Wednesday, December 26, 2012

AC 50K Training Run Number One - Winter Storm Run

Squish, splash, squish, splash, splash, squish...

The sound of my footfalls as I slogged through ankle deep puddles punctuated the white noise of ephemeral waterfalls and rain falling into forest. Visibility was reduced to one ridge looming in the mist, downed trees blocked the path occasionally, and the creeks were swollen and cold. Each crossing numbed my legs like a little ice bath, and provided a respite from the aches of four hours on the trail. Each time I crossed I would linger longer in the cold water, only to have to remove my shoes and shake out the pebbles which had accumulated in the swift runoff. David and I happened upon a fawn at the edge of the trail which remained still as we approached.

"I guess we could actually call that a rain deer today, eh?" David remarked, adding a rim-shot.

"So we're at that point in the run already?" I laughed.

Ready to go at Highway 49
We were running the middle 18 miles of the American Canyon 50K course, or at least that was our intention. Beginning at the Highway 49 crossing, we had descended a single track section which reminded me of stream stomping in Alaska. On Kodiak Island there are not many trails, so the easiest hiking was by way of shallow creeks. This trail was flowing ankle deep as we dropped to river level and joined the Quarry trail along the Middle Fork of the American River. We cruised on double track upriver through the heavy rain as David recounted being stalked by a mountain lion on a night run a few weeks prior. He had spotted the big cat's orange eyes reflecting in his headlamp twice over the course of three miles.

"Who knows how long it was actually following me, but I've talked to a few people about it, and most agree what I saw was a mountain lion. They've been known to follow people for up to ten miles."

Stomping a stream, err, trail
Just then a figure leaped from the bushes between the river and the road! A dog bounded towards us as we laughed off the scare, remarking on the timing as the dog's owner jogged towards us from up the trail. We continued upriver along the Quarry trail, then American Canyon trail.

Another runner came towards us and asked how to get across American Canyon Creek. We had forded a few ankle and knee deep creeks already, but she told us that the creek was too swollen to cross. We told her our plans to continue, and she joined us to see if we could cross safely with each other's help.

Hoboken Creek
The crossing did require some hand holding through the deepest section (about hip deep on me, almost chest deep on our new friend), but we daisy chained the lone runner across the creek and continued up American Canyon. Crossing back across the creek above Hoboken Creek was less difficult, as the water was only knee deep in each tributary.

There's a trail in there somewhere...
The next section was really runnable, despite the puddles which lined the trail. I made a mental note that I have to save some leg speed for mile 15, and we clocked off some cruiser miles as the trail wound in and out of the canyons on the south side of the river. We came to the trail head at which the Maine Bar aid station will be during the race, and did some route finding around the area, which is also home to the Auburn Lake Trails aid station in the Western States 100, before continuing down canyon. In an eerie coincidence, we happened upon a small stone bench with a memorial plaque for a local trail runner who was fatally attacked by a mountain lion in 1994 not far from where we stood. "Barb's Bench", as it has become known, is named for Barbara Barsalou Schoener, the first person killed in California by a mountain lion since 1909, and the prior deaths were caused by rabies. Barbara had been at a point in her running career which was very similar to mine and David's. She had just finished her first ultra a month before, and was following the lead of her husband, a Western States 100 finisher.
Needing fuel
We came upon the Brown's Bar trail junction and took a wrong turn down the creek. The American Canyon and Way Too Cool race courses go up and over Goat hill, but we mistakenly went down the ravine back to the Quarry trail and then returned to the Highway 49 crossing via the stream stomping trail on which we had begun. The Brown's Bar trail was severely washed out in places, and required four crossings of the gushing drainage. I later discovered that the route we took is actually the route that the Western States runners follow on their way from Hoboken Creek to the Highway 49 crossing. So our failure to navigate the course provided a small glimpse into what faces the WS100 runners after 85 miles.
While the weather made for an epic run and a good scout of the race course, I was also trying out a new fueling strategy on this run. I took a Vespa supplement at the start of the run, and carried a variety of options in case I got hungry: Gu's, a Bonk Breaker Bar, a Picky Bar, Clif Bloks and hard candy. I took an S! Cap every hour, Sportlegs at halfway and drank about 50 ounces of water. The Vespa worked well, as I took only one piece of hard candy in the first three hours and felt good energy all the while. However, at 3:15, I felt a little low, so I took a Gu, but I never quite recovered my energy. Over four hours and 18 miles on 130 calories! A normal fueling schedule would have resulted in over 800 calories for the same run. I think if I had taken a Gu at 2 hours and then another Vespa at 4 hours, my energy level would have been nice and consistent. I'll try it again in the next few long runs and see if I can get the timing down before the American Canyon race. Not having to carry (or eat) all those extra energy gels sounds attractive. I hope to have it dialed by April for the American River 50 Miler.
Did you see that mountain lion?

Enjoying the abundance of water

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