Saturday, October 13, 2007

Early Halloween Horrors at Firetrails 50

Halloween's supposed to be on the 31st, but this year the digits were reversed. This year it came on the 13th, when I had my moment of pure terror, running scared shi*less, at my latest race, Firetrails 50.

Which starts and ends here:

Lake Chabot from Live Oak Trail, 2 days earlier, without the darkness and fog of race morning.


I approached the race originally just wanting to have a nice aided run through a beautiful scenic place, the East Bay hills this time, and hang out and be social afterwards, and then get a short ride home to boot. No type-A competitive goals. My right knee was barely better from Rio del Lago 3 weeks earlier, and I doubted my ability to recover enough to run a fast race. I didn't need any more PAUSATF points. We still had our newborn. I just wanted a nice run, and to not make any injuries any worse. So even when I screwed up my taper by a 2 hour run only 3 days before the race, I didn't get all worked up about it. Whatevah...nothing to piss in my pants over....
Whatevah my ass.
After the RD's made the final update of the registered runners list on the website, I went through it again, and made note of who was in and who was not, particularly the fastest runners from last year. Not signed up this year:
  • Chikara Omine (1st)-- skipping ultras this year to concentrate on shorter distances
  • Robert Evans (2nd)-- saving himself for Javelina Jundred, wanting his first good 100 miler
  • Jean Pommier (3rd)-- can't remember his alibi-- running real fast in France or on a business trip or something.
I came in 4th last year, but obviously didn't think I had much of a chance to win, since both Michael Buchanan (3-time winner of Helen Klein 50 mile, won Quad Dipsea last fall) and Victor Ballesteros (2nd to Buchanan at Quad Dipsea) were coming and much faster than I (12th at Quad dipsea, 24 minutes back). Not a problem. But maybe 3rd place. So I went through the list looking for threats, regardless that no awards are given for 3rd place overall:
  • Jonathan Kimura--came right after me at Quad Dipsea last year. In his 20's, so not an award-threat. First 50-miler.
  • Adam Ray--don't really know, but noticing he's my age and the name sounded familiar, I punched him into Gary Wang's website, revealing that 2 years ago he finished in 7:39:05, less than a minute more than I took last year. He's been assigned bib #3.
  • Ron Gutierrez--been racing more this year than last, and starting to beat me. In fact, this year he edged me at Skyline, and a few weeks later retook me at the end of Headlands 50. Also my age.
Plus there could -always be some sub 2:30 marathoner doing his first ultra, or some really fast runner returning from a hiatus. (Both would turn out to be the case).


Morning of the race, I wake up before 4, not intentionally. On camping pads on the floor of my toddler's room, where I usually sleep since my younger child was born last month. Can't get back to sleep. Figure I should eat something. Go do that. Putz around. Finally, have that urge to dump. So I'm on the can, trying to relax and read about Sonoma wines and have this large loose bowel movement. It's highly nasty. I'm feeling a little queasy and apprehensive that maybe I'll have GI problems again. I wait to see if I can force more out and then I hear this wailing from upstairs--my toddler. Crap, he's awake! He's woken up, finds no daddy there and is frightened. I wipe quickly, wash my hands, and bolt upstairs, I guess not flushing as I wasn't really done and I'm a desperate hurry to quiet him before he wakes up my wife and newborn. Luckily with a hug and whispered reassurings, this time he gets calm. I bring him to my bed (on which I haven't slept in weeks) where his mommy is sleeping, with baby brother in the crib.

Luckily, before leaving, I remembered to go back and flush. (Yay, Daddy!)


So last year I ran much of the first third of the race with Robert Evans and Jean Pommier. I kept thinking I was going too fast, as I was more out of breath than they, but it was nice chatting it up. At Skyline aid station (last year mile 16.7 due to the different routing), both of them took off and I gave up trying to keep up. I then wondered if my going out too fast hurt me in the long run.

Michael Kanning looking relieved in more ways than one.

This year I talk the most during the first 2 miles with 15-year-old Michael Kanning, who mentions a few times that he is probably is going too fast since he is keeping up with me. I figure he is trying to get in the cross country race he's missing at the beginning of this ultra. Maybe because he's with me, and because a bunch of runners dart of the hill ahead of me, I don't feel like I'm going too fast, but at the first aid station at the top of the Lone Oak Trail climb, I'm a minute ahead of last year. Too fast!

Jennifer (an ultrarunner herself who was volunteering on the trails) & Adam Ray

On the gradual down-sloped Brandon Trail, I recover a bit, but manage to pass Adam Ray, on my list of rivals, and do so fast enough that we don't talk much, and then catch up with Kevin Rumon, who wasn't on my list. He ran this race 10 years ago, and took several years off to childrear, returning with a very strong 4:30-something at Headlands 50k in August, faster than I. I tell him he must be really fast, which he denies, but I realize "fast" is all relative. We run pretty much together through the flat part of Brandon trail. When I find out he is 46, I tell him his age-graded performance is killing mine. I spend less time at the Bort Meadow aid station, and bolt ahead up the hill. He quickly catches up, running more than I and leaves me behind. So much for age group 1st place and extended race chat.

Kevin Rumon, with dork runner #153

Approaching Skyline (mile 15.0), Ron Gutierrez catches up with me. He must've run way ahead the first uphill in the Lake Chabot part, but I can't remember when I passed him. I compliment him, as he's a rookie to the 50-mile distance. At the aid station 2006 Western States winner Graham Cooper fills up my bottle. I catch up with Ron turning into the single-track. He pushes the pace, but I'm able to stay close downhill. But I have to work. Once the trail slopes up approaching Sibley (mile 18.4), Ron, an excellent climber runs, and I have to walk. I start regretting my choice of route for a hike on Thursday. I convinced my wife to do a hilly 4 mile loop from the Willowview golf course at the east end of Chabot, and I would push the baby stroller the whole way. No running, but it was actually a workout and I could feel it on the climbs.

On the first bridge crossed during the race's 2nd mile, during a "leisurely" hike 2 days earlier.
By the time I've finished the climb, I can't even see Ron. I later see him cresting the huge hill on the way to Steam Trains (mile 21.7), looking strong and several minutes ahead. So much for age group 2nd place.
The descent to the turnaround (mile 26) is back to the original 4.3 miles, after last year's shorter 2.6. It's also coated with that mud making your feet 5 pounds each, more than some earlier stretches. The first-place guy comes back and I don't recognize him at all, since I've never heard of Jeremy Redding. Then Victor Ballesteros. Then Michael Buchanan. Then (I think) Kevin Rumon and Ron Gutierrez. "Way to go, you dusted me, man," I tell Ron.

Victor Ballesteros and his proud girlfriend (forgot to get her name). He actually got off course and lost 5 minutes, but was able to overtake Redding during the last 2 miles for the win, 40+ minutes faster than me

After I final reach the turnaround, I calculate both Ron and Kevin have put a gap of almost 10 minutes on me. My time is 3:45, only 2 minutes faster than last year--all that time I cut at the beginning's been lost. Then, as I started the long ascent, Adam Ray is less than 2 minutes behind. Wow, maybe I won't even get 3rd place for division. But no cause for despair, just constant effort, greet all the runners coming the other way.

John Souza & Jon Olsen

So, Jon Olsen is has been driving from aid station the next, supporting his friend John Souza, who is luckily fairly fast, so I see Jon each time also, and he serves as my intelligence crew and coach, and I stop referring to my little paper of splits from last year. At Sibley (mile 33.6), Jon tells me there are 3 guys ahead of me running together about 7 minutes ahead, looking worse, and especially Michael Buchanan is slowing down. I'm thinking whatever, but try to push the pace a bit, less to catch up with anyone, but maybe more to stay ahead of Adam Ray, who was only 2-3 minutes behind me at the turnaround commenting on the suckiness of the muddy trail as he descended.
At Skyline (mile 37), Jon tells me I'm gaining on them, I'm 5 minutes back. And by the way, Buchanan's just dropped.
Okay, so without trashing myself, I'm gaining 2-3 minutes per split. If and only if I keep it up, things might actually get interesting. Redwood Park's a treat coming back, a long gentle downhill. I start trying to push. The marathon course veers off and joins our course. I catch up with Kevin Rumon on the small up and won right before Macdonald gate (mile 41.5). I'm not overly eager to pass on the single track, but he lets me pass and doesn't give any chase. Coming into the aid station, Jon Olsen tells me Ron's only 2 1/2 minutes ahead. "He's looking bad...You got'm!" I'm actually getting pumped up, but don't expect too much since half the stretch is an uphill climb, and Ron climbs well. Also, I imagine Jon doesn't know that Ron leans a little to the right when he runs because of some cervical spine trauma he had years ago, which makes him look worse than he really is, as well as makes the level at which he competes quite impressive. I manage to empty my bladder, remembering my failure to do so on the uphill at Skyline 50k. On the downhill, I finally catch site of my last target. As I run into Bort Meadow (mile 44.1), Jon's all excited, "You did it" like it's a done deal," but I immediately tell him, "Dude, the race is not over until it's over." As I grab a gel and hand over my bottle, Ron takes off.
Okay, so usually when you start gaining on someone, steadily, like I have been doing the since the turnaround, you expect to be able to pass the next guy and continue.
Not this guy. He speeds up. I at least am out of breath but we chat a bit.
Ron tells me "I told you you might catch up with me." But he says this not with any hint of defeat.

I tell him if he beats me, he totally deserves it. I wait for him to slow down and let off. He doesn't. Instead he goes faster. Pretty soon, I'm breathing really hard. Panting. He's sounds like he's breathing even harder and faster, so I figure that he should poop out first. Poop out, damnit! The trail is wide and flat. A few times we switch the lead. It's starting to get painful. I'm aware that I'm almost at my max, and that I'm not sure I can keep this up the rest of the race, aware that at any moment some muscle might spasm, or that I might start to puke, or simply bonk. And he hasn't let off. A marathoner or the shorter race looks back and sees us approaching, says we look good, but instead of the usual pleasant reply, we both can barely and barrel by. We both see the transition to the single track by the Stone Bridge coming and we both lurch to get there first--luckily I make it.

I figure if I'm going to lose him, this would be the best time, being single track, and taking some comfort that at least I know this trail, even knowing where the big puddle from the rain should be. I don't look back. I no longer hear his breathing. I run out of the forest and the aid station (mile 47) is right there. "What do you want in your bottle," a volunteer cheerfully asks. I'm a raving lunatic. "No, nothing... (pant)...wait...(pant) coke" which I carry out and chug and snarf and drop my cup. I am as rude as I am incoherent and delirious.

I look back to see if Ron is coming out of the trees but probably don't look long enough to register an image, and I think I might have actually lost him. I sprint out maybe a hundred yards until this short, but steep hill leading up to the 1.3 mile stretch of Bass Cove firetrail which leading to the 1.8 paved path to the finish. I can only walk up it, then at the top, look back down. To my fright and horror, Ron's at the bottom starting up, leaning to the right, bobbing his head, grimacing, threatening. HE WON'T STOP! He's one of those zombies from Night of the Living Dead. Or Jason from Halloween, when he gets up after Jamie Lee Curtis thinks she's killed him.

Anger. Dismay. Horror. Fear. Panic. I waste about 0.13 seconds uttering some expletive, maybe "Holy F***ING Sh**!" and bolt, convinced that no, he won't stop, he will never stop, and I have to run as hard as I can to the finish, even if it kills me. It's a 5k: 1.3 miles up and down fireroad, another 1.8 of pavement. I start feeling pain with each stride on my left metatarsal (the ball of my foot) with all the pounding, but it's all theoretical. Maybe stress fracture or THE BOOGEYMAN?
The paved path is filled with hikers taking their leisurely stroll, as I come through moaning with each breath and looking back at each bend expecting to see Gutierrez closing in. On the last downhill, there are what I guess are 3 Buddhist nuns, one doesn't register my "On the right" and I almost bowl one over, but luckily don't. It would've been very bad karma. Still, I must've startled about 1/2 of the people on the paved trail. Finally I'm at the boat house and with my final look back, I turn the corner to the finish, and sprint in, but not a whole lot faster than I've already been running for the last 6 frickin miles.
Crossing that line to applause and a 7:24:08 on the clock (a 14-minute PR), I am happy just to be alive. I am much happier to have finally beat Ron, who ends up human and not monster not even a minute behind, barely enough time for me to catch my breath.
Okay, I'm not telling you the full truth to appear more gentlemanly. What I'm REALLY thinking as I cross the line: Yes YES YYYYE-E-E-ESSSS!!! Finally beat you, you fu**ing S.O.B.!!!!!!

Not nice, but he WAS supposed to let me pass...

Author and Ron Gutierrez, no longer trying to kill each other. Ron set a new rookie age-group record, by the way. If you think about it, his "experience-graded performance" trounced're one tough cookie, Ron!

I am so darn happy, I put myself in half the photos on my camera, and look like a dork in most of them! But I'm still so happy almost a week out as I try to finish this blog before the race is more distant history than it already is, that I don't care!

Only later do I learn that I ran the last 6 miles from Bort Meadow to the finish in 46 minutes, 5 1/2 minutes faster than I did last year. Almost 1 minute per mile faster. And last year, I thought I was "running scared" that the guy behind me would catch up. I guess I didn't REALLY know fear...

Thanks to all the volunteers, especially those at the last aid station (sorry!)

It's so cool to have ultrarunning legends who still hold the course records as your race directors.

Dorky-looking me with wine bottle, and Ann Trason, dog and Carl Andersen. I couldn't find the dog's record time, but I know s/he's FAST.

More photos to follow (but whenever I import a photo it totally screws up my formatting--can anyone tell me how not to?).
Links to other blogged race-reports (will update as I discover and read them--worked 2 long hard shifts and then was on a work retreat and lacked web access):

Great race swag, including Marmot windjacket, Race Ready tech T-shirt, wine glass; plus division awards of INOV-8 socks and cap, bottle of wine (pictured earlier), and wine glass charm, plus master's winner award of a (most appropriate for the horror theme) Zombie Runner $25 gift certificate (last 2 not pictured). The best (dumbest?) thing was that Ron probably got most of the same stuff, including another baby this year.