“All the memories make me want to go back there, back there –
All the memories, how can we make it back there, back there –
I want to be there again … “
-Weezer, “Memories” (video after post)
This year’s Firetrails 50 was all about memories, and paying back a couple of debts of gratitude.
Most importantly was the race itself, which has always held a special place in my heart. It was my very first 50-miler, and I was virtually intoxicated by all the joy, pain, and just plain craziness to be found in the world of ultrarunning. Two years later, it was also the site of an existential crisis about what I really wanted from this sport – and by extension, from myself – and whether or not I really had the inner fire to pursue the 100-mile ambition I had somehow latched onto several years earlier.
Since that debut Firetrails race pre-dated my website, and the existential struggle took place before I was accustomed to carrying a camera with me, I felt like I had never given this race the accolades it deserves. I have all kinds of great memories from this event, so I wanted to go back there again, giving it the proper R&R race report treatment this time around.
The second item of overdue appreciation involved the footwear I used: my VivoBarefoot Evos, which have been through the ultrarunning gauntlet with me quite a bit this year. I wore them for my ill-fated 100K this spring, and for my 50-mile night of pacing at Lake Tahoe this summer. However, each of those races had more compelling storylines than what shoes I happened to be wearing, so I purposely kept them out of the conversation – and Firetrails seemed like a great time to make up for those oversights.
So that’s how we’ll set the stage for our story: a somewhat seasoned ultrarunner revisiting one of the most meaningful events in his life, with minimal shoes and maximal gratitude. And … cue darkness:
our muddy run here last spring. Eventually you pass a couple of patches where the canyon trail loses its tree cover …
blogger extraordinaire and super-fast ultrarunner who I heard approaching me from behind, because he kept telling the guy alongside him how overweight and out of shape he’s been lately. (There are some things I really wish I could unhear.) He eventually left me in the dust, but before he did, we spent several miles talking about minimalist footwear, barefoot running, and the prospects of this small niche finding long-term success in the ultrarunning community.
Our talk was actually very similar to discussions I had with at least 4 or 5 other runners on the course at Firetrails – and I noticed one major distinction between this race and my springtime ultra in moccasins. Back then, I was greeted almost unanimously with a, Whoa! What the heck are you wearing? Why are you doing that? reaction, but last weekend it was more like, How long have you been doing that? or, How do your races now compare to those in regular shoes?, or How hard is it to adjust your running style? In other words, the whole minimalist thing seems to have gone from a freak absurdity to an intellectual curiosity, at least in my limited opinion polling. But I have to think that’s a good sign.
(Meanwhile, back at the race …)
great little 50-miler of its own …
Last time I was here, this section of the race nearly devastated me: the 4-mile climb back from the turnaround point, as the day becomes warm and the miles start to take their toll. Seeing it again a few years later – and with the mental strength gained from several more ultras under my belt – I saw it for what it is: just another long hill on another long journey on another long day. And this time around, it wasn’t nearly such a big deal.
I guess what I’ve learned over the years is that these places I fear in ultras are also the same ones I’m most thankful for later on. If the trails were flat, or gentle, or easier to conquer than I anticipated, they wouldn’t mean nearly as much afterward. So the best thing you can do is to embrace the suffering as well as the pleasure, and commit yourself to nothing other than fully experiencing the moment.
(This is getting kinda deep for an ultra report, huh? And yes, it’s getting quite lengthy. I’ll try to stay focused from now on.)
My final time was 8:57, which is virtually identical to my very first ultra here several years ago. It’s about 12 minutes slower than my PR on this course, a result that’s somewhat tough to attribute. I’m probably less fit than the last time I was here, and – although I refuse to officially acknowledge this - I’m a few years older now. You also might have noticed that I took a fair number of pictures along the way, which probably tacked on a few extra seconds here and there.
What’s more noteworthy is that the pain that I feel with the Evos – primarily foot muscle soreness and mild impact tenderness – is far better than the pain I used to have in regular shoes. I don’t get blisters anymore, I don’t have hot spots where my feet are confined within the uppers, and I don’t have callouses that rub themselves raw over the course of several hours. All things considered, my feet feel better after an ultra in Evos than they ever did in traditional shoes.
(It’s also very likely that much of this comfort and protection is thanks to my Drymax socks, which go with my minimalist footwear like peanut butter and jelly: it's like they were just made to be together. They've become mandatory accessories for me in all my ultras.)
There may some more things to say about this race at some point, but for the time being, I think I’ve said more than enough. I came back to Firetrails hoping to recapture some of the great memories I had from my early days of ultras, and to make some indelible new memories along the way. In that regard, I consider the day an overwhelming success – and I’d love to be there anytime again.
Weezer, "Memories" (click to play):
*See other race reports under tab at top of page
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