Thursday, May 17, 2018

Folsom Lake 35K

Photo: Jesse Ellis- Let's Wander

I was a little nervous about this one. Sure, I knew the course, and had ran it all in the past- but not the whole 35K in one shot. I knew from my earlier excursions that this was not a flat course. And I have a sticker on my car: Aravaipa's tongue-in-cheek "Run Flat, Stay Low", the antithesis of their "Run Steep Get High" campaign. I'm not a huge fan of hills...

But, my nervousness was peppered with excitement. This would be my longest trail run to date, and the South side of the lake is just gorgeous. The forecast called for 80 degrees, the first "hot" run of the year. I could barely sleep the night before. I woke up every two hours or so to make sure I hadn't overslept. My wife was running the 10K, but I didn't want to make her wait for another 4 hours after she was done, and my race started an hour before hers, so we took separate cars. As I pulled into Folsom Point, the voices in my head reached an all-time high. "You can't do this. This is going to hurt more than anything you have ever done. You are going to end up dropping. What if you can't make it to the next aid station?" Did I mention I have anxiety?

I tried to just shove those thoughts out of my head. I knew I could do this. I have definitely run farther, and I have climbed steeper. It was just a matter of putting the two things together, and doing it on dirt. I had actually trained pretty well for it. The previous few weekends, I had gone out and run the course in six to ten mile chunks, starting at the different aid station locations, so I knew exactly what to expect. And I fell in love with that side of the lake. Most of the time, you are running between million dollar homes and the lake, both of which are pretty attractive. I had even run hills during my weekday training runs, instead of consciously avoiding them. And I wasn't terribly injured... The usual Achilles tendinitis, that I just can't shake, but mostly I felt good!

I eventually talked myself out of the car, and wandered the third of a mile or so over to the starting area to find my friend Sam, who I had pretty much talked into doing the race with me. Bumped into my friend Kurt, who was doing the half- said hello, shook my legs a few times. After a quick pep talk from the RD, we were in the chute, he counted us down, and we were out of there. I kept telling Sam how slow I was going to go, and how I was going to save some energy for the return trip. At least I was right about the first part...

The course is an out and back, that follows the Southeast shore of Folsom Lake, from Folsom Point out to NY Creek. Ten and change out, the same back (duh..). It starts on a mind-numbing mile-long levee, and the entire race you keep that in the back of your mind, because you know what goes up, must come down. It finishes the same way. It's like a mirage. You run and run, yet you don't seem to get any closer to the end of the levee. It's like driving through Texas, or watching Zoolander.

After the levee, the next couple of miles over to Brown's Ravine are just amazing. Probably my favorite section of trail that I have ever run. Just buttery, rolling single-track. My nerves disappeared at this point, and I just set the cruise control, and enjoyed the beautiful run.

After Brown's, it gets a bit hairier.  And by that, I mean not flat anymore.. :) We walked the uphills, cruised the flats and downhills, just enjoyed ourselves. I had two flasks of Tailwind in my vest, and filled them at each aid station, along with a couple of salt-dipped potatoes, and a Nutter Butter or three. Just tried to stay on top of hydration and nutrition, and I ended up doing a really good job all day. I still ate a gel or three, popped some Sport Beans, and maybe ate a Shot Blok or two- the usual Ultra stuff, but really, I just grazed. A little at a time, a lot of times. I never wanted to bloat up or be miserable, but I did want to make sure I didn't completely bonk. 

The time flew by, from the Planeta aid station on top, all the way down to the Meadow. We even had a cheering section of people out on their patios in the distance, hooting and cheering for all of us dummies running through their meadow.

About a mile past Planeta, as we hit mile 7.5, the leaders started coming back by us. I'm no math whiz, but that means that in the time it took us to go 7.5 miles, they had gone 14.1, and were already 6.6 miles ahead of us. How incredible is that? I've never been so demoralized and inspired at the same time. Fast guys and gals are fast... They were friendly and encouraging, and it started to get crowded on the single-track.

 Up out of the meadow, to more gorgeous single-track, at last to the NY Creek bridge. But wait, you get to climb up to the road and the turnaround Aid Station, which generally sucks on dead legs. We climbed out, and took our turnaround selfie. All downhill from here!! (Not...)

Heading back up towards the meadow, we started running down three ladies, and I could tell that Sam wanted to reel them in. It was about that time that my left IT band started getting angry at me, so I waved him on. He was hitting his stride, now that we were headed home, and my definition of 'walking the uphills" was becoming pretty loose at this point. So, I found myself alone, about mile 12 or 13.  It was getting hot, I was getting tired, and my legs were getting grumpy. Many thanks to the family who put a giant cooler full of ice water by their fence at the top of the hill before the meadow. It felt and tasted like heaven at that point. If I could have climbed inside, I would have.

Just past the meadow, I screwed up a stream crossing, and dropped my left foot in the stream. I cursed and stomped in my soaking sock up the trail about fifty feet before I realized that "Hey, that felt pretty good!", so I turned around and jogged back down to the stream, put both feet in, and splashed ice cold water up on my aching legs. It felt so good!! Thought about just sitting down in it, but I was worried that I wouldn't get up again. That little soak got me rolling for a bit, and I made it back up to Planeta pretty quickly, although the last climb was brutal in the heat. The guy running the aid station was awesome. I ate a couple of potatoes while he filled my bottles with Tailwind, and then he asked if he could get my hat wet, and then he threw a handful of ice in it before slapping it back on my head. Rejuvenated, once again. 

I walked\ran as my legs would allow, taking it as I could, back towards Brown's Ravine. It was hot, but relatively uneventful. Cruising out of Brown's, with three Nutter Butters in my hand, I looked up to see the three ladies from earlier strolling up the road in front of me, apparently having swung by the marina for a quick bathroom break. I hurried to get in front of them, but quickly realized that a) I couldn't eat Nutter Butters and run without choking on crumbs, and b) they were still faster than me. So I walked, ate my cookies, and said hello as they passed me again, this time for good. 

3.5 miles to go- I just tried to put my aching legs out of my brain, focus on my music, and stay in the shade as much as I could. Did I mention it was getting hot?

1 mile to go- The levee of death. I want to say that I just put my head down and ran until it was over. But I would be lying if I did. That damn levee went on for about three days. I was thankful when an old-timer stopped me to ask what the hell we were doing, as it gave me an excuse to stand around for a minute. After about seven days, I eventually peeled off the levee, onto the final little stretch of trail, and jogged it in. 35K trail run in the books. I was greeted by a massive crowd of cheering spectators, trumpets blaring, and models in swimsuits handing out trophies. When I came to, I found it was just me, about twelve other tired and sore people eating hot dogs and drinking beer, and I had a medal around my neck. Money well spent!

Turns out that the three ladies chased Sam down and picked him off again as well. He beat me by about five minutes, but since I am old, I took third in my age group.  Neener-neener... The girl who won the 50K came in seconds behind me. Unbelievable... Especially when I looked back on the levee several times and didn't see anyone running at me. She was blazingly fast. I think she set a new course record for the 50.

What I learned: 
  1. My original plan was to go straight to the 50K. Glad I didn't. The 35K was long enough to really test me, but not kill me. Thus, leaving me wanting more. It was also a lot easier on my anxiety. I didn't get panicky when I found myself alone because I had ran it, and I knew that I was never too far from aid. I now REALLY want to do the 50K. So the 35K did it's job.
  2. Nutrition was on-point. Nibble throughout the day, save the caffeine for the second half of the race, continue to drink Tailwind as comfortable. Didn't get bloated, nor dehydrated, and didn't bonk. Pretty perfect.
  3. Altra Lone Peaks and Injinji socks. 'Nuff said. No foot problems at all, even when I got lazy, stopped picking my left foot up, and kicked rocks and roots and TRIED to trip myself. I lost count of the time I screamed at Sam on my way to face-planting, but managed to stay upright. No blisters, no hot spots, dried quickly after my little dip in the creek. Even my rolled ankles recovered within a few steps. Perfect.
  4. It's true what they say. Go out slow, and then slow down. I thought I was saving tons of energy, and I still felt like a zombie running across the levee to Hell on the way back.
  5. Hang out and see how you did. You might have medaled and not known it until you got home and checked the results. Then you might be sitting around waiting for the RD to mail you a medal... :) 
Thanks to Sam for giving in and racing with me, even though I suspect he did it off the couch and still kicked my ass, and for not ridiculing me for my seemingly endless stream of gas coming out of one end or another for the entire run. Thanks to the incredible volunteers who sat in the heat and took such great care of us. And thanks to Inside Trail Racing, who put on an awesome event! Can't wait until next year!

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