Posted by: Joe English | April 19, 2007

Race Report (Guest Writer): American River 50 Miler 2007

Roger Corell contributes this race report as a guest writer from the American River 50 miler, held outside of Sacramento, CA on April 14th 2007. The American River race course heads generally toward the mountains and ends with significant elevation gain. Running Wild plans to feature a Q/A with another of the runners in the group next week. Check back for that feature. Coach Joe]

The Start – “What if I fall the first Mile?”
Roger Corell at the American River 50 milerWe (Ken, Joe and I) chatter idly about race preparation, race strategy and the weather outlook while Ken drives us to the start. More about the weather later – although I will point out here that over the course of at least 100 training runs it rained on us just once.

We spent some time people watching – let’s just say the ultra crowd has some characters. We chatted nervously, trying to keep dry as the rain started and keeping busy until we worked our way to the starting line. The near pitch dark 6:00am start of 500 runners is on a steep dike no wider than fifteen feet. The gun went off and the focus was on just surviving the first mile as everyone anxiously watched each other, while at the same time trying to find their stride.

Start to Watt Ave (mile 5.9) – “Finding a Groove”
The rain is really starting to come down now and the wind has picked up considerably. What started out as some joking around that you could spot the bay area people ‘cause they were dressed like it was winter has now turned into jealous stares. In spite of the conditions and the challenge to stay warm, we eventually find some space and work into a nice groove. We find ourselves settling into the same pace as “Tucson”, Neil the FDNY guy from the Bronx and Dan the contractor from the Bay Area. Ken and I are both surprised to find that Joe has not left us in his dust yet. We like running with Joe so we make a tactical decision to scrap our initial strategy of 20/2 (run for 20 minutes, walk for 2) in favor of only walking through the aid stations, which are spaced out every 5-6 miles. It’s a gamble as we don’t know if we’ll have enough fuel in the tank for the extremely tough upper half of the race course.

[Editor’s note: Joe is a sub-3:00 marathon runner. A very strong runner.]

Watt Ave to William Pond (mile 9.4) – “Making New Friends”
Another person has joined our little band in the form of friend Mark Taylor. Here we are minding our own business with a casual 50 mile run to Auburn and along comes this random cyclist haphazardly working their way against the grain. Mark provides much needed conversational distraction as the weather has certainly not improved nor has the trail become more interesting. We’re keeping the same comfortable pace and I’m looking forward to Sunrise where I’ll see my family for the first time.

William Pond to Sunrise Blvd (mile 15.6) – “Family Support”
Sunrise has two parking lots. I don’t know how many times I’ve run by this section of the trail, but today I somehow forgot there were two lots and I had a minor freak out when I didn’t see my wife Sharon and the girls in the first lot. Not only would Sharon and the girls be there for moral support, but they were also my support crew, carrying my favorite running foods, drinks and miscellaneous first aid supplies.

As we head out of the aid-station in the first parking lot, I feel great relief to find Sharon and the girls in the second parking lot. Relieved, I refill my Gatorade bottles. For those who have ever run long distance races you know how uplifting seeing family can be and this will be the case at every spot I see my family. By now Noel from the Bronx and “Tucson” have fallen behind. Surprisingly, Joe is still with us but that won’t last much longer.

Sunrise to Negro Bar (mile 23.5) – “Three Becomes Two”
The rain has let up and with the exception of water-logged shoes my clothes are starting to dry out. My hydration belt however has started to painfully chafe against my lower back, so I have Sharon and the girls apply some NuSkin at a stop by a fish hatchery. Other than that it doesn’t feel like I’ve run anywhere near twenty miles. Cool! Remarkably my right knee, which absolutely killed me during some training runs, does not flare up at all during the run – probably from the healing wonders of the taper and race day adrenaline.

Just past the fish hatchery it starts to get interesting as the race directors decide upon this cruel little joke of having us climb straight up the Nimbus overlook and straight back down. What was that about? Oh, I forgot to mention that, much later than expected, Joe has finally dropped us. Shortly after Nimbus we find another surprise as we steer off the beaten path and onto single track until Negro Bar. It’s a nice diversion but it’s during this section that I’m finally starting to feel the miles.

Negro Bar to Beals Point (mile 27.4) – “Let the Climbing Begin”
I had surgery on my left foot less than a year ago and it’s usually at about the 20-25 mile mark when I can feel some soreness and I start popping Advil for the pain. This time, remarkably, no pain has cropped up at all. Encouraged, I press on with Ken and Dan from San Fran to climb up to Beal’s Point. It’s about a 300’ gain spread over three miles. Prior to that, at Negro bar I see my family and the girls hop in the race with me for a short distance. The climb to Beal’s Point takes it’s toll as I’m feeling the miles a bit more and I loose sight of Ken on the last portion of the climb. I won’t see him again until the finish.

Beals Point
I stick to my race strategy of changing shoes and socks here, not knowing that within a few miles that will be pointless. I see Sharon and the girls again who provide much needed words of encouragement along with everyone else at the stop. A little stretching and I step back in with a friend, my pacer Jon Lambert. As an added bonus, Marne Dunn decides to run with us to Granite Bay. Starting up again is really, really tough as we’ve already run more than a marathon, the Beal’s Point environment felt like a finish line and the dikes that connect Folsom and Granite Bay are not fun.

Beal’s Point to Granite Bay (mile 31.5) – “Grinding it Out”
With the help of Marne, we finally get across the bleak stretch of the dikes and into the forested single track trail that will take us the rest of the way. I mention to Jon that my legs are getting a little tight and I’m not looking forward to the “meat grinder”. The “meat grinder” is about a 3 mile section of the trail with nasty hills, boulder scrambles and technical pitches that earned this nickname because of the toll it took on us during training runs. Jon, in his usual coaching style, says it will be good for me since I’ll use different muscles and that I should really be looking forward to the change. I’m not buying it, but we’ll see. I get another surprise at the Granite Bay aid station as friend Richard and his son Nick are there. After getting some encouragement from Richard we’re off to the “meat grinder” where it will feel like the real race begins.

Granite Bay to Rattlesnake Bar (mile 40.5) – “The Healing Powers of the ‘Meat Grinder’”
Jon was right. The dreaded “meat grinder” feels great. Almost without thinking we ease into a steady cadence that has us quickly passing people. In fact, from this point on we will not be passed by a single runner and will pass at least 40 runners. On a down note, the rain has decided to pick up again. We try to focus on the beauty of our surroundings: the deep canyon, the granite outcroppings, the wild flowers. We’re actually having fun now, feeling completely refreshed, and we keep up the steady cadence of passing other runners.

The rain has now turned creeks that were minor trickles into full blown streams and nicely compacted dirt into inches deep mud. I can’t imagine what we look like at this point. Oh well, it doesn’t matter, the key point is we’re feeling good and loving it.

Rattlesnake Bar to the bottom of “The Hill” (mile 46.7) – “Mud Runners Delight”
With the exception of some periodic, short-lived down cycles, I’m still feeling good. Jon’s great coaching continues as he ensures my food and fluid consumption is steady. He tells me to switch away from solid foods to Gu and identifies our next targets as we keep passing people. I see Sharon for the last time and do a quick refill of Gatorade without stopping. It’s so hard passing people on this section of the trail that the last thing you want to do is lose position at an aid station.

At this point, there isn’t a dry spot on the trail and it has completely turned into a muddy quagmire. We fly through the next station as “Phlegm Man” – this guy with an annoying hack every 30 seconds – has caught up with us and we need to separate ourselves before he drives us crazy. I think we’ve got more in the tank than he does (he’s spitting his out) so with a little extra effort we drop him pretty easily.

I’m beyond enjoying the beauty of the trail and it’s now a matter of grinding it out. The uphill climbs have slowed a bit and the down-hills are becoming more painful. The river straightens out and Jon points out the sharp left hand turn about a mile in the distance that begins the three-mile, 700’ climb, to the finish. It’s an awesome, but amazingly welcome sight.

Bottom of “The Hill” to Finish (mile 50) – “Reaching New Heights”
46.7 miles down, but now with a daunting 3.3 mile climb to go. I don’t care how I feel at this point. If I have to crawl the last miles, then that’s what I’ll do. Thankfully, it doesn’t come to that and it turns out we’ve run a well managed race with just enough in the tank to run the run-able sections. Some sections are so steep that I’m not even sure the elite runners could run them.

The focus now is on just moving forward and not losing position. I’m starting to feel a little light headed and slightly disoriented. What should I expect after running 48 miles? Once we reach the Last Gasp aid station the hill becomes run-able. We manage to run about 75% of the hill from this point on.

The Finish – “Overwhelmed”
About a half mile from the finish Jon points out the radio towers at the top of the hill that help mark the park with the finish line. Jon provides some final words of encouragement and directions to the park, which come in handy since I’m feeling light-headed. I continue grinding it out to the finish. When I crest the hill I can’t see the finish line, as it’s tucked behind a knoll with trees. I finally round the last corner, see my family, and I’m overwhelmed. Hayley, my youngest, runs the last 50 yards with me through the finish line chute and helps me finish in 9 hours and 6 minutes.

Well, we did it. The operative word is we. Without the support of many people, I could not have successfully trained for nor completed the American River 50 mile Endurance Run. Special thanks go to 1) my family for supporting me before, during and after the race, 2) my training partners Joe Van de Water, Ken McKee and Jon Lambert, 3) Joe Nielsen who organized a finish line worthy BBQ at mile 27.5 and, 4) Mark Taylor who provided much needed conversational distraction, while following us for about 10 miles on his bike. I felt confident through the whole race, worked through the mental challenges of less than ideal weather during the entire race and muddy conditions over the last 20 miles – but finished within my target time (9:06).

Click here to visit the American River 50 miler web-site.


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