Sunday, August 31, 2014

Introducing the New Welterweight 12K "State Champion" of the World...

A proliferation of "championships"
Parade of Champions

Boxing fans are familiar with the ridiculous alphabet soup of different "official" sanctioning bodies each promoting their own championship. At any one time there can be several different boxers in the same weight class each holding up their shiny bedazzled gold belt and claiming to be the champion.

As I've recently discovered, we have a similar situation in mountain/trail/ultra running. While USATF is probably the most well-known and prestigious organization, there's also a handful of other race series and magazines such EXTERRA, Trail Runner magazine, and Ultra Running magazine who bestow their own championships and runner-of-the-year awards.

And then there's my favorite... the Road Runner's Club of America (RRCA). I love these guys. I really do. They offer a "championship" for almost any/every distance imaginable including some rather odd non-standard distances like 20K, 12K, 8 mile, and 4 mile. I'm pretty sure they must hand out hundreds of "championship" medals each year. If you personally haven't won one of their championships, chances are that your spouse, neighbor, dog, or training partner has!

Big Johnny Brings Home the Gold!

Running down a dream...
All my life -- well at least since high school -- I have dreamed of winning a state championship. In high school I was a decent wrestler, a mediocre runner, and a sub-par tennis player. While I won an occasional tournament, race, or match, my only experience at a state championship involved purchasing a ticket in the sitting in the stands with my brother.

So when I heard that a local favorite race of mine, the Bill Flodberg Mt. Madonna Challenge, was hosting the RRCA California 12K Trail State Championship, I got pretty excited. This was a race that I have always run well at in the past. I even won the race outright in 2009. The super steep 40% grade of the opening mile-long climb really suits me well.

I figured that unless a bunch of super fast guys from out of town showed up to contest the event, I might have a decent shot at winning again this year. And if I didn't win outright, I should hopefully at least be the fist guy over 40 to cross the line -- which would give me bragging rights as the master's champion. In fact, master's champion sounds more impressive than just regular champion. I imagine people whispering, "Wow. He's not just a regular champion, he's a Master-Champion." Ha ha.

As I picked up my bib before the race I ran into fellow ultra-runner Rickey Russel who has edged me out in every race we've even run together including beating me by 14 minutes at Quad Dispsea last November and finishing 18 minutes ahead of me at Miwok 100 this year. I also saw another fast looking guy warming up, who turned out to be San Jose State City College runner Bihama Vedaste.

Lovin' my new Scarpa TRU trail shoes
As I expected, Rickey and Bihama took the race out hard, immediately opening up a slight lead over myself and Travis Finucane of Gilroy, with the rest of the field already well out of sight just a few hundred meters into the long opening climb. I tucked in behind Travis for the first mile or so as he set a really nice pace. Then as soon as the climb leveled out a bit after the first mile I made a surge and accelerated past Travis, trying (in vain) to bridge up the two leaders.

Rickey and Bihama slowly extended their lead and eventually pulled away out of sight by the top of the two mile climb. I hammered the rest of the course as hard as I could, trying desperately to catch up to the leaders. But as I would later learn, despite my best efforts they continued to pull away from me, eventually opening up a four to five minute lead by the finish. Still, I managed to finish in 3rd place, and most importantly I was the first old guy to cross the line earning me the coveted Master's State Championship!

While I didn't witness the battle at the front myself, I later learned that Bihama pulled away on the final downhill mile to take the win away from Rickey who had lead the entire race. Bihama came home with both the winner's trophy (which my wife Amy describes as looking like a giant cookie jar) and the RRCA state championship. And while I took home the master's championship, poor Rickey who lead almost the entire race before being outkicked came home empty handed in second place. But I suspect he will be back next year looking to take home that cookie jar!

Have I shown you my medal? Oh, I have?


Many people have asked me how winning a "state championship" has changed my life. (Ok, no one has actually asked me that...but damn, I wish that they would!). In truth, not as much has changed as you might expect. Much to my surprise and dismay there is no State Champions Only Parking at the grocery store nor any special Sate Champions discount at coffee shop. I still put on my pants one leg at a time each morning much like you ordinary schmucks and muggles who don't walk everywhere around wearing a State Champion medal dangled around your necks.

Yes, of course I wear my medal everywhere I go including to the office and customer visits. Is that even a serious question? Though I admit that I do take it off to shower as I'm not sure if it's rust-proof or not and I plan to wear it for many more years to come.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Skyline 50K: The Oldest Race You've Never Heard of

The oldest race you've never heard of...
The Skyline 50K trail race is much like an 80's John Cusack cult film that everyone else loves, but that embarrassingly you've never seen...

"I can't believe you still haven't seen Better Off Dead" your friend admonishes you, shaking their head in a mixture of amazement and disapproval.

"Well, I've seen Say Anything and The Sure Thing" you offer proudly, hoping that will impress them, or at least let you off the hook.

"But dude, you've got to see Better Off Dead. It's a classic. That film that put John Cusack on the map!"

OK fine. You promise to rent it on Netflix next weekend just to shut them up. Skyline 50K is like that. It's a classic, low-key race with a big cult-like following. And while it doesn't have the notoriety of larger races like Firetrails 50 that are run on many of the same trails around Oakland's Lake Chabot, it does have a very storied tradition.

Skyline 50K has been around for quite a while. lists results for the past 33 years going all the way back to 1982. It's arguably one, if not the, longest continuously-run ultra trail races in the country. If you want to learn more about the history of the race, check out this great nostalgic piece from Sarah Lavender Smith on TheRunnersTrip.

And for a good general description of the course including maps, elevation profiles, and photos definitely have a look at this year's race write up from Scott Noak at DirtyTrailShoes.

The actual race report (sort of...)

I won't bore you with all the details of how poorly I ran, how shitty I felt, how many times I swore and cursed under my breath, or what a colossally stupid idea it was to run another race only 3 weeks after finishing Hardrock 100. Nope.

Let's just say I spent a lot of time during the race trying to think up creative ways I could drop out while honorably acquitting myself. I had fantasies of being mauled by yellow jackets, going into analeptic shock from stinging nettles, or being gored and dismembered by grazing goats. None of which came true unfortunately. So I ended up having to run the entire 31 stupid miles.

I spent the first half of the race trying to keep up with my buddy Jason Reed who runs for a rival racing team (whose name I must not speak). Jason ducked into the restroom at the turnaround point at Skyline Gate and I never saw him again. I spent the rest of the race in tight battle with three other runners including Lance Doherty, Jeff Koranda, and Terence Hurley. All four of us would all finish within two minutes of each other!

Lance caught and passed me with about 10 miles or so to go. Jeff and Terence were never more than a few switchbacks behind. I didn't particularly care whether they caught me or not. My main concern was actually whether the beer that I left in a cooler in the trunk of my car (which I parked in the shade) would still be cold or not when I finally finished.

Thankfully, I eventually crossed the finish line in 4:20:05 for 10th place. And while not anywhere near my amazing 3:55:55 performance at Way Too Cool 50K earlier this year, this was apparently somehow my 2nd fastest trail 50K ever (and almost an hour faster than the 5:19:10 I ran at Skyline back in 2005). And, most importantly, in case you were wondering, the beer was still ice cold. And delicious!

On a side note, my wife Amy (who also ran Skyline this year on only 2 weeks rest after finishing 3rd woman at Tahoe Rim Trail 100) had a similar experience out on the course that involved a comparable amount of cursing and swearing. But she held on to finish on the podium as 3rd woman. And like me, she also took solace in a cooler full of cold IPA afterwards.

If you want to read a more detailed (and less whiny) race report that describes the exciting back-and-forth action among the speedsters at the front of the race, check out this race report from my Quicksilver Running Club teammate Jean Pommier on his blog, Running, my second job and passion.... And here's a link to the official results. Congrats to all my Quicksilver teammates who ran strong and finished!

Beer, Burgers, and Hot Sausages

While I publicly stated that I signed up for Skyline 50K in order to try and score a few points to move up in the PAUSATF Grand Prix standings, my real reason for running the race had more to do with: a) being able to show off my Hardrock belt buckle and shirt/jacket, and 2) stuffing my face with finish-line kielbasa, burgers and beers. And I accomplished both of those objectives quite admirably.

Showing off the Hardrock bling with Amy

Choking on an overcooked hamburger

Team photo (with Ballast Point Sculpin IPA)

Post-hamburger, post-Sculpin spicy kielbasa