Sunday, April 8, 2012

American River 50 2012: perfect conditions...

With Spring and Easter come prefect trail running conditions: not too hot, not too cold, trails still soft and not dusty yet, more day light. To top it this weekend, the sky was mostly clear to let us admire the full moon at the start and benefit from its light. Personally, I thought all the stars were aligned for a great day on the trail and pursuing my remission with this race after a hectic start (asthma crisis in 2008 and 2009). In 2008 I finished in 8:53 after painfully walking 2/3 of the course (Never give up!), unable to breath after mile 16. The following year, same story and this became my first DNF, dropping Beal's Point (mile 26.6, Giving up...). In 2010 I finally broke 7 hours (6:58, Faster, at last!) and improved again last year with a 6:47 (Older but faster). And I was aiming at another Personal Best this Saturday, hoping to run free with Caballo Blanco like last weekend...

It started well. After a few hundred yards I lost sight of the lead bike which was reasonable given this race has always very fast and competitive runners. My GPS indicated 6:55 min/mile as a pace which was slightly slower than I was expecting on the bike path. Without pushing much, the pace slightly went down over the next few miles as I was catching and running along Rod Bien. Lewis Taylor passed us when our pace was down to 6:40, then Phil Shaw. Both were targeting around 6:15-6:30 (that would be 6 hours and 30 minutes for the whole course, not a minute/mile pace). Rod finished in 6:20 (7th), Phil in 6:28 (9th) and Lewis in 6:39 (11th) so a good company to be in, pace and goal wise. We traded places while going through the first two aid stations (carrying two water bottles, I didn't stop), we were moving, life was good... Actually, around mile 17, before the bridge Nimbus Overlook, Rod asked how I felt and he had to ask twice because he couldn't hear my first response. Since my first asthma crisis at the Phoenix marathon in 2002, mile 16 has always been the place exercise-induced asthma would kick in from time to time. For the past 2 years I've been taking Singulair I came to the point of forgetting about this sort of wall. As a matter of fact, I thought about asthma at the start, with the chilly air, and ran the first mile with my Buff covering my mouth. Anyway, I could feel the lungs started not functioning and was hoping they'd hold on the remaining 30 miles of trails.
I stopped at Main Bar (I hadn't realized they changed the location from Nimbus Overlook), mile 19, to refill my GU2O bottle (above picture from, still all smile...). While there it felt like I got under a train, a group of about a dozen running really strong (Erik Skaden, Sean Meissner, Mark Lantz, ...). Among them was teammate Chris Calzetta, whom I hadn't seen on the start line. He was all smile and I encouraged him to stay with such a pack. He would finish in 6th in 6:20, for his first American River! The average pace was still below 6:50 as we got on the trail. Staying on that trail for too long I almost missed Negro Bar which I entered after a small detour. At this point, we were getting back on the bike path but I had to alternate running and walking to catch my breath. It wasn't feeling good anymore... I was actually surprised that, in the next 6 miles, nobody would pass me despite the much slower pace. I passed the marathon mark in 3:03 and reached Beals Point around 3:08. I was so out of breath that I couldn't respond to all the questions the volunteers were asking me at the aid station and decided I'd rather get moving as the second half will be and feel really long. Here I am, enter Beals Point, photo credit to
Finally, one runner caught up with me just before Cavitt High School, and not any runner but Ellie Greenwood. Ellie is potentially the next Ann Trason, winning everything on the circuit, Western States last year, Chuckanut 3 weeks ago and she would easily win this race again placing 6th overall in 6:18, more than one hour before the second woman! She passed me in a uphill section, very focused and giving me a "nice job" on the way. Average pace then: 7:12. I kept moving albeit much slower yet didn't get passed again for a few miles. Toshi passed me during a pit stop, and that started a long series of tens of runners including teammates Sean, Marc and Jeremy. I'm not going to go into too much details over the last part of my run as I want to turn the page quickly and get back to... work... I managed to run the first 50K just under 4 hours and it took me another 4 hours to walk and jog the last 20 miles, on the famous section that I still hate (American River, Rio Del Lago, Sierra Nevada Run). I know this is a wonderful trail, with the views over Folsom Lake in particular, but there is something my body and mind can't stand, sorry... After the last aid station, Last Gasp, with 3 uphill miles to go, someone told me I was in 48th position which was something I could live with. I tried to run as much as possible but my lungs were really burning and my muscles crying for oxygen, having been asphyxiated for 30 miles... While I was pushing to the limit 10 runners actually passed me in that last stretch but I did manage to break 8 hours, 7:55:57. Photo Stan Jensen (
Phew, gasp, ahhh, yikes, ouch, there aren't enough onomatopoeias to express how I felt after passing the line. Of course happy to be done with my 69th ultra race, thrilled to have managed to cover the distance under 8 hours given the circumstances, but so disappointed by this counter performance and the fact that this darn asthma kicked in again. Taking Singulair has certainly helped containing my handicap but obviously not completely eliminated it. And I know I shouldn't even complain, so many people are not even able to run a mile because of much more serious asthmatic conditions. Or others because of lung disease like Tom Kaisersatt.

Overall, the conditions were perfect and, out of the 890 entrants, 686 are listed in the results on Ultrasignup. (I don't know how many of the entrants were actually at the start). Julie Fingar and her NorCal Ultra team did a very professional job to accommodate such a crowd with so many efficient, friendly and encouraging volunteers from the start to the finish and including the remote Buzzard's Cover aid station (special thanks to you guys!). I want to also salute Tim Twietmeyer who finished less than a minute behind me for his 32nd finish out of 33 American River editions (just missing the first 1980 run and having ran 30 under 8 hours and 16 under 7 hours)!!!

I'm heading to Madrid later this week and will be back for Ruth Anderson where I hope my lungs will behave and remain cooperative... Happy running to all in the meantime!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

désolée que l'asthme se manifeste à nouveau.
toujours admirative de ton courage
travaille bien à Madrid, en attendant Ruth Anderson...