Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Running with My Dad at the 2009 Boston Marathon

On April 21st, I had the great pleasure of running with my father in his first Boston Marathon. This race was on his “bucket list”, so I was pleased to be able to host/pace him for one of my favorite big city marathons (this was my fifth). We had a weekend packed full of the best of Boston, from pubs to Red Sox baseball to the marathon itself. Male bonding at its best! My Dad ended up having a strong race, finishing with a smile and a beer. I couldn’t have been more proud of him.

It’s not every day you get to be there for one of your Dad’s “firsts”, despite the fact that he has been there for nearly all of mine. I was especially looking forward to this opportunity after becoming a father myself two and a half years ago. I now understand that when parents look at their children, they simultaneously see them at every age from birth to the present day. That’s nearly four decades worth when he sets his eyes on me! It takes a long time for most sons to understand this (me amongst them), and we too often spend years with no appreciation of the unique individual behind the towering role and responsibility of fatherhood. The Boston Marathon, which journeys through the streets of Boston where he went to college in the 60’s, was the perfect shared experience to learn more about him, both as a father and a person.

(Injinji's new colors...comfy too!)

I hopped a red eye to Boston after the Ruth Anderson 50k, showing up just in time for breakfast at the Paramount and a walk through the Boston Commons. My legs felt pretty good (considering), and the plentiful Starbucks, Dunkin Doughnuts, and brisk air kept me upright as we made our way to the Expo. My Dad was pretty jazzed about the race, and loved seeing hundreds of people in Boston Marathon gear, filling the streets with languages from around the world. Despite living in Cambridge for years, he had never made the occasion to check out the Boston Marathon or go to a game at Fenway Park. The next 24 hours would take care of both of those, pronto.

(Moeben sleeves were very popular at the Expo)

The Expo was insanely crowded, so we picked up our bib numbers and just stopped by the Injinji booth to say hi. We decided to pass on the Boston shwag (the bright yellow is VERY bright this year) being quite content with the adidas CoolMax participant shirt. I bought some 2XU compression calf tights to try out after getting repeated recommendations to do so if I was racing multiple times in a weekend. I figured they would be good for warmth at a minimum, which could be crucial for a race day predicted to be in the low 40’s and windy.

(Heading to Fenway)

(Cold but enjoying every minute!)

We escaped the Expo to head to Fenway Park for a Red Sox game, where we huddled in the cold and sipped our beers while the Red Sox beat the Orioles 2-0. After a beer-induced nap we had dinner at the Pasta Feed, and hit the sack early for the big day. I enjoyed seeing my Dad nervous for the race – he’s rarely nervous for anything! I was just the opposite. In fact, I had been so lax I had forgotten to pack running shorts so I was going to have to do with some tennis shorts borrowed from my Dad. Doh!

(Eager runners make their way across the Boston Commons to catch the bus)

The next morning was cold (40 degrees) with a biting breeze. We jumped on the buses with plenty of extra gear, noting that the long wait before the race would be the toughest part of the day. I shared my secrets to staying warm at the Athlete Village (hint – there are pre-race massages INSIDE if you look for them), and we enjoyed massages before heading down to corral #18. We slammed a couple of Vespas before warming up to run.

(On the bus)

(Heading into the Athlete's Village)

I could have sworn we stopped at every port-o-potty along the way…running with a well-hydrated 67-year-old had more pee stops than a sorority van on the way back from a barn dance. But we found our spots in the corral just in time for the gun to go off.

(This guy better watch it at the finish with all those hungry runners)

(Corral #18, here we go!)

(Wave #2 takes off from Hopkinton)

I was feeling pretty bad ass with my blue bib #1454, until I realized nobody in corral #18 gave a hoot. Everyone we met was here to have a good time, run for a loved one, raise awareness for their charity, and in general was having way too much fun to be worried about their number. My Dad was hoping for a sub-4 hour finish, but I kept trying to convince him to just have a good time and end the race with a smile. I would hate to see him finish and be “disappointed”. But when the gun went off, my Dad started weaving through the crowd like a snake on a mission.

I did my best to keep him in sight, talking casually with the runners around me. I couldn’t help but brag to everyone about my 67-year-old Dad cruising the Boston Marathon. I was so proud of him! Between my yapping and his weaving, I wasn’t able to run alongside of him until the Ashland Tower at mile 4. He had a good pace going and was hydrating well, but all the side to side work was burning calories. We spoke about the mixed blessing of having so many runners on the road – it’s tough to keep a goal pace, but a blessing to have an excuse to hold some reserves on a downhill start.

(Smiling at the Ashland Tower)

One thing we definitely agreed on was the supporting crowds were fantastic! Per usual, they were 3-4 people deep at all times cheering on everyone. Anytime you needed a power boost, you could just swoop to the side and get 20-30 high fives. My Dad just kept saying “amazing!” over and over again.

(Santa is here every year...I placed my x-mas wish early)

At Natick (mile 10), the runners began to space out more and we had enough room to pick up the pace to a 7:45 min/mile. My Dad was making up all of his time on the downhills, per his usual strategy. When the flats or hills came, he distracted me with stories of partying, exploring, summer jobs, etc. during his college days. It was wonderful to hear all of these stories that I hadn’t heard before. More so than ever, I was getting a full picture of the young Larry Dunlap. Sounds like quite a troublemaker. ;-)


At mile 11, the familiar sounds of the scream tunnel filled the air. The Wellesley girls were out in full force, complete with “kiss me, I’m smart” signs and encouraging waves to come into their arms. My Dad started with some high fives, but soon enough two girls grabbed him and planted a kiss on his cheek. I fell in for my kiss as well, and returned the favor. We had a good laugh, particularly at the short balding European guy who was kissing his way down the line like an Italian wedding reception. My Dad said “I haven’t kissed a Wellesley girl since 1964”, much to the delight of the runners around us, and launched into another story. For the next two miles, we glided effortlessly on the lipstick-traced kisses of Wellesley girls of both yesterday and today .

(Dad gets some high fives)

(Nothing gives you a boost like kisses from froshies!)

(This year, I return the favor)

Just past mile 15, my Dad began to slow. Thank God for the Powerbar aid station that got us handfuls of gels in any flavor we desired. I found the Double Latte to be particularly tasty, and we shared a boost of caffeine that pushed us into the Newton hills.

(26,000 runners making their way to the finish)

Heartbreak Hill came and went, and my Dad just shrugged his shoulders. Was that it? Not much of a challenge for an accomplished mountain climber and trail runner, even at age 67. But he had plenty of pats on the back for the runners around us. I looked for the Hash House Harrier beer stand, but couldn’t find it this year. Instead they were handing out oxygen in the form of “personal oxygen devices”. Pretty crazy! I took a few drags, and it felt like a nice little boost. Guess I’ll have to wait for the finish for that brewsky.

(Personal Oxygen Device - POD)

(Approaching Boston College)

We hit Boston College at mile 21, where both my Dad and my camera started blinking red lights. He leaned into the downhill, but once he hit the flats he looked at me and said “I’m running on pure will at this point”. But his will was strong, and he kept his leg turnover high while keeping me in sight just a dozen yards ahead of him. He was still doing a great job of hydrating and taking in Gatorade, never walking for more than a few steps, so I knew he was going to make it without an embarrassing dehydration “blowout”. But could we make it under 4 hours? We certainly had banked some time, but there would be no margin for walk breaks.

(Dick and Rick Hoyt going for their umpteenth finish)

At mile 23, he broke through his psychological barriers and picked up the pace again. He passed right by me, clocked sub 8-minute miles as we passed mile 25. Not even the runner in the pink tutu carrying a Corona could slow him down!

(Tutu and a beer...can't beat that)

(Heading down Boylston - the home stretch!)

Before we knew it, we had turned the corner onto Boylston and were headed down the home stretch. He accelerated again, picking off another 20 runners before crossing the finish line with a smile in 3:45:30 for 11,827th place. He passed almost 7,000 runners! I came in right behind him in 11,828th. So he had not only run a 3:45, almost come in the first half of all runners, but he beat me fair and square. ;-)

(Edged out by my Pops at the finish)

We wrapped ourselves in mylar, got the finisher medals, and quickly made our way to a pub for a celebratory burger and Sam Adams. I just couldn’t help but stare at him in awe of what he had just accomplished. A 3:45 at age 67?!? Age adjusted, that is a sub-3 hour finish. And here he was, smiling away, sipping down a beer with no issues. It was nothing short of heroic. I got the overwhelming feeling that I am nowhere near tapping my genetic potential.

After dinner, I had to quickly gather my stuff and head off to the airport to speak at a conference the next morning (a “cats in the cradle” moment for sure), leaving my Dad to contemplate the ice bath in the hotel room. In a few short words, I struggled to tell him how proud I was and what a great experience this had been, stumbling in that way that men do when sharing deep emotions. But I recognized the look on his face, one I had seen so many times before in my life for so many “firsts”, expressing more than words could say. With a hug and firm handshake, I headed off to the airport with the finisher medal around my neck.

(Deriba Merga wins in 2:08:42)

The Boston Marathon is already packed full of great personal memories, but I knew instantly when crossing the finish line with my father that this how I would remember this race forever. I’m sure I told the story 50 times before I even made it to my seat on the plane. I’ve already told it 500 times to Sophie in the last week, and how her Grandpa once beat me at the Boston Marathon, one of the greatest races of all time. I suspect I will tell it 50,000 more times the next time I come to Boston. I may need to drag my Dad along again to share the duties. He did run a BQ time again, after all. ;-)

Congratulations, Dad. I’m super proud of you!

Love, SD

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

An Unexpected PR at the Ruth Anderson 50k

Last Saturday, I had the great pleasure of joining 75 ultrarunners for the annual Ruth Anderson 50k/50m/100k in San Francisco, CA, put on by Rajeev Patel and the Bay Area Ultrarunners. Although I was supposed to be taking it easy to save some for the Boston Marathon two days later, the perfect blend of great running weather and flawless volunteer support pulled me to an unexpected PR for the 50k! It was a great day for all.

(Dragon boats out on the lake)

The Ruth Anderson 50k/50m/100k honors ultrarunning veteran Ruth Anderson, a true pioneer for ultrarunning and masters sports both on and off the field (see my backgrounder from 2006). It's a 4.47-mile loop course where you can pick your distance as you go. I was here for the 50k, in hopes to get a checkpoint on my aerobic training and perhaps pick up a few PA/USATF points. The Boston Marathon was just two days away, so I hoped to retain the sense to stick to the 50k!

(RD Rajeev Patel gives us some words of wisdom)

(Gary Cohen, Jimmy O'Neil, Buddy Pohl, Wayne Miles, and Jean Pommier await the start)

A foggy morning greeted 75 of us as we walked down to the starting line, but none of us were cold thanks to the awesome RA-emblazed Moeben sleeves in the shwag bag. Race Director Rajeev Patel propped himself up on a fence and rallied us together, giving special kudos to the volunteers who make this event so special. With a few last words of encouragement, he sent us off into the fog to make our first of 7, 11, or 15 loops (aka, the longest right hand turn you'll ever make).

(Lots of smiles at the start, and some reflective fog particles)

(Donning my WTC sleeves while Rajeev leads a cheer)

Two runners went off like banshees, including course record holder Tim O'Rourke hot on the tails of his 3:19 from 2003. I paced with Jean Pommier and Michael Kanning, both of whom were going for the 100k today. Jean was representing the RhoMobile team, who had a strong showing at this race. 17-year-old Michael Kanning was eager to better his age group record at the 100k distance, and enjoying the fact that 13-year-old Jodie Huerta was making him feel like an old timer. It was good to catch up with these guys and see how their season was going. We passed though the halfway aid station, then ran three abreast on the empty bike lane. Before we knew it, we had finished the first loop (the first loop is a bit short) in 29 minutes.

(Jean Pommier shows the proper way to run the path)

I took a cup of water and picked up the pace, leaving the wise-pacing 100k runners behind. My goal for this race was to warm up on the first lap, then see how long I could hold a 7 minute/mile pace while keeping my heart rate under 150 beats per minute. I had been training a lot in this range, thanks to the work up at the Stanford Performance Lab a few months ago that let me know this was the top end of my aerobic pace. I have spent many-a-morning locked into this pace/heart rate while Netflix movies kept my attention. If I was on track with my training, I should be able to hold this pace for 20 miles without a spike in my heart rate.

(Robert Greenhouse makes the rounds)

The air was nice and cool on this lap, and neighborhood dogs were out everywhere walking their people. I stuck to water at the aid stations, knowing my Vespa was working its magic and keeping my caloric needs low. I ran along with Michael Roberts (training for the Seattle Marathon), and then with Todd Hayes for a bit. My stride found cruise control quickly, and I finished lap 2 in just over 30 minutes (a bit ahead of 7 min/mile). Def Leppard's "Animal" was stuck in my head, so no need for an iPod. That is, until I've sung the chorus 100 times and need a change. ;-)

(Todd Hayes, who went on to set an age group course record)

On lap 3, I began to catch some of the other runners. One of the best things about a loop course is you get to see everyone - those faster than you, those slower than you - and cheer them on. There was a consensus of fun, particularly as the dragon boats came out onto the lake and started their cheering and racing. I kept the cruise control on, finishing lap 3 in 30 minutes and change again. Right on time, and my heart rate still hanging in the mid-140's.

(The always smiling Jeanette Quintana)

On lap 4, I shed my sleeves and gloves and grabbed my iPod for some relief from Def Leppard (thank you, Bob Marley!). The crowds were out in full force now, filling the bike path with dogs, bikes, and friends. They left us to the dirt trail along the side, which was the softest and safest route. I sucked down a Hammer Gel on this lap, sticking to water at each of the aid stations. I finished the lap in 30 minutes and change once again, just on a 7 min/mile pace. I guess that treadmill work has been helpful!

(The sun broke out a few hours later)

(The aid stations were amazing and plentiful)

On lap 5, I saw a ton of runners having a good day. I passed Grant Carboni, who I suspect will be an age group contender for PA/USATF because he can go longer than most of us weekend after weekend. His lovely wife, Leslie, was also cruising along. Sean Lang was doing his part for RhoMobile in the 100k, going fast with his trademark smile and saying I was going fast! Joe Sweeney was shirtless and enjoying every minute, with Charles Blakeney not too far behind. Chikara Omine came by the other way, out for a jog in his neighborhood before hitting a 5k on Sunday. Reshu Jain and Vivek Kumar were sharing stories and laughing aloud while cranking out 50 miles. The ever-smiling Chihping Fu, the only guy taking more pictures than me (and better ones at that!). Each one gave me a smile as I went by, and I finished the lap in 31 minutes with a heart rate of 145 bps. Still on track!

(Joe Swenson on his way to winning the 100k)

Lap 6 was where I figured I would slow down, being that it's around mile 21-25. But a quick shot of Hammer Gel, some sunscreen, and a little 80's funk music kept me cruising right along. As I came around the first corner, Tim O'Rourke was walking on his way back saying something about calf cramps. I slowed to make sure he was okay, but he just waved me on and said to keep charging. I drank some extra water at the aid station, and my bladder was giving me the 10-minute warning. I kept an eye out for a port-o-potty with a short line, but didn't see one. What I did see was the #2 guy blowing up and walking to the side of the road. It looked like something right out of NASCAR, with steam pouring off of him as he slowed to a stop. I gave him a pat on the back as I went by, wondering if that meant I was in first place. I finished the lap in 30 minutes and change, and the heart rate was...142 bps?!? Wow! Then let's keep it up!

(Singh Anurahda and a fellow runner enjoy the sun)

Rajeev shouted out "Dunlap! You're gonna win this thing!", confirming I was in first as I went into the last lap. I let Stan Jensen and the others know where #2 was, and soon saw Tim O'Rourke who was hollering and cheering me on. What a great guy! I switched the tunes to some Sevendust, and leaned forward to increase my pace a bit, knowing I was going to have to stop for a bio-break. I did my best to go quickly, then eased into the 7-min miles again. Just when I started to break down a bit, I caught up to Adam Blum, RhoMobile Team Captain. He saw I was faltering a bit so he picked up the pace so I could hang onto him, and kept me entertained with jokes, stories, and techie nerd stuff. He pulled me right into the finish, where I hit my watch and crossed the finish line.

Holy cow. 31 consecutive 7-minute miles for a time of 3:37:22. The fastest and most consistent race of my life, and I felt great at the finish! What the heck just happened?!? I was supposed to be holding back for the love of Peet! Rajeev let me know it was an age group course record as well, and we laughed about how bad ass it sounded that I had to take a quick photo with my award and then leave early to catch a red eye to Boston. But I didn't fell bad ass at all, just lucky to have shared a great day running with friends.

I changed my clothes, grabbed a brewsky, and headed back to the start to cheer the other runners on. 58-year-old Todd Hayes came in 2nd place in a remarkable 3:55, setting an age group course record. Soon after him, Jean Pommier finished in 3:59, struggling with asthma and calling it a day (he's the only guy I know who could weeze his way to a sub-4 hour 50k). Leslie Carboni won the Women's division in 5:45. I would later find out that Joe Swenson (9:21) and Wendy George (12:14) won the 100k, and Sean Lang (7:24) and Jean Suyenaga (9:25) won the 50-mile. I should note that 13-year-old Jodie Huerta finished in 7:46, setting a new age group course record as well.

(Vivek Rao shows he is still running strong)

As I sat on the plane to Boston, I was still scratching my head singing that song from The Producers - "where did we go right?". I guess some days it just all comes together. I hoped the same karma would come together for my Dad's first Boston Marathon on Monday, or at least enough to find the finish with a smile. As I looked through the pictures from the race, I realized I still got more satisfaction from 31+ smiling faces than 31 perfect miles. Maybe somewhere in that feeling is the real secret to a PR.

Off to Boston!

- SD

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Celebrating The End of My 30's with 3 Races in One Week

It's t-minus two weeks until my 40th birthday, but I'm exiting my 30's with three great races in one week. Saturday is the Ruth Anderson 50k in San Francisco, CA, Monday is the Boston Marathon, and the following Sunday is the Big Sur Marathon. Then a few days to recover, and it's time to toe the line as a Master at the Miwok 100k. Is this the ultrarunner version of a midlife crisis?

Nah. It's just my inability to say no to a good time. I keep waiting for this so-called midlife crisis to come (although it apparently only affects 15% of adults), but have yet to desire a Corvette, new 20-year-old girlfriend, or a gold chain to dangle from an open shirt. My life is too splendidly chaotic and adventurous to worry if it's on the right track or drown in a monsoon of mortality. I think ultrarunning really helps avoid this mess. Perhaps this is why I always meet so many happy ultrarunners in their 40's and 50's...they are all too busy having fun to make room for a midlife crisis. Although there are a few Corvettes in the parking lot. ;-)

I'm just giddy thinking about the races on the horizon. Is it just me, or do you feel younger the moment you sign up for a race too? When I fill a schedule for the year, I swear it takes me back to being a kid with three awesome summer camps on the agenda. Just look at what I have stacked up:

Ruth Anderson 50k - A great 4.5 mile loop course that lets you spend the day with fast and slow runners alike, tackling distances from 50k to 100k that you can choose as you go. Rajeev Patel, Stan Jensen, and the other volunteers put on a great race, and its small communal nature captures all that is good with the ultra family. I clocked my 50k PR of 3:52 here a few years ago on a perfect sunny day, but last year was a storm and a half. Who knows what Saturday will bring, but I'll have plenty of company to smile through it. I just hope I have the sense to stop at 50k!

Boston Marathon - This is my fifth Boston, and it gets better every time. I'll be running with my Dad, who qualified at the Eugene Marathon last year and will be doing his first Boston at age 67. It took some convincing to get him signed up, but he's trained, stoked, and ready to roll now. We'll have to see who is slowest - me two days after an ultra, or him at age 67. I get the feeling my ass is going to be handed to me at the finish. Shout out to Jean Pommier who is doing the Ruth/Boston double too...see you on the red eye flight!

Big Sur Marathon - Christi (my wife) put together an awesome weekend of relaxation and fun in Carmel/Big Sur for my b-day, culminating with the gorgeous Big Sur Marathon along Hwy 1. You can't possibly get enough pictures of this course, but I'm going to do my best to fill the camera. Then plenty of rest and relaxation on the beach (aaaahhh).

Miwok 100k - My longest race of the year before States, Miwok is a great way to enter the Masters ranks. Challenging, hilly, stacked competition, and breathtaking at every turn. One would think that I stood a better chance at placing in my age group, but the Lantz and Pommier's of the world just keep getting faster. So no excuse for me...I should get faster too!

Throw in a ton of beer, some good friends and family, an endless amount of "old man" jokes, and it should be a whirlwind of fun. Hope to see y'all out there!

- SD

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Going the distance — and then some (Chronicle Herald)

Journalist Amy Wang wrote a nice story about ultrarunning for Canada's Chronicle Herald, showing that ultra finishes are up 20% in the last year. There are some good quotes worth reading (read it here):
Compared with the emotions involved in running a traditional marathon, Thomas Wong says, in which one feels a predictable cycle of pain and elation over the course of a few hours, a zen-like "nothing" overtakes his mind during an ultra. "Hope," he says, is the only "driving force."
"It’s kind of like a long walk in the woods," says Bodington, "except you’re running and you’re focused and you’re with a group of like-minded people"—and many are put on by volunteers. There are minimal crowds and no schwag bags. More often than not, trees outnumber bystanders. For its devotees, the ultra is a refreshing return to the basics.
Good stuff!

- SD

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Winding Through the American River 50-Miler

Yesterday, I had the great pleasure of joining 650 ultrarunners for the 30th annual American River 50-mile Endurance Run in Auburn, CA. This popular point-to-point race along the American River grew a record crowd (including 250 first-time 50-milers), and the perfect weather and wonderful volunteers showed us yet again why this is an ideal race for road and trail runners alike. It was a fantastic day!

(Sun and spring flowers await us)

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.

(The start...hey, where is everyone?)

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.

(Gloria Takagishi sports the #1 race bib, and goes on to finish her 30th consecutive AR50)

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.

(Just a pleasant morning run...to a city 50 miles away)

(Chris Rowe and Tom Moore stick to the dirt)

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!

(Here comes the sun...and I say, "it's all right")

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.

(Ahhh...some single track at last!)

(John Catts and Greg Nacco enjoy the morning sun)

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. ;-)

(Gary Wang is looking good)

(Ted Nunes and Randy Vander Tuig ham it up)

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.

(Hugo Ahumada smiles his way up a steep climb)

(One of the many great aid stations along the way, photo courtesy of Jean Pommier)

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.

(What a gorgeous day - you almost can't smile!)

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.

(Plenty of flowers to see on every climb)

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.

(Chris Mercaldi is having waaay too much fun, photo courtesy of Elizabeth Weil)

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.

(Max King charges to a win, photo courtesy of Jean Pommier)

(Kami Semick leads start to finish, photo courtesy of Jean Pommier)

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)

(Kevin Weil, who finished in 7:02, gives me a congratulatory shake while donning the finishers jacket, photo courtesy of Elizabeth Weil)

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!

- SD