Monday, March 11, 2013

Way Too Cool 50k

Thursday night before the race, Stephen and I headed up to Folsom for a night - we decided to leave early to avoid any Friday afternoon Tahoe traffic, and I think we made a good decision. We spent Friday working in the Folsom Hilton Garden Inn (there are worse places to work, I suppose), and then we headed over to Auburn around 4:30 to pick up our race bibs and have some dinner.

Frog greeter at the Auburn Running Company
The scene at Auburn Running Company was pretty chill, so we grabbed our race bibs and shirts and went to check in at our place for the weekend. We found a cute little spot on AirBnB, just up the street from the Western States 100 finish line at Placer High School and a short jog through the back of the property to the Western States Trail itself. We had the lower level of the house to ourselves, with a nice view of the sunset out the back.

Beautiful sunset from the back porch!
After getting settled, we walked to Old Town Auburn to get some dinner at Old Town Pizza, a cute little joint with really great pies. I laid off drinking any alcohol in the week before the race, but decided to have a couple of Heavy Rail Pale Ales from Roseville Brewing Company. Not too shabby, and totally local. The pizza was heavenly - great crust and lots of toppings. We took almost half the pizza home, it was so dense! On the way home, we stopped at a local cafe and got bagels for the morning, and then headed up the hill to the house. It was longer than I'd normally walk the night before a race, but it was good to help us digest a bit, and we got to hear the frogs along the way.

Great company!
Great pizza!!
Once we got home, we laid out our stuff for the race, and then kicked back to watch Unbreakable - the Western States movie. The hosts had very kindly left it just next to the DVD player, so we decided we had to watch it. Considering we'd be running portions of the WS Trail, it was great motivation for the race!
Ready to run
A little extra pre-race inspiration, since we'd be running some of the WS Trail!
Race morning
The alarm went off earlier than we would have liked, but we got up, got dressed, made some coffee, and headed off to Cool, CA, about 15 minutes away. As we descended into the American River Canyon, we were treated with an amazing view - the fog was settled in the canyon making it look beautiful in the sunlight! I wish I'd been able to take a photo, but we didn't have time to stop. We were surprised not to see much traffic, but that changed as we rounded a corner and came face to face with a long line of cars on the highway. We managed to park in the regular parking area, but that put us as far from the race start as possible, and only 25 minutes to walk back to the start and use the bathroom. Fortunately, the line moved quickly, and I was just able to use the bathroom before they called us to the start line. I said hi to Janeth and Rachel as I made my last minute preparations, and then I kissed Stephen for good luck (he started in the second wave, ten minutes later), and got lined up just as they counted down. Whew!

Super running mama Janeth is training for WS100. She would go on to kick my butt in this race by 2 min!
Beautiful day for a race!
To Aid #1:
The first part of the course is along a paved road (the same one we parked on), so we ran between the cars for about a mile and a half before hitting the trails. This section was a little frustrating because there were a ton of runners in a very narrow space, so I spent a good amount of time trying to get around people who had positioned themselves too far up in the pack. The fun continued on the single track trails, where it was difficult to pass anyone, and entire lines of runners would get held up behind one person. We had more than a few traffic jams, too, at hills and river crossings. Some people ran right through the water, but I chose to balance on the rocks - mile 2 was WAY too soon to be running in heavy wet shoes, and I really didn't want to get any blisters, especially not that early in the race!

Traffic Jam: A tiny hill caused this massive backup!
Still right in line at mile 6 or so...
This first section took us through beautiful meadows and trees, and once I got into the right group of runners, the anxiety went away. I was happy to see that I had managed to run the first six miles in 1:02, despite the traffic jams, streams and other frustrations. My goal going into the race was to keep up a 10:00 minute pace for the first 12 miles, so I was right on track! At mile 8, we were back at the start and on our way out for our second loop. As I crossed under the banner, I stopped for a minute to put my arm warmers and gloves in my pack, Susan, SFRRC President, yelled out my name. I gave her a quick wave and then took off down the trail again.

To Aid #2:
This next section was pretty flat to begin with, but then we started on a nice long downhill. Unfortunately, I was stuck behind a bunch of people who didn't know how to descend, so I did some more bobbing and weaving to get out of the crowd. Another good motivator was a heavy breather who, each time he exhaled, sounded like he was saying "yeah". It was totally disturbing, and I could hear him over my music (which I was trying to keep low for safety purposes). I cranked up the volume and my turnover and finally got away from him, thankfully! We hit a really awesome section of trail that dropped us down along the Middle Fork of the American River. I blew right past The second aid station and continued on along the fire road, getting a boost from Susan's husband Mike who happened to be biking up the path. Miles 10-12 ended up being the fastest of the day, putting me at 2:01 for the first 12 miles. Pretty much right on target!

Running along the American River
To Aid #3:
The path along the American River was really pretty, so I enjoyed the views and kept up a strong pace, hiking a few hills and running anything that wasn't crazy steep. I started with plenty of water, Clif Bloks and peanut butter pretzels, so I hadn't stopped yet. I got a quick refill at Aid Station 3, drank a cup of Coke and ate a couple of boiled potatoes with salt, and I was on my way as soon as possible.

I didn't see any of the famous frogs or newts, but there were lots of mossy green spots along the trail
Just a little teaser before the real climbing starts

To Aid #4:
By the time I hit 3:00, I had run 17.5 miles, and I was just about to hit the hills. That left me another 3:00 to cover the remaining 13.5 miles if I wanted to make my goal. The hills at miles 18-19 slowed my forward progress considerably, but fortunately there were only a few really steep sections, and the rest were pretty runnable. This may sound like a good thing, but at some points I was wishing for more hills to hike! It was hard to justify walking such perfect single track trail, and I didn't know how bad the coming hills would be or whether I would be able to hold onto my pace, so I just sucked it up and kept going.

We had several stream crossings - managed to stay dry on all but this one!
Mile 19: 12.1 miles to Cool!
At the top of the first major climb, I thought I would find an aid station, but it was just a group of people cheering. I still had plenty of water, so I was just happy to get a little bit of extra energy! The trees opened up for a while at the top, and there was a great view of the valley below. I caught up with a couple of older guys who happened to be going the perfect pace, so I fell in right behind them. They said to let them know if I wanted to pass, but I told them the pace was just right. One of them said, "It's a good thing you didn't catch us a minute earlier - we were really dragging!" Fortunately, they kept it up, and we all sped down the hill and into the next aid station. I grabbed a cup of Coke and a couple of potatoes, thanked the volunteers, and was on my way again.

To Aid #5:
We kept going downhill for a while, so I passed a few more people that I had caught at the aid station. My quads were feeling a little iffy, but I sucked it up again and kept up the pace as well as I could until we hit the next hill. Everything seemed to be going well - a little uphillish, but not bad - until the trail markings veered off into a crazy switchback that had us climbing straight up. Hands on knees, holding onto rocks and trees, I slogged my way up Goat Hill, cursing along with the runners around me. One woman says, "This section is a A LOT easier when you're not at mile 27!" Uh, no kidding!!! A guy was standing at the top, ringing a cowbell, so he gave us some motivation to get to the top of the hill.
Climbing toward the cowbell at the top of Goat Hill
I stopped at the aid station and one of the volunteers filled my pack while I chugged some ice cold Coke, then I strapped my pack back on and was on my way. Just 3.1 miles to the next aid station, which I knew was close to the finish.

To Aid #6:
Unfortunately, the volunteer filled my pack all the way, so I was carrying a lot more water than I needed. I started sucking water out of the pack and spitting it out to lighten my load. At this point, I knew I could make it under 6:00 as long as I didn't implode or fall. The latter was becoming more and more of a concern, especially on the more technical parts. I stumbled a few times and kept reminding myself to pick up my feet, dammit! This section was pretty exposed and warm, but (still) there was no excuse to be walking the barely rolling single track, so I kept on running. Before long, I could hear the cowbells at the highway 49 crossing, and we dropped down and across to the final aid station. I chugged a cup of Coke and noted the sign that said 1.4 miles to the finish.

To the finish:
The trail made a left turn and we immediately started climbing. Somehow I missed this hill in my study of the course maps - oops! I knew that the final 3/4 mile or so was pretty flat, so I chatted and joked with the other runners and hiked my way to the top.

Alllmost at the top!
From there, I dug deep and tried to muster whatever speed I had left (not much!). That Coke kicked in at just the right time and carried me around the last bend and into the finish at 5:50:50, well under my 6:00 goal. That's an 11:18 pace, and a 50k PR for me!

Very happy with my race!
Susan was waiting at the finish and snapped a picture after I collected my medal. What a feeling, finishing this race - I don't think I've ever run so far and so consistently before. I'm willing to bet that I ran 95% of this race, which is much more than the average ultra. Like I said, there was no excuse to walk such runnable trails, so I ran until the hills pitched up to the point where I couldn't run anymore. I think that's what I'm most proud of in this race. And, as you've seen, I even managed to take a few pictures!

Afterward, I chatted with friends Paulo (who ran 31 miles from Sacramento to cheer his friends on at the finish) and Kenley (who finished in 4:31!), and changed into dry clothes. It was then I ran into Lara, and we realized we had both beaten Rachel (even though it doesn't really count because she's coming off an injury). She crossed the line shortly after, and we all went to get post-race food, including the famous frog cupcakes.
WE BEAT RACHEL! (Hey, I'll take it when I can get it!)

Showing off my medal and my frog cupcake!
More frogs - they're even on the tablecloth!
Hahaha...sooo punny!
Seriously, the frog references were out of control!
Turns out, Rachel got to run part of the race with the Gordy Ainsleigh, so I also got to meet him when I took Rachel's picture with him. He's a much bigger guy than I expected - definitely taller than I thought he'd be - and the beard is legendary!

So awesome!
I hung out on the last bend of the course to wait for Stephen, and when he came down the trail, I ran out to meet him and give him a kiss - we connected for a split second (the crowd loved it!) as he made his final sprint to the finish.  He was happy with his race too - a few kinks in the legs made for some rough spots, but he still enjoyed himself out there!

Coming down the last stretch!
Post-race, we cleaned up and headed to Auburn Alehouse for a well-deserved burger and beer before some well-deserved rest. All in all, it was a great day for both of us, and we're looking forward to trying this one again!



Rachel Wadsworth said...

Nice race report! You trained well, ran an awesome race, and you deserved that great PR. Next 50k, though, it's ON! :)

Heather said...

Congratulations on a great race! How fun seeing Mike and Susan out there. Those familiar faces can give you a boost just when you need it. I'm so inspired by you and your running adventures. Beautiful pictures too!