With a few weeks since our successful "Running For The Wells" run in the Headlands (click the photos link below), it’s time to return to racing. Tomorrow is the Dick Collins’ Firetrails 50. The race is an out and back course held in the East Bay up here in Northern California. It’s a favorite of veterans and rookies alike for its nice mix of extremely runnable single-track and fire roads, as well as some challenge climbs as you work your way from the valley by Lake Chabot all the way to Skyline Gate and the Tilden Park area ridgeline. The race is scheduled on the same weekend as Fleet Week in the San Francisco Bay, meaning runners can also expect loud fly-bys by the Blue Angels as well as reasonably warm early October weather (typically Indian Summer here).
In developing a plan for this race, I started with a friend and fellow ultrarunner Rick Gaston’s 2008 race as a baseline. While I spent last year’s race pacing a friend of mine through her first 50, Rick was racing it. His running style of waiting it out early before turning it on late is definitely one to be mimicked, reflecting the patience and discipline that for me was part of my own relatively successful race at Badwater this year. However, the 50 mile distance is a much quicker race which challenges me because it is much closer to the marathon as far as that feeling of always “needing” to be in motion. After that, I went lower, looking at times that seemed to be good approximation of stretch goals. I took the splits from one performance in particular out to the course itself on some key segments to see how they felt to me and to give myself an approximation of where I needed to be on the course (away from aid stations) at various times. After a couple of extremely solid runs, I came up with this: a 7:25 goal for the race.
Since many trail courses aren’t the evened out, flat-ish races expected out on the roads, it leaves many of us in the dark about what we should expect of ourselves. This is particularly true when we race a course for the first time. We have relative expectations based on elevation profiles, but the option to run on a course is not always available for a more accurate representation of our capabilities. Having run on the course over the past couple weeks, I really honed in on whether this was even possible in my shorter runs out there in comparison to previous racers. Throwing away all the placings from previous years (which are more a product of who shows up and in what condition they’re in), I wanted a goal that will stretch me and cause me to work hard. With Javelina 100 in 3 weeks, I have the perfect opportunity to race as hard as I want without compromising that race. With CIM on 12/6, I have the perfect opportunity to continue add strength and endurance to the speed I’ve been working on during my weekly tempo/speed workouts.
Races are a great opportunity to stretch ourselves, particularly because their competitive nature tends to bring about a higher level of performance that can rarely be duplicated in the sterile, solitary capsules we often train within. For me, I’m looking forward to a course PR, killer training for the 100, and a good indicator that the speed and mental stamina is there to take it all the way at CIM to big PR. For all the other runners out there, I wish you the best in going after your own goals on that course. At minimum, we’ll all have some great weather to do it in.
Photos: "Running For The Wells"