Monday, April 6, 2009

American River 50 Mile Race Report

The American River 50 Mile Endurance Run came just a scant three weeks after Way Too Cool, and though I ran pretty hard at WTC, I felt great coming in to AR50. Instead of taking a down week between the two races, I decided to keep my mileage up fairly high, only shaving a few miles off my weekly totals and cutting my mileage a fair amount in the week leading up to the race. This strategy was a bit risky, considering I had a little pain/tendinitis in my left Achilles and heel, and some swelling in my right knee, but nothing I thought I couldn't manage with some ice and smart training (read - minimal hill running and a lot of easy pace running).

Lori and I drove up the night before and stayed in a hotel, because with a 6am start I really didn't want to get up at 2am the morning of the race. The hotel was pretty inexpensive, and a decent room. I spent a few minutes organizing my stuff when we got there, then settled in to enjoy a beer and a little relaxation before going to sleep. The next morning, when I went to take a shower, I found one of the reasons the rooms are so inexpensive - the water for the shower never got above "lukewarm." Oh well, it woke me up. And the room had a mini coffee maker, so I couldn't really complain all that much. At least I didn't have to try to find a place to get coffee on the way to the start.

I did eat a good breakfast, my standard pre-race breakfast of whole wheat bread (though usually toasted, I'm gonna have to get a "travel toaster" for out-of-town races!), peanut butter, raisins and a banana sliced on top of it all. And of course the aforementioned coffee. And a little water. One other thing I have started to incorporate into my long training runs and races is Vespa, and I am now a firm believer in it. In my experience it has really stabilized my energy levels, and I don't seem to need to eat as much, though I am still experimenting with food intake as I have had a few times where I'm really hungry while on a long run or during a race. I waited until I was at the registration area, about 40 minutes or so before the race, to drink the Vespa as per their instructions.

We had wanted to hook up with some of the Runners World Forum members before the race, as Becky Johnson Sabin had graciously offered the use of the Junior League office as a pre-race respite for forumites (she is the current president of the Sacramento chapter). Their office is right next to the start area by the California State University Sacramento campus. Unfortunately I took a little too much time getting ready and didn't have time to stop by. Maybe next time.

We lucked out and found a parking spot right next to the registration area, and I got my bib and timing chip right away. I also had to make an additional pit stop to take care of some "important pre-race business," which was a relief in many ways. Those kinds of stops during a run can be a real drag, especially if not done with the proper facilities. I got my bib pinned on, chip secured to my shoe, and it was time to head to the start line. I was supposed to meet some other guys that I am running with on a team before the race, as one of them brought our team singlets that had just been made (About 7 guys are running as a team for Quicksilver Running Club for the Pacific Association USA Track and Field Ultra Grand Prix series and a company called Rhomobile is sponsoring the team, which we call RhoQuick. Two of the team members work at Rhomobile - Adam Blum, CEO; and Pierre-Yves Couteau, Dir. of Sales. The other team members are Jean Pommier, Sean Lang, Jim Magill, and John Burton.) Just after saying goodbye to Lori I ran into the group as they were getting a team picture taken, what luck! We got another quick picture, and got going to the start line.

Part of Team RhoQuick just before the start. L-R: me, Sean Lang, Pierre-Yves Couteau, Adam Blum, Jean Pommier. photo courtesy of Jean Pommier.

The AR50 course is basically a two-parter. The first part - about 26 and a half miles - is along a flat, paved bike path along the American River. The second part - about 24 and a half miles - is mostly on dirt roads and single track trail and includes most of the 3,500' of climb, with 1,00' of that climb coming in the final 3 miles. My plan was to run comfortably for the first half, and save something for the last half. If I paced myself properly I figured I had a real chance to finish in under 8 hours. Though I certainly wasn't going to be bummed if I didn't.

As we were walking up to the back of the pack at the starting line, the horn sounded and the race started - we were late! Funny, none of us seemed all that concerned, at least I didn't. I wasn't going to win this thing, and it was chip timed so no worries. I started out at an easy pace, and worked my way along the side passing runners as I warmed up and tried not to trip on anything in the dark since I didn't bring a headlamp. We ran "the wrong way" for about a mile before turning around and heading back east towards Auburn, and soon enough the sky lightened and it was a beautiful morning.

I settled into a good, comfortable pace and enjoyed the sunrise, and the sights and sounds of runners at a race. I have found that trail and ultra races are such an enjoyable experience on so many levels. People are very friendly and often strangers running together for a few miles will strike up a conversation and friendships are born. I enjoy seeing the various clothing choices and equipment options that people use. I have learned a lot just by observing what other people do and use, and experiment during my training to see what works for me. It's a fun part of this sport.

After a few miles I came across a couple of guys I have come to know through another club I run with - the Santa Cruz Track Club - Jon and Mike. This was their first 50 miler and they had been excited and a bit nervous in the days leading up to the race. We had run our weekly track workout together the Wednesday before the race - 10 400's at 4 minutes each. While everyone else ran at mile pace, we were the "back of the packer's" for each one. Though running easy and slow, we were consistent, coming in within a 5 second range for each lap. Both Jon and Mike were feeling good when I saw them, and Jon finished in just over 11 hours, while Mike finished in 8:54!

About an hour and a half into the run I took my first S Cap and thereafter took one an hour. I also made sure to grab a little food at almost every aid station. Since it wasn't too hot in the early part of the race I wasn't drinking a lot, but still keeping hydrated. I was able to cruise through a couple aid stations only stopping long enough to grab a pb&j square, while at others I needed only fill one bottle of the two I carried the whole race.

Not long after passing Jon and Mike, I came up on another guy I know through the Santa Cruz Track Club - Howard Wood. Now Howard is pretty fast, I've been at a number of races where he ripped it up and finished before me by a pretty comfortable margin. The fact that I was catching up to him got me a bit worried that maybe I was pushing my pace too much too early. We chatted for awhile, and he said he really hadn't trained all that much coming into this race, though he always seems to say that (can you say sandbagger?!? :-) ). Ahh well, I was in a good groove and didn't feel like I was pushing anything too hard, so kept up the pace. I lost Howard somewhere at an aid station, and then saw him again at the finish area.

I hit the marathon mark somewhere around 3:39, and Beals Point at 3:43 for an 8:23/mile pace over the first 26.7 miles. I was right on pace for what I felt I needed to do to hit my "big" goal of a sub-8 hour race. Lori met me there with fresh bottles of cold water and sports drink, and I had another Vespa. I said bye to Lori and hit the trail.

As I came up to the aid station table I saw Jean Pommier with camera in hand and knew something had gone wrong for him. At the finish area I confirmed that his asthma had acted up again and he pulled out at Beals Point. There is something about this race, and the air in Sacramento, that seems to have it in for him as he struggled mightily last year as well.

Leaving Beals Point we quickly got onto dirt road and then some single track. The trail took us along Folsom Lake, and it was some beautiful terrain. Ups and downs, some technical sections and lots of wildflowers blooming. The temperature was climbing a bit, but not too bad, especially in the shaded sections. A couple aid stations came and went, and for the most part I was feeling pretty good and keeping a good pace.

Somewhere around Rattlesnake Bar I came up on Adam Blum, one of the guys on the running team I'm on. He was retying his shoes. We traded places for a while, and with about 5 or 6 miles to go decided we could work together to push/pull each other to the finish. We were both getting a bit tired at this point, and figured the motivation of running with each other would help, so we decided to finish together. And did it ever help.

The last three miles of the course climbs 1,000' up to Auburn, and the first half mile is pretty steep. It was getting a bit hot at that point, too. We definitely walked that. And we got passed by a few people in this stretch. As the grade flattened out we picked the pace back up to a run.

The Last Gasp aid station couldn't come soon enough, as we both needed water. The aid station volunteers rocked it there, coming down the hill to grab our bottles. They had ice, too, and I put a handful in my hat, which really helped cool me down over the next mile as it melted and ran down my face and neck. We slowed to a walk again for a short stretch, but picked it back up to a run for the final half mile or so.

As we rounded the last bend before the finish line we were passed by one last person, Jesse Barrigan, a guy I had gotten to know via the Runners World Forum and had met in person at the Way Too Cool 50K a few weeks before. This was his first 50 miler and he did great.

Adam and I crossed the finish line together at 7:54:58. Volunteers were right there to hand us our finishers jacket and snip off our timing chips, and a familiar face helped with mine - Victoria Folks, everybody's favorite trail running tart - who was supposed to be running. Unfortunately she had a recurrence of tendinitis in her knee and had to drop at mile 18.

I was really happy to meet my "big" goal of finishing in under 8 hours! Lori met me just past the finish area with a big hug and congratulations. And a few of our other teammates met us as well - Sean, Pierre and Jean. We grabbed a seat and all shared our race details for a little while. But Adam had to hit the road, as he was giving a presentation in Southern California that evening on his company and our team sponsor - Rhomobile. Sean was giving him a lift to the airport, so they took off. I changed clothes and then grabbed a cheeseburger and inhaled it while talking with Jesse and Howard. After getting home later on, I also inhaled a big burrito. Guess I burned a few calories.

This was a great day and race for me. I put everything together to meet my goal of sub-8 hours. And it was a great confirmation that my training is on track, and I am applying knowledge gained from previous races and mistakes. I didn't have any issues with cramping, never felt like my energy was low, and ran pretty strong for the majority of the race. I still have room for improvement, but feel I am on the right track and additional improvement will come from continued and focused training.

I also have to say that I am becoming a believer in Vespa. My energy levels throughout the race were very even. I'm sure I could have eaten more, but I never felt low on energy, and never felt a big spike in energy even after eating a pb&j square, brownie, and some other stuff at one aid station. I'm definitely going to continue to use that stuff.

Here are my race stats:

Total Time - 7:54:58
Total Pace - 9:29/M
Overall Rank - 59/510
Age Group Rank - 12/124
------- 26.7 M -------
Time - 3:43:45.3
Pace - 8:23/M
Overall Rank - 80
Age Group Rank - 18
------- Finish -------
Time - 4:11:11.9
Pace - 10:47/M
Overall Rank - 48
Age Group Rank - 8 (Holy shit - 8th place in my age group from the halfway point to the finish?!? Kinda hard to believe!!!)

Link to overall results.
Link to age group results.

Kudos to Julie Fingar, the Race Director, for putting on a great event. And the volunteers ROCKED it out there! Every aid station had a great group of folks who were very encouraging and helpful. Thank you all for giving your time to help the runners have a great run - your time and effort are greatly appreciated. :-)


Peter Lubbers said...

Great report, Andy. Congrats on a well-executed race.

Baldwyn said...

Nice job out there, Andy. Thanks for the report! RhoQuick is tearing it up. Wonder if you guys can get Jean's Jed Smith points retroactively applied!

fatozzig said...

I'm late to the party, but great report and run, Andy. 50 miles in under 8 hours. Excellent!