Monday, October 10, 2011

Firetrails 50: all stars aligned

No two ultras are alike, that's why many of us, ultra runners. are so addicted to this sport. The course, the terrain, the cumulative elevation, the distance, the weather, the competition, the organization, the size of the field, the aid stations, running with a pacer or not, having a crew or running self-supported, these are a few of the variables. So many stars to align, it's like playing the lottery, you have to keep trying!

With all my travels (Anchorage, Alaska a week ago, Seattle this week and now in the Middle East for two weeks), the only positive thing I did going into this race was tapering. Seattle, and Issaquah in particular, are actually great trail running places, if you don't mind the rain, but I refrain from running any mile this past week. Yet, I was stressed out by the lack of sleep and felt compelled to add to Tim Long's pre-race comments that I had the same excuses as Mark not to perform well (overworked and sleep deprivation in particular). Furthermore, I was stunned when I saw that Dave Mackey had decided to run the race and enter at the last minute. Certainly, having won the past two editions and set a course record last year in 6:19.
We started promptly at 6:30 after listening to Julie (Fingar)'s Race Director briefing. It was still quite dark and a few runners were using headlamps but the first two miles are on a bike path, so it was manageable to run without. Jonathan Gunderson and I were at the front and we were quickly joined by Dave. Dave engaged the conversation in French, which he learned a while ago when he was studying in Maine. We chatted for a while and, as we were approaching the first mile mark, I told Dave I didn't want to slow him down, that he had a course record to work on! Jonathan followed Dave while we engaged into the first hill. One tall and bold runner passed me and followed them. While we were still on the bike path, Chris (Calzetta) caught up with me. If you follow my blog, you will remember my run with Chris at Skyline 50K this August, from start to finish. Chris lives in Monterey and will join our Quick Silver Ultra Running Team for the 2012 season. Speaking of QSURT, we had an amazing participation this weekend with 15 entrants, almost the whole team!

After the first aid station at which we didn't stop, we were joined for a few miles by Sean Curry whom I had met at a Quick Silver training run in San Jose this Spring. It was Sean's first 50-miler and he was therefore running for the Dick Collins Rookie award, although not so hopeful as he had seen in the registrants list many fast runners being rookies at this distance too. Sean was running in Five Fingers and without any bottle which was quite aggressive on a trail 50-mile. Sean ended up running in 8 hours and 8 minutes for 22nd.

We passed Jonathan shortly after Bort Meadow, the 2nd aid station. Going up and down to Big Bear with Chris brought up the good memories of Skyline 50K as this section is common to both races. We passed a few of the early started, some of them calling my name as we were flying in the steep downhill. We then caught up with the tall and bold runner after the Big Bear aid station and chatted before he stopped at the restrooms we pass by when going through the redwoods, one of my favorite sections. Michael Garrison was coming from Honolulu, just for the race, having flown on Friday evening and leaving on Sunday. Arriving into Big Bear Gate aid station, photo credit to Gary Saxton:

Jonathan and Michael passed us again as we were refilling our bottles at Skyline Gate. Jonathan had a very efficient crew (father?) who was allowing him not to stop at aid stations. We passed Michael very close to the aid station as, dazzled by the sun, he had missed the turn and was going to continue on Skyline back to the start... And Chris and I caught up with Jonathan again before the next aid station where he passed us again, before we passed him on the way up to Steam Train. As we were approaching the road crossing, I believe I saw Dave a mile away at a point where we passed 8 minutes later. I thought it was too short of a lead and our pace was way too fast if we were so close to Dave, although it seemed right. We refueled at Steam Train and continued on Skyline to enjoy the wonderful 360-degree view from Mount Diablo on the right to foggy San Francisco on the left. That's where we started crossing the Golden Hills marathoners who had started from our turn around at 9 am. As usual, the race was led by Leor, although I was surprised to see another runner quite close to him in second place in this challenging uphill section. Uphill for the marathoners, downhill for us until the turn around. It was great to get the cheering of the runners we were crossing. As we were approaching the turn around, it was our turn to cross path with Dave. We did as we were 3 hours and 18 minutes in our run and I made a mental note of the spot to check how much lead he had on us.

We did a good stop at the turn around to refuel before the long climb up to Steam Train. Before leaving I told Graham (Cooper, who was supposed to run but had to attend his kids' soccer game later that morning) that I believed Dave was not going to make the record but he thought otherwise. I also saw Garry (Gellin) who is recovering from his great 100-mile debut at the Bear 100 two weeks ago. We then crossed all the other 50-mile runners, jogging most of the uphill with me walking from time to time to catch my breath, to make up for the 18-year gap between Chris and I... Another short stop at Steam Train and down we were, keeping crossing runners. Shortly after the aid station, Chris was ahead and asked me if I wanted to pass; a fraction of a second of inattention on my end in this technical section and, yikes, I felt flat on the ground, sliding on my left arm and leg. It went so fast but I could see my head approaching a rock and I was fortunate to stop just before hitting it, phew! My knee was bleeding and I had other bruises on the shoulder and thigh, but no big shock. The most damage was scratches on the glass of my GPS. This is my second real fall in 27,000 miles I ran over the past 13 years, the first one being at Quad Dipsea a couple of years ago, with no other damage than scratches on another GPS... (Quad Dipsea 2009: chasing too many turkeys...)

We crossed Chuck Wilson who was sweeping on the 50-miler, less than a mile from the Sibley Park aid station. Another short stop and I took the lead on the way down into the canyon with Chris leading on the way up to Skyline Gate. We reached the aid station in 5:08 with about 14 miles to go. We stayed for a minute or so (I took some chicken noodle soup which was great at this point of the race) and we rushed down, picking up the pace, getting our average pace down from bout 8:50 to 8:35 in the next 5 miles, back through the redwoods.

With 2.2 miles to Big Bear, we didn't stop at the small aid station. At this point we were passing quite a few of the marathoners. After a short stop at Big Bear, we went on the last big and serious uphill of the day, the hill which we ran all the way at Skyline 50K. Today though, I had to stop several times to catch my breath but Chris shuffled to wait for me. We crossed Baldwyn who took this picture of me during one of these power walking moments.
After the top, we picked the pace again and didn't stop at Bort Meadows as our goal was to make it under 7:15, my PR of three years ago. Stan Jensen was recording all the bib numbers and thought Chris was my pacer! We passed local runner Christine (Chapon) in the next flat section and she joked that it was insane we were running faster than marathoners. ;-) By the way, Christine is in charge of recruiting volunteers for the North Face challenge at Marin Headlands in December, so please consider helping out (more details online). The last section was changed this year because of the recent weather which washed the trail out so we had to climb up to Pirate Cove which was ok although I, again, had to walk a few times. At the aid station the volunteer (in their cool Pirates outfits) told us there were 4.5 miles to the finish and we had about 30 minutes. Fortunately, the next mile was mainly downhill and we ran it pretty fast, keeping a good pace too in the final miles along Chabot Lake. As we were approaching the finish area, I told Chris it was his turn to cross the line first, which he refused. We crossed in the same second, me staying just behind, happy to take third today in 7:02:55, slashing my PR on this course by almost 13 minutes! Not bad for 50 miles with about 9,200 feet of cumulative elevation. A big thank to Chris for the mutual pacing and emulation. With this first Firetrails under his belt, Chris can now aim at a sub 7 and chasing Dave more aggressively next time, he definitely has the potential!
Dave took first of course but, experiencing some stomach issues and lacking serious competition to push the envelope, ran slower than last year with a 6:34. Yet, that makes three wins in a row. Galen Burrell won the marathon. He passed Leor at mile 11 and, not feeling well, Leor dropped at mile 20. Leor won the past 4 editions in 3:19, 3:16, 3:15 and 3:06:39 last year. Galen improved Leor's course record by mere 3 seconds! Here are Dave and Galen:
Thanks to co-Race Director and UltraSignup founder and owner, Mark Gilligan, results were promptly posted online:
Great BBQ at the finish, amazing finisher schwag and custom age group awards, with the perfect weather and NorCal Ultras' super professional organization, it was the perfect ultra party for all.
Toshi took 5th in 7:28 Pierre-Yves placed 8th with a 7:39 PR. Fearing not to make the top 10 for the first time in many years, Mark placed 12th indeed. Bree lost some time after going of course and took 3rd overall.
Vespa worked very well again. I took 5 GUs, a few pieces of banana and brownies, and some chips, but not much overall, plus one small cup of soup. I stayed right on target on the GU2) with one bottle every 15 miles. I could (read: should) have drunk more water to avoid a few cramps. Took a bit more S!Caps to be on the safe side after my crash at Rio Del Lago, although the temperature was just perfect this Saturday.

As for the shoes, I had not heard about the rain which washed the trails out last week while I was in Seattle and took a big risk running in the brand new light and flat PureConnect but it worked perfectly too (see my review of this model). Jonathan was wearing the PureGrit which are ideally designed for the trails with more grip.
A big thank you to the volunteers who included many familiar faces, many experience ultra runners which is a great plus. I had my first 50 mile here, taking the Rookie award in 2006, what 5 years that has been. I felt I knew 1 runner out of 3 or 4, it is becoming so familiar to run these local races. It was my 4th Fire Trails, 16th 50-miler and 65th ultra. And one of my most enjoyable experience, the perfect alignment of stars that you keeping running after... The ultra bug...

Although I didn't run with my camera like I did last year (the ultra digithon), you can find a few pictures from the finish in my Picasa album.

I wrote this post on a 15-hour flight, talk to you next time from somewhere in the Middle East, hoping to get some runs in, and some heat training at least which I'll save for next year (just kidding...)!

PS: ran 9 miles on Sunday morning before my flight, and a half marathon at midnight upon getting into Dubai (86F/30C and 66% humidity...): the ultra season goes on!


Footfeathers said...

Congratulations on a BIG PR! You're one speedy guy. Great job, Jean.

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Great run, Jean! And only two falls--wow! I'm curious to see when you start slowing down. Enjoy the desert heat!

Scott Dunlap said...

Wow, great job! You keep coming back from your tough races with exceptional performances! And such a gentleman too.

Anonymous said...

Bravo, Jean, mais pincement au coeur (en lisant) au moment de ta chute!
Bonne continuation

Sarah Lavender Smith said...

Whoa, a PR in the midst of all your work and travel? How?? Seriously, I'd love tips on how you get in quality long runs with the schedule you maintain. Big congratulations to you, and thanks for your report!

Jannick Kjaer said...

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