Sunday, October 12, 2008

Firetrails 50M, Friendship and a Ghazal

A chilly and shivery morning it was;
Of the nice day ahead no warning it was.

The first few miles were run in the pre-dawn dark;
Then came the hills up which slow ambling it was.

Stories told. Hearts opening. Caring expressed.
In Firetrails a lot of bonding it was.

Narrow paths. Two-way traffic. Breathless slow climbs.
The cutoff. A wee bit worrying it was.

Then the ridge was attained. Then the hearts were thrilled.
Sky. Mountains. Sea. Such wondrous viewing it was.

The way back through a nest of yellowjackets.
Twice stung. Ah! How excruciating it was.

Hand in hand in hand across the Finish line.
Of teamwork such a poignant showing it was.

So, Rajeev, you will be back again next year:
Your heart has deemed that sublime running it was.

Date : October 11, 2008
Race : Dick Collins Firetrails 50M
Location: Castro Valley, CA
Time : 12:16:47
Race Pictures: Click here.

Friendship we all know about. If you are an ultra runner the Firetrails 50M is a race you have either run or heard of. What is a ghazal you will ask?

More information about it on

The rules of this wonderful poetic form can be summed up as:
(a) It is formed of couplets
(b) All couplets must have the same meter
(c) The first couplet of the ghazal and the second line of every other couplet must end with the same a word/words. This is known as the radif of the ghazal.
(d) The radif must be preceded by the kaafiya or rhyme of the ghazal.
(e) Optionally the last couplet may contain the name of the poet.

My ghazal above has 11 syllables in each line. The radif is "it was" and the rhyming words are warning, ambling, bonding ...

That was your 60 second primer on the Indo-Arabic-Persian poetic form known as the ghazal.

Now onto the race itself.

(With Bonnelle and Donn)

Martin Casado, a fellow Ultraholic, parked his car outside Anu's home which is where I had been staying since Wednesday. We set off around 4:45 a.m. and soon picked up another Ultraholic, Sean Lang, from the Saratoga library parking lot.

Our drive up to Castro Valley was interrupted by a much needed stop in the Starbucks in Milpitas. We reached the race parking lot with ample time to spare. It was cold and I was regretting the thin, reflective gloves I was wearing. I had also chosen to leave my flashlight at home figuring that I would not need it. It was a good thing the the first few miles were on asphalt.

I met so many local ultra running luminaries. It was nice to be surrounded by familiar faces who were out to achieve the same goal.

Carl spoke briefly before the race and we were soon off. Martin Casado, who had proclaimed that he was under trained and would run with me, disappeared exactly after 5 minutes! I know that I had brushed my teeth, showered and applied deodorant earlier. Curiouser and curiouser. :))

I found myself running with Bonnelle Murphy, my running buddy from the August Lean Horse 100M. We were soon joined by a Southern California runner named Donn Ozaki. We were talking and having so much fun in those early miles that I daresay we were probably the last runners.

The first AS came up soon and I partook of a PB&J sandwich square. I was trying Vespa ( and had not even bothered to fill my bottle with the usual Perpetuem+Heed mixture. I had chosen to go with whatever they were serving in the Aid
Stations - GU2O in this case.

Looking back I must say that Vespa worked. I did not really eat as much - I touched not a single gel and ate a few chips+PB&J at every aid station. More power to Peter Defty and his Vespa!

Bonnelle, Donn and I traipsed along from aid station to aid station talking and taking pictures.

We left the Skyline gate AS (mile 15) a tad behind Barb Elia. She was, according to the AS volunteers, not feeling too good. I too would not have after RDL 100, the Cowtown marathon and then this 50M!!

It was fun watching the marathon runners going past in the opposite direction. I soon spotted the familiar figure of Hal Koerner flying towards us on on his way back. He was followed by Victor Ballesteros and then Jean Pommier.

We caught up with Barb a few miles later and I ran with her for a mile or so while Bonnelle and Donn moved ahead. I left her right after Rick Gaston passed us going the other way.

We were now a bit worried about the cutoff at mile 26 (6:15 race time or 12:15 p.m.). We were also eagerly looking forward to the long "downhill" section before the turnaround AS but the climbs did not seem to end!

We finally reached the ridge. The views were spectacular to put it mildly. I spent a few precious seconds snapping away pictures.

The three of us finally reached the downhill section and then eventually the turnaround at 12:02 p.m. Relief!

We did not linger long and headed back up the long climb to the ridge. Looking back, I felt that the course was mostly downhill once the ridge was reached on the way back. I pretty much ran 80-90% of it from mile 32-33 or so. In the process I was stung twice by yellowjackets - once in my left knee and the other on my left forearm. Very painful.

I left Bonnelle, who was now being paced by her husband Jeff, and Donn right after the 41 mile AS. I had switched to Coke+Succeed by now and ran the climbs and flew down the slopes all the way to Bort Meadows. I asked Stan to inform Bonnelle and Donn that I would wait near the finish for them so that we could finish together.

Now it was time to put the hammer down. I passed one runner soon after Bort Meadows and then caught up with and passed another, Mark from Redwood City. I slowed, turned around and started running with Mark. We talked and ran for the next mile or so before I left him.

I was expecting to catch up with my friend Diane Forrest who had started the race at 6:00 a.m. Sure enough I saw her ahead of me walking slowly. I asked after her and she informed me that her stomach had gone south. Out came the ginger from my waist pouch and it worked like a charm on her in 5 minutes. We soon reached the final AS, 2.9 miles from the Finish, and left it after Diane had imbibed some Coke.

We ran/walked this last bit until we reached the grass strip leading to the Finish chute. I asked her to go ahead while I waited for my two buddies. They showed up 10 minutes later and we ran across the Finish line hand in hand.

The veggie burgers were outstanding! My appetite returned and I wolfed them down in a flash before Martin and I headed back to Saratoga and eventually to a night of rest.

Ann and Carl put on a superb race. I doubt if I have ever run a better marked race. The post-race barbecue is legendary as are the 2 RDs. The volunteers were fantastic and it was a pleasure interacting with them.

I will be back next year.


Jean Pommier said...

What a nice "ballad" makes your account of this perfect day on the trails, Rajeev. And the number of smiles you captured with your camera is simply amazing and likely a record for someone who was also running the event. Thank you for your communicative enthusiasm for ultra trail running, this is a blessing for our community and sport!

Looking forward to seeing more of your orange outfit on the trails! ;-)

Farther Faster

Rajeev said...


Thank you so much for your kind words. The race is a wonderful one and I know I will go back again and again to run it.

I am amazed at your durability - 18 hrs in RDL and then 7 hrs. in Dick Collins. Wow!


Donn said...

Hi Rajeev,

It was nice meeting you and Bonnelle at the DC Firetrails 50. I showed up at the race figuring that I would be running alone, so it was a very pleasant surprise to run most of the race with the two of you. That was a lot of fun!

The DC50 is an awesome race. I loved everything about it. It was well worth making the 10 hour round trip from L.A.

anil said...

Congratulations on yet another awesome race. you should translate ghazal to urdu as well.. probably try compose it sometime .

take care

Vinod said...

Awesome! Firetrails is just too good a race for all the right reasons (amazing camaraderie, amazing RDs, amazing volunteers). And, an awesome ghazal, Sirji, you need a more interesting takhallus than "rajeev".

Rajeev said...


Thanks a lot. :) Happy that you will be back here by next week.


Rajeev said...


This was a test ghazal in English. I will now create a takhallus for my English ghazals! Thank you so much.