Friday, October 19, 2012

Dick Collins Firetrails 50 Mile -- 8:23:44

Ron, Shani, Amanda, Gary, Jill, Prudence, post race
Dick Collins Firetrails 50 mile race is an excellently organized race that's been around forever -- 30 consecutive years! It runs along a series of beautiful state parks, from Lake Chabot's marina, in Oakland, to the northern edge of Tilden Park in Berkeley, and then back. It's got some intense hills, with 7800' of elevation gain, but is mostly runnable and is considered on the fast side, as far as a trail race is considered.
elevation profile

This was my second running of it. Three years ago, it took me 8 hours 10 minutes and was a real break-through performance at this distance. (Race report.) I did struggle for many miles then, so I thought there was room for improvement. My goal for this time was to match that performance or improve on it a bit.

Coming into the race, my training felt spotty. I missed about 5 or 6 training runs due to my involvement with the Half Moon Bay International Marathon, as one of the assistant directors. Plus, for some reason, I just didn't have the mental energy to actually construct a training plan. Strange! Somehow, having a good race at Tahoe Rim Trail 50 mile, also without a training plan, let me off the hook. I tried to get in all the long runs and I mostly did, but I never got over 26.5 miles at once. A 31 mile training run would have been better.

It was a nice treat to have two friends from my running club, the Coastside Running Club, in the race. This was Amanda's first 50 miler and only second ultramarathon. Gary had run many 50Ks and even a 100K prior to the race, so he was certainly ready. This was my fourth 50 mile race.

So, the Saturday comes along and my alarm wakes me up shortly before 4am. I had a couple small bowls of oatmeal and a small banana and then I met Amanda and Shani at 4:45am. Shani was so committed to being Amanda's pacer that she wanted to go to the race start with us. Very nice! Time-wise, this was enough to drive across the Bay and get ready for the 6:30am start. But, we made a couple of miscalculations.
Amanda, with her friend and pacer, Shani looking on, doing last minute prep.
(Sorry for the surprise photo, Amanda! And why wasn't I finishing getting ready?! We're late!)

It was rather a long walk from where I parked to the race start -- several minutes each way. Amanda had to rush to the restroom and I thought that there was no need to bring our drop bags with us. (Drop bags contain everything we might need at some point in the race.) In this case, our drop bags were for the start and finish. So, it's pitch dark and my headlamp was in the drop bag. Doh! So, we walked slowly to the bathrooms. Then the men's restroom had a long line already and only two toilets and the line moved very slowly. After getting through that, I got my bib and racing chip (this was the first ultra I've run that used a race chip and timing strips; nice!) and then rushed over to meet Amanda and Shani at my car. They had been waiting for me. Suddenly, we had only 5 minutes to get to the start line! I rushed and loaded up with energy gels, put on my heart rate monitor, sunscreen, etc., and as I was rushing to the start line, the race started! Doh! Another first -- the first ultra where I wasn't ready at the start! I dropped my drop-bag off and rushed to the start, ran across the start line, started my watch, and I was off!

I was at the tail end of the race, but was far from being alone. I started quickly passing people. I caught up to Amanda and we chatted a bit. I started watching my heart rate and felt like I could safely go faster, so I wished Amanda luck and started passing more people.

It was a cold crisp morning and I felt great! What an adventure! "Don't run too fast," was my repeated mantra. "It's going to be a long day."

I enjoyed chatting with others on occasion and enjoyed the scenery and just kept on moving smoothly and easily. Coming into the aid stations, I tried to be ready to know what I would need. I was quick and efficient, taking maybe 10-15 seconds to fill my water bottles, grab a bite to eat, and get moving again. I noticed that I often passed people in the aid stations, even if they were slightly faster than me on the trails.

The miles ticked by. The scenery was beautiful. I love Redwood Regional Park especially, with its giant redwoods and lush forest and fast soft and smooth dirt trails. There were amazing views of the San Francisco Bay later on, including the Golden Gate Bridge. The weather was gorgeous.
A map of the course, on a poster at the start/finish area. Click to enlarge.
Eventually, we saw the first place marathoner, in the Golden Hills Marathon, running towards us. Fast! And then the stream of oncoming marathoners built up and then dwindled. The trails were wide enough for two-way traffic, so that wasn't an issue.

I was feeling good and wanting to have plenty of energy for the finish. I was looking forward to meeting my friend Prudence at mile 26, as she was going to be my pacer. A pacer keeps their runner company and helps them not get lost and offers advice and motivation.

I saw the front runners in the 50 mile race, on their return journey. So fit and fast. Amazing!

There is a long long descent to the turn-around at the Lone Oak picnic area in Tilden Park. Prudence! Yay! I realized coming into mile 26 that I was behind my time from three years ago. I didn't feel like I could safely run any faster. My heart rate was frequently around 155 beats per minute and I had a long way to go!

We hiked and slowly jogged back up this huge hill. I tried to gradually increase my effort. My hydration and food consumption seemed to be going well. I had urinated three times already, was taking a salt capsule every 45 minutes, and an energy gel or some kind of food every 20 minutes.

I kept up a good solid effort, but I just wasn't as fast as I would have liked. I passed some people but I got passed a couple of times, too. There was one woman, in a purple top, who was especially fast and ran every step of the uphills and she and I passed each other a few times in the first half. We repeatedly caught sight of her ahead of us, but couldn't catch her. She became one of my motivators. (Even though I never caught her, it turns out that I did run the race faster than her, thanks to the chip timing. Good job, Clare Abram!)

After about mile 40, the race started feeling gradually more difficult. When I started feeling that cramps weren't very far away, Prudence reminded me to take more salt and drink more. My stomach felt fine, so I was able to drink more even though I wasn't thirsty. This seemed to work and I kept the cramps at bay.

For 5 minutes or so around this time, my heart started having a "fluttering", kind of like a jitteriness that can be caused by caffeine. I've felt it before and it's benign and was diagnosed as atrial premature complex, to be precise. But still, it's disconcerting to see my heart rate monitor suddenly jump from 155 to 188 or so. I felt fine otherwise and kept on pushing. I mentioned this to Prudence and I wondered if she knew CPR.
heart rate weirdness, from my Garmin data, at mile 40
I made a mental mistake at the Bort Meadows aid station, at mile 44.1. I thought this was the last aid station and that I had only 4.5 miles to go. Not quite right! So the next aid station was a surprise and disappointment, and then I had just 4.5 miles to go. I was feeling more desperate but was still in control and moving fast and strong. Finally, I saw Lake Chabot. Yay! So close! And the finish is fast and paved, with only short steep hills. I started pouring on the speed. I became very focused and had a kind of mental tunnel vision. I didn't smile or look at any of the pedestrians. I stopped talking with Prudence. I was just focused on running as fast as I could without blowing up and falling apart in cramps.

I recognized the marina. So close! I rounded the corner and there was the finish line. Whew!
Prudence and I, shortly after we finished
So, I was about 13 minutes slower than three years ago, but I was in 21st place instead of 23rd last time. Among male runners, I was 20th place this year and 20th place three years ago. So, I had a very similar overall performance but a better execution this year. I never had a real "low" where my energy and speed and spirits fell precipitously. It's very common to go through multiple lows and highs in these long races, so I take this as a sign of decent pacing and race execution.

Immediately after the race, I started feeling light-headed. I got some food and drink in me and kept on walking. No cramps! After an hour or so, I felt much better. I got to cheer my friends Gary and Amanda as they came in. I got to chat with a few acquaintances. Everyone was in good spirits and it was a wonderful picnic-like atmosphere.
Rachael, a friend of Prudence and an acquaintance of mine, finishes

Gary finishes! Great job, Gary! We're wearing matching Coastside Running Club shirts.

All-in-all, I really enjoyed this race. I'm very grateful to all the volunteers and race organizers who worked so hard to put on a good event like this. The course markings were fantastic, with thick lines of chalk to keep us on course. The schwag was excellent -- a nice jacket, tech shirt, and wine glass, all in a nice canvas bag.

Things that went well:
  • My hydration and food consumption seemed to be good. At the end of the day, after dinner, I had gained a half pound since first waking up.
  • My pacing seemed to be as fast as I could handle and I stayed strong the entire race.
  • Didn't get lost.
  • No trips, no falls.
  • Equipment all worked great.
  • No chafing or blisters.
  • No injuries.
  • Carrying two 20oz water bottles worked well again. I put sports drink in one and water in the other. I drank about twice as much sports drink as water.
Things to improve on:
  • Train better.
  • We should have brought our drop bags from our cars when we arrived. We were rushed and I crossed the start line about a minute late. 
Random data:
  • I weighed 166.1 lbs the morning of the race. I could stand to lose 5 lbs.
  • Ate a Salt Stick capsule about every 45 minutes. I took an extra one around mile 44 or so.
  • Race results.
  • Garmin watch data.
As usual, I owe a big thanks to Jennifer for letting me have the whole day for this race along with many hours of training.