3 a.m. is early. But I have a theory that just about anyone can get away with one night of not enough sleep. The accumulation of not enough sleep is what gets you. Anyways, I had all of my stuff ready to go. Grabbed my bag of running stuff: Hydration bladder, gu, technu, body glide, sweats, towel. Also grabbed my bag of snacks. Drank my normal pre-race/pre-long run 2 tbsp of soaked chia. Then I warmed up my breakfast in the microwave. I usually don't eat breakfast before races because I try to wake up as close to the start time as possible(mostly because I really do value my sleep), and eating too close to the race is a recipe for bad things. But today I had three hours of digestion before race start, so I went ahead and indulged myself. Thanks to my wonderful cook/wife Joanne, I had a couple of "breakfast pies?" waiting for me. I suppose I would call them breakfast pies: pastries with breakfasty type stuff in them. I was out of the house by 3:15 and on the road, munching on my pies and gulping down some milk.
The driving was nice, I think 3 a.m. is a good time to drive on 880. I arrived at the parking lot on the south end of Lake Sonoma at about 5:30, a whole hour before race start. That is probably more buffer room than I really needed, but it is probably good to have some contingency time in there since this was the first time I've been to this race. I had plenty of time to visit the port-a-poty, get my racing bib and even chill out in my car for a while.
About 5 minutes before the start I grabbed my stuff, tightened up my shoes and made my way over to the start line. Unfortunately I forgot to apply the body glide, leading to some uncomfortable chaff-age later in the race. I have done this before, you would think I would know better by now. I saw a few other Quicksilver team members lulling about and got a little chit-chat in. I was in no hurry to push my way up to the front of the line because I was planning on taking it out easy, as this usually serves me well at these 50 milers. Anyways, there were probably 50 people capable of beating me in this deep race, so I knew I didn't need to be too far up there at the start. The guy said go, and we were off. You start on about 2.4 miles of rolling/mostly climbing road until they dump you onto the single-track. This is a fantastic idea for any race like this because it allows people to sort themselves out at the beginning, where the passing is easy. Once you reach the single track passing becomes more of a chore and would probably drive people nuts if there was a ton of pack repositioning.
I was taking it pretty easy on the road, but every time we hit a downhill, I couldn't help myself, and I would fly down it. It doesn't take any energy for me to do it, it is pretty much the easiest way for me to cover that ground, long legs have to be good for something, right? I always wonder whether that is really the best thing for me to do though. I wonder if running fast downhill takes a little more out of me than I think it does. Basically I would pass a bunch of people on the downhills. On some of the steeper downhills I would build up some significant speed and when I go flying past the other runners they must have been sure I was nuts. Oh well, maybe that is just the way I run. Once we hit the single track I continued flying past people because it was pretty much all downhill for a while. I felt a little bad at this point for starting too far back at the beginning, but I have a feeling I would be doing the same thing no matter what group I was running with because that is how I run the downhills.
It was really exciting to be running with this many other racers on the trail. Usually by this point in a 50 mile race, things have thinned out enough that you might be running by yourself for a while. Lake Sonoma had such a deep field this year that I was pretty much always passing or being passed by someone. It makes for a different kind of race experience. At around 6 miles I passed Rory Bosio, a woman I had read about in the various ultra-running forums, and thought to myself that maybe I was out of my league with the pace that I was doing. Then I came up on John Burton, my fellow QSURT(Quicksilver Ultra Racing Team), and I knew he was in good shape coming into this race, getting ready for Western States and all, but everything felt so effortless and I was having so much fun that I just kept it up. A couple of miles later I passed AJW(Andy Jones Wilkins), who is a popular figure in the Ultra-running community and writes for irunfar.com. He was loud. I knew that much about him before the race, but he also talks non-stop and his voice carries forever. He must have picked up his pace, or I might have slowed down, but it seemed he was always just a ways behind me, and I knew exactly where he was because I could hear him coming.
I don't have much to say about miles 10-20. This was pretty much all nice, rolling single-track. Not very much flat stuff, just up and down all day. I got to Madrone Point Aid station at mile 20 in pretty high spirits and I knew what was coming up. At mile 20 they throw some pretty steep hills at you that contain the most significant climbs of the race on mainly exposed fire roads. This was when Rory caught up with me again. I was surprised when she just continued to run up the road that I fully intended on hiking, but that seems to be what most of the top runners do- they tend to stay away from walking at all costs. She pulled away and I was content with just maintaining my effort level with my walk. The heat wasn't really bad at all at this point, so the exposure didn't get us too bad. In fact, there was a nice breeze that was constantly keeping us cool and that was perfect for me. I crested the hill and started bombing down the other side and caught up with all of the runners that had run up the thing including Rory. Then Rory and I kept trading places for the next 10 miles which was some pretty fun racing action. On one of the climbs we see the front-runners starting to head back in the other direction. It was pretty cool to finally see these super-fast guys, that I had only read about, in person. I saw Marc in this group, probably somewhere in the top 20, and he was looking ok at that point. I knew he had been working hard and had some great fitness coming into this race, so to see him up there with the front-runners was really cool.
At the turn around aid station I asked if they had any body glide, and one of the volunteers produced a jar of lube. I am sure this helped me to some extent, but most of the damage was probably already done. I was in high spirits at this point though because I was actually feeling pretty good. From the turn-around I continued to hammer the downhills and took my time on the climbs. Everything was pretty much going to plan. I caught up with Jonathan Gunderson at this point and knew he was having a bad day. He is consistently faster than me at these races and to see him walking up the hills, I knew something was up. He told me he had a knot in his calf and was having a tough go. I believe he dropped at Madrone. Going back to Madrone on the open fire roads zapped me a lot more because the heat was starting to go up. After I made my way past the aid station and back onto the single track that went up and down the hillside above the lake I felt my energy drain. This was when Rory came running past me for the last time. She asked if I was ok and I told her I was just catching my breath. Yeah right, I was toast! I had a tough time getting the wheels going again and then the legs started cramping pretty good. So basically at 30 miles into the race I had reached a low that I would not be able to recover from. I then endured a torturous 20 mile hobble back to the finish line.
At the mile 33 aid station, Greg Lanctot, one of our QSURT members was volunteering and filled me in on some of the action. Apparently Marc was puking by the time he got there and I would later find out that he had to drop shortly thereafter. By this point in the race I was taking every opportunity to dunk myself in the streams and horse troughs. This felt like heaven compared to heat I was feeling while running. It wasn't necessarily that hot, but the combination of warm temps, 30 some miles on the legs, and the fact that my training was done in mostly cooler weather up until this point, meant that I was running a little hot. This seems to be a re-occurring pattern for me in April ultras. The same thing happened to me at American River the year before. I was in such bad shape by the end of that race that I was involuntarily cramping in just about every spot in my body and could not keep myself under control. And my brother Josh was there to witness every moment of it. I am sure he recognized what a ridiculous sport this was at that point, but to his credit, he didn't poke fun at me at the time and just kept me company... good brother.
Those final 20 miles were something I would rather not think about too much. I got passed a lot, not that I cared at that point. I remember some grandma passing me. I'm not kidding. I know this lady was only 52, but she seriously looked like someone's grandma, not some fast chick in her physical prime, I mean if you saw her you would think she is someone's grandma. She didn't run with a graceful form, or incredibly fast, she just chugged along. For a while I was trying to convince myself that she wasn't actually part of the race and that she was just out for a little jog or something, but no, she kicked my butt.
I finished. This provided much relief. I was 47th in 8:49:11. The problem is though, when you finish one of these things, especially if you are in pretty bad shape the was I was at American River, you end up starting your second ultra. That is you have to figure out some way to make yourself comfortable while your body tries to return to "homeostasis". At least that is the way I think about it. By the time I finish, my systems are so out of whack that it is a challenge just to keep from cramping up into a ball. You can't just stay in one position for too long, or else, cramp. You have to keep shifting. You are too tired to stand, you are too tired to sit up, you are susceptible to body temperature swings that become very uncomfortable. But, if you can make it through that initial phase of uncomfortableness, you might ease into something that feels just a little bit more... normal. Another issue is, you are generally not too hungry at the end of these things because you are so messed up. But if you are able to take in calories at this point, it really helps with the time it takes to get back to "normal". And then what happens? Then you have to drive your car back home, for 2.25 hours, sitting in one position. You think about getting out half way and moving around a little, but you just want to get it over with, so you just push through. Sign up for next ultra, and then repeat.
I have been trying to diagnose what went wrong with this race. The logical answer is that I started too fast for my current fitness level. But I have a tough time swallowing that. I felt fine at the turnaround, and then something went south, fast. I think next time I am going to try taking more salt in during the race. I didn't really eat any this race, just gu. If the salt thing works I might have to rethink my hypothesis regarding electrolyte intake during ultras. Currently I have been in Tim Noakes' camp with his findings presented in his book "Waterlogged", but I am open to experimentation.
Next up: Miwok 100k. It's going to be awesome!