It seems that I can never get to a start line on time! I left my house early and picked up my buddy, Dave. We made the usual Starbuck’s stop, still thinking we had plenty of time, and arrived at Brown’s Ravine Marina 30 minutes before our wave 2 start and 15 minutes before the start of the 1st wave. Unfortunately, they closed the gate to vehicle traffic at 5:40, five minutes before we got there. I dropped off Dave and went to park the truck.
I found a space at the Burger Hut, about 1.5 miles from the start line. I made it to the start with only 2 minutes until the start of my wave and my drop bag had ended up in the wrong pile. As the wave started I watched the runners go by while I got my drop bags properly placed and hustled over to the start line at the back of the pack.
Dave, my new friend Dan, and I crossed the timing strip about 5 minutes after the clock started. We shuffled up to the pack and passed a few early walkers before we reached the marina bathrooms (hadn’t had time for that tradition either). By the time we turned off the pavement onto the dirt, it was already light enough that I didn’t need my head lamp.
The trail from Brown’s Ravine to the levy is one I am very familiar with and quickly fell into a comfortable rhythm running along the lake. Crossing the levy and weaving around Folsom Point, I was feeling loose and warming up. The Hokas were doing their job and I was shedding the Hoo Rags and the arm-sleaves I had started the race with. We continued on to the road and I had lost sight of Dave and Dan, but we met up at aid stations throughout the race. We had run past the walkers (don’t know why someone would sign up for a 50 mile race to walk it, but they do) and I had settled in with a group that matched my intended pace. I would see the same people off and on for the next 12 hours. The next several miles were on the road and then on the American River Bike Trail pavement. I had considered wearing road shoes for the first part of the race, but there was enough trail that I preferred to be in trail shoes the whole way. Besides, the Hoka cushion was kind to my plantar fascia.
The morning run around lake Natoma was familiar territory and went quickly. It was mostly downhill and I had to keep reminding myself to slow down so I would have something left for the uphill part of the race. I ran into the aid station at Willow Creek and noticed some runners were sitting and, obviously, planning on a long break. My goal for aid stations this race was to be in and out quickly. I have found that my eye automatically draws towards what my body needs. I found what was working for me this time was a shot of Pepsi, a shot of electrolytes, a shot of Sprite, grab a quarter peanut butter sandwich and go! I had enough water in my Camelback. My first walk/jog came on Hazel up out of the Aquatic Center. Followed by a straight walk up the first dirt hill. Cheered on by a guy with a megaphone, I headed down the back of the hill and curled back onto the paved bike path for a while. I was thinking about the level of encouragement that takes place at these races, especially when compared to adventure runs, where it seems to be a game for the RD to tell participants that they can’t make it.
I headed up from Main Bar to the Bluffs and another favorite trail. This time I’m thinking how great it is to be running on so many of my favorite trails and running into so many runners that I run with on a regular basis, which I did here and ran with them for a while. When running with others, I turn the music off, just in case we decide to chat. Once on my own again, I put on the music and get lost in my combination of rock, contemporary Christian, blues, classical, jazz and country music that I keep on my iPod.I came upon the FTR aid station at Negro Bar sooner than I expected and met up with Dave and Dan once again. I also loved seeing all the people I know from the best running group anywhere and honestly felt completely rejuvenated. the only person missing was Steve Godfry, who I can usually count on to yell at me to keep me going at some point during almost every race, usually when I least expect it. This is one of the 3 aid stations I had predetermined that I would spend a little bit of extra time. I refilled my water pack, grabbed some potatoes with salt and my liquid cocktail of pepsi, electrolytes and sprite. A quick picture with FTR friends, grab a quarter sandwich and on my way.
Shortly out of the FTR aid station I got my first surprise when I look up to see a woman walking towards me, walking her… LLAMA?? WHAT? I didn’t even think to get out my phone to take a picture, so I’m glad someone else caught it. I pushed, now on a slight uphill, on the paved bike trail, looking forward to Beals Point, picking up my pacer and dirt trails to the finish. I made eye contact with a young dear that was bounding along the trail and stopped to look at me as I went by, before bounding away, followed by his brother giving chase.
I felt like crossing Folsom Dam Road was a key milestone and that I was practically at Beals, but that short stretch seemed longer than it was. Somewhere in here I started feeling hungry and ate one of my Gu packs. My shorts were starting to chafe and I was looking forward to changing into the RypWear Conner shorts I had waiting for me in my drop bag. Coming into Beals I got a burst of energy when I saw Alessandra and my kids waiting for me with signs and cheers. I ran into Dave and Dan again, but we all left at different times.
At Beals I changed shorts, dumped my Hoo Rags and arm sleeves, put on a visor and got some more nutrition. Two quarter sandwiches, chicken noodle soup, fruit, fill up the water, pepsi, electrolytes, sprite, potato and salt. I gave my drop bag to Alessandra so I wouldn’t have to worry about it later. I also got to pick up a pacer at Beals. One more quarter peanut butter sandwich and Stephanie and I headed out to the trail.
Half done and I really was feeling great at this point. Tired legs, but otherwise good. The plantar fasciitis was reminding me it was there from time to time, but it wasn’t unbearable. the rolling hills up to Twin Rocks and through the grinders gave some good opportunities to run easily through the shaded trail, but also required some hiking and power walking. I love running through technical trails and hopping off of rocks. I was frequently hit with bursts of energy and could run stretches at a 12-13 min/mile pace. My favorite part of trail running is when my legs go numb and I’m moving fast enough to get a little breeze in my face. I got a lot of that here. Stephanie was exactly what I needed here. During the walking stretches we exchanged stories about running and growing up and I almost forgot that I was running 50 miles… almost. A few times I had to turn on music so that I would stop talking and run a while, but the rest I got in the walking stretches was exactly what I needed at the time. The next great surprise was at Buzzard Cove Aid Station… Ice Cream!! It was supposed to be an express station with nothing but water and electrolytes, but as we came in they offered ice cream. After eating a little bit, I covered the rest with some Pepsi and made a float. According to them, I was the only one to do that. It seemed obvious to me!
Rolling hills to Horseshoe Bar and on to Rattlesnake Bar; somewhere in there I looked at my Garmin and saw I had run 33 miles… the furthest I had ever run… and I had PR’d my 50k time… new territory from here on out. It was time to drop off Stephanie and pick up Matt to get me the last 10 miles. Rattlesnake was my last ‘long stop’ aid station and I took in more soup, sandwiches and oranges. Water was ok so I left that alone for now, but did get some more fluids and grabbed a piece of candy bar and peanut butter sandwich.
Matt got me going again and was also an awesome pacer. He gave me the perfect balance of “you look great” and “let’s keep going.” He occasionally sprinted ahead and snapped some pics, but I couldn’t find one of him, so I stole one form another run.
Again we had a gradual uphill, but with run able rolling hills. I was still feeling good, but the legs were definitely tired. I was starting to feel the burning quads on the up hills and my
Garmin battery had died so I really had no idea what pace I was going. I knew two things… I was ahead of the cutoff and I thought I had enough water to make it to the finish.
Ahead we heard yelling and thought we were coming up on an aid station, but it seemed to soon. We came around a bend in the trail and saw people stopped in the trail and
milling about back and forth. Then we saw why! This guy had taken position on the trail and was not letting anyone pass. Sadly, he was sick and likely died later that day (later runners reported that he was convulsing). A rabid skunk is nothing to mess around with so we traversed up the hill and around him.
I took in some oranges and potato at Dowdin’s Post and skipped the water refill. Knowing that the last hill was 3 miles of serious up that I would probably mostly hike, I tried to run as much as I could. The motivational signs are always fun to read and something I look forward to on any long run,and they did not disappoint this year.
I barely made it into Last Gasp, water-wise, and it was starting to cool down a little, as the sun started going down. I got a splash refill on the water pack and started the hike up the last hill. The quads were burning now and I was concerned about getting cold and tightening up. With Matt’s encouragement, I power-walked up the hill and started running again when the hill flattened out a little. I caught up to Sarah, who I met at Way Too Cool. She is a fellow teacher who was running her second ultra (WTC being her first) in honor of her father who no longer runs due to physical ailment. It was an honor to get to meet him as well, since we had talked about him quite a bit in Cool.
Running up the last little rise and onto the street, I turned the final corner and sprinted (or as close as I could get to that at this point). As I approached the finish, there was Steve, already finished, wrapped in a blanket with a beer, yelling at me to kick it in. Now my race was complete.
A couple of things I learned: a 100 mile race is so far out of my comfort zone that I don’t want to consider it. 50 miles is a little further than I really want to go. The support of FTR, and especially Matt Brayton, Stephanie Jacobs, Edd Ligsay made this possible. Alessandra bringing my kids and them holding up signs truly made my day! I really love these people that I run with, these trails that I run on and running, in general. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to pace for someone else. I can’t think of any way to show my appreciation for what they did for me.
Truth be told, I’m looking forward to doing this race again next year. I think I can finish under 12 hours. I know, I said 50 was too far, but that was race day and this 4 days later. I had more fun running this race than any I have done before and this is the first time I have ever been smiling at the end.