15 minute per mile pace, despite it being mostly downhill, and lost a few minutes of my banked time I had been gaining from last year’s race.
Now I get to backtrack on the section with 1.5 miles STEEP uphill and 1.5 miles gentle downhill. The fog has cleared and the temperature is skyrocketing. The heat is rising from the road a bit and this hill doesn’t feel great. Just keeping moving forward, I keep saying to myself. I cover the section in 40 minutes, and have about 8 miles to go. If I can maintain 15 minute miles, I will finish under 7 hours.
From this location, there is a small bit of backtracking, but mostly on the opposite side of the (fairly flat) valley. I have found that this particular section is demoralizing, because it is 5 miles without much of a viewpoint toward where I am headed. There is just a lot of up and down through a wooded area. I know that when I crest the hilltop (which is not particularly high above me) that the aid station is right around the next bend… but even with a bunch of uphill, the progress towards the treeline is pretty slow. The 5-mile section takes me a little over an hour, and my total time to a little over 6 hours (no 5:41 this time). [And a loss of 3 more minutes on my banked time.]
To the end of the course is now less than a 5K… and I can see where I am going. The first few tenths is a unshaded steep downhill to the level of Lake Chabot. You can just about see the dock at the finish. The road along the lake is flat and unpaved (maybe a little bit rocky). I would like to finish strong, so I am convincing myself to do fartleks because it is motivating. Fartleks in this particular case are not brilliant bursts of running, but more alternating running and walking spells. (More walking than running, but at least speedwalking.)
At the far end of the path, I turn on to my favorite section – the suspension bridge – which always feels good… just the right bit of jouncing and bouncing and gives me a little bit of extra joy towards finishing. At the far end of the bridge, there are about 10 steps up to the paved path, which has some really substantial ebbs and falls in its movement. Here, I am certainly running the downhills and flats, and walking the uphills.
I push the last bit of distance (across a small wooden bridge) to the finish, and come in just under 6:40 (6:39:32). I am really pleased, especially because I have some discomfort on my heel (which will prove to be a blister).
100% (short of major injury) I will be back again next year. Not sure if I can match my result, but love the course, the volunteers and the camaraderie.