Monday, August 10, 2009

Skyline Byline

As I hinted at in my previous post, I decided to jump into a 50K race in order to kick-start myself back into training mode. Similar to last year, I was able to add the Skyline 50K to my schedule at the last minute. In fact, I added it at the very last minute signing up on race day. It sort of felt old school handing over a check and signing the waiver that morning--well, except for the fact that I had contacted the RD on Facebook the day before to make sure there were openings.

Skyline is a classic race that has been around in one form or another for 28 years held on the 1st Sunday in August. It was originally a point-to-point course starting from Tilden Park in Berkeley, but now begins and ends at Lake Chabot in Castro Valley. It travels through Chabot and Redwood parks sharing as few trails on the out and back sections as possible making it more or less a loop course (really a figure-8 to be exact). It has a lot of similarities to the beginning and ending sections of the Dick Collins' Firetrails 50. In fact, it is probably an excellent training run for that race if you are approaching it as your first 50 miler.

Despite all of this as well as the fact that it is part of the PA/USATF Ultra Grand Prix, the race does not fill up. I think that this has as much to do with timing as anything. By August, most experienced ultra-runners are just recovering from or preparing for their big summer races. Most people in the area new to the sport have chosen one of the popular early season 50Ks as their first race and/or may now be focused firmly on the 50 mile distance. It is popular among long-timers in the sport--long being a preferable adjective to old now that I am closer to 60 than 20. At my count there were 15 (of 122) finishers over the age of 60 at this year's race and one finisher, Bill Dodson, finishing 74th at the age of 74. With a finishing time of 5:52 he bested a few folks half his age.

My personal goal going into this race was not much more ambitious. In fact, since I hadn't run longer than 14 miles in over a month, I stated that anything under 6 hours was fine with me. Just as I did last year, I started out slow on the rolling paved section along the lake. In fact, I continued keeping the pace easy just cruising and chatting. Starting my races at an easy pace is something I have been working on. Ohlone was a good test earlier this year as I noted that each year I have run it, I have tried to go slower up the initial ascent, but always ended up reaching the peak around the same time. It is difficult to convince oneself of it mentally, but the fact is you loose so much less time taking it easy in the early miles of a race than you do if you are forced to slow down in the latter miles.

I look at it this way. Slowing just 30 seconds per mile during the initial miles can feel like an easy jog yet will only add an extra few minutes to the first hour or so of running. However, late in an ultra, the difference between an easy pace may and a solid one may end up being many minutes per mile. Not only will this eat up much more time, but it the mental impact of being forced (rather than choosing) to slow down creates a cumulative effect. This fact becomes more important the longer the race. However, it is still difficult to slow youself abnormally when everyone around you is blazing out of the gates. It takes practice.

This strategy paid off well for me in this race, as I ran well behind my normal pace at start hanging way back in the field. As the race went on, I passed more and more people, but my paced remained as close to constant as possible. A look at the splits reveals some interesting facts. At the first aid station there were more than 20 people ahead of me who would eventually finish behind me. By the last aid station, there was pretty much nobody behind me who finished ahead of me. My average pace at the first aid station was just over 9.5 minutes per mile, my average pace at Skyline Gate (mile 14.4) was 9.86 and my final average for the race was 9.79. I believe that is as consistent a race as I have ever run.

Once again the Skyline 50K was an excellent addition. I went in just planning a training run, but came out with my third fastest 50K time at 5:10:28. It was a beautiful day with cool, cloudy conditions for all but the final 2 miles around the race when the sun came out and stuck around for the BBQ. I had a great time and the race topped off my first 60+ mile, post-States week. It definitely served its purpose of putting me back on the training track.


Drs. Cynthia and David said...

This post just showed up on my reader, two weeks later!

good pacing job. I think you're right, but holding yourself back is pretty hard, esp when you already know you're slow. Maybe it gets easier as you gain confidence and experience.

I was impressed that you did so well on so little training. I guess that really goes to show that taking a break can do your body (and performance) a world of good! (once you're well trained anyway)


Eudemus said...

Cynthia, it definitely is hard to hold yourself back. Running 100s helps because it is the one time when you absolutely know there is no chance of being able to hold your starting pace. Also, I think you are right about the training. My experience says that we don't loose endurance that fast if we have been running for a long time. It's also why I was able to come back from my 2-month injury at the beginning of the year relatively quickly.