Friday, April 15, 2011

American River 50-Mile

Coming in for the Finish!
Coming in for the finish! Photo courtesy of Drymax Socks.

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.

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.

MILES 11-20
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.

MILES 21-27
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.

MILES 27-35
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.

MILES 36-47
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Doing what I do best of all, socializing. With John Bretan

SoCal Coyotes, Jimmy Dean and Kate Martini Freeman.

With Bob of Drymax Socks.

Ninja runner Georgia, finishing her first 50-mile.

Jenny Capel and Gretchen Brugman

Amy Flint Schmich and Chris Perillo

Sun, grass and hay, what else did we need:) Well there was also food of course.

Gretchen hanging with the kids from LA. Billy Yang, Kristin and Colin Cooley and Gretchen Brugman.

Nattu Natraj and Karen Bonnet


  1. First of all, my friend, what was that talk about being fat? At least in these photos you look plenty trim! Secondly, it is a solid time you ran, and boy, can I relate to getting pissed at myself while running poorely! Made me smile. I loved that trail section of AR, I thrive on technical. And yes, I still tell story how my shoe got sucked in - and you had to dig in for it! Imagine, this is how we met, dear, for the first time, you pacing me and me telling you stories of my personal life and swearing rpofoundly while running (yeah, I do that a lot, I claim it helps me propell myself forward). Your report actaully made me want to run this one again. Too bad I cancelled my trip to QS, would have loved to see you. Recover - and on, on!

  2. A pink tutu...HA! I can see it now. I have a tutu and a tiara you can use the next time you decide to tip toe your way through the tulips :-)

    So close to that 8 hour mark! Argh! Sorry to hear about the tightness and pain in your legs. Hopefully the road is to blame for that, and you'll be back to your old self once you hit the trails on Tam.

    Good luck with Quickfire...that course is a bit unrelenting...long sustained climbs that never seem to end (I used to run there in my south bay days).

    Always cheering for you from afar...


  3. Excellent report, Rick! Great photos, too. And congrats on a great finish -- next time you'll definitely go under 8 hours!

  4. Hey Olga, I do remember that day! Crazy wet day on the course, some trails filled deep with water like a trough and poison oak everywhere. There was a woman chasing you from behind who you let pass only to reel her in later in the race. You taught me that day that you don't let others dictate your pace, among other things of course. Good memories! It set the stage for what would happen years later when we would both be up to our ankles in muck at Bighorn. Good, good times. I can still lose 6 more pounds. I'd feel so much better and be faster.

    Here's a couple of links to some images that will bring back more memories from AR.

    Jess! Maybe you bring a pink tutu when you crew for me at WS. You can waive it every time you see me to keep me motivated. Quicksilver definitely has more climbs but smooth trails so at least I can get into a better rhythm.

    Hey Ric, thanks! I'm definitely thinking of giving it another shot. I'd like to give it another solid effort.

  5. Man, I was such a fatty...faster, though:) Oh, yeah, I need to go back.
    You're right, always run your race. You do good, my friend. Bighorn will forever be in my very special memory. I ran whole race with someone twice - that and Wasatch with Bushwhacker. Both are in my heart, no matter the outcome. Only when you share the miles (and miles) and pains (and pains), do you have that.

  6. Yeah! Nice job, Rick! I'm glad this race got you fired up, cause I feel the same way. I'd like to go faster next time, but I'm fired up in a good. And some of those trails really were technical with tons of little ups and downs. Super fun to run, but it definitely slows you down.

    Hey, I think maybe your entire crew at States should wear pink tutus. You know, just a suggestion. ;) Hee hee hee! That would make them very identifiable though!

    Anyway, fun day, and thanks for posting all the people pictures. That definitely captured the post race atmosphere.

  7. Ha - funny race report. I can definitely relate to some of the self-motivational talk during the 9+ hours I was out there. Great to see you again Rick and by my calculations, you ran a heckuva race. See ya at the next one!

  8. Awesome job, Rick! I can't imagine covering that distance in that kid of time. Wow! Keep up the great work, and much success to you with your training and racing this season!

  9. Wow, great time, Rick. Love all the pics. I'll be happy if I ever do a 50 KILOMETER race in sub-8 hrs LOL. Have a great week! Ann

  10. Great time and within a whisker of the Top 10% I would say that was a good day out...and dontcha just love the Kinvaras!