Fourmidable 50k was NOT on my radar, until my friend and RD of said event, Paulo Medina, was awarded the USATF National Championship status. I really believe in promoting a good relationship with USATF and the ultra running world, and I wanted to support Paulo and his business “Single Track Running”. My reason for dragging my feet up until now, was that I generally suck on climbs, and this had 4 of them, rather significant, plus a lot of lesser ones. So, after just declaring I was going to focus on races that feed to my strengths, I found myself registered for one of the hardest 50ks in the American River drainage.
Once that decision was made, I was ON! I was running up Cardiac and K2 and the Salt Creek loop at every opportunity. What just happened to me? But, as would make sense, the climbs got easier. I got up to running the entire course 2 times before the race. I was focused.
Race weekend approached, and I was happily resting up, and even more blessed by the arrival of my dear friend and our 100k Team USA manager Lin Gentling who flew out from Minnesota as the USATF official for the race. I would have been just as happy hanging out with her all day as I was racing. Like a lot of competitors, I did my homework/stalking on ultrasignup, seeing what my likely placement would be. With Yiou Wang and Addie Bracie, both crazy fast runners in the field, my next best bet for someone to race was long time friendly competitor and fine human being, Jennifer Pfeifer. We go way back to the 2008 Olympic Marathon trials in Boston. She had just had a baby and I had 3 weeks of training, coming off an injury. As the gun went off, all the girls shot off like cannons. Jen and I were like, whoa, and I said to her (as we ran with the motorcycle escorts behind us, in last place) “You know it they’ll come back. We won’t be last”. And I was right. We finished, and we were not last.
But I digress…
I felt good as I warmed up. I was excited to see how the day would play out. At 8:00 we were off, Yiou and Addie disappearing quickly. I chatted with Jen briefly before she pulled ahead on the first mild climb. I was watching my pace and heart rate closely. For 50k, a 160-165 heart rate was a goal to sustain. For my time goal of sub 5:00 I needed to average 9:40 minute miles. By the time I reached the bottom of the first climb I was at 7:30 pace. Cool! I knew, of course, it would rise and fall with each climb and descent, but this was faster than I imagined.
First climb was Cardiac. I hiked and jogged my way up, hearing buddies Lee McKinley, Bryan Twardus, and Tim Twietmeyer chatting casually right behind me, sort of surprised me. Lee and I trained together a lot, but Tim usually sandbags his running efforts, and Bryan is young but still a little less experienced. Once we summited this first of the four climbs, I stretched out and cruised along the next couple of miles to finish a loop of 5 miles. Lin was at the end of the loop, cheering me, telling me Jen wasn’t that far ahead.
On this next section, all rolling and a bit of mud, I worked hard, not too hard, keeping the heart rate in check.Bryan passed on, reminding me how I inspire him (then why are you passing me??) and Lee was close behind him. We came to a minor climb, Tim right behind me, and another runner came up beside me, breathing rather hard. I teased him “You know this isn’t the second climb, right? He slowed a bit, and asked if I was Meghan. “Yes, I am!” ‘i’m Lucas, Jenelle’s boyfriend!” Jenelle Potvin is a woman I’ve been coaching for a couple of years, so we chatted a bit, as he slowed down. The next downhill section, he pulled away, and Tim and Lee and I crossed No Hands Bridge together. I stopped at the aid station, took a long pull from a can of Coke as Tim and Lee pulled ahead.
Next climb was the formidable K2, AKA Training Hill. I had hated this climb up until I started training on it, and trying to figure out the most efficient way to get up it without shooting my legs for the rest of day. Tim and Lee were out of sight quickly, but I just kept my head down, avoiding being intimidated by the steep terrain ahead.
Finally cresting, I unfolded my legs, and worked on catching my breath, and looked ahead. There were no runners in sight. Jeez! How did they get so far ahead? Never mind, I just worked on recovering, relaxing, getting my heart rate down. I cruised, hopped, puddle jumped my way the next downhill road, and soon onto a nice single track. i caught and passed one runner, having a struggle with cramping, and continued to be surprised that I didn’t see anyone else ahead of me. I guess i was still slower than I thought on climbs to be gapped so much. I had messed my watch up at this point and lost track of my overall pace, but was locked into an effort now that I hoped to maintain.
Another short climb and I was on my way to the next aid station, as Lee and Tim were heading toward me on the short out and back. Unfortunately, there were no women in sight here – Jen was too far ahead. So that only gave me the focus of trying to stay close to Twietmeyer. After the aid station came the longest descent, which I excel at. Down, down, down, and when I was tired of down, there was more down. And then the up. Fourmidable Climb number 3. I kept my head down, but could see Twietmeyer all the way up. Always enough ahead to be out of reach, but never completely gone. When I reached the next aid station, I could see him leaving. I passed another 50+ male here, and headed down to Knickerbocker creek. The race was very spread out now, so there were many sections of solitude. After crossing I could see Tim again, and for the next 5 miles of the Olmstead loop, replete with small rollers, mud bogs (formuddable?), and some runnable terrain, I played cat and mouse with Tim and Lucas, finally passing Lucas, all the way into Cool. At this aid station, I grabbed a gel (again) and in trying to swallow it, nearly had my first ultra puke. Ack! I slowed down a bit to get it down, then, knowing I had only over 7 miles left, I was ready to go!
In a short while, I sensed that I was closing in on Tim, and soon I caught him. “Do you need me slap you on the butt?” I teased. “I could probably use it” was his response. I pulled away, with the intent of separating myself from him and maybe closing in on Jen, but of course I had no idea where she was. Once I hit the Western States course, I whooped back to Tim, and I continued to bomb down the trail, cognizant of all the roots and rocks and trip-able opportunities. Finally reaching No Hand Bridge again, I downed some Coke, then headed off for the last 4 miles. Ahead I could see Lee’s bright orange shirt, and gradually closed in on him. “Well played Meghan” were his words as I caught him. “Oh, not so sure about that. I was hoping I could race Jen, but I haven’t seen her since mile 2!” He replied that he had been seeing her, so that gave me enough fuel to keep pumping my arms, and legs, since, by the way, my pace had fallen very far from 9:40, and a sub 5 was no longer in the picture.
Churning away the next few miles, up the climb towards Robie Point, and then back down towards the river, I asked my friend Jim Kepfer, who was volunteering, how far ahead Jen was. “Oh, a good 6 minutes. You won’t catch her”. You gotta respect honesty. None-the-less, I cruised down as quick as I could, only to be stopped in my tracks when I saw a runner laying down next to the trail. “Hey! Are you okay?” “Yes, I’m just working on my tan” was his half-jovial, half-destroyed answer. I double checked with him, but he assured me he would be fine.
Another short climb, then onto the railbed, and soon I could see Bryan Twardus again. Cool! Maybe I would catch him! Around the next bend, he was no where in sight. Apparently he had seen me and put a little boost in his step. Grinding and grinding to the last of the 4 climbs, he was always out of reach. Halfway up the last crazy steep climb, I recognized that my legs were shot, and I was pleased that, even though far off my time goal, my legs had made it to within the last .25 miles of the run.
I struggled across the finish line to the wonderful welcomes and cheers of my friends. Fourth female, first 50+ female. 5:20 was 20 minutes slower than I hoped, but I am inspired by what can happen by training on these hills, and I intend to give this run another test next year.
Many thanks to Paulo for putting on a great event. His aid stations were stellar, the markings were impeccable, and the swag was great. Thanks to USATF for giving the championship to this well organized races, thanks to Altra Running for their support in shoes, to Injinji for their amazing socks, to Squirrel’s Nut Butter for keeping away the chafe, and for Nathan Hydration for all of their great water bottles and pack options!