Archive for the ‘50km’ Category

Twenty-One seconds separated 3rd place from 5th place at the Ohlone 50k — 21 short seconds. Within a span of 18,660 seconds, the final podium spot was decided within the proverbial blink of an eye. Even more fascinating was, in the span of that time, a collective 19 Western States finishes crossed the finish line — that’s 90% of a States finish for every “Ohlone” second. Amazing company and an all encompassing joy to share the race with 2 talented runners: Kevin Sawchuk and Ian Torrance.

The story always runs deeper, 50km deeper in the very least.

Minutes prior to the 8:00AM start I’m dropped off by my lovely wife Jen. I dart to Stan Jenson and get my bib, sort my things, then scan for friendly faces. I see Janeth and run over to talk. I’ve been coaching Janeth through her WS journey. To say the least it has been a tough one for her. As if training for 100 miles wasn’t difficult enough she’s been thrown the book this season. It has been a pleasure to track her journey and learn what being tough really is. I thought I was strong, but there’s a new level that I didn’t comprehend until I met Janeth.

Following some truly emotional words, Janeth shoo’d me off telling me you need to get in front, the race is starting in 2 minutes. Off we were and my thoughts were consumed with Janeth’s toughness and hoping she’d have a positive break through today.

I intended to run comfortably at the start. I had been nursing a right calf/Achilles injury post Miwok and was tentative on steep Ohlone uphills, yet, I found myself in 10-15th place (it’s easy to count running on Mission Peak – you can see forever). My hill gear had me gaining on many people until I settled into a common pace with Kevin Sawchuk and Ian Torrance. We all ran comfortably to the summit catching runners here and there.

Kevin and I gapped Ian while cruising to Sunol AS (mile 9.11) running 6:30 min/mile. At this point the race hadn’t started – there’s too many hills on this course to even start thinking about speed. Kevin then veered off to the bathroom and I was left alone to climb a 3,000 ft monster with Kevin, the hill climbing animal, chasing me – I ran with him during Ohlone 2012 and he smoked me on this exact section.

I started to push some here, using this as a motivating opportunity to PR this hill. I would catch glimpses of Kevin’s bright red shirt below but we were matched in pace pretty evenly to my surprise. At this point I didn’t know exactly what place I was in but felt it was good. And, I felt GREAT energy-wise. The crippling hills weren’t that bad on me this season.

After passing the last bunch of early start runners, I dropped into Backpack Area AS (mile 12.48). I got to it with Coke, Salt, GU, and some ice and water over my head. Then bolted out to the cheers of GO! You’re 4th.

Wait, WHAT!?! I’m 4th?

My mind still doesn’t comprehend phrases like that in races. I’m use to people not knowing, losing count by the time I come in. It seemed Chinese to me – I didn’t understand.

Until 1 mile down the trail I saw 2 runners. At that moment I REALLY understood 4th and REALLY, REALLY understood 3rd and 2nd. I could not believe they were on the ridge just above me and I was gaining on them – a weird euphoric state swept over me. I ran every hill they didn’t. From their silhouettes I knew #2 was John Burton and couldn’t identify #3. I also knew that John was supremely trained for this race and brings a history of pulling back on this particular uphill to then BLAST the remainder of the race.

My mark gravitated to the #3 runner whom I could tell was faltering. 5 minutes back, 4 minutes back, 3… I would time him.

I also looked back and saw Kevin running strong.

And now, yes right now, would be the time that my right calf would begin hurting. Not the dull pain that I was accustomed to but a few sharp stabs. Enough that I stopped, I stopped chasing, I stopped being chased, standing in the dusty trail on one leg assessing myself.

My coach voice came over me saying, “You’re doing damage – STOP!”

My competitor voice came over me saying, “You’re in 4th and 3rd is right there! How often does THIS happen? It’s a strain, GET IT.”

Kevin caught me. I said, “Hey Sawchuk, Great Job!”

He humorously retorted, “That’s Dr. Sawchuk to you! States is the Goal. Keep your eye on the prize!” to which he later admitted was a mental tactic he was using to get me to slow down 🙂 See, these lead guys play the mind games with you!

The reality was I was in the middle of no where. Even if I did get back to an aid station there’s little they could do but hike out with me. Ohlone is a barren course. I pressed forward very slowly, unfortunately favoring my left leg. I monitored my gait as best I could but at times it was painful. Kevin took off, yet the bearded man #3 (now #4) continued to fall back – even with me running at 75% capacity.

And then, the sharp pain subsided. I could run “okay”. Transitions from uphill to downhill or vice versa were painful.

Then, I passed the bearded man. Endorphins were flowing. Kevin was no longer extending his lead. We reached Rose Peak (3,600 ft, mile 20) and I was told the leader was 19 minutes ahead. Another DAMN moment! The leader usually finishes in 4:40 or so. Were we going that fast!?!

I re-tooled myself for the long downhills – it hurt but wasn’t unbearable. I was managing while I pulled Kevin in closer and closer. He skipped the unmanned water station, forcing my card. I had to too. I caught him on the uphill – cramping slightly, wishing I had more water, yet moving with confidence in the eye of a trail companion turned competitor.

I was now in 3rd.

I fell in love with 3rd. The more I opened a gap, the more love stitched with reality. I was prepared to fight for 3rd every step of the trail to Livermore.

I flew into Schlieper Rock AS (mile 25.65) with intent. The race began now. My right calf injury was masked from reality, yet my cramping grew. I drank lots of water, GU, and salt which only kept the cramping from worsening. I tore down the technical decline as fast as I could with memory of Miwok (including the cramping) in my mind. I gained speed only to cramp and need to slow down. This was the eb and flow of my life at this moment.

21 seconds isn’t that long.

The single track was covered with overhanging thistle, poison oak, and it was dusty. I remember not feeling the thistle as I grazed it being more focused on my cramping. I was adrift in a running trance when, WHAT THE HELL?! I was jolted by a snake across the trail. Instincts react, I jump and jumping made me cramp, mid-air. With my feet locked into a pointed position I couldn’t land feet first – I came crashing down on my butt.

A plume of dust hoovered around me as a screamed in pain. Both my calves were excruciatingly tight – I could see the stranded contours of my muscles with my feet locked in Relevé; I sat upright with legs sprawled on the trail. I screamed in pain and tried to straighten my feet. Nothing.

First thought: Shit, I cannot move.
Second thought: I’m going to lose 3rd.
Third thought: Shit, there’s a snake next to me.

21 seconds go by.

I panic then the cramps jump to my quads. I scream again. It was oddly promising that Kevin hadn’t come down the trail yet. It gave me hope. Hope to prop myself up and then my body grudgingly released the cramps. I completely lost track of the snake – I had no idea where it was nor did I care. I got up and did a hobbling run fighting for 3rd.

60 seconds went by.

At the bottom was a group of 15 scouts huddled in the shade cheering me on. I dipped my hat in the stream as I crossed hitting the final climb. 1 minute later I heard them cheering another runner. I assumed it was Kevin but peering down I saw Ian and he was moving well.

Every hard fought section of trail was coupled with a look back. Where are they? 3 miles to go. I get a glimpse of Ian across the ridgeline and I’ve extended my lead, but I’m still cramping. Finally I hit the long downhill to the finish. Because of cramping I’m forced to stop for water.

2 miles to go.

As fast as I can go… I go. 7:00 – 6:30 min/mile. We reach a slight uphill that sends my legs into a cramping mess and I look back and see a figure – Kevin!

1 mile to go.

I welcome the transition back to downhill, the last downhill, leading to the finish line. There are friends of runners and hikers spattered about the trail. Footsteps get closer and finally Kevin passes. I say, “Good to see you Dr. Sawchuk.” But then I heard more footsteps. Ian was there too.

1/4 mile to go.

Ian passing caught me by surprise. I ran after him. The cramps said NO. Everything I had in me was ready to run strong to the finish except my legs. I heard Jen cheering.  My leg seized momentarily. Thoughts of having to crawl across the finish line flashed through my head. Luckily they released.

5th place in 5:11, over 30 minutes faster than last year, 1st in my age group, AND carrying with it competitive fuel for my next race – I’m still in love with 3rd.ohlone_finish_2013

Other Wonderful Ohlone Links:

Ohlone 50km Results

John Burton’s Blog Post

Jean Pommier’s Blog Post

First Female Rookie Blog Post


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Photo by Coastal Trail Runs

In a mix of 1/2 marathoners, marathoners, and 50kers I found myself trailing the lead pack by a surprising eye shot as we traced along the Brooks Creek Trail.  Typically I’m not a fast starter but I was enjoying feeling good on the initial North Peak climb while holding a great pace.  I knew quite a bit about the 50kers  leading the race:  Dan Rhodes is a good friend from the coast that’s a fast marathoner and successfully training for a fast 1st time 50 miler at this year’s AR50.  John Burton whom I don’t know personally but I did know he was last year’s CTR winner and course record holder.  I knew he was well capable of a sub 5 run here.  And most notably Leigh Schmitt whom I’ve met in previous Pacifica events and at the 2011 Vermont 100.  Leigh is an amazingly fast and consistent runner – and one of the nicest guys.  I mean at Vermont he extended an open invitation to swing by his Bay Area home.

With me in tow this group of runners drove me beyond my splits and the coastal views of Linda Mar State Beach on a sunny and warming “winter” day made it seem all too easy.  The out-and-back allowed for a quick time check and I was within minutes of the leaders.  This was also a great time to support other runners and good friends:  Margaret (CRC Club Member), Mariano and Nancy Warren (friends from the waay back High Sierra 3 Step), Rick Hernandez, and Janeth Silva.  I saw at least 3 runners with hats or shirts from last year’s Half Moon Bay International Marathon.  That felt really good being an organizer for the event and they were wearing it with pride.

I knew my ~ splits from last year’s PCTR run (although the course is run in a different order):

  • 1st North Peak to AS — last year 1:15  (this year 1:00)
  • 1st Hazelnut Loop — last year 0:58  (this year 0:50)
  • 2nd Hazelnut Loop — last year 1:00  (this year, run after 2n NP summit 1:00)
  • 2nd North Peak to AS — last year 1:30  (this year 1:06)
  • Short Hazelnut Loop — last year 0:46  (this year 0:41)

Amazing to me this was my first run beyond 20 miles during this year’s training, yet I felt fresh and was continuing to put time on last year’s splits.  I enjoyed the competitive feel of both chasing and being chased.

In the end I finished in 4:51:35 for 5th overall.  I received a neat 3rd place age group medal that my boys quickly confiscated.  Max immediately turned it upside down and told everyone the winged shoe looked like underpants.  Here are the overall results.

Coastal Trail Runs put on a superb event with great organization, a gold standard for course marking, and wonderfully friendly volunteers.  I’d highly recommend thier events for first-time and long-time trail runners alike.

A few new things I’ve been tweaking:

  1. Training more conservatively to start out the year.  I’ve run more 30k distances when in year’s past I’d run 50ks from the start.  The motivation for doing this is to avoid injury, like the stress fracture sustained last year that started with a January 50k in Pacifica.  However, in bartering with my inner self I allow myself to race the 30ks treating them more like a tempo workout.  Over just 2 30 races this has really increased my speed over distance in the longer runs.  I very pleased with this given my Western States goal is 21 hours.
  2. Fueling more.  During this race I was taking GU’s Roctane every 30 minutes as opposed to 40 (which last year I had determined through trial and error was my consumption limit).  What I also noticed is with a sustained increase in pace my body can handle a higher intake of calories.  Often times I found myself taking GU before my alarm went off.
  3. Running minimally.  Not the footware type but equipment-wise.  Even in scuba diving my mantra is less is better.  When underwater and you have 1 extra thing to track or get snagged on kelp, that’s one too many.  I feel like that in running also.  Over time it becomes physically cumbersome for me to carry things.  That’s in part due to my smaller frame and weaker arm and core strength.  It really just fatigues me then cascades into a mental fatigue.  At Montara Mountain I ran most of the race with no shirt which I’ve REALLY wanted to do for a long time – purely for the cooling effect.  But I’ve rarely done it due to a deep rooted, high school-like self consciousness.  It felt good to run free… and chaff in new places.
  4. Mentally, I simply believed in my endurance and ability to push beyond the hurt.  Last year’s Grand Slam taught me acutely what I can and can’t do.  My body often lies, telling me I can’t go on.  The hurt is too much.  Blah.  It lies.
  5. I’ve been taking a supplement from Wicked Fast Sports Nutrition.   I met the owner during the Vermont 100 and later exchanged a few emails with him regarding his products.  He send me a sample pack so I’m finally getting around to giving it a go.  Simply due to the name and number of pills you take I probably won’t have tried them on my own.  However, I am learning that micro nutrients are a critical part of long-term sustainable training.  I feel they’re working – especially the pre-race Energ-Ease.  I’m a difficult to convince, critical thinker but so far it’s helping.

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I’ve written a few blog posts that haven’t made the “publish” command. To name a few there’s my Wasatch race report and an ITR Brooks Falls race report. For much different reasons I haven’t posted them. My Brooks Falls initial write-up weighted rather critically on ITR’s inaugural event. As such I didn’t feel right in throwing something like that into the internet nethers. I refrained.

This weekend I’ll be heading to Pacifica once again to run Coastal Trail Runs’ Montara Mountain 50k event. It’s challenging course and great opportunity to up my long run mileage from the 20 mile range. Truth be told I’m really enjoying racing the 30 km distance, but the time has come for me to get back to work on the ultra distances. I love the CTR Entrant’s List format because pre-race I can see who’ll be there – both friends and competition. Yup, I ran most of the names through ultrasignup.com and found I have a pretty good chance at running top 5 again (although that’s changing by the day, even hour). We’ll see how the legs recover from last weekend’s 30k PR.

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PCTR’s Pacifica 50km

After one of the Bay Area’s heaviest rainfall weeks in long time, there was a race. It was called the Pacifica 50km. There was MUD… and after 300 runners stomped through the trail there was yet MORE mud, multiplying like rabbits with each lap.

I met up with numerous friends to ring-in the new training year as many were testing their holiday legs as a barometer for the upcoming ultra-season – including myself. Fellow CRC runners Eric Vaughan(50km), Mike Weston(50km), and Mor Hirsh (9km) were also out there braving the muddy elements. I ran into old HS 3-Step friends Georganna Quarles (30km) and Mariano Pontillas (30km). It was great catching up with Georganna after last seeing her at the WS Foresthill aid station on her way to her first WS finish (29:25) and seeing her extremely nice husband Greyson. She had wonderful WS advice and I learned she’s tackling the 166km UTMB this year to “pad” her running resume for Badwater! Wow.

I truly believe many of the front runners rested their legs by belly flopping at the top of the Hazelnut trail and sliding the 2 miles back to the start/finish aid station. I was tempted!

My previous personal best on the course was 5:58 a year ago in almost ideal conditions – this go around I pulled in a 5:42 in a reserved effort overall. But, interestingly enough I had no hill climbing gear from mile 20 on. Every uphill my legs gave me nothing – it was odd because I could fly downhill no problem. Downhills and uphills were literally like an ON/OFF switch. That’s my signal to work on my hill climbing for the upcoming season!

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Quick Race Stats for Angel Island 2009:

  • Distance: 50km, 31.1 Miles
  • Time: 04:39:43
  • Average Pace: 08:54 min/mile
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: ~ 4,070 / 4,070 ft
  • Average Heart Rate: ~165 bmp

Tiburon, what a wonderful place to spend a Saturday.   And so it goes, Jen and I had grand plans to each run a race on Angel Island then enjoy Punta del Tiburon and finally to retire at the Lodge at Tiburon.  All of this, a delayed birthday present to Jen for her 30th birthday!

In the morning we made the drive from Hayward and amidst the myriad of lines for the bathroom, runner check-in, and ferry tickets we managed to board the first ferry without issue.  The hull of the ferry held a great surprise, Eric and Denise Vaughan – our wonderful friends from the Coastside Running Club together with their son and his expecting wife.  Eric and I exchanged a few thoughts about the upcoming Tahoe Rim Trail while we hydrated and made pre-race preparations.  Denise leaned in with a muted voice and said, “You know Franz, Eric told me this is a small 50km field you could do very well.”  That thought would stick with me, but my immediate reaction was to retort with,  “There are a lot of fast runners here.  I’ll do my best.”  She responded with, “Franz, but you’re fast.”

With the boat docked we scurried out to attend to pre-race needs, then Wendell announced the 5 minute count down.  I briefly spotted Hoa, my to-be ultra guide for the Cascade Crest 1oo in August, but with 1 minute to go I couldn’t say “hi”.  Then with mere seconds counting down I thought, “What’s my game plan?  I have no idea!”  I think I want to run fast, yes fast.  I inched up to the front and the race was a go.  From there it was an organic evolution of: Follow Ray.

Ray Sanchez is a bad ass in my book.  He runs everything, has completed Badwater, and most importantly he’s run this course before in a 4:30.  So I  ran with him relying on his experience.  My focus was on Ray but within 1.5 miles my attention swayed to a familiar form in the distance – Eric.  As I approached I offered a way to go.  He offered a simple go get ’em and forward I ran.

The race runs in loops: Perimeter, Middle Road, then to the Peak of the Island… and repeat.  During the 2nd loop Ray paused to tie his shoe, a stop he wasn’t happy with.  That’s when I passed him.  Initially I had a rush of adrenaline but, as 5 minutes passed, I lost my pace.  I no longer had Ray to set a brisk pressing cadence and I’m not use to being out in front.  I eventually found my stride and lost myself in an imaginary race with a passing freighter heading out to the Golden Gate bridge.  The views were beautiful.

I had no concept of what place I was in, I just ran and ran fast.  Loop after loop the trails became less crowded after the shorter distance runners completed their runs.  Then finally I made it to my last lap.  While my wonderful wife Jen refueled me with a Nuun loaded waterbottle Sarah asked, “How is it out there”.  To which I replied “Great, but I’m ready to be done!” while jumping up and down.  Then I took off.  I caught and passed Frederico Sanchez about 2 miles into the loop and kept motoring to the peak licking my chops at the final downhill of the day.  With all systems “go” I let loose for the finish finally merging onto the paved final stretch.  Over 4 hours of blistering hard work was drawing to a final sprint – and I LOVE the final sprint.  After a sharp right I fired it up only the be broadsided by a 5 year old on her bike that sandwiched me into an agave plant!  Yikes!  The girl was okay, although there’s video evidence that she did fall off her bike because of our fleeting collision.  I continued on to cross the finish line in 4:39:33.

Jen did wonderful in her first trail race, the 8km. For the first time I shared the trail with her as the 50km racers merged with the 8kmers and it was nice to see her smiling face out on the trails. It was immediately evident she was having fun. But her fun was mixed with her fundamental competitive drive as I later learned she started running the hills and passing people while signing (to herself) “On and on and On to the next One”. I have no idea who sings it, but in its day the song was all over terrestrial airways. In the end she exceeded her goal of a sub 1 hour and pulled an amazing 8km in 58:28, good for 41st place out of 122 finishers! Great job sweetheart.

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Pacifica 50km Start

Pacifica 50km Start

On Saturday, January 17th I completed the PCTR Pacifica 50km. I was tracking 2 time benchmarks for this race: 1) Last June’s time of 6:59 and 2) my goal time of 6:30. I knew that this course was hard (6,700′ elevation) and I was under-trained (ran 5 times in the last 1.5 months).  So slow it was going to be.

Prior to the race I saw surprisingly few familiar faces: Mike Weston, Nancy Warren, Will Gothart… There was the customary fleeting ‘hellos’ as we all scrambled to complete our pre-race preparations. Of course I was running late. I had a quick pow-wow with my beautiful crew Jennifer Dill and was off, running incognito in the back of the pack. The Montara mountain north peak ascent went by quickly as I was deeply distracted by the coastal views. The big wave Maverick’s competition was almost on for today and I was enamored by the clean swells rolling in. So much so I ran into a knee-high manzanita bush off the right side of the trail. With a goofy smile I pressed on to the peak, touched the “You Made it!” sign, then descended.

I soon pulled into the aid station for my hydration and food hand-off. I consumed 28 oz. of H2o + nuun tablet, 3-4 cliff shots, and 2 servings of Hammer Gel. I dropped off bottles and bags with Jen and she re-supplied me in the span of 15 seconds. It was AMAZING! I put in an order for a Power Bar type substance for my next visit then blazed off.

Hazelnut Lap 1: Felling good. Struggled a little with over eating (that’s a first for me). 28 oz. of H2o + nuun and food.
Hazelnut Lap 2: Still feeling good. 28 oz. of H2o + nuun and food.
Each of the Hazelnut loops were adding 10 minutes to my estimated times – every aid station stop (or should I say pause) leaped me minutes beyond those around me. It was masterfull and I LOVED it. I was in awe at the gaps it created. Thanks so much Jen!

North Peak Ascent 2: At this point I was 20-30 minutes ahead of schedule but I had some work before me. I powered ahead and caught another runner at the single track trail junction on the Montara mountain trail. Soon after the front runners had doubled back and were passing me on the way down. I thought cool, I can figure out what place I’m in! So, the count was on. 1,2,3,4,5… 10,11… I thought, hey this number is getting BIG. I got up to 22 or so and was severely bummed out. Hell, I thought I was flying… I WAS flying, yet I’m back at 25! Whatever, I mentally ratcheted back to tracking time rather than place. I reached the top devoid of energy, out of water, and tired. Down I went to chase some speed maniacs.

I got to the aid station (3.5 miles from the top) and was thirsty and dehydrated. I had my longest pause of the day, exchanged some knuckles with my glorious Jen and her friend Kim, then was off while muttering, “I’m going to try to break 6 hours.” So with 45 minutes to do it I was off with only a stretch of the Weller Ranch trail and the infinite in number Hazelnut switchbacks before me. I knew, once at the top, it takes me 18 minutes to reach the finish line. My goal was laid before me all I needed to do was execute. The only problem was my body had yet to recover from my lack of water in the previous 3.5 mile stretch. The pace wasn’t there on the Hazelnut uphills… I was hitting around 13 min/miles and wasn’t happy. It felt like there was 100 switchbacks to the top of this nutty trail. Everytime I thought I was at the top, I wasn’t! You’d think I’d get a clue having run it 2x already today, but no. Time was pressing, I was within a minute of my 5:42 minute mark of apexing.

Pacifica 50km Finish

Pacifica 50km Finish

Then, finally, I was at the top. The Hammer Gel was flowing and I had some downhill to conquer. I had gapped the next runner behind me by over 20 minutes, so no one was pressing me but the clock. I ran with everthing I had, breaking into the nature trail near the finish with a meer 2 minutes to spare. Requesting a sprint, my calves responded with a cramp so I laid off a bit as I rounded the corner to the finish. With 5:58 on the clock I powered through wearing a dorky visor and a HUGE goofy smile.

Pacifica, I got ya this time!

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On Saturday 11/15 I met up with 450 other runners and numerous volunteers for PCTR’s Stinson Beach trail run in the Marin Headlands.  It was a perfect day, clear as can be and warm (not hot).  I tackled this as a training run to both get in a long run for the NF50 and to become more familiar with the NF50 trails.  I’m really glad I made it out.

My fueling was a mix of Hammer Gel, Clif Shot Bloks, and aid station potatoes.  I carried 2 water bottles: 28 and 20oz UD bottles.  I also tried out my new Vasque Velocity trail shoes.  Overall I can only say that 2 things concerned me.  One, my shoes were a 1/2 size too small and, as a result, the downhills gave my toes a beating.  Yup, I now have a few black toenails 😦   Secondly, I had yet a 2nd race that included bouts of upset stomach.  The stomach irritation started at about mile 9 and continued on through mile 23 – not continuously though.  I’m convinced it’s a reaction to the Hammer Gel which seems to cause a lot of gas then diarrhea.  Energy wise the Gel works for me though.  I may try taking some Imodium AD prior to a run to counter act this.  It’s no fun and embarrassing!

On a huge plus side, I could really feel my training out there.  On the uphills I had a lot of power allowing me to pass others and still feel like I had a lot in the tank.  My quads never felt fried on the 2x Matt Davis trail descents.  My shin splints were never an issue.  My downhill pace was strong and I excelled on the technical downhills

Now it’s some resting with a few longish runs… then the NF50 in 3 weeks.

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