Finishing a 50 mile race is unlike any other experience I have ever had. It’s amazing to see what your body can do, just how and hard you can push and achieve a result. I am still astonished at my improvement on my finish time at the American River 50 Mile Endurance Race, 13:40 over last year’s result with a 12 minute improvement. Like many ultra runners, I was sore, fatigued, blisters were forming on my feet, my butt was chaffed (no, I didn’t bring my Glide), muscles were tightening, yet through it all I was able to push myself and run the fastest I did that day crossing the finishing line.
Talking to Michael L., our pacer this year for the race, he bought attention to another ultra friend of his, who includes a unique piece in her write ups at the conclusion of each race. I must give credit to The Running Pen , who provides three extra sections in her race assessment, called ‘The 3-3-3’s’:
- Three things I did right
- Three things that didn’t go well
- Three things I could improve on
Usually as I recall race day I will usually tangent off on different aspects of the race, such as fueling and hydration, split chart or shoes. This year I hit a few of these as I attempted to recall just what really happened that day. Even now, I draw a blank on Granite Bay. Did it really happen? You can read my 50 mile experience, Adventures in Running: 2015 American River 50. So without further ado, here’s my version of ‘The 3-3-3’s.
Three Things I Did Right
- Prepared a split chart for the second year, based off last year. Thankfully Michael tweaked our plan to slow our pace down to a 16 min/mile for the first 24.31 miles up to Beal’s Point) in order to save our legs for the remainder of the race, which truly begins at mile 31 and the Meat Grinder
- Unlike past years and past races, I decided to drink the “HOKA Kool-Aid” and purchased two pairs. For the first half of the race, which was dominated by hard surfaces I ran in the HOKA Constant 2. It was a nice shoe to run, provided my feet a bit of extra comfort and had minimal foot pain, which I experienced a few weeks prior during our 6-hour endurance run at Razorback. On the trails it was the HOKA Stinson 3 ATR with a much meatier sole, wore different than the road shoe and seemingly kept my feet fresh for the second part of the race, which was nearly all trail running.
- This was the first race using a pacer, which was a godsend pulling into Beal’s Point, seeing and hearing Michael encouraging us up to fuel up and get out of the checkpoint. His insight and information, while not valuable for this race will be points to consider in my next 50 mile attempt. Unfortunately, I didn’t run with him much as he dropped back to take care of Brian, N. and the heat exhaustion he was battling. But 7 hours later I would welcome him back as he picked me up for the last 3 grueling miles of the race, keeping my spirits up and remaining positive in order to help me finish. He also took a video of me crossing the finish line, a moment I will always cherish.
Three Things That Didn’t Go Well
- It probably doesn’t even need to be said that you need to run in order to break in new shoes. The HOKA Constant 2 were a comfortable shoe, while I didn’t run in during the 6-hour endurance race, I was wearing them regularly in order to “break them in.” That alone wasn’t enough, as hot spots developed by mile 20, turning into blisters that caused discomfort for the rest of the day.
- Fueling continues to be challenging. Last year I attempted to remain “PD compliant” (no meat, cheese or dairy, added oil, sugar or additives) during my run. Unfortunately I failed early on, using dates (natural sugar) in the bars I made. This year I basically said, “f#ck it” I need to fuel with what will help me cross that finish line. Honestly, I didn’t put much thought into my fueling. I picked up some chia bars, Larabars and chews for fuel between aid stations. On the hydration side, I dropped fresh Nuun Hydration tablets in my bladder through out the day. The worst offending item, a veggie burrito from Chipotle when I made it to Beal’s Point. Probably 15oo calories in this burrito, but damn! This was the best burrito I have ever. However I expended a consider amount of energy chewing and digesting, which has me rethinking how I fuel next race.
- Brian and I have now run 4 races together, two 50K and two 50 mile, we run well together, similar ability and pace but we are able to push each other to keep going when the going get’s tough. We knew it was going to be warm during the race and the heat was a concern. By Beal’s Point (mile 24.31) Brian was struggling with the heat, as the day warmed, his pace diminished. Before long I saw him losing distance behind me. This left me as a solo runner with no one to run with for nearly 23 miles! Missing from my race was the camaraderie, know we had each others back, continually pushing each other to the next aid station. Mentally, I was strong but had to focus much more when our pacer told me to go on without him, as he went to support Brian. I never saw Brian until I approached the finish line.
Three Things I Could Improve On
- Stick to the plan, man! Discussing our split chart, we knew we were going to be running hot for much of the first 24.31 miles. We were set up with a 16 min/mile pace. That folks is a walking pace, fairly brisk, but nothing that could not be achieved, even if you are head up an incline. At one point early on we were nearly 2:30 ahead of our planned pace, which would provide time on the back end of the race, but would also see us expending more energy during the first half. We slowed, realistically we could have walked the entire first 24.31 miles and still had time to finish.
- My training leading up to AR50 was terrible, almost non-existant. I had maybe 2-3 training runs and one 12-hour endurance race, which saw some terrible rainy and cold weather, we decided to drop to the 6-hour time limit. Aside from that I can’t make any excuses, I didn’t train enough. Then again, do you ever train enough for an event? Add some quality training and a few long runs and I believe finishing around 12 hours would be a reality.
- Fueling and hydration go hand in hand with what I didn’t do well. Next year I will take some of Michael’s advice and look at using bottles versus a bladder, carrying two water bottles on my hydration vest and a 22 oz. bottle in hand filled with electrolytes. This will allow for a known amount of calories (250) per hour or between aid stations. Easier to fill than a bladder when a volunteer helps out to fill it. Never been one for using a handheld, I do when I run shorter distances, just to get comfortable running with it in my hand.
All in all I was pleased with my performance this year at the AR50. There is something special, almost magical about this course. No matter how you look at it, the day is long, physically challenging and mentally draining. But I cannot wait to take what I learned this year, apply it to next year and see a new PR when I cross the finish line.