FOURmidable 50k/ USA 50k Championships
Usually my races are selected based on seeing incredible photos (Elkhorn Crest 53 miler), the date (the NUT 50k landed on my 25th birthday) or word of mouth (my first 50k, the McKenzie River 50k was suggested by my friend Sven). I heard about FOURmidable from a new friend I met at the Moab Trail Marathon (I believe Andy Wacker), recommended it to me. It was made all the better by the realization that my friends Taylor and Corey would also be racing! I wanted to go into this race feeling healthy and happy, so I focused on making sure I was well fed, rested, and keeping stress to a minimum in the weeks leading up to the race. This isn’t always an easy task with graduate school, and I ended up having a Dissertation Advisory Committee meeting the week of the race. These meetings tend to be important since the student (me) must demonstrate sufficient progress since the last meeting and propose a reasonable trajectory towards graduation. Fortunately, the meeting went well and I didn’t waste too many precious catecholamines in the process.
Tyler and I flew into Sacramento on Friday afternoon, and went for a little shake out along Folsom Lake. On our way to our Airbnb we stopped by a 7-11 to pick up some snacks, and Tyler realized that the clerk was from Nepal! Tyler lived in Nepal for 2 years and is fluent, so they had the most wonderful conversation in Nepali, much to the delight of the clerk. I’m not sure what they said, but it warmed my heart.
I found the most lovely Airbnb in Orangevale, about a 30 minute drive from the start line (Fig 1) . We stayed in a loft above a horse stable with FIVE neighing neighbors! (hehe) This was a real treat. We had some leftover Valentine’s pasta and salmon for dinner and wound down by reading Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage aloud to one another. It’s the story of a British explorer, Ernest Shackleton and his crew’s attempt to reach the South Pole. SPOILER ALERT: their ship is crushed by ice, sinking it and leaving them stuck on an ice floe . Tyler’s been reading this book on his own, but when I’m around we’ll trade pages reading aloud. We’ve found it to be a really nice alternative to watching Netflix. Here’s a little teaser as the adventurers tire of penguin and seal meat:
“We want to be fed with a large wooden spoon and … be patted on the stomach with the back of the spoon so as to get in a little more than would otherwise be the case. In short, we want to be overfed, grossly overfed on nothing but porridge and sugar, black currant and apple pudding and cream, cake, milk, eggs, jam, honey and bread and butter till we burst…” (Lansing 200).
Our downstairs neighbors were quite vocal in the night, and we had trouble sleeping but neither of us really wanted to acknowledge it, because all happy thoughts of course! We woke up in the morning, I drank some Spring Energy Electroride Electrolyte Drink Mix (*NOT to be consumed as is, squeeze into 16 oz water for best results, unless you want the sensation of a ginger shot) and roasted sweet potatoes. And good news, I didn’t puke! Woop! Thanks to my pal Danielle for being such a secret weapon nutrition champion.
When we got to the start line the first person I saw was Taylor, which was so nice because she gave me the best hug, thus activating my parasympathetic nervous system, whew. Then we picked up my bib, and on our way back to the car I saw none other than Megan Roche! She’s a real inspiration to me, having competed so well in the trail scene while in medical school and being a big part of the reason I decided to pursue trail running more seriously while in school. I introduced myself and she’s even MORE amazing in real life than on the internet! She was chatting with fellow scientist and physiology nerd Corrine, so I got to meet her as well, so awesome! They were out on the wet course all day cheering and supporting!
The race started out pretty relaxed, we were cruising on the initial flat and downhill sections. I was running in a nice pack with Taylor, Corey, Daniella and Kristina with different people taking the lead and throwing surges in the first 5 miles or so. Heading down into No-Hands Aid station I was packed up with Corey and Daniella (Figure 2), and I stopped for some more electrolyte drank there. We headed up the second of FOUR climbs and Corey and I got a bit of a gap on Daniella, but as soon as things started downhill Daniella caught right up and blew past. It was so fun to see her crush the descents! I kept her in sight for a while and even felt like I was catching up a bit on the third big climb, but my legs were getting pretty cramped up (which I think was ubiquitous among nearly everyone I talked to, likely due to the glacial, crotch deep creek crossings coupled with trying to run fast) Figure 3.
Figure 3: Crossing Knickerbocker Creek at mile 19. (American Trail Running Association)
I suppose vasoconstriction and exercise aren’t a great combination. However, I am grateful for the creek crossings since they permitted incognito micturition, I wonder how many other people had the same idea.. Aside from that I focused on making sure I was well fed and hydrated and charging as much as I could while avoiding full on ATP depletion (leading to prolonged relaxation phase of muscle contraction and ultimately a fused summation of action potentials).
I saw Tyler at the Cool Aid Station (mile 23.4) and he said I was 3 minutes behind Dani! I kept trying to imagine her coming into view for the rest of the race, but it never happened, turns out this gap stayed about the same until the end. The next descent down into No-Hands was one of the most fun parts of the race, I was catching up with a few men and we bombed down the hill together!
After going through No Hands, things got more quiet and I was getting nervous that I’d taken a wrong turn. I was asking hikers if I was going the right way and some confirmed I was while others weren’t sure. The course markings felt less frequent and there were arrows pointing to single track side trails off the wider trail, but it didn’t say to the finish line so I hesitantly followed them but didn’t want to go down too far just to find that I’d taken a wrong turn. Turns out Dani had missed one of these arrows and had to back track! The final climb up to the finish line was TOUGH! With 30 miles on the legs and some serious cramping, a steep climb was the cherry on top! I heard Tyler cheering from above and figured I was close, so I pushed a little harder. “Run all the way through, Rach! You can do it!” he said. “Actually, you don’t have to if you don’t want to,” he added. But I wanted to, might as well! Hurt so good! Here's the full GPS data from the race if you're interested!
I was greeted by the drug testing guy at the finish line and escorted to the USADA trailer for chaperoned urinating, it took me 64 oz of liquid to pee again this time, but my specific gravity had improved from Moab, and I supplied well over the required 90mL of filtrate, I was proud of my nephrons. Tyler delivered my slipper socks and snacks to the trailer and I reminisced with Dani and Evan about our grand adventure. Despite the forecast for rain all day, it hardly rained at all while we were racing and the sun even came out at the finish line!
Afterwards, I hobbled and Tyler walked around Old Town Auburn and ate lunch at the Annex Taproom. We went back to our horse friends at the Airbnb and I took a shower (the bathroom was wedged between two horse stalls so I was kept company with frequent whinnies). Then we went to Leatherby’s Family Creamery for dinner. All I can say is, I’m SO glad we dined in. The concoctions coming out of the ice cream laboratory were nothing short of magnificent, I mean, they were LITERALLY defying gravity and the rate at which people were consuming these substrates was NEXT LEVEL! Imagine a pyramid of 15 scoops of ice cream stacked 4 scoops high, smothered in caramel and chocolate sauce. Actually, you don’t need to imagine it, check out Figure 5. Needless to say, our jaws were on the floor and we felt a twinge of ice cream insecurity for our single scoops of pistachio (me) and swiss chocolate (Tyler).
Figure 5: Defying gravity and assaulting your pancreas at Leatherby's Family Creamery.
On Sunday Tyler had planned to run the last 20 miles of the Western States course, so I dropped him off at Green Gate and he ran to Placer High. Just 10 minutes outside of Cool there was at least 3 inches of snow on the ground and I was STOKED to demonstrate my Minnesotan snow driving skills. As my Poppa Bear would say, “It’s all about anticipating, keeping your momentum on hills, and no sudden movements.” I headed back into Auburn and posted up at The Pour Choice coffee house, where I snuggled up with a coffee, some bacon and my data. I made friends with a fellow runner there, Jerry who nonchalantly won the half marathon earlier in the day. He thrived in the Sunday snow as an Anchorage man. We chatted about running, the flaws of modern medicine, electrophysiology, Crow’s Pass and infant nutrition (I couldn’t help myself). Not only is he an incredible runner, but also a high school math teacher and cross country coach, AND nurse. This is one of my favorite things about this sport, it seems so many people are not only crushing the trails but also maintaining full time jobs and making contributions to society outside of their inspiring athletic performances. This weekend was stacked with people like Jerry, frolicking out in the mud, taking a break from their day jobs.
Lansing, Alfred. Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage. 1959. Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc.