Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Dick Collins Firetrails 50: My First 50! (October 13, 2012)

Dick Collins Firetrails 50
October 13, 2012


In June, when Western States was happening, I started getting the yearning. . . the yearning to run the Western States 100.  My last big hungering was to get the California Triple Crown, riding three double centuries in a year.  I was riding my third double century of the year when the Western States race was happening.  Finishing that goal, I started yearning for another.  

Originally, the plan was to run the American River 50 next April and hopefully qualify to enter in the Western States Lottery in December 2013.  Craig teased me that there's no way I could wait that long to try to qualify for Western States.  

And next thing I know, I am looking online at upcoming 50 mile races.  I then saw the Dick Collins Firetrails 50.  It had just sold out so I jumped immediately to put myself on the wait list.  

After a month or so, I was into the race. . .

The Race


In the wee hours of the morning, Veronica and I wake up in our motel room in San Leandro.  (Veronica is running the Golden Hills marathon, her first marathon).  We get into our race gear and grab our packs and head out to Lake Chabot.  

The marathon starts later than the 50 mile race so Veronica is able to hang out with me before I start.  It is nice having her hang out with me before I start.  It is dark out so I cannot see anyone else I recognize.  I am nervous.  

After a bit, I wander to the start line.  Veronica wishes me luck as I do her.  I hope to see her out on the trail later.  The marathon is point to point whereas the 50 miler is out and back.  The 50-mile turnaround point is where the marathon starts.  

Lake Chabot to Big Bear Gate (Mile 0-10.5)

I stand at the start line in the dark with a group of other runners.  I feel nervous. 

They count down 3-2-1-GO!  Everyone starts to run.  It is dark out and we are fortunately running on pavement now.  I try to stay near another runner with a headlamp but not too close to the edge of the path.  It is cold so I have my warm warmers pulled over my hands.  

After about a mile, it is still kind of dark, I see a runner pass me that looks a lot like my friend Bill Clements.  But, I am not sure as he is much faster than me so I would expect him to be up at the front of the pack.  

We then hit a hill and most start to hike up it.  The runner that looks like Bill flies up the hill.  Oh, that is most definitely my friend Bill.  I hike up the hill as the sky is starting to lighten.  Up and up and up.  They really have you starting to climb early.  At some point, I cross a really neat looking bridge.  It was pretty in the misty morning.  There was a line of runners ahead of me and behind me so I didn't want to hold up the conga line by taking a picture.  Wish I did though.  

I continue on and feel like I am doing more climbing.  I eventually reach the first aid station around mile 3.2.  I fill up on water and continue on my way.  I run along for a bit just trying to get into the groove of things.  The trails are pretty with some lush foresty sections.  But, I look forward to getting to mile 15.  Scott and Larry will be there to greet me and it'll be nice to see some friendly faces.  

As I near mile 10, I head descend down a trail towards the aid station.  And, I hear someone yelling at me.  And, to my pleasant surprise, it is my friend Steve standing there.  I think he's saying something along the lines of giving me a hard time but I am just so happy to see a familiar face.  I run up to him and give him a hug.  

Big Bear Gate to Skyline Gate (Mile 10.5 to 15)

Seeing Steve gave me a little extra pep, I continue on my way.  I know the next aid station will have Scott and Larry and that will be good.  I trudge my way up more hills.   Though, it is pretty out here in the morning.  Some pretty views.

My stomach starts to bother me.  It is cramping a little and I feel a bit queasy.  Ugh, this is not good early in this race.  I don't feel so great.  I stop and use a bathroom I see along the trail.  I continue on, counting the miles to mile 15.  I think I will drink coke when I get there.  

I then hit an even bigger hill and hike up and up and up it.  I am not even to the toughest hills yet.  Geez!  In training, I had run from Skyline Gate out a bit so know that section but did not know this section.  It is pretty though.  Hard to believe we are just outside of Oakland.  

I am getting tired and my stomach is not feeling so great as I drag myself up the hill to Skyline Gate.  As I get close, I see Larry and Scott standing on top of the hill cheering me on.  The rest of the race will be better now as Larry and Scott will be crewing and pacing me the rest of the day.  Thank goodness!  

Skyline Gate to Steam Trains (Mile 15 to 21ish)

At Skyline Gate, I go up to the aid station.  Larry and Scott greet me and ask me how things are going and how I am feeling.  I drink some Coke hoping the carbonation will settle the stomach down.  I see some saltine crackers and grab a handful before I head out.  

While heading down the trail, I start eating the saltine crackers and I don't know what is wrong with the crackers but it is the most awful tasting thing in my mouth that I have to spit it out.  Bleh!!  Good grief, why do they taste awful?  Saltines are supposed to be a safe snack.  I toss the rest of the crackers and drink some water to wash the awful taste out of my mouth.  

I eventually start running on some beautiful single track.  My stomach is settling down, thanks to the Coke, so I am able to get back into the groove of things.  But then, I hit some more hills.  It is also starting to warm up.  I have gone up this hill a couple weeks ago.  I came out to try to run some of the course and had befriended a guy named Thomas.  He explained a lot of the course to me and told me this was the steepest hill of the day.  I trudge my way up and up the hill keeping that in mind that this should be the worst climb of my day.  It is really steep.  I almost feel like crawling up the hill.  

A lady right behind me says I am doing good.  We all drag ourselves up.  Someone comments that we are lucky that it is not muddy.  I say I would definitely be crawling if it was.  I feel like I am on the brink of crawling up the hill.  

After a bit, I finally reach the top and descend down into an aid station.  I don't see Scott or Larry.  I am a little bummed to not see them.  I snack really quickly and continue on.  I hope they realize I have passed through and make it to the next aid station.

There are more roller hills.  I run downhill and run/hike the uphills. My legs are doing okay.  The day is getting warm.  I feel myself starting to get hot so I stop to pull my visor out of my pack.  I then continue on.  There are more hills.  Now my calves are getting tired of all the climbing and the heat is not helping.

I start to see some of the marathon runners heading in the other direction.  On a tough hilly section, I hear a couple voices I recognize.  And sure enough, as I come around the bend, I see my friends Veronica and Sunny.  They are both in happy spirits and shout with joy to see me.  I am beyond excited to see them.  They give me hugs.  Such perfect timing.  I really needed a moral boost and seeing their happy smiling faces really pep me back up.  Sunny asks if I have seen Bill.  I said he should be way ahead of me.  They comment how they haven't seen him.  Hmm.  That's odd as they should have seen him.  

After we part ways, I continue running along and in not too long, I reach Steam Trains aid station.  I see an actual Steam Train (a little one) with a line of people there to ride it.  I thought it was just a randomly named location.  At the aid station, I am greeted by Scott and Larry.  They give me encouragement and say they'll see me at the turnaround.

Steam Trains to Tilden Point (21ish miles to 26 miles)

Heading out of Steam Trains, I head another big hill.  But, this one I know will get me up to a nice view of the Bay and I can see all the way to San Francisco.  I go up a hill.  Then, I run down a hill for a bit.  Then, I head up and up and up.

But then I reach the top with a beautiful view of the bay.  I can see San Francisco across the bay.  This is a beautiful sight.  I love seeing the ocean.

I remember Thomas told me from here, it is three miles downhill to the turnaround.  Then, you have climb back up those three miles.  So, I start a long three mile descent keeping in mind that I will have to go back up the hill.

I go down and down and down.  Partway down, I see a small group of people walking a bunch of big furry black dogs.  The dogs have spread out all across the trail.  I hope they move them over as I am moving at a pretty good pace going down this hill.  I squeeze around the hikers and dogs.

Down and down and down some more.  All I think about it is how hard it is going to be to go back up.  I also see various racers on their way back.  I see the racers hiking up the hill.  It does not look fun.  But, at least Larry will be with me on the way back up the hill.  Down and down and down I go.

And, finally after what seems like three long miles, I reach the turnaround.  Scott and Larry are there to greet me.  Scott gives me a cold can of Coke.  I down it.  I snack quickly.

Now, to get back to Lake Chabot....

Tilden Point to Steam Trains (Mile 26ish to 30ish)

Larry is accompanying me now as my pacer.  I tell him how things have been going for me.  I tell him this hill is going to be long but there's a pretty view at the top.  He jokes with me that he renamed our team from "team helen" to "team badass."  Larry always cracks me up.

We hike up and up and up.  I send a text message to Craig to let him know that Larry is with me now.  He sends me a sweet message encouraging me along.  I also notice a message from my friend Sean saying "let the passion carry you! lol"  I tell Larry about this comment and we have a good laugh.  A little over a week ago, at the Up and Running Again banquet dinner, they had a motivational speaker that said "PASSION!" about 1000 times.  Way over the top.  I had told Larry if he said "passion" to me while pacing me, I would kick him.

Halfway up the hill, I am getting really tired of climbing.  Larry is too.  We trudge our way up and up and up. I spot my friend Stephen as he is heading down the hill.  After a bit, Larry and I finally reach the top.  It is a nice view of the bay again.

We then have a nice mile or so descent down to Steam Trains.

Steam Trains to Skyline Gate (Mile 30ish to 37ish)

At Steam Trains, I have Larry take my hand held water bottle to empty out all the gel packets I had stuffed in there throughout the day.  Scott is there to greet us and give me some encouragement.  I snack on some potato chips and drink more Coke.

Off I go again.

We have some downhills now and I am feeling good so start picking up my pace.  I am running passing quite a bit of people now.  I am in a good running zone.  Larry is running behind me, cheering me on.  As we run along, we see Bill.  Running in the outbound direction.  He says hey and continues pass me.  Why is he going outbound?  Larry and I are confused.  Where is he going?  Did he finish and running back?  That was odd.

Then, I hit an uphill section.  My legs, especially the hamstrings and calves, are quite weary of climbing.  I can feel the strain.  I push my way up the hill.  I can sense that my legs are nearing cramping.  I think if I keep climbing like this, they are going to cramp.

I reach the aid station and pop some s-caps.  I grab some more GU and continue on up some more hills.

I look at my garmin and see that I am approaching 34 miles.  I am about to go into my longest run ever.  I feel some slight twitching in my hamstring.  I tell Larry I think I may cramp soon so I try to slow it down a little.  I grab a GU and as I am eating it and starting to run on a slight decline, my right hamstring seizes up into an utterly painful cramp.

AHHHH!!  I yelp in pain and the hand that was holding the GU clenched so hard the gel in the GU packet went flying out and onto the ground.  I drop down onto the ground clutching my thigh in utter pain.  I sit on the grown waiting for the cramp to pass.  Larry helps massage my thigh a little.

Eventually, I get up and even though we are going downhill now, I walk gingerly, hoping to not cramp again. I can feel my hamstring is rather tender.

I get down to the bottom of the steep hill and start running off and on on the single track trails.  As I run around one bend, my foot trips on a small tree branch.  I fortunately am able to catch myself from fully falling but when I caught myself, both my leg muscles tightened and nearly cramped again.  My legs are in a lot of pain.  Ugh, that hurt.  It might have hurt less to have just fallen.

I continue along just counting the miles to 37.  Scott will be there.  Larry is getting tired.  We are not talking much.  We are just trudging our way to the next aid station.  I just need to get to Scott.  Scott will get me to the finish.  And, Thomas said the last 13 miles is not so bad.  Most of the climbing will be done.

I am running along and Larry says he'll catch up to me.  He disappears for a bit.  I look at my watch.  I am behind the time I expected.  Those hills really slowed me down.  But, I am running okay now so continue along.  I am not sure what is happening with Larry but we are almost to the aid station and Scott will be there to take over.

Finally, we come around the last bend where I can see Skyline Gate.

I head up to the aid station.  I hear Larry and Scott talking to each other.  Larry updates him that I had been cramping.  I thank Larry for pacing me to this point.  He says he'll see me at the finish.

Skyline Gate to Big Bear Gate (Mile 37ish to 41ish)

Scott and I head out of Skyline Gate and continue down a hill.  We run together and I tell him how the day has been going.  He tells me I am doing great.  We talk about the trails out here and how nice they are.  I am getting pretty tired now and my legs are achy but it helps to have Scott chit chatting with me.

I am enjoying running with Scott for a bit.  Then, we start climbing a hill again.  Ugh.  I am so done with going up hills.  My climbing legs are worn out.  Scott helps encourage me along and I just keep one foot in front of another.

I am so tired.  I send an update to Craig to let him know where I am and knowing he'll be sending me good thoughts.  I place my hand over my pocket feeling the necklace that Craig gave me.  Since Craig could not be at my race due to school, he gave me a necklace engraved with "The only place I want to be is where you are -Love Craig."  He gave it to me so I could have him with me on my first 50 mile race.  I put it in my pocket since I normally do not wear necklaces while running.  Every so often, I pat my pocket knowing it's there.  Right now, I think about Craig.

We eventually start running down the hill and into the aid station.  Steve is there with a sign or flag, yelling something at Scott and me.  I am really tired that I am not quite processing what he's saying.  Scott and Steve talk to each other as I walk up to the aid station table.

A guy offers me chicken noodle soup.  I take the cup and drink the chicken broth.  It tastes so good.

Big Bear Gate to Bort Meadows (Mile 41ish to 44ish)

Scott and I continue along.  I run some, I walk some.  Having some slight downhills is helpful now.  We kind of shuffle along when I can.  Scott continues chatting with me about stuff I cannot remember but it is helping keeping me going.  Scott also reminds me that we are in single digit territory, our favorite part of these long races.

I find it hard to believe I have been out here all day and I am still going.

After what seems to be awhile, we reach another aid station.  I see a pizza box sitting on a table by the aid station.  Seeing this, I immediately hunger for pizza.  I walk up to the pizza box and open up the top and see some combination pizza.  Looks so good.  I grab a slice and start eating away.  As I am eating the pizza, I realize that they were cutting the pizza slices into smaller pieces to put on the aid station table.  Oops.  Oh well.

Scott turns to see me eating a big slice of pizza.  He laughs at me saying he was looking at the food to see if he could get me to eat anything.  He thought he might have to force food down me but I tell him I have no lost of appetite.  I did not realize I was hungry until I saw the pizza.  And, the pizza tastes great right now.  Some good solid real food!  It is after all getting close to dinner time.

Bort Meadows to Lake Chabot (Mile 44ish to 50)

After finishing the pizza, we continue on our way to the finish.  Scott is paying close attention to the time, knowing that I want to finish under 11 hours and get a Western States qualifier.  He is pushing me to run more than walk.  I am running okay when it is downhill or flat but I can only hike up the hills.   Fortunately, there are less hills than there were earlier in the race.

I continue along and just get so tired.  I want to walk and not sure I want to get under 11 hours so much right now.  I am tired.  Scott reminds me that there are a lot of people rooting for me.  He reminds me of all of our friends supporting me and believe in me.  And, he is right.  I need to do this.  I go as best as I can.

A few more miles to go.  Scott and I see a guy giving a kid a piggy back ride.  Scott says he will not be doing the same.  This makes me chuckle, at least in my head.  Scott starts to urge me even more to run and that we are getting close.  I want to walk but he's telling me to run.  Ugh.

A couple miles to go, we pass a guy that tells us that we are getting close.  Need to push it to finish under 11 hours.  I run and shuffle along.  Fortunately, this is a downhill section so I am able to run easily.  We hit a roller and I want to walk up the incline but Scott is pushing me to run.  Argh.  Oh, my feet hurt and I am tired.

A mile to go, we run pass a couple girls walking on the side of the trail.  They say hi to Scott.  Scott's garmin beeps and he says "just one more mile Helen!"  One of the girls in a very peppy voice starts to sing "Helen, Helen, Helen, Helen" in an attempt to cheer me on.  But, I am 49 miles in and I am in no mood.  I hold up my hand with the handheld bottle and say "Shut up!"  She immediately stops.  I feel a little bad that I came off rather bitchy then but I am 49 miles into a 50 mile race and hope she understands.

We continue along and I grumpily ask Scott, how much farther?!?  He says half a mile.  Ugh!  Too far.  He continues to urge me to keep going and that I am almost there.

Then, I hear a crowd of people.  I hear the cheering of the finish line.  I pick up my pace.  Then, I see it, the finish line.  And, I give whatever I have left for my final sprint to the finish line!

DONE!  Under 11 hours.  Got me a Western States qualifier!

Official chip time: 10:52:33


After the race, I am greeted by some of my running friends.  This makes me teary eyed.  They tell me I did it!     I am so happy to see them there!  Such great running friends I have!  My friends Susan and Theresa drove all the way from Sacramento area just to cheer on me and our other friends.  Scott and Larry were great in taking care of me throughout the day.

I see Veronica, who has finished her first marathon.  She said it was tough but she did it.  I am very proud of her!  She also updates me on some of our other friends who had done the marathon.

I then finally get to sit as some friends get me some food.  I am given a pretty nice, warm finisher's jacket too!  A well-earned jacket!

As I am sitting for a bit, I see Bill run into the finish line.  I am very confused as to what exactly happened to him.  He eventually comes over and tells us the story of his day.  He fell and got a bad cut about 16-17 miles in.  He pulled out of the race at mile 18.  He went to the ER to get stitched up and bandaged.  As he was driving home, he didn't like having quit the race so he re-entered the race where he had dropped off.  And, finished the 50 mile race (with a 3 hour hospital break in between).  This would explain why I saw him going outbound at mile 30.  And, he is so fast that he finished not too long after me.

Eventually, Craig makes it out to the finish too.  He tells me how proud he is of me and knew I could do it.

And, I am happy with the day.  It was tough during some parts but sense of accomplishment and the endorphin high after it all is why I love doing these crazy things.  :)


Thank you NorCal Ultras for putting on a fantastic event!  The event was organized very well and the support excellent.  I LOVE my finisher's jacket.  My favorite jacket.

Thank you to all the volunteers!  You are an important part of making a great event happen.  Special thanks to James Barstad and Steve Godfrey for volunteering and being out there.  Good seeing you guys and thanks for the support!

Thank you Thomas for explaining the course to me before the race!  I hope to see you sometime in the future!  Congrats on another Dick Collins Firetrails 50 finish!

Thank you Susan and Theresa for driving all the way from Sacramento just to cheer me and the other runners on.  You gals are amazing friends!

Thank you David, Veronica, and Sunny!  Congrats on your marathon finish!  It was good seeing you out on the trails partway through.  Veronica and Sunny, you two definitely lifted my spirits when I needed it.  And, extra thanks to Veronica for driving me out there and sharing the room with me the night before as well as being at the finish line when I came though!

Thanks Bill for your advice!  Congrats to you today!  You are a crazy one to leave a race to go to the ER and then return and finish it!

Thank you Craig for all your support in my crazy endeavors and for putting the idea into my head in the first place or at least helping the idea grow.  I love you and know I can always rely on you to send me great encouraging messages throughout the day to help me get through my crazy adventures.  And, the necklace you got me was with me the whole day really meant a lot to me.  A very special gift.  Thank you!

And biggest thanks of all to Scott Engquist and Larry Bertrand for being the best crew and pacers a girl running 50 miles could ask for.  You guys did a great job taking care of me, cheering me on and keeping me company.  I would not have finished as well as I had without you guys.  THANK YOU!!!

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