At 6:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 4, 2009 I went for a long run with about 500 friends going from Sacramento to Auburn, CA along the American River. 50 miles, 11 hours and 16 minutes later I finished. Here are the highlights and lessons learned.
Start to mile 25
It's dark. A horn signifies the start of a long day. I sync my watch as I cross the start, only to think about what it will feel to hit stop at the end... which won't come for a while.
The crowd of runners is both electrifying and awesome. All long distance races seem to share a similar quality at the start. Everyone is excited in one way or another. There are some who go out way to fast and crash before the end, or others who can sustain a faster pace like Maxwell King who won with a 7:28 pace / 6:04 final time... ouch, that's fast.
I set into a pace I feel like I can hold for.. well.. in my mind forever, which is exactly what I need to do. I finish my first marathon (26.2 miles) in 5 hours 10 minutes. Okay, I can run much faster, but when you have another marathon distance to run, decreasing your effort to a sustainable pace, staying hydrated, and well fed will is the key to getting through.
Beals Point aid station, mile 26.77. The course now goes from a paved bike path along the water to an interesting assortment of trails. With a dramatic end as the road winds up to the top of the Auburn Hills. I change from my road to trail shoes. My drop bag is packed full of only the essentials - socks, shoes, a shirt and shorts, sunscreen, a few cliff bars, and a RED BULL!
I quickly chug my energy drink and after running for over 5 hours, I quickly realize I'm long overdue for a bathroom break. Minutes later, and thoroughly unpleased with the bathroom supplies I'm quickly back on the run.
I'm enjoying the scene much more now. The trails seemed to duck and twist through forest along the rivers edge. Watching people boat, fish, and relax on the lake was both fantastically inviting and hellish since there wasn't anyway I could enjoy the cool water too. I was smack dab in the middle of the race over 25 miles from anything. And I loved it.
Rattlesnake Bar, miles 40.94-43. Hey, I have a PACER! After running for so long, it's amazing to have a friend with you. Kate Nelson is my pacer, she's my niece. She played soccer at UC Davis and is now training to run her first ultra, a 50K in northern california this spring. She's perfect for the job.
Miles 43-46: I'm running. Not fast, but steady. It's getting hot. I'm tired of running and getting a little nauseous. I realize it's a combo of eating way to fast when I first saw Kate and the fact that the warmer temps are making me sweat more, which can quickly lead to dehydration.
Mile 46-Finish: After some chatting with Kate about my continual need to eat, I do so despite a lack of hunger for anything. I think, wow it's getting terribly steep as we approach the beginning of large incline. I feel so much better than I did even 10 minutes ago. I think,
'Hey I feel real good. Time to run? Yes'.
I think someone yelled something at Kate about being my pacer, but Kate's philosophy of going with the flow let me 'go for it'. and a 1/2 mile later I had to walk again and that was fine.
We then climb a steep section approaching the final miles. Then I see mile 49, and need a pic.
It's time to finish this shit. I tell Kate we're running the last mile no matter what. She agrees, applauding how momentous the occasion is, and we move. Minutes later we hear something, then we see it. It's the finish! Damn, I'm so happy. In the last few hours the ground never looked so inviting to sit, lay, or sleep on. I tell Kate about my plan to sprint to the finish, and without hesitation I find the right time and go full force. I charge up a steeeeeep little hill where I thought the finish was over where I then see a little switchback fire road you had to cut around. With a quick push I round the corner passing a crew of people who I shared the last hours with and who gave there 100% support. Whoops, Hollers, it's 100 ft...... 80..... 50.... 10... and I'm done. I find the first area where I can sit, then I crumble on to the ground in a very victoriously exhausted look as I stare into space thinking about how grateful I am for everything I love, especially my wife, father and siblings, all of which I thought a lot about throughout the experience.
What I learned.
When I train, I need to eat a lot. But not a lot just at one time like normal people. I have to eat something bigger than a snack, but smaller than a full blown meal, once every 2-3 hours during the day. A huge props to my work friends for supporting my anti-hunger strike. I've given a new meaning to the 4pm snack.
Nike makes dryfit boxers that you can wear for running. They make the big miles much more manageable. I mean, who's a fan of chaffing? Um, not me.
My new year's resolution is to not go crazy when things don't go my way. I used to let the most mundane change of plans unset me. Well, after finding out that Caitlin couldn't join me (with the dogs) for the weekend due to an impending audition, I set for the road. Caitlin was smart to describe the weekend as a great personal adventure, so I took the prescribed idea and made it a reality. 850 miles of driving, 50 miles of running and 3 days later I write this. Sitting at my desk looking forward to the next race, less than 4 weeks away, Miwok 100K. Until then...
"To give less than your best, is to sacrifice the gift"