Getting this Monkey Off My Back – A Journey to Auburn, CA: Minel 2, Hills 1

This is a story of a slow-pace marathon runner (finishes a marathon in 5 hours, on average, lately), who strives to be an ultra-runner.

The hills got a point in this story, because last year they won over me, so I had to carry over that one.  They won because I allowed them to win last year.  This year, I would not let that happen again.  I thought, I’m getting this monkey off my back.  After a year of hard work (well, it was really taking my time improving over the course of the year), victory was mine!  I told those mountains to move when it should move!  (This is a long story, so this is fair warning that the following text will be a lengthy post about my AR50 experience on April 6th 2013 and the weeks/days that led up to it).

Summary:  Distance:  50 mile run; Finish time: 12:01; Rank:  75th in F30-39; 689th out of 835 finishers.

Training and Preparing for Race Day:  To give a brief background for others who are not familiar with my story last year, I attempted to run the American River 50 mile, but missed the cutoff time at Rattlesnake Bar, at mile 40.94, by 3 minutes (according to my sisters, I arrived only 3 minutes after they put up the cutoff sign).  I should have continued, but I had neither a coherent mind, nor a physically strong body at that time, so they took me off the course since it was passed the cutoff time (I think I was fine but they all knew better).  Since that day, I vowed to conquer those hills that defeated me previously, to show them who’s the boss”¦ and I did it this year!

Training this time around was a little bit different than the last.  This year, I focused more on core (Pilates mat classes) and strength (TRX classes) training, as well as cross-training (swimming and indoor spin classes).  I ran less during the weekdays, around 4-5 miles; then I ran more quality long runs on the weekends, at various different trail parks from Marin Headlands in the north to Quicksilver in San Jose.  In addition, I ran two 50k races, including a back-to-back race (50k on Saturday, then half marathon on Sunday – see post on East Bay Weekend Racing).  Last year, I just ran during training, without a good strategy.  The strategy was to get in as many miles as I can.  To put things into perspective, during the 2012 training, I ran an average of 240 miles a month from January through March.  This year, I only ran an average of 100 miles a month for the same period of time, January through March.  Throughout training, I tried to share with Amy, Claudia and Loren, (who will all be doing AR50 for the first time), all the things I remembered from last year – from the difficult course, to how I prepared, to my spreadsheets and checklists.  I hope I did not bombard them with too much information!  Or confusing data for that matter!

Three weeks before race day, I started panicking and stressing out.  I still didn’t have a plan, and my family, who promised they would come out the second time to see me finish, cannot all make it this year.  My parents were going to be in Manila, Philippines, attending my uncle’s funeral on April 6th.  Andy’s good friend was getting married on April 6th, in San Diego, so Andy couldn’t come out to my race (he had to go to the wedding).  My brother has finals that week.  Luckily, my sisters penciled-in my race to their calendar, and are still available to come out (thanks Ate Annelle and Raciel!).  My friends stepped up, too, so I instantly had pacers.  I commissioned Sopheak to pace me from mile 31 to 41, then Kathy to pace me from mile 41 to the finish.  After booking hotel rooms (same place as last year, in Roseville), putting together my spreadsheet (took last year’s spreadsheet as a template) and added this year’s estimated times of arrival, completed a checklist of things to bring, I finally felt that I had it under control.

Race weekend:  Raciel and I drove up Thursday night and spent Friday just relaxing around the area, after picking up my race packet.  Raciel also worked on finishing up loading music onto my iPod Nano, as I took a work conference call (not a big deal) with our Audit Committee Chairperson.  That Friday evening, we met up with some of SVTC people, including Amy, who was also running AR 50.  We had our “carbo-loading” dinner at Biba Italian Restaurant in downtown Sacramento (a very lovely restaurant with delicious food).  It was nice to spend that dinner time with familiar SVTC friends, Kathy, Isa, Mike and Amy.  After dinner, it was early to bed, by 9pm.

Race Day:  I did not get enough sleep as I was very anxious and could not relax; I finally woke up at 3:45 AM.  Breakfast consisted of oatmeal, coffee, half a banana, one honey stinger waffle, and 16 oz of the Prolong drink.

At the start line, it was a nice cold and crisp morning.  I wore a short sleeves shirt under a long sleeve technical shirt, my running skirt, some Injinji purple compression socks, and a running hat.  The start was low-key, as I remembered it from last year; no corrals, people just lined up where they thought their pace would be.  It was dark but in 10 or 15 minutes, it was dawn and daylight started to come out.  At first I was staying with Amy, but she wanted to go ahead and run, and I was doing my 5 minute run/ 1 minute walk strategy, so we separated quickly.  When we started out and came around back towards the Guy West bridge, we saw our SVTC Sherpas: Kathy, Sopheak, Isa and Matt.  It was wonderful and I was feeling great!

Several miles have passed along the American River trail, then as expected, around mile 18 while we were on this bridge, I could see to the right, people/runners/hikers walking up the steep trail; I knew it was about time to enter the trails!  At this point, I recalled from last year that I was already starting to get exhausted; I could feel the heat getting to me last year.  This year, I was still feeling great and getting prepared to climb that wall of a hill (but a short one).  My strategy this year was to eat at least 200 calories of food every hour, including the honey stinger chews, wafer and KIND bar I carried with me, plus the food at the aid stations.  I also had some turkey jerky, for protein along the way.

We continued running on fire road, trail, then paved road through all these different paths.  I was feeling really good, until the last paved road area approaching Beal’s Point, where I felt a sharp pain above the ankle on the outside part of my right leg.  I was feeling really great from the waist up, my breathing is good, but was forced to walk off that pain.  This part was really weird:  while walking, my right foot was doing small movements to the right.  It scared me a bit, and when the pain was not going away with walking (I was already favoring the left leg), I almost started to cry, thinking that this is too early to be in pain.  Amy approached right by me, she slowed down to a jog and encouraged me, “you can do this, Minel, you are strong, let’s do this, let’s go!”  I had to tell her to go ahead and I have to walk, I’m in so much pain.  She continued on, but said she would tell my sisters to get some Tylenol or Ibuprofen, or any pain reliever, ready to hand to me when I arrive at Beal’s Point.  As I saw the balloons with the mile marker, 26.2, I looked at my watch and calculated that I have just done a marathon in 5 hrs and 15 minutes, not too bad timing at this point.  I walked then jogged, then ran through the inflated arch at Beals Point (mile 26.53).  Seeing my friend Kari, whom I didn’t expect to come at that point, I opened my arms wide and hugged her; I just needed a hug at that point.  I saw everyone at Beal’s Point, my sisters, crew, and Amy was still there.  I quickly changed my shirt, wiped off with baby wet naps, put on deodorant (Kathy was making fun of me with this, but I told her, you’ll like it at the finish when I hug you J).  After refilling my hydration pack, I took a Tylenol pill.  I also had a lot to eat at this aid station, plus some cola.  Then, I was ready to roll, so Raciel (my sister) and I started running on the path to the next aid station.  I think I was simply relieved that I got to Beal’s Point and now have company.  The short stretch from Beal’s to Granite Bay was fine, although at some points, I just needed to walk, even if it was not even a hill (I thought it was a hill, but after seeing the picture that Raciel took, it was really a bump).  I knew my mind was starting to fade, but I remembered what Claudia told me:  when your legs get tired, run with your heart.

When we got to Granite Bay, I saw Sopheak, she has been waiting there for 1 hour since she got there with Loren.  It’s her turn to pace me, and Annelle (my sister) told her, “Get her to Rattlesnake no later than 4PM, Rattlesnake by 4PM!”  I did a quick refill then off we went.  This was the same leg of the course that was so technical last year, I was really nervous.  I took some salt sticks, and ate more food and drank some cola.  Sopheak and I jogged or walked the uphills, then ran downhill and the even flat ground.  We caught up to what appeared to be a caravan of 6 runners, so we followed them.  At Horseshoe Bar aid station (mile 38), we stopped for some chicken noodle soup, potatoes, salty snacks, and rubbed on more sun block.  Amy and Matt just arrived, so we waited for them, and I got some additional good rest.  After some quick pictures, we were ready to go.  Matt and Amy led the way as we followed behind them.  They kept us entertained as they shared stories (actually, we were just overhearing in their conversation as we ran behind them).  I was just quiet, and kept my eyes on the ground as the trail was often uneven.  I kept looking at my watch and I knew we weren’t too far away from Rattlesnake Bar, and it was still early.  As we approached the aid station, I could hear some screaming and cheering for runners, and I looked at my watch — it was only 3:30 pm.  I almost burst into tears but controlled it because I didn’t want to show it.  I saw Loretta and Caroline with their “Go Minel” sign, and I was just so happy that this time they saw me arrive at this aid station way before the cutoff time of 4:15 pm.  (Note:  Last year, they drove up from the Bay area to watch me finish, but when they got to this point, I didn’t make it.  I didn’t want to disappoint them this year, so I made it worth their trip).  I really didn’t need anything at this aid station; I had a little bit of food, some more salt sticks, and drank some cola.  That pain on the right outer leg above the ankle kept coming back.  I noticed it happened every time I stepped on uneven ground with my right leg.  I made sure that my right leg landed on even ground; that caused me to favor my left leg on all the climbing.  Kathy pulled me to the side and asked what was really going on, so I told her.  We waited for Amy at Rattlesnake Bar then off we went:  Kathy, me, Amy, and Isa.  Kathy entertained us through this part of the run.

At this point, everything was new to me.  I was surprisingly more attentive and stronger than I was earlier on when I was approaching Beal’s Point.  I was looking around and taking in the view as we ran.  I was listening to Kathy and participating in conversation.  Matt caught up to us and took some pictures (he was just running out then back to Rattlesnake Bar).  I began to feel that darn right leg pain again, and told Kathy I cannot lift my legs anymore.  We stopped to the side, had people go and pass us, then I took some salt sticks.  We then proceeded and caught up with the group.  Amy was leading this group of 8 runners through this single track, where everyone was just really happy to be following someone in front of them.  Amy led us to the next aid station, Dowdin’s Post (mile 43.92).  I was happy again, had more chicken soup, salty snacks, and a half cup of cola (I kept burping, Kathy told me to just drink half of it, I was a bit gaseous).  It was 4:15 at that point, and I mistakenly thought that the finish line cutoff was 5:00 PM, so I told Kathy that we had to go and hustle.  We went ahead, not waiting for the others in our caravan, Amy followed us as well.  Kathy explained to me while running that the finish line cutoff was not until 7:00pm, and the next aid station cutoff was not till 6ish and we were only 3 miles to the next aid station.  I calmed down after that then continued with our run/jog.  We were on the final trail parts, but continued to climb until we got to the Last Gasp aid station.  No more trails after this point, we were so close, I just did a very quick stop for a photo, a potato, and cola.  Kathy said that was my fastest aid station stop by far, at only 2 ½ minutes.  I think I was just excited that I was almost done.  There was more climbing, but as I mentioned, I felt like I must have had a second wind.  We were walking (almost speed walking) up that hill.  Kathy and I were chatting then I had some more food to eat.  However, when I saw that we had some flat land, I shoved the whole KIND bar into my mouth and told Kathy, “Lrrheths Rhsun!” (let’s run!).  Kathy stopped me, told me to finish my food in my mouth, drink some water THEN we could run.  She is such a good pacer, I’m glad she let me finish eating first, otherwise I might have choked!  We got to run parts of the flat area then walked again on the next uphill.  We were still passing people who were walking.  Everyone was doing the zombie walk, Kathy said it reminded her of the Walking Dead (TV series about the zombie apocalypse).  We then engaged in a conversation about what had happened at the season finale of the Walking Dead, and talking about how stupid-nice Andrea was (the one character who died at the last episode – Sorry SPOILER ALERT!).  At this point, I was just relaxed and just wanted to finish.  As I saw the countdown signs, I was getting very excited!  At the “Last 1 mile” sign, I had to take a picture.  Then, when I started to hear the crowd, I told Kathy, “we have to start running”.  Approaching the Finish Line arch, I was VERY excited, I had a huge smile on my face, throwing my arms up in the air and embracing that finish line area!  I crossed that finish line mat at 6:04 pm, and I was one very happy runner.

Lessons Learned:  Claudia is correct, if I put my heart into the training, preparation, and the race, I will achieve what I want to do.  Thanks to all my friends – the runners, pacers, crew, and cheer-leaders – I was able to accomplish this goal of running and completing 50 miles.

Redemption was mine this year, particularly on those hills.  Last year, they defeated me; this year, I won over them.  I get 2 points because not only did I finish it (1 point), but finished way before the cutoff time of 13 hours (bonus point)!