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Firetrails 50

(note: I’m working on my TDG report, but it’s slow … it was a big thing, and there’s lots to put together …)

Originally I was going to skip FT because I am on-call for work, but I figure I could just bring my laptop and in the unlikely case of getting paged, whip it out … I figured that wouldn’t happen.

Saturday morning 3:30am …. I wake up surprisingly ok, and figure maybe my cold isn’t so bad. I take some sudafed just in case, since my nose is still a bit stuffy. After putting my bladder in my race pack I start to have doubts though – this is REALLY heavy (I weighed it afterwards – 13 lbs! Mostly laptop and water – need smaller bladder!). But there’s no turning back now … I head up to SF, pick up Danni and Cheryl, who both don’t look particularly happy or awake, and we head to the start, trying to find some coffee for them along the way, which only succeeds at a gas station. At the start there are tons of familiar faces, people ranging from great friends to good acquaintances to runners who’ve run with me and remembered me (unfortunately that is not the case the other way around, most often).
With my ridiculous pack (most people have one or two bottles), people already look at me with curious expressions, and I prepare myself to do a lot of explaining. I am on-call. It’s a full-size laptop. Yeah it is heavy. No, Google won’t let me use a netbook. I repeat those words very often. Sometimes I just say “it’s good training”.
The early miles are going fairy well – the straps of my pack cut into my shoulders, but it doesn’t feel too much like a burden yet, except for the stares and questions I get, but I presume I was asking for it. Early attempts to keep up with Steve don’t hold, and I learned that everytime I do that (in a shorter race) I end up paying a terrible price anyways.
We soon climb up on a ridge, and the views are beautiful – lakes and hills to the east, with Mount Diablo standing not-to-tall but prominently in the landscape, and hints of San Francisco and the peninsula to the west. The early morning light is beautiful, and it will be a perfect running day – not too hot, and not a cloud in the sky. It may not be as high and mountainous as some other places, but there is definitely something special about this place.
The run has a lot of flat runnable sections – which makes the uphills unexpectedly steep, not what I expected from the 8000 ft gain over 50 miles. Still, my legs are doing ok, yet early on I feel I should not push it too hard, as when I hit my limit I feel a bit strangely affected, like on my run with Steve earlier this week, maybe still an effect of my cold. We hit a section of surprisingly nice singletrack, and climb up through a trail on a watershed, which is basically untouched.
I don’t really expect to be paged during this run – the only instability in our system was changed to page only during business hours, since it wasn’t really important – or at least I thought it was. However, as we near the top of the watershed, I receive the dreaded text message. And then three more. The system then issues a call by “telebot” that lets me at least acknowledge the page (which prevents it from going to my backup) – however instead of calling me in sequence, it calls me in parallel, with me ending up with calls on hold and a generally confused phone mess. Once I get through this, I find a log, break out my laptop connect it to the phone, and log on to work. The process is slow and arduous, especially with the limited speed data connection of my phone. People pass me in disbelief “I thought you were full of shit!”, “Updating your facebook status?”, “Can I send an e-mail?” as I impatiently try to set the paging system to ignore the bogus pages. I am almost there … and the connection drops. I change my phone into a different mode, and hold it up for better reception with my arm stretched out to the sky, laptop on my lap … someone snaps a picture. I look around, and it is surreal. I am in a race, and the time loss feels like a rubber band being constantly stretched, causing increasing tension, I am in a beautiful place, I am at work, all at the same time. I laugh, and continue … I have to reboot the laptop since the dropped connection caused the system to lock up, and start over again, but it is so slow I am not getting anywhere. Craig passes, then Danni, and finally I just give up, close the laptop, put it back in my pack, and move on, leaving this place as if nothing ever happened, just a log besides the trail. I send an e-mail requesting the pages to be silenced, answer the daily test page, and carry on, hoping to catch Danni.
A bit further I finally do, and I slow my pace and we chat. Danni is in a bad mood, she says “I don’t want to be here, I could be somewhere beautiful!”. I give her a hard time for making me miss Montana in general and a particular part of it especially even more, and soon we hit a trail with a full-on view of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands and the bay filled with sailboats, far away, and even Danni has to admit that it is spectacular. I am smiling at the views, happy to be out here and able to experience it. She tells me she’s glad Jill likes me because she thinks we’re both cool people, which is awesome because it’s rare people call me cool (apart from the much much bigger awesomeness of Jill liking me, of course). That’s about when we hit the final downhill before the turnaround, and I pull away and run. In the second half, I keep overtaking people because I feel both strong and am a bit behind the runners that would usually be about my speed. My feet, which had hurt basically since the start, keep hurting in more places, and I am pretty glad I decided not to do Javelina. I need a break. Lots of people are impressed by my ability to run with this huge pack … towards the finish I even catch up with a number of people I’ve run with before I took the break, which makes me feel good. I run for a while with Craig to listen to his crazy stories, until I pull away on a downhill. After mile 35, I pass a grove, and almost think I am hallucinating – there is a small wedding party. But they’re there, surrounded by trees, and the late afternoon light is perfect and the scene looks quite beautiful. I slow, try to be quiet, and the contract of me being in the race with the event is – again – surreal, two seemingly completely disconnected strands of life, brought together in this place.
In the end, I even overtake Jochen, another friend of mine who would usually be closer to 9 hours but is having a hard time, which gives me some speed and I put in a strong final 6 miles to the finish. My shoulders hurt, my back aches, my feet burn, but I am totally and utterly happy, at least given you cannot be there, which would of course have been great.
After we’re done, have beer, eat, talk with lots of friends, we drive to the city, shower, and go to the Fairmont. The tonga room makes us wait, and the music is very 80s?, which strikes me as odd, since I have a completely different picture in mind. The people going in seem older, and I wonder. When we enter, it’s a very cheesy bar, with a live band (which is admittedly pretty good at what they play) in a movable tikki hut, a dancefloor surrounded by real ship’s sails and relics, and the strangest mix of dressed up older and younger people, some of them on the dancefloor being in various states of seriousness about their dancing (Steve later tells me the Tonga room is famous for exactly its cheesiness). The menu shows overpriced same-sounding drinks, we order two, which turn out to taste like overly sweet fruit juice, which Danni claims is ok to have after an ultra. I have very little since I need to drive and just watch people in amazement, I just can’t figure quite out what they are doing here, and why. Danni and Cheryl laugh about various things including a friend of theirs who is into Jesus-kitsch, which makes the whole scene even stranger, and for some reason I start to feel a bit uneasy, the memory of the run tainted a bit, and I wish I could be out there again. It makes me wonder though why I couldn’t find the same enjoyment in this as Danni does, who obviously thinks it’s extremely hilarious, but also says it makes her happy. I should ask her about this sometimes. I ponder if this is a deficit on my part or if I should like my reaction, when we decide to leave …

1 comment to Firetrails 50

  • Danni

    That was a really fun race. A lot of odd things make me happy and I find many things hilarious that no one else does. I guess that’s what makes me me!