Sunday, December 16, 2012

Dick Collins Firetrails 50 Mile - Race Report

A mere two weeks after running the Bear 100, I found myself standing at the starting line of Dick Collins Firetrails 50 wondering what the hell I was doing.  Was it really wise to try and race 50 miles so shortly after having suffered through one of the hardest 100 milers I'd ever run? Would my legs, (which seemed fairly well recovered) hold up for the entire race, or would they fail me on the second half of the hilly course?

Conventional wisdom, as well as previous experience, both suggested that I should probably skip Firetrails and take a couple of more weeks of rest. But my ego had a different opinion. My ego suggested that conventional wisdom and prior experience were a bunch of pansies who should mind their own business. And so, on race morning, I stood shivering (shirtless), in the front of the pack, armed with only my ego and a handheld water bottle.

The starting gun sounded and I took off with the lead pack, running fast -- faster than I had any business running. As I tore along the trail with the front runners in "attack mode" I started having fantasies of a top 10 finish. However, somewhere around mile 4 those fantasies came crashing down. Suddenly my legs started complaining and I shifted from attack mode to survival mode. It was somewhere around this time that my Quicksilver teammates Toshi and Jeremy blew past me, as did women's front runner Jenny Capel. They would all go on to run great races!

Somewhere around mile 8 I decided to call it quits and drop out at the next aid station, Skyline Gate at mile 11. It just wasn't my day. My pace was slowing down and I was feeling like crap. A group of 5 to 10 runners flew by me like I was standing still. Yep, best to call it a day.

But then a funny thing happened at about mile 10 on the uphill section approaching Skyline Gate. I looked ahead and saw that I was gaining on the group of 5 to 10 runners that had passed me earlier. They were all walking the uphill, looking rather ragged. And I was somehow running it -- and rather effortlessly in fact. I was a bit annoyed. I wanted to DNF. But one of my golden rules is to never drop from a race if I am moving well and passing other runners. So unfortunately I had to continue on.

And so it continued for the rest of the race. Every time I came to an uphill where everyone else was walking, I somehow managed to run it. For some reason, the uphills felt easy and runnable. I didn't have any leg speed or turnover and would lose a bit of ground on the flats, but every time the course turned upwards I would regain the lost ground.

photo by Brett Rivers

As I approached the last aid station before the finish line I knew that I only had about 5 more miles to go, and much of it downhill. I had been running a bit conservatively and saving some energy for this last push home. Now was the time to unleash it! I glanced back to see if anyone was behind me and was surprised to see Quicksilver teammate Clare Abram, who had moved up into 2nd place in the women's race. I gave her a quick shout of encouragement and then hit the gas, hoping to reel in a runner or two in front of me.

In retrospect I probably stepped on the gas a bit too hard, and a bit too early. With about 1 mile to go I found myself out of energy and walking the last little uphill section of the paved bike path. I coasted into the finish in 20th place overall, running on fumes and just thankful to be done. My finishing time of 8:23:33 was about 5 minutes slower than my previous best at Firetrails. But all in all, it turned out much better than it could have!


Odette Cao-Dunn said...

Thanks for the great article. I just registered and I hope I will finish my first 50 miles.

John Burton said...

Hey, good luck! It's a challenging course, but there's a lot of runnable sections. Just don't go out to fast on the early flat sections, and save a little something for the hills.