Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Firetrails 50

I did it!
My first 50 miler! Sitting here 4 days later I feel better than I expected, but out there on the course it was definitely the most difficult physical feat I ever had to push myself through (so far).

Class Act
First, about the event. While it was my first time at this distance and I am still new to ultras, I have participated in a number of events in and around the Bay Area over the years. I have to say that the Dick Collins Firetrails 50 was far and away the most impressive one I have experienced. I was well aware of the beauty of the course, but the organization was as amazing as the scenery. I guess, its what one gets when the race directors are two of the greatest ultra runners ever to put foot to trail (or to road for that matter). The aid stations were extremely well stocked and almost too frequent if that is even possible! I usually carry two water bottles because I like to have the choice of either water or sport drink out on the trail, I also have rather high hydration needs and so I usually need them both. With aid stations rarely more than 4.5 miles apart and some as little as 2.5 miles between, I really could have done with just one. I imagine that some people could have gone with none and survived on the provided goods alone. These goods included the standard aid station fare, but also included a great deal of baked goods many of which were prepared by Ann Trason herself. The finish BBQ was also not simply your standard burgers and dogs either. There were gourmet sausages, turkey burgers, veggie burgers and even salmon patties! There was also homemade soup and again, those same famous name baked goods. Apparently, Ann claims she is not a very good cook, but after trying her chocolate cake I can say that the claim is about the equivalent of her claiming to be an average runner. To top all of this off, you get a real "Race Ready" technical shirt and a Firetrails 50 wine glass to take home. Now, I ask you, how classy is that?

The best laid plans...
OK, now for my race. I'd run this entire course in parts during training so I had a pretty good idea what to expect. I had some concerns about my recent foot problems, but felt confident that finishing wouldn't be an issue. I set a plan in my mind even though I probably shouldn't have a time goal on a new distance. I simply can't help it as it keeps me motivated. As I've noted before, I don't get bent about the goals and I always have backup goals with the ultimate goal of just finishing being the primary one. I'd run half the course distance a couple of times in training in around 4:40-4:45. So for the race, the plan was to do the first 26 miles to the turnaround in about 5 hours. This would allow me to slow down by as much as a minute per mile on the way back and still finish in the 10 hour zone. Well, the first part went almost exactly as planned. I hit the turnaround at almost 5 hours on the dot and felt physically pretty good with the unfortunately usual exception. My feet felt great for the first couple of hours, but around the 4-4.5 hour time frame the heals and arches started to hurt. As I left the turnaround and began slogging back up the hills, I could tell that they were going to be a fairly major problem. When I hit the first significant downhill, I realized how serious the problem was going to be.

Bad runner, no downhill for you!
Short and stocky with very muscular legs, I am built for the downhill. I also practice my downhill technique a lot and can normally run it as a recovery even when quite tired by simply relying on my big "thunder thighs" and letting gravity do most of the work. However, due to the condition of my feet, I was having difficulty moving downhill much faster than I was moving up and I was pretty much just scuttling along on the flats as well. I also realized that my North Face Radials were way to stiff and uncushioned for this much time on the hard-packed ground. I seriously regretted not putting my road shoes in my drop bag as I considered. One thing I did put in my drop bag, but, for some reason ignored, was Advil. I have only taken pain relievers once in a race previously and they really didn't help as my problem was more about cramping than simple pain. I kept thinking that I should grab some at the next aid station, but each time I arrived I would simply forget, distracted by all the marvelous food. As I accepted that I would just deal with the pain and adjust my 10 hour goal to something more like 10.5 and then 11, I discovered something very strange. While I couldn't run downhill anymore and could barely move on the flats, I was actually able to sort of run the uphills. This was very weird and garnered some surprised comments from those walking next to me (especially since they would just fly past me as soon as the hill was over). The other thing I discovered was that after "running" up a hill, my heel actually felt a little bit better and I was able to move somewhat faster until the next down hill did them in again. This was pretty much how the race went from around miles 30 to 45 or until I arrived at Bort Meadows.

Two people who saved me
There were many people I chatted with along the way. Old faces and new, names told and forgotten. However, there were two people who really helped me a lot at the end of this race. Both of whom I had met previously. After the Bort Meadows aid station I hooked up with a guy named Ofer who I had previously seen at the Big Basin 50K. He was doing a run/walk pattern and I was scuttling along so we weren't totally in pace together, but enough to chat a little. He mentioned that the Advil he had taken was really helping and when I remembered that I had intended to get some at the previous aid station, he offered me some of his. He was kind enough to even stop to get it out for me. While I am still a bit wary of taking pain killers during a run, I have to say that this was amazing. In a few short minutes I could suddenly run again. Actually run! I could still feel the pain in my feet, but it was much duller. I thanked Ofer profusely and once we hit the next downhill I bid him farewell until the finish (where I thanked him some more). I eventually caught up with Clem Choy whom I had met at my first ultra earlier this year. I think that anyone who has been around ultrarunning for a while must know Clem because he certainly seems to know everyone. He had come out to pace a friend, but she was having back trouble and decided to walk telling him to go on forward. He continued on picking up others and pacing them along. When I caught them, Clem was pacing another newbie named Hansel. I passed them on the downhill, but synced back up on the next hill and the three of us ran together for a while. Once we hit the final road section and only a couple of miles to go, Clem really started to push us. It became apparent that a sub 10:30 might be possible and so I kicked it in. With my new found miracle drug and the lack of running I had done in the middle of the race, I discovered that I had pretty good legs to go. It's hard to tell how fast I was going after such a distance, but with Clem's encouragement I felt like I was clocking off somewhere around 9 min./mile. I really have to offer him thanks (despite his numerous false predictions of "last hill") as he proved to me that I am capable of still running even after 48 very tough miles.
I came in at 10:30:39 a time with which I am extremely satisfied.

I want to pass on congratulations to some others, especially those who also finished this as their first 50. I met Harmut Frenzel at a 50K earlier this year. He told me that when I flew past him on a downhill late in the race it inspired him to work on his own downhill ability. Now it is my turn to be inspired. He finished his first 50 miler in 9:47:34. Wow! I want to pass on some major congrats to Miki Higuchi who I met through blogging and have seen at one other event. She also finished her first 50 in the WS100 qualifying time of 10:49:52. Way to go "short angry" one! Congrats to Brad Niess on his first 50 in the awesome time of 10:28. If I'd realized that was you sitting next to me at the end of the race, I would have been more social. I want to congratulate Hansel Lynn on his first and thank him for letting me steal Clem from him. I also want to congratulate and thank (again) Ofer Ohel for saving me with his gift of Advil. To Matt, I want to say that even though you didn't finish, I think you know you will be back. You continue to inspire others even when you DNF. I had never met Chikara Omine before, but had heard about him from Scott's blog. I also knew of his obliteration of the rookie record last year running his first 50 miler in 7:04 and taking 2nd place. If I were to bet at the beginning, he would have had my money to win it this year. At the 4 hour mark of my race, Chikara came literally flying past me in the other direction. His nearest competitor didn't pass for another 16 minutes. He apparently opened that lead up even more finishing the race in a blazing 6:54:55. Another age group record (he's only 24!) and the 5th fastest time on this course. This is a kid to watch! I spoke to him breifly after the race and he is considering his first 24hr event later this month at the SF One Day. On the women's side this race once again showcased another amazing rookie feat with Caren Spore winning the event, her first 50, in 7:55:24. The full results can be found here.

Now what?
Well, my original goal for the year was just to do my first ultra. This 50 makes four. I think I am going to call the year done. I need to take it easy and figure out my feet. I also have a big trip down to South America planned for the end of November and I will need my feet to be in good condition for hiking in Patagonia. I technically just qualified for Western States, though I certainly don't feel ready to take that on. Part of me thinks I should enter the lottery whether I plan to do it or not. If nothing else, I can always wish to be a loser so I have a guarantee in a couple of years. I definitely have my eye on Miwok for next year and there are some other races that have their own appeal. My main goal is to complete a 100 before I hit 40 which is now only 2 years away. Right now I am going to simply look back over the past year and enjoy my accomplishments. I am also going to focusmy energies on some of the the non-running stuff in my life that I have ignored recently and that really needs my attention.


Brad said...

Great report! You did an awesome job, especially for having feet problems!
See you out on the trails soon!

olga said...

I think you ran an awesome time at Firetrails! I need to put it on my list as well, probably should have done it instead of RDL100, duh! If you rest now and start training back by january, you should sign up for Miwok - it's a great first-time 100k.

mtnrunR said...

Great job. Miwok is a great 100k but so is Where's Waldo. Waldo is a lot harder. About 2-3 slower if you compare the two. The climbs are just more challanging. Both races have top notch volunteers that are super knowledgeable. Both great races.
Have fun,

miki said...

Congratulations again. What an awesome time! And let me tell you, I looove the Advil. :)

You got your pics that I sent you? I figured your wife would love the finish picture. It was a good one.

I think I'm in on Miwok too. But will look up the Waldo one. Have heard of it, but don't know much about it.

Eudemus said...

Thanks Olga. You should definitely do Dick Collins next year, I'm sure you'd tear up the course!

Eudemus said...

Tom, thanks. I will check Waldo out also. It definitely looks tougher than Miwok with the longer distance (apprently it is more than 62 miles), steeper climbs and elevation (which scares me). Since Waldo is later in the season maybe I will do it if I don't end up trying for a 100M next year. We'll see. It's a ways away.

Eudemus said...

Miki, thanks again and thanks for the pics. I got them and sent them to my wife. She likes the finish pic with me in all my cheezy glory :-).

I've printed out my WS100 application, but haven't sent it in. I don't know what I'll do if I get in...a little scarey!

turnip said...

wow, congratulations on a fantastic feat!

Catra said...

Hey Steve-
Great report and good job. Yep, everyone knows Clem. He falls a lot that's what's he's known for. ;)

Eudemus said...

Catra, thanks. I've heard about Clem's falls though I've yet to witness.