dick collins firetrail 50 '07
I started looking for a special race to run on or around my 50th birthday and found a few marathons and a 60km trail run in New Zealand that I would like to do some day but I signed up too late. Then I found the Dick Collin’s Fire Trails 50 that was being held on my B-day (10/13) and logistically worked well with a 350 mile charity bike ride ending 5 days before. I had been running more trails and low heart rate aerobic runs during the summer and thought I could manage this although I had never run more that 26.2 in my life. I worked up to 30 mile trail runs and some back to back trail runs in the 25-27 mile range. With those tests out of the way, I signed up for the ultra figuring it would be a great challenge and a memorable way to spend my first day as a “senior runner”.
As mentioned, I rode for 5 straight days from Big Bear to Mammoth Lakes, CA about one week prior to the ultra. I have done this ride 10 years now but never have we had the high winds we experienced for 3 of the days this year. I ended up pulling (riding in front of) some of the slower riders which kept me out on the road for 7 to 8 hours a day. The good part is that I think it helped my endurance, training the body to continue grinding out the miles for many hours.
The week before the race was spent hiking in and around Yosemite and getting a few trail runs in to re-activate the running muscles. The day before the ultra it rained almost all day. I even called to RD’s (Ann and Carl Trason!) to see if the race might be cancelled because of trail conditions but the forecast was for clear skies, lots of mud and the race was still on. Ann said, “After all, it is a trail run!”
The 50 mile race started at 6:30 at the Lake Chabot marina in the dark grey of the morning. At least 250 runners were signed up for this 25th anniversary edition of the Fire Trail 50 and about 120 or so for a trail marathon being held on the same trails (the marathoners were bused to the turn around point and started their race several hours later with everyone finishing back at the marina area). The first 1.5 miles were on pavement that snaked around the lake edge .. some runners were wearing head lamps and there was just enough light to stay on the trail and avoid some large rocks that had fallen from the rain. I worked my way up to the top 20 or so since I wasn’t sure how narrow the trails were once we got off the pavement. The pace was fairly leisurely but for some reason hard to gauge in the dark. I did start to enjoy this run from the very beginning though with a light fog covering the lake and the damp coolness of the morning promising some very good conditions.
Despite the heavy rain of the day before, the vast majority of the trails were in excellent condition. Only on a few small stetches of single track and one fairly long section of fire road did the mud get thick and slick. Unfortunately in those muddy sections, the consistency was very sticky and gave you the dreaded “high heel shoes” as the layers built up and the shoes got heavier and heavier. There wasn’t much one could do but to plod along until you reached drier areas where the mud would finally ‘fling off’.
My race goals were to:
1 – finish
2 – finish under 8 hours
3 – to set the 50 AG course record (which I though was around 7:53 .. more about that later)
I set a fairly aggressive pace for the first 10 miles .. probably a little too fast but the time was about 1:25. The second 10 miles was a bit slower but also included lots more climbing and my total time at 20 was about 3:04. Around this time I started to battle a bit of fatigue. I slowed my pace and dealt with the longest stretch of mud on the fireroad. Up to that point I had been trading places back and forth with about 3 runners but they started to pull away. I retrenched, stocked up better on the next aid station and sat down to empty the stray pebbles and mud that had found their way into my shoes. From the mile 26 aid station (about 3:54 time) there was a 4 mile climb (the total elevation gain and loss was advertised as 7800′) and I started to feel better. I passed about 4 runners on the climb and continued to feel better to mile 30. It was interesting to note that I was always passing people on the climbs but usually getting passed on the descents. If the descent was mild I could keep up the speed but I was braking harder on the steep stuff with concern about blowing out my quads and knees or taking a spill. The younger runners were more fearless on the downhills but I was able to pass them on the steeper climbs and get more distance on them as time went on. I only walked on three or four short steep hills where my running speed slowed to a power walk speed. Once the steepest section was over I started running again and working my way up the food chain. Mile 30 time: 4:47.
Miles 30 to 40 went very well. The trails were beautiful and I really started enjoying the whole experience. At mile 37, pacers were allowed to join but unfortunately our own formite Yelona had a family conflict that didn’t allow her to pace me. As it worked out I tagged on to another runner/pacer combo and found out that I was in the top 10 at that point. I continued to run with these guys and talked a bit. As the terrain got steeper I pulled away. Mile 40 time: 6:24
Miles 40 to 50 also went very well. I caught the lead woman, Caren Spore who was the top female last year. She started to cramp up a bit on the hills and I passed her and another male runner. With about 10K to go I started to calculate if I could break the 50 AG course record which I thought was around 7hr53 time or a 9:23 pace. My Garmin was showing about 9:35 overall pace so it was time to turn it on. I was able to get under 8 minute pace for a few of the final miles despite some uphill sections and started to think I could do it if I could hold it together. In the final two miles I passed one more guy (on a hill of course) and sprinted in to the finish with a 7:49:03 (official time). That gave me 7th place overall and 1st place for the 50-60 age group. Although I thought I might have broken the 50-60AG course record it turns out it is 7:48:49 so I missed it by 14 seconds.
But hey, no complaints. It was an incredible day and I was extremely pleased with my results, especially considering it was my first 50 miler. The course, volunteers, organization and other runners made this a delightful event. They even had a big free BBQ at the finish with a keg of beer and it was fun to sit around and talk with the other runners afterwards.