Monday, April 6, 2009

2009 American River 50 mile

Pre Race:

I had been anticipating the American River 50 mile for weeks! Training had been really strong, and the full Quicksilver running team would be running in our new racing singlets! Friday after work I picked up Adam Blum, and Quicksilver crew members Judith and Heidi (my wife). Hoping to escape traffic we left San Jose around 3pm but we got stuck in the Tahoe traffic nonetheless. We arrived at the Granite Bay Fleet Feet just as they were closing at 7:00pm. It was definitely worth getting the packet early as to avoid the crazy rush at the starting line, and maybe get a few extra minutes of sleep.

Race Day:
(Quicksilver Running Team: L to R Andy Benkart, Sean Lang, Pierre-Yves, Adam Blum, Jean Pommier. Picture courtesy of Agnes Pommier)

Saturday morning, Heidi and I rushed to the starting line and met the rest of the Quicksilver running team for some pictures and to receive our singlets (they are sweet!). We were standing around talking when I was surprised to hear the gun go off, so Jean Pommier and I weaved our way to the front of the pack. Eventually Jean and I settled into a group with Rob Evans and Mark Gilligan, and we ran together at a 7min mile pace. The pace felt good, but what has been typical this year was some pain in the left hip, but it felt better than it did at Way Too Cool which was a good sign. Eventually Jean and I pulled away from Mark and Rob and we were running alone on the American River bike path.

I hear a lot of complaints from trail runners about the American River bike path, but I rather enjoyed running on it. It follows the American River which I like, and this time of the year everything was very green and the flower were blooming. It was quickly becoming a beautiful morning, with the sun rising in the eastern horizon. I couldn't help but looking at the rising sun and thinking that where the sun was touching the eastern foothills was where I would be finishing 6 hours later.

Things started becoming a bit more strained near the Beal's Point Aid Station (mile 26.7), as my hip was continuing to give me some issues and the quick start was starting to take its toll. I got passed by a few runners: Joseph Alessi, Mark Murray, and eventually first place woman Kami Semick. Coming into Beal's I was happy to see my wife Heidi, who quickly handed me a new Amphipod pack, and water bottle filled with Crank Gels. My split for the first 26.7 was 03:16, and I was in 25th place at this point.

My fueling strategy was 1 gel the first hour, and then a gel every 1/2 hour after. This strategy seemed to work well as I had constant energy, and the extra sodium in the Crank Gel kept me from cramping (somehow my salt tabs fell out of my pocket). Furthermore, my energy seemed consistent throughout the race.

Soon after Beal's Point, we left the bike path for good and continued on the Pioneer Trail. The Pioneer Trail is pretty technical at sections with a lot of short hills, twists, and rocks. This was quite contrasting to the smooth bike path I had been running on previously, but I felt well trained for the single track and was able to flow through this section pretty easily. At some point Graham Cooper (2005 Western States Champ), and Tom Nielson (2x Angeles Crest 100 Champ) caught up to me, and we talked for a little while. Eventually I let Graham pass, and Tom fell behind. Graham informed me that Kami was just a little bit ahead, and that if I could hang on we would pass her. He then put it in another gear, and I thought it was probably wise to continue at the pace I was running, so I let him go.

Running above Lake Folsom, I couldn't help but think of the days water skiing as a youth. The water was as smooth as glass, and I yearned to lay down some turns on this smooth water. It was getting warm at this point, and the heat continued to increase my desire for a dip into the lake.

Eventually I got to the end of Lake Folsom, and was soon running along the American River. I crossed over the Mormon bridge, and was reminded of hiking this section of trail last year with Heidi when we got stuck in a hail storm and had to run back to the car. I kind of chuckled under my breath thinking of our shock when frozen pellets of ice starting nailing us on an otherwise sunny day. I looked up in the sky to see if any clouds of hail were sneaking in to pelt me, but it was all sunshine.

Around mile 42 Jeff Kozak flew by me looking really strong. I was amazed at the pace he was running this late in the race, and remarked how strong he was running. He thanked me, and then vanished in the distance. Twisting around a bend, I briefly looked behind me and some Tom Nielson looming shortly behind me. I had hear stories of this veteran ultrarunner, and I know that I had to pick up the pace or he would make a move on me. All the while I was eagerly anticipating the last 3 miles of the run, which is a uphill grind called "Last Gasp."

Finally the single track trail turned into a dirt road and starting climbing uphill. "Yes!" I thought, and prepared myself for the final grind. I passed 3 runners going up Last Gasp; Oswaldo Lopez, another runner, and Jeff Kozak. Oswaldo seemed to be having some series cramping issues. He was bent over, and walking bow legged, definite signs of cramping. Jeff was still running strong, but he was in my sights. I was slowly creeping up on him, when I got a severe side ache. I tried to calm my breathing to get the ache under control, but it got harder and harder to take a deep breath. Eventually I was left gasping for air (get it, last gasp!), but I continue to push as hard as I could. With 1/2 mile to the finish line I made my move and passed Jeff, making sure to run as hard as possible so there would be no chance for him to catch me again. Finally I got to the top of the hill, ran through the grass of the Damn Overlook, and finished in 06:51:04, 17th place out of 600, and besting my previous 50 mile PR., by 1hr. 15 minutes! Final results are here.

(The Last Gasp, photo by Jean Pommier)

Final thoughts:
I heard rumors that the course had been extended ~2 miles to make it a full 50 mile and to add some more trails. This would reflect the slower times this year (no one went under 6 hours).

Olympic Trial steeplechase participant Max King of Bend OR. won the race in a time of ~6:01, and adds another

I really enjoyed the American River course! It definetly is a course that pays to have a strategy and course knowledge. A lot of fast road runners try to run AR because of the bike path, but then crap out on the trails. The best results go to those that can run comfortably fast on the bike path, with enough left to really push on the trails. I learned a lot about pacing from Graham Cooper. Graham was definitely not "racing," but his strategy of taking it easy on the bike path and putting the hammer down on the trails seemed like a very wise strategy. It seemed that Graham wasn't tired at all, just doing an easy training run! Finally, Last Gasp is one of the greatest race finishes I have ever ran, it tests ones mettle having to finish a 50 mile race with 3 miles of uphill!

It seems that most 50 mile races that I have ran in the past my energy is like a pendulum, swinging from high to low. In the past when I have reached the low points I slow down considerably, and when I reach the high point I speed up to fast. This wasn't the case at AR. Except for the push up Last Gasp, I felt like I comfortably stayed at the same energy expenditure throughout the race. I think this can be attributed to the consistent training that I have had this year, as well as being better able to manage my energy input and output (food/exertion). All of these variables are good signs for my training for TRT100.

Below are my aid station (watch time) splits.

Watt Ave 5.3, 36:34
William Pond 8.46, 24.16, 1:00
Sunrise 14.91, 43:39, 1:44
Nimbus Overlook 18.34, 26.01, 2:10
Negro Bar 22.64, 35:40, 2:46
Beals Point 26.77, 27:45, 3:15
Granite Bay 31.67, 3:59, 43.43
Buzzard's Cove 34.67, 27.52, 4:26
Horseshoe Bar 38.14, 32.29, 4:59
Rattlesnake Bar 40.94, 24.27, 5:23
Manhattan Bar 43.92, 23.02, 5:46
Last Gasp 47.56, 45.28, 6:32 ---------------------> Distance doesn't seem accurate
Finish 50, 17.40, 6:50.04

*The AR50 posted results reflect clock time, watch time was faster because I wasn't at the starting line when they started the race.