If you find yourself eight miles into a fifty mile race, you already feel fatigued, your legs don't feel completely under you, and the harder portion of the race won't come for another eighteen miles, you might be worried. Such was the situation I found myself in as Matt Flaherty and I came through the William Pond aid station (8.16 miles): fatigued, legs uneasy, daunted by what was to come. Matt and I had plugged along at around 6:20/mile pace to that point, and so continued until the Sunrise aid station (14.61 miles). Given that I had run a 2:36 marathon three weeks prior, I didn't find the 6:20/mile pace at the beginning of the race either too quick or too physically taxing, but the pace didn't feel comfortable and I didn't feel quite right. So, after Sunrise, I throttled back in the hopes of regaining my composure before we hit the trail from miles 17 - 20 and again from miles 27 - 47.
My hopes never materialized, for I continued to struggle throughout the race, slowly fading more and more but never blowing up completely. Evidently Matt was having a similar day, as is evidenced by his own account of the race here. His day seemed more readily explainable: his 2012 was wiped out by injury. Unfortunately, I can't quite determine what accounted for my off day. Perhaps I hadn't quite recovered from the cold that I picked up two weeks ago, or maybe the traveling during spring break had me run down. Whatever the case was, Saturday was not a good day for me.
Matt remained in my sights on and off through 21 miles before he disappeared for a while. I did my best to maintain a reasonably fast pace during during the portions of trail and remaining miles of bike path as I crossed the marathon distance in around 2:49/2:50, coming into Beals Point aid station (26.53) a few minutes later. I couldn't believe how poorly I felt, but was also surprised to find that Matt was in sight, across the bay, running along the dam toward the trails. This provided hope, and so I put my head down and continued after him. I lost sight of him, for good, three and a half minutes before I exited the bike path and picked up the trail a bit after mile 27.
Things went from bad to worse soon thereafter. As I ran toward Granite Bay aid station (31.67 miles), my legs got heavier, my body felt increasingly fatigued, and I was reduced to hiking on some of the (honestly, not so steep) inclines. My pace, too, dropped on the flatter sections of the trail and, before I knew it, I was running on some fairly technical trail that I wasn't mentally prepared for. Running toward and leaving Buzzard's Cove aid station (34.67 miles) proved a nightmare, as the trail wound, rose, and fell around rocks, roots and mud for a good 10km. In part because I was unprepared for such terrain, I had a really tough time maintaining anything close to a decent pace during this time. Every step I felt like I was handing Matt extra seconds, and with each passing mile I knew I was giving away precious minutes. But I couldn't get myself to move, and instead could only laboriously move forward. With persistence (and more than one thought about ending my misery), I made it to Rattlesnake Bar aid station (40.94 miles), and the trail opened back up. I convinced myself to try to make a bit more of a push after hearing that I was 17-18 minutes back of Matt, and brought the pace back down to 7:30-8 minute miles until the dreaded dam wall that commences the final three mile climb into Auburn.
I hiked up toward Last Gasp aid station (47.56 miles), with the elapsed time around 6 hours flat, and it seemed that tracking down Matt was out of the question, since I was told that he had passed through 16-17 minutes prior to my arrival. Still, I pushed on and was able to maintain around 8 minute miles during the final miles as the road slowly rose toward the finish in Auburn (*Note: my finishing time ended up being 12:41 behind Matt Flaherty's solid 6:08:17 performance).
In the end, I managed to finish 2nd with a time that, in almost any other year, would have placed me closer to 5th, 6th, or even 10th. It's true that the field was far less competitive than most years, but second place at the American River 50 is something to be pleased with, despite a less than ideal day and a less than ideal finishing time.
I was disappointed to have not given Matt a better chase. For one thing, it would have made for a more exciting race; for another, a finishing time closer to Matt's would have made my performance look more formidable. Matt Flaherty is in the top echelon of ultrarunning, someone whose name you'll hear alongside the likes of Geoff Roes, Ian Sharman, and Sage Canaday. It was an honor to have run with him at all, and more of an honor still to have finished no-so-far behind him. Hopefully there will be more of that to come next month at the Ice Age Trail 50!
I can't thank my wonderful crew (Kathryn, Stephanie, mom, Cynthia) enough for doing such a great job; thanks also to RaceReady, and to Julie Fingar and NorCalUltras for putting on a first-class event (if you are looking to run a well organized race with great spectator support and well stocked aid stations, then this is a race for you).
|Ready to start in Sacramento|
|Coming through the Sunrise aid station (14.61 miles)|
|Leaving Sunrise aid station with Stephanie alongside|
|Stephanie and Kathryn having a photo shoot|
|A nice view at Beals Point (26.53 miles)|
|2013 American River 50 winner Matt Flaherty|
|Enjoying a cup of wine with Matt post-race|
|Men's podium (L-R, myself, Matt, RD Julie Fingar, Paulo Medina)|
|Jean and Cynthia near the finish|