Saturday, October 21, 2006

Firetrails 50 Race Report

Firetrails 50 is a 50 mile race in Castro Valley, Ca.

Race morning started at 5:30 am at the Starbucks. I got my usual coffee and headed out to the starting line. I knew I would have to go to the bathroom before the race; but I didn't have the urge to go yet, so I just had to wait until the time came.

It is 6:00 am and I am here at the starting line, but the "urge" to go just still wasn't there. I headed out for a 10 min jog to see if I can get the bowels going. Sure enough, after the jog I am ready to "go". But, man the line was so long for the restroom. Taking some drastic measures, I headed out to the woods to do my business. But, I didn't keep track of the time and the starting gun sounded (6:30 am sharp).

I can hear the gun in the distance; I was panicking and ran back to the car to put things away. I got to the start line about 3 minutes late; then I realized that I had forgotten my hydration bottle. Quickly, I ran back to the car to get my bottle. When I got back to the starting line, I was 5 minutes behind.

I was sure I was the last one to start. I just kept telling myself, "it is a long race and I have plenty of time to catch up." I quickly settled into a nice comfortable pace, but still fast enough to catch people. By the first aid station, I had caught up to about 40 people. I was counting the people I had passed. Since I knew I was last and how many had signed up for the race, I knew my progress within the race. The second aid station (at about 5 miles) came, and I had passed 95 people. I felt much better. But doubts started to enter my mind, as I thought I might be going too fast and catching too many people too quickly. But I was feeling really good and ran all the flats and rollers and run/walked the steep climbs.

Now it is about 16 miles into the race; I passed about 15 more people. I still felt good, but I had no idea about my pacing since this was my first ultra. I didn't know if I was going to die at the end or not. I knew I was in the front third of the race because I had been counting how many people I passed. I didn't want to blow up and DNF, so I started to be more conservative. From this point on, I kept my focus on not being passed. If I passed a few more, it would be great. But If I just hold my place, I would have been satisfied.

On my approach to the turn around aid station, I started seeing the front runners on their way back (it is an almost out and back course). The first place guy was about 5 miles in front. Wow, he was fast. When I saw him, I was 2.5 miles from the turn around point (26 miles). I had passed a few more people, but i was loosing my count. But, now I can really know how many were in front of me. I just had to keep counting the people coming back. At the turn-around point, I looked at my watch and it said 4:05. Not bad, I thought. But may be too fast??? I just didn't know if I could have held the same pace. I counted about 20 people in front of me, which means I was 21st place.

If everything went well, meaning that I didn't blow up, I knew I would end up about top 10% of the overall race field. I knew that because that is where all of my good races before have been. If that were true, it would have meant passing about 5 more people. But, I didn't let that get to me, if I passed them, great; if I don't, that's fine too. I was just intent on holding my place.

From the turn-around point, I became more conservative and was walking the climbs more. I just didn't want to DNF. Not knowing what pace I could have held was really draining to me mentally. I still felt great physically, no blisters, no cramps, no aches and pains. But I knew things could change so fast. I slowed and walked some of the rolling hills. Whenever someone caught up to me, I reeled them back in and left them for good. I was playing defense.

At about 36 miles, I had not seen anyone for about an hour (6 miles of running). No one in front of me, and no one in back of me. I was getting lonely, feeling the pits mentally. My legs were starting to tire. I have spent 6 hours in the woods, "what am I doing here?" "Why am I doing this?" Just when I was fighting this mental thing, I saw a shadow of a runner just up ahead. He was way up there on the next switch back.

I instantly got motivated and picked up the pace; I caught up to him and passed him very quickly. After I passed him, I saw a few more immediately ahead. It wasn't just one runner I caught, it was a pack. I had passed a pack of runners. Wow, that was awesome.

I was at mile 42. During the last 6 miles, one of the runners from the pack I had passed stayed with me. He would never be far behind, I just couldn't shake him. Well, at least I don't feel lonly anymore. I was not going to let him pass me back.

At 6 miles to go, I was going into the next to last aid station and passed another runner who had been reduced to walking. He was a casualty of cramping; he had been spent with nothing left to give. I could of ended up like him.

At the aid station, I didn't want another GU. I had taken about 20 of them (really, I lost count). Please, mr. aid station volunteer, i said, "just give me something different!" Grapes were good.

The next aid was 3 more miles. Wow, that was a long 3 miles. Now my legs felt heavy. I even walked some flats.
Finally, I reached the last aid station, with 3 more miles to go to the finish.

As I left the station, the guy that was shadowing me had just arrived. l though I had at least a one minute cushion on him. So I just kept going at my pace, but each step was getting heavier. I started counting them to keep my focus on the moment and tried to not think about how much more I had to go. I looked back often, but I didn't see the guy that was shadowing me. So I let up on the gas a little. At about one mile to go, I heard the sound of steps behind me. I turned around; it was him about 20 feet back. He had put together a finish line charge. I had to respond, and I instantly picked up the pace. I said to myself, "he's not going to pass me." My legs were burning, but I just couldn't let up. By the finish line, I had put about a minute back on him. I was fortunate to have enough energy left to fight him off.

They had a great BBQ at the finish line. All racers and their friends and family were invited for free. That was great. The goodie bag included a dri-fit type shirt and a wine glass - very cool. I sat there on the grass next to the finish line and just wished that all my friends were there with me. People were all having a good time.

Looking back, I probably could have extended myself a little bit more. My goal next year would be to break 8 hours. Now I have more ideas about the kind of pace I can keep without blowing up. The 5 minutes I lost at the starting line would have moved me up just 1 place overall. It was pretty insignificant. I ended up fourth in my age group (Masters Men 40-49). Had they broken the age group into 5 year chunks (like almost all other races, i.e. M45-49), I would have been 1st place. The award was a medal and a nice bottle of wine.