Sunday, October 10, 2010

Dick Collins Firetrails 50-mile Race Report

"It is so very important to get back on a horse as soon as possible after falling off of a horse. And it could be said that this is true of any misadventure whether it be falling on your bicycle, having a car accident or slipping in the shower. " (Getting Back on a Horse after a Fall, by Dianne Lehmann)

I was thrown off the proverbial horse after 44 miles in a 100-mile misadventure only a month ago. My body suffered no lasting harm, but my mind and heart was dealt a big blow. My confidence was shaken. My dreams of 100-mile races have drifted further from reach, and is now laced with some tangible fears. On top of my fears, which I quickly suppressed, I hungered for redemption.

The Dick Collins Firetrails 50-mile race was my first chance to redeem myself on the "ultra horse". I was also hoping that meeting the legendary Ann Trason would give me a little extra inspiration and motivation to continue my ultra journey. My A-goal for the race was to break 11 hours, the qualifying time for Western States. I had already qualified with my first 50-mile race, but I felt like I needed to do it again to prove my worthiness to even enter the lottery for the oldest and largest 100 mile race in the US. Compared to my first 50-mile race, this course looks a lot tougher, with 7800 feet of elevation gain, so my time goal might be a little optimistic.

We start right at 6:30AM in the dark. The plan was to run the downhills and walk the uphills. But when I ran with company, I ran more, falling into a comfortable running rhythm that only got interrupted with steep inclines. The time and the miles pass by very quickly and pleasantly with good company. Some of the panoramic views were amazing, but they never impress me as much as the kind people I meet at these events. The volunteers and the runners I meet are always such beautiful highlights in my ultra experiences. The redwood forest groves, the lakeside views, and the scenic overlooks of the bay area are always gorgeous, but when you're tired and in pain, a smile or an encouraging word can do so much more to lift your spirits.

The Golden Hills Trail Marathon is the companion race to the 50-mile race that is a point to point course that starts near the turnaround point for the 50-mile runners. So after about 20 miles, we get to see a bunch of marathoners coming towards us in the opposite direction, with the 50-mile leaders mixed in. The great thing about an out-and-back course is that you get to meet all the runners, fast or slow. I got to greet all the speedy ultra runners that I want to be like when I grow up! It always amazes me to see these elite runners run up all these hills that leave most people gasping for air while walking!

After 25 miles and 5 hours and 15 minutes, my race is going well. I am managing my hydration and fueling very well. I even skipped a couple of the early aid stations. Even though the high temperature only reached 75 degrees this day, it felt warmer in the unshaded open spaces. I took one electrolyte pill per hour and increased the frequency when it got warmer. I felt strong, walking the hills and passed many other runners that were not walking as fast. I knew many of them would catch me later, but I was happy to make some decent gains on the inclines.

I crossed the 50K mark at around 6 hours and 25 minutes, which was a relatively respectable considering my 5:54 50K PR race that was held on these same trails back in August. At mile 33, I started to feel really tired. It was another "low" that I have come to expect in these ultras. I drank more of my Pertetuem mix (for calories) and took another electrolyte pill. At the next aid station (mile 34), I drank some coke, ate some fruit, and chatted with the volunteers for a while. My heart and lungs felt tired. I didn't feel motivated to run anymore and I was afraid that everything would fall apart on me again. I seriously wanted to sit down and take a break there at the aid station. I was afraid of having to sit down out on the course where I would have no aid. The volunteers were awesome at this aid station. They listened to me, and they cared for me. Their kindness and encouragement gave me the boost I needed to keep moving forward.

The next 3 miles were not easy. It was a lonely stretch of single track trails and I was stuck in a mental, negative funk. I felt weak and even the downhill portions felt dreadfully slow and uninspired. "Willpower comes from inspiration", I thought to myself. I was in serious need of some willpower, so I tried really hard to think about what inspired me. I thought about a friend who was training for her first ultra when she unexpectedly became pregnant. The pregnancy had its complications and she eventually lost her baby. It was very sad, and I could never imagine the pain and suffering she went through. My pain at the time was nothing compared to what she went through. I found her faith in God inspiring. Here I was having a pity party when I should be counting my blessings and having a little faith myself. With God as my strength, I moved on, more focused and more inspired.

Then a funny thing happened. Things got better. I didn't feel so tired anymore. And all of a sudden I was running again, with renewed strength and purpose. From then on, I started to make deals with myself. Run to that tree or flag, then you can walk. And it was not a shuffle either. I was running fast and strong; almost sprinting down hills at times. I would still walk the uphill sections, but I was starting to make really good progress!

When I got to the aid station at mile 44.2, I felt so, so happy. This is where the horse threw me off, and here I was again, running strong, positive, and at peace. And I had only a 10K to go! I ate some fruit and drank some coke before thanking the volunteers and headed back out to finish the race. Two minutes later, I was throwing up on the side of the trail. I threw up three times, and emptied out the contents of my stomach. I really did not see that coming. One gal stopped to see if I was okay and told be to go back to the aid station if I needed to, but I stubbornly pressed forward instead. Throwing up actually made me feel a little better. I was worried about my energy and hydration level after that because anything I drank or ate made me feel nauseous. The only thing that tasted good after that was some watermelon at the last aid station before the finish. I continued my run-walk sequence and knew that I would at least break 12 hours at the rate I was going.

The last 3 miles felt very long, probably because they were still plenty of hills, but I knew I was going to finish and nothing else mattered. When I turned a corner and saw the finish line, I sprinted with everything I had left, and I was fast! A well-known ultra runner asked me, "If you had that much still left in your legs, why didn't you finish sooner?" I'm not sure it was my legs that failed me. Maybe my endocrine system was just over-taxed with all the recent ultras and long runs. I was happy to have finished such a tough course and probably need a break from this ultra business. I felt sick for the remainder of the day. I could not eat anything till later that night when I ate some chicken noodle soup.

I did not stay for the awards ceremony, but I went over and shook Ann Trason's hand and told her that she was an inspiration to me. She just smiled and told me, "Everyone here who finished this race is an inspiration." Indeed, I met a lot of inspiring runners this day. Out on the course, I didn't think I would want to come back to this tough race, but after finishing and reflecting I can't help but think about how great the race really was. I'll be back.

I finished 198th place out of 235 finishers, with a time of 11:52:42.

Other notes:
I ran with my La Sportiva Crosslites. I had my New Balance MT100 shoes in my drop bag at mile 26, but never had any blister or foot problems so I stuck with the shoes that were working. I used Perpetuem for the first time in a race. I also used a serving of Vespa every 3 hours. I took chia seeds the night before the race and before the race to pre-hydrate. I ate a McDonald's Sausage McMuffin Breakfast Sandwich an hour before the race. I ate mostly fruit at the aid stations (oranges, cantaloupe, bananas, and watermelon) with boiled potatoes early in the race.

Mile Splits According to my Garmin 310XT:
Mile 1 10:21
Mile 2 11:26
Mile 3 15:02
Mile 4 10:19
Mile 5 10:09
Mile 6 10:40
Mile 7 10:29
Mile 8 14:41
Mile 9 13:05
Mile 10 8:42
Mile 11 13:47
Mile 12 10:58
Mile 13 10:00
Mile 14 11:46
Mile 15 16:43
Mile 16 11:34
Mile 17 14:03
Mile 18 14:37
Mile 19 11:03
Mile 20 14:20
Mile 21 15:35
Mile 22 17:26
Mile 23 12:15
Mile 24 10:50
Mile 25 11:17
Mile 26 21:43
Mile 27 15:25
Mile 28 16:57
Mile 29 15:12
Mile 30 15:14
Mile 31 13:56
Mile 32 11:09
Mile 33 13:05
Mile 34 13:30
Mile 35 15:26
Mile 36 18:18
Mile 37 23:16
Mile 38 12:12
Mile 39 12:17
Mile 40 11:36
Mile 41 17:11
Mile 42 23:06
Mile 43 13:10
Mile 44 12:10
Mile 45 17:41
Mile 46 14:37
Mile 47 15:54
Mile 48 15:30
Mile 49 13:43
Mile 50 14:41


  1. You've done it again!!!
    The photos and elevation profile really help paint a picture. For someone who's been through such misery, you have a beaming smile! :D
    Meeting Ann Trason would be fun- an incredible runner!
    I like those sausage McMuffins too :). I got an egg McMuffin recently that still had the shell in it. Blech. Not sure I could do it before any race, but maybe ultras are different, lol.
    Another great RR, John

  2. Great work John. I don't know how you do so many... I'm having enough trouble just training for one :)

  3. Perhaps I need to focus more on quality and less on quantity! It easier to do so many when they're so close and convenient! The san francisco bay area really is mecca for ultra runners!

    I've eaten a sausage mcmuffin sandwich before most of my races, and they usually settle my stomach nicely. They have lots of calories and protein - perfect for an ultra!

  4. JOhn- Not sure if you'll catch this before tomorow, but GOD SPEED to you in the adventure ahead!!!! Hope you feel much better for it too.
    Also, Congrats to you and Mrs. Nguyen =D (I lurked RW the other day)

  5. I heard you did another ultra today, John - hurry up and post the RR! I'm dying to read all about it. I hope you enjoyed it and that it went well for you.

    How's your wife feeling? Hopefully she's doing ok.