Armed with all I have learned from the previous year and since, I feel as prepared as I could be for this years American River 50 Mile Endurance Run. Although I had battled Plantar Fasciitis and Achilles Tendonitis, I am feeling pretty good on this cold morning and ready to run.
Last year, I arrived late and had to park 2 miles from the start, barely making it back in time to start running. This year, I park at the finish and take the bus to the start line. I meet up with my buddy, Edd, and sit in his truck to keep warm. We watch the lunar eclipse and wait for the race to start. All checked in and ready to go, it is comforting to have time to relax before running.
I am fresh off a PR (although just barely) at the Way To Cool 50k and I had run the first and second half of this course to help me plan my strategy and coordinate with my crew. My main objective is to run more consistently. If my Strava graph is close to a flat line, I will consider this a success. My hope is to break 12 hours for the 50 miles. Those familiar with this race know that does not mean two 6 hour marathons. My plan is to finish the first half in about 5:30, leaving me 6:30 for the back half of the run.
As usual, I start out a little fast, but settle into a comfortable pace and enjoy the easier part of the run. I catch up to my friends, the Stracks, and sneak this selfie on the levee. Then it is onto the road and under the Johnny Cash bridge.
No more pictures though. My intent is to run comfortably, move through aid stations, stay hydrated, and fuel smart. I opt for my Orange Mud Dual Quiver, rather than a hydration pack, because it is easier to fill and the two bottles allow me to carry water and electrolytes. I carry some Gu and some chews with me, but I am able to use what is available at the aid stations without slowing down. Peanut butter sandwiches, oranges, salt tablets, refill the bottles and keep moving.
Still feeling good at mile 10, I cross the footbridge and make my way around Lake Natoma. I am wearing my old Hoka Mafate 2s and almost wishing I hadn’t because they are a little small and this part of the race has some downhill stretches that I can feel in my toes. Last year I ran the entire race in these shoes and I ended up losing two and a half toe nails.
The weather is about perfect. Cold enough at the start to wear a couple of layers and running tights, but not so cold that I am uncomfortable. I find myself running near Edd, who I know is considerably faster than me and feeling like I could run with him all day.
I am wrong! We hit the dirt and our first climb and back down and we are still together at the aid station at mile 17, but he leaves ahead of me and I will not see him again until the finish.
Up onto the bluffs, back onto the paved bike trail and into the best aid station ever (FTR at Negro Bar) I still feel good and still move through quickly. It’s all pavement from here to Beals Point and the half-way point of the run. Here I get to pick up my pacer, Stephanie and I indulge myself a longer rest. I change clothes for the, now, warmer weather, put on fresh socks, and my newer, slightly larger, Hoka Mafate 3s, and switch from my watch to the Strava app on my iPhone (since my Garmin has a 10 hour battery).
Completing the first half in under 5:30 (by 8 minutes), I feel in pretty good shape to reach my 12 hour goal. Looking back at the first half Strava graph later, it looks about perfect. The line is nearly flat at just over 13 minutes/mile and I still feel pretty fresh, but the technical and the steeper part of the course await me and, as I tire, consistency will desert me.
Although the terrain is not really steep, it is never flat and I find myself spending more time at aid stations. The Meat Grinder eats me up with it’s technical rolling hills and I see my pace slow more than I want it to at this point. Stephanie keeps me moving, however, in spite of this stretch having one less aid station from last year. I run out of water and am really dragging by the time I reach the Rattlesnake Bar aid station. This is where I am to meet Matt to pace me the last 10 miles, but he had a family event to go to and I learn he has switched out with my long-time running partner Dave who will push me to the finish. This is a welcome surprise, since this is the guy that got me started in all this ultra running to begin with.
I spend too much time at that aid station, but I get out and back on the trail, knowing that my 12 hour dream is out of reach, I set my sights on breaking 13 hours, which is still a half-hour improvement over last year.
I almost bonk at mile 46, a result of running out of water 6 miles earlier and the fact that my long runs have not been supported enough by weekday runs. With Dave’s help, I pull it back together and then hit the steepest part of the course. Mile 48 is another slow mile, but I push hard through mile 49 and sprint (sort of) to the finish. I felt someone trying to catch me coming in the chute, but I can’t let happen now, so I give it all I have left to cross the finish.
My second 50 mile race in the books at 12:57.
I plan to skip this race next year. I’m sure Ill find something else to run, but I want to return the favor and pace Dave for the same race.
Truth be told, I gave it all I had and I don’t know if I could run it any faster, but maybe…