This past Saturday, I ran my last race before the tapering down, the Dick Collins' Firetrails 50miler. Coming on the back of three successive weekends of 45miles of pacing in RDL, 47 miles at the Grand Canyon and some 18 odd miles on a hot day in Chicago, I was sure this would be slow, it would be hard (7800 ft. gain and drop in a series of hills on an out-and-back course), and I would definitely hurt. The course elevation map tells a good story of its own --
All that prompted me to take the 6AM early start as opposed to the regular 6:30AM start. There were two cutoffs, 6hr:15min to the turnaround in Berkeley's Tilden Park at Mile26, and the finish at 13hrs. The early start gave me a 30min buffer to push the Mile26 cutoff until 6:45.
The course is easily the most beautiful one I've run in California. It starts from Lake Chabot park, goes through some gorgeous single trails, running into a rather large grove of Redwood trees. From there onto a ridge which offered splendid views of the mouth of the San Francisco bay -- the city and its bridges; and then roll into Berkeley's Tilden Park. Couple of days of heavy rain had removed all the dry dust and rendered the course soft, leaving only a handful few patches of slushy bog.
I ran the first stretch with Marianne chatting about this and that, and she told me what it feels to run 100s and about her experiences with WS100 this year. Still concerned about the cutoffs, at the sight of the first bit of serious downhill I took off and pushed the pace. Its been a long time since I've pushed the pace on trails; throw in the hills, and the fatigue from the the past three weeks, and my legs were in completely new territory and promptly made noise. On the climb into the Mile15 aid-station I realised that I needed to take more salt than usual, and also eat more. Stopped for a goodish bit there and feasted on the watermelons while chatting with Carol (who was among the vols manning the aid-station). Carol saw my red Asha shirt and promptly said 'Hey you are Rajeev's friend' (Rajeev, Anil and self had met her during the night at RDL) . Then she said 'Tell Rajeev I'm missing him. The course is awfully quiet today'.
Much refreshed after the break there, pushed onward towards the cut-off and made it in 6hrs. Additional 15minutes buffer added to the 30 from the early start, I thought, deserved a good break. Promptly took a long break at the Mile26 aid-station. More watermelons, more chattering with the vols, the picnic lasted a good 10minutes. The return was a good deal easier. Found a second wind at the Mile30 aid-station and ran the next 14miles barring the hills. Met Eldrith with 5miles to go, and ran with her for a while and managed to run into the finish in 12hr:26min (11:56 on the clock).
Saw a lot of familiar faces on this run. Met Chihping twice, once when he overtook me and once again when I was a little distance away from the turnaround. Somewhere around mile 11 or so, someone came up from behind me on a single-track and I was letting him go ahead, the runner turned around and said you are keeping a very good pace and I looked up and saw that was Chihping. The man is indefatigable! The other high point was meeting Helen Klein. Helen had come down to run this race, and was also taking the early 6AM start.
In all, it was an awesome day. A most beautiful course, extraordinary set of volunteers, and super organization from Ann Trason, this race is easily the best I've seen since moving here to California. If I'm not running this next year, I'm most certainly volunteering here. The rewards were pretty good too. A rather nice 25th anniversary jacket, an inscribed wine glass, plus a running shirt, to round off one long day of fun and joy.