Tuesday, April 07, 2015

American River 50 Mile -- 8:11:22

I had a solid 50 mile run, starting just before dawn, under the remnants of an amazing lunar eclipse, and finished 8 hours 11 minutes later in Auburn. I had a weak period from about mile 32 to 36, I'm guessing, but then gradually regained strength and had a very strong finish.

I enjoyed seeing many friends, especially from my running club, Coastside Running Club.

The race was very well organized with amazing volunteers and perfect course-markings. We were told at the start that there were 800 runners and 300 volunteers. The results list 629 finishers. I came in 39th.

I'm happy and uninjured!

This 50 mile race has been run every year since 1980 and is well-known among ultrarunners in northern California. I've had many friends run the race and I thought I'd give it a try this year. It's somewhat close in time to Boston Marathon and Miwok 100K, both of which I've done multiple times, so I wanted to try something new.

Here's a good video overview of the course:

My training went reasonably well, with a solid 50K on a challenging course the month before. I got in a 32 mile training run and several 20 milers, too, along with the usual weekly track workouts. I've spent a lot of time on Montara Mountain, attacking the especially steep Alta Vista trail. So, I felt confident with running uphills.

I picked up my bib at the Fleet Feet store the day before, and I met the running phenomenon, Verity Breen again. Cool! She said she was doing this race as a training run. I picked up a new pair of trail running shoes, too, for future training runs and races -- Brooks Cascadia. (I wanted the Hoka One Ones but they're just a bit too narrow and they pinch my little toe.)

I stayed at a friend's house in Sacramento the night before the race. This saved on a hotel cost, and dinner cost, too, since I was able to make my own whole wheat spaghetti dinner, but the downside was that I had to wake up early. 2:45am. I got very little sleep. One of the things I stayed awake worrying about was whether or not I had set my alarm clock early enough! Stupid brain! I tossed and turned for at least 40 minutes, worrying about a 15 minute difference in the alarm clock! Finally, I got up and set my alarm clock 15 minutes earlier. I was so annoyed at myself! I couldn't stop worrying about the race!

It was easy (thanks to my phone and Google Maps) to find the finish area in Auburn where I would meet the bus. I ate my breakfast while driving -- two whole wheat bagels and a peanut butter Clif Bar. I had time to use the bathroom and do a Facebook update, so, there was no rush! And then the lunar eclipse started. Beautiful! It was a cold clear night, and the lunar eclipse had a tint of red to it. The buses came into the parking lot and a short while later we were boarded and off to the starting line! Michelle, the bus driver, was a crack-up: "If you need help with anything, ask the person next to you."

Once on the bus, there was no turning back. I was committed to running 50 miles to return to my car! I hoped my feet would hold up. I had been having some pain in my right arch. Well, if running 50 miles were easy or predictable, it wouldn't be an adventure!

The starting area was large and bustling, and most importantly, had a long line of porta-potties! I was grateful that there were so many. I was able to use them twice, with the second time just 15 minutes before the race start. I met up with a few running club friends and we tried to stay warm in the chilly air. There was a nice big tent that was filled with waiting runners. The announcer had some good words to say about replacing the word "nervous" with "excited". Yes, we're excited! He also suggested we pick up trash along the way, as to help the race continue to get its permits.

Soon, 6am drew near, we started lining up on the correct side of the big inflatable arch, and we were off!

My strategy was to feel at ease and to take the first few miles especially slow. I had a pace chart taped to one of my water bottles with aid station splits for an 8 hour finish, 7:45 finish, and 7:30 finish.

I wished a couple of friends, Amy and Omar, good luck, and pulled away. The 9:30 minute mile pace quickly dropped to 9:00 and slowly dropped some more, so that the reported average on my GPS watch was 8:50 or so. I felt good. The dawn was beautiful. Lake Folsom was beautiful. The fading lunar eclipse was amazing, too. The dirt terrain was very runnable and was mostly downhill. I was having headlamp envy, as every other runner seemed to have a brighter headlamp. Mine was sufficient, though.

The phenomenal runner, Jen Pfeiffer was walking along and she jogged with me a bit. She was volunteering and was going to be a pacer later that day. Cool! Verity Breen passed me. Beep beep.

The miles ticked by as we descended on a bicycle path. Around mile 7, my feet felt a little bit sore. Oh oh. There's still a very long ways to go! As I arrived at the aid stations, I tried to be very efficient, and I grabbed an energy gel or two, and a piece of boiled potato that I would dip in salt. The volunteers were great and someone would refill my two water bottles (one with sports drink and one with water). I was enjoying the race!

It was a lot of pavement though, and my feet were gradually getting more sore. Around mile 15, we crossed the American River and there was more uphill.

My feet were a bit sore, but otherwise, I felt really good. I made it a point to run every step of every uphill. There were a series of short but very steep uphill sections. In past races, I would probably have walked these, but I felt good! Maybe it was all that uphill training that I've done recently that kept me doing this.

I started worrying about missing my pacer, Amanda, at mile 29.5, because I was well ahead of schedule! I imagined that I could tell a volunteer there to look for a group of people with bright orange shirts (our new running club shirt color) and tell them that "Ron passed through".

I think somewhere around mile 23 I passed Verity, on a steep downhill. I wouldn't see her again for the rest of the race.

I came across a package of Shot Bloks on the ground. I decided to heed the announcer's words and help clean up after the runners in front of me. About a third of the blocks were eaten and I ate the rest. Yummy! I picked up two other pieces of runner-generated trash during the race; the trails were pretty clean.

At Beal's Point, mile 24.3, the race course takes on a much more difficult character. We're running on single track trails now, with lots of short steep hills and plenty of  rocks, Somewhere around here, I passed the half-way point and then the marathon point. I was on track for about a 7:30 finish still, if all miles were equally difficult, which was definitely not the case. The hardest miles are at the end of the race, so I didn't really believe that I could do 7:30, but I thought that 8 hours was quite likely.

A few miles later, I realized that I was getting close to Granite Bay at mile 29.5, where I would meet my running club and my pacer Amanda. Yay! I was feeling sore and rather tired, but still running strong. I imagined that I would save some strength for Amanda and then put in an extra strong effort for the last 20 miles.

I continued eating an energy gel every 20 minutes, taking a Succeed salt capsule every hour, and drinking plenty of water and sports drink. The day was warming up and I was feeling hot in the direct sunlight. I started dripping water on to my hat from my water bottle.

Finally, Granite Bay! Yay! I saw a distinctive neon orange shirt. Amanda! She had just arrived, within the last minute. The rest of the crew were still walking there. I made a brief aid station stop and was on my way, now with Amanda following me. I waived at my other friends. And the adventure continues!

I filled Amanda in on my condition -- "sore and tired, but my energy level was good." Soon, I was pushing harder. And then soon after that, perhaps around mile 32, I started feeling weak. I couldn't lift my legs as well. I walked for the first time, up some steep section. I pulled aside and let a few other runners pass me. I just needed to slow down for a while and try to regain my strength. I was a poor conversationalist. I was just trying to hang on and persevere.

This seemed to go on for a quite a while; I'm guessing 4 miles. I was probably doing 11 and 12 minute miles now. I took an ibuprofen. Eventually I started feeling better and running faster. I continued to eat and take salt and drip water on my head. I never had cramps. My soreness in my feet had stabilized. My right arch never bothered me.

Then I realized that I was pulling ahead of Amanda. She caught up to me again but said she was overheating and that she needed to walk for a while. I suggested that she put water on her head, but she only had sports drink. She encouraged me to go on while she recovered. I pulled ahead but felt bad. Then I realized that I could have offered her my water bottle and I felt guilty. But then I thought that stopping running is by far the best way to cool down in this situation. She was safe. Later, she was in good spirits and explained that the main reason she needed to take a break was that her feet were swelling and getting too cramped in her shoes. Sorry, Amanda! Thank you for being there for me for some tough miles!

From mile 45 to the finish, I felt very strong and I gradually increased my effort. When I got to the last huge hill at mile 46, I started treating this as the final sprint home. I ran nearly every step up this crazy steep road. I passed a bunch of people who had passed me earlier. I got to the Last Gasp aid station which had these super-energetic young men and women (and the guys were shirtless and had spandex on I think!). At first, I didn't even realize they were part of an aid station, but this one guy asked if I wanted water. "Yes, please!" and I handed him one of my water bottles and he sprinted up this steep road and by the time I got to the actual aid station, he had it filled! I should have just kept running (because I had a couple of energy gels on me) but I did my usual thing and got a piece of potato dipped in salt.

I was tired and sore and ready to be done, but I wasn't desperate and I felt strong. I saw a guy who had passed me earlier and he was running strong, too. We both passed other people walking. I think I was gaining on him. One mile to go! (Said the very helpful sign.) And with another almost sadistic last very steep but short climb, I recognized the park that was the finish area. We rounded a corner on the grass. There was cheering. I sprinted as hard as I could. Woo hoo! Hand in the air! Oh, that was just the first timing strip. I sprinted another 50 feet to go under the inflatable arch. Now I'm done! Woo hoo! The guy I was chasing congratulated me. I was very happy to be done.

I didn't hit my time goal, but that was just a guess anyways. All-in-all, I had an excellent adventure and a very solid long run. I thought I did set a personal record for the 50 mile distance, but then the next day I looked up my old times, and I realized that I ran my first Firetrails 50 in 8 hours 10 minutes. Doh! Oh, well, that was more than four years ago!

It was great hanging out with Jim, from my running club, and waiting for my friends to finish. Our little club had five members in the race, and we all finished! Congratulations Omar, Chris B. (first 50 miler!), Amy (first 50 miler!), and John (first 50 miler!)!

What went well
  • The race officials and volunteers put on a really great race. Thank you, volunteers!
  • The course was beautiful and the weather was mostly cool, thankfully. Temperatures ranged from the low 40s at the start to around 70 I think.
  • I finished in 8 hours 11 minutes, and in 39th place overall, out of 629 finishers. I don't know how many runners started the race, but they said there were 800 registered.
  • I didn't get any chafing.
  • I didn't stumble, trip, or fall.
  • I was developing a blister on my middle left toe, but I never felt it during the race, and it wasn't bad.
  • My GPS watch broke the day before the race; the case broke where the strap attaches. Super glue held it together for the day though.
Things to improve upon
  • My feet got sore early on and stayed sore. Is this because of the trail running shoes on asphalt? (Brooks Pure Grit 3.) Or was my training deficient somehow? Maybe I didn't taper quite enough? I ran 36 miles in the previous 7 days.
  • I liked not wearing a heart rate monitor, but I wonder if I could have paced myself better with one. I'm not sure.
  • I could use a better headlamp.
  • A mango smoothie from Pandera Bread afterwards was a mistake. It gave me a bad stomach ache and indigestion for the ride home.
Random data
  • Garmin data
  • Results
  • I weighed 164.8 lbs, two days before the race. I weighed 164.4 lbs the day after the race.
  • Jean Pommier is an amazing masters runner who wrote an excellent race report that gives a better overview.
  • I peed twice during the race.
  • I sometimes felt like I had to defecate, but it wasn't bad and I didn't have to. As usual, I avoided eating fiber the day before, but I did eat quite a bit of fiber two days before.