Meat grinder. Feet grinder. Meat grinder. Feet grinder. I repeated to myself as I attempted to dance through the fixed rocks, gnarly roots and twisty rolling trail dubbed “The Meat Grinder” at mile 34. All was quiet except for my heavy breathing and inner monologue. Do I have enough left? Is that poison oak? Should I quit? Did I just loose another toenail? This section of the race was markedly different than the smooth paved bike path which comprised most of the first 25 miles.
Since earning a “Golden Ticket” at Bandera 100K in January, my main focus has been getting ready for Western States 100 in June. In 2015, I ran Western States 100 as my first 100 mile race (see report here). The race, the organization and my crew were beyond amazing. My performance on the other hand, was below my expectations and left me hungry for another crack at this legendary course.
After Bandera, I laid out a few races to prepare me mentally and physically for the challenges of running and racing the 100-mile distance. I decided on Los Angeles Marathon in February, Way Too Cool 50K in March and the American River 50 mile (AR50) in April as build up races for the Big Dance in June.
I used L.A. Marathon and Way Too Cool as hard long efforts which I incorporated into my normal schedule and did not require big tapers or recovery periods.
I planned AR50 as a goal race for which I would taper and race hard, knowing I would have plenty of time to recover before getting into the bulk of training for Western States.
I was excited about running AR50 giving its deep history as a classic Northern California ultra. I can’t even begin to list all the legends that have run this race (Tim Twietmeyer, 5 time winner of Western States, finished his 35th AR50 this year!).
AR50 mile was started in 1980, running from Auburn to Sacramento on a downhill course. This was changed in 1982 and course direction was switched giving an uphill profile with a 3 mile climb at the end for a finish in Auburn.
In 2014, the course was again changed, now starting on Folsom lake, adding more trail in the beginning and running south before turning onto the original course around mile 16 and heading north to Auburn.
There have been subtle changes in how the course runs from mile 16 to the finish with a small extra trail loop (Twin Rocks loop) around mile 30 for extra miles. Having run both courses, after this years race Ian Sharman thought the new race runs about 10-15 minutes slower than the old course.
I knew the first section of race would be relatively fast and I planned to push the edge of my comfort zone on pace and basically see what happens. Chikara Omine, a Bay Area speedster and former USA 100K National team member, holds the fastest time on the new 2014 course running 6:13 in 2015.
We drove up to Folsom for packet pick up the day prior and got out on a first section of trail to explore a bit.
The first trail miles of the race were beautiful rolling single track on the shore of Folsom Lake. Too bad it would be dark when we ran here! I used the course preview to also decided on a pair of shoes for the race. The Claytons felt light and fast so they were a go. I hoped to run 6:00 hours on a good day.
As a side note: The week of the race I was fortunate to be on UltraRunner Podcast with Eric Schranz who would also be out spectating the race. Check out the interview here.
Carey Williams took me to the start, as Jenny was unfortunately down for the count with the Flu.
It was dark at the 6:00 AM start and a headlamp is a must as about 1 mile into the race you enter the rolling trail I explored the day prior in pitch dark. I knew at least several of us would be in the hunt today, including Coree Worthering, Ian Sharman, Chris Wehan, not to mention many other solid runners who could surprise any of us.
Coree, having run a 2:28 marathon last month, took the race out fast and I gave controlled chase. I came into the race with the plan to push hard early and see how I held up. I again wore a heart-rate monitor and planned to use it as a guide with the plan to keep my heart rate slightly higher than it had been in my last 50 mile (Fall 50). Following this plan, things felt smooth and controlled and I kept him in sight until about mile 15, averaging 6:15 pace, until we hit the bulk of the trails. Upon entering the trail section, I quickly took a wrong turn but was able to regain course by backtracking and continued to chase.
I ran smoothly through the next section feeling strong and keeping a good pace. I arrived at Main Bar (mile 17) with Coree about 3 minutes ahead. I also knew Ian and Wehan are both smart and strong runners and would be hot on my tail if I let off the gas.
First aid station with crew was Negro bar at mile 20. To my surprise, Jenny had dragged herself out of bed and was out on the course crewing and cheering with local supercool Auburnite Carey Williams and Western States RD Craig Thornley to boot! I dropped my lamp, grabbed a new bottle of Tailwind, two gels and was off with Coree still holding a 3-minute lead.
I ran the next 13 miles solo (except for some awesome 25-mile runner coming the other direction, you guys rocked!) with great aid stations and more expert crew help along the way. At mile 33, after not seeing a flag for 0.25 miles I convinced myself I had missed a turn and ran back up a climb to find a race flag. I hit the top of the hill trying to find the course when Wehan turned the corner moving well and much closer than I expected. We consulted briefly and he assured me I was on the right course so I turned to run back down. I pushed hard from here trying to build back a buffer.
Wehan and I were entering the “Meat Grinder” section (around mile 32-36) which naturally slowed the pace and rhythm of the race because of the abundant rocks, twisting trail and punchy up and downs. Just like the Newton hills in the Boston Marathon, the timing of the Meat Grinder was perfect to chew you up and spit you out. After about 20 miles of fast turnover and 12 miles of trail you hit this section which forces high knee lift and accurate foot placement, both of which can be challenging and require a good deal of focus.
I survived this section pulling about 30 seconds ahead of Wehan by Horseshoe bar at mile 38. I was now 2 minutes back from Coree. I knew if I could get some turnover going again on smoother trail I would be well positioned for an all out attack over the last 10 miles.
I hit Rattlesnake Bar (mile 41) and saw Eric Schranz at the top of the out-and-back section leading down to the aid station. Eric shouted, “one minute back!” I ran down to aid and saw Coree just leaving. Jenny and Nathan Yanko were there and on spot with fresh fluids and Coke! I turned back and ran hard out of aid now only about 30 seconds from the lead at mile 41.
Now it was time to go. It took me about half a mile of hard running to catch Coree and he was still moving well. I encouraged him to latch on and we ran together for about another half mile until his footsteps faded.
From here on I felt surprisingly strong and was able to push. I felt smooth and ready to respond if needed.
Though I felt good I was still dreading the final climb starting at 47 miles. I had not had time to preview the last 3-mile climb, so I prepared myself for the worst.
As I started the climb up to the ominously named Last Gasp aid station, I got a high-five from Craig Thornley which gave me a boost. Then, Luke Garten arrived like clockwork and talked me up to Last Gasp aid station at 47.5 miles with a mix of power hiking and grinding. He said Wehan was still close, which lit a little fire under my butt.
From Last Gasp aid station, the final 2.5 miles runs an average 5 percent grade up to the finish at Overlook Park. Carey met me around 1.5 miles out and helped me to navigate the last mile of the race. I was pushing hard as I knew Wehan would be running me down if I let up.
I hit the parking lot at Overlook Park in Auburn with a big smile and crossed the line in 6:00 hours flat. I was very happy with my race.
Wehan and Ian finished 2nd and 3rd, both catching Coree before the finish. I was really impressed with their early season races given neither has been getting in serious long runs. Chris Wehan (Inside Trail Racing Team) is doing the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning this year so keep an eye on him (that is four 100 milers in 4 months; incidentally Ian currently holds the record for fastest overall finish time). Ian has an exciting year planned as well, schedule on his blog. I look forward to running with both of them at Western States! Coree toughed it out and held on to 4th. Great guy and with his leg speed we all need to watch out when he nails one of these things! Congrats Coree, you will get it next time!
Julie Fingar and the NorCalUltra crew for a putting on a great race. I hope to come back and go after the elusive sub-6 hour time!
Jenny! I still cant believe you made it out of bed to crew—you’re amazing! Again, thanks for your continued and unconditional support. Thanks for all the night training runs! You’re the best.
Carey Williams and family! Thanks for your hospitality in Auburn, crewing assistance, and support in the last mile. You rock!
Don Freeman for his finish line announcing. Great work out there all day! Love Trail Runner Nation Podcast.
Eric Schranz from Ultrarunner Podcast for being out on the course, snapping photos and for the post-race refreshment! Thanks again for the interview.
Craig Thornley, thanks for the race course advice and motivational high fives! Next time, it will be a hug and on the Placer High track in June!
HOKAONEONE shoes for their continued support. I used the new Clayton lightweight road shoe for this race! Felt super fast and had enough protection for the rocks. Loved it for for the mix of road, dry trail and short technical sections.
SimpleHydration bottles providing a simple way to carry water. Always had one filled at the aid station to chug or take along as needed.
Stance socks style and performance can’t be beat. Still loving them.
10-mile splits 1:03, 1:04, 1:10, 1:22, 1:20
25-mile splits: 2:42, 3:18
Average (max) heart rate
– Cliff bar
– Bogg’s Nut butter (half 4.5 oz)
– 12 oz Redbull
– 1L Gatorade
– Amphipod bottle (20 oz) and Simple Bottle (13 oz)
– Tailwind Endurance Fuel (150-200 cal/20oz bottle) and Roctane drink from course
– GU Roctane/Huma gel (1 every 30 minutes until mile 32)
– GU Energy chews, as needed
– Coke, as needed
– HokaOneOne Clayton
– Stance Fusion Run crew socks
– Suunto Ambit 3 watch and heart-rate monitor