Sunday, May 1, 2011

Quicksilver 50 Mile Race Report

"From there to here
from here to there,
funny things
are everywhere." (One Fish Two Fish, By Dr. Seuss)

My experience with the Quicksilver 50 Mile race felt surreal. It was as though I was running through a long Dr. Seuss adventure. Everywhere I looked, there was something interesting to see and hear. Nature in all its glory shined everywhere in ways both big and small. The day started with a beautiful sunrise and beautiful, funny things, kept surprising me throughout the day.

I was not confident in my ability to finish 50 miles. I was out on the race course for a 21 mile training run two weeks before the race, and it felt brutally difficult. I ended up running and hiking the 21 miles in 4 hours and 39 minutes that day. It crushed my spirit. I couldn’t imagine running 29 more miles on such a monstrous race course. The 50 mile race has 8500 feet of elevation gain and even the downhill portions can deal some serious punishment. I was afraid. I was afraid of another DNF and I was afraid of another long death march at the end. But then I thought about Elaine, who suffered through her own death march to finish the American River 50 Mile race, unofficially, in the dark, after 14 hours and 25 minutes.

Life is all about suffering and uncertainty. “It’s good to DNF, you need them… they make you stronger” (Laura Yasso). As a last resort, I whined to my wife about dropping to the 50K distance, but she surprised me by telling me to do the 50 Miler. The race was her wedding anniversary gift to me, but the real gift was her support and belief in me.

At 6am, the race began, and I jumped in the back of the pack, with merely the goal of finishing and having a good time with good company on some beautiful trails.

There wasn’t much interesting about my running. I just zoned out most of the time. I ran the downhill portions as effortlessly as possible. “Shorten your stride and quicken your turnover”, I told myself. Then on the uphill, I did the same, except for my hiking stride. When running became moderately difficult, I made deals with myself. Run to that tree or ribbon, then I could take a short walking break to regain my breath. And by relaxing on the gentle downhill portions, I hoped to recharge my “batteries”. The Tarahumara believed that when “you run on the earth and with the earth, you can run forever.” When you let gravity do all the work going downhill, it’s like taking a break to recover the strength that you’ll need for the uphill climbs. Unfortunately, if the downhill is too steep and your stride turnover (cadence) is too slow, you need to lean back and put on the brakes, which can really tax your quads. And after about 25 miles, my quads were cramping and tight. At times they felt like they were on fire. But once the hills lessened their steep ways, or when I took an extra electrolyte pill, the fire seemed to quiet down.
One of the things I like to do in long races like this is to hang out and run with other ultra runners. The majority of ultra runners do not blog about their experiences, but they should! So many of them have inspirational stories to share and they’re all such nice people. I ran with a gal named Ana for a big chunk of the race. She’s done 9 100 mile races, including 3 Western States finishes.

I got to the 50K mark, back near the starting line after 7 hours, 50 minutes before the first cutoff. I knew that if the wheels came off at any point after that, I’d probably lose those 50 minutes that I “banked”. Miles 31-35 were the roughest for me, mainly because there was a ton of steep uphill climbs and steep downhill drops. My quads were on fire again, and I had 3 mile splits around 20 minutes! Still, I trudged on, stayed positive and fought through the pain. Taking two aspirin at the aid station also helped. But once those miles passed, things got easier with the help of gentler hills and beautiful sights.

A little girl cheered me on with the cutest voice, "Good job!" She reminded me of my own little girl, who I thought of for a while. In long runs, sometimes the memory of loved ones (near and far) can really give you a psychological boost.

I also met a father and his beautiful daughter holding hands on another section of peaceful trails. The scene was picturesque. They seemed to glow in the sunlight. And it reminded me of my daughters again. I look forward to long walks with my daughters on the same trails someday.

One runner I passed was telling me about a 6-foot long rattlesnake that crossed the trail only a few minutes earlier. I wish I could have caught a picture of that “funny thing”! In another section, some bird watchers were taking pictures of a purple finch on the tree tops with a special, expensive-looking camera. They told me that these purple finches sing beautifully. I took the time to listen, and agreed. It was very beautiful. I would never have known about the purple finch’s sweet song had I not stopped to ask a question and listen to the melodious answer high up in the trees. And there were other little animals everywhere I looked, which added to the “wild” experience. I saw a wild turkey, a family of quail, some blue-bellied lizards, a dead mole, a giant potato bug, a caterpillar, some pretty butterflies and a few hawks. A little june bug also hitched a ride on my forearm for a few miles.
This is one of the many wooden bridges in the shaded portions of the race course.

In the second half of the race, I also began to notice all the pretty wildflowers all around us. You could probably find prettier ones at the florist, but there was something special about seeing them in their natural habitat. It was as though I were seeing lions and zebras in Africa rather than in the confines of pens and cages at a zoo. One couple I ran into were taking pictures of a red flower at the edge of the trail. I once again stopped to take a picture, and they informed me that the red flowers are “Indian Paintbrushes”. “What a poetic name”, I thought to myself, before continuing on my run.

Indian Paintbrushes

The time flew by, and the energy lows that I usually expect in ultras never showed up. I was half expecting nausea to hit me at mile 44, but instead I felt fresh, positive, and very happy! I even got an orange Popsicle at the mile 41.5 aid station! In my last 2 50 Mile races, the last 10 miles were more like death marches. But here, I was running faster and stronger than I had all day. Maybe I took it too easy earlier. Maybe I took too many breaks. It didn’t matter. I was going to finish strong and with a smile on my face. I finished in 11 hours and 39 minutes. I came in 57th place out of 93 50-Mile starters. Sadly, 17 people did not finish, and one person was disqualified. This is the only ultra I have run that gives out finisher’s medals, and I was so happy and proud to wear that medal. It was a magical day, filled with “funny things” everywhere.

Nature in all its glory shined today
From little bugs to majestic views
It shined with the sunrise
With heavenly light, such a wondrous sight
It shined with vibrant colors
Of wildflowers in bloom
Indian Paintbrush's brilliant reds
And California Poppy's golden yellows
It shined in the sweet voice of purple finches
Singing their beautiful song
High in the treetops
Everywhere you look and see
Beautiful things were looking back at me.

Other Notes:

My Garmin only showed 48.53 miles, but the hills and the tree cover can usually account for the slight differences. My calves which normally plague me the most surprisingly gave me no problems at all. I ate my McDonald’s Sausage McMuffin with Egg again, and listened to Born to Run on my 25 minute drive to the race. I felt great during the race, but felt sick shortly after it. I normally feel sick after my long ultras, so it didn’t surprise me. Leor Pantilat set the course record at 6:01 for the 50 Mile race, and it was his first 50 Mile race! Ann Trason holds the women’s course record at 6:45.

1 comment:

  1. Those photos always get me. Trail running definitely has its advatages there! The flowers are gorgeous. Purple finches live in my backyard :)

    This part of your report really spoke to my heart: "The race was her wedding anniversary gift to me, but the real gift was her support and belief in me. "

    Congrats, John. Enjoy the medal.