Journey to Almost Auburn ( California )

Last Saturday (April 7th), I attempted to run my first ultramarathon, the American River 50 mile run.  I was excited to do it; from Thursday at work, then leading up to the event on Saturday, I felt ready (but not overly confident), that my training was adequate to get me to the start line.    However, in the end, I  was not allowed to finish.  I got to mile 41 (40.94) at Rattlesnake Bar aid station, and they had the sign that the course had closed;  I missed the cutoff time.  That was a total of 10 hours and 18 minutes.  I will be attempting this again next year, and determined I will finish before the cut-off times!

The beginnings and training: I registered for this race in September 2011, after my friend Claudia convinced me that “it’s time that we do an ultra”.  Since I have ran so many marathons (not so fast ones, my best time is 4:34), I figured this ultra is the next distance to do.  From September to December, I did both mat pilates and TRX classes, lap swims, and some running.  At that time, I was training for CIM which was in December.  I ran a total of 309 miles from September to Dececember 2011.  When January arrived, I was more serious with getting more miles in.  After researching many ultra training programs, reading some articles, consulting with my veteran ultra runners, I put together an excel spreadsheet for my training schedule.  I did not stick to the required mileage, though, as I did not always have 4-5 hours on the weekends to run.  I also did not incorporate any strength training during this January-March 2012 period.  However, I still managed to run a total of 738 miles from January through March, leading up to AR50, and did a few TRX classes (2x) and lap swims (3x).  During my training, my sis, Annelle, gave me this powdered drink called Prolong made by Herbalife.  That drink really got me through my training, as it gave me energy to run longer and farther.  I called it my magic milk!  I had the same drink during race day, with my sisters giving me refills at each aid station where they met me.  During training, I also took a protein drink after a long run (but not after all long runs).  I alternated between the Fluid (chocolate something flavor) and the Herbalife protein powder.

I trained on both road and trails.  For road training, I ran around my neighborhood, incorporating some hills, or in Los Gatos.  For trails, I ran mostly at Rancho San Antonio, up PG&E (but I never ran all the way up PG&E; I always had to walk in between), and other trails at Rancho.  I also ran Woodside (once), and Brook Falls in Pacifica (once), which was a technical trail that I hated, but, in retrospect, should have ran more of its kind.  It was also pouring rain during that Brook Falls run, so it made the experience miserable.

As far as my diet and nutrition, I ate fairly decent, but I could have done better.  I could have avoided eating junk food or fast food.  During the whole training, I maintained my weight within my ideal running weight (of today, not from 10 years ago).  I did not consume any alcohol/wine during my whole training because I gave it up for Lent.  I did have a glass of wine on Friday night before the race, since Lent was officially over on Thursday, and it was the Triduum period.

Getting to race day: Prior to race day, I already commissioned my family (minus 2 brothers) to “crew” for me during this race.  I left the planning to them, making sure they studied the course, the crew driving directions, and pacer duties.  I also invited some friends to watch; whoever can come out to Sacramento, came out for support (Loretta, Sopheak, and their friends).  I definitely needed pacers to divide the last 20 miles of the run.  I love my family for being very supportive because they stepped up and really made this “crew” thing happen (plus they didn’t want me to die at this run!).  My crew, who consisted of my family and some friends, and my pacers wore a Team Herman singlet, created by my sister, Raciel.  They wanted to make sure that they are clearly identified at each aid station.  They were definitely recognized.  They also carried a huge purplish balloon in the shape of a dragonfly so that I can clearly see them from afar, as I approached the aid stations.

On Thursday before the race, Andy and I drove up to the Sacramento area.  My family flew up to Sacramento.  We had a small squabble between my family, I think I was also very stressed out that evening.  On Friday, even if it was my vacation day off from work, I checked my emails because it was a little bit busy (not me, but the officers but I know I always get asked questions).  I had to put out some mini-fires at work, through emails and phone calls.  Although it was under control, it was still stressful to think about it.  I normally would not stress-out on those small things, but on that Thursday and Friday, I was not myself.  Finally on Friday, we went to Fleet Feet Store and picked up my race packet.  They had a sale at the store, my dad even offered to buy me this jacket that had American River 50 printed on it; I said I would get mine the next day after I finish the race.  I should have allowed my dad to buy me that jacket!

The day before, my carbo-loading consisted of spaghetti carbonara for lunch, then spaghetti in a tomato-base sauce, and a piece of rib-eye steak, for dinner.  I know, it was Good Friday, but my family said that I need to eat some meat.   I also had a glass of Brunello.  I slept early that evening, probably around 9 pm.

Race Day! It was a nice, cold and dark morning.  I wore a red cap, my Team Herman white shirt,  a blue running skirt, arm warmers, a long sleeve shirt over my short sleeves, and my gloves.  I was very cold that morning, at 5 AM.  I had oatmeal and coffee for breakfast.   At the start line, I had a few bites of the Lara bar and some Powerbar chews.  I had my hydration pack filled with Nuun mixed in 60 oz of water.  Then I also had a 16 oz water bottle filled with the Prolong, which I was drinking at the start line.  Right before the start of the race, and after drinking all of it, I ditched the water bottle.  This is it!

The start seemed low key; I stayed at the back, since I would be starting extremely slow.  It was so dark when we first started!  I was running behind a tall guy, always looking down on the ground so I won’t trip on anything.  We went out this fire road trail, then around and back to the start line area.  I was maintaining a good 11 min pace, doing my 7 min run, 1 min walk.  After 8.+ miles, at the first aid station, I stopped to use the bathroom.  Even if there was a line, some of the spectators in line for the bathroom, let us go first since they saw we were in the race.  After mile 8, I felt good again, then continued with my pace.  I thought this first part, which is on paved bike path along the American River, was really easy!  I could have ran faster but I thought, I’ll keep this pace so I can conserve energy.  At the mile 14 and 22 aid stations, I saw my family, so I stopped to take some pictures.  My sister gave me more of the Prolong mixed drink, and I felt good again.  I started to peel off layers; my long sleeve shirt, arm warmers, then gloves.  I gave them to my sister when I met them at the aid stations.  After around mile 18, (after going up this bridge) we started to climb a short yet steep, rocky hill.  I didn’t mind it at all, I think because I was still feeling good at that point, although I speed-walked up the hill (it was not possible to run it, everyone else in front of me were walking).  In hindsight, it felt like they were giving us a preview of what is coming up next.  After mile 19 at the Main Bar aid station, we started to enter the trails.  I was still feeling good, and it looks like per my Garmin, I was still maintaining my planned pace, which at that point, is around 11-12 min pace till Beal’s Point.  At the aid stations between 19 and 26, I ate some boiled salted potatoes.  On the way to Beal’s Point, at mile 26, I was starting to feel that the weather was getting warmer, and when we were running on non-shaded area, I felt that the heat was getting to me and I was starting to fade.  I thought, this is too early to fade.  When I finally arrived at Beal’s Point aid station, my family was there, and Sopheak, too!  I changed my shirt, wiped off the salt from my face, neck and arms, changed Garmin watches (the first one ran out of battery, I was prepared for this), took some pictures, had some more Prolong drink, then off we went, Sopheak, my pacer, and me.  After Beal’s Point, the trails were rolling hills, and not yet so technical.  There were some areas that were rocky, but still manageable.  When we arrived at Granite Bay, at around mile 31, I was only 30 minutes ahead of the cut-off time.  I thought to myself, that is not enough cushion, I need to hustle.  My legs, at this point, were really tired and dragging.  I was drinking my Nuun drink on my hydration pack, which I just refilled at Granite Bay.  I think the 60 oz lasted this long because I was drinking some of the Prolong drink at the aid stations where I saw my family.

From Granite Bay to Rattlesnake Bar, my brother, Jeandre, paced me through the trails.  The treacherous trails began at that point!  I think the most difficult portion (at least that I was able to run) was between this 30 and 40 mile segment.  Although there were rolling hills, the uphills and downhills were technical:  lots of rocks, uphills were like staircase (you literally have to step up a 2.5 feet tall rock), and uneven single track trail.  At one point, there was almost 3 feet wide trail, where there was a lower and upper level (your choice where to run it).  There were horses and riders coming from the other direction while we were running.  The horses galloped right passed by us on the lower level to our left; that was pretty cool yet scary as it became a two-way trail.  My brother was really good at pacing me.  Our strategy was to speed-walk uphill, walk thru the rocks, then run thru the clear trails, even if they were uphill.  We tried to maintain a 15 min pace when running, because our walks were about a 20+ min pace.  I remembered feeling very tired during this segment.  My brother told me afterwards, that I was asking him questions that didn’t make sense, and that I was mumbling a lot.  I also remembered doing a lot of math in my head, trying to see if I will make it to the aid station by the cutoff time.  I asked my brother for the time and how much more distance we need to cover till the aid station.  When he said we had 2 miles to go in 30 minutes, it took me 10 minutes to figure out that is a 15 minute pace.  We hustled towards the end of this segment, because my brother was determined to get me to the checkpoint before it closes.  We passed at least 5 people, two of which are guys who looked like really good runners, but they looked injured.  It was not that I had any injuries, I was just tired.  We arrived at the Rattlesnake Bar aid station, my family, Andy and Loretta were there, clapping as I rolled down the last downhill.  I didn’t know yet at this point that I missed the cutoff.  We were chatting, I got my drop bag, we took pictures, then they showed me the sign, that the course had closed.  I wanted to cry, but I wanted to show that I am still strong.  I asked the guy with the two-way radio if I can continue and he said they will close the finish line by 7 pm, and that I won’t make it.

My watch said 4:25 pm, and they closed the course at 4:15 pm at mile 41.  According to my sister, when I touched down at the aid station, it was only 3 minutes after they put up the sign.  Oh well, there will be next year.  I had many lessons learned, I’ve summarized them on a separate sheet.  This is my first attempt, and I didn’t know what to expect.  For next year, I will plan my training better, running more on technical trails than groomed trails, and run longer distances.  My longest training run was 35 miles, so I knew that I would be digging deeper for the last 15 miles.  I attempted to run 50 miles, but ended up running only 41 miles.  A year ago, I did not even think I could run 41 miles.  This is my first DNF race, and although I prefer to finish a race, I am happy with the effort and performance I did last Saturday.