It took me three attempts to complete this challenging course. FOURmidable is a 50k course in Auburn and Cool areas, so named for its four major climbs. Last year was a mudfest and I was severely undertrained. I reached the final cutoff about 10 minutes too late and finished the course without course markings or a finish line. My first attempt was cut short because I had tickets to a soccer match. this year, I was determined.
I’m not very fast, and even slower up hills, but I like to be out on the trails for extended periods of time, so it works out. The Sacramento area trails are home to me and I know most of them well (although that’s never stopped me from getting lost) and I use that familiarity to prepare a pacing chart specifically suited to my ability on the terrain. The question, for me, is whether I can run fast enough to compensate for the power hikes up the hills and hike fast enough that my running pace can compensate for my time spent walking.
We start at the Auburn Overlook Park. It is chilly and a little breezy, but not too bad and I expect to be shedding my long sleeve shirt soon. The course begins with an easy downhill on paved roads for 3 miles. I get sucked into a sub 10-minute mile for the first mile and ease off a little to avoid quad pain later. At the bottom of this pavement turns to single track and we face our first climb.
We climb up Cardiac 800 feet in just under a mile and, in my portion of the pack, everyone is hiking. We push through to the top of this first climb and are rewarded with easy rolling single track to the first aid station (near the start line). Alessandra is there to make sure my start is going as planned and see if I will need anything at the next stop I will see her. My friend, Ben, is manning the aid station and observed as soon as I came in that I am not drinking enough water. Checking my water bottle, I confirm this and I focus on hydration the rest of the race. Ben saves me a lot of pain later with that observation.
The next 5 miles is mostly downhill and by the time I reach the No Hands Bridge aid station I am back down near the elevation at the bottom of Cardiac. I try not to stay long. I fill one of my Orange Mud bottles with electrolytes and the other with water. I check in with Alessandra and grab a cookie, a potato piece, and a peanut butter sandwich square and head out. The next section of the course is the toughest, but, for now, I am 5 minutes ahead of schedule.
Just out of the aid station I face K2. 1100 feet of climb in 1 mile with several false summits to mess with my mind. even though I have been here before, I always forget which summit is the actual summit.
I slow to a snail crawl up this beast and it takes me longer than I had hoped. My time cushion is eaten away and my legs are feeling the strain. By this point in the race, I am fairly alone with my thoughts and the trees. Taunted (and amused) by the messages left behind by evil volunteers marking the course.
The breeze never really let up and I’m glad I still have my long sleeve on. It’s warm in the sun, but chilly in the shade as I crest the last peak of K2 and take a moment to admire the view… and catch my breath.
An easy descent and one short climb to the Knickerbocker aid station and I discover that I am now 5 minutes behind my intended pace and only 15 minutes ahead of the cutoff. More salt tablets, peanut butter, a cookie, some potato, and electrolytes and water refill and I head back down to the river.
I lose all of the altitude and make up some of my lost time with another sub 10-minute mile before I approach the third (and longest) climb of the race. Knickerbocker Hill, or The Dam Hill, starts at the site of the planned, but forgotten, dam of the American River and winds its way up to the road. I gain 1100 feet in just over 2 miles and spend too much of this time walking and listening to my screaming leg muscles.
Back at Knickerbocker and back on schedule, I am now within a minute of my planned pace and more than 30 minutes ahead of the cutoff. I refuel and refill and head down to the creek crossing and back up to some of my favorite trails along the edge of the canyon in Cool.
Into the Cool aid station, I get to see Alessandra one more time before the finish and find that I am 20 minutes behind my pace plan, but with a solid, runnable downhill for the next 4 miles.
I bomb the single track back down to No Hands and only slowed enough to get a splash and go on my water. With 4 miles to go, mostly uphill, I’m 15 minutes behind my plan, but ahead of cutoff and there is no absolute cutoff on this race. I will finish!
I have passed 3 of the people who passed me and I catch the 4th at the aid station. Since I didn’t stop, I start out across the bridge determined to leave them all behind. I could see one guy behind me, but I am moving faster than him now and I put distance between us on the gradual uphill and extend it on the last drop before the 4th major hill. It’s hard to see exactly where the last climb starts, but after nearly a mile of climbing, I come across the sign that says the rest of the race is 30% grade. I’m at the finish. It claims that it is .1 miles, but it’s .3 to the finish. As I crest the last rise, I see the same guy right behind me and I push as hard as I can to the top.
Truth be told, 8:25 is not a great 50k time, but it’s better than a DNF and this is a tough course. I slow more than I hope in the last 3 miles, but I keep moving forward, and that really is the point.
SingleTrack Running offers a variety of challenging and fun races in the area. They are always well supported and marked with tremendous volunteers who are passionate about providing a great race experience. Click here to learn more. Further north, check out Intrepid Adventures and the Loco Racing team. They offer some great runs on some of my favorite trails. I recently joined the Loco Team and can’t wait for the first ever Forest Ranch 4 and my second attempt at the Loco 100k. More on those later.