Working for a PR at the Quicksilver 50 Mile

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Working for a 50 Mile PR – Quicksilver 2011

Saturday,April 30th I headed down to the hills outside of San Jose,CA to lace up a new pair of Wildcats for the Quicksilver 50 Mile race at the Almaden Quicksilver County Park.  With 6 weeks left until my first 100 mile race in San Diego,this was meant to be a training run,but I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t enter with a few goals.  I had hoped to:1) Finish in under 8:30,and 2) Beat my friend and training partner Rick Gaston.  My previous 50-mile PR was 9:48 at the North Face Endurance Challenge –San Francisco,but with 2,000+/- feet less climbing than North Face,I figured 8:30 would be challenging but doable if I put together a good race.  Beating Rick would be a wildcard.  I know that he is much faster than me on fresh legs,but after running over 30 miles the previous Saturday and keeping his heavy weekly training schedule with his focus on Western States,I figured he might just be tired enough for me to come out ahead.  My pacer,Chris Wolff,and I talked lots of trash to Rick heading into the race to make it interesting,and Rick returned the favor.

By 6AM we were off just as the sun was coming out.   Like the amateur that I am,I got sucked into going out too fast from a combination of adrenaline,50K runners setting the pace,and conversation with some friends.  By mile 4,I was already getting concerned because my calves were tight and my IT band started to say hello.  Luckily,my buddy Walter Edwards pulled up beside me and helped to take my mind off my legs and to focus on the beautiful scenery and good conversation. By this time,we had finished climbing and settled into some rolling single track,so I was finally settling into my race pace.  We blasted through the first aid station at mile 6.4 because I was more concerned about making a pit-stop than working on hydration at the moment.  I told Walter I would catch up and proceeded to water a tree.

A 50K runner had the same idea and we hopped back on the trail around the same time.  Jorge Medina was running his first 50K race and we fell into a nice pace and conversation as we made our way back up to Walter.  We caught him a little over a mile before our first of three passes through the Dam Overlook aid station (mile 9.7) and Jorge wished us good luck and took off.  He opened up a 1-2 minute gap on us before the aid station,but I think he learned a lesson that Rick had taught me at North Face a few years ago…nothing good comes out of taking your time at aid stations (Rick beat me at the North Face 50 miler in 2009 by just over one minute after passing me at an aid station).  I blasted through without stopping and made up the entire gap on Jorge.  We ran together for the next five miles and Jorge quizzed me on training,racing strategy and managing nutrition.  I always enjoy good conversation with strangers on the trail however I found it humorous that I could be considered the expert when I play 20 questions with Rick and Larissa Polischuk just about every Saturday during our training runs.

As we made our way into the Capehorn aid station at mile 14.5,Jorge took off for good and Walter caught back up to me…having stopped at the Dam Overlook aid station,he had dropped a few seconds back.  We cruised together for the next 5 miles,which was probably the prettiest section of the race.  After a short climb,we found ourselves on top of a ridge with views of the Santa Clara Valley and Santa Cruz Mountaints and a nice breezy downhill with a panoramic view of the Guadalupe Reservoir.  About a mile from the aid station we saw Leor Pantilat on his way to his first place finish while blowing away the old course record.  Leor was heading back towards us meaning he had already opened up a 6-7 mile gap on me by the time I got to mile 18.  I made a joke to Leor that I thought he had already finished the race.  He looked like he was in the zone,but I got a smile out of him.  About 10 minutes later,Gary Gellin ran by on his way to a strong 2nd place finish with no other 50 mile runners even in the same zip code.

We came into the Dam Overlook aid station at mile 19 at around 3 hours.  I was feeling great and had more than enough water,so I paused for no more than a few seconds to grab a handful of potatoes.  Walter stopped at his drop bag and runners were spreading out,so I spent the next 5 miles running alone.  I don’t remember much from miles 19-24 because I was in the zone and the miles just flew by.

I snapped back into reality as I was coming back into the Dam Overlook aid station at mile 24 for the 3rd and final time.  Miles 24-27 was one of the longer climbs of the day and it retraced part of the course from earlier,so I had a chance to see some 50K and 50 mile runners coming the other direction and made sure to cheer them on as they ran by.  Most returned the cheers,telling me that I looked really strong as I headed up the hill.   This was some good reassurance that I had a strong grasp of reality,because I thought I was running a good pace,but as we ultra runners know,sometimes our perception can be off when you get too many miles on the body.  I actually gave a tribute to one of my favorite quotes in “Born to Run” when one of the runners was hallucinating during the Badwater 135 mile race in Death Valley –as I yelled at my friend and The Endurables teammate,Jen Pattee,as she ran by,“I know you’re not real.”

At the top of the hill,I put on the cruise control and made my way back into the Mockingbird Aid station at mile 31.5.  The roller coast of short pops heading into the aid station was a pain to negotiate,but I knew that my pacer Chris Wolff was waiting for me and would make sure to squeeze every last minute our of my tired legs. I crossed the 50K split at 5:03 and Chris told me I was in about 15th place.

I told him that his job was to make sure I didn’t get passed and to help me pass as many people as possible.  The last 18.5 miles of the course is an out and back that is largely uphill for the first 9 miles.  I knew that if I could get through the first big climb unscathed that I was home free.  And so the hunting began…I did a fair amount of hiking up the 1000+/- foot climb out of the Mockingbird aid station,but mixed in fast miles where the trail permitted.  It was just after 11AM and this section was fairly exposed,so the sun was beating down on us.  Over the course of 4-5 miles I picked off 3-4 runners and could see another several bends ahead of us on us who I had been tracking for over an hour.  Coming into the Hicks Aid station at mile 37,I asked the volunteers how long it had been since a runner had come through and they guessed that it had been around 5 minutes.  Coming out of Hicks,the front runners were coming back the opposite direction,so it gave Chris and me a chance to count people running by to see what place I was in.  Bree Lambert was the ninth runner to cruise by me on the way to her being the first place female and I could see only 1 more person ahead.  I had been chasing Eric Dube for a good 7 miles and knew that if I could pass him it would put me in the top 10. About a half mile from the turnaround at Sierra Azul Aid station (mile 41.5) I wanted to take a quick walk break,but made the decision to blast by Eric in hopes that he would decide that I was too fresh to try and keep up with.

;-)

It turns out that I didn’t need to pretend.  As I made my way out of the aid station,I passed Eric and then to my dismay crossed paths with Rick a few moments later.  I figured that Rick was about 3-5 minutes behind and seeing him so close lit a fire under me.  For the first time in my ultra running career I felt like I was racing for something.  In previous races,I was just trying to compete against myself or enjoy the scenery and challenge of a long run,but I really wanted to finish in the top 10 and especially since it meant I would have to beat Rick.  When I hit the Hicks aid station (mile 45.5),I told the volunteers something like “in about 5 minutes,a Hawaiian looking guy with abnormally large calves will be coming through here,tell him that Randy is an hour ahead and he should stop chasing him.”  They all got a good laugh. 

I had Chris looking back over our shoulders every few turns to see if anyone was on our tail.  It wasn’t until we hit an opening with about 3 miles to go where I figured we could see 2-3 minutes behind us.  With nobody in site,I knew I had tenth locked up.   Rather than put on the cruise control,I think I found another gear. We hit the roller coast section that I hiked earlier in the day and I made easy work of these hills without slowing down much.  Chris and I enjoyed the sweeping views as we made our way on the final decent and I crossed the finish line in 8:16:29 to an array of cheers from the volunteers,spectators,and fellow runners.  It was a 1 hour and 32 minute PR from my previous best 50 miler.  Maybe Larissa and Rick are right that bonking is optional.

I was really impressed with the Quicksilver race.  The course was absolutely gorgeous,it was marked extremely well,the aid station volunteers were some of the most helpful I’ve encountered.  I made sure to find the race director Pierre-Yves Couteau after the race and thank him,but wanted to make sure I did again here. Thanks to my pacer Chris Wolff…There is now way I could have kept that pace without you motivating me and telling me fictional stories that that I so wish were true.  Thank you Rick for lighting that fire under me and helping me find my 7th or perhaps my 8th wind.  Thanks to Jen Pattee and Joel Lanz for helping me get to and from the race.  Last but not least,thanks to Larissa Polischuk for getting me prepared for this race….I’m really looking forward to running SD 100 with you.

-Randy

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