This was my third straight year at this race, which serves as the unofficial kickoff of the ultra season on the West Coast. With over 1000 registrants this year, it is also the largest trail 50K in the country.
I ended last year's race report with the words "....of course by Sunday morning I was already thinking about the time I left out there, and thinking about how far below 6:00:00 I can get when I go back again next year....." That was indeed my goal for this year, to get under that 6:00:00 mark. I actually took a figurative page from Maffetone's 1:59 marathon book, and focused mentally on 5:59 and not sub-6:00, a subtle but important mental difference for me. I knew my training was better this winter/spring than last year, and that it was realistic to cut 12+ minutes from my time. I just didn't know how much.
|Kylie and I with the Frog|
Race day started out fine - coffee, UCAN and chia seed drink, and off to the Cool Fire Station to check in. Once again my daughter and girlfriend were in tow, and they hung out in the pizzeria nearby while I took care of business, both in terms of picking up my bib and hitting the port-a-potty. We then mingled with some friends around the start line, including the ubiquitous Way Too Cool Frog.
With that many runners there are two wave starts, and I was in wave 1 and took off down the road at 8:00 AM.
|Getting ready to hit the trails with 1000 others|
After about a mile-and-a-half of road the course veers off into doubletrack trail, and another mile into that is singletrack for most of the rest of the initial 8-mile loop. I made a concerted effort to start a little further up than last year and move up the field to get in a position that the inevitable conga line would at least be quicker than what I faced the past couple of years. It worked, and I made up quite a bit of time on this loop and finished it about 10 minutes quicker than each of my prior races here. I knew I was pushing just a little, but it was comfortable through this pretty flat section of the course and I felt good coming back into the start area and heading down in to the American River Canyon.
I hit that 1,000' drop pretty well, but not pushing to hard, and then it was 6 miles of rolling, slightly climbing fire road above the river. This is the best place to chat with others on the course, and I would talk until we hit a climb, then pull away from whoever I was next to, rinse, repeat. At mile 17 the course veers back up out of the canyon and climbing begins, with the bulk of the 4,666' elevation gain occurring from that point on. I hiked pretty well up that, and hit the rolling section from miles 20-25 with some legs still left - a part of the course that I had nothing for last year.
Then I hit Goat Hill - a short, steep climb of 20% average grade over .3 miles, with sections that hit over 40% grade. I had been running comfortably hard for 25 miles and over four and half hours, and this was a hands-on-knees struggle. But I got up it, gasping for air, and got a sponge down from Volunteer Mike from Western States lore at the top. But as I moved on, I couldn't catch my breath. I could be walking or running on flats, hiking ups, running downs, it didn't matter - my breathing was completely labored. Unfortunately that continued all the way through the final 5 miles or so, but I was able to push on and finish in 5:54:46, good for a more than 16 minute PR.
|Pushing through the line for a new PR!|
I collapsed afterward and really struggled to pull it together. Every time I tried to stand up I would get light headed, and my breathing remained labored for a good 10-15 minutes. I found a slight downhill to lie down on, head down, and finally started to feel "normal" again. I think it was a combination of effort, dehydration (it was over 70 degrees by the finish, warm for this time of year), and possible low glycogen, but I'm not sure. I'm re-evaluating my Tailwind drink nutrition strategy, as I think I get sick of sports drinks and end up getting neither enough water or calories in during warm efforts.
Obviously I'm excited with the improvement I've seen in this race, basically a minute per mile over a 2-year period. It was also a good experience to be focused on my time from the beginning and almost feel like I was "racing", even if I was only racing against 2013 me. That's not something I have a lot of experience with. And I know I can continue to improve, which is exciting considering I'm 42. It was a good check of my fitness at this point in my training for Quicksilver 100K, and gives me a little confidence for the next 2+ months.