Monday, April 7, 2014

American River 50 Mile Endurance Run - An Ultra (long) Race Report!

Alternate title:  The One Where Pahla Learns to Let Shit Go.

I've seen "Frozen" twice now, and I thought it was a pretty cute movie.  I'm not a SuperFan by any means, but let me tell you, that song, "Let it Go" was pretty much my theme song for the day Saturday.  Sometimes, even when nothing seems to go the way you thought it might go, everything still turns out amazing!  Let's start at the very beginning (a very good place to start).

Our story actually begins a few weeks ago, when Big Boy's track calendar incurred a small change:  an all day meet about an hour away (in the opposite direction) on the same day as the AR50.  Which meant that UltraIronHubs couldn't be a pacer for me, or even, you know, BE THERE AT ALL.  Sad trombone!  There was nothing to be done for it, though I did briefly entertain the idea of sending Big Boy to his race with somebody else so UIH could be with me.  I wanted to be that selfish, but of course I wasn't.  "Let it go, let it go-ooo."  So instead I wrangled my sister and my mom into crewing for me.  Ha!  I don't think they fully understood how long and exhausting the day was going to be for them when they agreed.  I probably won't be so lucky next time, now that they know.

Leading up to Saturday, it had been a long, crazy week at work, the way most weeks are.  I was about my average amount of well-rested and well-hydrated, meaning that I was okay, but maybe could have done better.  I'd had my normal pre-race chicken and rice dinner and gone to bed ridiculously early, since the alarm was set for 2 freakin' 30 in the AM.  My race morning "stuff" all went well - coffee, oatmeal, et cetera.  My colon was cleared, my gear was ready, it was time to go run the hell out of this race!
The time on the clock is actually "time left until the start of the race."  We started at 6 am.  In the dark.
I hit the port-o-potties a couple of times and started making friends, because that's just what I do.  I was chatting about shoes with the nice woman behind me in line and she told me that she was volunteering as a Sweeper.  I so want to do that someday!!!  She got to run at the very, very back of the pack and encourage the stragglers to keep up their pace.  I suppose she also had to enforce the cutoff times, which would suck, but I think it would be awesome to cheer on the very last runners.  They work harder, you know.  On a side note, as nice as she was, I was happy that I didn't see her again during the day!

As I was getting out of the car to line up, I turned on my Garmin and it instantly chirped "Low Battery" at me.  WTF?  Of course it was charged, I charge it every single time I run, when I'm loading up the data onto the computer!  Well, apparently, the little charger prongs hadn't fully connected the last time I used it two days ago and it had drained itself instead.  I tried not to freak out, because, really, what were my options here?  I was going to run no matter what.  But all I could think about was all those miles that Strava wouldn't record!  WAAAAH!  "Let it go, let it go-ooo."  Thankfully, I always keep my GymBoss in the car for client workouts, so I set it for 8:1 intervals as an eating and drinking reminder and clipped it onto my hydration pack.  I hoped the Garmin would last a few miles, so I could keep tabs on my progress and manage my pace, but no such luck:  it was a dead, blank screen before I even crossed the starting line.

I started at the very, very back of Wave One.  There were two waves and I really didn't belong in Wave One, a fact I announced to the volunteer as I picked up my packet.  There was absolutely no way I could run fast enough to be with the Wave One-ers!  I deliberated dropping back to Wave Two, but I knew UIH was on a bit of a time crunch to get back home after seeing me at the first aid station, so I stayed in my designated wave and thought I could just hang back and keep my pace slow.

There were between 400-500 runners in each wave.

Here we go!
So of course I went out way, way, WAAAAAAAY too fast.  I'm an idiot.  The first mile was paved, so it was easy footing and easy to just go my regular pace, as opposed to my, "I'm going to be running all day" pace.  I should have taken a walking break when everybody else's Garmin chirped at the first mile, but I didn't, for no good reason that I can recall.  My headlamp was essentially useless once we were on the dark trail (it's fine in town, but apparently puts out very little light in the "for reals" dark), so I hustled to keep up with the other runners rather than lose my footing and fall so early in the day.

As it got lighter, I was able to step aside and let other people pass me and tried to get into my pace.  I started the GymBoss and took in a little Gatorade, but by Mile 3 or 4, my stomach was letting me know that I had made a huge mistake.  I was under-hydrated and underfed.  I felt awful and started to freak out a little.  It was way too early in the day to not feel good!  I walked some more, even though the terrain was flat and easy, and I heard myself say (in my head, later it would be out loud), "If you feel like you want to cry, eat something."  This is sort of a strange mantra for a girl with a healthy relationship with food, but it's a plain and simple fact that when I'm feeling down on a run, I need calories!

So I walked and I ate some peanut butter pretzels - OMG, yum! - and I made friends with a guy who was wearing the neatest gaiters.  My opening line as I came up behind him:  "Are those pin-up girls on your gaiters?!?"  Yes.  Yes, they were.  We chatted.  He was looking for a 13 hour finish, like me, but had started too fast, like me.  His wife was way ahead of us.  This wasn't his first 50.  He was great company as we cruised into the first aid station and I got to see UIH for a minute.
I never saw any of these people again.  They probably finished before I was at the halfway point, speedsters!
I gave him my stupid uncharged Garmin and thank goodness he offered me his watch.  I couldn't keep track of my pace - hello, running math! - but at least I had some idea of where I was in the day.  I mostly hustled past the aid table, since it was so early and I still had everything I needed.  We turned onto the street for another long, paved stretch that included a pretty good hill.  Pin-Up Gaiters had gotten ahead of me, so I ran and walked alone for awhile.  We turned onto the American River Bike Trail and I was a little surprised that we stayed on the paved trail, rather than the dirt single-track that runs more or less parallel.  In reading the course description, I had mistakenly believed that we would be on the dirt.  This was sort of disappointing, honestly, as I've been doing all of my long-run training in the dirt, but no matter.  I know the bike trail very well from years of running and training there, so either way this was going to be the most familiar part of my day.

Somewhere along here, I was lamenting the aid station chart that was supposed to be in my pack, but was instead languishing on top of my printer, where I accidentally left it.  I knew where I was, but I didn't really know where I was, mileage-wise and race course-wise.  Running Garmin-less made this much worse.  I felt weirdly lost.  The guy next to me told me we'd been running eight miles when his Garmin chirped.  Eight miles was exciting!  I was further than I thought, but I wished I knew when the next aid station was.  Apparently, all I had to do was ask and the running gods would provide:  there on the trail appeared somebody else's dropped aid station chart!  You can't imagine how happy I was to pick that baby up!  I felt bad for the guy who dropped it, of course, and hoped that losing it didn't screw up his day.  I didn't look closely at it until later, but there was a very detailed and aggressive pace/goal chart attached.  I wonder if he met his plan.

A few miles before aid station #2, I was out of water.  I wondered why I hadn't filled up at aid station #1 and vowed not to make that mistake again.  I was walking and eating enough and my stomach was feeling much better.  I called my sister and let her know that I was going to be on the tail end of the times I had told her to meet me.  By the time I cruised into the aid station at Willow Creek (#2), I really had to use the bathroom.  Hooray for hydration!  I filled up my water bottle and skedaddled on down the trail.  Just a few more miles until I would see my crew at the Aquatic Center!

What a wonderful and welcome sight!  My mom and sister, who did fantastic at their first ultra crewing job!

Only a half marathon into my day, it's not hard to keep smiling!
Leaving the Aquatic Center, there are two long, steep uphills that are really only walkable.  (Okay, I'm sure there were plenty of hotshots who ran them, but I walked.)  I took the opportunity to call UIH and let him know that I was feeling much better.  I knew he would be worried about me, especially since I didn't feel great just five miles in, and I wanted to reassure him.  I had gotten my stomach under control and I was really looking forward to this stretch of the race.
This is the second long uphill.  I took the photo while walking up the first one.  There was a guy on a bullhorn, cheering on the runners at the top of this hill.  He was AWESOME!!  I could already hear him while I was taking this photo.  His energy absolutely carried me up that hill!
Aid Station #3 was full of energy - the volunteers were dressed as superheros and they were so much fun!  I filled my water bottle again and grabbed some salted red potato chunks.  I was feeling fantastic, so I didn't linger.  There were plenty of people around to chat with and I think we were all feeling pretty good at this point.  It's far enough into the race that you've settled your nerves, but not so far that you're feeling tired yet.  I passed people and got passed, and hung out with a guy named Joel for a few miles.  He was coming back from an injury, but was an experienced ultra runner, so his race plan was just to keep moving forward.  Good plan!  I saw Pin-Up Gaiters again as we passed each other back and forth.  Somewhere around these parts, there were a pair of guys coming up behind me who were carrying on a conversation I couldn't help but overhear.  I burst out laughing when one of them said, "...he's going to pace me on the last 100 miles."  I turned and apologized for eavesdropping, but that's just not a phrase you hear every day!  We joked a little and I asked him about his upcoming race.  He and his friend were running WAY too fast for me to chat with them more, unfortunately.

I ran happily into aid station #4, ready for another bottle of water and more potato chunks.  I was thinking about when UIH ran the AR50 two years ago and how strong he looked at this point (Mile 20), when the volunteer behind the potatoes said to me, "Ummm, do you write a blog?"
"Yes....Adventures of an Average Athlete?"
"OMG, yes!  I read your blog!"
I squealed like a piglet and thanked her (at least I think I thanked her.  I hope I did.  I couldn't exactly remember later, because while we were talking, I was thinking about asking if I could take her picture to post here and then I thought that might sound creepy or weird, so I didn't.  But then I regretted not asking.) and told her she made my whole day, which she did.  I LOVE being recognized from my blog!!

Off I went, feeling all full of myself and semi-famous and excited that I would get to see my awesome crew at the next aid station, which was also very nearly the halfway point (Mile 24.31).  Looking back, this was definitely the best I felt all day.  I still had a good amount of energy, I was fueling and hydrating well (I stopped right after the aid station and used the bathroom again - yay!), and I was more or less on the time plan I had given my crew.  The only negative was that the next four miles to the aid station were pretty much all uphill, but I could handle that.
Because, you know.  Llama.  On a leash.  On my race course.  Eating a tree.
I love, love, LOVED the cheer signs!!
Still smiling because I am almost halfway done - woo hoo!
Love my mama!

The aid station at Beal's Point was awesome, with an announcer calling out everybody's name, LOTS of spectators, and - my personal favorite - indoor, flushing toilets.  Everything a girl needs to run another 26 miles!  I am super familiar with the five miles between Beal's Point and Granite Bay, so I was feeling really good.  I picked up a new friend who was really struggling and had been dropped by her running buddies.  She ran intervals with me and my Gymboss (which had long since been changed to the far more reasonable run:walk ratio of 3:1).  She was running her first 50 and it was even her first ultra!  She had a lot of marathon experience.  I assumed she had only run road marathons, because she seemed pretty overwhelmed by all the dirt and hills we were encountering.  She had thought that she would run the whole fifty miles without taking any walking breaks.  I tried not to laugh out loud.  I imagine there are people who don't walk during ultras, but I am sure as heck not one of them!!  We caught up with her running group, who kind of seemed like they were giving her a little shit about being a slowpoke.  Maybe it was funny, I couldn't tell.  I left her with them and continued on my way.
My amazing view at Mile 27-ish.
I came into the aid station at Granite Bay a little bit behind the time I was hoping to, but still well within the window I had told my crew.  I was getting tired and even though I was trying not to "dread" anything, I knew that the next part of the course was the toughest ten miles of the day.  I hugged my mom and filled my water bottle and grubbed on salted potatoes, but didn't linger.  The faster I got this done, the faster I'd be done with it, right?

The guy who dropped his aid station list/pace chart very accurately described Miles 30-40 as "The Meatgrinder."  It was hard.  I walked A LOT.  I finally turned off the Gymboss altogether because it was just pissing me off.  The day suddenly seemed very warm and the field had really, really spread out.  I had nobody to talk to and it was just SO difficult.  A little after 2 o'clock, somewhere around Mile 32 or so, I... well, I didn't hit the wall, exactly.  But I didn't really want to be doing this anymore.  I called UIH because I needed to hear a friendly voice.  We chatted for just a minute or two, but the cell coverage was spotty.  I was lonely and I felt like crying, so I ate some more pretzels.  And then I ate some more and drained the last of my Gatorade, and then I finally felt a little less like crying.  I was pretty sure the next aid station was farther away than the advertised 5.22 miles.  The few people I ran into looked as desperate and exhausted as I felt, but eventually I made it to Buzzard's Cove and aid station #7.  And not a moment too soon, because I was out of water again.

Making it to the next aid station was more of the same, but it was a little closer (just 3.47 miles away), so I felt a little less overwhelmed by the task.  I had to pee really bad, but there were no bathrooms out here in the middle of nowhere, so I dodged behind a tree when there didn't seem to be anybody too close behind me.  I got pee on my shoes, and of course the people behind me arrived in time to see me pulling up my skirt, but my diminished modesty was nothing in the face of the relief my bladder felt!  Onward!

After aid station #8, where I tore through the salted potatoes and filled up my water bottle, I ran for quite a few miles with a really, really, really nice guy named Dave, who pretty much saved my life, or at least my sanity.  As I came up behind him, he tried to step aside and let me pass.  I asked him if I could just follow his shoes for awhile and we started talking.  He was an experienced ultra runner and usually much faster, but he was pacing himself as part of 100-mile training.  His friends were all probably done with their races.  We talked about his daughter and my kids.  I asked if his wife was a runner, too, and he hesitated before saying, "No.  I don't have a wife.  But my girlfriend runs," and we laughed about how it was better to not have a wife than have a wife who doesn't run.  I took my turn pulling in front of him and before I knew it, we were at aid station #9, Rattlesnake Bar, where my mom and sister were waiting!!
Look how cheerful they still are at Mile 40 (almost 41)!!
My sister walked with me to the food table, where I proceeded to dip a boiled red potato into a bowl of salt like a chip into salsa.  Her eyes got huge, and she was all, "Well, I would have taken up running, too, if I'd known you could eat like THAT!"  Dude, I only run ultras for the all-you-can-eat buffet.  I filled up my water bottle again and lingered for a few minutes with my mom.  I knew I was so close to the finish, but oh, man, I was getting tired!  They reminded me several times that I only had single digits left, that I could totally do this.  I knew they must have been tired, too, but they were able to give me so much energy!
Still smiling!  Ready to get this thing done!
I headed back out on the trail alone, since my new BFF Dave had left before me.  I knew he wasn't too far ahead, though, so I put a little hustle into it.  I'm such a stalker.  I had a total second wind thing going on for a few miles, where I felt like I was really pretty close to finishing.  I caught up to Dave and we chatted.  It didn't seem like very long at all (2.98 miles) and we hit aid station #10, Dowdin's Post.  I got there just a few seconds before Dave, and lemme tell ya, the crowd went CRAZY when he arrived!  And I still don't know why!  I assume they were from his running group.  Or maybe he's a famous celebrity and I was too dumb to recognize him.  I filled my water bottle and grabbed some potatoes, but he was chatting and laughing with everyone and I really needed to keep moving, so I headed out.  I thought for sure he would catch back up with me, but I never saw him again.  Sad face.

I'm not sure exactly when I stopped running altogether, but it was somewhere around here.  Even though I was at Mile 44, so close I could taste it, I just didn't have any run left.  My walking pace was awesome, though.  It was a real hustle, arms a-swingin', feet picked up, but just shy of a run or even a jog.  I had to pee so bad I thought I was going to burst.  I'd actually had to go at Rattlesnake Bar, but didn't have the wherewithal to find the porto-potties there.  Silly me.  Every step I took was screaming in my ear:  Go!  Pee!  Go!  Pee!  Go!  Pee!  It was agony.  The trail was a rather steep incline on one side and a very steep ravine on the other and all surfaces seemed to be creeping with poison oak.  Not exactly squat friendly!  Finally, somewhere around Mile 46, there was the tiniest clearing and I took the opportunity.  I was barely into my squat when I heard (thankfully) female voices coming around the corner.  "I'm over here!" I hollered at them.  "Oh, do you want privacy?" they asked.
"No, I just didn't want to scare you."
"Girl, we TOTALLY understand!"
Ultrarunners are the best.  They ran past me, I pulled up my skirt and off I went.  Of course, less than a mile later, there was a porto-potty on the trail.
This is NOT a porto-potty, it's just a pretty picture of the beautiful American River.
I had been looking forward to the final three miles all day long.  It's a horrible, awful, no good climb called Cardiac Hill that nearly took my breath away when I paced for UIH, so you wouldn't really think I'd be excited about that, but here's the thing:  it's the last big climb.  And it's a hill I've run several times now, at the She Rocks, the Rock'n River and the AR 50.  It was the evil I knew and it meant the finish was less than an hour away!

I started laughing when we turned the corner and started climbing Cardiac.  I was giddy.  Yeah, it was awful, but it was almost over.  For months now, I've been dreaming of climbing this hill on this day and finishing with a smile on my face, and now it was happening!  I had one final thing to do, and that was take a picture at the "1 Mile to Go" sign.  My favorite picture in the world of UIH was taken in front of that sign and I wanted one of me, too.  I climbed and I walked.  It was tough going, but I didn't stop.  Everybody on that hill seemed to have a pacer cheering them on, encouraging them to run just a little more and telling them what a great job they were doing!  I tried to summon my inner pacer for a little of that oomph, but she was exhausted.  Walking with my hustle pants on would just have to do.
He's so handsome.  I'm glad I married him!
I reached the "1 Mile to Go" sign with a huge grin on my face.  I pulled out my phone to snap the victory photo and... it was dead.  My fucking phone fucking died at fucking Mile 49 of my 50 mile race.  Are you kidding me??  I wanted to cry.

So I ate another pretzel and I kept on moving towards the Finish Line.  "Let it go, let it go-ooooo-ooooo!"

I looked at my watch, 6:04 pm.  I had exactly twenty minutes to get to the finish before I was going to have to "let go" of my PR dream, and you know what?  That wasn't going to happen.  I walked my little heart out that whole mile.  There was a tiny bit of trotting, a little bit of hustling, but nothing much resembling a run.  I gave it everything I had left in me.  I climbed that last, cruel hill and I knew the finish was right there waiting for me!  I looked for my mom and my sister as I broke into a run-ish, but being the most AWESOME CREW in the entire world, they weren't at the far corner, they were right smack dab next to the finish arch, because they knew that was the picture I really wanted!!
Money shot.

I looked at my watch again and totally had to choke back tears.  I did it!!  I ran 50 miles all by myself and I beat my previous best time by seven minutes!!  As I was running through the long, long, loooooooooooong finisher's chute, I heard the announcer saying, "Here comes Pahla B, with her arms in the air!  Look at that smile!!"  Seriously, it was like he knew that all I wanted from the day was to run happy.

Official finish time - 12:17:58

Sobbing as I picked up my medal and finisher's jacket.

Who rocks?
My sister rocks!
The AR50?  Oh, you know.  It was the Best.  Day.  Ever!


coach dion said...

I have a 60.3km (37miles) race in August and your report has made me scared... Maybe this is a good thing, I had better get training, because unlike your race I will be up in the mountains on rocky single tracks...

So I hope I can be like you and be strong to the end, well do on your run.

Laurie said...

I loved every word of this report. You are so awesome! I have to admit, I laughed out loud when you got to the 1 mile sign and your phone was dead...then I read it to my husband and he laughed too. Good job letting it go! We should get together sometime to do an ultra, I think it would be a blast! Anyway, great job on a great race. Congrats on the PR!!

Jill said...

Oh man, you DID IT!!!!

I know that wasn't easy, oh how I know - but that's why you do these things, right? I love your tenacity and how you just rolled with the punches. Well done, Pahla - I am very, very happy for you! :)

One Crazy Penguin said...

You freaking kicked ass! I'm generally not a fan of long race reports, but I loved every second of this one. Way to go!

bobbi said...

YOU ARE AMAZING!! Seriously - you killed it! Congrats on your new PR!

Unknown said...

Heck yeah!!! You looked amazing out there. I'm so glad I saw you. Btw, I was the volunteer that recognized you on Mile 20. You should of asked me for a pix, I would of said "Yes!!!" I was actually bummed I didn't get a picture of you. Hopefully I'll bump into you another time. :D If you ever need anyone to help with crewing let me know, I might be able to swing it.

Brad Doyle said...

Great account of your journey. I had to laugh about a couple of things. First of all, the very detailed pace chart with aid stations taped on the back was mine. :) I had stuffed it in my hydration pack and lost it pretty early in the race. I was bummed about it the whole way because I wanted to try and stick with that plan. It's okay though....I had a decent day and I'm glad that you found it and were able to make good use of it. My coach drew up the detailed pace for me based on my expected pace/finish time. The other LOL moment was about Dave, who I run with in the SacFit group. As you mentioned, he is a really really really nice guy and well loved by all the SacFit peeps, who coincidentally happened to be in charge of the Dowdin's Post aid station. Which would explain his rock star status when he arrived there. Glad you got your PR and thanks for sharing your adventure.

ajh said...

You completely rock!

trailmomma said...

Congrats! Amazing recap. It was a beautiful day out there for sure! That Garmin freakout no charge thing has happened to me too. VERY frustrating!