I had hoped to file a race report for my second crack at the 50k distance following Way Too Cool in March. Unfortunately, I had an expected, high-speed encounter with a baseball in February that forced me to withdraw from the race. While I was pretty disappointed not to be able to run WTC as I had heard so many great things about it I was determined to run a 50k this spring so I examined my options and set my sites on Quicksilver. It wasn’t a decision made lightly as I was hoping my first race of the year would have less than 6,000 feet of vertical and would be early enough in the spring that heat wouldn’t be a factor. Well Quicksilver features 6,000+ in vert and San Jose can have temps in the 80s and above in May. C’est la vie.
Once I recovered from my losing battle with the baseball, my physical prep went well enough although truth be told I was a bit undertrained and the longest run I did was 15 miles. Nevertheless I felt mentally confident that I was ready for the test Quicksilver would present. For the first time I slept in a bed other than my own before a race as I thought it best to drive to the South Bay the night before and crash at an old friend’s place in order to spare myself from getting up at 4 a.m. to drive down from home in San Francisco.
Race morning temps were in the mid 50s and cloud cover was mercifully thick. The forecast called for overcast skies until late morning and highs around 73 degrees – not too bad as far as San Jose running weather goes. My strategy was to divide the distance into three 10 mile races, go out very slowly and gradually ratchet up my pace over the last two-thirds of the race.
There were 150+ registered runners including a few elites such as YiOu Wang and Chris DeNucci, both of whom claimed a Western States Golden Ticket earlier this year at the Lake Sonoma 50 and Bandera 100k, respectively. After a pre-race briefing that made light of mountain lions on the course (the good folks of the Quicksilver Running Club seem to find this a humorous topic) and a last minute change that would spare us from having to climb the course’s famous pile of tailings we were off. I soon fell in with local runner Barry Kitazumi. We ran together for the first 12 or so miles of the course and we discussed upcoming races including his first 100 miler, the Javalina this fall. He also inspired me with tales of running the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim.
My number one goal was to finish and, if the day was going well, to do so between six and six and a half hours. That would be considerably faster than my one previous 50k, The North Face Endurance Challenge in December, which I finished in 6:57:13. I felt an audacious goal was worth pursuing. (In case you decide to stop reading here, as of this writing I’m still pursuing it.) The conditions turned out not to be conducive to my recording a fast time. The course is located in the 4,100 acre Quicksilver Almaden Park, which features many landmarks of the Gold Rush era. The park’s name is partially derived from the New Almaden Mines, where more than 83 million pounds of quicksilver were extracted between 1847 and 1976. As you may know, quicksilver (aka mercury) is used to extract gold from ore. Runners are treated to a tour of remnants of 19th century mining operations including numerous old mines, a mine shaft and a graveyard. Unfortunately, as mentioned previously, the iconic mountain of tailings had been deemed unsafe by a park ranger the day before necessitating a course change.
This race was my first time running in the South Bay and the park is remarkably beautiful. I was thankful for the cool temps and overcast skies the early morning offered as much of the course is exposed to the bright and relentless San Jose sun. Things started to change about two hours into the race as the skies cleared and temps inched up. My “Three 10 Mile Races” strategy worked well enough for the first 10 miles. I enjoyed the new scenery, felt strong on the climbs and took it easy on the descents. The first half of my “second 10 mile race” went smoothly as well. I focused on fortifying myself with liquids and calories (Tailwind and water supplemented with chips and Mtn Dew later in the race) for later in the day and was able to limit my loitering at the first three aid stations. At about mile 15 my body started to feel tired and I needed to keep my mind focused on the task at hand. Chatting became more of a chore and I found myself concentrating on the distances between aid stations. My “third 10 mile race” of the day was proving to be a challenge due to the weather, hilly nature of the course and undertraining. I certainly regretted not having a training run of 20+ miles under my belt. The heat began to take its toll as I labored on the climbs. The course features approximately 1,900 feet of climbing between miles 14 and 29 and, while I consider myself a decent uphill runner who enjoys climbing, the combination of the heat and the vertical sapped my strength considerably and led to hamstring cramping. Thankfully I had experienced far worse cramping at an earlier point in the race during my first 50k so I knew that I needed to ease back on the throttle, fast hike the uphills and generally just accept the discomfort.
By the time I reached the Bull Run Aid Station for the second time I knew that the race was just about done. I grabbed a pineapple popsicle and it proved to be quite refreshing until a massive brain freeze set in! Out of the AS, the course climbed 700 feet over the next three miles and then started a 1,080 foot descent to the finish down rolling hills. The most exciting part was when one of the guys I had kept pace with since mile 28 began waving his hands and gesturing to move to the right side of the trail. (I’m sure that I would’ve heard him shouting if I wasn’t listening to music.) As I continued along I saw a four foot stick that looked like it was moving. It was then that I realized the runner ahead had been warning me about a rattlesnake. Thankfully the trail was quite wide and the rattler and I passed without incident. From there it was a short descent to the finish (and legendary barbecue) where I crossed the line at 6:50:32, which was 50th overall and 9th in my age group. Although I was well shy of my goal, I was glad to set a PR, even if only by six minutes and change. While I didn’t get to see them, Pete Broomhall and Stacie Riddle were unafraid to take on and conquer the 100k course and get a 2017 Western States qualifier under their belts. Kudos to RD John Brooks, the Quicksilver Running Club and its dedicated volunteers for putting on a top-notch event. I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone seeking a challenging, picturesque and well-organized race. Thanks to Daniela Porri for coming out to lend her support at the finish. Lastly, I am eternally indebted to my wife and kids for continuing to support my habit.