american river 50

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Yesterday was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences that a runner never forgets: I paced Derrick through the last nine miles of the American River 50, his first 50-miler.

It was my job to get him up that 1,000-foot climb, and since this was the first time he'd ever run this distance, we had no idea what kind of shape he'd be in at that point. (I packed toilet paper in my SPIbelt just in case.)

I also pinned a picture of ramen to the back of my shirt. Because nothing is more motivating than a hot post-race bowl.

I met Derrick at the Rattlesnake Bar aid station (about the 41-mile point). He got there around 1:50 p.m.

He looked good (no limping or hobbling), he was coherent and there was no explosive poo (unlike another runner -- someone definitely had issues in the aid station bathroom) or projectile vomit (thank god). I snapped this photo of him with his fiancee, Brooke ...

... then we filled up his water bottle, took his layers, thanked Brian (his first pacer), said hi to Layla, who snapped this photo ...

... and then he and I were off.

He said he was tired and that his stomach was bothering him, so I tried my best to take his mind off of things. I talked on and on, asking him about his recent trip to Japan, telling him about the trip Todd and I will be taking to Jordan very soon, describing my Ken Ken Ramen experience, sharing the story about the time Neveia and I saw turtles mating on a trail run. I felt like I was talking so much that the other runners probably thought I was either really crazy or completely annoying.

We held a pretty steady pace -- averaging about 12- to 14-minute miles -- and followed two other runners and another pacer. We walked up the hills so everyone could save their legs for Last Gasp and would start running again when we got to the top. The trail was gorgeous: We had the American River rumbling on our right, meadows dotted with blue wildflowers and velvety blue-black butterflies (never seen anything so pretty), small creeks to splash through (there were a few mud puddles too), and amazing views of the valley as we climbed.

And the people were unbelievable. All of the runners were incredibly supportive of each other. (And steely-tough -- talk about strength and determination and muscle!) And the volunteers went above and beyond. These aid stations were pimped out! It was like they had full buffets! Crackers, pretzels, gummy bears, boiled potatoes, PB&J sandwiches, fruit, gels, water, sports drink, even chicken soup! (Derrick said one of the stations also had ice cream!)

The best station was at Last Gap: Derrick and I were alternating between power-walking and running up that hill, when suddenly a bearded, half-naked man in very small white shorts (OK, I'll admit it: he was hot) came sprinting toward us and asked if he could refill our bottles. Then he took Derrick's water bottle and sprinted away. When we got to the aid station, we discovered it was manned entirely by shirtless men in short-shorts who were sprinting back and forth to the runners with water. And they were blasting metal -- the kind that sounds like people are barking. It was the most surreal thing ever.

And then we continued up the hill, now on roads. Derrick was really tired at this point, and he was drinking a lot of water -- I had to share some of mine with him because he started to run out. I also gave him some of my Honey Stinger chews (they taste just like candy), and they seemed to work really well for him. So I kept feeding him and telling him to imagine that a giant ramen noodle was wrapped around us and it was pulling us up the hill toward an enormous melt-in-your-mouth chashu.

There were signs chalked on the road encouraging us to run. When we got to the 2-miles-left mark, we decided to run the rest of the way in. The climb was pretty brutal -- nearly everyone around us was walking. And Derrick kept asking me what time it was and telling me I had to make sure he finished by 4 p.m. (Talk about pressure!) We kept going, and it got to the point where I started to ask him where the hell the finish line was and how much farther we had and if it was ever going to flatten out.

We finally turned off of the road and onto a gravel path that seemed to flatten out, only to morph into a short but very steep hill that almost did me in. (What a wimpy pacer I am!) Derrick actually had to encourage me! After that, it was flat to the finish, and I was able to pick it up and run Derrick in while cheering for him. It was an absolutely amazing experience.

He finished so strong and came in just under 10 hours -- such a great time for his first 50-miler!

And there were so many people at the finish line cheering for him. Go Team Derrick! (And thank you to Todd for being our photographer!)

It was a fantastic day, and I am so proud of my friend -- what an enormous accomplishment. (And he's now qualified to enter the Western States 100 lottery -- again, talk about an amazing performance for a first-time 50-miler!) I told Derrick multiple times yesterday and I'll say it here again: It was an absolute honor to run with him.


derricktsang said...

Michaela - I really can't thank you enough. Now not only for sacrificing your entire day to run with someone who might've projectile vomited on you but also for perfectly documenting the day. Now that I've had a week to reflect on it, I am so happy I did it and so thankful that I even had a chance to attempt it. I don't really know what I was thinking about those last 9 miles or whether I was really thinking at all. Thank you for giving me something to remember it by. It was an absolute honor having you as my pacer.

Bobbie said...

I love it! What an amazing accomplishment D! Michaela you are awesome for doing this for D! Congrats to you both! xo Bobbie

Michaela said...

Thanks, Bobbie!

Derrick, you are awesome, and it was an amazing experience to run with you -- one that I'll never forget! If you ever need a pacer again, I'm in.

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