PCTR Santa Cruz 29K and Rio Del Lago 100 Pacing
Coincidentally Rio del Lago 100 is the same day. I was originally supposed to pace Michael Hayden (current junior record holder in the 100K and other distances). But with him not coming up for it, I agreed to pace Jean Pommier (who I am signed up to pace at Western States next year as well). With Jean as one of the favorites to win, this would be a high pressure but exciting day and night day for me.
Santa Cruz 29K
I showed up at Harvey West Park next to the Costco in Santa Cruz on race morning and saw many familiar ultra faces. Will Gotthardt, Carol Cumunale and Gary Gellin were volunteering (I was relieved to see Gary not racing this morning). Chuck Wilson, Ryan Commons and ultraholics Sean Lang and Hao Liu toed the line of the combined 29K and 50K start in the middle of the park.
After Wendell embarrassingly insisted that I step up to the starting line in the front to begin the race (because as you'll see I wasn't quite the fastest guy in the race), I led out the field in a parade loop around the park. I foolishly then led the lead pack (Ryan, Sean, Jason Reed and myself) off up Harvey West Trail into Pogonip Park. We climbed the switchbacks and as we came up to the top and the beginning of Lookout Trail, Jason Reed ran up alongside. I hadn't met him before and we chatted a bit before turning right onto the Spring Trail heading down to Route 9 and the Rincon Connector Trail, where I let Jason go a bit ahead but tried to keep him in view.
Eventually Ryan Commons and Sean Lang, dueling it out for the 50K lead, came alongside.
As we descended the Rincon Connector Trail heading down to Route 9, I let them go ahead and stayed within sight.
We crossed route 9 onto the Rincon Fireroad heading down to the San Lorenzo River, which I hit in 30 minutes (far faster than my training splits). Sean, Jason and Ryan slowed down for the crossing. But I joyously splashed through the waist-high pool of water to the uphill climb on the other side. Those guys were definitely climbing faster than I was, which I found surprising since I rarely get passed on the uphill. By the time I reached the intersection with Big Rock Hole Trail the guys were out of sight. But I bombed down the other side of Big Rock Hole and then the Rincon Fireroad to the River Trail. I normally don't run down steep hills too quickly but, for me, course familiarity is the key to swift descents. I reached the turnaround at the Henry Cowell Picnic Area at 55 minutes (my best time in training was around 1:03). I was back on the heels of Ryan and Sean (Jason was a little bit ahead). We all ran back out together on the River Trail to do the 7K "orange loop". They almost made a wrong turn early on the River Trail. But I stopped them and led them up the River Trail to the Ridge Trail and the right turn. They left me on the climb. But after I plowed up the sand hill to the observation deck I bombed down Pine Hill Trail and Eagle Creek Trail confidently catching them again at the Picnic Area (Jason was again about a minute ahead). Still I had only done this in 40 minutes, about the same time that I do it in training, with little speedup. I guess its just difficult to cut time running on that sand.
It was 1:35 when we all three left for the 6.5 mile run back to Santa Cruz. I was still able to hop the fences in and out (Hey Ryan and Sean: I may be a little slower, but its all about style - you need to hurdle those next year!) We again ran out together on the River Trail and about halfway up the River Trail/Rincon Fireroad Climb the guys pulled ahead. I bombed down from Big Rock Hole Trail to the Rincon Fireroad and made another fast river crossing.
Then back up the Rincon Fireroad on the other side to Route 9. Then the Rincon Connector Road up to the Spring Trail entrance. I felt great on the familiar runnable flat Spring Trail and laid it down trying to close the distance. I turned left on the Lookout Trail heading down to Harvey West Park and thought I saw the leaders disappear into the woods of the Harvey West Trail. Once on the Harvey West Trail descent, I did what I could to get past slower 21K runners. Finally past them I turned on the jets and sprinted the remaining half mile to the finish. I hit the finish line in 2:29:43, a minute behind Jason Reed (and Sean and Ryan's splits). This was good for second place and first master. After hanging around briefly to chat with Hao Liu (who came in with a strong 2:54 finish), Jason and Will, I headed out for the drive up to Sacramento for Rio Del Lago.
Pacing at Rio Del Lago 100
I got directions from Jean's wife Agnes to meet at Hazel Bluffs at mile 78. I was worried that I would be late when I arrived at 5:30 as the volunteers were setting up the aid station for the first runners. But the heat had taken a toll on the entire field. Agnes called to let me know that Jean had assumed the lead over Chikara Omine. Eventually she arrived in person to give me my pacer bib. We sat with the aid station volunteers waiting for Jean. It turned out that Greg Bauhof assumed a lead over Jean, arriving at around 7:25PM, taking sustenance from his father's minivan instead of the aid station. Jean arrived 15 minutes later and after a quick stop at the aid station (something I really need to learn from for longer races) we headed off together down the trail as the sun set.
We crossed under and up multiple underpasses of the Hazel Avenue bridge over the American River to get onto the trail heading south. The trail initially was mostly asphalt bike path: not something I associated with ultra trail runs. But at least it was fairly flat. Eventually it started darting in and out of side trails, but still stayed mostly flat. And it was clear during this stretch that you were in the city of Folsom, with major roads in view for much of the time. I hadn't paced before so this was something to learn. Jean and I didn't start with an opinion on whether I should run behind or in front. Eventually Jean decided that he wanted me running behind. This was fine except that often the directions for the trail weren't clear so occasionally I would run ahead to scope out where to turn and keep Jean running consistently.
After passing quickly through the next aid station at mile 81, we arrived at the farthest aid station, positioned next to a loud rock concert in this semi-urban setting at 9pm. This was a 1:20 split for those six miles. After some delicious coffee and brownies from the nice ladies running that aid station, we headed back towards Hazel Bluffs. We passed Mark Tanaka at 9:40, right around mile 87. So we presumed a 1:20 lead over him. It turned out that Mark had come into Hazel Bluffs 45 minutes behind. So this out and back stretch had almost doubled Jean's lead. This was essentially insurmountable and second place was locked up as long as Jean didn't blow up.
We arrived back to Hazel Bluffs for more pizza from the crew there, and Agnes was there as well. Then heading out east back to the school and start/finish area on real trails now. They were quite dusty however and Jean pointed out the dust motes in light from our headlamps and said that all the dust must be causing his difficulty breathing all day.
With such a lead there was no particular reason to push hard but Jean was running steadily and efficiently with good form. At Negro Bar we stopped for soup and watermelon. This didn't seem to sit well with Jean and he started suffering GI distress. Now the walking breaks were predominating. But when running he still looked fluid and strong.
We headed back out for the last 3.1 miles to the finish. At one point climbing up to the levee, with about a mile left, I thought I saw a headlamp behind us. This couldn't be possible that someone was on our heels. But I couldn't afford to take any chances with second place on the line. So I told Jean we needed to start running for real. He started really moving and we must have done a sub 8 minute last mile and crossed the finish line at 18:46, second place overall.
After about an hour the third place finisher came in but it wasn't Mark. In talking to John Olson (who had challenged Jean early) he said that Mark was suffering but determined to finish. So hearing that he might be quite a while to go, we headed off to the hotel a little after 2am to get a few hours sleep. Overall it was inspiring to see Jean conquer the heat, exhaustion, breathing difficulties and gastrointestinal problems, and still run strong and consistently. A much more thorough recap of the race is of course at Jean's excellent blog.