Wednesday, April 13, 2011

American River 50 race report

Two years ago, I had run a disappointing AR 50, in my mind at least. Even though I was second that year, I’d had high aspirations for a sub 5:40 time. It turns out this was the year the course was measured short and recalibrated to the current accurate 50 mile distance, so given this, 5:40 wasn’t reasonable. Last season I wasn’t running much two thirds of the year, so AR 50 wasn’t even in the cards. This year, now that I’d had at least some training and some races in the late fall and January’s Bandera 100K, I decided it would be a fine opportunity to better my effort from two years prior.

The dark 6 am start and subsequent 50 miles went exactly as I had anticipated, with some mild rabbiting to 26.2 and the ole wily tortoise (me) catching in the end. My goal was to run comfortably through the marathon and then ramp things up from there. I had splits based roughly on prior years wins, which would get me to 26.2 in 2:46. I knew that Jason Loutthit had some fast 5 K times and some recent ultra experience, but guessed he’d go out fast. I also thought Ian Sharman would follow suit with Jason, given his road experience and leg speed.

The first couple miles was a pack of guys in the dark, including the above two speedsters, plus Nick Clark and Scott Jaime and one other guy. I stuck with about a 6:20 pace right from the start, while Jason, Ian, Nick, and the other guy were out of sight after mile two. The first 20 miles or so are sweet paved bike path (as good as paved can get I guess), with maybe 10% of just-off-the-hardtop-edge running on dirt, which is still “legal” as it parallels the path. This “dirt finding” doesn’t help too much in the end, but gives a mental running surface break. As always, most of my thoughts were on running point to point tangents, eating and drinking and popping occasional pills, and wondering if I should stop to take a dump. I focused on my own game, but happened to match paces with Scott Jaime and Nick Clark, who I ran near for most of first 20 miles.

After five miles of fighting it the inconvenience of stopping, I pit stopped for 30 seconds at a portopotty, and instantly felt faster. It is sooo worth making these stops, as I easily go 15-20 seconds per mile faster. It’s not like I lose pounds of baggage, but it just feels good maybe because less blood flow goes to the GI tract. Anyway. it pays off to dump off!

I felt fine and comfy through the marathon, besides a couple upper GI cramps around mile 23. This was likely because I was eating and drinking a lot, even though the temps were cool and would stay so. I have found that in 50 mile to 100K races, if I fuel heavily early it can carry me through the second half of races without having to play too much catch up in the later stages. But by doing so, I actually choose to create potential GI problems early in the race, but I would rather stuff my stomach earlier rather than later, when it would be far too late to intake gels, water, electrolytes, etc. I can’t even remember the last time I bonked using this strategy, except for Western States in 09, when everything shut down due to heat and a flu bug.

So all told I ate two Clif Shots before the start, and then two per hour, or a few more, through the race. I also preventatively ate Advil (thanks Craig Thornley and Megan Arbogast) before the start and one per hour after that..about 1200 mg total. (I completely disagree the research that says NSAIDS don’t help ultrarunning; works for me as long as I keep overall amounts moderate. Potential toxicity and GI ulcers are real hazards so watch yourself!) I also ate four saltines and a handful of cheezits to supplement the Clif Shots and two ClifBlok packs. I also ate maybe a dozen S-Caps, and drank half water/Gu2O mix from the aid stations. No fats and protein this time around.

I think the biggest difference in this race was my footwear. The Hoka One One Bondi B were designed perfectly for this tough course; I came off the pavement at mile 28 and still had fresh enough legs to hang in the second half. The shoe is designed for road running but handles well on most any dirt surface, as long as it isn’t slick clay (where nothing really performs anyway).

Anyway, back to the race..I came through the marathon banner in 2:48, about 30 seconds after Ian. Jason had come through in 2:56, and maybe gained 2 more minute before mile 28 at Beals Point aid station, giving him a ten minute lead. So out of Beals point, the race goes quickly to lovely dirt singletrack for 90% of the remainder of the race. I loved running this last section!! It had rained tons in the spring, so the soil was damp enough to be slightly tacky underfoot with little loose sand, providing good push off and traction. It was cool and in the 50s and 60s, with lots of shady sections. There were tons of mud puddles, but not too many too big that I couldn’t dance around the edges or jump to avoid getting wet. There were a couple reroutes around felled trees, but nothing too annoying to slow things too much. The undulating singletrack of this part of the AR 50 is fun and rocky in sections, with plenty of contours to pick up the leg speed for long sections and cruise at 6:30 pace. I felt light years different from two years ago, when I wore running flats and trashed myself, then had nothing in the tank going onto this dirt. I felt there were very few occasions, except for the epic three mile hill at the end, when I couldn’t have accelerated if Jason, Ian, or Nick had come out of nowhere. I was going for the win and nothing more, and had way more fun in the last half than the first.

After Beals Pt mile 28, I passed Ian about a mile out, while he was off investigating the bushy scrubbery. For eight miles after I had varying reports of how close Jason was. Greg Soderlund said Jason had three minutes on me at one aid station, then a mile later a jogger stated he was only one minute ahead. I was surprised to find at Buzzards Cove that he had a four minute lead on me, as I thought I was cruising pretty good. Finally, at mile 38 I passed Jason on a gentle hill. He was still moving well, yet didn’t accelerate as I passed, so I thought there could be a chance of him catching me if he rebounded. I also had no idea where Ian or Nick were lurking, and didn’t write them off in the least. I therefore resigned myself to “running scared” the remaining 12 miles of the race.

I actually like running with the fear factor in ultras. It keeps me on my toes and really tests the ability to self motivate, whereas when you are racing with others they tend to push you from without and pace off others, which actually can detract from a better overall finish time. I only walked two sections of the rest of the race; one short steep single track section, and about 100 meters of the beginning of the three mile dirt road finish.

I finally started to “feel the ultra love/pain” about half way up the last hill, and started dogging it a bit. I still ran this last three miles in just under 26 minutes, which is just over eight minute miles (if the mileage is correct), so I wasn’t crashing too hard. I came into the finish in just over 5:55 and was super-happy to have won this west coast ultra classic. Five minutes later Jason came busting around the corner to just break six hours by five seconds, with Nick and Ian within 30 seconds of that. I surely didn’t envy being in that epic battle for second place!

I will post my splits when I can find my race watch..


  1. Congrats Dave, well earned! BTW, nobody is believing your sandbagging pre-race anymore!

  2. Nice job, wiley tortise ... uh, coyote. Way to run smart. Definitely a beautiful day out there. Nice meeting you after the race. Good luck with the rest of your training, and have fun at Miwok and States!

  3. Only in ultras can you devote a paragraph to the art of taking a dump and have it actually be a serious and informative section.

  4. Dave - nice work again. Out of curiosity, do you know what the old course came in at mileage-wise, and where did they tack on the extra? Hope the house hunting was a success.

  5. Great race man. This was actually my first 50 and I DNF. I had nutrition blunders and by the time I recovered I missed the Cut Off at Beal’s. I did see you guys on the first turn around you guys were flying.

  6. Nick, I am not sure what the old mileage is. I am not sure who to ask really. I had tried to get in touch with Jim King (course record holder from old course)but didnt hear back from him.. maybe Julie Fingar or John Medinger knows the old course and mileage. Nice running with/against you; have fun at Jemez.

  7. Congrats Dave! You know, you're consistency, humility, and longevity combine to be great inspirations for up-and-comers. Thanks.

    Also, unrelated to running but related to running shoes, I got a pair of Hoka One One Bondi B and they are life savers when working at University Bikes for 9+ hours per day. Yesterday, I was on my feet (wearing the Bondi B) on the concrete shop floor for 9.5 consecutive hours (no break) and I went for a late evening run after work and felt WAY better than average! In other words, those shoes are GREAT for recovery too. Just thought I would share my story. I need to get another pair soon...

    John Tribbia

  8. I just realized I used the wrong "your". My bad...

  9. Definitely intrigued in the Hokas given the tortoise's endorsement.

  10. The irony that fear (being chased) actually motivates for a better performance, versus simply just running with others, is what I love about ultras. Same holds true in many other facets of life (the whole survival thing…). Which, coming back full circle, in part, is what makes racing so much fun and why we feel so alive when doing it. Nice report. Great job meeting your goal. Hope to run AR myself some day.

  11. Remember the part where we came up from the bike path and crossed a bridge on a sidewalk next to a pretty busy road and then dumped off onto a hilly trail for a little while before getting back onto a bike trail and then a gravel section? That's where they added about a mile onto the original course. And, that out and back on the bike trail at the very beginning used to be about .3 mile shorter. AJW

  12. AJW.. thanks for the inout.. so about 1.3 miles then.. that makes sense given the historical times. I wonder how much vertical was added as well as that new section was hilly indeed. Lame I know.. trying to justify my times versus past performances!
    GZ, you can try the Hokas anytime as I have a couple trial pair.
    Johnny, glad they keep your legs fresh..

  13. Great job, its gotta be the Udo's!

  14. That makes me feel slightly better about being so far off the old times. But only slightly :)

    Nice tactical race and look forward to seeing you get a CR at Miwok now.

  15. But you can look to the bright sight. You did quite good and it isn't your fault that you didn't beat the time that you had in mind.