Sunday, May 25, 2014

Returning to Ohlone 50K as Mere Mortal

Did I Ever Tell You the Story about that One Time...

Runners ascending Mission Peak
Last year I ran the race of my life at the 2013 Ohlone 50K where I was utterly immune to the effects of gravity and flew effortlessly up the hills enroute to finishing 2nd overall behind my Quicksilver teammate Jean Pommier. This year however I got to again experience what it feels like to run Ohlone as a mere mortal. I found myself hiking up hills with hands on knees, breathing hard and thinking, "this sucks". Ah yes.

Last year I came into Ohlone in the middle of my Western States ramp up, having several 100 - 120 mile weeks under my belt. I was in amazing shape: veins were bulging out of my muscles and erythropoietin (the natural stuff, not the junk you buy from your cycling buddies) was coursing through my blood.

This year unfortunately Ohlone feel during a down period in my training where I was recovering from my Spring racing campaign (Way too Cool, Boston Marathon, and Miwok 100K) and resting up before my ramp-up for Hardrock 100 in July.

Off and Running

Ohlone Wilderness
Initially I though I might have a shot to win Ohlone this year after I found out that defending champion Jean Pommier would miss this year's race in order to attend his son's graduation from Yale. But my dreams were dashed when I saw local stud Lon Freeman's name on the registration list. In fact, looking at the list of fast guys who were running this year, I suspected that I might not even be able to crack the top-three.

Standing at the starting line seconds before the start of the race, I was still debating which strategy to employ. Should I go out ridiculously hard on the first climb like a maniac and try to get an early lead, or should I hang back a bit and run conservatively saving my energy for later in the race? As usual, I opted for the ridiculous/maniac approach. Unfortunately for me, so did Lon Freeman.

Lon jumped out to an early lead and I had to work harder than expected together with George Torgun from Berkley to slowly bridge back up to Lon. Together the three of us crested the first mile and a half climb together. Unfortunately that would be the last I would see of Lon as he eventually pulled back away, running away with the race in a winning time of 4:52:30.

George, who would eventually finish second in 5:08:32, showed an act of great sportsmanship when he stopped several miles into the race to try and help another runner/hiker (who had taken the early start option) who had gotten stuck waist deep in a mud-pit sinkhole! Unfortunately, even with four or five people helping, they weren't able to extricate the runner. Hopefully he managed to get out at some point! Otherwise the mountain lions may have gotten a tasty treat later that night.

Cruising and Cursing

5th overall and 2nd in my age group
With Lon and George safely out in front, the rest of a race became a four-man fight for third place between me, Kevin Sawchuk, Erik Wilde, and Remi Delille -- all of whom would finish within minutes of each other. At one point on the hike up out of the river with only 3 miles to go, Erik, Remi and myself all pulled even with each other for a brief moment. It was pretty cool. But we were all still a minute or so behind Kevin. If one of us wanted third place, he would have to make a move now!

My hopes for third place were dashed when Erik mad a strong move and pulled a few seconds ahead. I knew that this would be the deciding the move and that if I wanted a chance at third place I would need to stay with Erik now and hope to bridge up to Kevin together. But knowing and doing are two different things and I just didn't have the will power to push hard. I watched somewhat apathetically as Erik pulled away, leaving me alone in 5th place with a slight 30 second or so lead over Remi.

Crossing the finish line in 5th place at 5:15:33, I shrugged mile shoulders and smiled as if to say, "I just didn't have it today... but don't worry, I'm saving myself for Hardrock". Of course, my shrug could have also been interpreted as, "Oh man this race sucks. I'm never going to run it again". Both interpretations could be equally valid.

The Women's Race

I had a nice front-row seat to the women's race as I got to witness the battle for first place first hand at the turnaround point on top of Mt. Rose. As I was running down the mountain I saw women's leader Darcy Africa (a Hardrock veteran and hero of mine) followed only seconds behind by local legend Prudence L'Heureux. And although I didn't catch a glimpse of her at the time, slightly further back was Quicksilver teammate Lisa Hughey who was running a strong steady race.

Darcy Africa held off the competition and come home with the win in 5:27:35, good for 8th place overall! Teammate Lisa Hughey finished 2nd about 8 minutes later in 5:35:50, just outside the top 10 in 11th place overall. Prudence, who struggled with leg cramps, still managed to hang on to 3rd place in 5:57:32.

Other Facts, Figures, and Weirdos

Women's winner Darcy Africa
photo by Joseph Swenson
Karl Schnaitter, who many felt would be a threat to win or at least finish on the podium, had a rare off day and finished 10th in 5:34:45. Having just run the grueling Quicksilver 100K the weekend before, he probably wasn't fully recovered and never was able to tap into his energy reserves. However, he will hopefully be recovered and ready again for Western States in late June.

The surprise break-out performance of the race goes to buddy Andy Belk who shocked the world by running shirtless (albeit with a liberal dose of 100+ SPF sunblock) and cracking the top 10 with a 9th place finish in 5:32:34 just ahead of Karl.

Also of note were a couple of brave/crazy/misguided souls who ran the Ohlone 50K on Sunday after having raced the Silver State 50 miler the day before on Saturday! Congratulations and/or condolences to teammates Toshi Hosaka and Sophia Shi for their amazing acts of bravery/foolishness.


Karl Schnaitter said...

It sounds like you had an exciting day, if nothing else! Great to hear that you made it into Hardrock. It was meant to be, of course.

And thanks for the shout-out. The Western States gods were probably holding me back. I finally found my legs this weekend, for the first time since Boston.

John Nguyen said...

Exciting stuff! Congrats on getting into Hardrock, and your 2nd place AG win!