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Dick Collins Firetrails 50 - RunUltra Marathon

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Castro Valley, California
United States
Total Time = 9h 11m 58s
Overall Rank = 44/159
Age Group = M40-49
Age Group Rank = 10/34
Pre-race routine:

Short background: the first 50 miler I attempted was last December, the North Face Endurance Challenge championship race which was a hilly (9500+' elevation) course. It ended with a DNF for me at mile 44 due to tendinitis on my left shin area. This year, I had a very busy tri season and a couple injuries and health issues so I didn't quite get to maintain my running as I had hoped, but was in reasonable marathon shape. I did the Santa Cruz Mountains 50K 2 weeks prior to this race as prep for this race. I did well at that race (1st in AG!) although my quads were pretty well trashed afterward due to a lack of hill training on my part.

Thursday night was a long work night until 3am so I was a bit groggy on friday having only had a few hours sleep. Not ideal rest taper before a race, but c'est la vie.

Since the race had an early 6:30AM start, DW and I stayed at the Castro Valley Inn, which was the most inexpensive place listed in the lodging listings on the race site. The place wasn't much about which to write home, but it was clean and was fine given that I'd only be there for less than 9 hours...

Alarms set for 5:05, 5:10, and 5:15. We performed our nightly ablutions and then it's time to bag some zzzz's. 5:05 alarm goes off and I turn it off. 5:15 goes off and I mostly ignore it, but sit up so I don't fall asleep. 5:15 alarm never went off, but I was up already. I turn on the heater because it's pretty cold in the room, which likely means is pretty cold outside.

I make the hot water for the coffee, more Kenya AA roasted at home (also brought some half and half from home). I eat a clif bar for breakfast. DW slowly rises from the dead. I decide to wear my team Zoot/Gu tri top (handy to have pockets). Over this I wear my patagonia long sleeve capilene (a very nice race shirt from the SF One Day last year). I put on a wind breaker and sweats in the interim. I put Body Glide on my feet and use my Asics running socks (I think these came with my Newtons).

I put 4 Gus (vanilla, espresso, and the new vanilla orange and blueberry pomegranate roctane flavors) into my water bottle pack. I fill my water bottle with cold water and citrus Cytomax. I prep my race belt with my bib. I pack my drop bag (which will be brought to the turnaround aid station at mile 26) with the same set of Gus as I'm carrying, a change of socks, body glide, a couple energy bars, and 2 bottles of ensure (one chocolate and one vanilla), and my sunglasses. I did forget to bring a cap this time though.

At 5:45AM, we head out the door. I had the directions printed from Google Maps. We start heading out and it's only supposed to be about 6 miles away, but the directions I've printed are odd. The last three directions don't mention street names, just to veer left and then turn left. We seem to be getting up into a remote area, but we don't really see any other cars around (with 175 registered, would expect to see quite a few). We're climbing up, up, up and the car beeps when the temperature gauge dips to near freezing. Yow. Didn't expect it to be that cold. We keep driving on, but it's seems like we are lost. The directions I printed were based on the google maps marker that was on the race site, but there was no street address associated. We decide to turn around.

It takes us some time to drive back down again. I'm starting to stress a little bit. Fortunately, I remember seeing a sign that said Lake Chabot so we go back there and go that direction. We eventually hit Lake Chabot Drive and turn onto that. In less than a mile, we find the entrance to the Marina where there are a lot of cars. We pull into the parking lot ($5 parking fee) and it's very close to 6:30AM.

I slip off my sweats and wind breaker and grab my drop bag and follow others I see to what I assume is the race start area. I check in and they tell me the runners may have already started, but I can see them. I kiss DW and drop off my special needs bag and head over to the other runners. Just a couple seconds before I get there, the race starts!
  • 9h 11m 58s
  • 50 miles
  • 11m 02s  min/mile

Here's the elevation profile for the race. 7800' of elevation gain which I suppose is fairly moderate(?) for a 50 miler.

Thanks to my late start, I'm dead flat last at this point, but that's okay. It's almost pitch black outside but a few of the runners have headlamps or flashlights, so I'm able to follow them. The first stretch of the run is on the paved path along the lake. I slowly move up through the pack. I'm struck by what an unusual and unique bunch we all are - we're all here at 6:30am in the dark starting a 50 mile run. I have to admit that at moments I'm even a little intimidated knowing how much more experienced most of the other runners here are than I am.

The weather is just about right for the long sleeve Capilene shirt I'm wearing. It's cool out, but not cold and not much breeze. Eventually the sun starts to rise and we are treated to some beautiful views of the lake. We cross a wooden suspension bridge single file. Then we start on the fire roads.

At this point, I'm still warming up. I've been taking a relaxed pace so I'm feeling good. We hit our first hill and all of us are walking. For those of you who don't do ultras, there is a lot of walking involved in doing them. It's a long day of effort and trying to run the big uphills just isn't worth it. interestingly, my background before I started tris or running was hiking and backpacking so this is very enjoyable for me. It's almost funny in a way because the hardest stretches, the uphills, are actually an opportunity to take a bit of a walk break. Works for me!

I can see the course is well marked with pink ribbons at frequent intervals and flour on the course that shows turns and blocks off incorrect turns at intersections. These would be a bit of a lifeline for me later in the race when I'm mentally fatigued and running solo.

I'm surprised at how I make up time on some of others just walking the uphills. I feel good so I also start running when I'm almost at the top of the hills. On one hill, there's a 50-ish guy walking next to me wearing an M-dot visor and I start chatting with him. He says he's done almost all the (U.S.) IMs and says LP is was his favorite. he's been doing ultras now though for a few years. His name is W and he is from Carlsbad (and he'll be doing Oceanside next year too). There's a long legged 60ish guy who we pass on the uphills, but he passes us on the downhills. I run with W for several miles, but I eventually leave W behind on an uphill stretch. I certainly enjoyed his company.

There are some valley on the trail where it is quite cool, but my exertion and the lightweight long sleeve shirt I'm wearing are fine (hands get cold though). I'm slowly passing folks and I'm also surprised at how many folks I pass at the aid stations. At each aid station, I refill my water bottle (the volunteers are great), grab a few bites to eat (usually salted potatoes) and grab some food to run with (potato chips, piece of sandwich or granola bar, etc.). This doesn't take very long, but others seem to spend a bit more time there.

After the aid station at MacDonald Gate (mile 10.5), there' a little uphill and then some downhill in the woods. I pass a couple guys here. After the short downhill, I feel a sharp sting on my right calf, near my achilles tendon. I see something yellow buzzing around me. I feel some another sharp sting. I'm running like a madman and trying to brush off my clothes, but I'm still being chased. I keep running and think I'm in the clear and receive another sting. Up ahead, I see a pair of runners and the woman shrieks. I run up and ask if she got stung too and she says yes. She says I have a bunch of them on my back and on my shorts and to stand still so she can brush them off. I thank her. She says they got stung last year and the stings itched for days afterward. All in all, I received 4 stings, one on my left hip at the beltline, two near my right armpit, and the one on right calf which is the most painful. So much for an idyllic run in the woods, although the trails truly are wonderful.

At some point, we start to see runners from the marathon event (there is a trail marathon that starts at our turnaround point and runs back to the start) headed towards us on the trail. They're differentiated by the green numbers on their bibs. They are flying which isn't surprising given that these are the lead runners, they're running downhill, and we're already almost 20 miles into our run and they're only in their first 7 or 8. We cheer each of the marathon runners on and they cheer us on.

I hanging with a runner named J for awhile. She's from Ashland, Oregon with a group of 6 who came down to race including Hal Koerner who WON the Western States 100 last year (WOW!).

There's a guy in a yellow shirt and a woman in a pink top that I leapfrog with on the trail every so often and would do so for quite a long time. It's up for awhile and I pass several people along this stretch. It's warmed up a bit so I've taken off my long sleeve shirt and tied it around my waist. Now we're getting into Tilden and I know I've hiked these trails before. At the Steam Trains aid station, I refuel and load up a bit. DW said she'd meet me here, but I don't see her so I take off.

We're on the roads for a little bit as we wind up and then it's down. And then down, down, down from about mile 22 to the turnaround at mile 26. Fortunately, the downhill is not too steep, so I'm not getting beat up too badly (I love the uphills, but don't enjoy the pounding on the downhills). There are 50 miler racers headed up already. Wow. I cheer each of them on. One of them is RG from my tri club. He's definitely in top 10 or so. Awesome.

I finally arrive at the Lone Oak aid station at mile 26. Cool. I just basically ran a trail marathon and now I get to turnaround and run another one (almost).

Picture of me coming into the Lone Oak aid station.

I grab my drop bag. I stash my long sleeve shirt. I drink one of my Ensures. I go ahead and change my socks. I restock my Gus. I drink my other Ensure. I grab some food at the table. I thank all of the volunteers and then I'm on my way again. Uphill. For the next 4 miles.

There's a young female racer in a striped tank top who's walking ahead of me and I soon pass her (and as it turns out we'll pretty much keep in sight of each other for the next 24 miles).

Now, I'm going up and I cheer the other racers who are on their way down. I try to race without ego, but I have to admit it feels good to know I'm ahead of these other racers (at least for the time being).

Up, up, up. I catch up to J who must have taken a brief stop at the turnaround aid station. She asks how I'm doing and I say I feel surprisingly well (considering I've only done one other ultra this year and have done no hill training). I ask her how she's doing and she says not great beacuse of stomach issues. I wish her well and continue onward. I see M, a racer who I met and ran with at a couple of the ultras I did last year, on his way down and I say hi (he was wearing the same long sleeve shirt that I previously had on from a race last year).

My right knee is starting to bother me on the downhills. I was hoping to not have to take any vitamin i (i.e. ibuprofen), but I take 2.

I can see yellow shirt and pink shirt a ways ahead of me. Things are going pretty well for me and when I arrive back at the Steam Trains aid station (mile 30.3), DW is there and she jumps up and cheers me on. I kiss her and she tells me I'm looking strong and I feel quite strong still. We go over to the aid table. I grab a little food and drink and then I'm off. DW runs aside me for a about 50 feet until I get to the trailhead and then says she'll see me at the finish.

It's a downhill stretch. I see yellow shirt and pink shirt down below ahead of me. My right knee is starting to bother me so I'm not enjoying this and I have to ease up on the steeper downhill sections.

As I get close to the next aid station, I'm closing on yellow shirt. I have to stop at the port-o-potty before the aid station. When I arrive at the aid station, they're cheering me one. I grab the usual food and drinks, but there is a volunteer here offering slices of grilled cheese sandwich. Wow. I haven't one of those in ages. It's made with white bread, american "cheese" and butter, things of which I don't eat much, but boy was that good.

It's downhill from here. It's steep so my knee is really hurting on these and I really have to slow down and just walk and even step gingerly on some steep rough sections. I pass yellow shirt since he's stopped by the side of fire road draining the lizard.

These downhills have really slowed me and I get passed by several people, a guy in a blue shirt, a woman with white and lime green, the young woman in the striped tank top (who I passed on the way up after mile 26), an older guy walking with a younger woman chatting. I'm a little worried. I always though my strong aerobic base was my competitive advantage, but it appears as though I've been slowing, even on the uphills, although honestly my muscles feel okay. I'm worried that my knee will stop me or that I'll continue with a continual gradual decline in my pace. I know I could probably walk the rest and still make the cutoff, but I'm still feeling prideful enough to want to run.

As I continue along, I start to catch a glimpse of striped tank top. On the uphills, I gain on her, but she takes off on the downhills. She keeps looking back to see where I am. If she sees me running up on a section she walked, she starts to run again. I don't have my ego wrapped up in this to feel I have to speed up to pass her, but if she slows up, I will end up passing her. At some point the ibuprofen kicked in well enough so the knee doesn't seem to be bothering me much anymore.

When I get to the McDonald Gate aid station (mile 41.5), DW surprises me there and it's a very pleasant surprise. She also bought some Jamba Juice Ready To Drink smoothie and I happily chug it. Quick stop at the aid table and I'm off again.

At some point, i'm running with another guy. He's running his first 50-miler, but he's been doing 50Ks for years. He's had a litany of woes (stomach, bonk, cramps, etc.). he seems over it because we're pacing together well. We run for awhile, but when he decides to take an extra stop at an extra aid station (for the marathoners), I keep going on. Yellow shirt, who had been pacing behind us, also decides to stop at the aid station.

Now I go past the section where I was stung before, but no stinging this time (whew!). On the climbs, I continue to get within a stone's throw of striped tank top, but on the downhills, she always pulls way ahead.

I'm still passing some of the marathon runners who have been walking the race or running slowly.

I'm running along for awhile. On the trail, there's a guy walking a dog asking what race this is. i tell him it's a 50-mile trail race. He says "You're running 50 miles?!?" Gotta love it. I pass a couple guys on this stretch.

The trails are great and remind me so much of when I used to hike and backpack. At the last aid station, i walk the last 25 ft. to it and a few runners come up behind me. Yow. Where did they come from. This includes yellow shirt and some other guys. I do my normal quick stop here, but they must have lingered awhile because I never saw them again.

The last stretch was continuously yo-yoing with striped tank top. On the hills, I'd almost catch up to her and on the downhill, I'd pass her. I suppose I could have pushed and tried to pass her (and she was definitely worried about that the whole rest of the way since she kept looking back to see where I was), but that wasn't the point for me. My goal was to race my race and not modify it because of how others were doing.

Eventually, I end up back at the path at the lake. This time we're going the short way around. I run with another guy for a little bit, but pass him. I pass some marathoners finishing up. I'm still yo-yoing with striped tank top. Once the path becomes asphalt, there are actually some mileage markers back to what I assume is the marina where we started. it says 1.75. Getting close. I feel pretty good. I keep going along and then 1.50 passes. Then 1.25. I think it was just after .75, DW is there in her running gear. She tells me I'm looking pretty strong and she runs with me back to the finish. It's nice to run with her, esp. here at the finish.

I can see the spectators. There's a path of cones to the finish line. I speed up a bit. The spectators are cheering and I finish in 9:11:something.
Post race
Warm down:

I wanted to say congrats to the young woman in the striped tank top who finished in front of me, but she was occupied with her friends. The volunteers at the finish check my number and gave me my goody bag which included a tech t-shirt, a nice New Balance finisher's jacket, a wine glass, a copy of trail runner magazine, and some other smaller items. DW joined me and we headed over to the BBQ area.

Post race BBQ food was great and available for friends and family. I started with a burger (yum) and some pasta salad and some pickles. This was followed by a salmon burger and some corn. They also had chicken and sausages, but I was getting too full at that point. RG from my tri club came over and we chatted a bit. He finished in under 8 hours (wow!) and was the 8th finisher.

I saw some of the other guys I met along the course finish. DW and I hung out in the sun near the finish line and cheered others as they came in.

What limited your ability to perform faster:

I'm very happy with how I did at this race. I did minimal hill training and only did my first ultra this year 2 weeks prior. Jumping up from 50K to 50 miles is a big one (19 more miles!). I wasn't sure how it would go, but I was very very pleased at how well my body handled it. I think my strong aerobic base from all my ironman training helped a lot. I think my previous background in hiking helped too. My first level goal was to finish. My second level goal was to beat 10 hours, which I did. My third level goal would have been to break 9 hours, but I don't want to be greedy!

Last updated: 2008-09-26 12:00 AM
09:11:58 | 50 miles | 11m 02s  min/mile
Age Group: 10/34
Overall: 44/159
Course: Out-and-back course; mostly along the legendary East Bay Skyline National Trail; fireroads and single track with gorgeous views of San Francisco and Mt. Diablo. Three miles of pavement. 7,800 feet of climb. Be prepared for any condition. Can be hot, perfect, or cold and raining. In previous years race week has included the following: fire, earthquake, flood, and stock market crash.
Keeping cool Drinking
Post race
Weight change: %
Mental exertion [1-5]
Physical exertion [1-5]
Good race?
Course challenge
Events on-time?
Lots of volunteers?
Plenty of drinks?
Post race activities:
Race evaluation [1-5]

2008-10-15 11:45 AM

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San Francisco
Subject: Collins Firetrails 50

2008-10-15 12:07 PM
in reply to: #1744268

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Chelmsford, Massachusetts
Subject: RE: Collins Firetrails 50
Wow, that was a great read!  Congrats!  That's also a hell of a time for that much gain.  Awesome job man, welcome to the world of 50 mile finishers!!    Nice work! 
2008-10-15 1:39 PM
in reply to: #1744268

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Goodyear, AZ
Subject: RE: Collins Firetrails 50

Congrats on another exceptional race! The pictures are awesome- you look like you are having fun!

Looks like all the injuries/health issues are well and truly behind you with 2 amazing races lately. Well done

2008-10-15 3:16 PM
in reply to: #1744268

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The Redlands, FL
Subject: RE: Collins Firetrails 50

Excellent Race even your knee problems!!!

Great Race Report!!!


2008-10-15 5:10 PM
in reply to: #1744268

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Subject: RE: Collins Firetrails 50
Man, that is a sweet time on a hard course. I've run most of those trails in the East Bay Triple Cown races, and they are TOUGH.

2008-10-15 5:30 PM
in reply to: #1744268

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Berkeley, Calif.
Subject: RE: Collins Firetrails 50
Fantastic race! That's such an impressive time with all those hills and knee problems (I'm so glad that resolved itself). And another fascinating race report -- I can't believe how much you remember from your races.

I love hiking all over those trails and I've often fantasized about running them, but never quite find the time. I wish I'd realized you were racing -- I would've come out to watch for sure.

2008-10-16 8:06 AM
in reply to: #1744268

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Subject: RE: Collins Firetrails 50
Great race and RR!!  Congrats on doing so well... 9:11 is a great time!
2008-10-16 8:33 AM
in reply to: #1744268

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Extreme Veteran
Bend, OR
Subject: RE: Collins Firetrails 50
You never seize to amaze!  Congrats!!
2008-10-16 9:42 AM
in reply to: #1744268

Subject: ...
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2008-10-16 6:25 PM
in reply to: #1744268

Modesto, California
Subject: RE: Collins Firetrails 50
Awesome Donato, I hope I can do one of these some day! I use your race reports like some sort of refrence library, keep it up!
2008-10-16 8:16 PM
in reply to: #1744268

Subject: RE: Collins Firetrails 50
Awesome race, grilled cheese was definitely worth it.

2008-10-18 7:49 PM
in reply to: #1744268

Mishicot, Wisconsin
Subject: RE: Collins Firetrails 50
You are amazing.  You are my hero.  Can I have your endurance for the next year?
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