Sunday, August 24, 2014

Skyline 50k race report

By: Stephen

It's been a while since I've raced a 50k. As far as ultra races are concerned, it's a distance that still intimidates me, mostly because of the speed. My last 50k, Way Too Cool, ended in complete carnage because of my lack of pacing. By mile 18 my legs were busted, and I could barely walk without cramping. This year has taught me a lot about running and racing, and it was at the Skyline 50k where I felt that I implemented most of what I've learned. It's worth mentioning that this was one of the most well organized, friendliest, competitive, yet low-key ultras I've done, as well as the 33rd running of the historic race (who knew!). I'm already looking forward to next year.

Photo credit: Noé Castañón
My goal for the race was pretty simple: beat my predicted time on Ultrasignup (which was something like 4:17). We toed the line around 6:55am, and by 7 we were off. I settled in behind a few Exelsior guys who were moving pretty well, and after the first mile clicked off -- a 6:35 -- I knew I'd be pushing hard all morning. A few miles in, the leader slowly started to pull away, while I kept my sights on second place, who was putting in a solid effort, but also beginning to fade. The three of us blew through the first aid station at mile 4.3 and pushed to Bort Meadow at mile 6.3, where I snuck into second place.

After a quick refill, I started the gradual MacDonald climb out of Chabot, and feeling strong, I hammered the descent to Big Bear. The climb to the Skyline Gate a/s (mile 14.4) had been in the back of my mind all morning, and I knew I could gain some time, so I put my head down and chugged along. I managed to put some distance in YiOu, Jean, and Karl who were close behind and could see the leader, Evan, a few hundred feet ahead. He kept an even effort over the rolling East Ridge trail, growing his lead. As I rolled into Skyline, I glanced behind and saw YiOu and Jean in my peripherals. (click the link for Jean's race report)

Photo credit: Joe McCladdie
Technical descents have played to my strengths in the past, and with the French Trail coming up, I knew this is where I could make a move. Bounding down the rooted, rocky single track, it wasn't long before I passed the leader. It was short lived, however, and after about a mile, he caught me on the small, but ass-kicker of a climb up Star Flower.

My legs were beginning to feel flat, but after popping a Huma gel (which I'm going to review later...seriously these things are little pouches of gooey Chia seed heaven) they started to come back. After miles and miles of flowing single track that snake in and out of powerful redwoods, I popped onto West Ridge and began the beautiful descent down Toyon: a steep, and fairly technical single track system, that delivers the runners back to Big Bear.

The mile climb out of Big Bear was a real grind by this point, but I was still moving well. I crested the top and began to open up the legs on the MacDonald descent back to Bort Meadow. Everyone few steps, I could hear YiOu not too far behind, and in a panic, I took a wrong turn back onto Grass Valley. I realized my mistake after about a minute of running; nothing too serious, but frustrating nonetheless. Back on the correct trail, I pushed the pace to make up for lost time, but it wouldn't be long before YiOu caught me. She put in a hard surge on the rolling single track, but I couldn't counter. I ran within sight of her for the next couple of miles, until she floated away on the final climb to Honker Bay.

Some of the Quicksilver family
The races finishes on the same rolling paved bike path where the Firetrails 50 miler starts, so I was familiar with how fast the final miles would be. I gave everything I had, but my quads were beginning to cramp. Every step was a struggle, and to make it worse, I heard a runner hustling from behind. About a quarter mile later Karl passed me, not too long after that Jean flew by too. He offered encouragement, but I just couldn't hang. He moved from 5th to 2nd place in the final two miles; just another testament to his mental and physical strength. I crossed the line 2.5 minutes later for a 5th place finish in 3:54:04. We had a strong all-around Quicksilver showing, with Jeremy and John (just a few weeks removed from Hardrock!!!) also breaking into the top 10.

Gettin' that post-race grub on
It's been a while since I've gone sub-4 hours in a 50k, so I'm really pleased with my performance, especially considering the course profile. The elevation gain is almost identical to Way Too Cool, which means that if I just pace myself better, then maybe I'll actually do well there one year. ;) For now, I'm just going to focus on consistent weekly mileage and staying healthy for the next few endeavors.


Injinji RUN 2.0 Original Weight no-show
Nike 2" Raceday shorts
Nathan SpeedDraw Plus
Suunto Ambit2
Huma Chia Energy Gel

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