08 October 2011


Lots of cool swag at this race, but runners had to finish first.
I registered for the Dick Collins Firetrails 50 Miler on a whim. I had just completed the Georgia Jewel 100 Mile race two weeks prior and I must have been riding the runners high still when I signed up. They also offered a point to point trail marathon on the same course and on the same day, but I didn't want to miss the opportunity to run an ultra on the West coast while on business.

Race Day
I had set my alarm for 4:15AM on Saturday morning to make the drive from my hotel in Fremont, California to the race start and finish location at Lake Chabot Regional Park in Castro Valley, California just Southeast of San Francisco and Oakland. The race course was an out and back run that started at the Lake Chabot Regional Park to Anthony Chabot Regional Park to Redwood Regional Park to Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve to Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve to Tilden Regional Park and back. It is mostly run on the Macdonald Trail, Stream Trail and Bay Area Ridge Trail. The race started and finished at the beautiful Lake Chabot.

I arrived at the registration area at 5:30AM to pick up my race bib. This race was a little more unusual than others in that racers would not receive their swag bag until they crossed the finish line. I thought that was a nice touch, just in case anyone was lacking motivation to finish;-) Even though the race would start in the dark, race organizers did point out on their website that while runner could opt to use headlamps or flashlights, they were barely required as the first section of the course was run on an asphalt trail section. By the time runners would hit the actual fire trails, the sun would be up. I chose to follow their advice and went without a headlamp and had no problems.

After runners were led to the actual starting line in somewhat complete darkness (aside from some bobbing headlamps and handhelds), race organizers kicked off the race at 6:30AM sharp. After stopping at the local running shop "Zombie Runner" in downtown Palo Alto, California the day before the race and getting some advice from one of the shop owners, an experienced ultra runner and previous participant at the race, I decided to line up in the back of the pack. After all, this was a "recovery run" for the Georgia Jewel 100 and I needed to be sure to start very very conservatively.

As we ran alongside Lake Chabot and the sun started to rise, we all got to enjoy absolutely amazing views of the lake and the surrounding areas. I continued to be in awe as we climbed one ridge after another. The views from some of these spots along the course were absolutely astonishing. Even the course itself was absolutely beautiful, with pine needle covered fire trails and single track trails that were just fantastic. For most of the first quarter of the race, I kept my overall average at 12:30 minute per mile pace. After about ten miles, I experienced another first. At this point, I was still part of a train of runners traversing another hill on some beautiful single track trail, when I felt a severe sting in my right calf. I had just been stung by a wasp and 4 out of the 5 runners with me received the same treatment, one of us being stung 4 times. Thankfully, there was a good Samaritan with us, a local runner, who had experienced this many times before and who readily handed out Benadryl pills to everyone to minimize the pain and  swelling and to prevent any allergic reactions.

What a great day for a run!
After cruising for about 12-15 miles, the climbing started to take a toll on me and my average pace started to slow and continued to slow to an average just under 14 minutes. The field had thinned out significantly by now and I ran pretty much by myself at this point. To make matters worse, I took a wrong turn down a fire trail after 20 miles. This one mile detour put be behind on my target pace and I was now running at an average pace of over 14 minutes per mile. I continued to chug away until someone mentioned that we might actually be getting close to the 26 mile cut-off time of 6 hours and 15 minutes at the turn around point. That started to get me slightly nervous as I had never ever been close to a cut-off at a race, let alone been told that I had to get moving or else I would get pulled, but that's exactly what happened when I arrived at the turn around aid station and the aid station marshal announced that we had 5 minutes to get out of the aid station or else we would not be allowed to continue.

There was about 5 runners at the aid station, all rushing to get in and out. I refilled my two bottles and took off. I decided that I would try to push over the next 10 miles (next cut-off) to make up some time by the time I'd get to the 37 mile aid station. I basically flew through the next two aid stations, running most of the course including much of the uphills, before arriving at the 37 mile aid station. By this time, I had made up an hour on the cut-off. I felt much better than I did at the turnaround and I had actually been experiencing a second wind for the first time ever in an ultra. I felt much better during the second half of the course and my pace reflected it.

I continued to push, passing at least two to three runners between every aid station starting with the 26 mile turn around point. I was hurting and started to develop blisters on both feet once again, but I felt good mentally allowing me to continue to push. I also didn't want to risk finishing after dark. After all, I didn't have a headlamp with me. I really picked up my pace for the final two miles and when I finally crossed the finish line in 12 hours and 4 minutes, I had accomplished a new PR (by barely 5 minutes). It wasn't pretty, but I'll take it. As soon as I crossed the finish line, I was directed to a couple of tables to pick up my finisher's awards and race swag. They handed out some great stuff (see picture on top). This was an amazingly beautiful course with  plenty of aid stations and great race organization.

Final Comments
First, I'd like to thank all of the race volunteers and park staff for putting on an amazing ultra event. I will be happy to recommend this event to my fellow ultra runners in the Southeast. Second, I'd like to thank all my running buddies and friends for their encouraging comments. Finally, I need to figure out the blister problem. The Hoka One One Mafate trail shoes worked great for me (proper personal product review will follow), but I still blistered in the usual spots. I even wore two pairs of socks (Injinji liner socks with Drymax trail socks) and I used BlisterShield foot powder. At my next race over 50K, I will need to pre-tape my feet to see if that will fix my problem. That's gonna require practice, practice, practice as it seems nearly impossible for me right now to tape the bottom of my feet by myself. Next, it is time to really rest, letting my feet heal and muscles recover. I plan to really refocus my training and to set some serious goals. You can find the latest results here.

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