April 3, 2004
Leading up to today, I did a number of Nike runs and hashes of short-ish distances… not really any long runs… unless you count Way Too Cool 50K. That seemed like a good enough training run.
In the past few weeks, my confidence that I could complete the race is low. My plantar fasciitis is acting up and I am agonizing over the distance.
One thing I have noticed as I have moved from one distance race to a longer distance race, is that it helps if you can visualize the distance or at least put into terms that your mind and body can understand.
When you first start running races, a 5K seems really far. I recently ran a 5K with my 5-year old nephew. He did really well for about 1.7 miles and then he wanted to quit. At least, though, with a 5K is that at the worst, you probably only struggle for an hour… and then you’re through.
A 10K is twice as far as a 5K, but still inherently doable. And a half marathon is a little more than 2 10Ks. A marathon is, simply, two half marathons.
OK. Well, for most runners, a marathon is a scary distance. The typical first-time marathoner has done a number of half marathons and been relatively successful. Now, they just need to, well, run two of them together… consecutively. With a marathon, you are racing the longest race ever and it is 2 sets of 13.1 miles. That’s a pretty considerable gap. (And yes, if you read all my posts, I did my first marathon, with no intermediary distances up from the half marathon.)
In my step up to the 50K distance, it was not the hardest thing to get my head around, because I had already run about 10 marathons, and the distance difference was roughly equivalent to the amount of mileage that I covered walking to and from my car at the marathon (plus a couple of miles). Most 50Ks I have done have been harder than a road marathon, but 4.9 miles more is not difficult to wrap your mind around.
So now to why I am underconfident with running a 50 miler, because if you think about it, the difference is only 18.9 miles further than a 50K. And hey, I have run 18.9 miles before (just not after running a 50K). Or, I can just think about it as the longest race I have ever run, followed by a half marathon and a 10K. Oh my god, it’s FAR!!!
On Friday morning, I flew up to Sacramento and met up with my friend Jacki, who I sang with in Early Music Ensemble at UC Davis for 4 years. She is a Student Adviser and we have lunch together. I am actually staying with my friends, Jessica and Erik, but they are at work, and I cannot get into their place until they are home from work. It is nice to see Jacki (we e-mail back and forth, but there is no substitute for human contact).
After lunch with Jacki, I walk over to Jessica and Erik’s house – it’s good to be in a location where you can walk everywhere. I am trying to avoid walking too much, as I will be on my feet for hours tomorrow. I have made arrangements with a friend from GVH who is also running the race to pick me up early and drive me to the start. We are relying on the fact that there will be some GVH volunteers at the end that will drive us back to the start… or back to Davis.
Jessica, Erik and I go out to dinner, but try to find something that is not heavy and also, so that I can get back at a reasonable hour and get some sleep. They are renting a nice house on Oak Street in Davis, and I usually end up in the Office / Spare Bedroom. There is an elevated bed, but I usually end up sleeping on a leather recliner chair (with detachable footrest). I seem to sleep better in a chair than in an actual bed. (This may come from years of preferring my recliner to my childhood bed…)
As usual before a long race, I don’t really sleep. I mostly sleep lightly and I may have kept the light on, so that I am certain to wake up in time for the race. I’m not wearing my clothes for the race (like I did for my first marathon), but I have everything ready to go in a pile, so that if I am running late, I can get ready quickly.
I get up about 4:30. I have certain prep I like to complete before running any long race. First, I spend 15-30 minutes on the can (TMI, I know), because I don’t want to deal with any GI discomfort during the race, and I certainly don’t want to have to wait in line to use a Port-a-Pottie.
The next stop is to put Vaseline on my chafe-heavy areas. This includes the groin and the entire bottom of both feet. I quickly put on my shorts and socks as soon as these tasks are completed as I don’t want to waste any of the slippery quality. (I have tried other methods, but Bodyglide or Trislide doesn’t last long enough for me.)
Next is the taping of the nipples. Previously, I have tried Band-aids (fell off), surgical tape (didn’t protect enough and ripped skin as it came off), and I won’t try specialty products like “Nips,” when I have the ideal material – Duct Tape – it’s inexpensive for the amount you get, it creates a seal and doesn’t fall off, and comes off neatly (without ripping my skin) at the end when I am a little sweaty. (It also doesn’t remove too much body hair, but I wouldn’t use it much on any other areas.)
The last bit of prep is just getting my shirt on, and preparing whatever I need for the end of the race. In the case of this race, whatever I need at the end of the race will be here at Jessica and Erik’s place, because I will be traveling to and from the race in different cars probably. I do leave a bag of stuff I would like to have in the living room, as whoever I get a ride from will probably drive me to the hall where we are holding our award ceremony party later. (I am supposed to present some “awards,” but I don’t know how bad I will feel.) I also fill my water bottles at the house, because I don’t know if they will have “easy” water available at the start.
Bob picks me up around 5am and it takes about 30 minutes to get to the start. Of course, there is a long line at the toilet and it is cold out (good news). I don’t have any specific plan pre-race except to stay off my feet as much as possible. The start of the race is near Guy West Bridge near the CSU Sacramento State campus (it looks like a mini version of the Golden Gate.), and the path from the street to the bridge goes by some 2-story office buildings with outside stairs, so I join some others sitting on the stairs, biding their time.
As they make the pre-race announcements, I join everyone who is lining up by the bridge. I make a conscious effort to hang back, because my race plan is to take it easy and to finish, nothing else. And nothing is served by going to the front and racing.
When the race goes off at 6am, it is dark out, but plenty of people have lights. I have a headlamp at home, but it wasn’t practical to carry around all day and I can just rely on the lights for 20 minutes until the sun comes up.
The first part of the course is flat and a bit downhill, and we are heading West (the finish line is to the East, though). The distance from the start to the finish is about 47.5 miles, so we head away from the finish for a little over a mile to make up the extra 2.5 miles. I feel like I am running at a medium pace, maybe faster than I wanted to go, but we ARE on a paved bike path, so there is not yet the strain of trails to slow me down.
Once we turn around and loop back by the start, we are now headed East, and on our way to the finish.
While I am not particularly familiar with the American River bike path, I did live in the Sacramento area for 8 years, so I know some of the names of the streets. Periodically, we pass street names that I recognize, street names I have driven on, but not at this locale.
For the most part, the race has the bike path to itself, though on occasion a bicycle comes roaring by and makes some snide comment to the runners to move to the side (there are warning signs on the path saying that it is closed from 6am to 10am, but most cyclists I know ignore street signs, so they certainly will ignore these signs). On a couple of occasions, we cross over the river on bridges, because this is the direction the bike path takes. The river is beautiful and wide, but for the most part, there are no boaters or people swimming in it (especially not early in the morning).
At around Mile 17, I get to the first real hill challenge of the day (to this point, there has been about 200′ of elevation gain total). The path pops out onto Hazel Avenue and goes onto the sidewalk (which is wide enough for two bikes, one in each direction). There is a bit of a steep uphill slope, but it is only about 1-2 tenths long. At the top and the end of the bridge, you turn left, and loop down under the bridge, on a dirt trail. Once you cross under the bridge, there is a switchback climb back up to the Nimbus Dam Overlook Aid Station.
Out of the aid station, you drop down to trails, mostly along or above the river. At about this point (only about Mile 19), my hip starts bugging me. I slow to a walk in most sections, except when we are roaring downhill, which isn’t all that often. Once I get to Mile 22, the trail rejoins the paved, and we are in the vicinity of where I ran my first marathon (CIM) and the Folsom area. We are not really near the river, but it is somewhere nearby. The path is somewhat winding around the Folsom Dam itself, and when we cross over it, we will be at the next aid station (where the drop bags are) at Mile 27 and over halfway there.
I don’t want to think about “halfway” there because I am pretty tired already and can’t think about running an equivalent additional distance. Also, I don’t have a GPS, so I won’t know exactly when I get to halfway!
Just up ahead I notice a digital clock, and a painted sign heralding the arrival of the marathon point (in other words, 26.2 miles into the course). Somewhat surprisingly, my time at this point is 4:24, which is a decent time for a marathon. Twelve minutes later, I reach the Mile 27.4 aid station, Beals Point (aka Folsom Lake).
I did prepare a drop bag, but it is just a yellow Montrail bag with a plastic bag with some salt in it, extra duct tape, some Clif Shot, and Advil. When I open the bag to get my Advil, there is only one pill left. Either someone got into my bag, or it ‘somehow’ fell out. I take the one Advil and continue on.
Once we are out of Beals Point, we are 100% on trails for 20 miles. Getting out of Beals Point, however, is essentially doing a counter-clockwise loop around the lake. It is nice to see where people are going, but also bad to see how far away they look, and how long it will be before you get to that point!
The paved portion ends just as we get out of sight of the aid station. For the most part, this entire section is a bit away from the river, but you can still see how far the lake winds around. At Granite Bay Aid Station (50K point), I come in about 5:45, which would be a 50K PR. I am getting close to my maximum distance run (35 miles last year), but I am still far ahead of my maximum time (and if I hit that point, I won’t finish the race under the time limit).
For the next 9 miles, there is some confusion among the course volunteers how far away the next aid is, or how much aid is available. At one aid station, they will only give me half a bottle of water, because they are “almost out,” and the next aid is only 2 miles away (and I don’t believe I am doing 25 minute miles at this point). At the next aid, they say, it was really 5 miles (!), and I was totally out of water by the time I got there (but I did get a soft serve cone).
At Mile 40, I am feeling really exhausted, but I only have 10 miles to go. Seven of these 10 miles are really great, because it is both scenic and challenging. At one point, I turn a corner and I am walking along a lake above the river. It looks like an idyllic picnic area, complete with picnic benches (but no people).
Once I pop out of that section, you come onto a wide dirt road and run by a water-power station, cross a bridge and go back on the single track. This section I had to take very slowly, not because it was difficult, but because of the sheer amount of poison oak jutting into the path. I have such an adverse reaction to poison oak and should not touch it at any cost.
There are a number of people behind me on this section and all of them want to pass… but I am not going to step into the poison oak just to let them pass. When I get to a wider section, I let the pushy person pass, and it turns out it’s my friend Hwa-Ja, from TRH. Dang, I just got passed by a 64-year old woman!
Now I am just short of 47 miles and at what they call “Last Gasp,” the hardest section of the entire course. There is nearly 1000′ of elevation gain in these last 3 miles. While I know it will be difficult, I pride myself on being able to climb the hills walking better than just about anyone (I think the long legs help!).
I pass Hwa-Ja almost immediately; I don’t think hills are her thing. About a half mile up the hill is the last aid station and the volunteers are very helpful (probably because they realize what we are about to accomplish and also that this is the most challenging section).
I soldier on, mindful of my accomplishment and knowing that I almost done… with 50 miles!
The end isn’t at the top of the hill; you can see the end from the ascent, but it is only once you get onto the street, curve up about a half mile and then turn into the parking lot, that you are finished.
I get pretty giddy when I get to the street and I am able to run the length of the parking lot to the finish (and pass a couple more people). My time is 10:34:00 (later I find out that 10:29:59 would be Western States Qualifying), and aside from soreness, I feel really great.
Hwa-Ja finishes about 10 minutes behind me (which means I made up 10 minutes on her in 3 miles!). Mitsuye’s about 30 additional minutes back.
The award for finishing is a coffee mug and a beautiful red fleece zip-up jacket with the race name embroidered on the front. There is abundant soup and other food at the finish, but I am somewhat anxious to get going as our “award” ceremony starts at 7pm (and it’s now 4:34). A gal, Jennifer, from GVH, who volunteered at one of the early aid station offers to drive me back to the start with another GVH runner, who gives me a ride back to Davis.
At the evening’s festivities, I present a few items, but by the second or third award, I ask that I can present from my seat.
That evening when I go to bed, I don’t sleep that well, because every time I roll over, it really hurts… but I am still really proud that I ran 50 miles! Don’t know that I would do it again, but I finished.
My postscript is that I didn’t know how to recover from this kind of race. The basic advice for marathon recovery is to take 26 days off, but I usually take 7. For the 50 miler, I felt I should do something more, so I took 2 weeks off. It also helped that I went on a cruise with my sister and my folks.