Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sequoia 50K 2008 - Race Report

In the two or three days leading up to the Sequoia 50K, I felt strong and confident and just knew that I would have a good race. I had started doing some hill training, and have improved my power-to-weight ratio; so, I was expecting a faster time than Calico even with a more difficult course.

Oh, about the course...  It was in the Oakland hills. In the same general area as the Firetrails 50 mile race I did in Oct. 2006. It was lusciously green and mostly shaded and very scenic; the surface was well groomed and most of it were covered with fallen leaves. It was like running on carpet. There were a few short and steep sections, but most other parts were very runnable. It was such a treat compared with the steep, rocky, dusty, and brown trails that we have in Southern California.

Jason, what an awesome guy, decided to accompany me on the trip at the last minute. He signed up for the 20k race; however, he decided to switch to the 50k on race day morning. He had not been running hills and the longest run he has done recently is 18 miles. He's been having some knee problems; I told him that the soft trail will ease his knee pain. Since the 50k course came back to the start/finish line at the 30k mark, he could bail out if his knee started to hurt. He went out a little too fast and faded at the end, plus he took a wrong turn and did an extra two miles. But, he finished! Congratulations to him for finishing his first 50k ultra.

Jason and I at the parking lot before the start

On race day morning, we slept in and woke up at 6:00 am. The race started at 8:30 am; so, it was a relatively later start than what we were used to. Jason brought his car GPS, so we drove to the start without fussing with finding our way. This was great; another point of stress removed. When we got to the park where the start/finish was at 7:30 am, it was 42 degrees; so, I was not sure about wearing shorts and a short sleeve jersey, as we had planned. Good thing I brought tights and arm warmers just in case. However, the temperature rose quickly. By 8:15 am, it was a very nice 52 degrees. There was not a cloud in the sky, we were going to have a perfect day for a run in some very nice hills.

I was looking for my San Francisco friend, Gundy, at the starting line; but, didn't see him. I knew he signed up for the 50k as well. I saw him later out on the course, he had been caught in morning traffic on the Bay Bridge and started 30 minutes late. Since the 30k and 50k started together, and the 10k and 20k 30 minutes later; we didn't see much of the 10k and 20k people. 

I told myself that this was going to be a training run. So, we started leisurely in the back. The course immediately narrowed to a single track. The runners were all bunched up and we were forced to walk. Once we came to a short steep climb, I picked my way around a bunch of people and got in front of them. Now, I have some running room. I picked a nice pace and slowly reeled in more people. 

By the first aid station, I was just behind the front group. I was using this race to test new hydration and nutrition strategies. I had packed all of my own nutrition and was not going to rely on aid station food; and planned to use NUNN pills and just stop for water. So, my a/s stops were relatively quick. 

I kept running at a comfortable pace over some gently rolling hills and gradual climbs. Then I really turned on the speed on the descent to the second a/s. It was about 7 miles away and I ran out of hydration. I think the next race I'm gonna use two bottles for anything longer than 5 miles in between a/s. The second a/s was located at the end of an out-and-back spur; so I was able to see the 50k leaders coming back. I started counting and knew that I was in about 17th place.

Coming out of the second aid, I saw Jason; his stride looked labored and had a tired looking smile. I just hoped that he would be okay. Soon after I saw Jason, I saw Gundy. He had started 30 minutes late. We stopped and chatted for just a little bit. I never saw him again, not even at the finish. He had not finished before we left. Something must have happened to him. At about two miles out from the third a/s, I caught up to this guy and we started running together. His name is Mike. I didn't know it at the time, but Mike and I would run the whole second loop together, passing each other back and forth, and finishing almost together.

Now, we were back at the start/finish line, we had finished the 30k loop. I was feeling good, keeping a very comfortable pace. For the second, 20k, loop, it was mentally easier because I knew what was coming up; but the body is a bit more tired. We kept going at our pace and soon caught up to another guy, Harris. I got a shot of adrenaline and bolted forward on the steep climbs. Looking back, this was perhaps the only mistake I made; and would pay for this later on. I guess I wanted to see what Mike and Harris had left in their tanks. I quickly dropped Mike, but Harris kept on my tail. After the short steep climbs, Harris and I settled into a nice rhythm for a few miles and chatted about the races we've done. Boy, that really helped to pass the time. It was really nice to have someone to talk to. Mike caught up to us at about the 22 mile mark, then the three of us ran together for a while. Then, Harris took off and I was getting a little tired, probably from my ill-decided burst of speed up the steep climbs, and decided to not match his pace. Mike and I then went back and forth, passing each other.

I held true to my decision to treat this race as a training run. I didn't want to get totally wasted and thus not be able to train for the week after the race. Harris ended up about 7 minutes in front at the finish. I slowed a bit to conserve my strength on the gradual climbs up to the final aid station, and was planning to charge down the descent from there all the way to the finish line. 

Coming in to the last a/s, my Garmin read 28.5 miles. It was 5 hours and 5 minutes into the race; since I had 2.5 miles to go, I though it would be close to break 5 1/2 hours. But the aid station captain said I had 1.8 miles to the finish. That was good news, it meant I would easily break 5 1/2 hours. Apparently, my Garmin's readings were off due to the heavy tree cover.

Now, it was all downhill. I was flying down and having fun. I saw Jason again, he was heading out to do the second loop. That was good new, it meant that his knee held up and he didn't have to bail after the 30k loop. I was happy for him. I knew that if he started the second loop, he would finish the race. I cruised to the finish line, ending up at 5:25:42 in 16th place, out of 66 who started the race. There were some very fast people, the top six broke the previous course record. The top guy shattered the record by 50 minutes. Results

Mike and I at the finish line

Jason and I at the finish line

They had hot chili and chicken soup at the finish line, those really hit the spot. The ultra crowd is just really the nicest and friendliest people. Wendell and Sarah, the couple who put on about 30 of these races yearly; do a great job and totally does it for the love of the sport. I hung out at the finish line to wait for Jason to come in. The 10k, 20k, and 30k people had already finished and gone, it was too bad that I didn't get to meet some of them. 

It was a great race, I had so much fun. The only thing that would have made it even better was if more of our ATBer's had made the trip together. Yes, trail running is fun; but hanging out with good friends is even more fun. 

Happy trails!

UPDATE: I found out what happened to Gundy. He got to the race late and switched from the 50k, which he originally signed up for, to the 30k. He finished and had gone before I finished; so, I never saw him.


Gundy said...

Good job, Ted. Keep training hard!


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