Sunday, May 18, 2008

On Fire in the Ohlone 50K

It was glaring down at us
When I got off the bus.

The Sun was soon to have his way:
Struggling to keep his heat at bay,

I almost slowed down to a plod.
But I dug deep and clawed
Up climb after long, dusty climb.
Came and slowly went noontime:
Just past halfway into the run yet?
Gosh! I have so much more to sweat!!
Finally came the blessed descent!
With flying feet down the slopes I went.

Just after half past four I was done
With this tough, very tough run.

Race: Ohlone 50K
Date: May 18, 2008
Time: 8:38:11

(With Carol Cuminale and Barbara Elia just before the start)

My race pictures at

This was one of the toughest races I have ever done. Even my 4 100 mile races do not come close to this. Not at all. It was more physically tough than mentally.

I had spent the previous 2 months heat training as and when I could. 10 days in hot and humid Fiji at the end of March had helped as had the recent hot weather. The Quicksilver 50M the weekend before had been run in the mid-70s and had felt comfortable.

I don't believe that it was the heat that slowed me down. It was the relentless climbs in this race. I am not the fastest of uphill walkers and this fact was partly reiterated when Nancy Warren and, later, Lisa Huerta walked with me for a bit and then forged ahead as though I was standing still. Of course they are both amazing athletes but that's not the only reason they ascended faster than me.

The race started on time at the foot of Mission Peak in the parking lot at the end of Stanford Avenue. I spent the first 10 minutes taking pictures and slowly running up the gentle slope. The course would soon get steeper and I wanted to run what I could when I could.

The long line of runners wound its way up the first 1.5 mile climb, taking me along in its midst.

The course soon went off to the right and descended for about 0.25 miles before beginning the longish climb up to Mission Peak. This path wound up the mountain in a serpentine fashion and it was fun to spot a familiar face ahead every now and then. It was along this climb that I got missed a turn and a couple of ladies behind me had to yell to get me back on course. Thank you both!

It was towards the top of this climb that I hooked up with Nancy Warren. She soon surged a bit ahead of me and crested the mountain to begin the trip down the trail to Sunol. I soon caught up with her on the technical (read treacherously rocky here) descent and, as was supposed to be my fate for the day, went off course again! Nancy yelled to get me back on course and we spent the next few miles surging towards the Sunol AS.

John Medinger and the others were extremely helpful in the Laurel Loop AS that came 4 miles before the Sunol AS.

Nancy and I made it into the Sunol AS around 2:10 into the race (cutoff here was 2:45). We gladly accepted the offer of ice in our bandanas and began the long, long climb to Rose Peak. Never having done this race before, I had no idea what to expect.

The one thing I was sure of was that it was going to be an extremely hot day so I decided that I would take a Salt Stick capsule every 30 minutes and a gel every 45. I pretty much stuck with this plane for the next 4 hours or so.

The Backpacker AS came soon enough. The first thing I had noticed leaving the Sunol AS was the fact that there was not a cloud in the sky and that the course had absolutely no shade. Now I know what a slice of bread feels like in the toaster!

Rick Gaston was in the Backpacker AS as were Ann Trason and Carl Anderson. They filled up my bottles with water and had me out of there in no time at all. Nancy was a few hundred yards ahead, a gap that was gradually widening. Lisa Huerta and I walked up the climb out of the Backpacker AS together and I told her how much in awe I was of the fact that she had done the Silver State 50K the day before!

She too left me and was soon a figure that got progressively smaller up ahead. I had, by now, decided that I was going to enjoy the amazing views and the utter remoteness of the course as much as I could. So up and up I went.

About 0.25 miles before the Goat Hill Road AS disaster of sorts struck. My left Posterior Tibialis tendon, quiet until now, decided to wake up and scream for attention. What the f**k? Where the f**k did that come from???? A few acute spasms went through my left leg and I "limped" into the AS. The volunteers in this race were simply amazingly wonderful. They would come yards
out of the AS to tend to our needs.

I considered DNFing the race for fear of aggravating the injury but that thought was fleeting. "What won't kill you will make you tough". Great thought. Sometimes. I got lucky in this case. A few miles out of the AS the tightness slowly dissipated and before I knew it I was walking/running with my normal gait. This of course was brought about by my sending energy and breath to the affected area along with performing ho'oponopono on it. Look that one up if you are interested in learning more about it.

I was now looking forward to the top of the mountain. I had heard a lot, from other runners, about this long and brutal climb. Long it was. Brutal too. Also beautifully scenic. Also very remote. That alone was worth the price of admission. I felt privileged to have been given the opportunity to see a face of my beautiful Bay area that I would not have normally ventured out to see.

Just before the top waited a volunteer who, in a British accent, informed that I would have to go up the small but steep climb and pick up a band (to prove that I had reached the top) before beginning the descent to the next AS, 0.25 miles away. Being an obedient animal, I duly retrieved the bracelet (shades of Barkley) and made my way to the Maggie's Half Acre AS.

I had not been peeing much during the first 19 miles of this race. A highly unusual occurrence for me. Having noticed that, I was taking extra care to drink 2-3 cups of water at every AS. I peed for the second time a few hundred yards out of the AS. I heard voices of a couple of runners coming up towards me but then they faded once I started my own run. The next section was some rolling hills followed by a short but steep descent that had us cross a small stream.

That stream was surrounded by a cloud of ladybugs that had just hatched and were probably looking for a place to stay in for the next few days. Some of them briefly contemplated my face and arms but found the salty, Indian skin not to their liking. Gosh! All ladies are the same!! :))

It was soon after I had left the ladybugs in my wake that I met up with Phil Penna. He was bent over at the top of a small climb, looking almost out for the count.I could not just pass him so I asked him if he was doing OK. He replied that he was feeling dizzy. I asked him if he had taken any salt tablet and if he wanted any. He said he would welcome some so I filled his hand with 7-8 tablets. I asked him to pump 2 in right away and then another 2 every 30 minutes.

My presence boosted his spirits and he started running behind me. I stopped again to talk to him and that's when I decided that I could not leave him alone. I would stay with him at least until the next AS.

So off we went, walking and running as we felt like, talking about our lives. He had done 97 ultras in his 30 years of running. I was in awe of his accomplishments. What a tough man! He also informed me that he had a pacemaker! More and more wondrous I say!!!!!

We both remarked on at least 2 occasions that it was surprising that there were not any runners passing us. It was at the foot of the longish climb to the AS that he told me that we would definitely see runners now. He was so right. There came Mylinh Nguyen and Ramona Voght behind her. Joe Pham too made his way a few hundred yards behind. They passed us eventually on the first part of the climb. About 0.5 miles from the AS (about 0.25 miles from the top of the climb), Phil asked me to go ahead and that he would be fine. I felt a bit guilty leaving him but there were a few runners around him, walking at the same pace, so that made my decision to go a bit more palatable.

I passed Joe Pham and Linda Hurd on the last climb before the descent to the Schlieper Rock AS. I had them wet my bandana with ice cold water before beginning the push to the Finish.

I flew down this hill and quickly crossed the stream only to run headlong into the short, steep climb. No breeze. Hot as Hades. Painful blister under my right toe. Need more problems? Throw in difficulty breathing. My breathing had been lousy at best all through the race and it got worse up this climb. My heart rate was way up so I chose to sit down on the slope and wait for it to come down. I decided to take that opportunity to treat the blister. The bandaid would not stick so I quickly abandoned that plan and got up again.

My heart was beating at a happier pace by now so I "powered" up the hill and reached the top. A sign there stated that the next AS was 0.5 miles away. Again I flew down the hill and reached the Stromer Spring AS where I was duly informed that I was the most jovial runner to come through today.

The Finish duly arrived 8:38 into the race. I chatted with Catra and Andy, asking her about her amazing 100 mile run of which the Ohlone 50K forms the last 31 miles. That is one tough, tough lady.

I left after an hour or so and made my way back to Milpitas where I ate food in an Indian restaurant. Sleep that night was amazing.

Rob Byrne and his volunteers put on a superb race. Thank you all for carting all the supplies to those remote spots and lifting our spirits with your smiles and jokes.

Steve Shultis, a runner I had briefly chatted with on the climb up to Mission Peak, was airlifted out and rushed to the ICU where he still is.

(Steve Shultis in the Sunol AS, mile 9.11)

The latest news is that he is "safe" but they are keeping him there for the rest of the week. I wish him a speedy recovery.

Be safe.

Other reports of this race
Jean Pommier (overall winner)
Mark Tanaka (3rd overall)
Rick Gaston (he volunteered in the Backpacker AS)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

2008 Quicksilver 50M

In Quicksilver, on a long day,
With the Sun having his hot say,
I finished the 50 mile race
With a smile on my sweaty face.
Success in my second foray!

It unfolded like a screenplay:
A steady start on the raceway,
Then fast mid-miles in open space
In Quicksilver.

The villainous Heat post noonday
Yielding to Shade along Woods way.
With me was my pacer, my ace,
Allowed in this dusty footrace,
Who came along with me to play
In Quicksilver.

Race: Quicksilver 50 mile run
Date: May 10, 2008
Time: 11:35:31

I finally discovered what the last 19 miles of this race were like. I am now an official fan of the Quicksilver 50 mile race.

This was, as I have mentioned in the race reports from prior years for this race, my first ultra 3 years ago. I ran the 50K last year in 5:57, a satisfying race for me on all fronts. The only slight blemish, if that, was the fact that I had not finished the 2006 50 mile race, having opted to stop at 31 miles. My legs had given up after 3 weekends of back to back races - the Big Sur marathon followed by the Miwok 100k followed by Quicksilver.

I decided to bite the bullet this year and conquer the 50 mile demon that had bugged me since 2006. In retrospect, as I sit here typing, the Demon was, instead, an ally. Not an enemy to fear but someone to befriend.

My Posterior Tibialis tightness, first encountered in the Lean Horse 100m in August, 2007, threatened to resurface as it had done during the middle miles of the American River 50M a month ago. I quickly contacted Royal Jacobs, a friend and a superb massage therapist, who worked on me for a hour on Friday and released all the tightness in my glutes and the surrounding areas.

Race morning dawned a bit cold. I was out on the road at 5:00 a.m. and reached the Mockingbird Hill Lane entrance parking at 5:18. The lot was full! Ultra running has indeed become more popular. The past 3 years I had reached at about the same time and the lot had been, at best, half full. Next year I had better leave home at 4:30 a.m.!!

I wound up parking on the first side street just down the hill from the main parking lot. Mark Tanaka and I walked back up to the registration tent to pick up our bib numbers and hand in our drop bags. Chihping Fu and I met for the first of 3 times and exchanged a smile and wished each other good luck. He is one person who always has a smile on his face along with words of encouragement for the other. What a friend.

I greeted Scott Dunlap when he came in a few minutes later. He is almost a fixture in this race!

Just before the race started I bumped into Marissa Licon. I had first met her during the 2006 Rio Del Lago 100 mile run. She was one of 4 teens who was attempting to finish that race. She got hyponatremic and had to call it a day about 24 miles into that race. I had met her again in the American River 50M a month ago.

The race started soon enough and I found myself keeping pace with Rick Gaston who remembered my name. We talked for a few minutes before he took off running like a hare up ahead of me. He went on to finish the 50M in 8:02!

The run along the New Almaden Trail was great. That trail has no steep parts and is almost the only part of the race that can be deemed "flat".

Marissa Licon and I kept within 50 yards of each other. We finally started running together about 9 miles into the race. I had mentioned the fact that I drink Ensure during my races and I gave her one of my bottles from my Dam Overlook AS drop bag. Chuck Wilson and Christine Miller were volunteering in this AS and it is always great seeing them in races.

Before this I had run briefly with Robert Fosselman and Tom Crull. Tom talked about a couple of races that he loved to go back to every year - the Old Pueblo 50M and the Avalon 50M on Catalina Island. I will look up those races one of these years.

Marissa and I then ran the loop from mile 9 to mile 19 (through the Capehorn Pass AS) and then back to the Dam Overlook AS at 23.7. We had teamed up with a runner named David MacVittie around 20 miles into the race. He was doing his first ultra and he went on to finish the 50K in 7:26.

We were together from there on out almost to the end of the 50K. It was about 24 miles into the race, going up the long climb from the Dam Overlook AS, that Marissa began to feel the effects of the heat. I gave her my visor to help cool her down but she got progressively slower. Even the breeze on the descent down to the Englishtown AS did not seem to help her.

We reached that aid station and I promptly had the volunteers, who were superb everywhere in the race, fill up my Cool Off bandana with lots of ice so that Marissa could put it around her neck to bring her core temperature down a bit. Even that did not seem to help her much. There was another mile or so of descending after the AS followed by some climbing until the final 4-5 short but steep hills on the way down to 31 miles.

(With Marissa around mile 28 or 29. David MacVittie and
Dan Marinsik behind. Photo courtesy Chihping Fu)

It was around the second of these short climbs that she asked me to go ahead. She was planning to see how she felt once she reached 31 miles before continuing (she eventually missed the cutoff and had to drop). One tough 20 year old!

I took off up and down the hills and reached the Start/Finish area at 1:00 p.m. (7 hours into the race). Raj, Anu's husband and my pacer, was waiting there patiently for me to show up. I quickly had one of the volunteers fill one of my bottles with Coke, to which I added a tablet of Salt Stick, and the other one with cold water and we hit the trail at 1:05 p.m. The next 4 miles were right out of Hell!! It was very hot with nary a breeze and the slopes were steep here and there. To make matters worse, my breathing had started to unravel.

Having Raj by my side was a great comfort and we talked about many things including how he was interested in doing more trail races. He had done only 1 run, one of 2 miles, 2 days ago and not a single run between that day and his first marathon, the Napa Valley one, 2 months ago. He had been training for a 100 mile bike race which he duly completed in just over 7 hours in the last weekend of April. He is one amazing athlete!

We met Lee and Wini Jebian and Dave Combs, all on their way to the 50K finish. Diane Vlach also went past. Dave Combs went on to finish an hour faster than last year!

We got back to the Englishtown AS around 8:00 into the race. The next part of the course was an unknown to me. It came as a revelation! The climbs were not steep at all! Just gentle ones that I could negotiate by running as and when I felt like it. I fell in love with this section.

(With Raj, my pacer, in the Sierra Azul section of the course. Photo courtesy of Chihping Fu)

The views were wonderful and the shade very welcome. Raj and I took our train all the way to the turnaround (mile 41.5). We reached it at 3:45 p.m. Raj had his Camelbak filled up while I did the same for my bottles. After some blister work on my pinkie toes, we started back. After 10 minutes or so, I decided that I was going to run all the way back to the Finish. The cutoff we were keeping an eye on was the 5:25 p.m. one at mile 45.5.

Off I went with Raj in tow. He was doing a superb job of running the climbs with me in spite of not having run for 2 months! I was in admiration for his fitness and determination. We made it back to the 45.5 miles Aid Station (Hicks Road) at 4:45 p.m. and were out a few minutes later. It is there that we met a runner named Daniel Taub. He had fallen and hurt his right arm very badly. The tough runner that he was, he joined up with us on the way back to the Finish. The last 2.5 miles, from the Englishtown AS (mile 47.5), were 90% downhill and it was fun flying down the slopes knowing that this was the last time I would have to do it in the race.

I crossed the Finish line in 11:35:31. Daniel finished 2 minutes behind me. Raj too came in a few minutes later having wisely decided to save his legs by walking down some of the steeper slopes.

Paul Fick, the RD, took over from Janice and Tom (RDs for the last 9 years) and did as fantastic a job of running this race as they had. The volunteers in this race, mostly from the Quicksilver Running Club, are simply amazing. They brave the hot sun and go out of their way to help the runners achieve their race goals. Thank you one and all from the bottom of my heart.

Until next year. The 50K is no longer an option. I will always run the 50M!!!