August 6, 2017
Today I am doing my 10th Skyline 50K. Who knew that when I started doing LONG distance racing that I would have two 50Ks that I would reach double digits on?
As per my usual, I drive up early on Friday morning, even though Skyline is on Sunday. This, at least, allows me to have a day of recovery from the drive before I do the race. Mom and Dad are out of town, but I still have Marisa to hang with.
We spend part of Friday hiking the French and Stream trails (not last-minute training, I swear) and the evening watching South Pacific at Woodminster. (36 years ago, I appeared in South Pacific as Jerome with Piedmont Light Opera Theatre. Apparently, this production couldn’t get a male youth who could sing so they just had two girls (who can’t really sing anyway).)
On Saturday, I mostly just hung out, did some laundry, etc.
My new (ish) ultra buddy, Alan Sheppard, is going to run the race as well. We had talked about driving up together, but he ended up doing a road trip with his family and are staying with his wife’s relatives in Alameda. However, since we have an early start tomorrow, we have co.ordinated for Alan to be dropped off here. He will spend the night (slumber party!) and then we will drive together to the race in the morning. His family will probably meet him at the finish line (after they are awake). I have no illusions that we will run together, since he seems to be much faster without heavy shoes weighing him down.
As with last year, a slightly different course than in the past. I was a little disappointed last year when we took the suspension bridge route and bypassed it… twice. It does look like (from the course map) that we are going to go through there again, and I hope that we go across the actual bridge at least once.
A nice drive in the morning and we get a pretty good parking space on the street and walk down and check in. I see a lot of the usual suspects, like Meg Cheng (neither of us starting early) and just a number of random folks that I see here every year (or random people that recognize me from somewhere).
At the start, I am kinda hoping that they will acknowledge my 10th running, but at least when I was running my 100th marathon or ultra a few years back, they did give me Bib #100.
The opening section is around 2 miles of undulating paved road and I try to maintain a decent pace throughout this section (as I know I will slow off-road). There is a line when I get to the suspension bridge (which means we’re going over it), a little bit of a bottleneck. I don’t mind waiting because I get to run over the bouncy bridge.
On the other side, we begin the uphills (the new course from last year that I didn’t really like that much), and I just continue to maintain until the aid station at the top. Happy with my 12:05 pace, but know that I can’t hope to maintain that pace.
The trail continues to follow the same route as last year, with single track traverses and crossing the road a few times. I have a few jostling stumbles here (kicking my foot into a few big rocks in the trail) but I do not fall.
Having climbed the big hill, we don’t have the same downhill that used to go by Golf Links Road, nor the ascent on the other side, but sort of top accessing route to Bort Meadow, with some rough-ish single track, through a couple of cattle gates, and up a paved hill to the aid station. Still maintaining a sub-15:00 pace (aka walking) with a good-sized hill to come.
This section has never changed in the course, basically 1.5 miles of steady uphill, about a mile of steep downhill, and a half mile of medium-flat single track through berry bushes over a minor stream to the road crossing and aid station at Big Bear. I always take a look at my watch here to see how much time I lose on the way back, when the now-mile uphill is in the sun and I’m a dozen miles more tired. I’ll see if the 40:29 holds up. (I did have one minor stop just before the aid station to re-adjust the inserts in my shoes, which always seem to slip in my shoes when there is significant downhill.)
Now for the run single-track section. Lots of up-and-downs, watching my step (and a few stumbles on roots), and working our way up to another paved (in park) section. Like last year, the course continues until the road ends at the Stream Trail and then follow the dirt trail up, up, up to Skyline Gate. (I miss the old Ridge Trail route through the fog.)
It is here that I have a big drop off in pace (largely due to the uphill) to about 16:30 per mile… but to a certain extent, we are now on the downhill swing towards the finish. But note that hills aren’t over and Skyline Gate isn’t the halfway point (but I am psychologically halfway).
We are doing a different route from this point, too. We used to go about a half mile and then down the French Trail, but we go past this to Tres Sendas, which is a treacherous downhill. There are a ton of roots and it is STEEP. I end up not running down the hill, and I slow down even more when the guy just in front of me careens out of control and skids on his knees. I do stop to help him up. (I am a human redwood and can easily help people up, though I wonder if he could have just grabbed onto a redwood here.) He is bloodied but not injured too badly (but if I fall, that may just be it).
We do work our way back to French Trail, which has a lot of climbing and descending. I am in a long section by myself, wending my way around the hillside, at each moment thinking I am just about on the section that connects to the wider fire-road, but each bend seems to get to another uphill section.
Eventually, I do get to the fire-road, which, as I remember only goes for a half mile or so before veering off onto the single track that will take me back to the Big Bear aid station. I figure that I won’t see another soul, but a few runners overtake me at a decent rate of speed (each overshot the turn-off – my God, it was so obvious!). This is another section where you can hear the road but never seem to get any closer. Despite being mostly downhill, my pace is a sluggish 18:42 per mile. At least I have some pace to spare to make the 8:30 time limit (and I am now over halfway – 20.2 miles).
Now time to do the big hill in reverse (in the sun) with the hope that I will not lose too much time from the 40 minutes on the way out. En route to the hill, a number of people pass me, but I pass a few of them back with a steady walking pace up the hill. I spot a fairly tall lady up ahead of me, but she is doing the same thing I am – using her long legs to quickly walk/run up the hill. I get back to Bort Meadow in 45:43 (so only a small loss of time).
Now to the revised route back… a bit similar the route I ran in 2002 and 2003, mostly fire roads and lots of long climbs and short descents. Don’t know if I miss the Honker Bay route, though. That was always endless (much like the last section I was on).
Midway through this section, I catch up to the tall lady. She hasn’t really got running clothes on and she isn’t carrying a water bottle… but she does have a Dixie cup that she is sipping from. She is pretty desperate for water, and I pour her a few cupfuls to tide her over to the next aid station. (I don’t like to part with my own water, but I always carry two water bottles, and one is a buffer against really struggling, so I rarely dig into the second bottle… I can spare the water.
We chat for a little bit. This is her first ultra and didn’t really know what to expect (and at the next aid station, one of the volunteers loans her a water bottle to get her through the last section). She IS going to make it, after all.
Another struggle section for me, with around 18:00/mile, but it really is downhill to the finish and one more span of the suspension bridge. From this top aid station, there is a significant downhill (almost too steep to run) working down to the bridge… and of course, once I am over the bridge, it is less than 2 miles to the finish.
My knee is bugging me and if I run, I cramp. Yuck. So I am basically speed walking on the flats and downhills and regular walking on the uphills. The good news is that I have over an hour to finish the race, and the bad news is that I am already slower than my time from last year (with 3.6 miles to go).
I do have a nice shuffle finish and am greeted by Alan and family. 7:53:13, about 45 minutes slower than last year (but I am also a year older). I will probably be back again for #11.