Monday, April 7, 2014

American River 50 Mile Endurance Run 2014 - Race Report

As I ran across the American River (AR) 50 Mile Endurance Run Finish Line, I walked slowly to get my medal, a bottle of water, and I saw my friends Mindy, Deirdre, and Pen. I hugged each and every one of them but when I hugged Mindy I started crying, and crying incessantly. I can't believe I did it. I finally did it... I completed my first 50 mile race!

4:15 AM

A complimentary shuttle from one of the official hotels/motels took us to the start line at Brown's Ravine Marina. We got there in what seemed like no time at all. Our bus driver was gracious enough to let us stay in the bus for a while, but then she had to gently kick us out when she got her marching orders to depart and go back to her station.

I dropped off my drop bags for Beals Point, Rattlesnake Bar, and the Finish Line. I then did the customary peeing trip to the porta potties. One time before heading to the tents to warm up with an early crowd of ultra runners, and another trip just 10-15 minutes before the race start.

It was nice seeing familiar faces at the start. I saw mostly saw friends from Wolf Pack Racing, who have almost pretty much adopted me the past few trail races I've done: Brian, Philip, Yvonne, and some new faces such as Alison, who was doing AR50 as her first 50 miler. I saw Alisa, who I got formally introduced to by my friend Pen as we were gleefully eating In N Out Burgers, our reward after doing Way Too Cool 50K. I also saw Alyssa, who like me, is making her second attempt at a 50 miler after not making the second hard cutoff (Mile 36) at the North Face Endurance Challenge (NFEC) 50 Mile Race.

6:15 AM

The race has started. I decided this time to hang back and go at my own pace, rather than starting out with any of my runner friends. I wanted to set my own pace at the very start. From miles 0 - 24.31 at Beals Point, I decided to do a run/walk with a 4 minute run, 1 minute walk ratio. I decided to follow the tip from Coach Kirk from the Fleet Feet Ultra team that I joined and trained with for this race. I didn't want to get caught up with the usual adrenaline that runners have at the start of the race, only to fade away and slow down sooner than I would anticipate.

It felt a little weird to start walking right away at the start of a race only after running 4 minutes, but I did so anyways. I thought I would hear the usual question "Are you okay?" that runners tend to ask other runners when they start walking or passing by them. Instead I gradually ended up seeing some runners doing run/walk themselves. I wasn't sure whether it was their strategy too at the onset, but I was glad to have some company employing my strategy.

The first 24+ miles of AR50 was a mixture of roads and trails, which I didn't really care for, in all honesty. I was initially wondering at the start whether I should have started out with road shoes, but having never seen the first 30 miles of the course, I didn't want to risk wearing trail shoes in trails that might be technical or need traction (flashback to my rough half marathon at Mount Diablo). It turns out that wearing my Brooks Gore Tex trail shoes were sufficient, and running on the dirt/trail side when I can helped prevent any serious injuries on the latter part of my race.

While relatively flat for the most part, the first 24+ miles had its share of hills and inclines. I had to start rethinking my run/walk strategy at a certain point, as run/walk doesn't work too well when I end up running up hill and walking down hill and flats. I started changing to the previous trail race strategies of walking up hills and running down hills and flats. I was on pace to meet my first pacer and dear friend Mindy around 11 AM. Not quite the 11:15 AM that I advertised would be the earliest I would get to Beals Point, but I did get there by 11:30, which was 90 minutes ahead of the cutoff time. My strategy in the race was to build a good buffer of time and lead at the early parts of the race, because I knew I would eventually slow down once I hit the higher mileage in the 30s and 40s.

11:30 AM (Beals Point to Granite Bay)

I was still in good spirits when I saw my friends Mindy, Deirdre and Monica at Beals Point. It was an aid station with a drop bag. Mindy was intuitive enough to get my drop bag ready as I arrived and we quickly replenished my salt sticks (which I consumed every hour) and Vfuel (a gel which I consume every 30 minutes). We topped off my hydration pack with water and my water bottle with electrolytes (seems a bit excessive for hydration but given the heat that day, I was glad to have that water bottle with me).

The 5+ miles flew fast as Mindy led me through some gentle rollers to Granite Bay. She even amused me with her singing and creative song composition (aka made up songs). I have known Mindy for over two years now and her company during the start of the onset of my fatigue was most welcome. We arrived shortly at Granite Bay around 1:30 PM.

1:30 PM (Granite Bay to Rattlesnake Bar)

As we arrived at Granite Bay, I was at mile 29.45 at that point. Fatigue has definitely set in, and my body has started its process of revolting (and maybe panicking at what I'm doing to it, and still about to do to it). I decided Granite Bay would be a good pit stop (or poop stop if you will). I wasn't having gastro intestinal issues per se, but I did have to relieve myself after eating almost 14 gels at that point. If you're an ultra runner, you know that talking about pooping is almost a normal conversation and nothing to be embarrassed about, especially since you have to do it eventually after being out running and eating for so long (I do wonder if the elite runners do it, or just "hold it in").

Mindy and Deirdre doubled as crew at the Granite Bay station and got me coke and some boiled potatoes dipped with salt. It was a welcome break from eating gels at that point. Deirdre and I said farewell to Mindy for now at that point as Deirdre was my designated pacer from Granite Bay to Rattlesnake Bar.

The next 11.54 miles seemed like the longest 11.54 miles of my life. I was so glad that Deirdre was there to pace me and insert some conversation every now and then. This part of the course was labeled "the meat grinder" for its constant rollers. We definitely stuck to our strategy of running down hills and flats and walking up the hills, but it was hard to get any momentum with the constant up hill and down hill that was given to us. I was also starting to feel my quads and hamstrings tighten up. I started to draw my experience from NFEC into play when I had to go up Dipsea after mile 30. I tuned out my semi-screaming quads and hamstrings. I did clam up half way towards this course as Deirdre paced me but I was thankful that she understood and that she still gave me the much needed company I needed by just being there and still constantly setting the pace and make sure we're on track to reach Rattlesnake Bar.

In addition to the constant rollers, the part that made this course tough was the scorching heat. The course was pretty much exposed and there were very few times when we were in the shade. When we got to Horseshoe Bar at mile 38.14, Deirdre suggested I put some ice in my cap and wear it, I did so and it was a very nice suggestion. I also doused myself with some cold water and changed my hydration bottle to have ice and water instead of ice and electrolytes, so I can continue to douse myself with water on the last few miles to Rattlesnake Bar.

4:30 PM (Rattlesnake Bar to Finish)

As we arrived at Rattlesnake Bar (mile 40.94), I was starting to envision the finish line. I was glad that my friend and pacer Pen and I ran this course just two weeks ago to preview it together and talk about our race strategy. When we ran together, I let her lead and dictate the pace, much like Deirdre and Mindy. At mile 40+, I definitely did not have any fresh legs at that point. I was even having a hard time just running the relatively flat single track, but I did so at times when Pen and I felt like I had some energy to expend.

Even though I can smell victory, I was being very cautious. One thing that I didn't let on to Deirdre and Pen was just how plain fatigued I was, and I was even a hard time just catching my breath and breathing normally. This was why I asked Pen if we could slow down a walk at flats quite a few times, and I was glad we still had that buffer time (we had 3 hours and 45 minutes to cover 9 miles, and we still finished with a lot of time to spare). I could have pushed myself to run a lot more of the last part of the course, but I was deathly afraid of not even completing it and jinxing it, especially when we start hiking up two big hills called the "Dam Hill" and "Last Gasp".

I was actually glad to see the Dam Hill as that meant the running part of our course was over. Sure, we had to power hike up a steep hill, but that was almost a normal and easy thing for me to do. We also knew how further along the top of the two "hills" were (seemed like mountains at that time, of course). I was impressed to see a lot of ultra runners summoning the strength to mix running up those hills. As much as I wanted to do the same, I still didn't want to get caught up in the euphoria of it, much like at the start of the race. Again, I didn't want to jinx it by suddenly fainting at mile 47, or my quads and hamstrings seizing to the point where I can't even walk uphill.

As Pen and I approached Last Gasp, we saw some aid station volunteers and some of the guys wore some pretty weird tights (like tights which make them look like you're seeing the actual muscles of a body). I learned later on that those same volunteers were shirtless later on. I saw some pictures, but I can't say that I really missed anything at all (I'm still glad they volunteered!). I did thank them for the two cups of pepsi that I gulped down since I was clearly sick of gels at that point.

As we approached the very top before the short stretch to the finish, I still asked Pen to hang on and run with me for a little while before she would run faster to the finish and get a picture of me crossing the finish. I still wanted the assurance that I wasn't going to faint!

As I entered Auburn Dam Overlook I summoned up the last bits of my energy and ran to the finish. I was amazed I still had some energy in me despite all my trials and tribulations that day. I crossed the finish and for a while I was actually disappointed that I didn't cry as I crossed the finish. That disappointment faded away as I saw my friends at the finish: Mindy, Deirdre, and Pen.

7:26 PM (Finish Line)

As I ran across the American River (AR) 50 Mile Endurance Run Finish Line, I walked slowly to get my medal, a bottle of water, and I saw my friends Mindy, Deirdre, and Pen. I hugged each and every one of them but when I hugged Mindy I started crying, and crying incessantly. I can't believe I did it. I finally did it... I completed my first 50 mile race!

Official Finish Time: 13 hours, 11 minutes, and 36 seconds.


  1. WAY TO GO! I really had no doubt you would nail this, but with long races, you never know what can happen. Your conservative approach was wise and rewarded - congrats on a great race! This is really inspiring!

  2. Congrats! Yes, the first half of this course is ... not that exciting even though it was a new course this year. Conservative is always a great approach!