American River seemed like a good race for me this year because I needed a fourth Montrail Ultra Cup race (with Where's Waldo '09, Bandera and Western States) and I didn't get in to Miwok. As an added bonus my parents live 25 minutes away from Auburn, so the weekend could double as a bonding opportunity. Or so I thought. It turns out my parents were out of town for the weekend, so I picked up their car at the airport and drove it to their house, where I stayed...by myself. Hey, the price was right! Though I didn't get to see my parents, I did get a chance to meet my pacers for Western States, two fun-loving ladies and great runners.
Because I was bussing from the start to the finish (4:10 departure - that's AM!), I had to get up at 2:30. In classic OCD fashion, I set three alarms and then woke up before any of them went off!
I rode on the bus with one of my pacers Anne Hitchcock, an awesome runner who ran a 3:02 at Napa this year and who was doing her first 50 miler at AR. We had a nice time chatting during the hour bus ride and even got about ten minutes of bonus time when the diver got lost!
Anne and I agreed to run together as long as it suited us. We started pretty far back in the pack and were bogged down quite a bit in the first couple of miles, running 9:09 and 8:35. Well, after two miles I felt warmed up and I got a bit antsy to pick it up because I wanted to be running 7:30-7:45 miles on the road section and Anne was content to pick it up slowly, so we got separated pretty quickly.
The first 26.7 section is mostly paved bike path with a three mile diversion on trails up and down some bluffs near the Folsom dam. I ran pretty smoothly through this area, sharing about an hour of it with John Blue, which helped to pass the time quickly as he told me all about his Western States experiences. He told me he once was mistaken for Scott Jurek and some guy came up to him and starting asking him all kinds of training questions. "Can you believe some stranger would just start grilling a person for training advice?" he asked, to which I sheepishly apologized for grilling him about his Western States training. "Oh, no. We're not strangers," he said with all seriousness, "we introduced ourselves and now we are running together!" So true how I have connected with so many people who would otherwise be strangers through running.
We clipped along right around 7:30 pace, but John eventually fell back. I continued to move my way up in the lady's standings. By mile 24, though, I could tell the road pounding was hard on my trail-spoiled quads. They've gotten soft now that I don't do marathon type road training on the weekends!
I hit the marathon marker in 3:23, which is faster than a couple of my actual marathon times and only 13 minutes slower than my PR! Before we hit the trail, I had moved into second place.
The trail gave my legs a bit of new life, and I kept passing people, but all guys. When I got to Granite Bay Aid Station (mile 31.67), I inquired about the women's leader. "Oh, man she's in a different time zone! I don't think you can catch her!" When I asked just how far ahead was she, another lady chimed in, "30 seconds."
What? Really? "No, I just didn't want you to feel bad. She's got 25 minutes on you." Dang, a 25 minute lead in 31 miles! At that point I knew the task at hand was to preserve second place. I still ran hard and gave it my all. I passed a lot of guys, so at least I felt like I was moving pretty well. The next ten mile section was either a good stretch for me or a bad stretch for Tracy (Garneau) because I stayed 25 minutes behind. I was doing pretty well on gentle climbs, but on the steep climbs at the end, I couldn't muster the power. Tracy put another 6 minutes on me in the last nine miles. That girl can run!
I was pretty sure I had a comfortable lead over third, but I had let a few people know my goal time was 7:15 and I was hoping to make it. I knew it was going to be close. With one mile to go, I thought I would fall short because I had less than ten minutes, but I ended up ducking under at 7:14:21.
Third place was 13 minutes behind, and I was excited to see that it was Anne! She used the same tactic as me, coming from behind to pick off ladies, taking down Susannah Bon with less than two miles to go for a podium spot! Susannah was also a come-from-behind runner as I never saw her all day, so she had to have started behind me and picked people off as well. I love it, because I am a big believer in the slow and steady strategy, unless you are Tracy Garneau, because fast and steady worked out really well for her! She had an impressive race (not that I saw any of it!) and she will be one to watch at Western States.
(Photo: one of the benefits of finishing second is that you get your photo on ultrarunning.com so that you can steal it and put it on your blog).
After the race I got to meet Mo Barley, a total firecracker with an impressive ultra resume including five top ten finishes at Western States. She paced Anne the last nine miles of American River and is my other pacer for Western States. Mo is so competitive she makes me look tame. Anne told us all how Mo was encouraging her to go after the "dead meat" at the end of the race and was even yelling at her to take down Tim Twietmeyer in the final mile. I love it! I just hope I am in position to go after "dead meat" with her at Western States!
We hung out at the race for a long time before heading off to Anne's house to shower. Anne has the good fortune of living a half mile from the AR finish and a stone's throw from Placer High School. Then we replenished our spent calories at a local pizza joint before calling it a night. It was a great day all around.