When I mentioned to Christi, my wife, that I wanted to try another 50k, she just shook her head in disbelief. She’s very supportive of my various trail endeavors, but I often forget how crazy ultrarunning can sound to a non-runner. Like many rookies at the sport, I refer to things like severe dehydration, sunburns, and head-to-toe poison oak as “learning experiences”. The reality of these experiences is much more concrete to the friend/spouse who scoops you up from the finish line each time. But consequences be damned, I had some new theories to try out!
As I pulled in to the parking lot at 5:45am, the 50k/50 mile runners were warming up for their 6:15am start (8- and 20-milers to start an hour later). The dark had a few of us concerned, but the race directors ensured us the sun would arrive as promised. I loaded up my iPod (the new Black Eyed Peas, Def Leppard’s Pyromania, and Foo Fighters), filled my water bottles (no sports mix this time – that’s the new theory), and spread on the sunscreen as I walked to the race start. I saw a lot of familiar smiling faces, although most of them I have yet to meet. Ultras are funny that way in that I’ll not meet many of these folks, but will end up knowing one or two really well as we clock the miles together. One woman asked if I had done the race before, and at that moment I realized I had never really looked at the map. “No worries,” she said, “these guys obsess about course markings.” At 6:13am, the sun peeked over the mountains as promised. At 6:15am, we were off.
Five runners took off right away, and I recognized Troy Limb, Marty Hoffman, and Mark Lantz in that pack. No surprise since these guys are always near the front no matter what the distance. The course began to climb from the very first step, and I settled into a slightly slower pace with David Horner from Naples, NC. David he was telling me how he had paced Chris Bergland at Badwater, and had decided that he was going to do Badwater himself in ’06. This was to be his first solo 50-mile training race, and so far he was looking pretty good. I asked him how he had chosen this race, particularly given how far he traveled, and he mentioned that he was a Seventh Day Adventist and it was tough to find ultra races that were on Sunday (race directors take note!).
As we hit mile 6, the course began to flatten out and soon we were cruising down towards Jenkinson Lake. We passed a few of the early start runners, and commented on how we love the fact that there are so many ways to do a 50k – hike, walk, run, race – all of them equally challenging in their own ways. As we approached the lake, the smell of campfire bacon and coffee filled the campgrounds, and the campers cheered us on.
My co-starter was right about the course markings – it was going to be tough to get lost with so many ribbons. So I turned on the tunes and picked up the pace, leaving David to his 50-mile adventure. The five runners ahead of us had gapped us considerably after mile 4, so I had some solo running ahead of me. I kept on the water bottles, taking all my calories/electrolytes in pills, Hammer gels, and the occasional flat Coke or banana. In the past 50k’s, I would get caught up in the vicious cycle of nausea hits/drink mix doesn’t tastes good/so you don’t drink/more nausea. So it was only water in the bottles this time. But this meant I had to be very careful about taking my electrolyte pills on time.
I ran solo until mile 15, when I caught up with Troy Limb and a few other early starters. Troy was on a fast pace for the 50 mile, but said Mark Lantz (doing the 50 mile) and Marty Hoffman (doing the 50k) were leading the way about 15 minutes ahead of me. Troy said, “I know you can go faster…get on it!”. He was right. I was on track for hydration and calories, so it was time to pick up the pace.
I hammered through the next 10 miles, slapping high fives with the 20-milers who were now coming down the first loop. The temperature had reached a perfect 60 degrees and as I looked across the lake to the other racers on the lake rim trail, it was clear everyone was having a blast. The aid stations were models of efficiency, filling my water bottles and recapping them before I could catch my breath (darn!). As the Foo Fighters kicked in with “No Way Back From Here”, I started up the last steep climb at mile 26.
At least I thought it was the last climb. Turns out there was more rolling hills at the end then I remember from going out (isn’t that always the case?). Still, I was feeling good and enjoying the beautiful scenery as I chugged through the last few hills. The last ½ mile of steep downhill made it easy to cruise in feeling like a champ, finishing in 4:39, just a few minutes behind Marty Hoffman. The volunteers loaded me up with goodies (a shirt for registering, my raffle winnings, a sweatshirt for finishing the ultra, a hat for winning my age group, and a cool homemade 2nd place medallion – the mother lode!) and sat me down with a beer so I could soak my feet in the cool tubs (brilliant idea, natch). Already soaking were Kevin Mckimken (Alameda, CA) and Eric Nichol (Sacramento, CA), who finished 1-2 in the 20-miler, and Jenny Hitchings (Sacramento, CA) who had won first female. They chugged their Olympia beer, and let me know that Bruce Aldrich (Sacramento, CA) and Placerville-local Erin Hunter had won the 8-mile race. One racer came up and asked if I was the “blog guy”, and told me to hurry up and write something on the ultrarunner.net series (I’m on it).
In thinking about the "all water" theory, it certainly was easier for me to keep up with my hydration. But it seemed like I was popping a pill or Gu every five minutes throughout the race. After a dozen or so, it was tough to keep track. But my stomach was a-okay the whole race (a first), and for that, it's worth counting a few pills. I'm going to keep experimenting, but I think diluting the drinks well below the recommended dose is a must for me, as long as I make up for the electrolytes in pills.
As I packed up to head back to Tahoe, Caroline Barichievich (South Lake Tahoe, CA) won first female in the 50k in 5:16. Mark Lantz would later win the 50-miler in 7:48, with Troy Limb and Wayne Miles about 30 minutes behind him. Prudence L’Heureux (Santa Cruz, CA) won first female in an impressive 8:52, and David Horner hung on for 8th place in 9:07. Not bad, David! All in all a fantastic race, and one I would recommend.
My thanks to the organizers, volunteers, and fellow racers for putting on a great show!