Jim Ott's Blog

This blog is a collection of columns I've written for Bay Area News Group newspapers serving the East San Francisco Bay region.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

American River 50

The American River 50 Mile Endurance Run on April 4, 2009 took place under awesome skies and perfect weather. Vistas of the river were spectacular. I joined 600 + runners at 6 a.m. in the dark to participate for the second time in this ultramarathon. Last year I finished in 10:39. My goal this year was to beat that time. (My secret goal was to break 10 hours.) But there was one problem: I didn't train anywhere near as much leading up to the race this year. On the other hand, last year I ran the first half with my wife Pam, and we went out very cautiously since we didn't know what to expect.

My initial miles clicked by easily and at mile 18 I was feeling great. By the 26.2 mile mark--the marathon--I was on my way to beating last year's finish time. My marathon split was 4:38, compared to last year's 5:10. I was destined, or so it seemed, to beat my time last year. But remember, I didn't have the endurance miles in my legs this year, and I wasn't sure what was in store in the second half.

Beals Point at 26.77 miles is where last year I ran on ahead of Pam. This year, she met me there and became my pacer to run the second half with me. Pacers are allowed after Beals, and can even take aid at the stations. The second half of the course leaves the paved bike path and heads into rocky trail terrain. So most runners, me included, run the second half slower than the first. Since my split at Beals was 4:45, I figured I had a shot at just under 10 hours if I slowed down only 15 minutes.

As the miles came and went, we both charged the flats, powerwalked with gusto the uphills, passed a lot of people. I continued to take S-caps, eat potatoes dipped in salt, drink coke in the cups at the aid stations, eat handfuls of cheese-its, a few scoops of M&Ms, and drink broth from time to time. I carried one bottle, initially filled with water, then filled with GU20 which they had at the aid stations.

At one point crossing a stream, Pam took a spill and thought she'd sprained her wrist. She got half wet and bruised her hip. Yet she got up and charged on.

In the final 6 miles I started to fade. I really wish I had my secret weapon at that point: an Odwalla. Gels and GU20 weren't doing it, and I was feeling a little queasy. I found myself walking more, even on some flats. My hips and legs felt good (except my left knee), but I was just running out of energy. Soon I realized I wasn't going to break 10 hours.

At mile 47, I paused for a photo. By this point we had embarked on the very steep final hills. These are "in your face" and "kick your butt" miles that are relentlessly uphill. The pay off, though, is the sound of the finish line.

As I neared that final line, I thought about the depths of my own determination I had tapped during this race. I remembered, like last year, that endurance sports are as much about going deep as they are about going long.

As I crossed the line, the clock read 10:14 -- 25 minutes faster than last year.

Thanks to Pam for her support. She was a great pacer and ran an awesome 24 miles herself !

Next endurance event...the Double Mountain Devil on April 18 (206 miles on a bicycle with my buddy Bryan Gillette!)



Cindy said...

Congratulations, Jim! What an awesome run. I'm panting just thinking about it! More congrats on beating last year's record.

she said...


RUN MAN.." -awesome accomplishment. -and congratulations to pam too..

all of you crazy people out there..

how nice to get a story, and a view from my recliner

looks wonderful! love, ~s.