Saturday, February 9, 2013

American Canyon 50k

It's been a little while since my last post... I've been busy!

I have a pre-post question for you: If you have run in a race of any kind, what is the worst mistake that you have made? Give me your input in the comments below!

Anyway, Race Director Harlan gave me the opportunity to volunteer my way into the 2013 edition of the American Canyon 50k.This slave labor (kidding!) involved helping Harlan mark part of the 50k course (the photos to follow are from the day of course marking). As part of a minor miscommunication, I thought that we were covering 9 miles of the course, but it turned out that we were jointly marking approximately 17 miles of the course.  That is all to say that, 2 days before the race, I ended up running and hiking 17 miles. Probably not the best strategy for me to have a peak performance, but I didn't mind since the race was ultimately intended as a training opportunity. And an excellent one it was!

The race is in its 3rd year, and it was very well organized and executed with the support of a small but dedicated contingent of volunteers. The course was very well-marked ;) and is actually quite beautiful. A fair portion of the course runs on the same trail used in a lower portion of the Western States 100 race, and shares a bit of the course with the Way Too Cool 50k. The course runs through Auburn State State Recreation Area along the North Fork of the American River. I was actually surprised by how challenging it was, though the majority of it is quite runnable.

I went into the race with three goals:
1) Don't not get injured
2) Get some Grade A training in
3) Run as well (quickly) as I could while obeying #1
4) Run my own race (stick to the race plan!)

I was also secretly dreamin' that I might come away with my first "W" (win). I was skeptical of this possibility given my soreness going into the race, and knowing that the field would be fairly competitive. You be dreamin', Evan.

My race plan was to start conservatively, staying around the fron 10-15% of runners through the first ~8mi, where the 25k race turn-around point was. Then I would have a better sense of who was actually running the 50k, and where I was among them. From there, stay conservative, keep the pace quick but comfortable and steady, don't let the leaders build too much of a gap. Let the leaders beat each other up, and around mile 20, I'll kick it into gear, swoop in, and pick up the pieces when they're really feeling rough. This is where I think I shine, if I run my own race, I feel great in the later miles- crush time.

I got to the start/staging area about an hour before start, which was perfect, because it gave me time to move around a bit, and really get that pre-race poop handled. I can't stress the importance of "clearing out" the system as completely as possible. Having to peal off the course a couple times to take care of business can be a serious time drain! (I once started a race feeling a little funky, and I had to poop three separate times in the first 13 miles.  That was disastrous!)


I digress (divulge?). Anyway, it was a bit chilly out, barely above freezing, so I started with arm warmers and a thin beanie. It was a mass start for the 15k, 25k, and 50k races, so I surged my way to the front group of 20 or so people so as not to get trapped back too far. Though I was aware that some people around me were probably running much shorter distances than I, it didn't deter me from running way too fast for my race plan. Mistake Number One! I knew for sure I was being naughty when, as I was crossing No Hands Bridge next to a 25k'er, he said aloud, "well, that was a sub-7:00min/mile." The 50k has a cutoff that takes a brief shortcut away from the 25k course, and when we hit that, I was surprised at the number of other 50k racers immediately in front and behind me- I thought for sure most of them were running the shorter distance, because we were cranking pretty hard. I was hoping that the guys around me were all running way too fast and would pretty quickly fall off of the current pace.

I ran through the second aid station without stopping- I had plenty of water and calories in my pack, and continued running (way too fast). This continued on the winding single track down to the American River, and down along the dirt road.  I was in 5th place, with a tight pack of four guys in sight just a hundred yards or so in front of me for about the first 14 miles or so. No one was in sight behind me. As we climbed up off the road onto single track again, I could a slight "uh-oh" feeling in my legs- the beginnings of muscle fatigue from running out of my comfort zone. I wasn't accustomed to running at that speed at that distance, and my gait felt a little "clumsy" and inefficient, and it was beginning to effect me, so I dialed back my pace and let the frontrunners go. I felt great aerobically, but my muscles were not liking the effort. I knew there was a longer climb ahead, and I consider myself a pretty decent hill climber normally, so I figured I'd make up ground then. After a couple creek crossings and topping out that climb, I was catching glimpses of one of the guys again. This is where you hit the course for the Western States 100, and it was a cruise along sweet, rolling single track with excellent views of the American River canyon.

Harlan and DeeDee on the way out
I was still running fast, but there was no sign of the guys up front slowing down at all, so I kept rolling too. I was starting to feel a little shitty. And I was having trouble taking in water- the mouthpiece for my water bladder has some gnaw-damage from a marmot-munching last summer, and I had never bothered to replace it because, well, I'm cheap, and it had never given me issues before. For whatever reason, it started leaking air bubbles into the water stream as I tried to suck down water, reducing the flow of water, and filling the water with air bubbles that were making me have to burp excessively. Not ideal for water consumption when trying to run hard. This is part of Mistake Number Two (forthcoming).  I rolled into the next aid station at Maine Bar (I don't even know the mileage for it), was told the front guy was only a couple minutes ahead of me. Sweet! I chugged down a small cup of Coca Cola (sounds weird, but it's delicious- trust me), a cup of water, grabbed a PB&J square, and got the hell out of there- no wasting time when the leaders are so close!  A half-mile later, I ran out of water. I was already dehydrated, and now I was up shit creek. Mistake Number 2.  I thought I had more water than I did, but I most definitely should have checked, and refilled, at the last aid station. Not long after, I entered the Pain Cave.

If you're not familiar, the Pain Cave is when all of your aches, pains, and suffering become dramatically more present in your conscious. It's a dark and miserable place, and if you're low on will power, it makes it really easy to feel bad for yourself, to walk, to want to drop out, and to say things like "this is the last race I'm ever running." Suddenly sub-7 minute miles became more like 10-15min miles, with the running slowed dramatically, and walking increasingly frequent. Any time I tried to increase my effort, I could feel my quadriceps on the verge of cramping, and my body was just generally resisting anything more than a mild level of exertion. I was pissed at myself for not sticking to the race plan, and I was paying for it now. A couple guys passed me over the next few miles, with a couple climbs (the infamous Goat Hill) sufficiently contributing to my growing misery. I was really looking forward to that next aid station (the 25k turnaround at the rt49 crossing).
When I rolled into the 49 Crossing aid station, one guy that passed me had just left, and another one was still there.  I slammed a coca cola, two cups of GU Brew electrolyte drink, a cup of water, and ate some baked potato chunks. The aid station told the other fellow and I that there were only four guys ahead of us. I didn't know how that happened, but I was glad to hear it.  I grabbed a handful of fruity trail mix and jogged (it's a soft 'J') out of the aid station shortly after the other guy. Eight miles to go. We stayed pretty even on the next climb, and on the (long) descent to No Hands Bridge and the next aid station I easily passed him, starting to feel better already from my fluid intake.  I stopped briefly at the No Hands aid station to chug another two cups of GU Brew and started across the bridge just as the guy I'd passed coming down the hill behind me. I was feeling better, though I had definitely blown my quads. They were pretty painful, I had about a four mile long gradual climb to the finish ahead of me. I tried to use my glutes a little more to help "pull" me up the hill, and that helped a bit, but I still had no hope of running any of the steeper hills along the way. The guy behind me passed me again after a mile and a half, and I let him go- I was in the Pain Cave again, and frankly, I was tired of racing.  I just wanted to finish the damn race and stop running.

Not long after, I caught another guy that had passed me during my first descent into the Pain Cave- he was limping so I slowed to check if he was alright. He said he was, and that he just had a weird back spasm. I rolled on. I finished out the race in 4 hrs and 42 min, [correction:] good enough for 7th place. I think I accomplished the first three of my race objectives, and I totally blew the fourth. Like if I was being graded, the evaluator would skip giving me an 'F' and just tell me to get the 'F' out of his classroom.

We'll call it a learning experience! There was a nice post-race atmosphere, and I devoured some snacks, chili, chicken noodle soup, and GU Recovery Drink as I sat and cheered racers in to the finish.  The winner ran the course in 4:16 for what I believe is a new course record. I think that is a pretty damn fast time for this course. Even if I had stuck to my race plan, hadn't blown up or destroyed my quads, and had run my best possible race with my current training and fitness, I don't think I would have had a chance to take first. I feel pretty damn good about the day regardless. It was my first race in over 6 months, and its the first race in a series of races I intend to use to build my fitness.

Big thanks to Harlan and his team of volunteers for putting on a fantastic race (and for letting me volunteer to earn my entry)! More adventures (and races!) to come.

See a pdf of the American Canyon 50k course map 
Full race results should be available soon on Sierra Pacific Endurance, and on Ultrasignup


  1. I recall a time when I ran a 5k with someone, and he told me to sprint out of the starting line and stay with the front runners. That was the worst mistake of my racing career, pretty sure even old overweight people passed me that day. And yes that "someone" was you Evan, much appreciated. Very glad your race went well, and keep on keepin' on (enjoyed the anchorman reference in there btw).

    1. Maybe you just didn't get all the poop out before the start? I swear it's a bullet-proof strategy...

  2. First marathon ever + first 5hr energy ever = Poopy McKnotguts... biggest issue in a run I've ever had and on my longest ever... very uncomfortable. But at least I didn't shit on the side of a highway and run shitty ass'd across the finish line and yell at the

    1. There was no yelling at the photographer, I just grumbled and limped and crawled my way past her as quickly as I could, hoping no one noticed my unholy odor.