Two races in a row where I have not been at my best. In any ultra event, there are struggles and obstacles that you must either overcome or they will overcome you. Yes, I have been overcome! Given enough time pushing, the body will push back with a defiant “YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!” and things will not go right. That when it is mind over body. But this time, I was brought to a standstill by a little blood and blister that just would not go away. I had some chaffing issues too but I’ll spare you that picture!
Life’s normal routine has started to fall into place and my body wasn’t in a depleted state going into the American River 50. Work’s been consistent. We’ve been painting and getting settled on the weekends and sleep has been decent. So mentally and physically I felt prepared for the race. The Saturday before I did a relaxed 20 mile run out to Cool along the Western States Trail and felt good, plus I had a couple of quality tempo runs a couple weeks out with no stomach issues. So things seemed to be falling into place.
The night before the race, Nicole’s parents drove over and we took them to a Bruce Springsteen concert at Arco Arena for Richard’s 67th birthday. We’ve seen a couple big concerts (U2 and Coldplay) and with Bruce Springsteen in concert in Sacramento, we had to go. I can listen to Springsteen over and over so even though it was the the night before a race, and a late night, it was well worth it. Nicole’s brother Peter and nephew Nicolas watched Dylan while we went to the concert. The tickets said the concert started at 7:30 PM and we cut it so close only to sit around till about 8:30 PM when the lights finally went out. I’ve never seen a guy in his 50’s with so much energy and enthusiasm. On my list, it ranked up there with seeing Coldplay and Natalie Merchant. I think the concert finally ended around 11 PM with an awesome rendition of American Land.
Nicole and I were back home by midnight.
Ultra enthusiast, Bob Shebest also signed up for AR50 and came over Friday night and we were going to drive over to the start. He turned on the lights at 3:30 AM and a few minutes later we’re eating breakfast saying, “Here we are again!” This in reference to sitting in the same place a few weeks earlier for The Way Too Cool 50K. Bob parked his Subaru near the starting line close to 5:30 AM and we grabbed our numbers and waited in line for the port-a-potties. By the time we made it through the line, most runners had already lined up and we were left in the middle of the pack on the bridge. So when the gun went off, we never ran with the lead group but for the first 6 or 7 miles we could see them a couple hundred yards or so ahead. This probably was good as I usually make the same mistake and go out too fast at this race. AR50 tempts you the first half as you run along the bike path and the miles click off. It feels like a marathon and it is far too easy to spend a lot of energy along this portion only to have to pay it back the second half where the paved trail gives way to single track ups and downs. So we hung back and ran at a comfortable pace, not too eager to chase the group. At least I wasn’t. Bob was probably pretty upset about not starting out front… he had to make a pit stop a few miles into the race and I ran alone and turned on some Springsteen tunes. A few miles later my stomach wasn’t settling and I too made a quick stop. But a mile later there bounced Bob in front of me so I finally caught up to him and we hung together until about mile 23. Bob kept me entertained as he belted out one Springsteen hit after another.
Very early in the race I could feel my right big toe rubbing with a slight pain with each stride. My shoes were the same shoes I’d been wearing for weeks so I couldn’t imagine having a blister. But after 10 miles I could feel it growing and getting worse. When we left the pavement at Nimbus Overlook, the road running was wearing Bob thin and he joked about resting at Nimbus for a couple hours. But on we went and entered the trails near Natomas. The short descent from Nimbus reminded me the blister would only get worse going up and down over the next 30 miles. So at Negro Bar, Bob went ahead and I took my shoe off to see what could be done. Unfortunately, the aid station had only tiny band-aids but not one that would cover the blister. So we put a couple together and then Barb and Jim Carlson surprised me when they pulled over on their tandem while out on a morning ride. We said hello and they rode off to Beals Point and I tried to hold the band-aids in place and slid my blood stained sock back on.
I’m dealing with stomach issues the next few miles and am passed by a few runners. Jim and Barb passed me on their way back from Beals. Finally at Beals I take some bites of a PB & J sandwich and head out knowing the real work lies ahead and my stomach is not working and my foot keeps reminding me it’s not really comfortable. At that point, I had about 23 miles to go and I’m thinking I’ve got too many issues and I’m losing time. After Beals, my pace slowed but steadied and the lead female caught me. I’m brought to walking a small hill as my stomach shot me a sharp cramp. Walking only makes me think about how much longer this is going to take. Right before the Granite Bay aid station, Nicole met me as the trail crosses a road. We talked for a few minutes and debated whether to call it a day. We decided to meet again 6 miles later at Horseshoe Bar and reevaluate. At the Granite Bay aid station, I downed some soup but the stomach wasn’t happy and it was a struggle to keep it down. I spent too much time sitting and trying to find that happy place. I watched far too many runners go in and out of this station. I headed out and it took too long to reach Horseshoe Bar. I was moving but being passed every now and then, which means my pace was getting slower and slower.
Before reaching Horseshoe, I decided to drop. Not running anywhere near 100% it’s hard to keep moving when things aren’t working. So when I pulled into Horseshoe, I was resolved to drop. But Nicole wasn’t there. So I waited around for probably 20 minutes and more runners came and left. Then Julie Fingar came in with her pacer and she tried to talk me into running with them but in my state I would only hold them back. After some more time and searching for band-aids (which they had none of at this aid station) I continued onward. Right before Rattlesnake, the trail crosses the road and there were Nicole and Dylan. It didn’t take me very long to climb into the car as another runner shouted, “Don’t give him any sympathy!” Was this sympathy or love? But Nicole kept asking “Are you sure?”
I rolled down the window and we drove home after running 40 miles, 10 miles from the finish. As we got home, we regrouped. I remember watching Ironman Kona last year and one of the pros was walking the marathon. Most pros will just drop if they are not having a good day and save the energy for another day. But he said it was disrespectful to those athletes still on the course if you quit just because you aren’t going to have a competitive time. What message am I teaching myself and my son? So we bandaged my foot, changed socks and drove back to mile 40. I made it through the last 10 miles and eventually crossed the finish around 8 hours and 23 minutes. John Fingar, Julie’s brother, surprised me at the side of the road and ran the last half mile with me as we crested the climb out of the canyon. All in all, it was my best run because I finished what I started. I quit but then went back for more. The Navy Seals asks every person who quits the Seal program when they ring bell, “Are you sure?” And they say those who decide not to quit end up quitting later. Because once the seed of quitting has been planted, it will keep spreading and spreading. That wasn’t going to be me. If it took me all day, I was going to cross that finish line.
At the finish, Nicole met me and I hoisted Dylan over the finish line. It was so great to see them. Julie and Bob had finished long before and looked fresh and relaxed. Bob turned in a spectacular 2nd half and finished in 6 hours and 40 minutes. We went home, everybody took showers and tried to take a nap and then we drove back to the start to get Bob’s car and met for dinner at Claim Jumper in Roseville. I think we were all a bit tired. Here are my race splits.
I’ll take some time to evaluate Western States and consider what I want to do. Yesterday, I realized the fire isn’t burning and the drive to perform isn’t turning on like it used to. I enjoy the runs on the trails but not sure about the effort it takes to perform well at the ultra distances. Maybe all I need is some time away and that fire will burn again. Today just spent time with Nicole and Dylan, messing around with this blog and video and doing all the small things that haven’t been done but needed to since we moved in. Dylan did great this weekend. Here’s a video Nicole shot of one of his recent speeches:
Now it’s back to work. Then have only a few more rooms to paint so we should have weekends back in another month. Here’s a brief video of our progress.