Friday, April 10, 2015

The 2015 American River 50 Mile Endurance Run - Clear Your Mind of Can't

How does one encapsulate a huge journey into paragraphs?.... How does one put into words the subtleties of a slow transformation, the kind that hardly feels like anything until one looks back? 

Last weekend I ran the American River 50 mile endurance run and I'm not sure what to write.  Here is an example of the only short version I can think of:
Once upon a time... I signed up for a 50 mile race.  I trained well.  I ran the race.  It was really hard but I finished within the cutoff time... The end.
But perhaps that's just a bit too short.  If you're a curious sort and plan on reading further, I suggest you get comfortable, I can be wordy.  You have been forewarned.

For me, this journey is less about 'running 50 miles' and more about transformation.  I can't help but think of when my endurance running began, back in 2010 at the age of 43 feeling overwhelmed by an invitation to participate in a Half Marathon!  The post that started this blog best explains how this is a journey of transformation and reaching one's potential.

You see, I honestly didn't think I could run 13.1 miles.  I did.  Then I did it six more times.  Then I did a full trail Marathon. Again.  Then a 50k....  Each and every time I wondered if this would be my limit.  Each distance was difficult and I was challenged, but after each one I wondered about the next distance. 

Going into AR50 I was inspired by this blog post and adopted the mantra "Clear Your Mind of Can't".  The redefining of the word "can't'" is the crux of change in my life.

Mantra bracelets I made to wear during my race; Find Your Strong, Clear Your Mind of Can't and Be Badass!

The race!  You want to know about the race!... 

I devoured information... articles, blog posts, race reports and videos... anything and everything I could find.  I soaked it all in.  I trained well, disciplined and consistent.  I tried not to think about the  race as a whole and broke it into segments.  I was confident that I could make it to the halfway point and I had faith that my pacers could get me to the finish.  The race has three segments to pick up pacers and I was blessed and fortunate that my running buddies and my boyfriend wanted to pace. Three segments, three pacers.  How perfect was that?!

To calm my pre-race nerves I reminded my self that all I had to do was make it to them and then we would do what we do; run.  It took an hour and a half to fall asleep the night before the race, but after three hours of solid sleep I felt ready.  We had to be in the parking lot by 5am.  The silver lining here was that there was a lunar eclipse happening!  So we sat in the warm car and watched it.

Time to line up and who crosses my path?  The Good News guy from my WTC50k race!  I took it as an omen that this would be a good day.

 ((video link - coming soon))

Off we go... Keep it slow.  The air was cool, the skies clear.  It was a beautiful sunrise.

I did a good job of breaking the task down in my mind to 'aid station to aid station'.   Keep it slow and steady.  My mind stayed focused and positive, my body felt strong.  I fueled and hydrated when prompted by my Garmin.

But then the morning warmed up.  And the trail turned into sidewalks.  My least favorite part of the course.  My legs began to feel 'tight'.  It was subtle, but it was there.  I felt low between miles 15 and 19.... A seasoned ultra-runner had given me the advise to "leave your ego at the start line".  Initially when I read this I thought 'oh, no worries, I know I'm slow, I don't have an ego'.  But somewhere around this time is when I realized that my ego had been hoping to make my ultrasignup target of 12 hours.  With the issues in my legs I was realizing that my true goal was to finish before the cutoff time.  The meaning of his words became clear.  Do what you can and adapt.

At the first crew accessible aid station, Negro Bar, I was met by my mom and aunt.  It was such a lift to see them, I got a bit emotional.  They told me I was about 20 minutes ahead of my target.  My mom gave me the avocado roll she brought for me (loved them on my long runs in training).

((video link - coming soon))

From Negro Bar to Beal's point it's pretty much uphill, it's not steep but it's steady.  And on concrete.  I caught up with the Good News Guy and he advised just keeping a brisk walk for the section.  I did.  Here I met a man that had finished the AR50 23 times, plus 12 consecutive Badwater finishes... and some other impressive stuff. 

I had to take a photo here because I've seen this shot in so many blog posts.

Beal's Point, mile 24.31! As promised, I made it to the halfway point (still 15 minutes ahead of target) and it was time to pick up my first pacer.

This stop proved to be more emotional than I had anticipated.  It had seemed that the first half, the easy half, had kinda kicked my butt more than I thought it would.  My legs were still tight.  As I entered I began to see so many people I knew and the group was so large I became overwhelmed by the fact that they were all there.  For me.  To support me on this crazy adventure!  Wow.  Plus my boyfriend was the absolute best crew captain!  Everything I had asked for was provided.  He filled my hydration pack with ice (a lifesaver!) and my pockets with fuel and sent me off... with Holly!  We did what we do... run... and chat!  

Off with Holly

Photo by Holly

This 5.14 mile section went by so fast with her company!  We chatted about running and life in general, just like normal.  It was mostly a lovely single track trail with gentle rolling terrain overlooking Lake Folsom, flowers and butterflies everywhere.

Next stop; Granite Bay, mile 29.45.  In hindsight, I took too long of a break at this aid station.  Again, it's just so crazy to have so many people there for support.  I got caught up in the moment, and the shoulder massage from my aunt!  Crew Captain Extraordinaire filled my pack with ice, the pockets with fuel and informed me it was time to go!

At this point eating solid food was proving difficult.  When I tried to eat my ABJ or my avocado roll it was like putting powdered cement in my mouth.  Adding water did not help.  I relied on my Stinger Waffles (a relatively new discovery, yum) and chews and gels (Stinger).  I have tried to keep my run fuel as natural as possible.  It has really helped with GI issues.

This pacer was happy to get into the race!

Now it's time to run with Torie... my Torinator!  Running... It's what we do. We had talked pacer strategy prior to the race, but it's hard to know what you'll need or what will work when it's the first time.  I had told her that I wanted to be pushed and that I was not to be believed if I said I wanted to drop. We started this section with her in front, I did my best to stay with her.

In many of the race reports I had read this section was where runners experienced their lowest point and that contrary to logic the miles in the 30's were harder (mentally and physically) than in the 40's.  Confirmed.  At this point the tightness in my legs was spreading, it was no longer subtle.  My glute, inner hip, hamstring, quads and calf (mostly on the left side) were all protesting and making a vague threat to cramp.  Downhill proved the worst and I became super slow.  My left knee lost flex (felt kind of like it froze) and the huge two foot drops in the trail became very difficult to navigate.  Rocks. Roots. Boulders. Drop offs.  It seemed like miles of it.  Hard to navigate, impossible to get a groove or momentum.  The cool breeze of the day was gone and the heat started to take over, it felt humid.  This section is called the "meat grinder" and I was understanding why!  It was becoming harder to focus.  My garmin lost signal and the fuel and hydration reminders were inconsistent.  I struggled to answer simple questions (like "do you need to eat?" do you want to stop to stretch your legs?") but I never doubted my ability to continue.  I had a few thoughts that maybe this pain would slow me down enough that I might have to walk, and that might cause me to miss a cutoff... but I never lost focus of forward movement.  This section of trail was also stunningly beautiful.  Butterflies and and flowers galore!
This view was stunning in person.  We joked about how it would not translate in a photo. One of the joys of being out on the trail.

Again, it doesn't translate... these two trees have apparently grown together, forming one branch.

At some point in this section Torie had me take the lead.  I managed to take a gel and within a few minutes I seemed to pick up some momentum.  When I would happily join those walking in front of me on the single track trail I would hear Torie quietly say "Pass these folks"... and I would.  We were moving again!  My legs were still tight, but I found a gait that allowed me to gain momentum.  We passed most of the runners that had passed me.  It felt unbelievable.

Then we started to hear the distant cheers of an aid station... Rattlesnake Bar, mile 40.94!

Holy smokes!... I made it to Marcelo!... we only had nine miles left.  I knew - knew - at this point that I would finish this thing!  I had lost quite a bit of time in the meat grinder and was now about 20 minutes behind my target time, but still ahead of the cutoff.  More ice, more fuel and it's off with my guy...

He's fresh and ready to go eat some hills!
Off we went!... The scenery of the trail changed again as we left Folsom Lake and went up the river... At this point I was pretty fatigued and we didn't talk much.  It's also narrow single track so talking was not easy.  I stayed in front and did what I could when I could... I told him "I know this is not a pretty gait, but it's all I've got and it's working!".   At some point the Badwater guy passed me and I realized that he has finished this race 23 times, he is not about to get timed out.  If I can stick with him I know I'll make the cutoff.  He stopped at an aid station and we continued.  We started passing people.  I don't think it was that I was gaining speed as much as they were losing speed.  The fact that I was holding up well here was crazy!  Each time we passed someone struggling it put my experience into perspective and I counted my blessings.  I was not laid flat out in a field next to the trail.  I was not dry heave puking into the bushes.  I was not stretching out a cramp.  I was not white as a ghost talking about sitting.  I did not feel great, my legs were still tight... but I was moving steady and strong, especially on the uphill.

Ahh... the uphill... That daunting ascent at the end of the AR50 elevation chart...

I can't believe I'm saying this but it wasn't as bad as I had feared.  Yes, it was UP.  It was LONG.  But I was able to keep moving strong.  Marching it out.  I continued to pass people - lots of people - on this section.  The issues in my legs were affecting my dowhills so the uphill actually felt decent.   I made the boyfriend proud each time I 'picked someone off' (his words ;).  At some point I said out loud "maybe 50 is enough".  I just can't imagine attempting a 100 mile race...
One Mile to go!  But it would take too much energy to stop, turn around and go again...

Less than a quarter mile to go and I let the jets cool.  I got passed by a few people, but I didn't care and let them go.  A runner and pacer that I had been leap-frogging with for the whole second half passed me and as they gained distance they kept looking back.  I had the feeling they really wanted me to keep up.  It was a cool feeling, the bond that forms out there even without words.  Marcelo told me how proud he was of me but I was so focused that my response was "I'm not done yet"...

Then we start to hear the crowd.  The announcer.  See spectators.  Cones.  This is it!  The finish...!!!

I friggin did it!  Wow.  Crazy WOW!!!!  

And there they are again.. all those people that came to support me!  All so happy and proud.   Huge smiles!  They went through this journey with me.  They fueled my spirit all day.  At all the aid stations I would hear "you look great, you don't even look tired"... but I was tired and I did struggle.  I think my pacers witnessed that.  Having this group lifted me.  I honestly think that the monkey mind would have taken hold if I hadn't been surrounded by so much love and support all day.  I was so grateful, it was amazing!  WE did it...!!!

Pacers!  They make the world go 'round!

I got my 'free' jacket; All I had to do was pay the race fee and RUN 50 MILES!

It was an awesome and great experience.  I am very proud of myself.  I do feel that I have reached outside of the realm of normal and achieved something that few people ever even try.  I worked hard for it and it was worth it!  Looking back, I see how far I have come.  I had imagined that the person coming out of this experience would be a changed person and I believe that to be true.  Minor and major lifestyle changes have lead to transformations both obvious and hidden.  The word "can't" has been cleared from my mind. 

Later that same night at our celebration dinner, someone suggested that Torie and I should do our first 100 mile race together and without hesitation... We both said "YES!"...

* * * * * * * *

Special Shout Outs:

My crew: Marcelo, Linda, Lois, Holly, Cali, Morena, Torie, Forest, River and Ken - I could not have done it without all the love and support!  Thank you!  Thank you!  You guys rock!

My cyber supporters!  I was feeling the love... so many of you cheered my on through facebook, it was awesome!

Good Gear:
RYP Wear Skirts - Reach Your Potential!  These skirts are super cute and work great!
Salomon Hydration pack - Clearly smart design!... for runners, by runners
Hoka Shoes - I'm a believer... Silly looking or not, these shoes work well for long distance.

NorCal Ultras!  I guess I'm a NorCal girl because all of my long-er distances have been NCU races!  Well organized, good schwag, well marked trails, awesome volunteers!  Go find a race and sign up!

After thoughts:

Recovery has been super fast!  As expected, I had a bit of a duck-like walk for a couple days.  Stairs were very difficult.  But by Tuesday all pain and discomfort was gone.  Energy remains low but improves daily.  I'm taking it easy.

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