Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hot and Heavy at the Sierra Nevada Double Marathon

Last Saturday, I had the good fortune of joining 190 runners for the newly re-launched Sierra Nevada Endurance Run Double Marathon in Granite Bay, CA. There was heat, dirt, and plenty of challenging terrain, and thanks to the fabulous work of Race Director Julie Fingar and her volunteers we all had a great time. I proved to myself I was ready for my target race in November by DNF’ing (more on that later) and enjoyed watching our fellow ultrarunners brave 100+ degree heat to spectacular performances.

The day started early as Jean Pommier and I carpooled together at 3am, soon finding out that we had subconsciously calculated the travel time to Cool, CA, not Granite Bay, CA, and arrived 90 minutes early. Thank God for Mel’s 24-hour Diner, who was happy to serve up some breakfast for us. Jean ate his toast and marveled at the social and economic absurdity of the American 24-hour diner, which much to his credit, was practically empty and necessitated the question of economic viability. I revealed far too much about my teenage tribulations by telling him we were in between the two 24-hour diner rush crowds – the 2am closing of the bars, and the 6am beginning of the hard labor workday. Ahem!

(Breakfast at Mel's, photo courtesy of Jean)

Volunteer Stan Jansen (Godfather of ultra Web sites) got us situated, and we were soon toeing the line at 6:30am on a perfectly clear morning. Last year’s winner Mark Lantz was here, as was speed demon Chikara Omine, Jean Pommier, Joe Palubeski (tackling the newly established 100k), Juliet Morgan (100k), Carson Teasley (tackling the new marathon distance), Karalee Morris (marathon), the ever-present Barbara Elia (52 miles), and a dozen others taking on their first marathon or ultra. The sun cracked over the horizon, and Julie sent us off to chase it.

(Gathering in the dark at the start)

Lantz, Chikara, and Pommier set a fast pace from the beginning, disappearing along the single track. I ran with Joe Palubeski, Pierre-Yves Couteau, and Sean Lang who were all making the best of the cool morning to keep a fast pace. The weather was supposed to hit 100 degrees by noon, so enjoy it while you can! My goal today was to just clock some miles and try to pick up the pace along the flat sections. As a side bet, I had hoped to beat Jason Reed who was close to me in the PA/USATF point series, although we were both battling it out for 2nd-4th much in thanks to the stellar seasons of Victor Ballesteros, Erik Skaden, and Grant Carboni.

(Pierre and Joe lead me along the river trail)

The American River is beautiful this time of the day, as dark oak tree branches shade the golden grass and lush forest floor, and the warming sun battles with the cool river breeze. Pelicans and hawks stretched for their morning hunt, and jumping fish dimpled the calm, reflective river. There was so much nature going on, we frequently stopped conversations and just pointed, soon forgetting what we were just talking about. It’s a truly magical place and it was a privilege to share the morning together.

(A slice of heaven along the AR)

The aid stations at Twin Rocks (3.7 miles), Horseshoe (9.5), and Rattlesnake Bar (11.4) took us by surprise, and their eager volunteers had us through in no time. I picked up the pace a bit after Rattlesnake, hoping to catch up to Joe before we got to the big climb. My eagerness got the best of me, and I soon caught a toe and bounced down through a rocky technical section. Drat! As I gathered my senses I realized it was less than a quarter mile from the spot I face-planted at AR50 this year! The local trail troll is out to get me for sure.

(Fall is falling in Auburn)

I was bleeding and dirty, but nothing too bad. The hot sun felt like it burned right into my raw skin, so I spread some sunscreen into the wounds on my elbow, shoulder, legs, and hip (next invention – Neosporin with SPF45!). The adrenalin was like a double-espresso to my system, and I quickly caught up and passed two more runners. Sometimes I wonder if I crash on purpose just to get that surge of energy!

I reached the bottom of Cardiac Hill, but didn’t see a course marking that made sense. Up the road to the right was the AR50 route, and I seem to remember from the 2007 SNER that it didn’t go that way. But up to the left was steep and I didn’t see any course markings at the first fork in the trail. I decided to hang back and see what the other runners said. One, two, three of us grouped up before one of the marathoner Mats Jansson said “screw it, I’m going this way”. Turns out he was right, as evidenced by Bob the volunteer coming down the trail and saying that course markings had been vandalized. Bob was kind enough to lead the way up so we didn’t get lost.

As we climbed, I noticed my left foot was swelling so I did my best to keep off it. Pierre-Yves Couteau caught up to me and we passed the time chatting about the similar up’s and down’s of trail ultras and careers in the mobile phone industry. Like so many people I meet at ultras, he spoke of both with a contagious sense of adventure and optimism. I wonder, is it ultras that attract these eternal optimists, or do people become optimistic from running ultras? Not that it matters. It’s just fun to have a new best friend at every mile marker, and excuse to share some conversation to pass the miles.

(Chikara backtracks and catches up)

Mark Lantz had dropped at the Dam Overlook, and let me know that Chikara had accidentally gone up the AR50 route (he did get 3rd place this year, so perhaps it was instinct) and lost 10 minutes to turn around and go back. Jean Pommier was leading the race at this point, but Chikara was in hot pursuit. I cleaned up my wounds at the aid station, and Mark encouraged me to keep running and push as many fluids as possible.

I understood Mark’s advice as the heat finally hit us on the four mile descent to No Hands Bridge (mile 26.2). Despite having two full water bottles, I felt the need to nurse every drop. The sun left no shadows, only scars in the trail from its relentless heat. On a steep climb, I did inventory – legs good, stomach good, electrolytes good, but I was favoring my left foot more than I would have liked. I stopped and loosened my shoe up, and the swelling filled up as much shoe as it could muster. There was no pain, however, so I wasn’t sure if the swelling was due to injury or heat. I ran cautiously.

As I jogged down to the bridge, I surprised myself by contemplating whether to drop at No Hands. I had only dropped from a race once before (Quicksilver in 2008, which was an obvious decision), and I’m usually the type to just grin and bear it and see what kind of adventure lies ahead. I mean, it’s an ultra so it’s always going to be painful, right? And I certainly wasn’t in that much pain. But November 7th was a “goal race” marathon, and I winced at the possibility of losing the last precious month of training to a sprained ankle that I ran on 30 miles more than necessary. Is my 40-year-old body now erring on the conservative side? Or am I displaying maturity by staying focused on the goal race? Perhaps I’m finally mature enough to avoid another seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time story? Or do I have a severe case of wimpatitus? I closed my eyes and ran, looking inward for inspiration. At the turnaround, I thanked the volunteers and let Tim Twietmeyer know I was done for the day.

(Jason Reed makes the turnaround, on his way to an 8th place finish)

It’s so bizarre to drop from a race when you still feel good. Heck, it was only 10:30am! I cheered in the finishing marathoners, had some ice cream, and gave Jason Reed the thumbs up as he turned around and braved the ever-rising heat. By noon I was showered and resting at the finish line, feeling fresh from a Monsters of Massage rub down, and letting the volunteer crew spray “Nu Skin” over any spot of red they could find.

(Steve Itano and Kirk Lindesmith enjoy Popsicles at the marathon finish)

By the time Chikara Omine staggered in for the win (8:15:50), it was easily over 100 degrees. He quickly made his way into the air conditioned gymnasium, soon followed by Jean Pommier (8:17:40), and first woman Lia Farley (8:21:30). It took a good 30 minutes for each of them to get their core temperature back to normal, similar to the remaining finishers. Joe Palubeski (10:28:03) and Juliet Morgan (13:02:38, 4th overall) won the 100k, and Gerell Elliott (3:44:01) and Karalee Morris (3:55:20, 5th overall) cleaned up in the marathon. All of them were super-tough on a hot day! [results]

(Jean cruises in the final stretch for a 2nd place finish)

(Lia Foley wins the Women's division, third overall, with an impressive consistent run)

(Chikara recovers after his winning performance)

(Sean Lang rests after his 4th place finish, while I sport the cool new SNER t-shirt)

(The helpful volunteers patch me up)

(Jean definitely got his salt for the day)

(Brian Miller finishes in 6th overall)

Although I was proud of myself for making the wise choice to save for the big race, it never quite resolved in my head. That voice that tells me to quit mile after mile wasn’t quite sure what to do now that it finally got its wish! Still, it was a great day out on the trails mixing with Mother Nature, catching up with friends, and watching some amazing athletic performances. I will be back again for sure.

- SD


  1. I think it was smart of you to drop. You race quite a lot already, and it couldn't hurt to rest up and make the most of your training. Most top marathoners only race 1-2 per year and certainly wouldn't do an ultra the month before. Best of luck.

  2. Another great race report. I was wondering why I didn't see your name listed in the results. Would you mind emailing the photo's you took of me from the finish? Thanks,
    Brian Miller

  3. Sent! Again, great job, Brian. That was a tough day out there.


  4. Howdy Scott, Thanks for yet another great posting and pics.

    Assuming that your goal race in November is the Lithia Loop Marathon and being a fellow "Master" runner who completed the race last year I would be happy to offer any assistance or info about the race or accommodations that you may need. I am a local in Southern Oregon who runs the ups and the downs (there is a lot of downs too)of the course a couple times a week. Feel free to contact me at
    Best, JC

  5. Okay, I'll admit it... I'm in awe of the sheer number of races you've accomplished this year. That being said, I'll agree with Anonymous that it was probably a good thing you dropped out. Looks like you raced just a few weeks ago and that must have taken some serious toll on your body. Better to be smart about it, so you can keep moving later!

  6. Scott - Lara does raise a good question. Why do you race so much? It seems like all you ultrabloggers take on far too many (Pommeir, Tanaka, Wilkins, etc.). You're just asking for injuries.

  7. JC - Thanks for the offer! I will definitely take you up on it. Just sent an e-mail.

    Lara - I seem to still be learning that those short races take more out of you than the long ones. That being said, I felt good when I started and when I dropped. But yes, overall it's a good thing to have stopped!

    Anon - I can't speak for all of us, but I will say that I personally don't "race" many of my races. I know it's important to log long runs, and there's nothing quite like doing so with like-minded people and a full buffet. Not to mention I'm a total shwag hag and will do anything for a t-shirt. ;-) So many "races" are just for fun and miles, and enjoying good company and scenery. Certainly the April month of marathons are that. I think part of my shock of dropping for a "goal race" is that I haven't had many goal races in the past...short of things like Western States which I just hoped to survive. I gotta hand it to those who do focus on 1-2 races per year - it takes serious discipline! And I'm sure their times reflect it.

    Every coach I have asked seems to have similar feedback on training for goal races. Race less, train more, go harder on hard days, easier on easier days, and don't forget to devote time to recover. Probably a good rule of thumb.

    Thanks for all the comments!



  8. I'll definitely second Scott's comment about not "racing" many of the races on my schedule. I only had two goal races this year, but 10 races of marathon or longer on my schedule. Most of them are training and fun social miles with friends.

    Scott, don't second guess your decision to drop. You still got a lot of good miles in that day, and you'll be in better condition for your goal race. Love that picture of the volunteers patching you up. Ouch!

    Nice job, and good luck at Lithia!

  9. BTW, with that "sun leaves no shadows, only scars" remark, were you purposely referencing lyrics from One Tree Hill, or was that sub conscious? Fitting, either way.

    "You run like a river, on to the Sea,
    You run like a river runs to the sea."

  10. Busted! Yup, I swiped that line from U2's One Tree Hill. One of my favorite all-time songs. I thought of that lyric when running and sang it to myself for the next hour. :)

  11. I love "One Tree Hill" too. Pops into my head whenever I see a lone tree on a hile. Funny how that works.

    I think it's "wimpitis" not "wimpatitus." It's okay once you turn 40. Hits me sometimes.

    But, if I may ask, what's a "goal race?"


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