Tuesday, May 21, 2013

2013 Ohlone 50k Race Report

The Preamble (or Pre-Ramble?)

I'm a runner! It's taken me 40 years to finally get comfortable saying those words. Sure, I've been running most of my life -- from those early days as a six or seven year old when my father would take me out for short runs around the neighborhood, eventually doing my first 10 miler as a ten year old.

And yes, I raced cross country and track in high school. And even in college, when my priorities shifted to other pursuits like chugging beers and awkwardly flirting with girls (and sporadically hitting the books and attending class), I still managed to sneak in the occasional evening run -- though not always while sober :)

But I've never felt comfortable actually referring to myself as a runner -- not a real runner anyway. Real runners were guys who logged 100+ mile weeks, won races, and trotted effortlessly up hill on their toes while everyone else was forced to trudge along, hiking up the hills with hands on knees. Me? I was the part-time, pretend wanna-be runner: the heel striker who plodded along in the middle of the pack, the triathlete/cyclist who preferred to hop on his bike than lace up his running shoes. I wasn't a real runner.

Certainly my running has steadily improved over the last few years as I've fallen back in love with the sport -- particularly mountain, trail, and ultra-marathon running. Yes my times are getting faster and my results are getting better. In 2012 and 2013 I've run PRs in everything from the 5K, 10K, half marathon, full marathon, 50K, 50 mile, and 100 mile. Heck, I even came in 2nd at the Silicon Valley Beer Mile championships with a 6:39 (which includes drinking 4 beers).

And while I'd even started to place higher, and in some cases even win, some smaller local races, I still felt a bit like an imposter. Sure, I was thrilled when I won the Ruth Anderson 50k last year in a time of 3:47:06. And yes, I was ecstatic when I finished the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 last year in under 24 hours, placing in 9th overall with a time of 23:19:20. But even with my recent 3:04:39 marathon performance at a very hilly Oakland marathon, I still felt like I wasn't a real runner because I haven't run sub 3:00 or faster.

Ok, enough of this self doubt shit! Yes...granted I still have some things on my running checklist that I would like to accomplish one day -- like running a sub 3 hour marathon, bringing home a Western States silver buckle, and winning the Silicon Valley Beer Mile Championships. But this past weekend at the Ohlone 50K I ran the perfect race, from start to finish. No, I didn't win (I finished in 2nd place, 6 or 7 minutes behind four-time winner Jean Pommier), but it was the best race I've ever run. And I came out of the those hills with a lot less emotional baggage -- and more importantly -- with a sense of peace, confidence, and acceptance. Yes, I am a runner. A real fucking runner!

The Actual Race Report...

"You've got to be an artist to take on this mountain." -- from the 1986 cult running film, "On The Edge"

I've written in previous years' Ohlone race reports about how special this race is to me. Partially because, as an American Indian myself, the connection I feel with this land where the Ohlone Indians once lived, and presumably ran. And I assume part of my attraction is also based on the sheer toughness of the course -- 31 miles, point-to-point, over some of the steepest, toughest hills in the area, with very little shade and extremely high temperatures. Extreme suffering. Oh, and lots of rattlesnakes. You don't necessarily need to be an "artist" to take on this course, but it probably helps to be a little crazy.

Share the trails dude!

During the past months I'd made no secret of the fact that I wanted to do well at the 2013 Ohlone race which was going to be held on May 19, the very same day as my 40th birthday! I told anyone who would listen (and the 6 or 7 people who regularly read my blog) that I was going to crush it. Every time I ran any hill in a training run I would visualize myself running the hills of Ohlone. I think I annoyed my wife for months on end by constantly coming home from training runs and proclaiming that I was definitely going to win Ohlone this year. A guy can dream, can't he!

Last year I ran a great race at Ohlone, lowering my personal best on the course to 5:28:45. And I did it coming off three weeks of no running due to a piriformis syndrome injury that mysteriously vanished the day before the race, as if a sign from God. Who knows, maybe the 3 week extreme "taper" helped. Hey, at least my legs were fresh.

This year I did the exact opposite. I didn't taper at all --- running 18 miles, 10 miles, and 10 miles the three days before the race. In fact, I came into the race on tired legs having run my three highest mileage weeks ever: 101 miles, 120 miles, and 93 miles the three weeks leading up to the race. Basically I'm trying to win this "Massive May" contest on Strava.com and to also get some good mileage on my legs before Western States 100 coming up at the end of June.

Race start (I'm tucked in just behind/left of #1 Jean Pommier)
photo courtesy Jean Pommier

I arrived late to the starting line and unfortunately missed the Quicksilver team photo. I had just enough time to pee in the bushes and rub a little sunscreen on my shoulders before the gun went off. My plan had been to go out hard on the mile and half long steep opening climb, ideally tucking in behind course-record holder Leor Pantilat if possible. However, much to my surprise, Leor wasn't at the starting line.

I quickly found myself running on the shoulder of teammate Jean Pommier. I was hoping that he would set a good pace on the climb, but he seemed to be content to take it out easy. "Fuck it" I said to myself as I accelerated past him into the lead. He quickly jumped on my shoulder and the two of us opened up a slight lead on Enrique Henriquez in third place, and a pretty decent lead on the rest of the field.

As soon as we crested the top of the first climb and hit the singletrack, Jean pulled up next to me. I informed him that today was my 40th birthday and that I wanted to run a strong race. I also tipped my hand and announced that if possible, I was going to try and beat him. He promptly stepped on the gas and immediately opened up a hundred yard lead. That was the last I would ever see of him until the finish line :(

I continued chasing Jean, in vain, on the climb up to Mission Peak. I caught site of him on the downhill and he seemed to already have a quarter mile lead. I decided at that point to stop chasing and to back off the pace a bit in order to save my strength and try to defend my position in 2nd place.

Somewhere near the bottom of the descent Enrique caught up to me and we started talking and running together. I knew that Enrique had great leg speed as I'd seen him win Ruth Anderson earlier in the year, running much faster than I had run when I won the race the year before. However, based on the fact that he'd fallen a bit back on the initial climb, unable (or unwilling) to hang with me and Jean, I wasn't sure how strong he would be in the hills.

Enrique and I stuck together for the next few miles with him setting the pace on the flats and downhills, and me taking point on the climbs. We were moving well, but suddenly I looked back and saw two runners gaining on us! I recognized the yellow shirt of Franz Dill, a talented runner who absolutely crushed Lake Sonoma 50 Mile earlier this year. I told Enrique that I wasn't going to wait around to get caught -- time to make my move!

Making my move up Rose Peak

I cranked up the pace on the climb up to Rose Peak, virtually running everything including the steep hills that I'd always walked in my 5 previous Ohlone runs. At the turn-around loop on top of the mountain I saw that I had bout a 7 minute lead on the three man chase pack of Ian Torrance, Franz Dill, and Enrique Henriquez. Seeing the chase group gave me a little shot of adrenaline and I cranked up the pace and started really hammering.

After that point I would basically run the last 12 miles on my own, never seeing another runner until I crossed the finish line. I crushed the last section of the course, running everything including the steep climb out of the river crossing. In past years I always suffered on this climb, usually hobbled with leg cramps and often having to stop and catch my breath in the few spots of shade available on the climb. This year the climb felt almost effortless and I was able to do the whole climb while breathing through my nose.

I got bit of encouragement at the mile 26 aid station when I was informed that Jean Pommier had fallen hard and had injured his toe and was slowing down. At one point he had built a 13 - 15 minute lead on me, so I doubted that I would be able to claw it all back with just a 10K to go. But nonetheless I shoved a couple of gels into my mouth and shifted into top gear. I really pushed it hard, running the last 3 miles in 7:05, 6:43, and 6:37. I was killing it! But alas it wasn't enough.

2nd place overall!
photo courtesy of Jean Pommier

I crossed the finish line in 2nd place, in 5:01:15. My fastest time on this course by nearly half an hour! And to top it off, I didn't feel particularly spent. No leg cramps. No leg fatigue. Aside from the hard effort on the last few miles and the finishing sprint (trying to see if I could go under 5 hours), the majority of the run felt pretty effortless!

Even though I didn't come home with the win, I felt like I had put forth a "winning effort". I ran smart, and I ran strong! I ran the easy hills, I ran the hard hills. I even ran the un-runnable steep hills. I ran all that shit! This was probably the best race I've ever run. And now, I can finally say, without any caveats or asterisks, I'm a real runner.

Happy 40th birthday to me! 2nd place overall.

Crossing the finish line, exhausted and out of breath, but with the biggest, goofiest smile on my face I collapsed to the ground. As I lay there on the grass in a state of euphoria listening to my 6 year old express disbelief that I had intentionally pee'd my pants several times during the race, I had never been happier.

It was great being able to share my great race with my wife Amy and my son John Paul, both of whom were on hand with birthday cards, presents, balloons, beer and cake to help me celebrate my breakthrough run. It took 40 years, but it was worth it!

Here's some links to a few other good Ohlone race reports from this year.
Jean Pommier: http://fartherfaster.blogspot.com/2013/05/ohlone-50k-2013-thank-you-leor.html
Franz Dill: http://dillweedrunner.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/ohlone-50km-21-seconds-to-3rd/
Jeremy Johnson: http://jrjohnsonyarb.blogspot.com/2013/05/ohlone-50k-2013-race-report.html
Kyria: http://travelspot06.blogspot.com/2013/05/ohlone-50k.html


Jeremy said...

Congratulations! I am going to go run some 100 mile weeks now. Thanks for the idea...

Big Johnny Burton said...

Just be sure to read my Quicksilver 50 race report first where I describe the various side-effects of 100+ mile weeks which include: randomly falling asleep during the day at work, non-stop binge eating, and incessant whining and complaining about how sore your legs are. But if you can survive the first week, it's gets better. Or at least the suffering becomes more familiar and less shocking. Anyway, have fun!

Zaerdy said...

Wow that was so damn inspiring!

Jean Pommier said...

What an epic pursuit, John, and tremendous progression! Here you are, young again! And a runner, definitely!!

Kyria @ Travel Spot said...

Great job! Jean is a tough one to try to beat, but you did great. I can't believe you were running 6 min miles at the end, as that was the hardest part for me! Go ahead and link my race report! It's all yours... See you at the next race!

Cary said...

Great post John. I'm still stuck on marathons. I've got the Teton dam marathon (Rexburg Idaho) coming up in about 10 days. My son talked me into it...he's going to eek out a 10K while I get the 26.2 miler. The challenge will be the altitude. Starts at 5340' and ends at 4870' with a 3 mile up hill at mile 18.5.

Now if I can get to the starting line without injury. I have a sneeky suspicion I have a stress fracture creeping into my left tibia.

Big Johnny Burton said...

Hi Cary. Best of luck at Teton Dam! The altitude will definitely be a challenge. Just remember to run a little easier and drink a little more, and hopefully you will be fine. And get that leg looked at when you get back!

Bill said...

Great effort - good to see the massive miles in May paying dividends. Best of luck @ Western States. Hope you crush it!