Sunday, October 10, 2010

FireTrails 50 2010: ultra digithon!

I'm writing this post from the plane to White Plains, NY, with stop in  Denver and Chicago, actually starting these lines as we are passing a few thousands feet at the vertical of the FireTrails 50-mile course; which brings back the good memories of another great edition of this favorite ultra event in the Bay Area, created and directed to this year by ultra legends and "speedsters" Ann Trason and Carl Andersen.

During the week I told Pierre-Yves that, despite being our team match with Tamalpa in the ultra Grand Prix, I was not going to push too hard this time for several reasons:

  1. First, with a lot of racing these past 4 weeks, great performances and pushing for speed (3rd at Rio del Lago 100-mile, first overall at Trailblazer 10K and 3rd Masters at the Rock'n'Roll San Jose half-marathon);
  2. Second, another series of short nights because of hectic work and other family activities. By the way, Agnès is recovering amazingly well according to her doctor, although she wished it would go even faster;
  3. Last but not least, as I wrote last week, I had checked the competition and felt it was really out of reach to place or get much points this time.

With that I decided that I would carry a camera during my run, something I had never done in a competition before but that bloggers Scott Dunlap or Chihping Fu for instance are famous for. I thought that would be the best way --or excuse!-- not to get caught up in a fast start, have an even more enjoyable run and share views of everybody. If you cannot read the full race report, you can jump right to my Picasa photo album. I you did run Firetrails this year and cannot find your picture, it may be because you were in the bushes at the time our paths crossed... ;-)
The check-in process was very fast thanks to Ann mailing all the bibs 2 weeks before the race. Many local runners and known faces for friendly connections and exchanges in the busy picnic area. 5 minutes before the start, Carl gave us the Race Director briefing with quite some humor and encouragements to enjoy the beautiful day. Indeed, the dark sky was clear of clouds and temperatures were announced around 75F in the afternoon. At the start however, I felt chilly as usual and even started with two layers and Moeben sleeves (photo credit: Karl Hoagland).

Our RhoQuick (Rhomobile / Quicksilver) team was very well represented this Saturday: Gary, Sean, Toshi, Mark, Bree, Pierre-Yves, Amy, Keith (Adam injured his foot again earlier in the week and was a no-show). Gary started off with the top runners, Dave Mackey, Leigh Schmit, Victor Ballesteros and a few others. One minute in the run, Chikara Omine passed us. He wasn't on the entrants list and, to follow his own tradition, registered a few minutes before the start! I ran the first miles with teammates Sean, Mark and Toshi, whose race was the first 50-miler (FireTrails has a nice rookie award for first timers which I got back in 2006).
I missed a picture of the first aid station crew at Marciel Road (sorry guys), but was ready for the second one at Bort Meadow, where Stan Jensen could not believe I was carrying that camera. I replied "It's picture day!" and passed through the aid station without stopping as I was carrying two bottles and had plenty of fluids left.

A few miles later we started passing some of the early starters (5:30 start) and I stopped and turned to take a shot of each of them, the FireTrails "project" was on! For one, I stepped backward and almost felt off the trail, scaring of the runner I was taking a shot of, and me too... I did not stop at Big Bear Gate either (mile 10.5) except to take a picture (of course) and give an accolade to the other "Mr. Pommier" (on the right in the picture below) who I first met at the same aid station 4 years ago (his family came to the US from Belgium a few generations ago).
AI passed a few other early starters after Bear Gate and it was time to put the camera back in its pouch to push in the hill up Skyline Gate and enjoy the magnificient redwoods. After a picture of the aid station crew, I made my first stop (mile 15) to drink a cup of Coke, take a GU and a piece of banana. Stevens Creek Strider Dennis wisely said that, if I didn't need to take on his offer to fill up my bottles, it was because I was not drinking enough. Indeed, my water bottle was still pretty full and I had some GU2O left too, and read on what happened later...

I did not stop at Sibley Park either except to take a picture, then passed Sean on our way up to Steam Trains (mile 21.7). Second stop, this time to refill my GU2O bottle.
While I was running up the road after Steam Trains, I saw a runner flying on the way back and could not believe it was Dave Mackey already. Indeed, it was not, but Leor Pantilat on his way to winning the marathon (other race starting at our turnaround). I did not have time to get the camera ready and decided that I was not going to take a picture of all the marathoners (sorry guys and gals), except for Caren Spore who was leading the woman race:
A few miles down the fire trail to Tilden Park, we stay on the ridge with breathtaking views on both sides (Oakland, San Francisco, the Golden Gate, Mount Diablo, etc.).
I passed Thomas Reiss who was having a bad day. Actually, I was not feeling good either as my intestine was really hurting but at least we were going down and I was getting excited at the prospect of getting the camera ready again to resume my picture project as we were approaching the turnaround and going to cross the lead runners. One of the marathon runners told us that I thought we were in 8th and 9th positions. I crossed Dave about 2 miles from the turn around and he was moving fast despite the uphill grade.

He was followed quite closely by Chikara who was having a great day. Leigh was third and Gary fourth. Gary proudly said "look, 4 guys under the course record pace!"
Yes, that was definitely a fast year. Victor was a few minutes behind. I reached the turn around (Lone Oak picnic area) in 9th after having stopped to take a picture of all the other runners. I was welcomed by the joyful and colorful Rajeev and Anil, who filled my bottle water, and John Medinger who was recording our splits ("Tropical" John is the Publisher of Ultrarunning Magazine and Race Director of the grueling Quad Dipsea). I left to John my sleeves and my second layer which I had removed on my way up to Sibley Park as the heat was picking up. The temperature was actually very nice with some breeze, just getting hot when running up hill.
Sean and Toshi were still close behind and I thought they will catch me in the long up hill back to Steam as I was stopping for every 50-miler runner I was now crossing. It became an interesting stop-fix-snap-check-go exercise for the next 6 miles. A good way to catch my breath on the way up, but definitely breaking the pace on the few down hills of the ridge. Nevertheless, so enjoyable to catch so many smiles and expressions of surprise of runners who were not expecting a photo shoot from a lead runner! ;-) When going through Steam Trains again, I went around the station to make sure I didn't miss any runner and quickly continued on the trail just after picking one more S!Cap and a GU.

Sean caught up with me after the station and I let him pass as I was still stopping to take shots of the back of the pack. Once I thought I was done and stored my camera, I picked up the pace again and passed Sean just to find out that there were still a few runners going up to Steam Trains, for whom I got the camera back to work. After that, I passed Lee and Winnie (Jebian) before Sibley Preserve, stopped at the aid station to get y water bottle filled with ice water (cool!) and went on, running most of the hill up to Skyline Gate and passing a few marathon runners. At this point, the intestine pain was bearable but I was evidently suffering from dehydration. As a matter of fact, focused on the picture game and running with the camera in one hand, I was not paying as much attention to fluid intake as usual, for a pace which was still quite fast. Thankfully, apart from the hill after Bear Gate, there isn't too many difficulties after Skyline Gate, although all the runners will tell you that the finish is definitely not flat, especially after having run 40 miles!

I experienced a big low in the hill up to Bort Meadows for which I alternately walked and jogged. Thank to drinking much more after Sibley Preserve, I was able to pick up the pace on the rolling section to Bort Meadows and after, with a pace oscillating between 8 and 9 minutes/mile. In the flat section after Bort Meadows, I passed this tall black guy who was yelling and smashing the bushes. Thankfully, he stayed on the side of the trail and I did not stop to take a picture, way too risky! I was told at the finish that he was hallucinating and a runner managed to get him to leave the trail and collected by the local Police. John and Carl were joking about which other unexpected event may occur in the next race... It is so hard to plan for everything with that many runners out in the wilderness for a day...

Still working on fixing my hydration, I got more ice water in my bottle. Stan teased me and asked for another picture but the game was over, I was now focusing on finishing in a good time in case we still had a chance against Tamalpa as I did not know how the lead runners did. I stopped for a few seconds at Bass Cove just to take a picture, thanking the volunteers and yelling my bin number as I was exiting the station. 4 years ago, this is the point where Rob Evans caught up with me then passed me with 2 miles to go. I was determined to run and push to the finish now, which I did, even getting the pace below 7 minute/mile on the bike path.
I crossed the finish line taking a picture of the finish area, in 7:25:59 for 9th and 4th Masters. Dave Mackey won in a blazing 6:16, improving the course record that Carl was owning since 1994 of 6:26! And Dave is now 40, so good luck to all the future Masters to beat that. And don't count on me... ;-) Chikara took second with a no less amazing time of 6:23. Then Gary who had passed Leigh, and Victor who was the 5th runner finishing under 7 hours (another record I believe).

After such an effort, we had the pleasure to enjoy the famous Firetrails Café, with its grill, salads, soup and abundant table of delicious desserts (I must have missed them the previous years).
Great time to catchup with the ultra running community and my teammates as Sean, Toshi and Mark arrived within the next 20 minutes. Bree won the woman race in 8:03 and Pierre-Yves finished soon after. Despite an great time of 7:37 for his first 50-miler, Toshi missed the Dick Collins Rookie award by a mere two spots.
A special tribute to all the volunteers with a collage of their pictures, from the check-in, to the aid stations, the Firetrails café and finish tables (time keeping, awards and goody bags), not to forget the famous race directors.[Click on the picture to enlarge.]
7:45 in 2006, 7:15 in 2008, 7:25 and 350 pictures in 2010, I will be back for another Firetrails party! I cannot believe that it has been only 4 years since I ran my first 50-milers, it seems much longer. My big lesson of this Saturday is that taking more than 350 pictures during a race does slow you down (if you count 2 seconds per picture, that makes almost 12 minutes, but that's probably even optimistic). But the real trick is to keep listening to your body and fueling accordingly. This I need to work on if I wish to persevere in the ultra digithon area... ;-)

By the way, it is not the first year but I heard the rumor that Ann and Carl may turn the page of this long 18-year string of race directing this race. In any case, long life to Firetrails and this Bay Area ultra running tradition, and a special occasion to thank you, Ann and Carl, for having set it up and made it live for 18 years already, in honor and memory of Dick Collins!

PS: Again, check my Picasa photo album (330 pictures) to see you favorite runner or volunteer, and many many happy faces! ;-) And I apologize to the folks from Printroom as I had decided to run this digital photo project before I knew they would also cover the event. Needless to say, their pictures will be of much higher quality so, per Ann and Carl's letter, please visit their website ( and buy a souvenir from them.


Baldwyn said...

You are such a fast blogger!!! It was refreshing to see you out there with a camera. You did a fantastic job of capturing practically everyone. Congrats on a solid run, and an amazing photo-project! Always great to see you.

Sarah Lavender Smith said...

Jean, great report -- congrats on your performance -- and great photos, too! Thanks for taking so many photos along the course. For those of you wondering about the story behind the "crazy guy" on the course, I did a writeup and posted it to facebook, describing my husband Morgan's account of forgoing his marathon to talk the guy down and get him off the course. here's the link if you're curious,!/notes/sarah-lavender-smith/my-husband-my-hero-the-story-behind-morgans-very-unusual-marathon/120177271374357
Thanks again,and great job!

AFib Runner said...

Thanks for taking the time to stop and shoot photos of us back of the packers.

Anonymous said...

...ainsi tu "cumules"..c'est incroyable mais cela doit faire des heureux!

Anonymous said...

Awesome run for just a picture day. It's incredible that you are able to do well in both the short and ultra distances so soon after Rio Del Lago 100.


Anonymous said...

Awsome post. We don't cross paths much (mostly because you are so far ahead of me ;D), so it is particularly nice to see you take the time to capture almost everyone as you ran. Lets here it for out and Backs!. Great job catching the race in your writing and especially with the camera. As you don't usually carry one, you did an awsome job.

Charles Zuckerman

Jean Pommier said...

Thanks, Baldwyn.

Sarah, wow, what a story and "running" experience for Morgan. That gave me chills...

Chikara, you were flying, congrats for the second best performance over 28 years!!!

AFib and Charles, good to see you on the trail.

Roy Harju said...

What a cool idea Jean. It shows how communal the ultra running scene is, both by your project and by the look on people's faces. It amazes me to see so many smiling faces in the middle of a 50 mile run. There are a few perflexed faces, which is understandable. I was one of the perplexed, I was slowly grinding my way uphill staring at my feet when I heard the shutter click and looked up just before I nearly ran into you! I wasn't sure if you were taking a picture of me or if I'd gotten in the way of your picture. Great day! -Roy

Dave Mackey said...

Good job on your run. So that was you who crouched down in the trail shooting happy snaps (photos in Australian).. they came out quite well. Nice run, nice report.. see you there next year.
Dave said...


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