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American River 50

April 9, 2012

Sub 9 baby.

I ran through the finish line on Saturday, arms high in the air and a big smile plastered on my face after seeing I had come in Sub 9. I knew it wouldn’t come easy and I knew I would have to work for it, but I was ready for the challenge and nothing feels better than hitting your A goal. It brought back the same emotions in 2010 when I qualified for Boston at Goofy, except this time, it wasn’t so I could get into another race, it was a personal testament to see if I could push the limits.

This was the 33rd American River 50 Mile Endurance Run beginning in Sacramento, California, this run is the most popular 50-miler in the United States and offers runners a chance to view picturesque scenery as they navigate the challenging American River Bike Trail and the Pioneer Express Trail all the way to Auburn, California. The race begins at Guy West Bridge, and finishes at the Auburn Overlook.

Miles 1-26

The race started at 6AM and my friend, Derrick, who so graciously hosted me in Sacramento dropped me off at the start line 30 minutes before the start. I quickly found my friends Jack and Steve as we chatted in the dark. I knew this would be the last time I would see them since they had some pretty aggressive goals themselves. I lined up at the start and ran into my other friend from L.A., Pedro, and we went over both our goals of hoping to go under 9 hours. Even though we hadn’t previously agreed to run together, it just happened naturally. We were running 8:45-9 minute/miles for the first 26 miles, chatting sometimes but mostly just keeping each other on pace and motivated. It was nice having someone by your side, hitting the same strides as you. It was my goal to come into the Mile 26 aid around 4-4:15. Even though this pace should have been fairly easy and comfortable, we both felt it was borderline. The miles were definitely taxing and the road was taking a toll on both our legs. It scared me thinking that I will have to run a minute faster per mile in 2 weeks at Eugene. I’m sure a lot of it was mental though, knowing that we had another 24 miles on trails to go after made the pace not that comfortable.

Even though the first 26 was mostly along a scenic paved road that ran along the American River, I thought it was really scenic and didn’t mind the pavement that much. You could also choose to run alongside the dirt path shoulder of the bike trail that has decomposed granite for a softer running surface which some people were doing, but I knew I would be faster staying on the road. I tried to run all the tangents since the path winded a lot and it was mostly shaded under the trees so it never got too hot. Honestly, the 26 miles really flew by. We hit our first “hill” around Mile 17.5 where it was also a small section on trails. Pedro and I were both so relieved to finally be able to catch our breath and hike a little bit. It was weird to run so consistently in a 50 miler. After crossing the Hazel Avenue Bridge, we ascended on a single track trail to the Hazel Bluffs where we re-connected with the bike trail and intermixed with fire roads and single track trails through mile 22 before re-joining with the pavement. The rolling single track was awesome. It gave us a small glimpse of what was to come for the latter half of the race. Since it was still fairly early on, it was easy to get stuck behind a bunch of runners. Even though I was tempted to pass, I didn’t want to push it. One thing I’ve learned from ultra running is to not push the highs when you’re feeling good. It will come back to get you, always.

Miles 26-50 Auburn or Bust

I hit Beals Point, Mile 26, at 4 hours. Right on track. I immediately saw Derrick waiting with my trail shoes to change into. I switched shoes, took off the D-Tag and re-laced it back in, dropped my gloves and my road shoes and took off. I told him to catch up after he put away the stuff in his car. I barely spent much time at the aid station, I drank some GU Brew and sucked down another GU. Once Derrick caught up, we began the trail portion of the race. It was a hard transition from the road to trails, not bring able to run a 9 minute pace anymore and my feet generally felt heavier from the change of shoes and the mileage was finally starting to get to me. I knew I was on pace and my timing was good, but I was still worried about how I would feel during this last part of the course.

We chugged along, a couple rollers on the trails, the sun was out and it was warmer than I anticipated. Miles 28-31 were some of the hardest miles for me. I was tired and my legs felt heavy. I kept my eyes on my watch pretty consistently, I wouldn’t give up so easily especially now that more than half the race was over.  It’s always around these miles in most of my 50’s where I start to fade a little. My energy is waning, I’m not so happy anymore, my legs are tired and I’m generally over it. Most of the time it’s from lack of nutrition because I like to breeze through the aids spending maybe 1-2 minutes at each station. I never had to refill my Camelbak even though I only started with 50 ounces. Since the aid stations were fairly close together (3-4 miles apart), I just drank a lot when I got to each aid, taking shots of water, soda and GU Brew.

When we finally got to the Granite Bay Aid at Mile 31.67, I decided it was time to eat something other than GU and drink some soda to help me feel better. I decided to spend a couple more minutes at this aid recharging and getting ready for the next section. One thing I learned this race was that spending the extra couple of minutes at each aid really helps. I always thought I would lose so much time, but it’s better to lose a couple more minutes at each aid getting re-hydrated than breezing through and feeling like crap during the next section where you end up losing way more time. The next 10 miles flew by and I was back to a steady pace running along behind Derrick. He made sure I ran pretty much the whole way, only letting me hike up technical steep hills.  It’s amazing how much just a little bit of “real food” and soda can affect your performance. All of the sudden, I felt brand new again. I forgot about the miles on my legs and how many more I had to go, I focused on getting to the next aid. We hit two more aid stations where I did the same thing, ate some chips, hydrated with GU Brew, soda and water before we hit the big station at Mile 41 Rattlesnake Bar. I ended up passing a bunch of guys during this 10 mile section and was getting overly confidant that I could possibly finish with a 8:30.

One of the rare moments where it looks like I am actually running

I let my competitive side get ahead so I decided to breeze through the Mile 41 aid. Wrong move. I got too confidant and spent the next 10 miles paying for that one small mistake. All of the sudden, my stomach started acting up. It was like none of the food was going down and digesting even though I wasn’t even eating that much. I was starting to hit my 2nd wall during this last section and just counted the miles until the next aid at Mile 44. I looked terrible when I came through, nothing looked appealing to eat but I knew I had to get in the calories to keep going. I ate an orange slice, grabbed a handful of chips and took off. I could only get one chip down before I gave the rest to Derrick and told him I couldn’t finish it. Shortly after leaving the aid, I had to pull over on the side of the trail to throw up. I felt nauseous, sick and weak. This has never happened to me before. I think it was because we were constantly moving so I didn’t have a chance to digest any of the food. Every time I would leave an aid, I would still be eating while running. The food wasn’t going down and it just sat high in my stomach. I felt so defeated at this point with 6 miles to go and not being able to eat anything. I would spend the rest of the race running on an empty tank, only able to drink water and a little GU Brew, even soda would upset my stomach.

This last 6 mile stretch was probably the most miserable for me. I’m usually pretty happy the closer and closer I get to the finish, but knowing that I had a 3 mile climb from Mile 47 to the end was just weighing on me. I didn’t know what to expect and I knew my time would slow down a lot during these miles. Derrick tried to keep me motivated and helped anyway he could, asking if I wanted more water or GU but I could only shake my head. Because I couldn’t eat, I had no energy to talk to anyone. My music was playing and I was just staring at the ground watching the miles slowly tick by. I wanted to get to Mile 47 so badly so I could gauge how much time I had left before the 9 hour mark.

At mile 46, we climbed the infamous “Dam Wall”. It was pretty clear when the hill came. I immediately started power walking up the hill, it reminded me of Hell Hill back at home where even on fresh legs, it would be hard to run. I was so exhausted, hot and miserable. Derrick told me to keep on moving forward and run what I could while he ran up to the next aid station, Last Gasp, to get me some ice, which they unfortunately didn’t have. This aid station was in the middle of the hill and they had these young shirtless guys wearing white shorts who would run down the hill to meet runners, grab their Camelbak, and have it filled with whatever they needed by the time they reached the aid.

At this last aid, I had 50 minutes to cover 3.5 miles with 800 feet of elevation to climb. I didn’t know if I could do it or not. One thing I did know was that I could not walk the entire way to the finish and make it under 9 hours. I had to run what I could even if it was up and push through it. The trail started to become a paved road which made it easier for me to run on even though we were still climbing. I pushed hard, sometimes to the brink of tears because it was so hard for me to keep running uphill (I’m a crybaby on the trails). My heart was heavy with emotions, so close to the finish, but yet my legs weren’t turning over as fast as I wanted them to. I stopped looking at my watch these last 3 miles because it was stressing me out too much. I was going to run my best and if it happened, it happened. The last mile my hamstrings started cramping really badly and I was getting muscle spasms. I yelled obscenities to Derrick and asked for a salt pill. I don’t know if it was a mental thing, but after taking a salt pill with a half mile to go, the spasms didn’t seem as prominent anymore. We hit a tiny trail portion that was straight up right before the finish line. I could see spectators looking down the trail as I focused on trying to run this last climb. We hit the top of the hill and the final 100 ft were barricaded just like a marathon finish with crowds of people cheering on runners. I couldn’t believe the time I was seeing of 8:51:31. I did it, with more than a couple minutes to spare. I placed 2nd in my age group and 14th Overall Woman.

Special thanks to Derrick who pushed me when I didn’t want to be pushed and for believing that I had a sub 9 in me.

Awesome Finisher's Patagonia Jacket & 2nd Place Mug

Post race celebration

3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 10, 2012 3:49 pm

    Whoa. You’re a badass for pushing through those tough miles and your stomach issues. Congrats on the great finish and sub-9.

  2. Thomas permalink
    April 11, 2012 3:59 pm

    This makes me (almost) want to try American River again. Good story!!! And fast…

  3. August 7, 2012 3:47 am

    Amazing Finish!! I envy your running abilities girl!

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