I went into my first 50 mile race not knowing what to expect. I have run 33 miles before but I just couldn't quite get my mind around running an extra 17 miles. I was confident I could do the distance, I just didn't know what it would feel like, how much it would hurt.
I chose the Helen Klein 50 miler, not because it's flat, but because it's the last-chance qualifier for WS100. But by the end, I was glad it was flat :) The course starts in Granite Bay and follows the American River bike path 25 miles to the Guy West Bridge near Sacramento State University. Then you run back.
I arrived at Cavitt Middle School and everything went smooth getting checked in and getting my gear ready for the run. I knew I wanted to carry my phone (because my husband would meet me along the course on his bike), my MP3, electrolytes, and gels but I didn't want to carry my 2 bottle hip pack. With all the aid stations I figured one hand-held bottle would be enough. So the week before the race I ordered a waist pack from Zombie Runner and tried it on for the first time the morning of the race. I know, all the thoughts about never trying something new on race day were flashing through my mind. However, the belt was extremely comfortable and carried everything I needed. I have to admit, I also wore my Western States 100 shorts for motivation and they have little mesh pockets on the sides that carry a few things also. All in all, my gear, clothing, and shoe choices were good and I had no problems.
In the gym I met Gretchen and she gave me a big hug. Amazing, I've met this woman one time and already it's like we're great friends. This ultrarunning community is just wonderful. Norm gave his pre-race speech where he let us know about a short detour on the bike route because of construction which meant the turn-around point for the 50 miler would be at the Guy West bridge instead of just past it. That proved to be very nice. As Norm led us up to the levee for the start, Gretchen and I met up with Peter Lubbers and Scott Dunlap and we had an enjoyable visit during the walk. I had ditched my long sleeve shirt and was just in my short sleeve and it was quite cold. I was regretting my decision. I didn't think about how cold it would be near the river. The sky was just turning pink and runners were silhouetted against the sky on the levee, a beautiful sight. Norm announced 3 minutes to start so I found a bush for a quick pit stop and then we were off. It warmed up quickly and I was glad I left my shirt behind.
We moved out quickly and the group flowed well. We ran across dirt levees and I wondered how I would be feeling hours from now and 48 miles later when I ran across this same levee in the other direction. Scott had warned me about the downhills in the beginning which tend to sneak up on you at the end. I kept that in mind. I had lost Gretchen in the start but we soon reconnected and kept a real similar pace. I laughed because at one point we were even running exactly in step with each other. I thought this was great because I know she's a good runner and the fact that we had the same pace gave me hope that I could do well on this run, that we might even finish close to each other. Ha! Little did I know. Talk about a naive, first-time 50 mile runner.
Me and Gretchen
The day dawned beautiful with sunlight reflecting off the river and soon there were bicyclists and runners and families everywhere. It was great all the support I received from kids riding their bikes asking "are you really running 50 miles?"
My husband Pat got off work that morning and drove to the start where he got on his bike and tracked me down. He caught me at about 18 miles, just as I was starting to feel down. My legs were tightening up and I was getting tired. That led to feeling demoralized a bit because it seemed too early to be feeling like this. I at least wanted to get to the halfway point feeling good. Pat was there to aid me at the aid stations if needed and above all to offer emotional support. He would leap frog ahead and sometimes I'd see him lying on the grass taking pictures as I ran past. The thought of stopping running and just laying on the grass beside him certainly crossed my mind. But the day was beautiful and I had a job to do.
I kept an eye out for the the leaders to start returning and it didn't take long to see them cruising by. Scott was only a few minutes off the leaders and looking great. Next was Peter who reminded me that the turn-around was sooner than in past years. I had lost track of Gretchen about 18 miles in and was wondering how she was doing. She passed me going the other way looking great and offering the encouraging words "you're almost at the turn-around".
Scott, thoroughly enjoying himself as usual
Peter Lubbers hunting down Scott
I reached the half-way point in 4:25, slower than I wanted but still a reasonable time. My stomach was bugging me a bit, I think I took in too many calories, scared I'd take in too few.
Looking (and feeling) a little haggard at 25 miles
I slowed my solid food and electrolyte intake and things started to improve. When Pat saw me at 28 miles I felt like a new person. My pace had slowed as well and I think that helped. I was really enjoying myself, physically I felt pretty good, and it was fun to see all the families out on the trail celebrating a gorgeous fall day. I was definitely getting tired but I knew it was important to just keep a consistent pace and limit my time at aid stations.
Enjoying the views
Psychologically, it was important for me to get to the Negro Bar aid station. That would mean 6 miles to go. I looked at my watch and realized I had 1 hour 20 min to reach 10 hours. Could I do 6 miles in 1:20? I remembered all those hills we came down at the beginning. I broke it down to 3 miles to the Folsom Dam AS in 40 min then 3 more miles to the finish in another 40 min. I could do it if I just kept running. I even ran most of the uphills which surprised me. My legs felt stronger than I expected. When we reached the dirt levees Pat told me it was all flat from here. I told him the road went uphill after it left the levees. He just looked at me and said it was flat. I insisted it was uphill and he just looked at me but remained silent. Soon he rode off ahead to get the picture at the finish line. I continued across the levees dreading the next uphill to where we started. I rounded the last corner and there was the start line. No uphill. It was dowhill back to the school now. I don't know why I was convinced it was uphill but it was such a relief to find out it was flat. The mind does mysterious things.
Crossing the finish line was amazing. I started out just wanting to qualify for WS with a sub 11 hour finish and ended up finishing in 9:51. Needless to say I was very happy. I quickly searched the gym for Gretchen but didn't see her. I checked the finishers board and was amazed to see her finishing time of 8:39. What a fantastic finish for her. I guess I'll have to get a lot faster if I want to see my new friends at the finish line :) I was thrilled to see that Scott had finally broken 7 hours and Peter was not far behind in 7:35. I got the low-down from Robert Mathis about the dramatic finish to the ultrarunner.net series. Congratulations to all the winners.
I want to thank Norm and Helen Klein and the many volunteers for putting on a very enjoyable race. The support was wonderful. I had to laugh when I saw the results. Overall I finished 66th out of 128. For females, I finished 14th out of 26. I guess this makes me a bona-fide "mid-packer".
Pat, my wonderful supporter
I'm now in Morro Bay, finally reunited with my wonderful daughters after missing them for a week. It's great to be together as a family again.