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What a week. Between presenting two sessions at Dreamforce, hosting a friend from NYC, and recovering from a hard effort at Skyline to Sea last weekend, I’ve been absolutely zonked. I registered for Skyline to Sea as a consolation prize for making it through a tough Ironman Lake Tahoe training cycle. As I posted last week, my goal was simple: break 4 hours. 

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Here’s a quick overview of the the good news and the bad news before I dive into the recap:
(not so) Bad news: I didn’t break 4 hours.

Good news: I crushed Skyline to Sea, and placed 6th overall, and 2nd in my age group.

In the days leading up to the race, I decided that I wouldn’t taper and would instead try to stay active – albeit at a lower intensity. I recover quickly and have spent a lot of time tapering recently – I ultimately felt that spending more time off my feet would yield diminishing returns. By the time race morning rolled around, I felt fresh and energized following a few consecutive nights of great sleep.

Skyline to Sea is a point-to-point race: racers can either have someone drop them off at the starting line in the Santa Cruz mountains, or opt to park at the finish line and ride a (almost 2 hour) shuttle to the start. I opted for the latter, and let’s just say that a bus full of people ready to run an ultra is not a crowd that shies away from drinking water. By the end of the bus ride, there was an angry mob ready to break down the doors of the bus and take anyone in the porta potty line down with them. Yikes.

The race was at capacity – ~300 racers total per the park permits, and I started right behind the lead pack knowing that I had a good shot of finishing high in my age group based off of last year’s times.

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Miles 1-5: gradual down. I knew these miles could trash me, so I ran an easy pace, and hit the 5 mile mark at 40 flat – according to my Garmin. More on that later. I held back due to rocks and roots – not to mention the windy nature of the trail. There were very few straightaways, but I made the most of them and was pleased with the early miles.

Miles 6-11: gradual up. These were absolutely brutal miles. I ran 6-8 at an easy pace, dropping to ~10:30 uphill, but I felt a disaster coming on. I was experiencing a lot of GI distress and my breathing was starting to suffer. Instead of hoping for the best, I decided to make a change, and stopped on the side of the trail. I broke out my emergency medicine kit and took a concoction of Alleve, Tums, and anti-gas pills that I packed for my special needs bag at IMLT. This saved my race. By mile 9.5, I felt energized again and resumed a modest pace uphill. When I reached the aid station around mile 10, they told me that I was at 11.5 – a huge boost at the time. My Garmin apparently lost reception under the canopy of the redwoods, and I was shocked to hit 11.5 in just over 1:40. I thought 4 hours was long gone before reaching the aid station, and I left the station encouraged and optimistic.

Miles 11-15: gradual down. I enjoyed some coke and ginger ale at the aid station and was instantly back to life. I broke into a sub-8 minute pace except for the hairy sections of outcrops where my footing was compromised, and was really enjoying the scenery. Over 90% of the trail is shaded!

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Miles 15-24: up and down, up and down. I had the trail runner equivalent of beer muscles at mile 15 – I blew through the aid station without stopping because I was feeling so strong. I had my hydration pack and two additional bottles – not to mention ample fuel, and I wanted to keep up the momentum. In hindsight, that rookie mistake was enough to keep me from breaking 4 hours. I expected to find another aid station between 19-21, but much to my dismay, the last aid station appeared at mile 24 – a full 9 miles between aid stations. I passed two people between 15-24 and was not passed by anyone – a group of elderly hikers informed me that I was in 6th place with 4 miles to go, but my Garmin read 20 miles. Hm. I knew that the last aid station was 2 miles away from the finish, so I decided to go hard and hope for a splash of coke before the final climb.

I reached the aid station at 3:44 – well within reach of 4 hours, however I was informed that the finish line was 3 miles away – not 2. Crushed, I took my time drinking and trotted off with a sub 4:10 finish in mind. After cresting the final hill, a spectator told me the finish line was just ahead. I could hear cowbells – she was right! The finish line was indeed 2 miles from the aid station, but the stop I made cost me and I couldn’t make up the time. I gave it my best over the final mile and hoped for a 4:04 or better – my NYC Marathon time in 2011, but came up just short and finished in 4:05. It’s a small consolation, but Strava calculated a 3:59 moving time.

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I held on for a 6th place finish and raced as well as I possibly could have. I was running mid-8 minute miles through mile 23, and was extremely happy to log that time without going 100%. I learned once again that you cannot rely on technology 100% of the time – especially deep in the woods; running by feel is extremely important on the trail. Skyline to Sea is an amazing course – but also a challenging run. Don’t let the downhill fool you – although the elevation profile looks appetizing, it doesn’t show how rocky or windy the trail is. The climbs were also deceptively difficult – do not underestimate this race. I will be back for more one day – maybe the 50K, and definitely a sub-4 hour marathon. Bring on North Face 50!

Finish time: 4:05

Place: 6/111, 2nd M20-29.