Sunday, April 6, 2008

Digging Deep Before & During the Deep American River 50 Mile

Okay, so this is supposed to be about my American River 50-Mile Endurance Run, but you'll have to read about our family time first, and look at some family photos. At the very least, I figure this way I can get my parents to read this blog, so they come to grips with my running and stop hoping that I'll become a concert pianist some day.

So, in keeping with Rucky Chucky Roundabout 50k 2 weeks earlier, I thought I'd combine the nonlocal AR50 with a family outing. First we were thinking of hitting the snowy slopes on Friday, so I had reservations for lodging in Sacramento on Thursday night. But Sugarbowl ended their special deal on the all-day Sugarbears (for toddlers) they had in March (only half-day), so we decided it wasn't worth it and changed our plans to hiking. Besides, I thought after Rucky Chucky that snowboarding was too risky before a competitive 50-mile race.

Thursday, April 3rd, THE SWING

After pulling our older child out of his daycare-school early and starting out in our loaded Rav, I suddenly realized that there was no point paying for the inconvenience of a hotel that night, so after some quick decisions, we canceled our reservation and headed to the awesome Emerald Glen Park playground in Dublin, where we decided to have our 7-month old try the swing for the first time.

The first time, he wasn't happy at all.

But later, out of ear shot of my wife, who is too hardassed about stupid things like cleaning up toys, not screaming in public places, and going to bed on time, but way too soft on important things like athletic pursuits, I gave my kid a pep talk similar to those I sometime give myself during races ("DON'T BE SUCH A WUSSY-BABY! YOU WILL GET ON THAT SWING AND YOU WILL ENJOY YOURSELF!!!").

Having set him straight, we went back, and he seemed okay, and as far as I could tell, enjoyed himself.

Okay, so you're right, this is fun, but how do I get this into my mouth?

So okay, in fact, that after putting on a warmer jacket, and going for a 3rd session, he fell asleep, giving my older one more time to play.

BTW, I hope it's obvious I'm just kidding about the pep talk. I just have to keep with the title "digging deep... " When he turns 8 months, though, different story--no mercy.

Friday, April 4th, THE HIKE

For our hike the next day, I picked a hike on Salmon Falls/Darrington Trail off the road with the same first name in El Dorado Hills to see the South Fork of the American River. (The trail goes 9.4 miles to a campground and boat ramp on Folsom Lake at the end of Rattlesnake Bar Road--obviously we weren't going to do much of it.) With gas and diaper stops, we didn't make it to the trailhead right past the bridge until 12:15, then had to wait another half hour for my toddler to wake up. He was in his usual cranky post-carnap bad mood, which involves a screaming fit for about 10-15 minutes and then general uncooperativeness. We started on the single-track trail with a great view overlooking the river, but marred by his whining about wanting to go home. I was carrying a cheap frame backpack/child-carrier with the water, food, and other baby supplies, and was worried that I'd have to add another 27 or so pounds, which wouldn't bode well for my race. Peter decided then that he was too hot and wanted us to take his pants off. I blew it by not photographing him in his underwear on the trail (to show at his future wedding). Then he changed his mind and wanted his pants back on. Mommy was getting irritated, and I increasingly got more worried.

looking back at the bridge

Fortunately, we came across a sections littered with lots of small shiny rocks, either quartz or feldspar, though I'm no geologist. My son got into collecting them (supposedly for show and tell Fridays at school). We limited the number and size (3, small), but were relieved that he'd stopped whining and was finally into the hike.

About a mile (and a long hour) in, Peter's baby brother, Lucas, started crying, so it was time for a feed (Mommy still's 100% in charge of this one).

photo taken by my 3-year old at our rest stop. He actually took some perfectly framed shots, but this one has the backpack I was carrying.

I was a little worried that this would be our turnaround spot, but my wife acted surprised I was even thinking of turning back now. After another switchback, I decided we would go as far as a stream crossing and turnaround or we'd be too late getting to the hotel. Actually, it worked out well because my wife didn't bring hiking shoes and it was fairly deep. It was 1 hour 50 minutes since we left the parking lot. Of course, Peter wanted to throw rocks into the water, so he had a few minutes.

Juicy trail at our turnaround point. Don't this make you want to get those shoes on and start running?

We started back. This was now the longest my son's hiked without being carried. Would he, er, peeter out?

wildflowers. not as exciting to my son as the lizard, butterflies or rocks.

On the contrary, Peter dug down deep and gunned it, doing a lot of running on the way back. We often had the bridge at the start in the distance as a constant approaching goal. He admitted at times to being tired, but we could actually motivate him by telling him he would be able to say he did it all by himself. As as the bridge loomed closer, he got more pumped. Luckily in all our excitement, we didn't run over this guy right below and next to the trail.

unless someone can ID this one, maybe a rattlesnake or a copperhead. didn't want to get a better look up close.

Mommy spotted this-- a great reminder to always keep our kids close in the wilderness. I believe its head was triangular in shape. I decided a closer look or photo wasn't worth it.

We got back to the trailhead in 70 minutes. Even accounting for the feed and the clothes changing and the initial whining, we did a negative split! Mommy and Daddy were so damn proud.

We tried Elephant Bar (first time, not bad) near the hotel that night, which actually worked out great although maybe I shouldn't've tried Mommy's spicy jambalaya. As Peter's reward for hiking 3.75 kind of hilly miles without getting carried, he got a comped ice cream sundae!

Saturday, April 5th, THE RACE

I had felt a little guilty about leaving my carpool buddy Joe Swenson in the lurch by going up early with my family. However, since he'd need a ride from Auburn to Sacamento post-race (last year Joe and I went around begging for a lift in the cold rain), I could ask him to pick me up at my hotel and avoid having to jog 3 miles (not good) to the start or more importantly having my wife and both my kids wake up before 5 and then drop me off with seconds to spare, and then have all of them be sleep deprived (really very not good).

carpool buddy Joe Swenson, post-race, didn't PR, but sub-8'd and came 2nd in the 50-59 male division

Joe arrives promptly at 5:15, uses the hotel bathroom and we drive to the start, with plenty of time to spare, although not enough time for a pedicure.

the race winner's painted toenails. I might try this sometime, though doubt it will make me that fast.

It's dark and there are so many people. But I still manage to run into some friends. I keep my Sportiva jacket on until the last moment, cause it's cold, then stick it in the finish line drop bag (and my only drop bag--this is a fast 50-miler, after all).

with Clement Choy. Clem was the last (of only 4 finishers) at my inaugural 50 mile run, the inaugural 2003 PCTR Diablo 50 Mile Endurance Run being held again this next Saturday, April 12th. Probably not the best choice for a first-50, and that year it was held in September and hit the upper 90's. Not knowing what I was doing, I was pulled from the course at about mile 41 and spent the night in the emergency department (as a patient, not working). I still think Clem's the man. Whoa, what a digression, sorry...

Alan Geraldi and Rajeev Patel, geared up and ready to go

Joe McCladdie, one of those who photographed us throughout the race, here at the start.

I get my number. Since I finished 6th overall last year, I was curious to see if I'd get a seeded single digit number. 7--cool!--maybe the last first and last time to get a number so low, realizing how deep the elite field was this year--I knew already at least 10 guys who would definitely beat me, plus another 10 that might, not to mention the fast runners I'd never heard of.

can't remember his name (someone help). helping with race numbers at the early morning start.

Last year I ran in road, rather than trail shoes and felt it was worth it. Given the drier conditions this year, there was no question I'd go road. However, the soles of my Mizuno Wave Riders were pretty worn down. I had a pair of unworn Wave Rider 10's, but decided I didn't want to trash them on a trail and cover them with urashiol, the toxic allergen in poison oak.

Michael and his father Kevin, after the finish

I run with Michael Kanning from the onset. At Firetrails last year I hinted to him he probably shouldn't try to stick with me very long (to quote my blog entry, "I talked the most during the first 2 miles with 15-year-old Michael Kanning, who mentions a few times that he is probably going too fast since he is keeping up with me") but after his Jed Smith 50 mile sub-7 hour time 2 months ago, and his sub-5 minute mile last month, I think he'll be okay. I mean, unlike all us old farts, he's this growing kid who can only get faster--I even tell him that he'll probably beat me in one of these races before he graduates from high school.

I was hoping to use my Garmin to pace myself, but because it's dark, I can't see anything for the first few miles, and if there is a button for the light, I don't know where it is. Once the sun rises enough that I can see, I notice we are at times doing a 6:30-6:40 pace , which is faster than my best marathon pace. I tell Michael to slow down (if not for him, for me). First aid station I hit the start/stop button instead of the lap button, which I notice only after a few minutes. Something about my timing race--last year I lost all my splits at the finish.

on the bike path, not necessarily the first aid station, photo by Kevin Kanning

Several times during the almost 3 hours we run together on the mostly flat bike path, sometime I, but mostly Michael accelerates to below 6:45 minutes per mile and I have to command us both to slow down. Second issue is that I increasingly I feel like I might have to pit stop and do the number 2 (that damn spicy jambalaya!). I mention this to Michael, who thinks I should get it done with at one of the many outhouses along the trail, but then I'd lose his welcome company on the flat trail. I'm thinking that it might be something I can run through and let fix itself. Luckily, the discomfort never progresses to cramping or re-production of what I had in the hotel right before Joe picked me up which I won't describe here since it was yucky and I have to stop being scatologically nasty into these blog posts.

During this part of the run, I keep thinking about how in 6 months I can probably put my younger son in our new bike trailer, and either before or after a race bike the path as a family for the first time. I'm really psyched about this--our first outing will be blogged for sure. It's okay running but face it, it's a bike path, so better suited for family bicycling. This will help improve the chances of my getting wifey permission to do AR50 and Helen Klein in future years.

After maybe the 2nd aid station, we either catch up with or get caught up by Thierry Asselin, an emergency veterinarian from Ottawa, Canada. His fiancee is an ER doc like me, and attending some emergency medicine conference in San Francisco that I don't even know about because, well, I have other priorities. So now it's 3 of us running together.

with Thierry Asselin

He says his marathon PR is in the low 2:40's, which is more than 10 minutes faster than mine, so I am hoping he might be able to keep us company longer, but 50 miles is still 50 miles and we lose him at an aid station before the hill overlooking Nimbus Dam overlook at mile 19. Thierry would actually do well for only his 2nd 50-mile run, finishing in 7:15:33, 26th place overall. After that aid station, we are surprised to see Jean Pommier in his red Brooks outfit, who had sped past us early and whom I assumed would come way ahead of me. We overtake him without making a conscious effort to pass him, so figure he is hurting. I tell him in passing Western States top 5 finisher in 2011 is coming by, referring to Michael. Never a quitter, Jean would stick it out to the end, despite what he would explain in his blog as his asthma flaring.

On the ridge going to Negro Bar, we catch up with several runners and Michael actually takes the initiative to start picking them off. At the Negro Bar aid station (mile 23.5), Michael asks his dad for his trail shoes. I go on ahead and don't see him afterwards. Michael falls off my pace, but would come in a still impressive 7:47:18 and 40th place. I realize soon that the next split is all road, and so regret not realizing this sooner and counseling Michael to change the shoes later at Beal's Point.

near Beal's Point maybe or some other aid station, taken by my then fiancee at the 2004 race

After Beal's Point (27.4), which I think I reach in about 3:10, 4 minutes ahead of last year, the course goes along the levees, past the turnoff to Cavitt Middle School, the start and end of Norm Klein's races, and heads along trails leading to Auburn. This is the more interesting, scenic and difficult half of the course. I'd be exulted, and more willing to push my pace, but I'm finding that I'm abdominal wall muscles are giving me some trouble. At times I have to bend forward a little on the downhills to ease the pain, making the challenges of running technical rocky single track that much more challenging. I'm not urinating as much as I'd like, but it almost feels like drinking too much at a time makes it worse. I know I'm slowing down more than a should, and expect to be passed, and indeed I am by 2-3 runners. And then, no surprise, my old road Mizunos with thinned tread, aren't feeling very protective as I start hitting the rocky technical stretches, which I feel is exacerbating the abdominal wall issue. In addition, my hamstrings, which I failed to stretch after yesterday's hike, are feeling tight. I decide that I need to play it conservative, so I limit my pace, and hope these rate limiting problems will resolve.

They do go away, although it takes about 10 miles. I catch up and pass 2-3 runners and then notice that I'm finally able to push it enough to breathe hard again--and damn does this feel good. Still, I'm tired, and manage to trip once (fortunately on an uphill) and almost lose it twice on some downhills, once while avoiding a big shoot of poison oak jutting into the trail--priorities, right?

A guy walking the other way on the course says--"Oh, the guy in the yellow jacket! You're wife is waiting for you up ahead on the road."

Say what? She's supposed to be at the Folsom Outlets shopping with the kids. This is too weird. Why all of the sudden is she cheering me on the course? I come to the road, and there's this babe, who smiles and says "great job!" Pretty, but not my wife. I'm actually relieved, because the only good reason I can think for her to show up is if she spent way too much shopping.

As the rushing of the American River becomes audible about 7 or 8 miles from the finish, I'm invigorated and uplifted, but I tell myself not to admire the rapids below too much, lest I wipe out completely.

During the final ascent, which fortunately I've done enough times to anticipate, I catch up with a runner. "Good job," I say. "Same to you" or something like that. "So, how's your kick?" "Not good at all," he admits. Okay, time to be age-division-competitive-- this is the time to know. I feel confident Jorge Pacheco and Mark Lantz are ahead of me, and know Jean Pommier is behind me.

Mark Lantz, 2nd in our 40-49 male division, PR'd better than I did with a 6:23:55. I never saw him until the end.

"Uh, how old are you?" This sort of takes him aback, since it's direct, but there is not enough race left to chat first. "45." "Wow," I say, impressed, then kick my pace a little more. I don't answer "I'm 41" since it would be like I'm sneering at him. I look back 2-3 minutes later and I've lost him. Aren't I a competitive jerk? But I guess he didn't have a kick left anyway. I see 2 more ahead of me a couple hundred yards, but make no ground on them.

Mark Murray, whom I passed on the finally ascent to the finish, stealing what would have been his 3rd place men's 40-49 division award patch.

Of course, after I cross the finish line, I press the wrong button on my Garmin again, but I guess there is the official time. PR, but given the almost perfect weather (versus the freezing temperatures and rain last year), it should've been by more than 9 minutes. We're doing our crunches and leg raises from now on! I later find out I'm in 15th, down from 6th last year, and 12th the year before, but I'm very pleased since the field was so deep, and a PR is a PR.

photo by Kevin Kanning

I keep my initially chatting to a minimum, because I know where I need to go. First the bathroom to lather my legs with liquid soap and wipe it off with paper towels. Then the soak.

the little canal past the parking lot in which I dipped my legs as long as I could take it (above my knees only 30 seconds at a time). Highly recommended. Rio del Lago 100 mile and Sierra Nevada Double Marathon go along a different section of this about 3-4 miles total.

Time to schmoozie, but only until Joe gets in, which he does within an hour of me.

me and former Sportiva teammate and overrall winner, Anton Krupicka (finished a whole hour ahead of me). He's now in States and although new to that course, my bet to win if I had to pick one.

Erik Skaden, (last year's winner, 2-time 2nd place in Western States last 2 years, sub 6-houred for first time, 2nd place in a deep field), taking a well-deserved rest.

Norm Klein, too hoarse to call out the names of finishers this year, & Dave Combs (thanks Rajeev for the ID)

I want to congratulate the women's winner, Jenn Shelton, but I guess I am too shy around fast young girls I don't know.

After a great massage by VeLoyce of Monsters of Massage, I get around to getting my award sewed on.

Connie Vicarro (sorry if I screwed the spelling up), sewing on my age group award patch to the red fleece jacket all finishers received

Crap, forgot to repeat the digging down deep theme.

Other race reports. These link to the AR50 reports themselves, not just to the general blog site. Reverse alphabetical by last name.
Paul Charteris (spectated, great account of the elites' race)

This race is so large, that I'm sure tons of bloggers I've never heard of ran it. If you know of more, please contact me by commenting or otherwise.

race results

Thanks 50 times to all you volunteers who might be reading this!

Some Random Numbers and Factoids
official time: 6:42:17
average pace per mile: 8:03
overall place: 15th
male 40-49 division place: 3rd
special Too Skinny Crazy Asian Guy division place: 1st!!!
number chicked: not!
previous times and overall places:
(2004) 9:30:48, 146th, 2nd attempt and 1st successful completion of a 50 mile run, 2nd
(2006) 7:17:30, 12th
(2007) 6:51:28, 6th
Falls: 1
Ankle twists: 0
Number-1 pit stops: 0 -- mark the trail!
Amount of urine produced: I forgot to bring my other bottle
Number-2 pit stops: 0
Gu gels consumed: probably about one per aid station, so 10?
Items I gave during the race to Kevin Kanning, Michael's dad, to hold for me: keys (whoops!), shoes
Items I though of giving to him but didn't: arm warmers
Reason why: they were covered with the snot I kept blowing on them the first 1-2 chilly hours
Song that kept repeating in my head for over half an hour when I couldn't stay in the zone during the 4th quintile until I decided to keep changing songs in my head every 3-5 minutes, until I finally got back into the zone: "Over My Head (Cable Car)" by The Fray
Hours worked since the race until I finished this damn post: 37.5
Minutes ago that I should've gone to bed instead of trying to finish this damn post: 50

first posted on Thursday, April 10, 2008 at 2:12 a.m.


anil said...

Great job on combining family outing with this race :). Great report Mark,
what a performance.. and great ranking as well.

Congrats on your PR.

Rajeev said...


You are way too funny. What a start to my day.

Congratulations on a superbly run race.

The person with Norm Klein is Dave Combs.


Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Thanks Rajeev for the tip, will update the photo caption. Great job again yourself.

Alan said...


Awesome report! I am guessing rattler for the snake.

Fantastic time and congrats on the P.R.! You and Michael are waaaaayyyyy to fast for old farts like me.

See you at Ruth Anderson as you lap me :)

Donald said...

Yup, that was a rattler ...

Another outstanding report, Mark. I love how you're checking out guys ages in the final miles. This is why ultras should take a page from the triathletes book and mark everyone's age on their calf.

Congrats on the PR, and thanks for the great read.

Scott Dunlap said...

Not chicked! Very nice.

You've been tagged! Time to write a six word memoir. The rules are:

1) Write your own six word memoir
2) Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you want
3) Link to the person that tagged you in your post, and to the original post if possible so we can track it as it travels across the blogosphere
4) Tag at least five more blogs with links
5) Leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play!


kate said...

GREAT report, Mark, and funny. Will miss seeing you at (hot) Diablo this Saturday.

Dave - Atlanta Trails said...

Way to go!

Almost 3 hours faster than 4 years ago. Boy! That gives me hope! ;)

Thanks for the, as always, entertaining post!

Dave - Atlanta Trails said...

oh, and regarding the Garmin. It appears that you have a 305 based your family outing photos. Tap the top left button (on/off) and there will be light.

Baldwyn said...

Hey Mark, is that the three stages of swing acceptance? Despair, quiet discomfort, and sleep? I showed your blog to my wife last night because she's into crazy Asians, and she confirms that it was a rattler. Great report, and see you at RA!

Peter Lubbers said...

Nice report and great race!
That was definitely a rattlesnake, Mark. Keep those kids away from them.
See you soon,

Sean Lang said...

Great run and post Mark! I am running Diablo 50 this weekend, any advice? (besides avoiding a trip to the emergency room!):)


Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Thanks for all the nice comments. Sean, if you're up still, go to bed! Basically I wouldn't try to keep up with Erik Skaden. Have fun/good luck!

Michael Kanning said...

Well, congratulations again, Mark! I loved reading the report-you have a very unique and entertaining style of writing that I can't hope to match.

I had, indeed, caught the hint last October but what with my recent improvements had come to the same conclusion. You still beat me by quite a bit though!

I'll try to run with you for part of RA (although I realize you might not want to run for 25+ with some teenager breathing down your neck) but I'm going to be very disciplined in that I am not allowed to go faster than 7:00/mile.

See you then!

Tony Overbay said...

Love the report, Mark, and thanks for the link. I had NO idea that you stared the career in the 9 hour realm and now you're talking about top 10 finishes, patches being sown on jackets and not pee'ing an entire run! There's hope for me yet! OK, no chance I'm going to be able to pull off the word verification below, hopefully I'll get one eventually and this will make it up :-)


Jim Ott said...

Congrats on your PR, Mark. And great recap of the run. My wife and I also ran AR50 this year (our first 50-miler). She's 42 and I'm 51, so I ran just a wee bit slower than you. Okay, a lot slower than you. (I wrote about our day. Click on over for details.)

Love your blog and the photos of the kids. We live in Pleasanton.


Jenny H. said...

Great blog Mark. You are super fast. You do tend to be a little detailed with your GI problems. But if I had a blog, I would probably end up writing about my menstrual cycle, and those type of accidents while running. You know, "Is anyone looking at my ass?" moments. Or maybe you don't know.

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Jenny, I Ultrailnakaman have NEVER, NOT ONCE looked at a woman's ass while I was running. But now that you have piqued my interest, I will more closely pay attention to the booties of the fairer sex. Sounds intriguing. Thanks for the tip!

willgotthardt said...

Me neither.

Will G.

Baldwyn said...

There are some advantages to being chicked.

The Drakes said...

Mark, very impressive race report. I appreciate people who can remember such detail to their events. I am gearing up for my first 50K at the end of may. Someday a 50 miler!... cheers, Kurtis

rdljon said...

Great run at AR 50 and the La Sportiva sponsorship. Are you doing Kettle? Well, I have a task for you. You have been tagged. Go to this link:)