1st Place (M): Aaron Summerhays 4:16:05
1st Place (F): Erin Lostracco, Scottsdale, AZ 5:01:42
Darren: 10th, 4:53:49 (a PR for 50K with real hills).
DCraig: 32nd, 5:39:17 (PR 50K)
As the week ended in blustery, bone-chilling snow squalls, I looked forward to dropping to the west-side and starting the race season at the American Canyon 50K. Because this early season race is all about training for the year’s 100s, I got up at 4 AM (the common pre-100 wake-up call) and was soon on the road to the starting line at the Auburn Overlook Park in Auburn, California. I stopped in Reno to pick up Darren, in route.You could not ask for better starting conditions — cool clear sky, slight breeze, and a relatively (for February) dry trail. The 50K event had 103 entries accompanied by a smaller contingent in the 25K and 15K, and the combined group clustered around Harlan Reymont RD for the 8 AM start. In the early morning chill, my hands were frozen but I was comfortable in shorts and a couple short-sleeved capilene shirts. We expected it to get much warmer as the day progressed; in the end it worked out perfectly.
I scooted out near the front at the start, but let the speedy boys and girls move by me and away. Darren slipped by me in the first mile as I maintained a tearful focus on the descent to No Hands Bridge. For some reason my eyes fill with tears on descents, especially on cold days (but not uncommon in any temperature; I’m not sad or nothin’, I really don’t understand it), and in the fast-moving group on the early single-track I had to concentrate on each step until the trail opened up. It was a little nerve-wracking; I didn’t want to hit-the-dirt with the pack all around me.
I hit No Hands Aid Station (AS) at 4.3 miles in about 35 minutes, a brisk start but a pretty easy-going downhill. I grabbed a GU and skipped right through the AS. Soon after, I met up with David from Napa as we began the climb to Highway 49, taking the “shortcut” as the 50K split from the 25K. Prudence from Tahoe City caught us on the climb and we were soon at the Highway 49 AS at 1:05 about 7 miles in. I had already begun my fuel regimen of one gel every 30 minutes and my single hand-held 20-oz bottle was now empty. I would stick with two gels and 20 ounces of water every hour for the duration; this was augmented by a little Coke and a few potato bits at a couple aid stations.
As we dropped down along the American River, David finally mentioned that he’s been enjoying some sub-5-hour 50Ks and would turn it on soon. He was great to talk to, but I knew then that maybe I was going a bit fast given I was running with him and Prudence, although both claimed to be out for some training this early in the season. It wasn’t long before they pulled away and I entered the nice solitude of long-distance trail running.
I felt good on the climb toward Maine Bar, though a couple guys and gals passed me. I hit the half-way point at just over 2:30 and was soon at the Maine Bar AS after a nice cruise on some beautiful single-track. This trail is really top-notch. The muddy spots increased as the day thawed, even becoming tacky later on, but there were relatively few bogs to navigate. Most of the time it’s easy contouring almost perfect oak and pine forest trail — some sun and lots of grove-like shade.
I took a first S-cap just after Maine Bar at Mile 17 or so. The steady gradual down-hill with occasional small rises allowed me to keep a pretty good pace, but I was soon looking forward to some hiking at Goat Hill, a stiff bump in forward progress about halfway from Maine Bar to Highway 49. The climb starts at Mile 21 and climbs about 400 feet in a half-mile or so. (A nice obstacle at Mile 90 of Western States!).
And then I kicked a rock for no good reason and the slight stumble and correction marked the beginning of some mild hamstring cramps. I was fine if I didn’t make any lateral motions and, in general, the cramp wasn’t too bad, mostly expressing itself as a twinge at any transition from downhill to uphill or vice versa. Anyway, my pace became more erratic as I approached the Highway 49 AS. The course has a few more stiff little ups-and-downs prior to the highway so that was expected. And Darren and I had expected some difficulties at Mile 22 given that that was our longest outing of the season prior to this. Not surprisingly, or as self-fulfilling prophecy, Darren too ran into some cramps at Mile 22. But as Footfeathers commented later, “Anyone running a race this early in the year better not be peaking and better have some issues later in a 50k.”
Still, it was good to begin the mind games that keep forward momentum, slow as it might get at times. The downhill to No Hands was actually pretty good. Happily the twinges had subsided and there was no unexpected fatigue in the quads or ITs, excellent. Let’s hope that pattern continues.
I pulled off one of my shirts at No Hands and began the climb to the finish. I was surprised that I could keep a pretty good pace on the gradual climb, only hiking on the true steeps. Checking my watch, I was happy I was going to set a nice PR and be below six hours in a 50K for the first time. Finish lines are always fun, of course, and it was great to climb to the grassy finish and finally catch up with Darren.
Great to be into the new season, and regardless of, or because of, the challenges that ultras present, it’s just plain fun. A 27-minute PR reflects the success of discipline and training combined with more experience, along with a growing desire to be a bit more competitive. In similar and speedier fashion, Darren’s outing was his best 50K time since Folsom Point, an event without much climbing. A good sign for good things ahead. It’s what we do…