The 4:15am bus ride was a bit too early to drive to from the Bay Area, so I opted to spend the night at the Auburn Holiday Inn and treat myself to a solo dinner at Bootleggers (highly recommended). It was nice to have a calm evening before the race; quite the contrast to my first AR50 in 2006, when I had just found out I was going to be a Dad and could barely tie my own shoes. I had just enough time in the morning to hit Denny’s for a 3:30am Grand Slam breakfast (no bacon this time) before dragging my groggy self onto the bus and sitting with Kevin Swisher, Gretchen Brugman, and Catherine Sullivan. It seemed like just yesterday we were all newbies, but it took 50-minutes just to get caught up on everyone’s latest 50- and 100-milers! Before we knew it, we were being escorted out into the cold.
At the start of the race, the speedsters gathered up front. Short-course star (and world class steeplechase runner) Max King was fresh of the XC championships and gunning for a slot at Western States. This wouldn’t be easy, however, since Eric Skaden (2nd at last year’s AR50 and USATF 100-mile champion), Dave Mackey (Miwok 100k winner and course record holder), Hal Koerner (2007 Western States champion), Dan Olmstead (2nd at 2009 Way Too Cool), Chikara Omine (3:08 at 2009 Jed Smith 50k), Keith Bechtol (NCAA 10k champ trying out his first 50-mile race), Jasper Halekas, Victor Ballesteros, and Graham Cooper were all here to race hard. In the Women’s race, favorite Kami Semick would have to keep pace with Annette Bednosky (former Western States champ), Jenny Capel (who knows these trails cold), Jen Pfeifer (fastest of the young guns), and Monica Ochs.
I was personally out to have some fun and log a good long run, and focus on holding a pace that felt like I could hold for 75-80 miles. If I managed to beat my previous AR50 time of 7:57, that would be gravy. The forecast was for sunny skies and near-70 degree afternoons, so it would be a good day to run easy and enjoy the surroundings. I showed up a few minutes late to the start after hustling back to my bag to get gloves, which gave me a chance to catch up with a lot of people. At the turnaround, it was no surprise to see the fast road runners up front, with Chikara Omine, Max King, Keith Bechtol, and Dave Mackey well into a 6 min/mile pace.
The sun’s golden beams rose through the oak trees as we made our way down the bike path. The experienced runners immediately took to the crushed dirt on either side, keeping an eye out for the rabbits that were darting everywhere (or the rumored rattlesnakes, which I can gladly say I didn’t see). By the time we hit the first aid station (mile 4), runners were spread as far as the eye could see. I cruised along with Tony Overbay for a few miles and we caught up on family and life adventures. Tony is getting pretty fast these days!
Thanks to many friends along the way (both new and old), the miles clicked off with ease. I took a short bio break at mile 13, and was surprised to soon be crossing the American River and heading into the trails. Greg Nacco (running his 12th AR50) led me up the path and we came back down the other side to run the fire roads with John Catts. My pace was a bit faster than Greg and John so they let me go ahead, but I had a feeling I would see him again – Nacco NEVER slows down.
It sure was fun to see everyone. I caught up to Gary Wang, Grant Carboni, then Adam Blum, then Tim Tweitmeyer (going for his 29th AR50), and finally got on the heels of Jady Palko who was charging through the single track. Jady was cranking away to his tunes, but flashed me a hang loose when I got within a few steps of him. But as soon as I did, I caught a toe and fell head first down a narrow trail. I braced for rocks and sticks, but the landing was soft sand (thank God). I did manage to eat about a cup of dirt and cough it out my nose, which was a treat. A few runners offered their help, but I waived them on and pulled aside to rinse off/out. One runner pointed out a bigger problem…I was missing a shoe! How can you fall so hard you lose a shoe? Well, run trails in road shoes and you’ll find out. It took a few minutes, but we found it off the trail a few feet and I put it back on. Definitely a blog-worthy moment. ;-)
I found my stride again as we got back on the bike trail and climbed. I gave my best to Joe Swenson (shooting for 9 hours), then met Hugo Ahumada, who probably had the biggest smile of all the runners on the course. Hugo pulled me to the top of the climb, and I learned that this was only his third 50-miler after tackling the North Face 50m in 8:15 in December. Given that he has three kids between age 4 and 11, I was impressed he could get any training in at all, but he was handling it like a seasoned veteran. We spoke about the bliss of having a few hours to yourself, and pointed out the rabbits and hawks at every turn. We crossed the 26.2 mile mark in about 3:32, then coasted down to Beal’s Point (mile 27) for some snacks.
I went for some PB&J and solid snacks this time. The Vespa was working its usual wonders, keeping me from needing to take in too much fuel along the way (I take about one gel an hour with Vespa). But I always find some solid food keeps my hunger pangs away. I saw a couple of folks had dropped already, with Eric Skaden cheering on runners and Jean Pommier trying to calm down an asthma attack. Rumor had it that Chikara Omine had come flying through on a 2:40’ish marathon pace, with Keith Bechtol, Dave Mackey, and Max King hot on his tail, and Kami Semick was building a solid lead in the Women’s race.
Mike Miller and I had a chance to catch up as we toured through the roller coaster fire roads. I was starting to feel hot in the face, and one of the hikers told me it was already 60+ degrees. I splashed some water on my head, and like a crack habit, found myself reaching for it every 4-5 minutes from that point on. I had brought two water bottles for just this reason. Although you can easily get through this race with one, a second one can be used for cooling.
I got through the next aid station quickly (mile 31), and applied some sunscreen while Jady Palko caught up to me again (I thought he was ahead, but I’m sure nature called). He said something about “Tweet is right on our tail”, and before I could even step out of the way, Tim Tweitmeyer went cruising by even faster than before. I suspect he knows something about how to run this race, given his 29 years of experience (he would end up being one of the few to negative split the race). Hugo came soon after him, flashing that big smile as he vaulted up the single track.
The hawks were in full form, and I was eager to get some pictures as they came near the ridge. Unfortunately, when I turned on the camera, all that came out was sand from where the lense was supposed to be. Doh! Guess I’ll have to focus on the run for once. ;-) I weaved through the single track to the next aid station (mile 44), and caught Keith Bechtol who had bonked soon after clocking a 2:46 marathon split and was walking it in. Pretty impressive that he was going to stick it out (he would finish in 8:16).
I got to Last Gasp, and that was a fairly accurate description of my energy level. Although the short hills were fine, this long climb at the end was making me dizzy. Note to self – practice long hot climbs on tired legs! Greg Nacco and Tony Brantley were doing better than I was as they passed me by, so I just tried to keep them in sight. If I slowed to a walk, I promised myself to start again at the next “shadow” on the road. Tony took a few walk breaks too, but as expected, Greg just didn’t stop and soon gapped us both.
In the final 200 yards, Jady Palko came charging behind me like a freight train. How did he get behind me again? I picked up the pace a bit, but he kicked hard and got me by a few seconds. That’s cool by me…I thought he was ahead of me already! The clock read 7:44:16, good enough for 45th place and about 13 minutes faster than my last AR50. I felt great at the finish, knowing I could have gone another 20 miles at that pace. It looks like the training for States is still on track, although I have some areas to address. The volunteers put on the kick-ass AR50 finishers jacket, and I made my way to the medical tent to have the remaining sand washed out of my wounds.
I took a quick shower and enjoyed a beer in the sun with Rob Evans, Jasper Halekas, Mark Lantz (Master’s winner), Mark Gilligan, and friends. I got the low down on the top finishers. Max King had won the race in 6:04:44 after crushing the second half with the best split of the day. Dave Mackey (6:12:13) got 2nd, and Chikara Omine (6:12:46) blazed to third place. 21 runners managed to squeeze under 7 hours, but none had cracked the 6 hour barrier this year. Kami Semick ran start to finish in the lead slot, finishing 15th overall in 6:45:51. She held off Jen Pfeifer (7:03:25), Annette Bednosky (7:11:21), and Jenny Capel (7:14:33). (all results)
I was all smiles heading back home, thinking that this was one of the most magical days I had ever seen along the American River. Then again, I seem to say that a lot after one of these great races along this slice of heaven. Thanks to Julie Fingar and the fabulous crew for a perfect race. I look forward to the next one!