The 5 Stages of Racing

American River 50

American River 50

I could not have requested better conditions today for a 50 mile run. What are ideal conditions? Rain, wind and more rain. Right now, hours after finishing and sitting in the dry and warm comforts of home, I’m feeling a little like I was a punching bag dummy, and someone kept pounding my legs. But now, as I sit here, at least I am dry, comfortable and not looking over my shoulder. An hour after finishing, Nicole asked how I felt and my best way of describing it is after not having worked out for a long time, I went out and spent all day at the gym doing shock lifting – lifting as much as I could hour after hour!

So conditions weren’t that pretty but at least I made it through. A couple days ago, I wasn’t so sure I was going to make it given that Tyler and I were both sick. I was home and not able to last very long out of bed. I was bad enough that I had to call in sick at work which is something I do less than once a year. Thursday, two days ago, I was feeling a little better and able to move around the house and work from home so things we looking hopeful. Friday, I was back in the office and able to do a brief ride and easy run but everything felt out of tune. I changed my goal for the race from sub 7 hours to finishing – just finishing – and in one piece. So as it started to sprinkle at the start and the forecast was for rain throughout the race, all bets were off.

Nicole, Tyler and I left Santa Rosa at 3:40 AM and headed towards the Sacramento start needing to arrive before 5:45 AM. (I like to avoid wasting time at the start!) About one hour into the drive, Nicole realized she forgot Tyler’s shoes. I had carried him into the car straight out of bed and now the poor guy had no shoes. Where could we buy shoes at 5 AM in the morning and get in and out of the store in under 5 minutes? Thank you Walmart in Dixon. Say what you will about the giant superstores, what other store is going to be open at 5 AM in the morning the one time you need them?

There are different emotional stages that you pass through during some of the longer races and today was a great experience of those stages. At the start, we cruised along at a meager pace, and unlike previous years, none of the lead runners took off. Instead we all just stayed together and cruised along. Finally, I said to the group, “Who’s going to take off?” But nobody did. So after a mile or so, I increased my pace probably to around a 7 minute mile. Now at this stage, I knew full well that I was not going to run 50 miles at a 7 minute pace. But the first 20 miles are flat and it is a good time to pick up time during the easy miles. So I thought, why not? What did I have to lose? For around the first 8 or 9 miles, nobody challenged me and I ran alone. Nicole and Tyler met me at the aid stations where Tyler fueled me with ClifShots and Nicole offered me a full array of dry clothes. All the time, the thought kept trying to creep in that this is easy. I might actually have a fast day. What if…? Stage 1: Great (Unreal) Expectations Early In The Race

I knew it was too good to be true. Running sick , I knew that I wasn’t going to finish first. But I was actually, in a way that truly doesn’t matter, winning. Nobody is ever going to care who was leading at mile 9. It’s not how we start but how we finish (that is, if we finish)…

So as I was passed by Brad Lael (who later dropped), I was a bit relieved. I could slow my pace and run at a more comfortable effort. The rain was starting to come down and the wind starting to pick up. Unlike some of the other lead runners who were running in sleeveless or light shirts, I was cruising along in my waterproof jacket. But at this point, it was heavy from the rain and my body temp was beginning to rise. I needed to shed the jacket and weight, but didn’t want to get cold. Also, my left shoe laces had loosened and my toes kept jamming against the front of the shoes. I made a pit stop for some adjustments and watched as Eric Skaden and Mark Lantz ran past me. My fingers cold, it was taking longer and along came another runner. Minutes later, I was back running and was able to catch and later re-pass that last guy.

I was feeling OK and arriving at Sunrise another runner passed me. Nicole and Tyler met me again and I realized my legs were starting to tighten. I dumped the jacket and left the aid station entering stage 2. Regret. I had gone out too fast! Stage 2: Regret

At this point we left the easy and smooth conditions of the bike trail and started to enter some of the dirt trails. With about 20 miles into it and 30 to go, now I’m wondering “I’m not going to make it. Why did I decide to do this!” The runners who passed me looked so strong and I’m feeling like every mile for the next 30 is going to be a battle. Is this worth it? It’s raining. I’m wet. Really, what’s the point? What am I trying to prove? I’m battling depression. Stage 3: Depression

Then it not only becomes a physical battle, but now it is a mental battle. My legs were tight as the miles were piling on, but I realized they weren’t getting worse so we could make it. The trail now becomes a series of ups and downs, some single track and some bike trails. I arrived at Beal’s Point, and changed shirts into a dry, long sleeve. This actually may have helped me since some of the other runners must have thought they were dealing with 3 other runners since most of the time we focus on colors. “I thought the guy in front of me was wearing yellow? This must be another runner.” Running above the shores of Folsom Lake I had to remind myself exactly why I was doing this. This is a stepping stone for completing Tahoe Rim. If I can’t even finish this, there’s no way I can expect to finish Tahoe Rim. Suddenly, the run had meaning again. At some point during every race, you come to the realization that you are going to finish. The finish line may not even be in sight, but you know that you are going to make it. This came at about mile 31 today. Conditions weren’t perfect, the trail was slippery, my legs were sore and I had a blister on the bottom of my left foot. But I knew that I was going to finish. Then Osvaldo passed me and later Tim and his pacer passed me. Well, I was still going to finish, but losing places quickly. Stage 4: You Are Going To Finish

The next 15 miles were and are my favorite along the entire course. You follow the American River through the canyon. Often you can hear the water on your right and the scenery with the rocky cliffs is beautiful. The ups and downs slowed me down. On the bright side, with the rain I wasn’t too concerned about finding any rattlesnakes in my path. For the next 15 miles I ran alone until the bottom of the climb into Auburn. The final 3+ miles of this race climbs from the canyon floor to the Auburn Overlook area, a climb of about 1000 feet. And you feel it. The first mile was on a muddy, slippery fire road until I reached the Last Gasp aid station and I had another 2.4 mile climb but the rest was on a paved road. During the climb, I kept looking over my shoulder wondering if someone was going to catch me. I wanted to walk the climb but was so scared of losing any more places that I kept shuffling along. I refer to this as Stage 5: You’re Almost There, But You’re Not There Yet. Don’t Stop Until You Cross!

At this stage, I know that I am going to finish. I might even see the finish line, but I still need to work a bit more to finish. It’s too easy at this stage to let up and have someone a little hungrier pass me. Soon enough, the last final mile and last climb arrived and then the sweet sight of Nicole, Tyler and the finish line. I crossed in around 7 hours and 6 minutes and 48 seconds, about 3 minutes longer than last year but good given my condition. Looks like I was able to hang onto 8th place, which means I moved up 1 place from last year. Tim crossed a few minutes in front of me and was sitting in a chair under the finish line. He ran very strong as did Osvaldo. We chatted about the day and I commented how well he ran. Nicole and I hugged each other, we grabbed a warm cup of soup, some chips and soda then headed for the dry interior and warmth of the car.

Having Nicole and Tyler meet me at the aid stations kept me going all day. Nicole always provides outstanding support! She’s amazing. The volunteers working the aid stations, especially some of the more remote ones, and hanging out in the rain kept us all going throughout the day. This race always does a fantastic job with aid stations and they are perfectly placed along the course. As always, I highly recommend this race. 50 miles will definitely test your mental endurance as much as your physical endurance.

You can read more about the race coverage on the Auburn Journal website.

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