A really good bad day

Let me set the record straight up front: I am very pleased and excited about my performance at the American River 50 Mile Endurance Run.  How could I not be?  I ran 2 PR’s and finished the last three miles of the race stronger than I could have imagined.

Getting to each of these three positives were tough.  First, my 50K Pr.  I came through the 6th aid station of the day at Granite Bay (31.67 miles) in 4:24.  My previous 50K best was 5:45 at the PCTR Santa Monica Mountains race in the rain and mud last November.  But, it was a painful 5 miles from the 5th aid station at Beals Point (26.53 miles).  Steve and I came through Beals in 3:34 (about 11 minutes faster than my initial race plan).  But my ITB was already bugging me.  I was wearing shoes with an 8mm drop although I typically train in shoes with a 4mm drop.  After about 3 hours of pounding on the pavement–and one short, technical downhill–my ITB was killing me.

My original race plan was to stick with one pair of shoes the entire way, but once I hit the trails shortly after Beals, I knew that I could not finish the race with my current shoes.  Luckily, I had packed my trail shoes in my bag that my crew brought to four of the aid stations.  I had to back off the quick pace between aid stations 5 and 6 to limit the pain–this section is a very fast section of trails, so backing off was the beginning to the end of my A Goal (sub 7:30).  When I got to Granite Bay, I changed into my New Balance MT 110’s and immediately felt better.  The pain, for the most part went away, but the damage–at least for the day–was done as the pain would come back later on in the race.

Besides mitigating the knee pain, I was also having issues with fuel.  I started off the day on top of my fuel plan, as I was taking a Gu every 22 minutes–this lasted 8 times, which is by far more Gu than I have ever had in my life.  But, I just couldn’t take another Gu after that.  It wasn’t that my stomach said no more, it was that I couldn’t think about taking another Gu.  But when I tried to switch to some other form of trail sugar, everything was too sweet–both Sports Beans and Honey Stingers.  I probably should have tried to get a few more calories from real food at aid stations, but I was so focused on getting in and out of aid stations that I was not thinking straight.  For the last 4 hours of the race I was taking less than 100 calories per hour.

Steve and I picked up a pacer at Granite Bay–Steve’s college teammate and good friend Paul.  Though Paul was running with us, I led the way followed by Steve and then Paul.  I typically run a lot stronger when I am in the front of a group.  For some reason, I do not drift/pace well off of others–only in the occasional speed workout can I pace off of someone else–as I typically fall off the back of a group by 20 yards and then maintain the same pace 20 yards back.  Paul stuck with us through Rattlesnake Bar (aid station 9 at 40.94 miles).  It was good to get another person in our group to keep the conversations fresh.  We continued to run the essentially the entire way while Paul was with us, with the exception of a few steps up steep/technical trail.

When we got to Rattlesnake the only thing I planned on doing was drinking some Ginger Beer that I had stored in a handheld in a bag.  I knew the contents were under pressure as I saw the sides of the handheld bursting outwards.  I knew what would happen once I open the cap to take a drink.  Yet, I did not turn the bottle away from me as I opened it–for the same reason that i did not eat solid foods at the aid stations; I was not thinking clearly.  After wiping the Ginger Beer from my face and then drinking some from my handheld and taking a quick breather, I was ready to finish the final 9 miles–and with a new pacer.  Phil, Paul’s brother, tagged in and followed us to the finish line.

Let the walking begin! As the day went on, and our time started to slip further from each goal, my energy level slipped with it.  Taking less than 100 calories per hour had a lot to do with this.  I was still hydrated throughout, but just didn’t have the energy.  As we moved along the single track, more and more people started to pass.  More and more often did we walk the uphills that I would have otherwise considered running.  I got to a breaking point.  No energy and my knee starting to hurt on every stride again.  I had to walk.  We were somewhere between 1.5 and 2 miles from the end of the trail and the start of the final 3-mile climb.  But I had enough.  So the walking began.  We continued to get passed.

Finally, I could see daylight–so to speak, as it was a bright day out–as I knew the trail was ending.  I still could not run again, but I started to truly grasp how much farther we had left to the finish line.  Our coach, Jimmy Dean, told us we had to run 90% of the final 3-mile climb.  I was supposed to lead Steve through mile 47 and he was supposed to pull me up the final hill.  I still had this in my head as we got to the flat parking lot that led to the final climb.  I started to slowly jog again on the wide open, flat parking lot.  And then the final hill.

Phil was feeling good going into the final climb–as we were unable to push him that hard for the previous 6 miles.  But, he was in for a treat.  The first half mile or so of the climb is on dirt and gravel before hitting a road for the majority of the final stretch.  The dirt/gravel part is also the steepest part.  So we began to run up the hill.  I was feeling better, especially knowing that we were in the final stretch of the race.  But I wasn’t sure if we could keep up the running for the entire hill.  About a quarter of a mile into the climb I forced all of us to walk, but for only 50-100 feet.  Once we started running again, we never walked again.  I dug deep, and despite not having any energy I had the will to finish strong.  We gutted out the three fastest miles since mile 31–not even stopping at the last gasp aid station.  Fortunately at Last Gasp (2.4 miles left in the race) the young men (shirtless and in tights) working the aid station ran down to us grabbed our water bottles and sprited to the aid station to fill them up; so when we made it to the aid station we just grabbed our bottle and left.

We finally made it to the top of the hill–and those three miles were fast enough to bring me back to the region between theB (B-Goal of 8 hours) and the S (Slow bracket of 8:30) on my pace card.  We made a right turn onto some grass, entering the the final stretch–the grass felt so good under my feet that I wished the final 100m was on grass, but it quickly turned into concrete–we were almost there.  I couldn’t dig any deeper but was able to finish strong.  Steve and I finished in 8:13.  It was a huge PR for me (10:02 at North Face) and it was Steve’s first 50 miler.  I was so glad to be done as both my knees started to really hurt over the last 5 miles.  But all the pain from my knees and the lack of energy from the three bonks all went away over the last 100 meters.  It wasn’t my A goal or B goal, but I cannot complain about a huge PR.  So the bad day completely disappeared with my final 3 miles and finishing time.  At the finish line Eric from Ultra Runner Podcast handed us a very good recovery Libation.

Since AR, Nike came out with their new campaign for their Nike Free’s.  The Free 3.0 is the only Nike that I would wear–even though I haven’t bought a pair in a while as I have been experimenting with other shoes.  But the Free 3.0 is still on my list of shoes that I would buy again.  Here is the long version of their commercial.

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One Response to A really good bad day

  1. cindylu says:

    1. Glad to see your race report and return to blogging. I think I knew from your tweets that you’d PR’d but didn’t know that it was somewhat bittersweet.
    2. I like that commercial.

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