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

Friday, April 01, 2011

No Lake Sonoma 50-Mile but Lots of Sun

Heading back towards San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.

I should be getting ready for the Lake Sonoma 50-mile. Nope, no dice. The race was called off this past Monday. The recent heavy rains raised the level of the lake 14 feet. The creek crossings were inundated with water. Instead of ankle and waist deep crossings we were looking at swims with current. Um yeah,... I got out of triathlon because of the swim. So no Lake Sonoma 50-Mile this year. The good news is that we have automatic entry for next year. Slots from folks not opting to return will be placed in a lottery for those wanting to run the race in 2012 who didn't get in for 2011. Well it is what it is. John Medinger, Suzanna Bon and the rest of the LS50 staff would part the waters if they could but they can't. They have also taken a very gracious step of refunding most of the entry fee despite having already spent money on provisions and other race related expenses.

Shortly after the announcement I got texts, emails and even a phone call on the matter. Options abound, this is Northern California, we have races like no other place. I opted for returning to the American River 50-mile slated for next weekend. Not one of my favorite races because of the nearly 30 miles of bike path before hitting real trails but I want the distance. I want a 50 mile race. American River RD Julie Fingar opened up an extra 75 slots to the sold out race specifically for displaced Lake Sonoma runners. I freakin love this community, with a passion. Runners look out for each other, race directors reach out to do the same for each other. If I didn't get in AR I would have joined buddies and PCTR running team members, Marla and Larissa, for PCTR's Skyline to the Sea 50k. They are planning to do what I did last year which was to run a 20 mile training run on Saturday and then race the 50k on Sunday. Basically a 50 mile run broken over two days. There was also the new Mokelumne River 50-Mile/50k/Marathon/8-Mile but it's the weekend after AR and Skyline to the Sea which put it closer to the Quicksilver 50-Mile which I am also entered to run. I'm not like Mark Tanaka or Ian Sharman, I need time between my races, uh besides being a lot slower too:)

Somewhere around here are my road gears. I'm not very good on road but I should be okay. If I go over 8 hours for AR I will be very disappointed.

Well at least it's sunny again. We are back in the sun! I don't even care that I'm acclimated for wet and sloppy weather just when the warm weather is returning. It's bound to get hot soon, could even be a killer at AR. I don't care. Dear Yellow Ball in the sky, give me a few weeks to acclimate but don't go anywhere.

I've decided to back down this week on the running. Rest from all the runs the previous weeks and a short taper for AR. The allergies are on with a vengeance but I'm beating it back with the generic version of Zyrtec. I hate taking pills but allergy pills get a pass.

The picture at the start of the post and the ones following are from the Ninja group's recent Thursday morning run. So called because we are sneaking into the Headlands in the dark although a few more weeks and it will be light enough at 5:30AM not to need headlamps.

Our starting point. A parking lot overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. In this picture the bridge is the faint light on the right hand side of the picture. That's the bridge roadway in the foreground and San Francisco and the Oakland Bay Bridge in the distance.

It was 60 degrees at the start, no wind and no fog.

The two who started these runs a couple of years ago, Brett Rivers and his girlfriend Larissa Polischuk.

Last lookout point before the long downhill home. You can see a part of the Golden Gate Bridge. Last week we were not even able to make it to this point because of the sideways rain and strong wind.