Friday, April 15, 2011
American River 50-Mile
10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5 , 4, 3, 2, 1
The sound of the Top Gun theme songs fades as Eminem's "Lose Yourself" takes over on the left earphone and we were off. I felt great and quickly fell in line with Bradley and Georgia and we joined Auburn runners Chris, Amy and Tony. The desire to bolt was overwhelming and it was a struggle to hold back. The conversation was easy, the weather was perfect and everything felt right as rain.
THE FIRST 10-MILES
I felt great from the get go. I didn't need to warm up to feel better like how it usually happens, it was just like how it was at Pirates Cove 50k last month. I didn't have my heart rate monitor but I knew I going just a tad too fast. Bradley and I started out together. He not only shared his accommodations but also provided me with a ride as well. He was just coming back from a calf injury, had to layoff running for 6-8 weeks and hadn't gone much further than 10 miles on his recent runs post-injury. His plan was to get to Beal's Point at mile 27 and call it a day before the trail section and hills start. After a couple of miles I surged ahead to give myself some space so I could clear my head and focus on my race then only slowed down once I found it. When the Auburn folks caught up, I hung with them for a bit then backed down when I felt myself going out too fast again. It got quiet from that point forward as we were spread out over the course. There was not a lot of people in front or behind me.
After ten miles I let myself speed up. I was still feeling very, very good. In retrospect I might have gone a bit too fast. By mile 15 my left knee started hurting and so did my hamstring, it was all tight and sore. This has never happened to me so early in a race so I wasn't sure what to do about it. I thought that if I kept running it would just go away, loosen up, maybe I shake it off when I hit the trail section.
The pain didn't get better but it didn't get worse either, it did feel tighter as I went. At mile 22 I started to get a bit tired, this is why I thought the previous 10 miles might have been too fast. So I backed off the pace a bit and indeed I felt much better. I hit the marathon point , marked with balloons and a sign, at 3:41. I was aiming for 3:30 but I wasn't too worried. When I got to Beal's Point at mile 27 I was feeling much revived and eager for the trails. The first 27 miles felt like a short 6-mile run. It went by quick to me.
I left Beal's in an upswing. I got my rhythm back and was cruising at a good speed. My legs were tight though and getting tighter. I blamed it on all the miles on the hard surface of the bike path. It was great to get off the road and it felt good to be climbing and rolling. The trail is more technical than I remembered and there was mud on the course which really slowed me down. I don't trust the mud on the American River course. Awhile back I had paced my good friend Olga Varlamova on a wet year and I was right behind her when she planted her left leg up to the shin in mud and lost a shoe in the process. On that same run I too had planted shin deep so I was very wary of the mud. I tip-toed and danced around the sloppy messes, all that was missing was a pink tutu. Sometimes I just stopped altogether and would gingerly walk across or hop around like a damned frog one dry spot to another. Okay that's not fair, frogs are more graceful.
I lost more time on the muddy sections. I'm usually not so timid with mud but I was such a candy ass about it on Saturday. They should have given me a diaper at the finish line instead of a finishers jacket for being such a baby, for shitting my pants every time I saw large sections of deep, soft mud. It sounds like I'm being real hard on myself and I am but I was also amused at my behavior and I've been laughing about it. Why do I do some of the things that I do?
From this point on my body was just sore and tight and my energy was on a permanent decline. I didn't know it at the time and was hoping for another second wind. From 36 on it was just pain and fatigue management, focusing on that one gear that I could keep turning all the way to the finish line. Around mile 41 I kept stumbling on rocks, not going down but nailing some good ones. Since I was wearing lightweight road shoes with no toe bumper protection they really smarted. At 45 a voice of reason came out of nowhere and proclaimed "ultra is supposed to be hard so shut your freakin whining and run". My demeanor improved a whole lot after that. I'm hard on my runners when I pace and it's great that I can self-pace/motivate myself. I was an only child for a long time and always talked to myself but from what I heard many people talk to themselves on these runs.
THE LAST HARD 3 MILES
I say hard because it's mostly uphill. It starts off steep and I walked but it quickly leveled off and flattened out for a bit before it started climbing again. The last 2.5 miles is definitely uphill but at a grade that I was comfortable with and a mixture of gravel and paved road - you could run it with your eyes closed, nothing to stumble on. I ran the entire 2.5 miles. With about 3/4 of a mile left to go I was able to see the finish line and hear the announcements of runners names blaring from the speakers.
Jady walks up to me as I stood by the finish area with both hands cupped in front of him and asks "What's this?" I replied, "What?" and he says "Me handing you your ass today!" He says with a huge grin on his face which only makes me laugh. He ran a 7:17 with a 3:02 split at the marathon mark. Phenomenal.
It felt so good to be finished as you can imagine. Lots of smiles and handshakes. It took me awhile to leave the finish area as I kept on talking with folks and taking pictures. Then it took me an even longer time to wash up and change. By the time I finally got that accomplished and made my way back to the finish for some food a whole lot more people finished and the finish line was a bit livelier. Bradley succeeded in reaching Beal's Point with no problems other than fatigue which really didn't hamper him until mile 24. We met up at the finish and I think he was a bit surprised I didn't break 8 hours. He still doesn't want to think of me as being slower than him. Last year he ran a great race with a 7:45.
MISCELLANEOUS POSTRACE NOTES
I ran the entire race in the Saucony Kinvaras, a light road shoe that has become my favorite for runs on and off the trail. They worked really well except when I nailed rocks. I'm going to lose a few toenails! I'm going to look into the Peregrine's which is the trail version, hopefully it has a toe bumper. I'm going to get a free pair from that photo contest I just won so I'm quite excited about that.
NOT ALL ABOUT THE ELEVATION
I have a bad habit of judging difficulty by elevation alone. I figured I could break 8 hours because there isn't a lot of climbing at AR. My 50-mile PR is at the Dick Collin's Firetrails 50 which has about 8,000 feet of climbing, about double of what AR has. So I figured, what the heck I should be faster right. Well Firetrails is much more runnable than AR. The trail section of AR is deceptively difficult. Sure there isn't a lot of climbing but it's got rocks a plenty and the mud, that freakin mud that made me dainty as a daisy.
WILL I DO THIS RACE AGAIN?
After the first time I said never again because of the abundance of road on the course, that was in 2003. I had forgotten the pain of that first time and signed up again after Lake Sonoma was cancelled. This second time hurt even more than the first but I'm eager to go at it again. Now I'm just all fired up to get my time under 8 hours.
I clocked an 8:05:22 for 64th out of 612 finishers and there were over 800 runners signed up. Next up is the Quicksilver 50-mile at the end of the month. It's got about 3,000 feet more climbing but the trails are not technical. Could be warm! Another race I've never broken 8 hours in, the last time I ran it I clocked an 8:02.