Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Race Report: 2014 American Canyon 25k

No Hands Bridge in the fog and rain, photo by Keith Sutter
I love this event. Sierra Pacific Endurance Sport's American Canyon 50k coincides with my birthday; I took second place in the 2012 15k, my first trail race. I graduated to the 50k for 2013, and in 2014 I completed the cycle with my first 25k race. The course, incorporating trails shared by Way Too Cool 50k and the finishing miles of the Western States 100, is spectacular in any weather. This year's weather was wet, courtesy of an atmospheric river lovingly known as a "Pineapple Express", which occurs when moisture stacks up over the Pacific Ocean and hits Northern California like a freight train; relentless rain pounding the coast and mountains for days on end.

The Auburn area received over 5 inches of rain on race day. It reminded me of a training run David and I did on these trails in December 2012, which meant it would be a hair-raising day.

25k elevation profile (~2400' elevation gain)
Once again, I was joined by David and Torrey from Nevada City. Dave Cowie, owner and brewer at Three Forks Bakery and Brewery also joined us for his first trail race. Unlike 2013, none of us were running the 50k; I was running my first 25k and the others were running the fast 15k, just down to No Hands Bridge and back to the Overlook Park. I had woken at 4 am to eat before catching a few more winks. A cup of coffee and the morning constitution had me ready to go, although constitution round 2 was thwarted by a clogged toilet at the race start.

Coming off a solid block of base building in January, my muscular endurance was in great shape. However, the consistency of my training had awoken last summer's groin pull, and the course conditions were slippery. No matter my finishing time, it would be a PR for the distance, and I knew that one slip could mean disaster for my groin, so I approached the race very cautiously. At the start, I waited for the pack to proceed before giving Twirly a kiss and heading down the slick single track trail towards Robie Point. Twirly was volunteering at the No Hands Aid Station, so I would see her twice more before finishing.

The rain, which had abated for just moments at the race start, resumed and built through the morning. Foot placement was key on the descent to the river, and I took my time in the first mile, content to follow along in the conga line. The course joined the Robie Point fire road, and I opened my stride a bit on the rolling gravel road, which provided notably better traction than the slick track. I passed a few here and there, and chatted with a few runners, mostly 50k participants. Soon, the road gave way to more slippery single track, and the quick descent to river level was like a luge track.

Climbing towards Cool, Highway 49 on the left

David came running up the road, in first place for the 15k. He looked really strong. Torrey was in pursuit, but would not catch him. I'm proud of those guys for finishing 1-2. I reached No Hands Aid Station in a leisurely 45 minutes, and swapped bottles of Tailwind with Twirly. She pointed out a Porta-Pottie about 50 yards off the course, but the urge had passed; I chose to wait until the return trip. Big mistake!

The hike up to Cool was mellow. Trail conditions continued to worsen as the rain built. I was comfortable, despite the fact that my groin had been speaking up. I was concerned that I might slip and aggravate the old injury. I just took it easy and enjoyed the day.

The rolling grasslands near Cool, California

I was following a fellow in a wide-brimmed rain hat when we crested the climb to Cool. Zoning out, I simply followed him right past the turn to the aid station, and before I knew it we were turning the corner towards the Cool fire station and the Way Too Cool 50k finish line. I knew we'd missed a turn, and shouted for the other runner to come back. It turns out that turn flummoxed many of the runners, including Ben Johnson, who set a new course record despite the extra mileage.

Looking up the Middle Fork of the American River

I skipped the refreshments at the Highway 49 Aid Station, and headed back the way I had come. I still felt strong, but the slippery trail would not allow me to open up my stride on the descent to No Hands. Before long, that old familiar rumbling began emanating from my gut. With each footfall I had to clench tighter and tighter, even slowing to a walk a few times to let the gas pains pass. The slick mud made it even more interesting, as I was confident that if I were to trip and fall, the shit would hit the fan, er... shorts. Whatever, the visual made those three miles fly by.

I lost a few spots while attending to the call of nature, but felt MUCH better for the final climb to the finish line. While I did not lay down a very fast time, overall the 16 miles were very comfortable. Hot chili at the finish line, and some warm, dry clothes were instantly gratifying. Torrey and David had waited for me to finish, and we retired to the Auburn Alehouse for refreshment and breakfast. I had to try the chicken fried bacon, with a side of country gravy.

All in all, a great day! Thanks to Sierra Pacific Endurance Sports for putting on another spectacular event. All the volunteers were supportive and friendly. Now if we can address that turn where everyone went off course...


  1. Congrats on what sounds like a great race. I was the lone representative from Las Vegas that breiflty introduced myself at the start. I did the 50K course. The rain and wind definitley increased as the day went on. Hope the best for you in June.

  2. Thanks for reading Steve, it was good to meet you, albeit briefly. Hope to see you hitting the California trails more often!