I am not typically a fan of multiple part race reports, but I think this deserves (and needs) 2 parts!
After training for and running 11 marathons, I was starting to feel like I wanted something more and different when it came to my running. I had always thought about doing an ultra-marathon and knew I wanted to run a 50 mile race someday, I just wanted to wait for the right time. I wanted to be mentally ready for the volume of training, as well as ready to let go of speed and other things that I had been so attached to during marathon training (which was also the part I was looking most forward to).
After getting a serious case of burn out last summer, I took a break from training, ran for fun and rekindled my love with running. I knew I was ready to take on a new big challenge and I signed up for American River 50 miler. I knew a lot of people who had run it as their first 50 miler and it was close to home, so all things pointed that it would be a great race to pick for my first one.
I built up my base over the fall and researched 50 mile training plans left and right. Nothing seemed to fit the mold of exactly what I wanted to do with my training, so I took what I had learned about ultras and made my own. It was a demanding, challenging plan, but that’s exactly what I wanted to do… challenge myself and test my limits. I often heard the words: why are you running so much? You know you don’t have to run that much? I knew this, but I did it for one reason: because I wanted to.
My body responded well to training and I was able to accomplish almost every training run just like I hoped I would. I peaked at 92 miles per week and a my biggest back to back weekend of running was a 50k (31 mile) trail race followed by 23 mile run the next day. My longest run was a tough 32 mile trail run. I loved training so much and knew that signing up for a 50 miler was exactly where I wanted to be. I had a really good taper, both mentally and physically. I felt like, even though this was going to be my longest race by far, I was more mentally prepared for this race than any other race I had run. I was confident, excited and just ready to run.
After an ok night of sleep the alarm went off at 4am and I was up in race mode. My stomach was definitely full of nerves but I just went through the motions getting ready. I ate my normal breakfast of coffee, English muffin with peanut butter and a Clif Bar that I had to choke down.
Our hotel was about a mile from the start, so Chris drove me over to the start line around 5:15 for the 6am start. Even though this is one of the biggest 50 mile races in the country, it was still only around 800 people which is way less compared to big road races. It makes race logistics that much easier.
We walked over to the portapotty line which took a while and with 5 minutes to the start line we made our way up to the bridge where the start was. Chris walked all the way with me toward where I wanted to start and I gave him a hug and kiss goodbye as the gun went off. It was time to run 50 miles!
The race starts on the American River paved bike trail in Sacramento and winds it’s way along the river for about 19 miles. Then you get a little teaser of some single track trails for a couple miles before rejoining the pavement for a few miles. Around mile 27 the trails start for the rest of the race, which include mostly single track along Folsom Lake and the American River. Then, it finishes with a brutal 3 mile paved climb up to Auburn. Overall the elevation gain was just over 3,000 feet, which makes this course a very runnable one.
It was still dark at 6am when we started running. It was pretty chilly at first, but I was comfortable in my layered shirts, arm warmers, gloves and shorts. I was having fun listening to the runners around me, everyone was so excited for this adventure we were on. I was just trying to find my groove and keep the pace easy. I really had no idea of what to expect in a finish time, but I thought with my training it would probably be around 10 hours, and if it was a great day, a sub 10 would be amazing. I figured I would run the first half in the upper 9s/low 10s and just go from there. I was very focused on my effort over pace and was making sure I wasn’t going too hard at any time. This was my first 50 after all and I did NOT want to blow up.
I ran along following the bike trail, trying to focus on running the tangents since the trail had a lot of turns. It was a really pretty trail and the sun was coming out but I was kind of bored in this part. Looking back, I think the first 8 miles were the hardest miles for me, and if you want to call it a low point, that might be it. I know it takes me a while to get warmed up, but I kind of expected to feel really good right off the bat and I didn’t. This made me a little nervous, but I just focused on getting to the first aid station at mile 8 where my crew would be.
I started fueling right away like I planned to with Shot Bloks but could tell something wasn’t right. Around mile 6 my stomach was getting very cranky and I was looking everywhere for a bathroom. A lot of people had been pulling into the bushes for bathroom stops but I needed a real bathroom. Finally just before the first aid station at mile 8 I saw a bathroom and pulled over to get in line. I hate having to wait for bathrooms, but I knew it would be bad news if I didn’t and watched the minutes tick off my watch.
I ran through the aid station and grabbed a PB&J and saw my crew for the first time. I was so, so happy to see them! I told them my stomach wasn’t very happy, but I felt so much better after stopping. Seeing them raised my spirits a lot and I knew it was going to be a good day no matter what. I had high hopes as I ran off.
Instead of focusing on how many miles I had left overall, I was really focused on when I would get to the next aid station and more importantly, when I would see my crew next! I knew I had 6 miles until I saw them next, so I turned on my headphones and listened to some music to keep me entertained. I also had turned off the beeping on my Garmin before the race started, so I wasn’t notified every time I passed a mile. I really liked this because every time I would glance at it, I would be further than I thought.
A couple miles later my stomach starting bugging again, and yet again I was on the hunt for a bathroom. I found another one that had a short line, but watched the minutes clicking off again. It wasn’t necessarily that I cared so much about the minutes, I was more-so worried about my fueling. Fueling is such a big part of an endurance event and I could not have my stomach ruining this! Instead of focusing on it and letting it turn my day into a bad one, I just did what I could and made myself eat what I could. I kept on eating my Bloks like I planned and just kept on running.
I have had bad habits in the past of really putting myself down during races. The second things start to get hard or aren’t going according to plan, I just fall apart internally. I will admit there was a milla-second of this happening early on in the race. I thought to myself, why do you even do these races? Maybe you should just stick to training and not worry about the big races since they never seem to go right. Then I stopped myself. I was doing this because I love it. No day will ever be perfect and things always go wrong, that is what makes it exciting. It’s taking the challenges we are faced with, dealing with them and taking control of them that make a successful race. I was determined I was going to have the time of my life out there and nothing was going to stop me from that.
Before I knew it, it was mile 14 and time to see my crew again! I ran through the aid station, grabbed a piece of potato, refilled my pack and kept on going. I was sad when I didn’t see them there, but I kept on going and they were just a little further up the trail. They had been busy between stops and definitely had some surprises for me including matching Team Aron shirts.
Even though my stomach wasn’t being nice, I was still so happy and having so much fun out there. The longer I was running, the better I felt, both physically and emotionally. I stopped to chat with them for a second, grab some more Bloks and was on my way again!
I had about 8 miles before I saw them again, so I turned my music back on and enjoyed the day. My stomach was feeling a little better but I just wasn’t focusing on it. Around mile 18 or 19 just as we were getting to the first mini trail section of the race, I heard a man ask if I was Aron. I of course said yes, and turns out it was a reader (hi Steve!) who had emailed me previously about training. We talked for a minute and I told him I was having a great race besides my stomach. He mentioned he had heard that ginger chews were the miracle worker for stomach problems and just happened to have some. I gratefully took one from him and hoped it would work! I definitely think it helped a lot… thank you Steve!
There was another aid station around mile 19 so I took a couple things, including soda. I loved having soda during training and figured it would help my stomach too, so I grabbed a cup and kept on going. During this part I ran into a guy from Forward Motion Race Club that I knew of, so I introduced myself and chatted with him for a bit. We ended up running some sections of the next couple miles together and it was really nice to have someone to chat with! I entered mile 22 aid station feeling really great and happy.
I was getting warm at this point, so took off my top layer and gave it to my crew. I took some more aid and off I went, knowing the next time I would see them I was going to pick up Jojo as my first pacer!
The next 4 miles were back on pavement which was kind of rough after being teased with the beautiful trails. The paved portions had been mostly flat, but these miles had some longer inclines and hills. I was feeling really good and ran mostly everything, but also was trying to just stay steady and not push too hard. Andee, a fellow blogger and ultra-runner, had given me some advice that stood out to me in that moment. In addition to many other things, she told me not to push too hard in the highs to keep steady. Although I felt really good and wanted to run hard past all these people, I made sure to just keep it consistent.
I crossed the marathon mark right around 4:35 I think, and felt really good with how I felt energy wise and how my legs were holding up. I was so happy that the first half of the race had gone relatively smoothly and I was really excited for the rest of the race! My legs felt fantastic and I was looking forward to the trails coming up.
I entered Beals Point, the next aid station, with a big smile on my face. With the upcoming trails, I had planned on switching into my trail shoes out of my road shoes here. I had my trail shoes untied already, so the D-tag could be transferred easily. I could tell I was getting a couple blisters on my pinky toes, so I decided to switch socks and put a bunch of Neosporin on my toes as well. In addition to being medicine/pain relief, it acts like body glide/Vaseline to help with the friction
Since I hadn’t been able to stomach as much solid food as I had hoped besides Shot Bloks, I grabbed a couple of Jolly Ranchers to suck on hoping they would help. Apparently a typical Aron expression was caught on camera while I was there also.
New shoes and socks, a refilled pack, and my first pacer and I was out there feeling fantastic, off to run 24 more miles!
To be continued…