Skyline to the Sea 50k: Race Recap

I’ve done the Skyline to the Sea marathon several times and I love it. I’m in awe of the stunning Northern California scenery as the route winds through the Santa Cruz Mountains, through the redwoods, to (not surprisingly) the Pacific.

This year, I thought I’d do something different and try out the Skyline to the Sea 50k for the first time.

It’s the same course, with the 50k adding in an extra loop about halfway through the course.

Pre-Race Thoughts

Going into race day, I don’t feel prepared for Skyline to the Sea.

While I’ve done all the training runs, and run all the miles, I know I didn’t do as much hill work as I should have, and (as usual) I skimped on strength work.

I also never really got into the right training mindset. For a number of reasons, I didn’t do training recaps for this training cycle. While they are a lot of work to put together, I’ve found they really benefit my training since they force me to spend time considering my runs and my training goals.

Since I’ve done (most of) the course before, I also know what to expect. In some ways that’s good, but it can also leave me feeling too comfortable. That fear of the unknown and being unsure of how bad a course will be usually results in me pushing myself harder in training.

There was also a little mental weirdness that happened after running my first 50 mile race in April. At some point in the lead up to Skyline, I actually had the thought “It’s only a 50k”.

O.M.G.

That is wrong on every level, but I can’t deny it was part of my thinking – if I could under-prepare for 50 miles and totally rock it on race day, surely I could under-prepare for a 50k.

Again, wrong on every level, I know.

Race Goals

  1. To run a fairly consistent pace (or effort). I know I tend to walk a lot in later miles, not because I have to, but because I can. If I learned anything about myself after having personal pacers for the American River 50 earlier this year, it’s that I’m capable of running more consistently, and faster, than I think I can when I have the prompting. While matching my 11:15 minute miles I did at AR50 is unlikely (not only because I won’t have pacers, but because I don’t feel even remotely as well trained), I know I can do more than I think.
  2. Fuel better. With the exception of Drag-n-Fly, I haven’t done a great job of fueling on the run lately. The harder the run, the more I walk, and the more I tend to forget about fueling. I forget I’m ‘running’ and I just feel like I’m out for a stroll.

I don’t set time goals for trail races (or ever, really, but especially on the trail where I want to stop occasionally and enjoy the view), but I’m kind of expecting a finish time around 7 hours. I’ve done the Skyline to the Sea marathon in just under 6 hours (my course PR is 5:56), and my last 50k (Oregon Coast, which is close in topography) was 7:13.

Skyline to the Sea 50k Race Day

In the last days of prep before race day, I did not think or feel like an ultra was coming up. This was not only because I never really got into the right ultra mindset while training, but also because (I eventually realized) this was the first time I’ve run an ultra without travelling.

I didn’t have the packing of the car and the drive and a hotel stay adding in those extra layers of importance and ‘specialness’.

I was just staying at home, sleeping in my own bed.

It felt like I was prepping for just another half marathon.

Getting to the Start

Getting to the start line of this race is an adventure in and of itself.

The course is point-to-point. Most runners (including me) park near the finish and get bussed to the start.

I got up just after 4, drove for about an hour and a half to the finish area parking. Then got on a bus for the just over an hour drive to the start. By the time the race starts, I’ve been on the move for nearly 4 hours.

I’m tired even before I start running.

On the plus side, that all makes for plenty of time to eat breakfast and let it all settle before the running starts.

The bus shuttle system is well-organized, but I do wish they had a ‘quiet bus’. It’s early and I want to sit quietly and nap/zone out. I hate having to listen to other’s conversations about pre-race nerves and race horror stories. Today wasn’t as bad as it’s been in some years, but still, I just want to quietly zone out…

Skyline Pro Tip: If you ever do Skyline, sit as close to the front as you can on the first bus. When you get the start area, go directly to the porta potty line.

There aren’t many porta potties at the staging area, and with most runners arriving at the same time on the buses, the lines get really long, really fast (you’re welcome).

The (Very Unceremonious) Start

The start line staging area is in a small parking lot 200ish yards, and across the street, from the actual start line.

We get the pre-race briefing in the parking lot, then the race director says we should head across the street to the start line for a ‘walking start.’ This isn’t a phrase I’ve heard, but I know this trail is a pretty narrow single track from the very start, so I figured it was something related to that.

As we are crossing the street, I hear the race director tell the faster runners to start running (no surprise, they should get to the front of the pack). Most everyone else was still walking.

When I’m nearly to the start line (or at least where the start line has been in the past), the race director was telling us all to get going, that the race started.

Umm… when?

No ‘start line.’ No starting horn.

The most unceremonious start ever.

At the time of the start-less start, many people were still in the porta potty line (not everyone knew to get in the porta potty line first), so lots of runners started late and had to catch up, which made the first few miles feel like the handicap start of the Double Dipsea race (a free-for-all of passing and being passed).

Lots of passing is usually not my favorite, especially considering this course has a history of wasps and we’d gotten pre-race warnings to not step off the trail since it could upset wasp nests.

Every time someone passed, I kept my fingers crossed no wasps would appear. I didn’t see any, I don’t know of anyone getting stung, and I didn’t hear yells and shouts in the distance (which has happened in prior years).

However, with this ‘walking start’ there also weren’t any bottlenecks in the first few miles since runners were much more spread out.

Of my twin trail annoyances of lots of passing and bottlenecks, I am much more annoyed by bottlenecks, so this all worked out well for me.

Skyline Course

I can’t say this enough, Skyline to the Sea is a beautiful course.

Photos simply do not do it justice (especially since my camera has decided to stop focusing and isn’t taking great pictures). But even when my camera did work, the dark under the canopy of trees with the sunlight beaming in from between the leaves, just doesn’t translate.

Weather

Race day weather was perfect – in the shade. Thankfully, the course is 80-90% in the shade of towering redwood trees.

In the parts that were exposed, it did get a little warm (low 80s?), especially near the end.

My Race

I was feeling good as I ran- run, run, run. Check my watch – 7 miles. Ugh, that’s all? I very intentionally decided to never do the math on how many miles I have left to go. ‘7 miles done’ felt so much better in that moment than ’24 miles to go’ ever could have.

I run, run, run (and chat with other runners – me! the classic running introvert was voluntarily chatting with other runners!) I check my watch again, mile 16. OK, I think, those 9 miles went by pretty fast.

At about mile 20, I was sure my watch was going to be off (others said their prior runnings of this race were short on their Garmins); I was sure I’d run more than 20 miles. My watch was nearly dead-on in the end.

This was the most social I’ve been on a run (where I wasn’t a pacer) in forever.

The Santa Cruz chapter of Trail Sisters (an online group I belong to designed to support women runners and get more women on the trails) was in charge of an aid station and they welcomed me like a long-lost friend when I came through (I interact with them on Instagram, but had never met any of the Santa Cruz people in person).

I was chatting with a few other runners I know from Instagram, and even talked for several miles with various strangers.

This is really unusual for me.

I might exchange a few passing words with people, but left to my own devices on the trail, I am not a chatty runner.

Random Bits From the Run

I got really spooked about tripping on the course. I know this is largely because of my nasty face plant on this course a few years ago, but I’m not sure why it was so present in my head today. I’ve done this course since my face-plant so I wasn’t like this was the first trip (pun intended) back to the scene of the crime.

I know the potential to fall is real, but I also know this fear kept me slower than I otherwise could have been – I really noticed on the downhills especially I was holding back.

**

Sort of related, I sometimes feel a little over-cautious (maybe even paranoid?) carrying extra stuff like kleenex or basic first aid items ‘just in case.’

But today, I ran into a runner who had just fallen. She was totally fine to keep running, but she was trying to clean up her scraped knees. I was able to offer her my pack o’ kleenex. This is not the first time I’ve been able to hand over kleenex or band-aids to bleeding runners. While it’s bad it’s ever needed, I’m glad I could help.

**

I pretty consistently have an issue with my right foot. No matter what shoe, shoe brand, or sock I wear, I get a blister/hot spot/callus on one particular part of my right arch. Today I had that issue (as always), but I also got a big blister on my left foot.

I never have an issue with my left foot.

Ever.

A classic case of something that has never been an issue all throughout training being an issue on race day.

**

During the run, I kept getting a nervous about drive home.

Odd I know, but the shortest drive home takes me through Half Moon Bay, a cute little town filled with pumpkin patches and hayrides this time of year. The last time I did Skyline, it took me nearly an hour just to get through that one town (between the traffic and the exhaustion, I was nearly in tears). I kept wondering how long it would take to get home.

I decided to go home the longer way through Santa Cruz. While it is more miles, it kept moving and was an uneventful drive.

Biggest Surprise #1

Bib number innovations.

After 20 years of races with the same basic bib number, two races in a month have totally changed it up.

First, the Santa Rosa Marathon had vertically aligned (and massive) wine-barrel shaped bib numbers.

Now, Skyline to the Sea 50k has the smallest, littlest bib numbers ever.

This makes sense. We no longer need the pull-off tabs for timing, we don’t need our names on our bibs for trail races since no one is cheering for us.

A number on one side, timing chip on the other. Very utilitarian.

I love the subtle detail of including the color flags we follow on the upper right corner (it’s maybe too subtle if you didn’t know what you were looking at). On the trail, we follow various color flags marking the course. For us today, we followed the pink flags, then did a loop marked in orange, then back to pink for the finish.

If runners forget what color they should follow, they only need to look at their bib number.

Biggest Surprise #2

Swag!

It’s been a long time since I had a legit swag bag at a race. I expect a shirt. Maybe a medal. Road races may have a few promo items or a bag of some new snack or another.

Skyline?

A shirt and medal. A wooden finishers coaster. Full bag of granola and an Orange Mud ’transition towel’ with the race logo (a towel that can be used as a changing room or hooked over your car seat), all in a race-branded tote bag.

Score!

Did I Meet Goals?

Yes, I did match my nail polish to my outfit, why do you ask?

My time was 7:09. I’m really happy with that.

As is often the case, the 40-year-old ladies age group was one of the largest with 41 finishers (I was 14th in the age group). 229 finishers overall.

I feel like I kept up a fairly consistent pace throughout, only slowed by my fear of tripping. My power walk game was strong on the uphills.

I’m happy with my fueling, sticking pretty close to the schedule of GUs I’d planned out and fueled well at the aid stations.

My Post-Race ‘Treat’

After days of pre-race carbs and cutting back on veggies, I had a strong desire for a salad post-race.

Me?

Craving a salad?

Who am I?

(Pizza was consumed not long after the salad… that’s more like the me I know…)

Would I Do This Race Again?

The marathon?

Yes. For sure.

50k? I’d probably stick to the marathon. It’s largely the same course and the extra 50k loop is tough (the most climbing of anywhere on the course), and it doesn’t add a lot to the race scenery-wise.

Sleep!

I’ve known for a long time that the most important night of pre-race sleep isn’t the night before the race, it’s the night before the night before.

This year, I realized the best night of post-race sleep is the night after the night after the race.

While I’m physically exhausted the night after a race, I’m a restless sleeper who shifts a lot in the night. Immediately after a race, every time I shifted around, my sore and achy muscles woke me up. Add in my various chafing and blisters and it wasn’t a very restful night.

The next night? I slept great.

What’s Next?

??

I have nothing scheduled, but at the last few events I was at (including Skyline) three people independently mentioned how much they liked the Salmon Falls 50k.

In 2020, the race will be on leap day. It could be fun doing a leap day race, but I haven’t committed to anything.

Gear

 

Sara is a runner, running coach, writer, blogger, and a lover of all things written.

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