Dick Collins Firetrails 50 Miler
Wow. It's 8 am on Sunday, the day after Firetrails, and I'm completely awake. I've checked email and refreshed my Facebook newsfeed enough times that I might as well get started writing this while it's still fresh.
(Note: there are very few pictures in this long-ish race report. Thanks to Suz for the one on the left.)
This race started in 2008 for me. I had decided after Ohlone that I wanted to sign up for my first 50 miler. I had planned to run Skyline to the Sea as a last training run, and we all know how that went. Dick Collins last year was spent handing out awards at the finish line, pink cast on my foot.
Fast forward to April of this year. I still wanted to run a 50 miler, so I signed up for the American River, which, thanks to my knee making a painful appearance, became American River 18. (Not to disparage AR50, but the 18 miles of paved bike path--and there was more after that--was one thing that let me get over the DNF. I run trails because I like dirt.)
By this point, I was feeling pretty frustrated. In the last year, I had met a bunch of ultrarunners who were talking about what 100s they'd run, or were planning to run, and I have been asked a couple of times if I'd run a 100 yet. (And yes, the word was "yet.") I said no, I had yet to run a 50 miler.
Needless to say, by the time yesterday morning rolled around, there was a bit riding on this day for me. I REALLY wanted to finish this race. I was also pretty happy that I was back attempting my first (completed) 50 on East Bay trails. I have a lot of East Bay love, and it seemed very appropriate to be running a milestone race on hometown trails.
My main goal was to finish, and to have a good time while running. I knew there would be tons of people I knew out on the course, either running, spectating or volunteering, and I was looking forward to spending the day getting to see everyone. In the back of my head, I had a "if everything goes perfectly" goal-- to break 10 hours--but I didn't tell anyone this, as I didn't think it was very likely.
I drove up to the Lake Chabot Marina yesterday morning in darkness--but it was already a flurry of activity, with head-lamped runners checking in, adjusting their gear and greeting each other. Many hugs were exchanged as I ran into all the people I knew who were running as we got ready for the send-off. Sooner than expected, Carl brought us over to the starting area, and we were off!
The first 2 miles (and last 2) are on the paved path that encircles Lake Chabot (but we're not going to hold that against it). I ran with Leigh and Mike, trying to start conservatively, as I have a long history of getting excited about racing and going out too fast.
As the group started to spread out, I tried to keep my pace at a comfortable, manageable speed, staying as relaxed as possible. I checked my watch around an hour and found that I was right around 10 hour pace, but since we had just started the race, I figured I'd slow down later on and stopped thinking that was an attainable goal and just kept running.
During the 2nd hour, I started to get worried, though. I was running with people that I had no business running with. Steve has completed a bunch of 100s and is MUCH faster than me, and I was keeping him in range. I ended up running with Larissa for a bit-- another runner who is WAY faster than me. I kept checking in with myself, asking if I was pushing it too hard, and reminding myself to keep it relaxed and easy. Here's the thing: it WAS feeling easy. Not easy like drinking-a-beer-on-the-couch easy, but I felt great. I was power hiking the steep hills, running everything else, and I felt marvelous.
Another very cool thing about this race: The Golden Hills Trail Marathon starts at the turn-around point and then heads back along (mostly) the same trails as Firetrails. This meant I got a huge hug from Miki while heading up one of the steeper sections toward Steam Trains, but it also meant that it was a continual stream of "good jobs" coming from runners as they passed by me. Seriously, trail runners are the best for giving each other support.
At Steam Trains (mile 21), a fellow runner was working the aid station and she looked up in surprise to see me, as I had come in just behind her boyfriend, who is also MUCH faster than me in real life. She asked me what I was doing, and I said I didn't know, but I was feeling good, so I wasn't going to question it.
I had really started trying to focus on the ultrarunner tip of concentrating just on the next aid station, and this was making things go much faster. There are tons of aid stations on this course, and each 3-4 mile section kept appearing faster than I thought it would. Even the climb from the turn-around back to Steam Trains, which is the longest stretch of uphill in the entire race, seemed to go by quickly. As I went through Steam Trains again, I heard my name being called-- Suz and her boyfriend (who is also a runner, or so I've heard...) were out cheering people on. It was especially nice of her to come out because she was planning on running FT herself (with me, even!), but a stupid knee injury had sidelined her just days before. It's easy to get bitter when you can't run a race that you were looking forward to, but they came out to support people anyway. (This is part of the reason I maintain that the trail running community has a very high percentage of quality people.)
It definitely helped to see familiar faces at Steam Trains, and I took off down the hill feeling happy and upbeat about the final 20. Incidentally, I was at least 15 minutes faster than my 50K PR time by the time I hit 31 miles, which definitely gave me a lift. (A confused lift, because I still didn't feel like I was running exceptionally hard, but a lift anyway.)
About a mile and a half away from Sibley, my knee started to hurt. I was SO MAD. It couldn't have been any more perfectly timed, either-- I go a TINY bit further than I've ever gone, and it starts to hurt. This definitely messed with my mental state, which had been ridiculously happy up until this point. I had thoughts of dropping at Sibley, because I didn't want to run 17 miles of pain, and then I got sad because I was doing so much better than I thought I was going to do-- it didn't seem fair. (And yeah, I know life is not fair, but this is my brain mid-50 miles.) However, I did stop to stretch my hips out and realized that it got better when I stretched, so I decided to keep on trucking and NOT drop at Sibley. Miles 33-37 were definitely the low point of my race. There is a very steep section out of Sibley that was PAINFUL, and people were starting to pass me, which hadn't happened much during the rest of the race.
Then there was a good section of uphill that made me feel better, and I ended up chatting with a really nice guy who was very encouraging and told me I was doing great for my first 50 miler, especially if that was my "dark moment" (which it was). People telling you that you are doing well is always helpful, and I realized that my knee wasn't going to be painful for every step, so I was feeling better about making it in.
Skyline Gate was the ending point of the dark time. Steve H gave me a big hug, I saw Suzanne again and I was so overwhelmed with the niceness of the people I know, I almost started crying. (So maybe I was a little tired at this point, too...) I also realized that I was going to finish this thing-- even if my knee got worse and I had to slow way down for the last 13 miles. This resolve was tested as I headed down Stream, but Steve (fast person from much earlier in the race) caught back up with me as I was walking and asked me if I'd taken any ibuprofen. I was trying to avoid it, but I realized that one round would probably fine, so I did. And what do you know-- drugs help. Seriously, I think it loosened up my hips, which meant that my knee was running in a better position, and it generally stopped hurting.
From there, things generally improved little by little, as I realized I was getting closer to the finish line, and that I was going to absolutely break my "if everything goes perfectly" goal time. By the time I hit Bort Meadows, I was feeling SO good about the day, I ran the next 3 (blissfully flat) miles holding around 8:30s, and feeling much more fabulous than I thought I would have been feeling at that point.
From there, it was a short 3 miles (with some lame hills on the first mile!) to the finish line. I finished in 9:33, much faster than I would have ever remotely thought myself capable of.
A few take-aways from the day:
1) Training helps. (Who knew?) I have been running more long runs this past couple of months than I ever have.
2) While I didn't have any major stomach issues, I don't think I was eating enough either because nothing appealed except for coke and watermelon and the occasional 1/4 sandwich. (This is particularly tragic because Ann Trason, the RD, baked all week to have about 3 kajillion different kinds of yummy-ness at the aid stations. Not eating chocolate chip cookies was one of the few sad things of the day.) If I'm going to run more than 50 miles, I need to figure this out--especially if there are delicious baked goods available.
3) Running on trails I knew= HUGE. It was a major mental support to be running along and know the trails, and know when the aid stations were scheduled to appear.
4) The reason people run these long distances? It's FUN. Seriously, until the knee problem started again, I was having the time of my life. Sure, some parts were harder than others, but I completely understand the draw for 100s. Once I got back in a better head space after the knee stuff, I was back enjoying myself. I'm definitely taking some time for rest and recovery (and lots of knee work!) but I'm looking forward to my next race already....