Two weeks ago was the Ultra Race of Champions, an up and coming event with a bright future, which left me somewhat unsatisfied. My running lately is a game of race, recovery a week or so, squeeze in 3-4 weeks of moderate but quality training when possible, taper a week, race, take a week more or less off, then repeat. My experience at UROC had broken the cycle for the first time in 12 solid months, and I didn’t like it. It wasn’t that I was down on myself for DNFing; rather racing the cycle had been broken, disrupting my groovy year of racing. Injuries, train wrecks, personal disasters.. none of these had prevented me from this series of four to six weeks cycles of racing, until UROC. I had somehow fit put it all together to have a solid year (with one exception I guess). I didn't feel derailed by UROC; incomplete is a better word to describe my experience. So I’d had a couple light two weeks of running sincw, and local Firetrails 50 was coming up, so why not show up and have some fun, and try to get back in cycle again? One year ago, I'd started my unplanned 12 month race cycle at the 2010 FT 50, and in the name of completion, but not closure (as the cycle continues) I wanted to return.
The past two years at FT 50, 5 or 8 fast guys would set a typical quick pace off the start. Looking at the start list pre-race, no Chikara Omine, no Leigh Schmidt, no Gary Gellin, no Victor Ballesteros. All these top Bay Area guys had gone out fast in the past. But no one was registered who looked like they’d push things. I’d also thought maybe FT 50 would become a top national caliber 50 at some point, but that trend seemed to be reversing at Firetrails. (Come on guys! Fly out here and bust it up a bit at FT 50!). The lack of speed was actually fine with me this year; I was uncertain if I was even recovered 80% from my 30 mile DNF at UROC, and didn’t want to dig into the well too deep. Shallow it may be, I race to have fun, but I race to win most every time.
The race started mellow enough in the dark, with enough light to avoid a head torch, and chatted with perennial FTers Jonathan Gunderson and Jean Pommier, then quickly pulled away on the first hill for a self paced 47 mile run thereafter. I felt phenomenal this first half of FT, which heads out 26 miles to Lone Pine aid station to the north near Kensington behind the metropolis and suburbia of Oakland. You wouldn’t even know that you are surrounded by millions in the megalopolis which is the Bay Area. Then you reverse and return basically the same way. Yes, an out and back, but a fine one on ½ singletrack, ½ dirt roads, all tacky dirt with good push off from recent rains. I didn’t bother with bringing splits with me, as I didn’t feel like going for my old record of 6:19, and if it were going to happen, it would just happen that day. This year, it didn’t happen.. well, it half happened.
The long descent to the turnaround at Lone Pine means you pass the runners coming up from the start of the Golden Hills marathon which starts at Lone Pine. Leading the pack was Bay Area legend Leor Pantilat, closely on his heals was Boulder mountain runner and Pikes Peak marathon champion Galen Burrell. Galen is a close climbing and running buddy of mine who transplanted out to San Fran and now lives in Mill Valley, and will have a new little girl this coming spring. He won the the Rodgers Hill climb up Mt Tam a few years ago and almost broke the old record. He oozes talent, and raced with me in the Tour de Flatirons in Boulder. Galen is a class act, and so is Leor, and to see these guys duke it out made my day. Leor and Galen actually have similar fast mountain and climbing backgrounds, but Leor had the course record, and my chips were laid 50/50 for either of these monsters to take the W and a new CR..
So while those guys battled, I hit the turnaround 3 minutes faster than my course record time from last year, but the last few 500’ climbs before dropping down 1200 feet to Lone Pine felt harder than last year. My stomach was a bit queasy too, which is rare. Coming back up the climb, I felt like the octane wasn’t getting out the tank fast enough, and knew there weren’t any guys close this year as I’d seen them on the turnaround. That said, I more or less checked out on pushing the pace to make sure I didn’t go into a deficit and crash. The rest of the run then became a very pleasant trip of 20 miles back to the Lake Chabot start finish BBQ festivities, with the thought of food, family, and friends. I had one of the more pleasurable second halves of racing in a long time. It’s funny how the years of ultras and consistency has brought me to a point where a whole day of vertical trail running doesn’t make much of a dent. In fact it does the opposite, counter-intuitively making for more enjoyable productivity and time for the other things in life which are important.
Passing all the marathoners and outcoming 50 milers wasn’t too much of a problem on the narrow singletrack near Skyline aid station, which is roughly 15 miles heading out and 35 miles returning home. Everyone was fine stepping aside as I passed and I yielded to most incoming runners, feeling in no particular rush. About 4 miles to go, due to rains 2 days prior, the last aid station was moved, adding about 500 vertical, which was not a big deal and maybe made for slower times, but not by much.
The finish saw my kids and wife swarming me to give me lollipops and attention, the best finish a dad could want. 6:34 was a decent time and I met my goal of winning the race three times. I and everyone else knows that this is a pretty shallow accomplishment, as Firetrails 50 is a low key event that Carl Anderson and a bunch of other guys like Dave Scott could have won 10 times if they so chose, but Carl and Anne Trason directed FT for such a long time that supporting the running community to them was more important. Me though, I am the parasite that keeps coming back for more.
Galen and I
In the marathon, turns out Galen and Leor did indeed have a battle royale, with Galen having a top day and Leor having a very rare off day. Amazingly, Galen wasn’t even watching the clock, but broke Leor’s course record by THREE seconds, on a slightly harder course. Galen and I go way back, so our Firetrails wins made the day all the better.
Next up; I am registered for JFK 50 and TNF 50.. In 2003 I ran JFK in 5:55, having raced a 24 hour adventure race the weekend prior; I can better this time now, and it looks to be a doozy for the men's field. Quite a scary field actually. Wardian, Woods, Riddle.. all much faster than I.. on paper at least.
TNF 50 will on the other hand, be a walk in the park. Yeah. Right.