Sunday, April 06, 2008

American River 50 (A NEW PR!!)

Wow! After having a nearly non-existent training period between the Napa Valley Marathon and this race (and being sick, sick, sick!) I really contemplated whether or not to do this race. I didn't want to get hurt and be out for the rest of the season, but I did sign up and really needed a confidence booster.

After a lot of thinking, (and having a hard time at the training run two weeks before) I decided that I would just go and finish the race. Even if it meant going 12 hours, I was going to be ok with it.

Friday afternoon, Ocean Beach Jeff came over to Oakland and we carpooled up to the Fleet Feet store to pick up our packets. We headed over to "Sacramento" Jeff's, where we would be spending the night. (Thanks Jeff!) We headed out for dinner. What's funny is that I had the exact opposite of what I normally would have for dinner the night before a race. Chicken strips and fries. Fried Food! Not exactly my stomach's best friend, but it was calling my name!

Got up nice and early to get ready for the race. Sac'to Jeff drove us to the start in Sacramento. It was a pretty cool morning (I think in the lower 40s). I had forgotten my gloves, so thankfully Jeff had a pair for me to wear. (It's great staying a runner's house the night before a race. If you forgot something, they'll have it!) Lots & Lots of people! AR50 reminds me of a marathon. Lots of people and an extra long line at the port-a-potties.

We started on the bike path that follows the American River. I ran with Jeff for about 3 miles when we caught up with Eldrith. I haven't seen Eldrith for about a month so I had to stop and give her a hug! Jeff ran ahead and Eldrith spent the next several miles running together. It was great to catch up with her and talk. I had a couple of stops along the bike path (it's sooo nice to have a toilet instead of the poison oak infested woods!)

It was about mile 10?? that I took off from Eldrith. She was running a great pace, around 10:15 min/mile, but my legs told me it was time to go a little faster. I hit the half marathon point around 2 hours 20 minutes. Uh Oh! I thought. Am I running too fast or just right? The thing that gets people at AR50 is the "road marathon" section. It's a fairly "easy" 50 miler when you look at the elevation change, but it's VERY easy to go out way to fast. I got into Beal's Point aid station feeling awesome! I did not feel like I just finished a marathon. I think I got in around 5 hours.

Along the way, Sac'to Jeff had been at every aid station cheering all of us on. It is REALLY nice to have someone you know out there on the course. At the halfway mark, Jeff ran with me out of the aid station and to the levee road. He gave me a few updates. Jeff was about 10 minutes ahead of me and Buzz was just a minute or two. Hmmmm....Could I catch them?

I got up on the levee road and notice Catra was in front of me. I was a little "star-struck". I meet Catra through the blogging world when I first started running ultras. I've always wanted to meet her. She has an amazing blog, she has done some amazing runs and fast-packing through the wilderness. I'm just in awe of her! I finally got to introduce myself (and to her boyfriend) and had a nice quick conversation with her. She's great. She asked me how I was doing. I told her I was feeling quite well and that my new goal for the race was to catch that old guy in the white shirt ahead of us. She laughed and said that she had been leapfrogging with him most of the race.

Off I went. Buzz was in my sights and flashbacks from Rio Del Lago 100 mile came. This is the last couple of miles to Cavitt Middle School (the finish line). I remember chugging along picking runners off as quickly as my blistered feet could carry me. I finally caught up to Buzz and told him that he's making us younger guys look bad! He laughed and we talked for a couple of miles. My legs were still feeling pretty good, so now with some downhills to play with, I started to take them more aggressively.

I hit Rattlesnake Bar Aid station fast. It's a quick downhill and I let 'er rip. Sac'to Jeff was there helping out with his running club that was running the aid station. He was very amazed that I was already there (so was I!)

Now, I can't remember if I had passed Jeff at this point or not. I thought it was very funny when I did. When caught up to him on the trails, I thought it would be funny to do something. I snuck up behind him and pinched his butt. He jumped and looked back ready to attack. I was laughing so hard, it probably was a good thing he didn't have a stronger reaction and hit me or something. He had hit a low spot and was starting to have a hard time. Anyone that's run these things understands! He figured that he hadn't been eating and drinking enough. What's great about having done many of these, you start to know exactly what to do to pull yourself out. Jeff's obviously becoming a seasoned runner. Being able to figure these things out when your head is barely screwed on is not always easy.

Seeing that Jeff was going to pull himself through (and he looked really good considering how he felt), I took off downhill. I just couldn't get over how fast I could go down the trail. It felt like when I was a little kid, going to my grandparent's cabin on the Mississippi River. The cabin was on a tall hill with the river below. As kids, we would be all excited when we first got there and would run down the hill to the river. With the American River below me, I felt like a kid again, running down towards the water. Instead of being concerned with how my feet were being placed, how at any moment I could twist my ankle, that my quads, knees and ankles were taking a beating, I just flowed down the trail. All of those thoughts plus the negative thoughts of beating a certain time, trying to keep up with the person ahead of me, being pushed by people running behind me...all of that was gone. It was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I was lighter. And I could flow down those hills.

I kept passing people. I walked every uphill (and I mean every tiny uphill) and took a drink each time I was walking. The moment I crested a hill, I kicked it into high gear and dropped as quickly as I could. I had a big smile on my face, I laughed to myself (I even put my arms out like a little kid pretending to be an airplane), I've never had such a great time.

I got into Manhattan Bar Aid station. The sign said 4.4 miles to the next aid station. I started to do the math in my head. I figured once I reach the bottom of the last hill, it would take me an hour to get up it. I looked at my watch and figured if I push it a little, I'll probably come around 10:15 to 10:30. I got myself out of the aid station quickly and back on the trail.

The last portion of this course is alllll uphill. Literally, it is all uphill! One thing that I didn't realize is the last aid station is only 2.4 miles from the finish line. I thought it was 3.3 miles! Once I enter Last Gasp aid station, I looked down and saw that I had 35 minutes to do the last 2.4 miles to come in under 10 hours! I quickly got the top off of my water bottle, handing it to a volunteer who quickly filled it up. With a big grin, I ran out of the aid station up the hill. I wanted sub-10 hours. I was going to get sub-10 hours!

I'm not a great uphill runner, but I can walk like it's nobody's business. I figured that if I kept my walking pace lower than 15 min/mile and added some running here and there, I'd be ok. I hit the 2 miles to go sign and had 28 minutes. That put a jump in my step! I started to do more running. I was able to walk about 12-13 min/mi and run 9:30-9:50 min/mi. Boy, did I ever want this bad! I passed the 1 mile to go sign and had about 17 minutes to finish. I decided to do a little more walking (I was getting really tired by this point) and remembered that last year there was a 1/2 mile sign. I figured once I hit that sign I'll re-evaluate the situation. I kept going and going and realized that I was down to about 10 minutes to go. I was getting nervous that I hadn't seen the 1/2 mile sign. Then, I saw people turning off of road and heading up and round to the finish line. Holy Crap! I was already there!

I turned off the road and walked with all my might up the last bit of steep hill before and nice gentle down hill to the road. Thinking the finish line was right around the corner, I kicked it in and quickly passed one last person. I turned the corner and saw the finish line was at the other end of the parking lot. I kept going and decided to give it my all and run as hard as I could. I rounded the last corner and looked up at the clock, 9:55:57! I was amazed! I put my hands on top of my head and almost started crying. I was sooo amazed with what I had just done. They cut the timing chip off of my shoe and gave me my finisher's jacket. Sac'to Jeff was there and gave him a big hug. I was soo excited to finally break 10 hours in the 50 mile.

It wasn't too long when Jeff came around the bend and finished in a strong 10:04. It was 4 minutes off of his goal, but it was almost 1 hour faster than his previous 50 mile PR!!

We watched Buzz and Eldrith come in. I am so amazed at what great runners they are. I'm very lucky to be able to train with them when I can.

It was a great day and I met a lot of great people out there. Bill, who I ran with at the training run was out there finishing very strong at his first 50! Congratulations!

I love watching people finish, especially the mid to back of the packers. Ok...truth be told, I've never seen the front of the pack finish, because I'm always mid to back of the pack! But the look on these runner's face is so emotional for me. Seeing the runner that finished his 1st 50 miler, the woman who finished her 29th AR50 race, the woman who has run over 350+ ultras, the dad with his kids cheering him all the way to the finish line. They are all ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

If you ever want to see something amazing, volunteer at an aid station or be at the finish line of an ultra. To be out at an aid station, helping us runners get through what seems like hell at times and heaven at others, must be an amazing feeling. I know it's an amazing feeling for me to know that there are people out there, giving up their Saturday, to help me accomplish what some people might consider crazy, but what I consider one more goal, Another finish at another ultra. Each time is special and this was no different.

God I love this sport!


Blogger Rajeev said...


Congratulations on your PR. You must have run like the wind!!

Recover well and kick some more butt in Ruth Anderson.


1:32 AM  
Blogger Jeff Johnston said...


you looked really fresh flying down the hills, great job.

BTW, I don't like being touched. Remember what happend to that water bottle at RDL?


12:46 PM  

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