Date of Race: 10 Oct 2015
A Change of Plans…
I had intended to close out 2015 with my first 100 mile distance, the Rio Del Lago – accomplishing an incredible distance, on a beautiful course, in a scenic location, while taking home my first buckle, and a WSER ticket to boot. It was the event on my calendar I had looked forward to all year.
Life, however, does not always play out as intended and I was not able to make the commitment. Although I had stated I was going to do it, I had not yet purchased my entries. Thankfully, Ultra Signup allows you to monitor the remaining number of spots open in a race – perfect for putting off entry until the last possible minute to avoid cancellation, deferment, and potentially taking a spot from someone who could actually make it.
As a consolation to myself and to satisfy the desire for a big event to end the year on, I found the inaugural Folsom Lake Ultra Trail 110K and signed up without hesitation.
The weeks leading up to the race were less than textbook preparation. My training was all over the board. With 50Ks in September (here and OH S***), minimal midweek mileage, followed a completely unstructured taper week leading to race day – I was bouncing along and hoping for the best.
There are a lot of fantastic runners who can turn out big mileage week after week or stick to nontraditional tapers and do fine. Unfortunately, I do not have years of practice in this, so I was relying on my mental preparation as much as my physical. With the fear I was potentially under-trained with unhealed training stress on my muscles, I spent a lot of time on my yoga mat. The focus on fluidity of movement, full body strengthening, balance improvement, and meditation allowed me to look to the race with a mindful awareness of my body, and myself. I was not as physically prepared as I would have liked, but I was mentally ready. Ultras are mind over miles, after all.
Packet pickup was held at Granite Bay in Folsom Lake, at the start/finishing arch we would all hopefully be passing through twice. We received our final instructions, and that was that. My wife and I enjoyed Chipotle on the way home… it was delicious.
I stayed up late to finish packing my drop bags. I had no idea what would be out there on the course, so I wanted to be ready for anything. There was to be 4 drop bag spots, so I went with the ~20 mile and ~54 mile spots, hoping that doing it in ‘thirds’ would allow me the most options with limited supplies.
Tanka bars are delicious, if you have not yet tried them, I highly recommend it. Great “substantial” calories when you have had enough boiled potatoes and PB&Js. The honey is easy for me to take on any stomach or taste craving – isn’t it what you put on toast for a light snack?
I went to bed and had one of my best pre-race sleeps to date. I guess all the meditation paid off.
Race day: 10 Oct 2015
The morning of went smoothly – wake, shower, coffee, kiss the wife, and drive to Folsom. It’s about a 45 minute drive so I had time to finish my coffee, eat a banana and a Clif bar and get into my groove. I was screwed – self paced, and self-crewed.
My wife was planning on meeting me at the finish, but I would be relying on the good nature of the volunteers for help along the way and hope that my two drop bags gave me what I needed, when I needed it. If something unfortunate happened, I would just have to make it up as I went.
As the start time drew near, we huddled near the arch and were sent on our way, with limited fanfare – off on another grand adventure.
The first few miles were on sidewalk and went fast. I did my best to keep an easier pace, but with caffeine in the blood and excitement on the brain, it was the usual struggle of self control.
The FLUT has two types of runners: the 110K solo runners, and the relay runners.
WingTip on running with relay runners:
Now, 20+ miles on a trail is no easy task, especially when you’re going full bore to pass the baton to the next runner…but a 20 mile pace is not the same pace as a 70 mile pace. Run your own race! With a relay race you have two types of people to consider: Those going out for their leg, and those going out for the day. Even some full distance runners may be going out “too fast”… Know thy own distance! Know thy own pace!
Taking advantage of the drought, the course dropped down into the lake bed, running parallel to a levee over a barely marked path. It was like running over a Martian landscape. It was fun, and challenging in the dark, but we need rain – hopefully that section of the course is back under water next year!
I ran the next few miles with my friend Lorena (Who I had recently run with but not yet met…) until the sun rose, and it was time to turn up the pace. The first 20 miles were single track around the south side of the lake over very familiar terrain. The sun was coming out, the air was cool, the scenery was gorgeous, and I felt great while keeping a solid pace. I was not running too hard, nor was I running too fast. One aid station volunteer mentioned I was in the top 10, which certainly fueled the fire. Today was going to be a good day.
The Salmon Falls aid station marks the first relay exchange point, and my first drop bag. After spending the week listening to Ultra Runner Podcast, I was primed for aid station efficiency and so far had made good use of time. When I hit my first drop bag, I grabbed fist fulls of trash from my pockets and tossed it, while quickly stuffing my main section of my vest with calories for the miles ahead. I figured I could unbuckle my vest and re-sort my stuff later on while walking. I didn’TTt even bother with pausing to put on sunscreen, rather clipping it to me and taking it on the next 20 miles, applying it as I went – weight be damned.
Heading out of the Salmon Falls aid station at mile 20, I said good-bye to the rolling hills of the first leg of the race and looked upon the the start of the more challenging section of the race with hunger for more.
It started as a nice dirt trail by the ricer, but evolved into a hellacious long rocky stretch of exposed riverbank, forcing me to move slow in my thin sandals. There was a short but wet water crossing, deep enough to cover your feet. This exhibited the best and worst of running in huaraches – on one hand, the <6mm thin sandals made slow going over the rocky terrain…but on the other hand, they were dry within a short time of sloshing through the river.
Shortly after completing the river section, I was graced with the first of the steep inclines. Despite having just been at an aid station, I had not given myself a break. The climb gave me a moment to slow down, hike it out, balance my vest, and “re-group”.
After a seemingly long, hot climb….I was not even a third of the way through the hills! Guess its time for a banana and a cold water sponge over my head. Time to carpe some diem.
Next, we were off the trail and onto roads for about 7 miles. The sun was now out in full force, and although there was shade to be had by the side of the road, it was not enough to provide full coverage. I was sweating hard. The last several miles were the most challenging, with a seemingly never ending climb that just had me going to dark places.
The aid station there was a pleasant surprise, offering me ice for my hat, cool water for my bottles, and a nice snack. As I finished the climb, I tried not to take fall completely in the river of doubt, but it happened.
I texted my wife on the climb and complained for a bit, sending a picture of me offering a one fingered salute to the asphalt demon before me.
Just when I had had enough, it was over. Back to single track and on to Cool, where my next drop bag waited for me. I made it in to Cool after making good time over the rolling soft terrain, but was getting hot and tired. I had been replacing the ice in my hat at every rest, but was starting to feel as though I was not acclimated enough to the temperature. I often get my running in at night or in the early morning, and do not have the time to sink a run in the middle of my day.
Leaving Cool, I grabbed my a small single AA-battery flashlight, and battery pack for my phone to charge on the go. My headlamp was in my first drop bag, and without a crew I was not going to be getting it back any time soon. It was looking like I could get caught in the dark, and if so, the tiny hand held flash light would have to do.
The trails from Cool to Auburn were spectacular. It does not take any stretch of the imagination to understand why this area is so loved by trail runners. The trails are challenging enough to keep you zoned and focused, but not so much so that you cannot run them. I saw a few hikers along the way, and ran into the No Hands bridge aid station for a water refill, a snack, and a quick cold sponge of water over the head. My friend May had been volunteering, and was at the aid station when I pulled in, she asked if I needed anything, but after spending all day catering to beaten and tired people, I was not going to ask her for a better flashlight! Adapt and overcome.
Over the bridge and on we go!
The single track started off with a step, long decent, followed by fantastic views of the area before coming up to a long, exposed section of trail. The climb up hit me hard. It was hot, and the afternoon sun was taking its toll. I ran dry on water, and could feel my core temperature fall above where it should have been. This was the part of the course that broke me. It took far more than I had been willing to give, and taxed me physically, mentally, and emotionally. I didn’t come to quit though, so I took my time and enjoyed the fun.
If only I had not been so overheated, I would have partaken of the officially-unofficial drink of the Born to Run Ultras. The one thing I DID NOT do that was monumentally stupid, was NOT sit down. I did not want to get overly-comfortable, but in hindsight I was there long enough to justify a sit, and I think it would have done a lot for me, allowing me to make better use of my legs over the remaining miles.
Pat, the runner who had been on my heels the last 3 miles (and eventually finished ahead of me) spent almost 30 minutes at that aid station. He said the break really helped him bounce back. I do not feel I listened to my body well enough… lesson learned.
Don’t ignore your body. Treat yourself right.
As the sun lit up the world in dusk, I called my wife and told her I wasn’t going to make my target time. She wished me luck and I spent a few miles trotting along trying to find something deep inside me. I knew I wasn’t broken, I just couldn’t get the flow back.
At some point I found it. I focused my breathing, and locked in tight, moving fast and loose. I shaved minutes off my pace and felt great. I was tearing down the trail, faster than I had gone in hours. I wasn’t thinking, or focused on the race, so much as I was in a meditative state, and moving with the trail as I did so.
After I passed through Rattlesnake Bar aid station, I just could not get it back. I saw Lorena again, and she cheered me on, but I was feeling like I was missing some element.
Trying to make the most use of the daylight I had left, I pressed on as fast as I could. Unfortunately, the last rays were fleeting behind the hills as I reached to the trickiest part of the Pioneer trail: The Meat Grinder.
Of the area trail, it is a notoriously challenging for runners from beginners to veterans, as the terrain prevents runners from keeping a fast pace while pitching them up and down over rocks and twists and turns.
That is, notorious enough by day, nevermind at night, with a single AA-battery sized flashlight in your hand.
On on particular segment of the meat grinder, I ended up missing a marker in the dark and started to veer off on the wrong side trail. Luckily there were a pair of relay runners holding strong who called out to me and set me straight. Running with these ladies for a few miles was also a distinct treat, as their lights offered a little more visibility for me.
By the time I made it in to the Granite Bay aid station – the last on the list – I was locked into zombie mode. I sat down, and drank some soda, I was ready for the finish line. On our way out, I was overtaken by the next Solo 110K runner, Patrick, who tore off with his daughter as his final pacer. The speed at which they left was almost heart breaking. I held with the two relay runners for a little while longer, until I just could not keep pace any more and once again, found myself at the end of a very long race, on a very long day, in the dark and moving forward.
I was not walking this time, and I was not harboring any injury. My pace was slow, and I was drained, having lost a lot of my ‘mustard’ up around Auburn. However, I was moving forward. I felt better than bad, I actually felt ok. I was tired, but not hopeless. I was not as strong as I wanted, but I was not as broken as I had been. I was farther than I had ever moved before, and would set a new distance best for myself at the end of the day regardless. I wasn’t last place, and I was still in the top 10.
Things were looking alright.
I chipped away at the last 3 miles, staring at the lights of the Granite Bay recreation area off in the distance. Moving over the last of the levees, another relay runner approached from behind out of the dark. It spooked me into runner faster, thankfully, and I locked in on trying to get the best finish I could manage.
The race was run in a counter clockwise loop this year – the 2016 race will be clockwise. Planning to run next year? Just read up from the bottom to the top instead.
Recovery beer: The very appropriate Stinger Honey Ale from Cool Beerwerks.
-The Winged Ling