Lupines in the Hail
Ohlone Wilderness 50K Trail Run
The Ohlone Wilderness 50K is a point to point race traversing the historic Ohlone Trail from its origin at Mission Peak in Fremont, California to the terminus in the Del Valle Regional Park in Livermore, California. Between these two points lay a cumulative 7,800 feet of climbing and 7,440 feet of descent, which are highlighted by climbs over Mission Peak (2, 517 feet) and Rose Peak (3,817 feet). Though located in the temperate San Francisco Bay Area, the race historically tends to coincide with unseasonal heat waves that effectively melt participants into blobs of quivering quads. Not this year.
Race day started cool and clear with the typical morning fog. The forecast for the day called for pleasant weather with increasing cloudiness and evening showers. In spite of an unanticipated freeway closure, the busses successfully dropped everyone at the start on schedule and the race began on time. The 104 runners took off and immediately began their assault on Mission Peak. Kevin Sawchuck was the first one up the trail and took the lead position that he never relinquished.
At the 10 mile checkpoint Kevin held a three minute lead over second place finisher Doug Gallaher, and by the time he hit Maggie's Half Acre at mile twenty he was ten minutes in front. The rain started as he started limbed the last steep canyon, and then intensified as he crested the final ridge on the way to his 4:39 finish. Like many of the other runners, Kevin had hoped for the traditional hot weather to help with his Western States training. According to Kevin, "I really like Ohlone because it is a steep and tough course... I don't know of any other 50K courses with more elevation change." Regardless of Kevin’s plans, heat training would have to wait for another day.
As Kevin finished in rain, the runners farther back (and at higher elevations) were dealing with the full onslaught of our surprise springtime storm. Much of the upper part of the course follows exposed ridge tops and as the rain intensified the temperature plummeted. Before long there was hail at the Maggie's Half Acre aid station where runners and volunteers alike exchanged diagnostic and treatment tips for hypothermia.
Beth Vitalis, the women's leader and eventual winner recalls "It started to get real tough climbing out of Box Canyon. As the hail turned to cold rain, I continued to focus on staying positive and running steady, but it got more difficult to do so." It didn't get any easier, but according to Vitalis "the other runners on the course and the volunteers at the aids station were absolutely invaluable as they offered encouragement." Indeed it was a team effort between the runners and the volunteers to persevere though the day. The race results also reflect the teamwork aspect as ten different pairs of runners finished in a tie. The conditions being what they were, apparently nobody wanted to run alone.
Regardless of the weather, the race finishing rate was 96% with a record 100 runners successfully competing the course. Of course, because this is a wilderness course there are no "rides out" so runners are committed to finishing once they pass the ten mile aid station at Sunol. Speaking of perseverance, the Ohlone 50K also served as the "last lap" of Catra Corbett's annual self-supported 100 mile run on the Ohlone trail. Since the Ohlone 50K is held on Sunday, Catra started her run on Saturday and logged 69 miles before the official 50K event started on Sunday morning.
As runners accumulated at the finish line they enjoyed barbeque, warm dry clothes, and the few tent shelters that we had available. As the last runners made their way to the finish, the clouds broke and the sun burst forth on the green. Beth Vitalis recalled "running through the beautiful fields of lupines near Murietta Falls in the hail". Could it have been just a dream?
Rob Byrne & Larry England, Race Directors