Thursday, April 7, 2011

American River 50 Thoughts

Headed out to Sacramento, CA tomorrow to go run on a bike path for 30 miles. This will essentially be my first ultra of the year. I know that 50ks are considered ultras, but I really don't think the 50k distance is long enough to truly dig yourself a hole or a trench the way you can in a 50 miler or a 100 miler. And the potential for hole digging looks particularly good at American River.

Just about any advice I have received on running American River begins with the words 'don't go out too fast.' Given this race is in its 32nd year, I'll assume that there is enough combined wisdom to believe those words are probably sage advice. It looks like the front of the pack covered the bike path miles in 6:18-6:25 pace last year, which is 2:45 to 2:50 marathon pace. I think I would be more comfortable in the 6:30 range, but this is a race so we'll see.

Once off the bike path for good, at about mile 30, the race proper begins. For some, the last 20 miles will be about hanging on, but for others it will be about reeling in overzealous marathoners. While the prospect of running hard on the bike path for so many miles is unappealing, to say the least, I am intrigued by the tactical aspect of this race. For the most part in 50 milers, you tend to slot into a rhythm, an effort and try not to die too badly over the last 5 to ten miles. Nearly always, the terrain involves big climbs and big descents but a fairly consistent effort level. At American River, you essentially have a road race followed by a rolling trail race, requiring two different skill sets and two different effort levels.

I feel like I am in decent road shape (for me), so hope to be in contact as we hit the trail, but really have no idea how those last 20 miles are going to play out. I haven't run beyond 35 miles since Wasatch last year, and I have certainly never run 20 miles hard after laying down a 2:45 marathon, so I guess anything could happen - from the sublime to the disastrous. Six hours is a definite time goal, but this one for me is more about the race, so whatever that dictates pace-wise (within reason) is where I'll likely be.

Competition looks good, with some familiar names mixed in with less familiar names. As is typically the case in ultras, a few guys won't be making it to the start line but of those that are fit, the front of the pack will probably look something like this: Jason Loutitt (low-2:20 marathon guy); Dave Mackey (who claims to be undertrained: you've been warned); the Sharminator (who has similar/slightly faster marathon legs than me and the ability to run 100 miles fast on the flats); Jacob Rydman (who is local and just starting to make his mark); Joe Uhan (who ran well at Chuckanut); Erik Skaden (a former winner); Ryan Burch (the 50 mile specialist); AJW (too fast/short for him?); Michael Buchannan (ran with Andy Henshaw in first on the bike path last year, then seemingly bonked hard over the last 20); Senior Jaime (who is secretly a road runner); Matt Hart (might be lost without a pair of skis and skins), Graham Cooper (former WS winner), and others I am sure. Ellie Greenwood and Kami Semick will be mopping up bonking male egos from mile 30 onwards, so watch your backs gentlemen.

See you in Sacramento!


  1. My two cents: Like any ultra, this one comes down to strength, not speed. You have to be comfortable with 6:15-20s on the bike path, but I think you'll be surprised how much easier those are at low altitude and with a peloton of folks to run with. Speaking of which, for me that was the really fun thing about AR--running with a real pack for over half the race.

    The small bump up and over Nimbus Dam at mile 19-20 or so is a great first indicator of just how peppy people are feeling, and there will actually be some short-ish sections of dirt/singletrack between there and Beals Point (close to the marathon mark). After Beals you get back on dirt for good and this is where the race begins. The year I did it everyone around me inexplicably slowed down when we hit the dirt while I felt like I just maintained my momentum better. The trail is surprisingly techy (well, by Cali standards, at least) at times from about miles 30-40, so another great stretch for opening up a gap/making up time on anyone out front. And then, what I think is the real boon for someone who likes running uphill is that the last 3mi are all uphill and a pretty decent climb at that.

    Wish I was joining you in Sacramento!

  2. No way you break 2:53:20 on that first marathon!

  3. Love the tale of the tape "names" in there. Nick could handicap and nickname everyone.

  4. Good luck Nick! Roll guys down in that last 20 when their wheels start coming off!

  5. Based on the fact that your easy taper jog up Towers tonight left my latest post slam PR in the dust, I think you're going to tear up that last 20 miles to the finish. Good luck this weekend!

  6. Your marathon focus this winter couldn't be better for preparing for this race!

    I can't help scratching my head on this race though Nick... it seems everyone (trail ultra guys at lease) is less than excited to run it... 30 miles of bike path!

  7. Jason - 32 years of history is pretty much the reason I'm running. It's a classic with an opportunity to oneself (timewise) against the best from previous eras. Much like Western States, Leadville, Wasatch...

    Also, it's the second biggest 50 in the country. That's got to be worth something...

  8. Makes sense Nick.
    Testing yourself is certainly at the root of why many run. I'm personally tempted to run the similarly situated "1st biggest", JFK, which, from what I hear, is pretty "road-like" as well . The free entry into Western States certainly is a draw for these two historic races too!

    I'll be eagerly observing via the computer to see how the race goes, again, good luck!

  9. Nice race today Nick! You darn near picked off #2. I can hardly imagine at that pace what was going through your mind. You rock dude!

  10. Great race. Hope you enjoyed it! Your hill legs will make a big difference to you compared to the marathon runners when it gets to western states!

  11. NICE WORK! Patience sure seemed to be the factor Saturday. You and Dave cleaned up nicely for CO.