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!
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
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
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
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
coming down the home stretch!
my fabulous pacers Marina & Diane. thank you!!
my crew, aka mom & dad : )
AR 50 finisher!
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 : )