Monday, May 22, 2017

Ohlone 50K 2017: back at it, to it and on it for the 30th!

Back at it: it had been 8 days since I raced an ultra, it was time to race again, albeit half the distance of my last two races in May, just 50K!

And one year has passed, time to get back to this Ohlone 50K event and local ultra tradition. Nothing will ever match my love for Agnès but, from an ultra perspective, I must confess I've had a love story with the Ohlone 50K race from day one, that is on May 20, 2007. I'm even feeling a special connection with the native Ohlone people and culture! I had run 3 ultras for my debut in 2006 (Way Too Cool 50K, Dick Collins Firetrails 50-mile, and Helen Klein 50-mile) and was lucky to get in Western States in 2007 in my first lottery. With that, I signed up for most of the Grand Prix races that year, which included this one in May, a perfect heat training opportunity.

I had no idea about the course and, after the Hawks Nest steep climb, I ended up in second place, just behind Graham Cooper. I had seen Graham winning Western States after I captured the collapse of Brian Morrison on tape, a sequence which made it into Ethan Newberry's A decade On movie (see on YouTube).

Being on Graham's heels by mile 13 on my first Ohlone was really intimidating. Or foolish. Especially when Graham suggested that I 'go ahead' and I complied. Back then, I thought that Rose Peak culminated at 5,000 feet, and that it was then downhill from the highest point of the course. While it was a great surprise when I saw my Garmin indicating only 3,700 ft and being given a bracelet at the top, proving we had reach the highest point, the last 12 miles were certainly not all downhill, yikes. I was cramping so bad but hold on my leading spot, that was my first one, and incidentally the 20th edition.

I ran all the editions except 2014, so I could attend Alex's graduation at Georgetown that Sunday (but I ran Silver State 50-mile, and won it, so I have a special connection with that weekend of May...). And last year was the first time I had missed the podium, finishing 4th overall, mere 15 seconds behind Remi Delille. Overall, I was 1, 1, 2, 3, 3, 1, 1, 1, 4. 5 wins, and 6th this year from an UltraSignup ranking.

In addition to being my 10th Ohlone, 2017 was really special at it was the 30th anniversary!

After 5 am for Miwok 2 weeks ago and 4:30 an last week at Quicksilver, I love the 8 am start. Especially as we had a dinner party last night! At least, that gives us plenty of day light to see others at the start instead of blinding each others with out headlamps. The legendary Errol 'Rocket' Jones was coming back on this course after 22 years (1995) to celebrate this special anniversary. Here he is with two super venerable ultra volunteer, Stan Jensen, omni present at our local races, and Hollis Lenderking, who has presided over our Pacific Association Mountain and Ultra Trail Grand Prix for several decades.
 Ultra love in this community!

 Proud bibs 1 and 2! ;-)
While we were busy chatting, I missed the early 7 am start and had to rush up the hill to catch these pictures, a first sweat of the day!





It was already quite warm as the sun rised over Mission Peak.
Two buses this year brought the runners who had parked at the finish, which is a good idea as the city of Fremont has recently restricted parking on nearby residential street on weekends.
We got a cool Quicksilver group picture, thank you, Agnès!
Missing were John Burton (calf injury) and our team captain Loren Lewis, who made it back home by 3:30 am after running Silver State 50-mile on Saturday in Reno then hitting some heavy traffic on highway 80 on the way back. So long for a crazy double.

Co-Race Director, Chihping Fu, sent us on the first climb after providing some instructions, in particular some course change which I didn't understand, and after an abrupt count down of 3 seconds, phew! ;-)





This year, Agnès went on to climb to the top of Mission Peak. She made it by the straight route in 1:03, Nordic walking and fast enough to pass the back of the pack on the way, then take pictures of a few runners coming down from the top on the back side.
On my end, I ran the first mile in 2nd place then decided to power walk the steepest sections, so steep that walking barely made a difference from running. I got passed by 2 other runners who I passed again before the switchbacks in the 3rd mile. Thanks to a excellent course marking, we couldn't miss the course change which got us climbing hard on the left side of the original course.

Here are two pictures from I-Tao Tsai, just before the top of Mission Peak.

I was about 60 seconds behind the lead runner at the summit when I got passed by 4 runners on the short but super tricky rocky and steep downhill section afterwards, where I took a bad fall last year so I was extra cautious. You can see how careful and slow I was in Jeremy Johnson's video, below. And notice how they are throwing hikers at us, against the current! ;-)
I caught up with these runners in the next single track section, on the other side of Mission Peak and charged ahead at the next fire road, flying through the first aid station. thanking the volunteers but without even looking at them to avoid tripping and this washed out section. I clocked a pair of 6:30 miles on the long down hill. I was surprised at how much poison oak there was, and stunned when I even saw course marking ribbons on two branches of poison oak, I had never seen this before, that's hard core course marking!

I could still point the lead runner, shirtless, 60 seconds ahead at the road crossing, mile 7, and was fine with that. I stopped at the Sunol aid station, mile 9, to get ice in my water bottle, pick of piece of banana (a good yellow today, thank you Larry and Chihping!) and cup of coke. And one S!Caps and salted caramel GU gel since they were available on the buffet (thank you for sponsoring, GU Energy and Succeed!).

I passed a few early start runners in the next climb, alternating again some walking and running. Even with this regimen the gap with the lead runner wasn't changing. I was impressed how he kept running everything in the uphill, that reminded me of my early years on this course! I was checking who was coming behind but it was hard to tell with the winding trail. I got closer to the lead as we approached the Backpack Area aid station at mile 12.5. So cool to be helped again by Chuck Wilson who was already volunteering at Miwok (Randall Trail aid station Captain) and Quicksilver last week on Bull Run. Here am I, photo credit to Chuck, wisely spending a few seconds making my mind on what to pick from this rich and diverse buffet.
After another good refreshing stop, I walked most of the climb to Hawk Nest (a toughie) and watered my head at the faucet, quickly to save the precious water. By mile 14, I caught up with the top runner who asked how i was feeling and I asked the same. He let me pass and I kept pushing the pace a little on that section that I used to run entirely 10 years ago. But I was feeling some nagging cramps coming so I did some walking too. By mile 16 I had created a half-mile gap and kept pushing, fearing that, with all this walking, the pursuit group would quickly catch-up. I made it to the top, surprising the two volunteers tasked with the distribution of bracelets to prove we passed by the summit. One of them asked "Are you a runner?" and and I joked back "Do I look like one?" to which he replied "Oh yes, you are!" A nice distraction from the leg pain, thank you for being out there, guys!

I rushed down the rocky trail to finish the 1-mile loop just in time to see the pursuit group charging up. I estimated my lead to be close to 10 minutes, with 12 miles to go. One one hand, being in the lead was giving me some mental wings, on the other, I was fearing the last miles given the nascent cramping. I got a lot of ice in my bottles, refilling my GU2O bottle in particular, which was kind of late in the race (I should have done it at mile 15), and that, less electrolyte, was probably the explanation for the cramps, although I was doubling up on the S!Caps. Fortunately, by drinking more, GU2O and water, the cramps passed and I was able to run sub 7 min miles on the downhills at least.

On one of these downhills, as I approached a creek (it has been a long time since I've since so many running creeks at this race!), I ran into a cloud of large bugs which I couldn't identified. I was really hoping they wouldn't bite because there was really nothing I could do to avoid them. On the next climb, I looked at my top, it was covered with lady bugs, that was a first for me!

I kept alternating running and power walking on the climbs and, after not stopping by the self-service water stop at Stewart's Camp, looked behind on the next climb but couldn't see any other runner within 8 minutes. I got to Schlieper Rock and was welcome there by Race Director, Larry England. After 4 hours of running, I told Larry "We are so slow this year" and he replied "It doesn't matter since you in first place!" With my pessimistic nature, and with all the walking, I indeed felt I was way behind my times of the last years. Besides, we still had 5 tough miles to go and I was convinced this would take more than an hour.

The next section consists in a steep downhill to a creek which I used to enjoy when I was more agile and fearless. The slippery switchbacks, the rocks, the poison oak, that was a lot to handle at once and I have to admit I put way too much on the brakes. I was so glad to finally reach the creek and soaked my cap in the running water which was dearly missing last year. I felt pathetic in the next and last climb to the ridge, but resolute to keep pushing to preserve the lead. I was doing great on the ridge when, checking behind, I saw a runner in the distance. That gave me a surge of adrenaline as I was approaching the long downhill to the finish. I had wished so much that I had some time to stop Stromer Spring this year, to get my head in the bath tub there, but I just flew through the station, pushing as hard as I could.

I got to the finish sprinting like I was trying to escape from a mountain lion. Yet, with the eyes on the clock which was marking... 4:59:30 when I crossed the finish line. Wow, that was close! I was exhausted by this last surge though and asked to sit in a chair. Agnès was worried and not happy to see me like that.


4 pictures from teammate Keith Blom who had run the Silver State 50-mile on Saturday and was now covering the finish line with his photographic skills.




Catra stopped by, she had just completed 200 miles on this course over 67 hours, just as a personal challenge, ultra has really no limit!
The second runner came in 10 minutes later and it was Rémi Delille who beat me by 15 seconds last year and whom I had not recognized, oops. We had a short chat about his UTMB race last year as I'm going there myself this year. Born in France, Rémi grew up on the East Coast and now lives in California.


In third was John Schmid, from Oakland. Here is the Men Ohlone 2017 podium:
And with Chihping and former Race Director, Rob Byrne.


From our Quicksilver team, Stuart Taylor took 8th.
And he ran with his team jersey, here he is after the top of Mission Peak.
Nina Giraudo (#89) finished 6th and Tiffany Trevers (pink top below, followed by her husband David) took 8th while Kat Powell dropped again unfortunately, making us score only in the Men and Mixed this time.
It took me a while to be ready to get a juicy hamburger from Chef Eric England, Larry's son, who has cooked for us for the past 6 years! And, it it was hot today on the trails, it was even hotter next to the grill!
6th win out of 10 editions, including the 20th run in 2007 and this 30th one, the love story continued again this year. Now, I know that I can thank quite a few faster runners who decided not to run this year, that helped! I actually felt embarrassed that this would be the slowest winning time in 30 years but Gary Wang's RealEndurance.com website actually lists 4 slower winner times (Kevin Rumon in 2000 in 5:07, Mike Topper in 2001 with 5:13, Graham Cooper's 5:19 in 2005 and my 5:05 in 2015). Fortunately not so shameful in this heat.

Given the low key nature of the event, the point to point course, and the remoteness of several aid stations requiring hauling by the Park Rangers, this is a race which always blows my mind from an organization standpoint, and the commitment of the teams of volunteer in particular. We, runners, are so fortunate to have all these volunteers giving us their day, weekend and more, so we cn enjoy this very special Ohlone trail between Fremont in the Bay, to the remote Del Valle park in Livermore. See this overall map situating the Ohlone trail in the Bay Area.
And a look at the course profile from my Strava dashboard.
A very special thank to all these volunteers then, and kudos to Larry and Chiphing for organizing this 30th edition with much professionalism, care and success! Thank you also for the nice schwag.
In the hurry of leaving to the airport, I couldn't find last year's top, here are 9 of my Oholne rainbow collection.

And thank you to the race sponsors which include a few of my favorite products too (e.g. GU Energy, Succeed, Zombie Runners).

Back to the title, super stoked to be back on it, meaning the podium, this was beyond my wildest dreams. I'm now taking a few weeks off competition, phew! My next race is in July, my second attempt at the grueling Montagn'Hard 107K which will be a good training and test for UTMB on 9/1.

Like in 2012, albeit for a much shorter flight, I had just enough time for a quick shower before heading up to SFO on Sunday evening (in 2012 is when I flew to Dubai right after the race and we had already boarded when I received a call from the Park Rangers who were trying to contact Pierre-Yves' wife after his heat stroke and helicopter rescue). This time it was just Austin, TX, but the flight got delayed because of the fog over SFO and I made it to my hotel room by 2 am this Monday morning. It's an ultra busy life out there... Got a few nice views of the City by the Bay and the delta.




I haven't seen the overall results as I post this race report, but hope everybody made it home safely this year. Take care all, and see you on the trails!