Thursday, April 19, 2007

070414 American River 50M - Toughing out the Cold and Rain with Minimals

photo courtesy of Brightroom

Date: April 14, 2007
Race: American River 50M
Location: Sacramento to Auburn along the American River trail
Distance: 50 miles
Profile: 3,474ft gain/2,139ft loss, highest: 1,424 ft, lowest: 20ft, start: 20ft, finish: 1,355ft

Result: 8:31:56 (10:14 min/mile), 88/477 overall, 67/347 Men, 14/288 age group, Complete Results
  • Marathon: 3 hr 45 min (8:35 min/mile)
  • 50K: 4 hr 38 min (8:53 min/mile)

I somehow messed up my Forerunner 305 a few times. I'll describe this below.

I wore the heartbeat belt for the first time in a race and felt very comfortable with it. However, I had no time to monitor my heartbeat. Later I found out, the intensity during the run was about 85%.


Early this year, I had been bothered with ankle issues as the Inov8 315 was not fit with my running style. I thus avoided hill work helping recovery on my ankle injuries while staying in good shape. I probably had not trained at my favorite hilly Ohlone Wilderness Trail this year. On the other hand, I knew I was good at technical trails, but might be lack of endurance. I had run a few long training run up to 40 miles in one shot on flat Alameda Creek Trail. Therefore, I thought these long training runs should improve my performance at later miles. Yes they did. I was able to complete Ruth Anderson 100K without issues even when I caught cold a few days earlier.

Two weeks later, I'm going to do this American River 50M. Since American River 50M has less than 3,500ft climb and has the first 27 miles pretty flat bike path, I believe Ruth Anderson 100K is actually a great training run. After a few days of rest from Ruth Anderson 100K, I started to run for a day or two in the first week. During the weekend, I went to Mt. Diablo for trail work (See Trail Work at Mt. Diablo - Knowing Ultrarunning Friends and Poison Oaks). I assumed it's a kind of hill work needed since the last 23 miles in American River 50M is the hilly section.

The trail work actually exhausted me a bit. The second week, i.e. the race week, I could only run once. I needed to do this training run as early as possible in order to let my body rest more. I did a 10 mile run at the fast sub-7 :30 min/mile pace on Tuesday. It was tough as I had not run that pace and distance combined for years. I had to rest enough to recover from such a training run. Fortunately, I recovered well and it did help me to speed up in the race.

My past experience told me the Central Valley where the course was could be pretty warm during the day. The Ultrarunner List had some discussions about this. I decided to wear minimal to embrace the heat. I also did a few times of heat training run. I basically wear three thick layers of long sleeve shirts and sweaters, plus two long pants. I went out for my usual lunch time run. My body was steaming within 5 minutes. The heat simply forced me to slow down and take hard breath. It turns out it was very effective!

Other than training in endurance and speed, I was also boosted by some inspirations.

Inspiration and Strategy - Pushing to my limits and Embracing the Pains

I ran for fun and as part of survival in my the first two years in American River 50M. In 2005, I ran and walked for the first 27 miles of bike path because I had no confidence in completing my first 50 miler. With still some energy left, I sped up the hills and to the finish.

Last year, I decided to push myself a bit after I had run a few other ultra's. I no longer walked. I ran all the way with at a comfortable pace at the bike path. I was still able to speed up at the trail section and powered up all the way from the river bed to the finish. I made 38 min 20 sec faster.

There is an interview in the April issue of Ultrarunning Magazine - The Younger Ultrarunner: 100-Mile Record Setter Jenn Shelton. It is written by Tony Krupicka. Both are 23 year old female and male champions in Rocky Raccoon 100M this year.

Jenn described her approach as "I'm gonna go for it and see what happens. If I fail miserably, it's not a big deal because I know that I get stronger with each race." and "If I go out at eight minutes per mile in a 100-mile, it's not because I think I'm going to hold it for 100 miles, so let me see how long I can hold it today. But more importantly, it's because it's no fun running slow."

Therefore, I plan to be more aggressive. I'm not that young in terms of age, but everything else in myself becomes younger after years of running. This year I am going to race it and find out my limits. I would like to see how far I can hold that pace. I know it will be more pain by running faster.

I set 8 hr high standard goal in my mind. I find out Keith Blom did 7 hr 59 min 8 sec in 2005 (See 2005 split results). His split is,
  • Nimbus (mile 19.4) - 2:31:11
  • Beals Point (mile 27.4) - 3:43:49
  • Horseshoe (mile 38) - 5:48:59
  • Rattlesnake (mile 40.7) - 6:11:46
  • Last Gasp (mile 47.6) - 7:33:49
While my family are away in Taiwan during spring break, I have been watching Race for the Soul a few times every night. When being asked about the second half of the Western States 100M, Gordy Ainsleigh says "..through the devastatingly low, things would normally get better..."

The "low" means the Devil's Thumb climb and Canyons during the hottest of the day. Once a runner survives this section, the condition will get better. The temperature is going lower into the night. The terrains from Michigan Bluff at mile 55 become gentle toward the Auburn finish. I need to learn to enjoy the pain and overcome it.

Getting There

It's only two hours of driving to the start, but, as usual, I want to find out if I can get there without driving. I can take Capitol Corridor to Sacramento and then the Light Rail Blue Line with three miles of walk afterwards. However, my wife, far away in Taiwan, has some concerns.

Thanks to Rajeev Patel, aka the Poetic Runner. He picked me up from my home and took me to the hotel in Auburn. Although we left earlier, we encountered Friday traffic on the major highways. The conversation on Ultra's definitely helped us through the Friday afternoon traffic.

We arrived at the Fleet Feet to pick up our packets. Someone commended my old but favorite Ohlone Wilderness 50K T-shirt. No wonder he is Bob Bryne, the Ohlone Wilderness 50K race director. I also ran into Jerry Roninger. We'll see each other in Ohlone 50K. I bought some souvenir for my wife and daughter.

We checked in a hotel in Auburn. Anil Rao and his wife joined us later in the night. Like other nights before a race, I could not have a sound and enough sleep. We had a few alarms going off from 2:30am, but at last waked up by 3am in order to get ready to take the 4:15am shuttle to the start.

It is Dawn Inferna Bean checking the bus passengers. She is the main character in the film Race for the Soul. My third-grade son is interested in knowing a school teacher can run a 100 miler. I should have talked with her more, but I do not have chance until later in the race when she passed me.

The bus driver starts with a joke and heats up the atmosphere without turning on the heater in such a chilly morning. Rajeev and I chat with Jeff Barbier a bit. He did Tahoe Rim Trail 50K last year and somehow recognized me. We all agree to meet at Tahoe Rim Trail running this year when Anil, Rajeev, and myself are going to do the 100 miles.

Meeting Friends

Around 5am, an hour before the 6am start, we arrive the race checkin area. Wearing a sleeveless shirt and a short below 50 degree, I am freezing and feel reluctant to leave the bus. I soon to stay near the checkin tent where it seems warmer.

The time before an ultra event is our social time. Here we have our Ultraholics (from right to left) - Rajeev Patel, Anil Rao, and myself. We also have Rajeev's friend within us and Deb Clem at rear. I did not find out another ultraholic Shige Takada perhaps because it's too dark around. Later I know Shige was too sick to come.

I am also very glad to meet Steve Ansell, aka Mountain Man Steve who is from my town Fremont. We had a few encounters in other events before, but did not have a chance to chat. He looks like ready for his first AR50.

During the trail work at Mt. Diablo, I knew Charles Stevens, Jim Hildreth, Kermit Cuff Jr would run American River 50M. However, I only spot Kermit Cuff, Jr. perhaps it is too dark and too many runners around. When Kermit and I did the Mt. Diablo trail work a week ago, we worked together most of the time. We take a picture in front of the checkin tent. It is raining and I am freezing, but I have to give out a smile in facing the camera.

Here Marissa and I at the start. Our friend Brian Wyatt has run faster and faster each time. I love to see how fast he can run this time. However, he is not here.

We took some pictures. Glad to talk with her at her first American River 50M. She has very positive attitude with such a nice smile!

We laugh a bit and feel relaxed. On the other hand, laughing also heats up my body. I no longer feel freezing. I'm ready to embrace whatever ahead.

Within seconds to go, we are counting down and ready to start our timers. Rain is still with us.

Start => Watt AVe. => William Pond: 8.5/8.5 miles, 1:11:02, 8:22 min/mile

Off we go! I checked the course map earlier. I like the first mile of switch back loop. I expect to see other runners at different paces and I can take pictures for them. Unfortunately, it is simply too dark for my camera even with a flashlight. I have a few failed pictures.

I run with Kermit in the beginning and the pace is fast foe me. I run ahead a bit to take a picture for him.

Within a few minutes, I heard a familiar voice from behind. It is Wally Hesseltine. He is a runner that I have admired since I began to run ultra's. Look how strong a 63 year young man can be!

I skip the first aid station at Watt Ave. Before I get to the second aid station at Williams Pond, I start to feel hungry. I think I had my breakfast too early - 3 hr before the race. I had simple whole wheat bread and I should have eaten them an hour before the race or even during the run. They are easily digested into energy.

William Pond => Sunrise => Nimbus Overlook => Negro Bar
- Mess up my Forerunner 305
14.66/23.16 miles , 2:05:00/3:16:15, 8:32 min/mile

Rena Schumann is a female runner that I have admired since last year. She is running at very easy pace, while I'm pushing myself hard. I suspect I have run too fast and she'll last longer. But my plan is to push myself and find my limit.

After appreciating her when she encouraged me to "get the job done" in the Rio Del Lago 100M last year, I keep my pace and go ahead. I take a picture of her and hope she catches me later when I wear out myself.

It looks like when there is some light, my camera does not do a good job at action photo. Sorry Rena. This is a little out of focus. I promise to make it better next time. I'll see you in Miwok, Quicksilver, and Ohlone.

I don't remember when the rain stops and for how long. My thin running shirt does dry for a while. I am very focused on my fast pace and keep pushing myself. I feel like running a road marathon.

Matt Anderson catches up and we chat a little. He soon takes off with faster pace. Same with Olivier Chan, a young runner from San Francisco. Oliver also runs away at faster pace. I keep my pace without chasing anyone. I ran with Eric Berkenkotter for a few miles. I first met him at Ohlone Wilderness 50K last year. I was one minute behind him, but he got a special trophy for the third place for the age group. I then met him in the Ruth Anderson and He finished 50K. We happen to be at our agreed pace and are able to talk a lot about our hobbies and families.

I pass one aid station and another without stopping too long. I also somehow forget to press the lap button. I also stop the timer by accident. I take only Gels and I take off once the bottle is filled up. I think I stop less than 30 seconds at every aid station.

On a bridge to the Nimbus Outlook, which is at the top of the hill. I pass Rob Bryne. He walks on the uphill to stretch his legs, but I keep running and decide to walk on the steep hill at the other side. While pushing up the hill, I see runners power walk or run up the hill.

When I get to the top, it is the Nimbus Outlook aid station. A volunteer greet me with "We have Gu2O". Having my camera ready, I call out "I have a camera" and take a picture. Thank you volunteers!

I somehow messed up my Forerunner 305 - I accidentally stopped the timer and found out this 15 min later. I have to do some "adjustments" on my time and distance at that section. Hope it does not deviate too much. I also forgot to lap on the first few sections, but this won't affect it's correctness.

Negro Bar => Beals Point - Run like a 3 hr 45 min Road Marathon
3.87/27.03 miles, 39:00/3:55:15, 10:04 min/mile

I push myself and am able to reach the Marathon distance at 3 hr 40 min. It is really close to my road marathon pace - I did 3 hr 34 min in the Silicon Valley Marathon last year. The consequence is I start to feel exhausted at the mid-way of the 50 miles. This is not a good sign to feel so tired that early.

This reminds me when I ran it for the first time. Although I executed ran/walk in the beginning, I still felt like hitting a wall at the same spot. This is also the moment that I and Yuki Negoro met our pacer Rubik during our first run. So many memories from such suffering and the same place, I have Gordy's words in my mind. Once I get through this "devastatingly low", I'll get better.

I try to enjoy the pain and then ignore it. After 10 minutes, I feel better and arrive at Beals Point of mile 27.4. With many people along the trail near the aid station, I felt recovered a little. I am looking for Yuki, who planned to get here directly from SFO after a business trip. He would like to pace our friend Shige Takeda. Later I know Shige is sick and is not able to make it.

photo courtesy of Brightroom

From here, we enter the trail section. I know I'm good at trails, but I suspect how much energy I have left right now after pushing myself so hard. Here I run into Barry Fisher walking with his dog. He must be waiting for his wife Lucinda Fisher coming. I first saw Barry in Race for the Soul, where he ran as a cancer survivor in 2001 Western States 100M. I also met him and worked with him as volunteers in the Tahoe Rim Trail 100M last year. At Rio Del Lago 100M last year, he refused to let me stay longer at the Auburn Dam Outlook aid station and I was able to continue without quitting due to my troubles during the day.

I go through the gravel road and THE school, where Rio Del Lago 100M and Helen Klein 50M are held. It begins the rolling hills. Amazingly, my body is like having recovered completely. Perhaps I was born to run on trails.

Beals Point => Granite Bay - Complete a Fast 4 hr 38 min 50K
4.53/31.56 miles, 44:46/4:40:00, 9:53 min/mile

When I arrive at the Granite Bay aid station, I reach 50K at 4 hr 38 min. This is again faster than what I have done in any other races. I don't worry too much because my plan is to push my self and I feel great right now.

I don't care too much about the rain because I'm still very focused on my pace and energy level. To me, it seems that the rain never stops and it rains even harder. It sometimes seems pouring rain. I have run with Rob Bryne for a while. We pass each other once in a while. I am passed by a group of female runners. One of them is Dawn Inferna Bean. I am able to chat with her a few, but she looks strong and runs away.

Granite Bay =>Buzzard's Cove: 3.19/34.75 miles, 34:07/5:14:07, 10:42 min/mile

I quickly leave the Granite Bay aid station but forget to pick up some gels. I figure out that the next aid station is marked as "water only". I am afraid the gels I have will not be enough. I confirm this with Bob Bryne running a few feet ahead. He is kind to give me one spare gel. Thank you Bob.

Buzzard's Cove => Horseshoe Bar: 3.40/38.15 miles, 41:23/5:55:31, 12:10 min/mile

When I arrive the Buzzard's Cove aid station, I find it is a simple aid station, but has more than "water". I remember this aid station has to be set up by volunteers taking boat there. There was ice cream served in 2005 when I ran American River 50M for the first time. Bob and I pick up gels and go. Along the way, we pass each other once in a while.

Horseshoe Bar => Rattlesnake Bar: 2.72/40.87 miles, 32:20/6:27:51, 11:54 min/mile

It is still raining. There are water spots everywhere on the trail. I am joking to Bob that we are getting close to the swamp. The swamp was famous in last year that runners had to run through it. Somehow, we don't see it anymore at the place. I think it's because the rain just started today. The land is able to absorb all the water. Later today or tomorrow, I think the water absorbed will flow out and form swamps.

There is still a wide water crossing. There are loose rocks for footing. I am running fast and step into the water by accident. I have no feeling about wet feet perhaps because my feet are already wet or I am focused on running.

Rattlesnake Bar => Mahattan Bar: 2.38/43.25 miles, 27:22/6:55:13, 11:29 min/mile

I'm now able to recognize poison oak and can spot it a lot on the trail. Although I applied something like ivy block before the run, I still try to be very careful to avoid having any contact with plants.

At one place, I missed a turn without notice until someone behind yelling. I find no one around and decide to trace back to find the correct route. This costs me an extra quarter mile. I try not to be upset about it so that I can keep strong mentally. I am able to chase and catch up a few runners before the next aid station.

Manhattan Bar => Last Gasp: 4.31/47.56 miles, 55:29/7:50:42, 12:53 min/mile

There is ice cream served at the Manhattan Bar. I go for my speed, so I take only gels and fill up my bottle as before. I go away immediately to tackle all the technical trails, including the steep river bed.

I power up on the river bed and pass a few runners. I know the finish is not far.

Last Gasp => Finish: 2.44/50 miles, 30:54/8:21:36 , 12:40 min/mile

I do not stop at the last aid station at Last Gasp but push myself up on the paved road. My legs are very sored. All the way, I am passed by a few runners. Up to the last hill, I can see the finish area. The last quarter mile is one of the toughest mentally. I have no way to catch up anyone, but I still try to run as fast as I can. I finally finish it at 8 hr 31 min 57 sec. Although I can not get to the 8hr goal, I'm very happy to set my PR at this course, improved by 29 min 10 sec!

photo courtesy of Brightroom

The Finish Area - Too Cold to Stay Longer

John Fors comes 30 second behind me. He says he found a camera when he finishes. I look at my pouch and it's open. John picked up my camera, which I did not know dropped. It must be near the river bed when I thought about take a picture on the steep river bed but pushed myself instead. Thanks John!

John immediately mentions the Western States 100M safety patrol. Both of us have not been paired up. We are happy to work together as a pair on the safety patrol.

I clean up myself with nice warm water. I did not notice until now that dirt covers all over of my legs. My shoes and socks are soaking wet. I meet Eric Berkenkotte again there. It is still raining and windy at the finish area. I feel freezing cold even I wear everything I have including the AR50 Polartec jacket. I'm not sure how long I can stay there and wait for Rajeev and Anil. I would like to leave quickly and Eric is kind to give me a ride to Bay Area. I explained to Norm Klein so he can tell Rajeev that I have to go ealier.

Going Home after a Long Day and a Great Run

On our way to Bay Area, we go through storm-like weather. It rains so hard that all traffic on the highway has to slow down a lot once in a while. After we climb over the Altamont Pass and leave the Central Valley and, we have a sunny weather in Bay Area.

I am dropped at a BART station and able to get to Union City BART station. I just miss a bus there and have to wait for 40 minutes for the last bus on Saturday. It's chilly and windy, so I would rather go get some Chinese deli nearby and stay warm in the stores.

I take the bus and get home. Once I can sit down for the meal after taking a shower and washing all my stuff, it is 9pm. What a long day and a great run!

Other Race Reports

Rajeev Patel - American River 50 Mile Endurance Run with a poem!
Steve Ansell - Everything comes together when the weather falls apart


Peter Lubbers said...

What a fantastic effort and a great story! You definitely went "minimal" on this one!
What type of shoes did you end up running in this time?

Eudemus said...

Great job and congrats on the PR! It sounds like you had a fantastic race. From your description we feel the same way about the flats vs. the trails (only I am much slower on both). It was good talking to you at the start and thanks for the picture. See you at Miwok!

Chihping Fu 傅治平 (超馬阿爸) said...

Hi Pete,

I actually ran with my old time favorite shoes - Saucony Grid something. It's usually on sale in my local Big5 for $40. It is lightweight and looks like a road shoes, but it also has good grip to tackle the trails with great agility. I figured I'll run fast on the asphalt, so I picked up this one. Most importantly, it never failed me by tripping my ankles.


Chihping Fu 傅治平 (超馬阿爸) said...

Thanks Steve. I felt the same when I read your report Everything comes together when the weather falls apart. Clem Choy, a veteran ultrarunner that I admire, actually told me that to run a fast AR50, you need to run fast on the first 27 miles. This is why I wanted to give it a try and sped at the asphalt.

Love to see you next time in Miwok!


willgotthardt said...

Mr. Fu-

Nice work on both the PR and the report...well done.

Hey I've started an Ohlone 50K training thread over on the Runner's World 'Trail Running' forum:

Cheers, Will G.

Chihping Fu 傅治平 (超馬阿爸) said...

Thanks Will. I just did a Mission Peak run this morning and felt great. This was my first hill work in the year. I'll do some more before Diablo 50M on 4/29.

I checked the Ohlone 50K discussion thread and the discussions are great. Thanks for setting it up. It is exciting to see us in such a wonderful event this year.

See you soon!


willgotthardt said...

Will see you at PCTR Diablo 50m...

I'll be working the Rock City aid station (or other) with a friend/training partner of mine.

Best of luck,

Will G.

willgotthardt said...

Just got an e-mail from PCTR, looks like we will be at the Finley Road (mile 31) aid station.

See you there/then.

Will G.

Chihping Fu 傅治平 (超馬阿爸) said...

Will, I thought you would like to run this steep course, but thanks in advance for helping out.

I'll show up there and pretend to be in great shape :-)


willgotthardt said...

Narrow focus on the Ohlone 50K (my first) for now, but I am going to return to Mt. Diablo a couple weeks after that for the PCTR least that's the current plan.

Will G.

Rajeev said...


Fantastic performance in AR50. You da man! You set a goal and almost achieved it. I'm so impressed!!!


Chihping Fu 傅治平 (超馬阿爸) said...

Thanks Rajeev. You and Anil did a great job too. But most importantly, we finished it and had fun. AR50 is the one we should keep doing every year!

Btw, it was a nice trip with you! Thank you.


Looney said...

Congratulations on that run. The description was amazing. It is helping me stay motivated for my training.

My first ultra will be Quicksilver. I have been doing 30 to 40 milers on the Ohlone Wilderness trail getting prepared. Since you have done Quicksilver before, do you have any advice on how Quicksilver (50 miles) compares to the American River you just did, and the Ohlone Wilderness Trail?

Chihping Fu 傅治平 (超馬阿爸) said...

Hi Looney,

Thanks for the comments.

I'd expect Quicksilver and Ohlone 50K will be warm this year.

Quicksilver is definitely more difficult than AR50 - 5000 ft more climb in 50 miles. Expect to add up to 1 hr to the AR50 time.

Ohlone 50K is tough, too, but it's an epic like point-to-point run. Since you have trained on the course, you shuold be fine and get used to the hills. Doing 30-40 miles on the hilly Ohlone trail is awesome!

If you don't do Miwok 100K (5/5), perhpas you can come over Mt. Diablo this Sunday and do a training run ( - warm and hilly. I'll do the 50 miler.

See you soon,


Looney said...

I usually do my long training on Saturday. Probably I will go down to the Quicksilver park and try to familiarize myself with the route and terrain.

I tried to sign up for Miwok, but it filled so early ... :(

Eudemus said...


I know Clem (heck who *doesn't* know Clem?) and his advice is usually dead on. He was actually there at AR50 this year and came in with David Wright just over 11 hours. I was actually thinking that if I want to break 9 hours in this race next year I would need push it a little more before Beal's.

By the way, how are you getting to Miwok? Let me know if you need a ride from Fremont as I am a solo driver and they are encouraging carpooling due to limited parking at the start area. At any rate, see you there!

Chihping Fu 傅治平 (超馬阿爸) said...

Hi Steve,

We can try to run one or two marathons as a speedwork on the asphalt. Napa is a nice one and comes at good timing on the first Sunday in March. I'm going to do it next year because it's 30th Anniversary!

Others like Silicon Valley (I'm in this year) and CIM.