“Here comes P with her cotton tail… Hoppin’ down the AR50 trail…”
Technically, my title was pacer, but what with the cute song, the tie-in with Easter and the fact that this was a totally “hare-brained” idea, I’m going with a rabbit theme here. Work with me.
IronHubs decided last year – somewhere in the middle of IMAZ training, when he was incredibly tired of all that swimming – that he was going to tackle a 50-miler this year. So he signed up for the American River 50, a local race that is the second largest 50 mile race in America. It sounded like a tough course, but what did I care? All I had to do was spectate!
Training went really well, he adapted to the back-to-back long run schedule and he was getting excited about the race. Then about a month or so ago, he asked me if I’d be willing to pace him for part of the race. There are three checkpoints where you can pick up a pacer on the course, so you could actually have three different pacers. One pacing section is about five miles long and the other two are around nine miles each. “Sure, why not?” I bravely volunteered, picturing a couple of miles near the end where I could heroically bolster his flagging spirits for a brilliant finish.
Not so much. At first, IronHubs thought I could do that first five mile part and then the last nine mile part. Then a few days later, he wondered if maybe I could just do the two nine mile parts. Then, a week or so later…well, would I be willing to run the whole 23 with him?
Race day started for us at 3 am, which is actually still the middle of the night. We drank coffee, gathered gear, made sure all the support crew supplies were where they needed to be and headed off to the start around 4:30.
A little more than a marathon into his day. On a side note – there were a lot of guys wearing green, like the guy right next to IronHubs here. There were also a lot of guys wearing blue, red, orange and yellow, so none of those colors would have helped IronHubs stand out more. Really, it all came down to the calf sleeves, because that’s how I could always tell it was him.
My race day logistics were, in a word, crazy, and required several checklists, an Excel spreadsheet and three maps. I got up with IronHubs at 3, got him to the starting line, skedaddled to what I thought was the 3 mile mark (only to discover that it was the SIX mile mark…thank goodness, otherwise IronHubs was moving really, really freaking slow!) to cheer, which put me 30 minutes behind schedule, busted a move back home to pick up Little Boy and get him to his karate class, made sure Big Boy was safe with my mom and checked in with my in-laws who were on their way to cheer, busted another move to make it to the cheering point at Mile 22, hitched a ride with my in-laws to my Pacer Pick-Up point at Mile 27 and THEN I got to run 23 miles! *whew*
Since I know you’re going to ask me about my bowels – why wouldn’t you? That’s not creepy or weird at all – yes, things were all clear on the poop deck, as they say in the Navy.*
* I doubt that they actually say that in the Navy.
IronHubs came flying into the Aid Station at Mile 27, looking remarkably strong. He changed his socks and switched over from the backpack to handheld hydration while I filled the pack with my Gatorade and put my keys, phone and Honey Stingers in the pocket. It was no NASCAR pit crew, but we were on our way pretty quickly.
I was fired up and ready to run. Let’s do this thing! We made it all the way to the other side of the parking lot before IronHubs decided that he really ought to stop and use the bathroom. So we stopped, which was a good thing because I already had to catch my breath. Holy crap, even after already running farther than a marathon and even at his “I’m running 50 miles today” pace, he was faster than me. Yikes.
When we headed out again, IronHubs had me set the GymBoss for a 3:1 run-walk. He had been running 4:1 since the beginning, conserving energy for such a long day. On our first or maybe second walking break, I had him get the camera out of the backpack and then ended up holding it in my hand the entire rest of the way, which was nice because I got a lot of surprisingly great pictures of our day.
We left the aid station at Mile 26.5 and hit the trails. They were nice and wide here with hard-packed dirt, like fire roads. You can see how the trail winds around and heads up into the first (for me) of many, many, many hills. BTW, IronHubs was eating something when I took this picture, in case you were wondering about that expression.
IronHubs started out in front of me, for no good reason as far as I could tell, other than to show off that he still had plenty of energy. We chatted a little and he told me about the first half of the race and some of the runners he had met. The hills were rolling, the scenery was lovely and the trail was wide enough that people could pass us if they wanted to. The only snag, really, was my hydration backpack. We recently bought a new one because the bite valve on our old one
was aggressively bitten off by IronHubs broke. Even though we got the exact same model, apparently they’ve changed the valve in the last two years from a pull-out kind to a twisty kind, which was a lot harder for me to use. With the pull-out kind, you can just grab onto it with your teeth to open it (oh, hey, maybe that’s how it broke!), but the twisty one really requires the use of both hands. Or at least it does for me, because I’m not all that coordinated. In any event, after the first couple of sips, I stopped closing the valve because every time I concentrated on closing the valve, I turned my ankle on the increasingly rocky trail. Did I mention that I’m not very coordinated? So the valve slowly leaked Gatorade on me all day and splurted out on my hands every time I grabbed it to take a drink. I was a sticky orange mess within just a few miles. Attractive, no?
Some of the aid stations were very organized, with tents and tables of beautifully arranged supplies, and some of them had stuff set up on rocks. Either way, the volunteers were AMAZING - friendly, cheerful and helpful. This one was around Mile 34 (Mile 7 for me).
As the miles piled on, the terrain got rougher and the hills got climbier and I started to wonder what the hell I had been thinking, agreeing to run with IronHubs. I am not a trail runner. We live in the middle of suburbia in the flattest part of the whole state of California and I am the sort of runner who likes to just open my front door and go, so my exposure to this sort of running is extremely limited. Trail running is hard. Like “check your ego at the door because you are not going to recognize the numbers on your Garmin” hard. I was stunningly underprepared for the amount of concentration trail running takes. There’s no freedom to get lost in your thoughts or – in my case, at least – enjoy the sight of anything but the trail in front of you, lest you misstep and fall into a ravine.
I intentionally took the lead from IronHubs so he could relax a little while I navigated the trail. I would call out for rocks or roots that loomed threateningly in the path and tried to find the driest way through the many, many watery and muddy sections. Several times, we were able to tuck in with a group of other runners and just follow them. There was one nice guy with rainbow colored socks who kept a perfect pace, walking the uphills and taking the downhills at a conservative trot. I was sad when he pulled away from us, but the fact is, lots of people passed us. I was just that slow.
About 11 miles into my day, I could feel that I was way too low on energy and figured I’d better get out one of my Honey Stingers at the next aid station. But when I went digging through my backpack, I couldn’t find them. I remembered getting them out to put in the backpack and I remembered laying them down while trying to jam my phone in the pocket, but apparently they never actually made it into my pack. Noooooooooooooooooooooooo! IronHubs kept telling me I was fine, I was fine, this was fine, but I just wanted to cry. What could I do, though, but soldier on?
Our extended cheering/support crew was set to meet us near Mile 41 (14 for me) and they had expected us a LOT earlier than when we eventually got there. IronHubs had put together a nifty little Excel spreadsheet with his expected times, but he really didn’t account for the terrain and the non-stop climbing in this second half (and let’s go ahead and put “me” in that debits column as well). They were very relieved to see us and lemme tell ya, the feeling was mutual, especially because they had my Honey Stingers!
The flat was sure nice, but this was around 1:30 and it felt like we were baking in the sun. Even though it meant more climbing, I was happy to get back into the trees. Plus, these little bushes were super pokey. I don’t know what they were, but IronHubs informed me that in Skyrim they would be Tundra Cotton. Because we live in a video game.
I took a picture of this tree because that red shiny bark was so pretty and I had no idea what sort of a tree it was. My father-in-law – who is an experienced hiker and probably could have kicked this trail’s ass – told me it’s a manzanita. Good to know.
Finally, a plant I know! This is a poppy, the California state flower. And yes, I took a picture of it just so I could post it on my blog and tell you that I identified ONE flower over the course of 23 miles. Nature Girl I am not.
I don’t know about you, but for me there comes a point in every really long run where I get a little (or sometimes a lot) delirious. Thankfully, I captured it on video this time!
Honestly, I don’t remember very many details about miles 41 – 46 (14 – 19 for me). There were a lot of hills, the trails were treacherous, I stepped in dozens of mud puddles and we just kept on moving forward. IronHubs swore up and down that he would never do another 50-miler, but I didn’t believe him (good thing – he rescinded that promise less than 20 hours after making it and is already planning #2). I do remember thinking at one point that there was just no way the hills could get worse. Yes, I had seen the course profile and of course I remembered those terrible hills from the World’s Toughest Half, but this had to be as hard as it was going to get, right? Right?
No. Not right. In fact, I was terribly, horribly wrong.
IronHubs and I had turned the GymBoss off many miles ago when the terrain got too awful to run even two minutes at a time, but we were still trying to pick up the pace during the runnable parts. We stopped calling it running, though, because our pace was slower than I would normally walk my dog. We referred to it as “hustling.” Let’s give it a little hustle, shall we? So there we were, hustling along at the end of Mile 46 and a guy comes running past us and says something unintelligible. I asked IronHubs what he said and he told me the guy said, “And now the fun begins.” I was puzzling that out when we turned a corner, and… oh, shit.
It was brutal and insane and never-ending. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t stand up straight for fear of falling backwards. I had to look at my feet because every time I looked up there was just more hill. Nobody was running at this point, we were all just trudging.
It’s hard to see, but the teeny tiny white speck in the road in the middle of this photo is the 3 Miles to Go sign. We were standing at the 2 Miles to Go sign, and it had taken us well over 20 minutes to travel that mile.
The last mile…well, it didn’t level out exactly, but it went from a 20% grade down to something in single digits, so we started running again. Hustling. Whatever. We picked up our feet and swung our arms more vigorously and it only took us a little over 12 minutes to make that last mile. We could hear the finish line for a really long time before we could see it and there was one last, short but cruelly steep hill before we got there. But we got there!
Official Finishing Time – 10:32:23
My Garmin stats, for those of us who love crunching numbers – 23.47 miles, 6:12:03 (avg. pace 15’51”).
What a day! What an accomplishment! I’m so insanely proud of UltraIronHubs! Watching him complete crazy stuff like this makes me want to do a 50-miler, too! But I think I’m going to pick a little flatter course.