Monday, October 11, 2010

Dick Collins Firetrails Fifty Race Report

The Dick Collins' Firetrails Fifty was my first 50 mile race. Just like my first marathon and my first 50k, I entered the race not really knowing what to expect. I had been training really well and had fully tapered for the first time in a long time, so I was confident in my abilities. However, considering the fact that this was 19 miles more than I had ever run at one time, I was definately a little nervous going in. The good thing about this race being my first 50 miler was the course profile. After mile 32 or so, the course was a net 1600 ft downhill, and after mile 43, it was basically all downhill.

Before the race, I had read some race reports of other runners who had run Dick Collins. Other than simply getting me pumped up for the race, I gathered a few things during the race that helped me. Hopefully this blog entry can do the same for future Dick Collins runners. One of the things I picked up was the idea of printing out and taping the course altitude profile to my waterbottle. I did this, and found it to be really helpful. Obviously, the course is known for the giant hill at mile 26. For the rest of the course though, it was nice to be able to anticipate the uphills and downhils.
The few days before the race I had a ton of carbs as usual, but this time I stayed away from grains. Growing up a swimmer, we had "pasta feeds" before every big meet. Recently, I have found myself having problems with pasta and other carb sources with gluten. I don't think I am fully gluten intolerant, but I think there is something there. It is bad enough for a 2 minute race in the pool, but any sort of digestive issues can be bad news when you are running for hours. I mainly stuck with sweet potatoes and rice for my carboload. I was able to go to the bathroom the morning before the race, and had no problems during the race. Anyone that knows me knows that having to use the bathroom during a race is one of my biggest fears.
I left my house with my parents at 5am, and arrived at the start around 5:30. After checking in and talking to a few other friends at the check-in area, we moved to the start. It was still pretty dark but just light enough to not need a flashlight. The first 2-3 miles of the race are on roads, and are pretty flat. I started the race going out at a comfortable pace. The top guys took off pretty fast, and I wasnt really worried about staying with them. If nothing else, I wanted to run my own race for the first aid station or two before I started thinking about splits. The first hill is at mile 3ish. Honestly, I thought this was the hardest hill of the race. Maybe it was becuase I wasn't quite warmed up enough, or maybe it was just because it was extremely steep. Whatever the reason, I found myself walking and getting passed up the hill. I really felt terrible at this point, and my legs felt really heavy. This was the first time I wore compression socks in a race. I had run with them before, but never before in a race. During the first 5-6 miles, the socks felt awful. I though about taking them off at the turnaround, and remember being concerned about how it would cost me a few minutes. Thankfully, my legs started to feel better and the socks felt good the rest of the way. At mile 6 or so, I really started to get into a groove. It was finally light out and there was a nice cool breeze. The next 10 miles (6-16) were probably my favorite part of the race. It was also at mile 6 that the guy in front of me decided to go to the bathroom. He stopped to pee on the side of the trail and was walking while he was peeing. I guess forward progress is forward progress.

I had given my parents estimated times for when I would be at each aid station. They drove from aid station to aid station, and it was nice to see them throughout the race. Another nice thing about ultras as opposed to road marathons are that it is much easier for people to find you during the race. The Aid Stations tended to be at staging areas that had plenty of parking. Not to mention the length of the race gave them plenty of time to see me but also go grab some coffee and not be too rushed.

After the aid station at big bear, the course gets a little technical for a little bit. It is a narrow single track with roots and rocks. That lasts a mile or two. Mile 12 until the Skyline aid station at mile 15 are fast. This is in Redwood park, and the trails are wide, soft, and shady. The last mile before Skyline is a slight uphill, but it isnt very steep and isnt bad. Once you get to the Skyline aid station, you are exposed to sun for the first time in the race. You come out of the trees and it is a sudden increase in temperature. There are some rolling hills until mile 20, when there is another really steep hill. For me, this was the second toughest hill of the race. I started second guessing myself at this point, and thought that maybe I had gone out too fast. It wasn't until the way back that I realized how steep it actually was.

The next aid station was at mile 21.7. I ran into my friend Brett Rivers who reminded me to take my salts. In my last 50k, I cramped up during the last few miles of the race. I hadn't taken enough salt, so I was aware of my salt intake this time around. For the first 2 aid stations, I didn't stop and just drank the sports drink I use. After that I pretty much did the same thing at every aid station: Refill with sports drink, take 2 salt caps, eat a few boiled potatoes with salt, and eat a few bananas. At the aid stations that didn't have peeled bananas, I went with watermelon. At about half the aid stations, I also grabbed a gel which I took at some point before the next aid station. I took the gels right before the major hills in the course. Since I used gels with caffeine, it was nice to get that kick before the hill.

The huge downill from miles 22-26 was awesome. It was around this time that the marathon runners were passing me going the other way. (There is also a marathon that starts at the turnaround and runs basically the second half of the course). I got to the turnaround at 3:42. I had left my drop bag, but ended up not needing it. I turned around and began the 4 mile climb back to the Steam Trains aid station. Going into the race, I was really dreading this part. During the race, however, it wasn't really that bad. Part of it was that I knew once I got to the top, the hard part was done. Also, although it was a long climb, it wasn't really that steep for the most part.

Miles 32-42 were my worst part of the race. Physically I was in good shape. My feet and legs felt fine. Mentally though, I started to break down. I began asking myself why I was doing this to myself, and told myself that I wasn't going to run another 50 miler ever again. These thoughts quickly disappeared once I got to Bort Meadows. From there, it was basically a road race. 5.9 miles of downhill/flat running. I don't know where it came from, but I got a second wind here and basically started sprinting. The last few miles of the race are back on roads, and I was flying. My last mile was at about 7 minute pace, and considering that I had run 49 miles before that, I was surprising myself.

Coming around the corner and seeing the finish line was an amazing moment. I was extremely proud of what I had just achieved, but more than anything, I was excited to finally be done! I crossed the finish line in 10th place overall with a time of 7:33.06. My goal before the race was to break 8 hours, so I was really happy with my time. I ended up winning the Dick Collins Award for the fastest rookie (first time 50 miler). Going into the race, I had thought about taking a break from running after this race. However, my time, and the way I finished the race were a real confidence boost. I feel like I am in the best running shape of my life, and I am excited to see what else I can do. I don't know if a 100k or even a 100 miler is in the near future, but I am committed to running a 100 miler at some point in my life. The main thing keeping me going is that I find ultra running fun. I have met some great people during my brief career as a trail/ultra runner. More importantly though, I like seeing how hard I can push myself.

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