Location: Folsom to Auburn, CA
Distance: 50 miles (watch recorded 49), 4,700ft elevation gain
Date: May 8th, 2021
Weather: Sunny (low 60F, high 85F), windy (20mph).
Course: 75% trail (mostly single track) 25% bike path. Short (sometimes steep and technical) ups and downs and 3 mile uphill finish
Support: Plenty of aid stations with single serve food, crew only at mid-point, no pacer or spectator b/o COVID.
This was my first 50 miler. I was both excited and intimidated by the distance, the heat, the first race in 14 months. I think of every race as a celebration and plan on enjoying the experience. This one was no different and, even though the heat got to me in the last 7 miles, I kept my smile and excitement to the finish. I was expecting to finish between 10 and 12 hours, with a sub-10 hope on a great day. I finished in 8h 25 in 3rd place, redefining any expectations I had for the day. I can safely say, this won’t be the last 50 miler!
Training: a year of consistent running to sign up with 6 week notice
As much as I love racing, I do not need races to keep me excited about running. I have been lucky to be able to run consistently throughout the year (55-65 miles a week, mostly trail). I was supposed to run AR in 2020, but the April 4th event was (unsurprisingly) canceled. I still did the 2nd half on my own on race day (races are celebrations and I still wanted to do something) but knew I would want to run the full thing at some point. When the May 8th date was announced with 6 weeks notice, my heart started racing with excitement; I checked in with my coach and signed up almost immediately, too worried that the race would sell out if everyone was as excited as I was!!
I had planned a Grand Canyon marathon adventure on my sister’s birthday (April 5th, 5 weeks out), which turned out to be great timing for a strong training run. I ran the last 16 miles of the course two weeks later, did a strong 22 mile run in the Marin Hills the following week and got my first COVID vaccine as I was starting to taper. I was intimidated by the idea of spending 10 to 12 hours running, especially with the heat, but I also felt as fit and ready as I had ever been to take on the challenge.
Gear, nutrition and hydration: Eating ALL the gels
The course was very well supported, with regularly spaced aid stations, especially in the second half. That gave me the confidence to just run with my 12 oz handheld bottle, hoping that it would be better for the heat than a vest, and create less opportunities for chaffing.
I usually enjoy banana and PB&J during races but I had been training with mostly gels and decided to give that a try. I had 15-20 GU Roctane gels (one every 20-30 minutes!) and drank the Roctane hydration mix they had on course. I wasn’t able to finish my last two gels but overall felt great about the nutrition. I ran out of water for a couple of miles before the last aid station, which was a bit tough with the heat rising but hiking with purpose enabled me to keep going.
For shoes, I love my Altra Superior 4.5 on the trails but I don’t find them responsive enough on the road and there was a fair amount of that in the first half. So I started with my ASICS Gel DS Trainer and switched to my Superior for the second half.
The Course: Mostly rolling with some steeper relentless ups and down and an uphill finish
Mile 1-7: The race started by Folsom point at 6am. The hills were golden from the sunrise and the temperature was pleasant. I started mid-pack and got into some chatter with other runners. A lot of AR veterans sharing their experience and advice. I love that way of starting conservative and let the miles go without noticing, passing a few runners here and there. We headed toward Ravine cove for a little loop and were back towards the start around mile 7.
Mile 8-18: The course continues on the bike path, first on the Johny Cash trail along the Prison, then by the Folsom dam and going down the river and Lake Natoma. Some gentle ups and downs but mostly a rolling down along the river/lake made for some fast(er) miles that went by really quickly. At some point I looked at my watch and realized we had been running for over two hours already and I just hadn’t seen the time go by.
Mile 19-22: The course goes back on the trail for a bit of ups and downs. I managed to miss a turn and did a mini out and back. I wasn’t seeing the very regularly placed ribbons anymore which seemed a bit fishy so I stopped and looked back. The pack was already fairly spread out but I eventually saw a runner that I had passed not long before get onto another trail so I turned around and was back on track. Catching up with him a little afterwards, I joked that I was worried I wouldn’t be running enough that day! Always better to laugh it off, getting annoyed at this stage of the race wouldn’t have been productive (not that it ever is tbh!).
Mile 23-26: Back on the bike path and up towards Folsom lake. I noticed my pace being a bit faster than expected given the headwind and (gentle) uphill. But the effort felt fine so I didn’t worry about it. They had allowed crews at the Beal’s Point aid station at mile 26. I had prepared a bunch of stuff (extra snacks, ice pack, cold water) but I was feeling good so went through fairly quickly, still stopping for a kiss and a spraying of sunscreen from my boyfriend, Ryan! By then I had been running for 4 hours and I realized that if I maintained a 12 min/mile pace in the more technical and uphill second half, I could get under 9 hours (my initial estimate was 10-12 hours)!!
Mile 27-30: Wiiiindy on the flatish dirt path along the lake. It felt like swimming against the current (especially because I am not a strong swimmer). But I decided to think of it as a way to do temperature control as this section is exposed and the temperature was rising quickly.
Mile 30-37: Enjoying being back on single track, even though I knew it meant the infamous meat grinder with its steep technical ups and downs was coming up. I enjoyed the rolling hills, being back in the shade and fairly protected from the wind. Starting at mile 31, this was the longest I had ever ran and I was in unknown territory. At the same time, I had ran 20 miles before so I decided I “just” had to do that!! The meat grinder felt better than expected (maybe because I dreaded it so much?). I hiked part of it but overall kept a good rhythm. At the 37 mile aid station, a woman told me I was in 4th place (seriously???) and that the previous woman was a few minutes ahead. Woow, that was quite an energy booster, starting mid-pack, I had no idea! I had definitely been passing people regularly but I had no idea where I stood in the pack! Fourth would be exceeding any expectations I had. But I decided to not get my hopes up… there was still a long way to go. So I just kept on going, running my own race.
Mile 38-43: Happy to be back on more rolling terrain. The 40 mile aid station was at the bottom of a very mean steep out and back so I joked about it with the three guys directing the course at the intersection. The following aid station came faster than expected and I hadn’t taken my gel and drunk by the time I left the aid station so I ate it just afterwards but that also got me through a fair amount of water.
Mile 44-50: I ran out of water as the temperatures were rising and I was really looking forward to the next (and last) aid station.
I decided to hike the uphill sections, but making sure I was continuing to keep a foot in front of the other. Hiking actually felt great and I hiked “with purpose”. I eventually reached the last uphill and hiked until the aid station. By then I had passed a woman so was supposedly in 3rd place and knew I had to keep up some momentum for her to not catch up! I was looking back from time to time and couldn’t see her.
As I was getting close to the finish, a woman from the race was coming down and confirmed that I was 3rd (woohoo!). That got me a rush of energy and I “sprinted” (or what felt like sprinting!) to the finish where I saw Ryan and his dad. I also saw the clock indicating 8h25!!
The Finish: 3rd place female in 8h 25
I’m still kind of processing the results of the race. It just felt surreal! I had run 50 miles and beaten any expectations I had for the day, running both much faster and getting a podium finish! Falling into Ryan’s arms felt amazing and I started sharing random feelings from the day: a mix of excitement, confusion, tiredness, bliss…
This was a great reminder of how lucky I am to have so much support in my life, encouraging me and enabling me to get into these amazing adventures.
The recovery: not sleeping the following night but no major soreness
I got a can of ice cold La Croix at the finish and lied down in the grass. Is that what heaven is like?? Then Ryan held my feet up and it added another level of bliss. I managed to eat a banana (it may have taken me as much as five minutes!) and then Ryan peeled a couple of mandarines (yes he’s a keeper 😹). The sweet and fresh fruits were exactly what I wanted. We eventually made it back to Ryan’s sister’s in Roseville, I scrubbed myself with Tecnu, read a bit upside down and was feeling fresh again… though legs were pretty stiff!
I rarely sleep well after a big adventure. A mix of more caffeine than usual and all the thoughts and memories racing through my head just keep me wide awake. I was hoping that 50 miles would be tiring me enough to still put me to sleep but nope ha ha!! I had some micro naps throughout the night, feeling thirsty then needing to go to the bathroom, then feeling hungry and going down for a snack, … I no longer worry about not sleeping post race though because I know I’ll just crash and catch up the following night.
In the morning, my left foot / ankle (the one with the sprain) was sore and swollen which got me a bit worried but the rest of my body was feeling surprisingly fine. I was expecting the soreness to pick up the following day but it never really did. I continued to feel my ankle for a few days but it was slowly improving. I went for an easy 4 miles the Friday following the race and everything felt good, with the legs happy to be back on the Truckee trails.
Thanks: where do I start?
There are so many people in my life who make this possible, I won’t be able to mention them all. But if you’ve ever seen me smile (even virtually!!), know that you’re part of it 😉 .
I will still have a special mention for Ryan who supports me (in all sense of the word!) throughout all parts of life. Your unconditional love and encouragement fuel my everyday, both in life and on the run (if they are indeed separate). I can’t imagine what the past year would have been like without you.
Another person that I want to highlight is my coach, David Roche, who also provides unconditional support through training and life. Your trust is contagious and gets me to believe I am capable of things I wouldn’t dare dreaming about.
To my Badass Trail Runners, Aislinn and Kayla and to my Badass Data Ladies, Rachel, Hannah and Niki, thinking of your Badassness helped me keep the energy to the finish. To Bill Summers, leading the SFRRC trail runs, I will continue to be grateful for your mentorship building confidence on the trails. To my dad and sister in France, who I haven’t seen in waaaay too long, thinking of you during the run was another source of positive energy. To Joaquin, with whom I’ve shared the most miles after Ryan this year, either in person or on the phone, I am so grateful for our friendship and the adventures and conversations that have come from it. To everyone else with whom I share a smile or laugh, thank you for being here!