AR50On Saturday, April 10th, 600 + runners gathered in the morning darkness to run a 50 mile ultra marathon. The American River 50 Mile Endurance Run is the second largest 50 mile trail marathon in the U.S. The run begins near the Guy West Bridge in Sacramento and follows the American River up to Auburn. The run features 3,474 ft of elevation ascent and 2,139 ft of elevation descent. The first half of the course is mostly pavement with the rest being run on single track.
MONSTERS AND MAGIC
In order for me to run all the way up the river I knew that my body would need to be in great condition. Two weeks before the race date I slightly pulled a in muscle in my calf while running on the Golden Gate Bridge.
With just over a week till the race date I visited a massage therapist who spends a lot of time on Ultra Runners. VeLoyce Shackelton at Monsters of Massage worked on my legs, he could tell that I was prone to cramping. Which I was. I've cramped up in every race prior. He told me to rub Absorbine gel (a horse muscle pain relief gel) on my legs three times a day, and to get up to The Auburn Running Company to purchase compression socks and Sportlegs. He also told me "No running until race day." This would be the hardest prescription to follow. I heeded his advice.
Without being able test out my calf on a training run I was flooded with self doubt. I resolved to the fact that there was a chance I would not be able to finish the race.
During race week a friend suggested that I visit a local physical therapist to look at my calf and apply "Magic Tape." Magic tape? I was ready to try anything. I would have carried a pregnant goat on my shoulders if it guaranteed me a finish. I made it over to Alves and Martinez Physical Therapy and Billy Martinez skillfully applied kinesio tape to my calf.
The last wrinkle to weigh on my mind was that my running shoes were wearing out. I had a new pair of shoes but I had only run in them three times. Either way I was taking a gamble, I decided to run in my older pair of shoes.
IT BAND OF BROTHERS (Start - 26.53)
My running partner Scott Smith and I joined fellow runner Ron Freeman at the start line. I met Ron through the Armstrong & Getty Show. He called the program after he had heard that I was running AR50. He invited me to run with him, an offer I could not refuse.
Our plan was to run the first half of the race at a 9:00 minute mile pace and a 10:00 minute mile pace through the foothills.
We started the race in the dark at 6AM. Running on the pavement is not my favorite, especially after not having run in over a week. The weather was perfect, it was in the high 50's and the sun was beginning to peak over the Sierras.
The beginning of the race went well. The trail was flat and hugged next to the American River. My legs felt okay, not totally fresh, but I was happy that my calf was not presenting any issues. A couple of runners from out of state joined our group, Brian from Toronto and Chris from DC. We talked about the race course and our running experiences.
My friend Becky (who I also met through the Armstrong and Getty Show) offered to be my crew. She is an experienced ultra runner. An unexpected injury kept her from running the race, so she was kind enough to support me throughout the race. She met me at mile 17, just prior to the climb up Hazel Ave. She replaced my water bottle and sent me on my way.
We climbed up to the Nimbus Overlook aid station at mile 18. I grabbed potato rolled in salt, banana and pay day bars. I washed them down with water and headed down the single track. Ron bellowed out a "Thank you volunteers!!!" as we left.
We were making our way through the Nimbus Bluffs. It was nice to run on dirt and not on pavement. My IT band began to throb at mile 20. I had a really bad bout with an IT band injury a few months earlier as a result from running on worn out shoes. If I continued on these any further the IT band would force me to stop. Walking wouldn't even be an option. I called Becky on my cell phone and told her I would need to have a shoe change at the mile 22 aid station.
My IT band was getting worse and worse. Descents were killing me. We climbed down from the bluffs and made way to the Negro Bar aid station. This aid station was being operated by a large group of volunteers from my running club, The Folsom Trail Runners. I would have been more enthusiastic to see my running friends but I was too focused on my IT band.
Becky addresses our issues.
(photo courtesy Mike Giomi)
Becky had two chairs waiting for us along with a bevy of food and equipment. My running partner Scott had complained about a hot spot on his foot. I told him Becky could take a look at it. We approached her and she ordered us to sit. She simultaneously worked on getting my timing chip off my old shoes and onto my new ones and examined Scott's foot. She grabbed some food and advil for me and sent us out. People were wowing about Becky's performance as we left Negro Bar.
Becky and Diane from the Folsom Trail Runner help get me out of the aid station.
(photo courtesy of Mike Giomi)
My legs started to feel better in new shoes but the IT band was still aching. Ron told me to take more advil at the next aid station.
We were back on the pavement of the bike trail and making our way up the 4.13 miles to Beals Point. Beals Point is an important landmark because it's past the halfway point and also marks the end to running on pavement. The trail started to climb and my legs were already getting tired.
By this point Ron and Scott had run ahead of me. I told them that my IT band was holding me back and to continue ahead of me. I ran down into Beals Point aid station alone, but I was anything but. My family, parents, Becky and running buddy Jesse were all waiting for me.
The first person I saw was my Dad. Seeing him brought forth memories of him attending my sporting events in high school. It really boosted my spirits. Then I saw my Mom. She was waving a pink pom-pom in the air. I ran up to her and gave her a high-five.
I ran ahead and was greeted by my wife Tammy and daughter Emma. Emma was waving a pom-pom. I gave my wife a kiss and ran with my daughter up to aid station food table. I grabbed a bunch of food and just mashed it into my face.
Becky exchanged my water bottle which was restocked with S-Caps, sportlegs and gels. My running buddy Jesse was there. Jesse is another ultra runner I met through the Armstrong and Getty Show Facebook page. (odd, isn't it?) Jesse and I have been out on a couple of training runs before. He offered to pace me from Beals Point to the finish line. What an awesome offer. Jesse is an experienced runner who had run this race before so I relieved to be in such great hands.
THE LONG WAY HOME (26.53 to 50)
I gave my dad a hug as Jesse and I headed on our way out of Beals Point. We finally got our feet onto dirt trail. I let Jesse know about my issues and he let in with the positive reinforcement, which I badly needed.
The journey from Beals Point to the finish line would take us from Folsom up to Granite Bay and onward to Auburn. The trail would be on some fire road but mostly single track. Sections of this trail get very technical which poses a problem for tired legs and weary heads. The trail quickly ascends and descends over ruts, rocks and roots.
By the time we ran up to mile 3o I knew the rest of the race was going to be a struggle. My new shoes were taking a toll on my body and I was developing stomach issues. I was starting to feel nauseous. Jesse began monitoring my nutrition intake. I was taking in too many calories and not drinking enough water.
As we ran into the aid station at mile 31.67 we ran through a large group of people waiting to greet friends and family. The crowd was uncommonly quiet, so I pumped my hands into the air, encouraging the people to cheer. They did. I grabbed some chicken noodle soup and we headed back out.
Running through the Foothills was challenging, but after all this was a 50 mile race, what was I supposed to expect? By mile 42 I wanted to puke. We had been climbing up and down the rocky single track. I was power hiking on the ups and taking slow steps on the downs. My legs were toast and my right quad was cramping up.
The dirt trail ended at mile 47.56, the beginning of the dreaded "LAST GASP." Last Gasp is a 1,700 ft climb on pavement to the finish line. I began a slow walk up. This is where Jesse kicked into gear. He picked out a landmark and made me run to it. We would walk for a few yards and then he would start up again. "See that sign up there? We're running there, dude. Let's go. GO!"
We kept climbing up from the river to the Auburn Overlook. With two miles left I put on my iPod for a little more motivation. Most of the runners around me were walking. I started my charge up the hill. Runners were looking at me like I was a freak. I had been pacing with them for so long that must have been so unexpected to see me go. I lost my steam but Jesse kept on top of me, picking out landmarks for me to run to and motivating me to get to the finish line to meet my family and drink a beer.
I got up to the finishing area. It seemed like forever before I would get to the finish line. My wife and daughter were waiting for me. My daughter ran with me across the finish line. I picked her up and gave a hug and a kiss. I collected my finisher's jacket and Emma collected a stuffed puffin.
I finished in 9:21, 187th place. I was forty minutes off my expected finish time, but I'll take it. I also qualified for Western States, I hope to have a race report for that one day.
A special thank you to my family, Becky, Jesse and the 200+ AR50 volunteers. Without them, this race report would not have been possible, or it would have been very short to say the least.
Jesse & me at the finish.