American River 50 Mile Endurance Run 2012 RR: The Highs and Lows

Man, what can I say about this race? Not only is it a well-organized race, but the entire course is on trails we run all the time for training! After our first 50M back in October, DW and I have basically rode the leftover fitness and trained to add a little to it. I’ve done a couple of marathons and a couple of 50K’s since then, with the last three on consecutive weekends to toughen me up before the taper for this race. There has been only a very loose training plan, which we constantly change to fit whatever we’re feeling like and whatever friends happen to be running. In short, I’d just been throwing in a lot of miles haphazardly and hoping it would pay off! DW and I signed up for AR50 literally like two days after finishing our last 50M, so it’s been coming for a while. But the feeling of anticipation was completely different this time.

Last time around, there was an element of uncertainty. It was the excitement of never having run that distance before. The farthest we’d ever run was a 50K, and the thought of tacking on 20 more miles onto that was frankly kind of scary! We set off not knowing what would happen.

This time, I knew we’d finish unless something horrible happened. Putting in so many miles has toughened my muscles a bit since the last build-up to a 50M and I’ve been recovering very quickly from these last few races. Beating our last time would be nice, but my main goal was to enjoy the run and push myself. My right quad being a tad bit sore and DW’s recent medical issues factored into this outlook as well. I didn’t even take a Garmin; I wanted to run more by feel and only have a general idea of our time.

Most important thing: Have fun and get exhausted.

The fun started Friday night, when we headed to a friend’s house for a pre-AR pasta fuel-up. Several of us from our training group were running, some pacing others, and for some it would be their first 50-miler!

The alarm was set for 3:15, but my eyes popped open at 3am! We got ready, packed the cooler (portable aid station), and when our crew (parents) showed up we were off!

It was nice at the start. Dark but lit, everyone was excited but calm. I love the mood before a long trail race.

I didn’t even hear the start, the crowd just started moving forward. DW and I had decided to take the first half of this race very conservatively considering the flatness and its temptation to blaze on, then blaze out in a flaming ball of bonkdom.

It also helped to battle the monotony of the parkway to focus on a run15/walk5 rhythm. This steadily carried us through the first 20 miles or so at a decent pace. My quad had completely numbed out and I was starting to feel warmed up by the time we hit some trail.

TRAIL!

We were teased with a bit of trail before running out onto pavement for a while more. This was probably the worst part of the race for me. The beautiful singletrack of the hills still seemed so far away, and the pavement was feeling increasingly punishing with each step. I got through miles 20-27 by clearing my head of anything besides the simple drive of continuing on and any bad joke I could think of to keep DW and myself smiling.

One thing I’ve learned about ultras is that if you ever feel miserable, just wait long enough and it’ll get better, and by 27 I was getting my second wind. At this point I changed my socks, shirt, and hat, and I felt a lot fresher for my attack on the last 23.

From this point on it was pretty much rolling hills and singletrack, which is AWESOME! I love this area for its interesting trails and astounding views. The forest really brought me some invigoration, although I could tell DW was starting to hurt. She’d been dealing with GI issues all day and at some point my fears came true: she couldn’t eat anymore.

We passed the 50K point at 6:30, what would have been a PR for both of us.

I went through periods of fatigue and renewed vitality for the rest of the race. My muscles never failed, they never cramped (first race without a single cramp), they held true to the end. The last 3 miles straight up a 1,000’ climb was rough, but hikers we were and it got done. That being said, we really ran out of gas during those last miles, and I’m pretty sure it was due to a lack of calories. Over 50 miles one probably burns about 6,000 calories and I don’t think either of us ate more than 2,000. DW really couldn’t help it but I could’ve been smarter about nutrition.

The last 9 miles, in particular the last 3, I got a lesson in grit. Mt wife had literally run out of fuel in the tank, was badly dehydrated, couldn’t eat or drink, was feeling dizzy, and had only a sense of dogged determination to drag her up that brutal hill.

That’s all she needed.

I knew she was tough, but that race gave me a glimpse into a steel resolve that I’d never seen before. I was proud.

All in all, I would call the Matzes’ running of the AR50 a success. We both pushed our bodies to an extreme degree and have taken strength away from the experience. We had low times, we had great times. It provided an outlet in which to test ourselves and feel the sweet reward of perseverance, of enduring when every fiber wants to quit and emerging victorious.

No, it wasn’t a PR, but it was never really about time anyway.

It was an ultra, and I loved it.

Run with passion, fellow Loopsters, and find your joy!

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