April 10, 2010
In the weeks and days following my 9th Way Too Cool, I had a number of (mis)adventures.
Towards the end of the month, I had my big Hashtravaganza planned. For the past two years, I had coordinated the run aspect of it and another person had coordinated the meals. She notified me a mere week before the event that she would not be available at all. I ended up having to do all of the food purchasing, but did find another person to help with the cooking. However, I didn’t want to have to be hauling a lot of supplies around 2 weeks before running another 50 mile race.
This fact contributed to a bit of knee pain for me, and it didn’t help that I had a couple of falls on hash trails in the two weeks preceding American River.
A non-running issue that I had was that I didn’t have a concrete plan for the end of the race. Most ultras are a circle, but American River 50 is point-to-point, basically 50 miles away from the start. The two options are to have someone pick you up at the finish (or drop you at the start) OR to utilize the extra fee bus service (at the finish). However, a snafu in the past had been that the bus service ended after 11 hours… so if you were running slower than 11 hours, you were S.O.L.
In my last AR run, I made arrangements with my friend Jessica to come and pick me up at the finish line (and she picked up a couple of my friends, too)… but she was not particularly available and I did not want to impose upon her again, as it is a lot to ask someone to hang out at the finish line for HOURS or to be on call, for a finish time that could range across a large time frame.
So… I drove up EARLY on Friday (4/9) morning from Long Beach. When I got to Sacramento, I went to the Fleet Feet store and picked up my bib. I then called Laura (who had flown up) because we were planning on meeting for lunch. I should probably say meeting for “lunch,” because we did not actually eat anything. We went back to the store and looked around at some of the items at their sidewalk sale.
At this time (about 3pm), Dick Beardsley, was making an appearance. He was the “host” of the event. If you don’t know about Dick Beardsley, he was part of the famous “Duel in the Sun” at the 1982 Boston Marathon. He and Alberto Salazar battled it out for first place. There is some controversy whether the press got too close and doused the runners with exhaust fumes. The race came down to a few seconds, but Salazar won the race.
A few years later, Beardsley was in an accident on his family farm, went through rehab and became addicted to painkillers (to the point that he forged signatures on prescriptions to get more). About 10 years ago, he published a memoir, which I received an advance copy and wrote a review about for the AREC newsletter.
While I enjoyed the book, the story was such that I did not feel sorry for him in the least. The particular scorn I felt was that once he had “recovered,” he was not able to run faster than 5:30/mile and was devastated. I said, “How can you feel sorry for someone who is depressed about a pace faster than any of my friends could do, even for a half lap around the track?”
For the most part, I don’t get a follow-up from writers whose work I review. I think they mostly are not sending me a copy for my writing skills, but because they can reach an audience of 300-500 people who would be MOST interested in purchasing the book. However, I did receive a rather nasty response from Dick Beardsley, saying that I couldn’t possibly understand what he went through or about the problems of addiction.
I did respond to him, saying that I had had a problem with Ibuprofen for about 8 months after being diagnosed with Plantar Fasciitis, where I felt compelled to take 6-8 Advil every day to deal with the pain. (I only take Advil now if the pain is REALLY bad, and try to limit myself to 3-4/WEEK.) He replied that maybe I DID understand.
Seeing him again at the Fleet Feet store, I wanted to introduce myself. (Actually, I made an attempt in the week or so prior to the race, but the e-mail (from 4 years prior) was no longer valid.) I wasn’t sure if he remembered me, and I didn’t know if there would be any lasting animosity.
We ended up talking for about 15 minutes and he didn’t really remember me, but we had a nice talk about what he was up to in the years following the publication of his book. He was going to run part of the race tomorrow as a pacer for the highest bidder (with the proceeds going to charity). He promised to cheer for me if he saw me. I thought that was a nice thing to say, but I doubted he would remember me by name (though maybe he would remember “the tall guy”).
Laura returned to her hotel and I went to meet up with my friend, Karen, to make my car arrangements for the race. Karen, who was also running the race, was a member of GVH, and we had carpooled prior at Way Too Cool. Also, her roommate, Henry, was a resident of my freshman dorm building (and honors program).
I drove up to her elementary school, which was located about 10 miles west of Auburn (the end of the race). I had made an additional arrangement with her (not because of the car issue, but it worked out nicely for both of us). I had about 10 years worth of National Geographic magazines that I had saved, but had not really looked at again. I made several offers to teacher friends, but no one was really interested. Karen said, however, that her school would be happy to take them off my hands… so en route to the car drop, I stopped off at her school and donated 250 magazines (to read, to cut up, whatever).
Once Karen was ready to go, we caravanned up to the Overlook parking lot in Auburn and I left my car there. In order to make this work, I needed to only have with me the stuff I needed to run the race – my water bottles, my headlamp, some spare money, ID, and the clothes I would wear. Everything else needed to stay in the car.
Karen then drove me back to Davis (where she also lives) to Erik and Jessica’s house. I had a nice dinner with my friends and got to bed early.
Karen picked me up at 4:30am and drove us to the start by Cal State Sacramento. I wished her well (because she is much faster than I am) and looked for Laura and other people I might know. My guess was that Laura would want to run her own race and we have different strategies anyway. We did start together, but were not really running together. I was hanging towards the back as usual.
The first 2 miles or so of the race, you are running in the opposite direction of the finish line, and have a short moment to spot the race leaders. It is predawn for only about 30 minutes before you don’t really need your light (but I still like to have it). As I passed by the start line again (under the “Golden Gate Bridge” replica), I heard a shout of “Go, Emmett!” It was Dick Beardsley, cheering for me.
Now, for the next 20-odd miles, you are running entirely on a paved path, along the American River, with a couple of bridge crossings. I managed to run at a pace between 9:30/mile and 12:00/mile. My knee was bugging me a little bit, but I felt OK.
At about 18 miles, I heard an unusual sound. Not a sound like an animal or a vehicle, but an unusual running sound. I am aware of the footfalls around me and some are more plodding than others. But this sound, this sounded like, well, unnatural. I looked back, and saw a female runner with a carbon steel artificial leg.
I remembered from December that they made a big deal at the North Face 50M that one of the finishers had a prosthetic leg (and she had beaten me by over 3 hours!). I allowed her to catch up, so we could talk. Strangely enough, I remembered the name of the runner (because I am pretty good with names) – Amy Palmeiro-Winters.
So, I broached the conversation with: “Is your name Amy?” She answered Yes! I said, “Oh, we ran the same race together in December in San Francisco…” She said, “I wasn’t there.” WHAT!?! But your name is Amy and you have a prosthetic leg…
As it turned out, she was ANOTHER ultrarunner named Amy with a prosthetic leg. Small world. This was Amy Dodson, from Arizona. She had lost the leg (and one lung) to cancer about 25 years earlier as a teenager. I ran with Amy the rest of the way on the pavement.
It goes with my usual statements about how no one has an excuse not to give running a try because there are people out there with far worse issues than you do and THEY are out there achieving.
At about Mile 22, you cross the river for the final time (via a fairly steep uphill major boulevard bridge), and then drop down onto a dirt trail for a couple of miles before returning to the paved path. I felt a twinge in my knee on the downhill sections, and worried that I might have issues or might not be able to finish the race (even though I had the resolve to do so).
At 26.2 miles, they have a nice timing clock to show you how pitiful (or great) you are doing, marathon-wise. My first year, I came through in about 4:20, and this year, I came through about 4:48 (pretty similar to my first-ever marathon time). At Mile 26.5, you drop down into the Folsom Lake parking lot and to the 26.7M aid station. I decided that I needed to take a couple of Advil to deal with my knee pain (but only 2). I saw Laura leaving just a bit ahead of me.
The transition to dirt is somewhat unusual. You follow the paved path that curves around the edge of the lake, and it gradually becomes dirt… but you can see runners off in the distance, traveling around the perimeter of the lake. Folsom Lake is pretty huge, and you cannot run around it, because, well, the American River drains into it, so eventually, you are back along the river.
On the trail portion, I am losing a lot of my pace. 9:30s become 13:00s and 12:00s become 17:00s. At least the ground is soft, though I am still feeling some lateral pain in my knee. I work around the problem (until the Advil kicks in) by running the downhills with my knee bent a little more than usual.
The trails are beautiful and wildflowers are everywhere (and poison oak, too, so I have to be watchful).
Laura just ahead of me.
I have probably said in a previous post that my favorite section is at about 40 miles. You make a turn off of the river and are a little “inland.” You run through a little park with an inland lake. There are a bunch of twists and turns to get around the lake, but it is just surreal to be running around a little lake right next to a river (not like Folsom Lake). When you emerge from this idyllic section, you are on a fire road heading to a hydroelectric plant, and are getting close to the finish.
I begin descending closer to the river and by Mile 46, you are only about 10 feet above the river on the trail. This is the section where I was passed a couple of years ago by my friend (who didn’t recognize me for some reason), who I then repassed on the uphill section and beat by a whole lot. This is also where I encounter Laura, just before the move for the final hill. As per her usual, she has vomited, so she is all set to make her play for the finish.
This is my “strength.” In the last section, although not hilly, I have slowed down to about 20:00/mile. I think I can make some of that up on the uphill… walking. This is the section where you gain nearly 1000 feet in 3 miles… where everyone (except me) really struggles. I consider myself pretty decent in ultra trail speed walking.
I can’t tell you how many people I passed going up the hill, but my pace is about 13:30, which is pretty decent for the grade. About a mile from the end, you can spot the location of the finish (up above) and I know that I will soon emerge onto the street outside the parking lot, run on the street for a bit and then “sprint” into the finish.
In my first AR50 (and my first 50 miler), I passed two people in the final 100 yards because I was able to sprint. This year, I am caught between groups of people (minutes ahead or minutes behind so at least I am not making anyone’s friends feel bad that I passed their buddy), and come in with a time of 11:22:03.
Laura cannot be too far behind, so I hang out at the finish line until she comes in about 10 minutes later.
Even though my time was about 45 minutes slower than my personal best, I am happy with the result (I am 6 years older.) and that I got through it without too much impact on my knee issue.
Laura and I get some food and then she decides that instead of waiting for the bus (which apparently waits for the last runner to finish, rather than not waiting for the over 11-hour finishers), that she wants to ride back down with me (she already paid for the bus, but I am more flexible). She is pretty tired, but I am proud of us both for finishing another ultra (and her first 50 miler).
On Sunday, I go with my friends to one of our favorite haunts for brunch, the Tower Cafe in Sacramento (and my plan is to leave straight from the meal to drive back to Long Beach). It makes for a nice end to the weekend. It always seems to my friends that I only visit them when I am up running race. Lately, that mostly has been true, but I could just go and do the race, but I like to work both into my weekend. I say a fond farewell to Jessica, Erik, Amy and Joe, and have a long 6-hour drive back to the Southland.
Later in the week, I receive an interesting phone call. News that I could not (apparently) hear in person – both Jessica and Amy are expecting their first child in the Fall. Both are close in age to me and I wasn’t sure whether either would ever have a child. I guess there’s hope for me, after all.