Friday, April 16, 2010

The Day I Outran My Garmin

American River 50 mile endurance run 4-10-10

Part 1 Pre race…..

Six weeks after hurting my IT band at the Pemberton 50k I was on my way to Sacramento. I had gone from 60 mile training weeks to a measly two runs of 15 miles or more since my injury occurred. This being my first 50 mile race, I was scared enough. Now I had missed the prime of race training and even wondered if I had any business attempting the race. I knew it would be rough, but I have told enough people along the way that just because something is going to be difficult and may hurt, it’s not a valid reason to DNS. I came off Ironman in November and took a few down weeks. Then starting the last week of December I went through a running phase like I have never seen before. Ten weeks, five marathons, and two 50k’s later I just couldn’t figure out why I was hurt. Well, three weeks at Endurance Rehab and I was back on track. Would I be able to cover the distance? Your guess was a good as mine. So with the encouragement of my friends I was off to see what I was made of.

I left Phoenix Wednesday night around 8 pm. The plan was to take a nap and head out at midnight but after doing the math I realized that put me in LA on a Thursday at 5a.m. This was not an option. You would think I was going on a month trek to Tibet with the amount of clothing I had packed, but I really had no idea what to expect. After 12 hours of driving and a three hour nap I pulled into Auburn, California which is 30 miles east of Sacramento. It kind of scared me a little when I passed three different signs advertising ski resorts on the way to my hotel. This is never a good sign when you’re getting ready to run 50 miles. I checked into the hotel and after my running buddy Mitch showed up, we headed into town for a beer and pizza.

Veggie pizzza rocks

Then it was off to bed after watching a 90 minute video on the Badwater Ultramarthon, another goal that I will attempt some day.

Friday I woke up and decided to take a side trip up to the Hard rock Café in Lake Tahoe. I collect shot glasses from HRC so it was a great way to kill some nervous energy. I had to cut down to interstate 50 through 30 miles of back roads where the average speed limit was 25mph. It was like a rally course with hair pin turns and a 1000 foot high bridge crossing. I may have turned it into a roller coaster adrenaline junkie ride, but will deny everything if any cops come knocking on my door. It was a blast whipping through all the ups and downs until I realized that this is where my run in less than 24 hours would finish. I really started to get scared. I made it back just in time to head to packet pick up and then to our Pasta dinner.

I’m not a big fan of going to the pasta dinners for races as they usually suck. Dick Beardsley was the guest speaker so for $25 I figured it would be worth it.

Dick B telling one of his stories

 Well let me tell you, it was. Not only was the food amazing but so was DB’s talk. If you’re not familiar with him, he was the guy just edged out from winning the Boston marathon. The book Duel in the Sun is about that specific race. In two sentences he gained my respect for life. “I can tell you guys all types of reasons why I didn’t but should have won that race. I gave it everything I had and so did Albert Salazar and he beat me.” It was as simple as that and he wasn’t mad or upset about it at all. He also said that no matter what path we choose in life it cannot be changed once it happens. He really wanted us to remember that piece of advice when times got tough out on the course. I was looking for all the motivational stuff I could find just a few hours from race start. After shoveling pasta and cookies in my face we headed back to the hotel. I took a last minute recheck of the supplies, waited for my pacer/moral support Justin to arrive, and yelled at Mitch to get off Facebook; then it was bed time. It was 10:15 and we had a 2:15 wakeup call, but it wasn’t like we were going to get a lot of sleep anyway.

It was so good

At 2:15 the buzzer goes off. I was still thinking of reasons not to race. All I could say to Mitch was “this seemed like a better idea when I signed up for it months ago.” At this point it was obviously too late to back out. This is one of the main reasons I tell everyone I know about any hard races I’m going to do. It is a lot tougher to quit when you know you’ll have to explain it to all your friends. I grabbed my Garmin off the charger and made sure it was fully charged. We packed up the car and headed down to the shuttle. It was a three mile drive and we arrived an hour early. I was late to my first marathon and it will never happen again; on race day you have enough to worry about. A quick nap and we hopped on the bus for the hour ride to the start. After we arrived I had another scary thought, “It just took us over an hour on the freeway to get to the start of the race, and we drove from the finish line.” I hopped off the bus and headed straight for the bathrooms. There was an announcement that the race would start in 15 minutes and we headed down to the start line.

Getting ready to walk down to the start

After a four minute walk to the start line we fished with our prerace good lucks and group pictures. No countdown, no start gun, just a few cheers and we were off. The race starts with a mile run out, and then you hop onto a bike path and double back. The first 15 miles were pretty uneventful. I had planned to walk every fifth mile until we hit the 25 mile point and then play it by ear. I had done my 50k training run this way and it had left me feeling fresh. With less than 700 people in the race it was very hard to stick to my plan at the first walk break. I was four miles into a 50 mile race and had to walk. I was just sure I was going to be in dead last by the time five miles came around and it was time to run again. I continued this plan, walking mile 10 and 15 and it really started to pay off. After walking a 16 minute mile I was fresh enough to run the four miles at a 9-minute pace. I was picking people off pretty quickly and was saving a bunch of energy that I was sure I would need later.

One of the biggest differences between road marathons and ultra marathons is the aid stations. It looks like someone just took a fat kid to the supermarket and set him free. Chips, candy, soda, you name it they had it. During the prerace briefing at the pasta dinner they recommended that we start “grazing” at the very first aid station. It is a lot easier to start taking in fuel at each aid station then try to play catch up after you have depleted your body. So at each station I would grab a PB&J square, a few salty chips and wash it all down with Gatorade. Another piece of advice was to get in and out of the aid stations. Even four minutes at each stop would add up to 40 minutes wasted. So I made a conscious effort to not stop unless I had to refill my camelback.

Around mile 17.5 we encountered our first real climb. I was ready for something new after more than three hours of rolling hills on a bike path. Luckily, the paved path offered a softer option of running on the dirt shoulders. We had gone up a few hills and I had been told there was a decent climb coming up. I wasn’t sure if we had already climbed the hill everyone was talking about until I saw it. It was definitely one you walk up and they had placed motivational signs up the entire climb.

A quick stop at the Nimbus Overlook aid station at mile 18.1 and as the saying goes “what goes up must come down.”

The firt real climb

We continued along the bike path passing Negro Bar at mile 22.4 and onto Beal’s Point at 26.5. This is the first place you can place a drop bag so I was looking forward to getting some new comfy shoes on. This is also the start of the trails and real climbing. I hit the marathon point at 4:35 which is ten or fifteen minutes slower than my training marathon pace, so I was happy. My goal was five miles an hour so it was nice to be ahead of schedule. I changed shoes, grabbed some grub, and looked for my pacer. Justin was going to be there for a few motivational cheap shots but since I had thought the station was closer to 30 miles and projected a time of 6 hours, I just missed him. With AC/DC blasting through the speakers I threw up my devil horns and headed back out onto the course. I had passed Mitch just a few miles back and hoped Justin could at least see him. After almost 30 miles of running just seeing someone you know can give you a much needed boost. At mile 31 I took a walk break and posted my 3rd Facebook update. It was really encouraging to get feedback from my friends. I felt great and was ready to do some work.

I could tell I had logged some miles but for being at the 50k split I felt surprisingly good. After the Granite Bay aid station at mile 32 we were four miles into the real climbing and I was still smiling. Justin was waiting for me at around mile 31 and a quick nod was enough of a boost to keep me going. I saw him a few miles ahead again and gave him the finger. I’m not one to stop and chat but he told me I looked way better than a lot of the people I was passing and to get on it. It was exactly what I needed and I even started to get a little cocky. Next stop would be Buzzards Cove at mile 35.

They had told us to make sure we thanked the volunteers at this aid station. The only way to reach it was by boat and they had to hike the entire aid station up a one mile climb. All just so we could resupply. They even had ice cream cones. They looked so good but I wasn’t going to find out how my tummy would deal with ice cream with 15 more miles to go. I just kept making forward motion.

As I rolled into Horseshoe Bar at mile 38, I was starting to go downhill mentally. I had heard that mile 37 to 42 was mentally the toughest time in a 50 mile run. I just wanted to be finished and the loud drums at the aid station had my head thumping. This, mixed with my calf starting to cramp up, was putting me in a pretty pissy mood. Five minutes out of the aid station I went to step over a root and my calf cramped and I went down. I did catch myself so it wasn’t a full face plant but I did lose all my gear. I figured with as often as I trip, making it 43 miles before my first crash and burn was acceptable. I was mentally in a bad place until about mile 43.5 when I hooked up with a group of 3 or 4 runners. I told them it was a no passing zone as they ran up on me and made sure they knew that they would surely enjoy the view of my butt more than the course. From then on I was known as funny Arizona guy with the nice butt. Eight hours into a run and names really aren’t that important. As we ran, our group kept growing until about seven of us ran single file. Not much talking but a few lead changes and the next 5 miles seemed to just fly by. You kind of just have to shut your brain off and keep moving forward. Every time I started to walk something just made me start running again. The group was a big help in the motivation department. I told them that ultra running is a lot like my adventures as a kid. You set out with a pack and some supplies with only a time and location to end your trip at. Next thing I knew we popped out of the trail at mile 47 and there was Justin standing there cheering us on. As if running 50 miles isn’t enough, they throw 900 feet of climbing at you over the last three miles. A short three miles and I would be done. My Garmin beeped and I looked down to find a dead battery. I had outrun my watch.

Mile 37.5 to 38 is straight up. I saw every plan of attack from walking backwards to zig-zagging. I went with the straight up the gut approach with a few breaks and many curse words. I probably would have just sat down and took a five min break had I not had Justin there to make fun of me. It was a perfect mix of smart ass comments and encouragement.

 Last Gasp aid station at mile 38.3 is the final stop before the finish. It was manned with a group of young, skinny men who ran down to the bottom of the hill to grab your bottles. They asked what you wanted then took off sprinting up the hill so by the time you got to the top you were ready to move on and didn’t have to stop. It’s a pretty amazing and nice thing although it was demoralizing to watch them just run up and down the hill that I was fighting to just walk up. Justin would challenge me to run to the next bend or sign. I was reduced to breaking the final two miles into little chunks that involved everything from walking to 8-minute mile pace spurts. I felt fine but just didn’t want to run anymore. There was a 50 year old man behind me in a Green Bay Packers Jersey and Justin was adamant that I not let that guy beat me. I’m pretty sure someone from Wisconsin has wronged Justin at some point in his life. I asked Justin if he was going to run across the finish line with me like many pacers do. He said it was my moment of glory and he wasn’t going to run across the finish line of a race he did not complete. I have always felt the same way and even though I really could care less what other people do, I really think you have to earn that privilege. That’s my feeling and as rude or elitist as it may sound it’s just how I feel. I grabbed my finisher jacket and went to look for Justin so we could cheer for Mitch when he finished.

Mitch came through a little later and stood under the finish line for a good 20 seconds with his arms in the air. I smiled; everyone laughed, and that’s when it really kicked in that I had just run 50 miles. It was an amazing feeling that lasted about 45 seconds. I’ve got a very weird way at looking at things; I’m just a normal guy who had never done anything athletic until high school. I figure that if I can do it then it’s really not that big of a deal. Yes, it was a difficult journey but with a little hard work and determination anyone could run a 50.

I’ll jump on my soap box for a minute and this is my story so I can write whatever I want. I have lots of friends and family that say they live through my adventures and travels. If they just had the time or money they would like to try some of the stuff I do. Well, I felt the same way. Then one day I just did it. I ran a little farther than I had before. I put away a little money to travel somewhere. I decided to live life and make sure I took advantage of the time I have here on earth. It doesn’t have to be an Ironman, marathon, or ultra marathon, but do something with your life. Pick a goal that you have to work towards; something that cannot be accomplished in a day or even a week. If you had one year to live, write down the five things you would just have to do. Now take that list and pick one and just work towards it. It’s going to be difficult and will probably hurt some, but at the end of the day you will know that you accomplished something that most people never will. You picked a goal, worked hard, and accomplished it. I’ve been called an adrenaline junkie or athletically gifted. I’ve also been called quite a few other words that I can’t really repeat on here. What I am is a normal guy who has chosen to live life and push myself. I love the chance to put myself in a position where I am completely broken down and really see what I’m made of. It’s not until you have really suffered and worked hard that you can truly enjoy an accomplishment. Like I said, this is just my opinion and many people are just content sitting on the couch watching TMZ to see what famous people are doing; a complete waste of life in my eyes.

Thank you for all of you who have helped me along the way. I choose to surround myself with people who can help me achieve my goals. You guys have helped me come a long way in the last few years and I hope I can help inspire others to do the same.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome job Eric! I'm totally jealous that you got to run 50 before me, but I'll get there some day! You inspire me. Keep up the awesome job!