I’ve run 5 50K’s now. This is the second “riskiest” one that I’ve started (the first being the Tamalpa Headlands 50K last year, 3 weeks after a DNF-ing last year’s Skyline with a traumatic knee injury). I knew that I was unlikely to be fully recovered from my marathon PR/BQ effort 7 days ago, so I considered not starting this race. But if I have one cardinal weakness, it’s FOMO. *Especially* race FOMO. Racing hurts. But it hurts so good… I had to run this!
I had no specific routine or preparation for this race, except rest, rest, rest. Actually, I wasn’t even able to walk down stairs without handrails until this past Wednesday. It was only yesterday when I really committed to running this (partly because a friend *ahem* also decided to run this at the last minute).
Unfortunately, because of my nonchalance, I failed to discover mold growing in my water bottles that I’d normally use for long trail runs. This is because the last time I actually had a long trail run (where I felt like I needed to carry water) was at FOURmidable, back in February! So, despite all my efforts at de-molding my gear, I ended up showing up with NO BOTTLES.
Then, in all my brilliance, I also forgot to bring a cup (this was a cup-less race).
As usual, the plan today was to go out conservatively, walk the uphills, hammer the downhills, and hope that my legs wouldn’t give way before the final push.
For the first half, the plan actually went better than expected. I didn’t have too much issue on Cameron, Ten Hills, Brandon — other than not being able to get aid at the second aid station (where they didn’t let me birdie from a jug, and there was no water dispenser for me to sip out of).
My right quad started to act up (just above the knee), around Mile 8-9, on the climb up to MacDonald. But legs felt relatively fresh.
This lasted until I got to Mile 14, on Stream. Stream Trail always deceives me. It doesn’t seem like it’s a hill. But it is. Anyway, I walked a huge part of it, all the while counting down the miles to Skyline Gate, which I knew was at about Mile 16.
I got to Skyline Gate at about 2:30 (as in two and a half hours). By the time I got there, I knew I was in trouble. Now both quads were complaining, and both knees were felt stiff. David, the aid station co-captain, asked me how I felt. “Not recovered” was the only thing I could think of. Because I don’t think I’ve ever felt my quads and knees in so much discomfort after “just” a 16 mile trail run.
Unfortunately, what I needed the most now were my quads and knees for the technical downhill on French. I also knew that I couldn’t bomb down French like I used to; the PTSD from falling there is strong! (And honestly as soon as I passed where I fell last year, I felt like celebrating.)
Little did I know, though, that the worst was yet to come! Long story short, I finally starting bonking after Mile 22, just as it started to get warm. During any long run, I like counting down as soon as the miles left are in the single digits. So I had been looking forward to Mile 22. But as soon as I crossed Redwood Road, my legs started feeling way too leaden. By Mile 24, I couldn’t even run downhill anymore.
GETTING PASSED BY CASEY, CATHERINE, AND JENNY.
Throughout a huge part of this race, I was swapping spots with a couple other runners, including David von Stroh, Mark Tanaka, and an older, more experienced ultrarunner (whose name I forget). Both Mark and the older guy passed me on the early return trip on MacDonald. I also got passed by maybe two other runners during my long walk between Miles 24 and 27, including a very strong-looking woman who I had shared some starting miles with.
But the real highlight was getting passed right after the last aid station at Mile 27, one-by-one, one after another, by Casey (LMJS), Catherine (SFRRC), and Jenny (a friend who literally signed up last-minute in-person at bib pickup yesterday, and partly why I ended up running today). I don’t typically enjoy getting passed late into a race. But when it’s friends, it makes me happy to see them running well.
I always forget how brutal the last 4 miles are. As I trotted through them, I thought that I’d collapse on the grass after crossing the finish line. But, instead, I was pleasantly surprised by the cheers I got, and the big smile on my face as I finished. Five hours prior, I wasn’t 100% sure if I’d even get to see the finish line, then there I was. Done.
Over the past couple years, I’ve definitely grown to enjoy races for the social aspect, as much as for the physical and mental effort aspects. And, really, I consider this my “hometown ultra” — it brings familiar faces from all over the Bay Area for either a nice, long stroll in a nice, local park, or to support those crazy people strolling in the park.
During the RD’s pre-race announcements, he highlighted the 30 years that Skyline has been run, plus a runner today who’s raced 20 of those 30 times. I’m definitely looking forward to another 30 years. LOL.
The only near-certainty is probably the Dick Collins Firetrails 50-miler. First 50-miler!!!