I’ve run the Skyline to the Sea (SttS) 50K race for the last two years (2013 and 2014). This year I decided I’d skip it. The Ohlone 50K was moved to three weeks before Stts, and I had plans to do the Levi’s Gran Fondo bike ride one week prior.

But then I got to talking with my friend and awesome runner Donnie about SttS. He’s placed well in the race before, and we were talking about how it would be fun to run the marathon distance option for SttS. The 50K course adds a grueling, steep, exposed 5 mile loop to the 26 mile trail. It’s always been my low point in the race. To avoid that loop took about half the mental weight out of the race. So then it would be “fun” right?

After Donnie and I chatted, I checked on signing up for the race. Unfortunately it was sold out by that time. Then time passed…

I was talking with my friend Thomas recently about running. He mentioned that he was signed up for the marathon distance at SttS, but wouldn’t be able to do it due to an injury. Hmmm… brain cogs start spinning. I offered to take the burden of a DNS off his hands and run it for him. He made the deal, but on one condition – that I finish ahead of Big Johnny Burton. Normally I’d scoff at such an impossibility, but BJB was signed up for the 50K distance. He’d have to run an extra 5 miles. And not any old 5 miles, but the soul crushing loop of doom. Ok – maybe he’d have a totally wack day and I could pull it off. Deal.

Note that this conversation was on Friday afternoon. The race was on Saturday morning.

So with exactly 12 hours of preparation time, I decided to run a marathon. A marathon with 3300 feet of climbing and 4800 feet of descending. No problem! I had just run the Ohlone 50K in 110F heat with over 9K feet of both climbing and descending three weeks prior. This would be a cakewalk!

Heh…

Up and at ‘em at 4:50AM on Saturday. Breakfast, shower, gather up stuff, out the door at 6am to drive to the parking area near the finish at Waddell Beach – about halfway between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz. Exit the car, and hop aboard one of the yellow school busses to get a ride up to the start of the race at Saratoga Gap. The busses left at 7AM sharp, and arrived at the start at about 8:20. Quick pit stop, get my, well I mean Thomas’s, number (“Yes I am Thomas Andersen, the one and only. In the flesh!”), and mosey over to the Skyline to the Sea trailhead for the 9AM start.

Start of the 2015 Skyline to the Sea ultra. The starting line.

It was hot at the starting line at the top of the hill, but once we got into the trees it was wonderfully cool.

The race starts with a few little climbs, and I was feeling great. Passing people left and right, well primarily on the left as trail etiquette dictates. The first 6 or 7 miles went like this. It was fun! I buzzed right by the first aid stop with plenty of water and plenty of energy, so no need for any extra food.

Then my cold that I had been battling this week started to take over. We were entering the first real climb, and my body just started to hurt. I was sweating a lot more than I should have. Things started slowing down. “Power through it man. Sweat those bugs out,” I’d be saying to myself.

I was getting passed by some of the people I passed earlier. That’s not a good feeling.

At the China Grade aid station at mile 12, I took on some more water and grabbed a few Oreos. This is one of my favorite parts of the trail. It is exposed, which is a welcome change from the cool redwood canopy of most of the rest of the trail, and has some awesome rocky outcroppings that remind me of a miniature sandstone interpretation of Yosemite.

This is where my body really started to rebel against my best intentions. I was getting some pain in my left knee and beneath my right outer ankle. They were both getting worse on every downhill. And SttS is all about the downhills.

These pains only increased over the next 14 miles. There were some nice times when the grade was just right so as to not tickle the hurt, but those were few and far between. I’d stop and stretch and massage my left IT band to hopefully loosen it up, but for some reason the first couple of steps after I’d start going again were excruciating.

Trudge on man.

I was past the halfway point, so there was only one way to go. Finish. My pace dropped off considerably, but I was still moving. As long as you’re moving, you’re closer to your goal. One step at a time.

Mile 16-24 is mostly downhill, steep at first but then flattens out for what feels like infinity miles. It’s a very long stretch between two aid stations. At mile 22, Big Johnny came striding by. He was carrying an awesome pace. I asked him if he needed any food. He was out of water, and I was nearly out too. We were close enough to the aid stop and he was moving fast enough where I knew he’d be just fine. BJB, I hope I was right! (update: I was not!)

The Twin Redwoods aid station at marathon mile 24 (50K mile 29) is always a welcome sight. You’ve been running on mostly flat ground for waaaay too long, and you know that once you get there it’s only 2 miles to the finish.

I finally made it there. Glugged some ginger ale, got a bit of water, and it was now the final climb to the home stretch.

There’s something so powerful in these races about the moment you can hear the excitement at the finish line. The pain in your body seems to disappear now that the end is so close. There are usually a few people hiking up the trail toward you who tell you wonderful things like “less than a mile to go!” or “just around the next bend”. All of that filters into a pace that you didn’t think was possible just a few minutes before.

SttS has a great finish where you pop out of the trees, make a little turn, and there’s the finish! You don’t have to stare at it too long which is nice. That final little sprint was awesome. So many kind people were hanging out at the finish, ringing cowbells, hooting, and clapping. I got all teary again. :)

I was hoping to finish the race in under 4h30m, but it ended up taking 4h45m. I’m pretty sure that if I had prepared just a bit more (like 18 hours instead of 12) that I could break that 4h30m goal, and possibly regain Thomas and my honor by finishing ahead of BJB. (yeah right!)

Despite the pain and hobbling walk I’ve got now, I’m happy I made the decision to tackle this race. I will see you next year, SttS!!!