Sunday, October 9, 2011

2011 Dick Collins Firetrails 50-Mile Race Report

At 6:30AM, 40 minutes before the sunrise, our 50-mile race begins. Wispy clouds hug the dark hillsides beside Lake Chabot, which make for a pretty sight. I attempted to take pictures in the dark, but failed to get anything but dark blurs. I love running before the sun rises. It is such a beautiful time of day. The world is waking up and the skies transform and brighten with each step. Pictures only tell a small part of the story. And when an adventure coincides with a sunrise, the potential for a beautiful day only magnifies.

Beautiful days are just not complete without good friends and family; both those we find in person and in spirit. And I had many friends and family with me in spirit! A running friend from my workplace was running his first 50-mile race here! We run a monthly 5K fun run at work together that he usually wins in around 17 minutes. And because it's out-and-back course, I get to see him running the other way after about twenty miles. I gave gave him a big high-five. I was so proud of him! He ended up coming in 7th place with a 7:33 time!

There was instant camaraderie with everyone I met today, whether I knew them before or not. Runners bonded and looked out for one another. One runner held a gate open for me! A similar gate had jammed my thumb earlier too, so I was very moved to witness such a gesture of good will. I told him sternly that he didn’t have to do that, but thank you!

At mile 11, we were attacked by killer bees. Okay, they probably weren’t killer bees, but to the people who were allergic to bee stings, they might as well have been. I was stung three times, and the sting behind my head hurt for quite a while! And I had to beat a bee off my forearm that clung on viciously. Everyone was stung in the small group I was running with. We heard after the race that one girl needed emergency care from an ambulance! In hindsight, I think trail races that have a history of bee problems (like this one) should have Allergy EpiPens at strategic aid stations in case of a similar emergency. And if you know you are allergic to bee stings, you should definitely carry an EpiPen in a race like this!

Many of my friends on the Runner's World Loop were with me in spirit. I was planning on running a mile for LadyRunsAlot, but could not decide on just one mile. So instead I ran 10 for her. Mile 20-30 were run for LadyRunsAlot, who is currently off the running circuit due to a (hopefully) minor injury. She qualified and got into the Boston Marathon next year! She is one speedy gal! And like many of my friends on the Loop, she is one of my sources of inspiration. I took a picture of this bench at mile 22 with LadyRunsAlot in mind. Its where I would picture her sitting, admiring the view, and giving me a high five as I pass.

The Loop is an awesome community and a constant source of inspiration! Even new bloggers have plenty of gold nuggets (of inspiration) to share! Take Rachel, for example, who wrote the blog titled "The spiritual experience that is running". She ended it with a prayer; for all us to have a spiritual running experience like hers.

"The run was fast and short but definitely one of my best ever. I am still shaking my head over this experience. I am left in awe and wonder of it all. I wish I could describe it more fully, but sometimes words are just not enough. You have to experience it for yourself. My prayer, no matter what your religious beliefs, is for everyone to have an experience like mine. To feel so at peace and safe with nothing else mattering but the moment: that's my prayer."

Typically, in my previous 50-milers, energy-lows are typically experienced at the 20-mile, 31-mile (50K), and at the 42-mile mark (give or take a mile or two). These are good places to station family and friends in a 50-mile race, in my opinion. There was a really tough uphill section between miles 26 and miles 31. It always amazes me to see runners run uphill in these parts! The hills are steep and relentless, even for someone hiking them! I kept reminding myself to shorten my walking strides and to take quicker steps. I have found that it reduces the damage on my legs going uphill. Then at mile 31, with a gentle downhill on some beautiful single track trails, I found pure bliss. My running became effortless and I found a serenity in those quiet woods that really moved me spiritually. Looking down at my Garmin, I was only going at a 10:15/mile pace, but it didn’t matter how fast or slow I was running. What mattered was that I was happy and at peace. And I immediately thought about Rachel’s prayer, and how this must have been how she felt! Thanks, Rachel! If you haven’t read her blog and commented on it, I’d recommend doing so. Who knows? Maybe you’ll get a similar experience on an upcoming run!

At the tail end of a blissful 2 miles, I found a couple on the side of the trail huddled around something they were very interested in. I stopped to find out myself what they were so interested in. It turned out to be a huge gathering of ladybugs! There must have been thousands of them! I thought this was very cool!

Miles 33-41 became more difficult, but I had some good running here and there. I was getting sick of the inclines, even the short ones, but I was still running downhill relatively well. At mile 41, I caught a seed pod like the one pictured below (found online).

When we were kids we would catch these seed pods and make a wish on them before releasing them back into the wind. My first thought was to wish for some more blissful miles to finish my race, because I was starting to suffer and struggle. But then I wished for my brother to be happy, like I had wished for so many times before. Actually, I used to wish that he would find a way to walk someday like you or me. But it turned out to be a hopeless case (which now reminds me of TOsuperstar's running for St. Jude). Seeing by brother trapped in a decrepit body with Cerebral Palsy, has always bothered me. I broke down and wept, in a wave of emotion. I told myself that his happiness is so much more important than my measly 9 miles of suffering. My brother inspires me. I run because he can’t. And I’ll run enough for the both of us. All my running friends inspire me too. And when you can’t run, I’ll run for you too! We runners are so blessed to be able to do something we love, and we have the ability to share these experiences with the people we love. And we should continue to inspire one another, through the simple act of running, blogging, and even rambling about the things that trouble us.

There were many other runners and volunteers that I crossed paths with out there, that I instantly befriended and connected with. We’re all one family out there. I felt very blessed out there, to have such good friends and a supportive family. My final 9 miles turned out alright. Every time I felt fatigued I leaned on the memory of my blissful 2 miles, or thought about my brother, and I continued “keeping on”. After the final aid station (with 4.5 miles to go), I started to run a lot more! Bill Dodson, who reminds me of SeniorRunner, has beaten me in almost every ultra we’ve run together in, including my first 50-miler. I played a trick on myself, and told myself that he probably wasn’t far behind me and that he’ll probably catch me near the end if I don’t get myself going! It was the kick in the rear that got me going for at least a few miles. The fear factor is very real, and it can give you a boost of adrenaline when you need it the most! Despite my better running, I was chick’d in the final miles by J-Lo! (Not the original star we all know). I didn’t care about being chick’d. I was more concerned about Bill, and kept looking over my shoulder every time I needed a walking break. Bill is 76 years old, but this guy is pretty fast when it comes to these ultras (at least faster and more consistent than me)! He is an inspiration and a hero to me too! I sure hope I can still run this race at 76!

Best. Aid. Station. Ever! And they had Chicken Soup too! I felt like Popeye eating spinach after being pummeled by Bluto!

I had a great day on the trails, but I was ready for it to be over. Nothing really hurt, which I was super excited about. It was just general fatigue and heavy legs that took the wind out of my sails. I ran the final 0.2 miles in at a 7:57/mile pace, for an official time of 11:40:48, and 157th place out of 194 finishers. Bill ended up coming in at 12:02, 21 minutes behind me. And I realized a couple days later that my bib number was also 157! Maybe when the stars align, numbers align too!

Other Notes:

I used 3 servings of Vespa, which allow me to eat less at the aid stations. In the final 15 miles there were three aid stations that had chicken soup, which tastes awesome, even if its cold! I made two wrong turns and almost wrecked my race, but each time a fellow runner would call me back! Thanks guys! I also used a total of 6 scoops of Perpetuem to mix in my one water bottle. I used my La Sportiva Crosslites, which are my go-to shoes in trail ultras. I ran for a mile with Jim Magill around the 40-mile mark, which I really enjoyed. He has finished Western States 10 times, and Badwater twice! He was even trash talking to get me going! "Come on, young man, are you gonna let an old man beat you?", he asked me. At 65, he's another fast ultra veteran! But the greatest thing about him, is his perpetual smile and good attitude!

Here is Jim Magill, blowing by me, around Mile 40, smiling as usual. Does he look 65 years old to you?

My training has been pretty pathetic leading up to the race. For the previous 7 weeks, I had only averaged 16 miles a week. It's just been really hard to run with both a newborn and a toddler. So I was very happy to finish as well as I did with the training I put in. I was pretty trashed and a bit nauseous after the race, but I usually am anyway. I am recovering well and should be back running by the weekend.

Mile Pace
1 11:47
2 12:10
3 15:05
4 10:25
5 10:27
6 10:14
7 10:19
8 12:58
9 12:47
10 9:48
11 12:22
12 11:35
13 11:09
14 12:47
15 17:43
16 11:43
17 17:16
18 14:47
19 12:44
20 15:14
21 14:50
22 17:09
23 12:20
24 11:15
25 10:39
26 15:35
27 16:01
28 16:49
29 16:24
30 16:54
31 17:53
32 10:33
33 10:51
34 19:38
35 15:30
36 17:58
37 19:29
38 11:17
39 12:41
40 12:11
41 17:30
42 19:13
43 15:57
44 13:22
45 17:14
46 14:36
47 14:55
48 11:10
49 14:01
50 11:19
51 1:35 (0.2 miles)

Some cameras just don't take nice pictures in the dark...

Pictures are more interesting when there's a runner in it.
I didn't really get to see the sun rise. There was too much tree cover. Too bad. I love watching the sun rise...

Signs like this were very common all along the course. Inspirational quotes are always welcome on such a long run!
Here is Paul Little, one of my new ultra friends. He just started a blog too!

This guy's shirt has a "No Whining" sign in the back of it! Runners don't whine, do they?

This is Martin Nguyen. We see-sawed a lot. I'd catch him hiking up the hills and he'd catch me on the downhill sections. Pretty typical in an ultra!

A fence like this one squished my thumb. I think it did the same thing to me last year! This is what most runners see as they run by mile 33. Only by stopping and getting closer would you see the ladybugs!

I thought this section of single track trails were very cool. It was like running through a scene from the Avatar movie (one of my favorites)!

Running through redwood forests is just awesome.

Some big ravens or crows. I can't tell the difference.
Single digit miles to go! It's something I always look forward to in a 50-mile race...

We had to duck under this fallen tree. I bumped my head on it earlier in the race.

I ended up taking about 70 pictures, and removed a handful of them that turned out blurry...