This years race was equally unrelenting however, possibly even more painful, but truth be told, I had to finish, no matter how bad it hurt.
After recovering from WTC, I really only had a one-week window where I could prepare for AR. I made the most of it, got in some good training, and felt as ready as I could be for where I'm at right now periodization-wise (running "low mileage" by ultrarunning standards). The week pre-AR, Joe came down for the weekend and we had a blast running on the WS trail and hanging out. A good emotional filling of the tank before a 5-day taper to let the body rest some. I didn't have any set-in-stone goals heading in, although I thought sub-6 was tangible if I had an absolute perfect day and the body was clicking. Top-3 seemed like a realistic goal as well, but I wanted to wait until Beale's Pt (26.57mi) to really see if I could make a dash for the podium.
Like last year, a frigid morning greeted nearly 900 of us as we lined up at the start-line, gloves on hand and shivers galore. I was surprised to see Rich Hanna among the many entrants (I wasn't sure if he was running or not) and chatted with him about his "Beale's Pt split" he was shooting for. "3hrs would be good." Rich said. Ok, it looks like I'm running with Rich most likely I thought. It's funny looking back how true that thought actually was because I would end up running with Rich for the first 36mi's. I knew I wanted to go out a bit easier than last year and keep the effort on the bike path as relaxed and even as possible. A quick countdown. Bang! And we were off.
Jady, Vajin, and Lundstrom were immediately out of sight while a group of 10 of us remained huddled together, keeping the effort seemingly mellow. It was a treat in that first mile chatting with Ellie Greenwood as she is so easy to talk to and such a joy to be around. She mentioned regretting not wearing gloves so I offered her mine to which she appreciatively declined (my mom raised me right!). We also laughed about her rivalry with Joe and made other small-talk until she informed me that the pace was a tad quicker than she wanted to go, so with that, I continued to move along with Rich, Sean Meissner, Chris Calzetta, Michael Fink, Chris Wehan, and a few other guys I didn't know.
I heard someone from our group mention that we were running 6:30's around Watt Ave (5mi) and while it felt good, the body was still warming up and I kept toying with my stride to find a smooth rhythm (I just couldn't get comfortable for some reason). Relax dude. Yes, I need to just chill-out I confirmed in my mind. At this stage, our group hovered around 8 with Skaden and Lantz pushing strong with us now. The chatter was at a minimum, everyone seemed focused and in race-mode. In a matter of time though, we cruised through William Pond Aid (8.16mi) and none of us stopped to refill (I don't think anyone wanted to risk losing "the train" we had chugging' along the tracks).
I questioned in my mind whether that was a smart move on my part as Sunrise Aid (14.61mi) was a good distance away and I was already 14oz into my 20oz bottle, but like my fellow companions, our peloton was moving so well together in tour de france fashion that I accepted that it was worth the risk. Shortly before Sunrise, we reeled in Chris Wehan and Chris Knorzer who had gapped us earlier and they hooked onto the train and just like at WTC, both Chris's were good guys to chat with. Rich Hanna then pulled into a port-a-potty and I thought he'll be back.
I was looking forward to Sunrise as I knew Sara would be there to give me a quick refill and a few gels. Sure enough, 1:38 into it, my beautiful bride was there, chipper and encouraging, and sent me off with what I needed. I did happen to notice Jady parked at the aid and our group momentarily dispersed while everyone grabbed what they needed, but within a 1/4mi, we were back together as a unit. Rich, of course, rejoined the group a few miles up, but hung in the back.
A few ticks later, Rich ran up to me and payed me one of the nicest compliments: "Jacob, I was sitting back there analyzing everyone's form and I have to say, your form is impeccable. You have the best form out of everyone in this group." I replied, "Wow Rich, thanks for that. I mean, its taken years and years of work and I truly believe efficient mechanics are one of the most underrated issues related to ultra running." That was a timely compliment as I was still trying to find my groove, so hearing that from Rich, it gave me positive affirmation that I was staying light, quick, and smooth (as Caballo Blanco would say).
The Nimbus Fish Hatchery snuck up on us quick and it was a relief to me that we would finally be transitioning onto some trail and get in a little bit of climbing. There was some conflicting markings right by the bridge, however, and I think some guys ahead of us may have been delayed a bit navigating the right path (apparently there was a tough mudder training run going on which had their own markings out on the course). Rich assured us were we on the right path as a pink arrow pointed toward the direction we needed to go. While on the bridge, I could see Rod, Jean Pommier, and Lewis Taylor up ahead and that gave me peace that the 6:28-6:32/mi pace we had been moving for the previous 18+mi's was keeping us in contact with those ahead.
As we ascended into the Hazel Bluffs, my legs still hadn't quite found their groove yet, but it was cool to see 8-10 guys strung out in front of me over a 30sec-1min gap. I figured I was probably in around 12-15th place at this point. Ok, I'm in a good spot, just gotta remain patient and take care of myself. I had been sticking to a 200-300 calorie/hr regimen and had taken a few S caps, but foolishly wasn't getting enough liquids in as the temps started to rise. I took off my shirt as the heat began to make me feel uncomfortable and tailed Rich who had mentioned a few times that he was "over-hydrated" (he ran with two 12oz bottles). I moved ahead of Wehan, Pommier, and Calzetta, but my bladder had given me warning signals an hour prior, but I kept fighting the urge to stop as I didn't want to relinquish any time. Finally, a few strides into the single track, I pulled over to pee while Wehan and Calzetta moved by me.
I kept them in my sight, but once we hit another short, semi-steep climb, I passed Calzetta and pulled up next to Wehan as the trail flattened out. Rich and Skaden were moving in tandem ahead with Rod 1min up. I closed the gap to Rich and Skaden once we rejoined the bike path leading to Negro Bar Aid (22.4mi, 2:31). "Whoa, we've got a big group of runners coming through!" bellowed the announcer.
A quick refill and it was back to business. Although, the hamstrings began to give me issues as if they were in "pre-cramp mode" and at first, I took that as a troublesome sign this early in the race. Water + salt was what my body was wanting, so after replenishing, the hammies were eventually ironed out, thankfully. Wehan fell back some as the bike path out of Negro Bar began to roll some, but Calzetta, Skaden, Rich, and myself kept working together. Skaden was out front setting the pace and the brain immediately picked up this song from Ozzy Osbourne:
"I'm [running] on the [heels] of the [Skaden] train!"
That gave me a good chuckle and after the bike path weaved by Folsom Prison, we saw Rod running back toward us on a separate paved path. "Uh oh, someone must have messed with the marking." Rich said as we waved for Rod to turn around.
After coming through the marathon mark in 2:55, we came up to him and Lewis Taylor just before Beale's Pt. It was here at Beale's that Sara was going to jump in and run with me to Rattlesnake Bar. I was stoked to run with my wife, so after we all came through Beale's in 2:59, I got a quick refill, tossed my shirt and gloves to Chris Ross and headed out with Sara and Rich. Skaden and Calzetta must have spent a little more time at the aid because that would be the last I'd see of Skaden, and Calzetta would eventually catch back up a mile later. "Sweety, you're in 4th place!" Sara informed me. "Are you serious? How did that happen?" I replied puzzled. "Hey Rich, your in 3rd place right now!" I yelled up toward him. "Really?" He shot back. We were both surprised at this news, but it gave me some pep in my stride nevertheless.
It was just after Beale's that I finally started feeling good. I was running with Sara, moving well with Rich, and it seemed all the calories I had dumped into my system earlier were finally starting to kick in. Rich and I kept it pretty light-hearted and just chatted and outlined a game plan for snagging podium spots. I really couldn't have ended up running with a better suited partner for where I was at. I mean, this is 2001 Ultra Runner of the Year and Mr. AR50! "Jacob, we just need to maintain through here. No need to push it yet." Timely words from the veteran as I was beginning to get antsy in my still-new-to-ultrarunning mindset.
Just then, Calzetta pulled up behind us and I threw him some good words for running so strongly. "I'm just trying to hang on man." He replied. We rolled along the wide gravel path and I had to pee really bad but didn't want to lose Rich. Therefore, I did what seemed wise at the moment, pee'd my pants. This odd custom of mine usually is no biggie, but in retrospect, that was probably one of the dumbest things I could've done with not having any socks on (I'm sure you see where this is going).
Nonetheless, Rich gapped both Calzetta and I once we hit the single track leading up to Granite Bay Aid, but was no more than 20-30 seconds ahead. Sara was still behind me, but I could hear her breathing become more and more labored. How fast are we running? I thought. I timed a 1/2mi between two markers and clocked 3:30 along this gentle rolling section. "Sweety, you ok?" I asked Sara. "Yeah, its just hard to run this pace with my hands full." She replied. What I didn't realize was that Sara was carrying not only a bottle in one hand, but a fist-full of gels in the other hand (gels that I was supposed to grab at Beale's); so not the most ideal way to run efficiency-wise at this pace. "Can you take some of these gels?" She asked. "Yeah I will once we get into the aid, I don't think your supposed to outside of it."
We rolled into Granite Bay Aid (31.67mi) to see Rich still there and I got a quick refill while Sara shoved some of those gels into my pocket. "How far up are the leaders?!" I asked. "About 8:40!" Someone shot back. "Alright Rich, lets do this. We've got the most technical section coming up, lets see if we can make up some time."
Rich, Calzetta, and I took off from GB Aid while Sara asked me if I'd be fine if she backed off the pace. "Of course sweety, I'll be fine. Thanks for being here!" So with that, we entered the section between Twin Rocks and Horseshoe Bar (a momentum-killing section where efficiency is key), but not before I glanced over to see the exact rock I sat down on last year and gave up. Not this year I told myself.
I set the pacing duties and the three of us just rolled along, keeping the mood mellow and for me, just continued to focus on good form and leg turnover ("stay forward!" "run like I don't have legs!" as Joe likes to say). I think we all knew Vajin's lead would be hard to overcome, given how ridiculously strong he is, but I had a feeling Lundstrom might fall off pace and we'd be able to make up the necessary ground. "How far ahead is the next guy?!" I asked someone along the trail. "About three-and-a-half minutes!" He replied. "That can't be right." Rich chimed in. So we took that info with a grain of salt and kept forging ahead.
Eventually, we cruised into Buzzards Cove Aid (34.67mi) where Matt Keyes and the Auburn Running Co. crew were stationed. "Matt, how far ahead is 2nd place?!" "Guys, he's not that far up, maybe 3 minutes!" "How far ahead is Vajin?" "8min up!" And with those words, Rich shot out of the aid like a cannon. Even at 47yrs old, it was apparent the competitive drive within him still burns strong. I tried to latch onto his heels, but I consistently remained 5-10 yards back. With this sudden surge too, Calzetta was no longer behind us (he ran like a boss for so long!). I noticed I would catch up to Rich on the more rolling/technical sections, but with his leg speed on the flatter stuff, he'd extend back to 5-10 yards ahead of me. This yo-yoing continued for a few miles until I knew that this pace was unsustainable for me. "Rich, go get 'em man!" "No Jacob, you get right back up here. I need you up here!" AAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!! I yelled internally. This hurt. This hurt real bad. But in all honesty, I had to make a decision: Do I back off or do I keep pushing? I chose to keep pushing. Rich extended to about 15-20 yards ahead of me now but I kept the gap from extending by trying to take my mind to deeper levels of pain tolerance. My legs hurt so bad. But then, the pain got even worse.
All of a sudden I felt a sharp tingling feeling in my right foot. What the heck is that? Then, like lightning, my foot felt like it was on fire. Blisters! Shouldn't have pee'd my pants and gotten my feet wet! You know that feeling when a blister is so full of fluid that the pressure hurts? Yeah, it was just like that (plus the added bonus of continual rubbing to remind me this pain was real). Not on just one foot though, but on both feet, on at least 5 toes. I yelled out in pain as it really did hurt. I backed off the pace slightly, Rich disappeared, but I was confronted with that dreaded decision again: Do I back off or do I keep pushing? Honestly, I wanted to back off, baby my feet and feel sorry for myself that this unfortunate circumstace was getting the better of me. I can't back off! I yelled internally. I've come this far, I have to keep going. And with those thoughts, I decided I had to keep pushing, and try my hardest to block out the pain. I tried adjusting my stride so that I'd be landing on seemingly unaffected areas and this did temporarily provide some relief.
After a few bends in the trail, I spotted Inside Trail's Tim Long just before Horseshoe Bar Aid (38.14mi). "How far ahead is 3rd place?!" "He's right in front of you! A guy in a red singlet!" Tim informed me. Rich is wearing a white singlet so that must be Lundstrom. "Thanks Tim!" Sure enough, right after I briefly climbed up to Horseshoe, I saw Lundstrom just leaving the aid. There's 3rd place right there.
Chris Ross was there and told me that Rich was a minute up and Vajin was 9:40 ahead. It took about a 1/4mi, but I saw Lundstrom just up ahead and not looking too good. "Hey man, how's it going? Do you need anything?" I asked. "Thanks, I'm ok." Lundstrom let me by and now I had to keep the feet intact and make it to Rattlesnake where Tucker Hoffman would join me to the finish.
|Just coming into Rattlesnake Bar Aid. (Photo: Mom)|
I continued to keep the throttle pressed the best I could as I came into Rattlesnake Bar Aid (40.94) and picked up Tucker and set off. "Dude, your form's looking really good and your still moving pretty well, right around 7:30's." Seriously? How was that possible, I felt like molasses? That gave me some positive motivation to keep plugging along. Just like at Sierra Nevada, Tucker was great to run with. We talked about life, how he was doing, and just random stuff.
|Really thirsty coming into Rattlesnake. (Photo: Mom)|
|Alright Tucker, Lets go! (Photo: Mom)|
Things thankfully kept pretty constant from Rattlesnake to the end of the single track, where the final 3+mi/~1000' climb would lead us out of the canyon to the finish at the Auburn Overlook. The only trial leading up to this point was that I ran out of water a few miles out from Last Gasp Aid and was getting pretty thirsty as the warm California sun hung high over us. Nevertheless, it felt so good to climb. This last section was probably the most enjoyable as I knew the end was near and the climbing legs were clicking really well.
|I swear I'm not crying, just wiping a little sweat from the eyes:) (Photo: Barbara Ashe)|
|Couldn't help but smile thinking about everything that happened today. (Photo: Tim Stahler, Inside Trail)|
|Might have been looking at my father-in-law Mike. (Photo: Auburn Journal)|
Soon enough, I spotted Austin just outside of Last Gasp Aid (47.56mi) and then the Curley brothers, Connor and Tyler at Last Gasp. Connor gave me a refill and I told Tucker that I wanted to blast the remaining 2.5mi's to the finish. We started at 8:30's, then dropped to 8's, then 7:30's, then 7's. Once past the gate, where the gravely road flattens out, we dropped to 6min pace and it felt really good. I thought I might have a shot at sub-6:10, but I'd have to really get on it. Carey Williams joined us with about 1mi to go and I gave it everything I had left. Up the last steep grunt, onto Pacific Ave, then a sharp right into the finish chute. I crossed the finish line in 3rd place in a time of 6:10:27, with a smile on my face and screaming blisters! (27:30 split from the river to the finish). Man, that was HARD!
|Wore the New Balance 890 v2's which are AMAZING! (Photo: Mom)|
|Tucker is a high school kid who has got a great head on his shoulders (and is a terrific pacer!) Photo: Mom|
|Right after all the blood was washed off. The other foot was just as nasty. (Photo: Mom)|
|An honor to share the podium with these guys. Truly class-act all-around. They inspire me. (Photo: Auburn Journal)|
This race was a huge mental breakthrough for me. Coming in, I had never truly raced all 50mi's of a 50mi race before. In previous 50's, I'd give in at times during low points and back off for extended periods. At this years AR50, I raced from gun to finish. This race challenged me more than any other race I've done (except for TRT100).
After the race, as I was sitting in a chair nursing my feet (or rather, Sara was - she is incredible!). A reporter asked me how I felt about the race. And the only response I could think of in that moment was: Humbled. And as I write this, it's interesting to think that after last years DNF, that's exactly how I felt too; humbled. This sport, time and time again, is humbling. My body and mind went through a lot of highs and lows out there last Saturday and I wish I could say, "Yeah it was all me" and pat myself on the back and stroke my ego a little more. But honestly, from each spectator, to every aid worker, to every competitor, to family, to friends, to my pacer(s); I'm humbled that I'm not as strong as I think I am sometimes, that I don't always "have it all together" and it takes the help of others to help me do my best and to bring out the best in me. Thank you everyone out there. That was really something special we all got to experience.
Full Results (w/ splits)
Folsom Newspaper Article