American River is the site of my fastest 50 miler (link) and my worst DNF (link) so both close and far from my heart. I love going back because I feel like a course veteran and lets be honest a sweet Patagonia Running jacket for finishers is pretty awesome. This year it was a Nine Trails Jacket and it always feels better to wear it because it was earned not purchased.
I recently picked up a part-time job in my hometown of Monrovia. I am a law student so finding a job that works with my schedule is near impossible and driving back down to Irvine was not feasible anymore. My boss accommodated my schedule to work for me so I did not want to miss a shift and leave them out to dry on a busy night. Thus, a collegiate style road trip would be the play. Luckily I convinced Christina to come.
Knowing AR50 this year is part of a building plan for the Angeles Crest 100 I felt confident that I could finish, but in the back of my mind really wanted to push it. We left Los Angeles around 9:30 pm we drove straight from Folsom. My friend Kristin who has crewed for me at Headlands & AR50 and just overall awesome came through again in a huge way. She picked up my race bib and packet a few days before the race and we met up at 4:45 am Saturday morning not only to give me the packet but to crew as well. Christina drove a heavy (read as: boring) part of the Grapevine so I could sneak in 2 hours of sleep so having Kristin there to help was a lifesaver.
The team was set...Kristen, Christina, Vista & Jazzy made up my sleep deprived enthusiastic crew. Of course Vista and Jazzy were present for moral support and slobbery kisses but I gotta count them…
Salomon Men's Exo Wings Twinskin Running Short
Drymax Trail Socks
New Balance MT1010
Ultimate Direction Handhelds (review)
Tailwind Nutrition (review)
Start Line - Main Bar (16.98)
In years past the first half was a road marathon followed by the meat grinder (Granite Bay (29.45) to Rattlesnake Bar (40.94)) and then you hoped you saved enough for the 3 mile “Cardiac Hill” climb at the end. Mid-packers like me could go out quickly and get into good conga lines with faster guys on the back end of the front. The speeders would drop us during the last 10 but were a huge motivation and help working together through the meat grinder. The race favored the brave because the road marathon was a steady uphill climb to Beal’s Point where the trail took over. This year the course favored the intelligent and destroyed the foolish.
The race started on the east bank of Folsom Lake, looped down towards Main Bar. Miles 6-12 were downhill road and for the fools like me a great way to thrash the quads early (which I of course did). All info on the race noted runners would see a lot more trail early in the race, so I decided to run in my New Balance MT1010s. At the start I hustled quickly to get with a good pack so I would not get stranded in no man’s land but I should have been patient. The MT1010’s were excellent on trails letting me stay light on my feet while providing traction but this was AR50 and there was still plenty of road. Minimal was a mistake.
By the time I got to the Negro Bar Aid station my feet felt beat and my right foot pinky toe decided that splitting open at the bend was a good thing; needless to say my feet were falling apart in a hurry. Rather than waiting till Beal’s Point I changed into Hoka Mafate hoping to salvage my feet for the remainder of the run. I knew then that my pace was too fast to hold onto it for very long and when the pounding my joints had taken came back with cramps I would need extra cushion if I hoped to finish.
Negro Bar (20.18) - Rattlesnake Bar (40.94)
My marathon time was 4:17 which is only a few minutes slower than I ran in the Los Angeles Marathon (link) a few weeks earlier. Clearly a bad sign especially knowing the tough sections that came on the back end. I suffered most from Granite Bay to Rattlesnake. That section, approx. 10 miles, I was getting passed left and right and often had to stop to let other runners pass me. It was very disheartening to simply not have the legs to keep up. The lack of sleep and fatigue really set in during that section. Also, I love technical trails with a light shoe, but the Hoka Mafate protected my feet but also dulled the sensation underfoot. What resulted was that I became tenuous with my steps and less sure footed further slowing my pace.
The section is known as the “meat grinder” is tricky because its beautiful but the moment you stop paying attention to your footing you go down in an epic way.
I'll admit I did ask for Glenfiddich for my water bottles at Horseshoe Bar (38.14) and that got a few volunteers smiling. Seeing them laugh was nice because the day had heated up for everyone and they worked so hard to keep all of us healthy and hydrated.
From Horseshoe Bar to Rattlesnake Bar I was pretty low on myself. My nutrition, 200 calories of Tailwind Nutrition, per bottle and one bottle per hour kept my energy steady but my muscles just were not doing what my brain asked. At one point a cramp turned my leg slamming my knee right into a rock. I fell a few times and anything more than a shuffle caused my hamstrings to throb. I had an overwhelming sense of self doubt and darkness. I tried to talk myself out of it but as various packs of runners passed me all I could think about was how I was unable to keep up despite my steady energy...the legs felt smashed and I could not do anything about it.
Dowdins Post (43.92) - Finish (50)
I am normally not a favor-asker when I pray because I have been given so much its almost unfair of me to ask for more. But mile 43.92 (Dowdin’s Post Aid Station) I knew this was crunch time and if there was going to be a "back from the dead moment" it was there. My internal dialogue went from a pep talk to a chastisement.
All day my crew was solid. The longest I spent in an aid station was 3 minutes while changing shoes. My nutrition was on point and suffered no energy lulls note lightheadedness. Sure I was beat, tired, sore and fatigued but if you aren’t then you’re not doing ultra marathons right. How fortunate am I that I get to complain about running on beautiful trails with really nice people on a beautiful day? I mean come on, how dare I.
I asked Our Lady of Guadalupe to help a brown man out. I remember saying…Mother Mary please tell your son to let my cramps go away and let me finish this thing up, I know I am not high on the priority list but I really would appreciate the help if you have a spare second. I started to pray the Ave Maria (in latin) and my leg seized up…I stopped hobbled, then bagan to pray in spanish and things loosened up. I chuckled and everything got better. My legs hurt but it was not unbearable, I was able to shuffle along consistently.
I tried talking to other runners going up cardiac hill, heck I even saw a guy from Headlands 100 on the way up, he ran a huge chunk of it and looked like a stud. I got super excited to see folks smiling knowing that the end was near. The Last Gasp aid station (47.56) I was able to sponge some of the sweat off that was by this point white dust on my face making my eyes burn. That ice cold sponge was heaven. I managed to jog the last few hundred yards and teared up as complete strangers cheered for me and encouraged me to get past the finish line...
my prayer was answered…my muscle cramps did not vanish but the cramp that prevented me from smiling sure did.
Official Finish Time - 9:58:00