April 15, 2011

AR 50 (Race Report)

I keep putting off writing this race report, for no better reason than I don't really know how to put this whole running 50 miles experience into words. Saturday was hands down the hardest and most painful day of my life, but also one of the most rewarding. I started running at 6am, and around 5:30pm I finally crossed the finish line after covering 50 miles. It took me 11 hours and 29 minutes to finish, but the road to get me to that finish line in Auburn began far earlier than that. I first signed up for AR 50 back in December to test my limits and challenge myself. I'd completed 8 marathons, and while they were never easy, the challenge had become familiar. I needed something bigger, harder, something seemingly impossible to strive for. After experiencing a bit of burnout from so much road racing in 2010, I was looking for something different, and trail running fit that need. My coworker, Diane, is an avid trail and ultra runner and planted the AR 50 seed in my mind, and so, just a few months ago, I began my journey toward 50 miles.

Nearly 500 miles and countless runs later, I found myself toeing the start line of my first 50 miler, in the dark, surrounded by 600 other crazy runners. But wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. My day actually started a couple hours earlier with a 4am wake-up call. Not surprisingly I hadn't got much sleep that night, so I was still half asleep as I went through my pre-race routine and got everything ready. I did some last minute trigger point, made a pb and banana sandwich, and put my drop bags together for my folks to bring. Around 5:15 Diane picked me up and we were on our way! The start was conveniently about a mile from my house so we got there with plenty of time to spare. Diane had somehow got both of us access to the VIP bathrooms so we got to hang out inside a warm office and use a real bathroom before heading back out into the dark and cold and making our way to the start.
a cold and dark morning waiting for the 6am start!

I don't really know what was going through my head as I stood on the levy in the dark, waiting for the race to start. I do remember thinking that is was going to be a loooong day : ) Diane recognized people right and left and was busy chatting while I just stood there, equal parts nervous, excited, and anxious. Finally, at 6am on the dot, we were off! With so many runners on such a narrow levy we were pretty far back so it took a couple minutes to actually cross the start and start running. My plan was to stick with Diane for as long as possible, both for the company, and because I felt like she knew what she was doing. The course initially took us in the opposite direction for a short 1 mile out-and-back that brought us down onto the bike trail where we would spend the next 27 miles. As we passed the start again and passed underneath the Sac State bridge we had our first spectators cheering us on. My dad had come out on his bike and road along side us for a few minutes which was great. We kept things conservative for the first few miles, going nice and slow. Diane had planned to do intervals of 7 minutes running, 1 minute walking, but her watch was messed up so we decided to take our walk breaks at each mile mark. Although we got a little caught up in the excitement and missed our first few walks!
 still dark...
 me and Diane a few miles in

I though this early stretch on the bike trail would be tough for me mentally because I've trained on it so much, but it ended up not being too bad. Not only were we going in the opposite direction, but we were down on the bike trail - in training I usually run up on the levy. We hit our first aid station at Watt Ave around mile 5. It was water only so I skipped it but used the opportunity to take my first of several Gu and salt caps. The next couple miles were pretty uneventful but it was quite peaceful to be running along the bike trail so early, the sun just up and the promise of a beautiful day ahead of us. Around mile 6 we decided to pull out our iPods for the long stretch ahead of us, and the music made the miles go by much faster. Poor Diane, however, had technical issues with her shuffle for nearly the entire first half of the race!

I realized I needed to pee soon after, so when my watch beeped 7 and Diane started walking I darted into the bushes to take care of it. Diane managed to get pretty far ahead and had started running again, so I kicked it up a bit to catch up, finally reaching her at the next aid station, William Pond Park, around mile 8. This was the first aid with food and such, but I didn't yet feel like eating so I refilled my water and then continued on past the groups of spectators gathered at the park. I kept an eye out for my coworker, Erin, who said she would be out at the park cheering, but I didn't see her. But I was pleasantly surprised to spot her about a mile up the trail cheering me on, giving me a huge boost for the next few miles : ) Unfortunately, around this point my left knee started giving me some problems. It was the same dull pain underneath my kneecap that I experience when I run in old shoes. Nothing excruciating, but a little disconcerting only 10 miles into a 50 mile race : /

The stretch between William Pond and the next aid was the longest of all of them (about 6.5 miles) and I was eager to have it behind me, so I just tried to zone out to my music and enjoy everything around me. We kept leap frogging the same runners, since everyone was on slightly different interval schedules, which made for some nice company and camaraderie. A couple different training groups were out on the parkway, too, and would cheer us on whenever we passed them. I was also eager to get to Sunrise, the next aid, because my parents were going to be there. A little smile crossed my face when my Garmin beeped 10 miles, both because I was glad to finally be in the double digits, but also because that meant I was just 1/5 of the way there! Another smile at 13.1, thinking that in the scheme of a 50 miler, a half marathon was just a drop in the pond! Mile 14.6 brought us to the Sunrise aid station where I refilled my water and grabbed a cup of Gu brew (I don't quite remember when exactly I was eating a Gu and taking a salt cap, but I took one of each approximately every hour). I looked for my folks, but was disappointed when I didn't spot them among the spectators. I shook it off and continued on, and a few minutes later I came up on another group of spectators and there they were! I smiled and swerved over to them to ditch my arm warmers and then quickly hurried along.
coming into Sunrise, mile 14.6
From this point on the aid stations averaged about 4 miles apart, so I started to break up the race into the sections between them. One thing that was extremely frustrating during this first part on the parkway was how rude many cyclists were. First off, the bike trail was supposed to be closed for the race. Obviously not everyone can be aware of this, nor would it be easy to regulate, but many cyclists that I passed weren't even courteous. They would come barreling around a corner going much faster than the 15mph speed limit, without so much as slowing down a bit to make there way through the throngs of runners. A couple even had the nerve to tell us to get out of the way! Not only was it disrespectful, but it was also dangerous. I know not all cyclists are assholes, but the ones out there on Saturday gave the rest a bad name. Ok, rant over : )

I was eager to get to the next aid station because then the course takes you up on the Hazel Bluffs and changes things up a bit. Soon enough we arrived at the Nimbus Overlook aid station at mile 18. Again, more water, Gu Brew, and another Gu. Then it was up the long hill on Hazel Ave. and onto the trails for a bit! I could see the runners ahead of me on the hillside in front of me hiking up the hill and before long I was there. It was a steep hike but quite beautiful, surrounded by green grass and overlooking Lake Natoma and the water gushing from the dam. The next 9ish miles was the only stretch I had never run before, so it was nice to be in unfamiliar territory and not know exactly what was coming. This next section had us going up and down, partly on the bike trail along the lake and partly up on the Hazel Bluffs. My watch hit 20 miles and for some reason, that felt like a big milestone. I felt great on the trails up on the bluffs and cruised all the way to the next aid at Negro Bar, mile 22.4. At this point the day had warmed up and I was going through my handheld in the 3-4 miles between aid stations. It was around this point that I also started eating a boiled potato or two with salt to supplement my Gu. I think I also downed a cup of Sprite here that was surprisingly refreshing!
heading toward the hillside
Before I even started this race, I had it divided into two - the first 27 miles along the bike trail leading up to Beals Point, and then the last 23 on the trails up to Auburn. Mentally I was eager to get to Beals and get going on the second (and more fun!) part, to pick up my pacer and have some new company, and to see my parents again. And for some reason, I felt like Beals was a lot closer to the finish than it really was (just over half way). Physically, my body was ready for a change of terrain. I underestimated how my body would handle the first half on the paved, flat bike trail, and my knees were definitely feeling the effects. This last stretch on the bike trail kind of sucked though. Many more rude cyclists, lots of hills, and not very much shade. I was still listening to my music which was helpful, but I desperately wanted this part to be over.

Just past mile 26 there were balloons signaling the crossing of the marathon point. This made me smile, while at the same point reminding me just how long we still had to go! I also spotted a local running friend of mine, Tim, who was out doing his long run. It was great to see a friendly face and get some words of encouragement before I continued on toward Beals. Not long after we finally reached the biggest aid station of the day, Beals Point, at mile 26.5. Beals marks the first spot to pick up a pacer and have access to your drop bag, but I waited to do both til an unofficial aid station about a mile and a half further. I refilled my bottle and grabbed a couple more potatoes then we were on our way. From Beals we finally hopped on the trails, and around mile 28 we hit Cavitt school where my folks and my pacer, Marina, were waiting.
balloons celebrating 26.2!!
 Beals Point, mile 26.5
I had told Diane that I would be a bit longer here so to go ahead of me since I'd have Marina with me the rest of the way. It worked out great, though, because I basically ended up getting paced the entire race! I had planned on changing into my trail shoes at this point and was so glad I did. My road shoes weren't feeling as fresh as I wanted and my toes were pretty tender from some downhills. My trail shoes are a bit more fitted and for some reason this felt great. I also realized I was chafing a bit on my bra line, so I lubed up a bit more (although I would later discover the damage was inevitable). Marina was great right from the get go, holding my fuel in her pack and asking me what I needed. I decided not to switch to my Camelbak since I was comfortable with my fuel belt and handheld and didn't want the extra weight. After a couple minutes we said goodbye and got back on the trail! Not far from Cavitt I was surprised by a friendly face coming up behind me, none other than my ultra buddy from Way Too Cool 50k, Ron. He looked great and went on to kick some butt in his first 50 miler!

 coming into Cavitt School, mile 28ish
changing shoes was a bit of a challenge!

The next few miles are little blurry. Marina was very chatty which was great and kept me distracted. My legs were tired and walked even the shortest hills, but it felt good to be on trails with the terrain to focus on. Fueling had become a little difficult at this point because Gu was starting to sound less than appealing. At that point I'd consumed close to 7 and my stomach was getting a little grumbly. The miles continued to tick by and I mentioned to Marina that everything after the next aid station (31.6 miles) would be brand new territory for me having never run longer than 50k. When we got to the aid at Granite Bay Marina went about filling my bottle for me while I grabbed some more soda and potatoes. I tried to stretch a bit here, too. While my left knee felt great now, my right knee had locked up in the back to the point that I couldn't really straighten my leg out. I had told Marina I didn't want to stick around the aid station too long though because needed to keep moving to stay loose.

And so the 50k mark came and went and I kept moving along. Time and distance sort of took on a surreal feeling, alternately passing quickly and then craaawling along. I kept taking it one aid station at a time, and only focusing on the 3 or so miles to cover in between. The trail continued to wind around Folsom Lake and we had our first "stream crossings" of the day - in other words, I got to soak my sore feet in some nice cold water as we walked across : ) Soon enough we hit my least favorite section of rocky ups and downs. I despise this part mainly because I can't get into a rhythm. It's frustrating mentally and tough physically to have that start-stop. The downhills were just as hard because not only are they quite rocky and technical, but my legs were also a little unstable at that point and I was afraid they would buckle if I took a wrong step. The next aid at Buzzard's Cove (34.6) came up pretty quick though and I decided to breeze through it, only stopping to refill my bottle. Somewhere around here I also popped another ibuprofen (my 5th of the day, had take the others earlier in the race), hoping it would help with my knee and the rest of my body.

The next few miles are a blur, but I do remember stubbing my toes a lot and seeing a lot of butterflies. We ended up having a perfect day with great temps (if a bit warm) and the drier weather we'd been having made for great trail conditions, unlike the last time I was out there. It truly was a beautiful day, and I tried to take in the sights whenever I could. I wish I'd taken more pics but I couldn't muster the extra energy : ( Marina took over my fueling for me, telling me when to eat, take a salt cap, or drink more fluid. I was getting awfully tired at this point so it was great to worry about one less thing. One thing I do remember on this section is wanting to find a bathroom! Obviously I could have just used a bush, but I figured I would wait til the next aid then decide what to do. My stomach was still grumbly from all the strange things I'd put in it all day and I was drinking a ton of water, so I literally sighed out loud with relief when I came up the hill to the aid station at Horseshoe Bar (mile 38.1) and saw a port-o-potty! While I hit up the potty Marina filled my bottle and after I grabbed a potato, poured a cup of water over my head, and then continued on, feeling like a new person after using the potty : )

I got a bit excited after Horseshoe because the next aid was a big one - Rattlesnake Bar. Once again I'd get to see my parents, but it also meant only 9 more miles to go - single digits! The stretch between was less than 3 miles, too, and I got a bit of a second wind. A small train of runners formed on the single track and it was nice to have the company. It seems that in trail running, sometimes it's just nice to have some feet to follow : ) I knew when we were close because I could hear all the people, and yet the trail kept winding around! Finally we emerged and came down the hill to cheering fans and volunteers with food. My parents were right there yelling my name so I made a beeline but before I could chat I knew I needed to find another bathroom. I made another pitstop and felt much better, then headed over to the aid station to fuel up. My leg was hurting pretty bad at that point, and stretching just didn't seem to help. Again, I didn't want to stop for too long so I said goodbye to my parents, who I would next see at the finish, and then headed back out for the final miles. I couldn't believe that I'd already run 41 miles!
 Folsom Lake at Rattlesnake Bar
coming into Rattlesnake Bar, mile 41
 leaving Rattlesnake, only 9 miles to go!

The next 3 miles were rough. My legs were heavy, and I finally admit out loud just how tired I was and how much things hurt. I started to think how crazy this whole thing was, and how crazy I was for wanting to do it. I told Marina how I figured I'd do this 50 and eventually want to do a 100 miler, but how double the distance seemed insane...ha! The miles dragged on, mainly because I was moving so slowly at this point. We reached the power plant and crossed over the river, and I found myself retelling my story about running this stretch solo and being terrified of mountain lions. Needless to say I felt much better having here with me that day. I told Marina that the rule for the next several miles was to run when the trail was flat or downhill. I'd let my 11 hour goal go, but I still wanted to get the damn thing over with as soon as possible. Plus, it hurt far less to run, even at a shuffle, than to walk. We finally stumbled upon the next aid at Manhattan Bar (43.9 miles) which was a relief since that meant just one more aid station left! This one was small so I did the essentials then moved along.
had to stop for this view!

Things continued to suck over the next 3.6 miles. I had trouble getting myself to keep going, and the miles were totally dragging. It wasn't a matter of finishing or not at this point, I just wanted to be done and was getting frustrated with how long these miles were taking! Somewhere along this stretch I had Marina move in front of me which was a huge help. I just focused on following her feet as I shuffled along. On the bright side, this really was a beautiful section, not that I was paying a whole lot of attention to that at the time : ) For some reason, in my mind the race had a third and final section that was somehow different than the trail section - the 3 miles hill, known famously as "Last Gasp". I desperately wanted to reach that hill, if only because it meant I was that much closer to the finish.
After several miserable and never ending miles we reached the base of the hill and I began the hike. The first 3/4 of Last Gasp are quite steep and even a hike left me gasping (pun intended) for breath as my legs burned. I knew that certain sections of the hill were runnable for me, so I was determined to run when possible so I wouldn't be on that damn thing all day.
smiling for the cameras, but still miserable : )
at the bottom of Last Gasp
I was expecting to see the last aid station at the base of the hill, but it wasn't til almost a mile later that one of the guys came trotting down to greet us and ask us what we needed. I gave him my bottle to fill and when I reached the aid station it was ready to go. I also downed a cup of coke for a final sugar boost before heading out for the final 2 miles. I did manage to run a bit over those last couple miles, and each time my heart felt like it was going to explode! We just kept hiking up that thing and before I knew it, with about a mile to go, I could see and hear the finish line in the distance. Marina kept asking me, "Can you believe you're here, at this point, about to finish 50 miles?" And honestly, I couldn't. I just wanted to get there! Finally I made it to the top of Last Gasp and I had one final short but steep climb to conquer. I'd let go of my original goal, and my new one was to finish in 11:30. I'd been checking my watch on Last Gasp and knew it was going to be close... At the top of the little hill there was a short stretch and then it turned onto the grass for the final stretch to the finish. I gave Marina my bottle and fuel belt and we split as I took off down the finish chute, giving it everything I had left (which was not much).
coming down the home stretch!
As I approached the finish and heard my name called out, I suddenly got choked up. The emotions of the day suddenly overwhelmed me, and the fact that after such a long and grueling day, after so many weeks of training, here I was, crossing the finish of my first 50 miler. I stopped on the other side and couldn't catch my breath thanks to my unexpected outpouring of emotion. I collected my sweet finisher's jacket and spotted Diane and Marina waiting for me and gave them both a hug. I had come in just under my goal with a final time of 11:29:38, more than good enough for me! I was more than spent, my body ached, and I was beyond tired. We waited for my parents to find us then took a few pics before heading to a spot on the grass where I could collapse. My feet were a mess, my stomach still unsettled, and I felt like a total zombie from being so tired. I drank a beer and hung out for a bit, watching others finish triumphantly, but after a while I got chilled and was so tired and hungry I said goodbye.
my fabulous pacers Marina & Diane. thank you!!
 my crew, aka mom & dad : )
AR 50 finisher!
relaxing post-race
That night was the most miserable night of my life. After showering I managed to eat a burrito (the first real food I'd had since 5am) but it didn't sit very well - my stomach was a mess! Every part of my body ached... I mean everything. My knee had stiffened to the point that I could hardly straighten it, and my toes were so tender they couldn't be touched. I was exhausted, and yet I couldn't get comfortable enough to fall asleep because everything throbbed. I took more ibuprofen which mercifully allowed me to finally fall asleep. Five days later I'm feeling much better, but my knee is still tight. I saw my chiro about it and it doesn't look like an injury, just some tight muscles/tendons that are restricted motion.

I also owe some huge THANK YOUs: To Diane, for getting me into this crazy lifestyle, helping me train, and for sticking with me the first 28 miles. To Marina, who deserves an award for best pacer for getting me through those trails and to the finish. To my parents for always supporting me and my crazy running habit and for being my fabulous crew that day. To all of my coworkers for their words of encouragement and advice. And to all of YOU for following along this journey, for inspiring me, and encouraging me.

I still haven't really processed this whole experience, and it feels a little surreal. At the same time, it almost seemed a bit anticlimactic. Yes, it was quite an adventure, but for some reason I thought I'd feel a lot...different after. I don't even know how to explain it. Yet here I am a few days later, back to work, with only lingering soreness to remind me of an epic day. I don't know what I expected, and maybe this is similar to post-marathon blues. I'm sure I'll have more thoughts and reflections in the coming weeks, but this post is long enough already : )


  1. I have been following your blog for ages and I'm SO impressed at you! Just about to do my first 1/2 Marathon so 50 miles seems insane!

    You're an amazing runner :)! Totallly inspirational!


  2. great race report and be sure to take some time to just enjoy your accomplishment. Awesome work for your first 50 miler!

  3. great race report. Congrats on your first Ultra. You will be running 100s in no time

  4. nice job! In spite of the pain it sounds like you rocked it. Can you believe you ran almost 20 miles further than your longest run?! And they tell us in marathon training that the extra 6 miles of the marathon are tough after a 20 mile long run. Ha! Great job! When's your next??

  5. Congratulations! This is such a big accomplishment. :) Reading about your training and the race makes me want to sign up for a 50 miler (or at least a 50k).

    I'm sure you'll feel different after you've had more time to process everything. I think I felt similarly after my first marathon. I couldn't describe how I expected to feel, but what I felt wasn't it.

  6. So impressive Rachel! What a great race and great report, it's amazing to hear what you went through.

    To answer your question about my work, I do PR and my client became an Olympics sponsor last year so Vancouver was my first Games and we're entrenched in planning for London!

  7. I can't believe you did this! WOW, AMAZING. You have come so far in your running.

    Great race recap and I'm in aw of all you have done lately.

    Thank for sharing and way to stick with the run, not an easy task.