Well the day finally came. I have been talking about running the Salmon Falls 50k over these last few blog posts and yesterday was the day.
I will warn you now, this post may be a bit long and I have TONS of photos but none of which were taken from me during the race. All of them are compliments of Vans and his awesomeness as being the best race husband and dad ever. This post is for him because without him yesterday, I may not have smiled half as much as I did. I needed him yesterday and he was there 110%.
You know how when you hear a lot of hype about something and you inadvertently build high expectations about it? That’s how my training has been. I felt ready. I felt trained. Yet come race day, not everything happened the way I had envisioned it. Isn’t that always the way?
For the first time, in a very long time, I had a great night of sleep. Squeaker didn’t wake me up throughout the night as she had these last few weeks. I went to bed at a decent time and I woke up a half hour before my alarm was set to go off. I was excited.
The weather was unpredictable. The entire week the forecasters had said it was going to rain on race day. It rained the night before which meant the trails were going to be muddy but it also didn’t rain for very long … so there was hope that things would be semi dry for race day. The temps were colder than they have been but I decided to go with what I have been wearing for almost all of my runs these last few months. My “uniform” so to speak.
Pigeon was set to arrive at my house where Stonegate would pick us up and take us to the race start. Stonegate is running Way Too Cool next weekend and we were lucky to have her chauffeur serves to the start. Tri-Girl also met at my house as she had decided to sign for the race.
The race is a point to point starting at Magnolia Ranch. There were strict parking or rather NO parking rules. Stonegate got us there in plenty of time. We were able to enter the main parking lot and hop out of the car to register with Coach Nikon, the Race Director. It is always great seeing his smiling sarcastic face first thing in the morning before a race. His races are always a class act and well put together. He has probably the best volunteers around too and you can’t have a good race without great volunteers.
After signing in, Pigeon and I hopped back into Stongate’s car while Tri-Girl decided to get into the mile long porta-potty line. This gave us a good reason to sit in the lot waiting for her. The park rangers were there and we were watching. Unfortunately, the line was not moving super fast and so Stonegate had to move the car to across the street. Long story short, we kept missing Tri-Girl as she was trying to get back to the car. Poor Stonegate probably drove back and forth about a million and two times trying to find her, drop us off and then drop her off. We saw so many awesome trail friends at the start. This race was full of smiling friendly faces. It was so nice to say hi, get hugs and catch up with everyone.
I was starting to get excited and a bit nervous. At some point during all of this pre-race waiting, I heard something that unfortunately I let get into my head. This person didn’t mean any harm or ill will at all. My head just operates in a certain way and my brain reacted (or maybe over-reacted?) and went into over drive. This would haunt me for most of the race and cause me to battle internally over and over with myself. I was trying to will myself out of the negative mental spiral I was putting myself into but combined with all the other little things that didn’t go as planned, it made for a long and interesting experience out there.
Finally, Coach Nikon had us gather at the start. I loved the low-keyness to the race. He gave us a pre-race briefing and pep talk in Coach Nikon fashion. He said, “We used over 9 rolls of tape to mark this course in addition to trail chalk. If you get lost, I want to know how you did it.”
He counted down and we were off. I would venture to guess there was close to 180 people in the race. While not large, it still made for an interesting start jockeying for position on the very wide trail. There were some puddles and mud and then all of a sudden, we were at our first shin high stream crossing. We were not even at one mile yet! That’s how you start a race!
It starts with a pretty good up hill climb with some switch backs along the way. Pigeon, Tri-Girl and I were close together. We saw some friends along the way like Miss P and we all sort of ran together trying to get out of the congestion a bit. For some reason, the congestion was bugging me. I like to have space and there was none at this point. I was also starting to feel my stomach sloshing around a bit. Uh-oh. That is not what I wanted right off the bat.
I climbed, ran and hiked hard. There were some good down sections too. Tri-Girl took off. Pigeon and I tried to conserve our legs and our energy knowing what was to come. This is where my brain started taking over again. I could shake my thoughts so I ran, harder. Pigeon told me not to go chasing some girl down the hill. She knew I was itching to just open it up but it was too soon.
The trails are gorgeous through these sections. I truly wished I had my camera. At some point, we caught up to and passed Tri-Girl. Running the downs and trying to hike the ups. As Pigeon and I were running there was this guy next to us who started talking about “the hill.” He was worried, “It is the biggest hill in the race. You have to walk it. It is huge.” This got Pigeon in a bit of worrisome state as she had not been on these trails prior to the race. She’s only run a certain section of the course. She turns to me, “How big of a hill? Like a Diamond Peak hill?” I told her, no and that she’s already climbed it once before. He was talking about the hill that was at the first aid-station by Cronin Ranch. It was a hill but it was a long gradual hill and she has climbed far worse in her days. It was also at this point that I looked down at my garmin watch and realized it wasn’t working. At all. I had no time no mileage. Crap! I tend to use the time feature often when it comes to fueling. I had forgotten to power it down and then restart it before the race. Again, something I didn’t plan on happening.
However, I knew we were getting close to the aid-station (4.43 miles into the race). I turned to Pigeon and told her my tummy was not happy. She told me to sprint ahead and go use the bathroom that we remembered was at this particular aid-station. So I did. I sprinted like I was on fire. I ran so hard trying to get ahead and when I reached the aid-station and all the wonderful volunteers who were so ready to help me, I ran right past them. They looked confused but they must have figured out I was going to use the bathroom except the bathroom was SO FAR AWAY. I am not talking a couple of yards, I am talking VERY far away. I was sprinting my little heart out and then just started freaking out that it was too far. When I turned back to look at the aid-station, Pigeon was just getting there. Forget it. If I had continued on, I would have been so far behind. Instead, I turned around. I convinced myself that I would just make it to the next aid-station.
When I finally reached the aid-station Pigeon was talking to the volunteers. Pigeon said, “that’s Trailmomma!” A lovely woman smiled at me and said, “Hi Trailmomma! This is Dizzy!” pointing to another runner. I have to apologize to these two, I was so confused. I thought at first, she was telling me that this guy was dizzy. However, she was trying to tell me that both of them read my blog and follow me and that his name is listed as Dizzy in my followers list! Dizzy I am SO sorry! I must have looked totally confused. So I want to give a shout out to Dizzy and that super wonderful volunteer whose name I did not catch who follow me! Thank you SO much for being out there yesterday and thank you for following all my crazy running stories!
Next it was time to climb Pedro Hill, the big hill that other runner was worried about. I just put my head down and climbed. I’ve been working on my climbing over the last few months and it has been paying off. I finally feel strong when I climb (most of the time).
Battling the demons in my head and the alien in my stomach, I just climbed and climbed. We finally reached the top with its amazing views and started running the nice long down stretch. What goes up, must come down.
The next aid-station was at mile 7 (Norton Ravine) but there was no bathroom. The next aid-station after that where there WAS a bathroom was at Skunk Hollow but that was 5.8 miles and a lot of rolling hills away.
This is where my brain took over. There are some pretty good climbs and some technical sections during these 5.8 miles. I was not in the mood for chit chat. I pulled ahead of Pigeon and just hiked the up hills hard or even ran some of them. I ran the downs pretty hard too. It was almost as if I was trying to kill the negative thoughts through my head. My tummy felt better when I was running compared to when I had to stop and hike. I must motored.
For a while, Pigeon was not behind me. I couldn’t even see her. My legs felt good and strong which bothered me because I felt I could have run even better if I wasn’t dealing with that alien in my tummy.
At one point you get to a switch back area and I could see Pigeon. I looked down at her and she looked up at me and I mouthed the word, “bathroom” and she goes, “is that’s whats going on?” That made me laugh. Pigeon and I know each other well out on the trail. She is training for a 100 mile race in July. Yesterday was a training run for her, not a race. She needed to get the miles in AND be able to run today on tired legs. For me, she knew I was excited about this race. Us separating in races doesn’t happen often but it goes without saying that both of us supports the other one no matter what. If one of us is running strong, the other lets it go and supports her 100%.
So I was gone. I wanted to get to Skunk Hollow (mile 12.8) and I wanted to get there fast. I blew down the Red Dragon faster than I ever have in a training run. Some guy got frustrated with me being behind him and stopped to let me pass. I apologized for being on his tail.
I could hear the aid-station ahead of me. I could hear the cheers. I also knew there were real bathrooms there! But first, I had the first of many surprises out on the trail!
Vans surprised me by having the girls on the trail! They were a sight for sore eyes for sure!
Vans asked me where Pigeon was and I told her behind me somewhere and that I had to use the bathroom fast. I left them on the trail and headed to the aid-station. I went straight to the bathroom and when I came out I saw Missouri and JCM there with smiles and a sign.
I saw Tri-Girl leave the aid-station and make her way up the hill. I saw quite a few friends here too and stopped to chat. They all asked me where Pigeon was. Finally Pigeon came in and made a bee-line to the bathrooms as well.
I stayed at this aid-station talking to Vans and the girls and few other friends for quite a bit. Pigeon had to say hi to Missouri and JCM and fuel as well.
We were told it was raining at the finish and that the storm was moving our way. It was getting colder and darker for sure and the rain was spitting at a us a little bit, but not too bad. Pigeon and I left the aid-station together. She told me that I had killed that first section and I told her I was fueled by the demon in my head and the alien in my stomach. While I felt better, my tummy was definitely not having a good day and continued to be a worry for me the rest of the race.
Pigeon and I crossed the Salmon Falls bridge over to Sweetwater and back onto the trail. I entered the trail first and again some how pulled ahead. The next aid-station was 4.1 miles away. The trails of Sweetwater are well, pretty darn sweet. VERY runnable with a lot of rolling hills. I just was cruising again. On auto pilot basically, feeling strong and full of emotion. I came up behind a guy wearing a yellow racing jersey. I was so far in my head at this point that I pulled one of the biggest rookie moves ever when it comes to trail running. I followed the jersey instead of the ribbons. What happens when you do that? You go off course. Yup, I got lost. I was zoning and running hard and followed this guy and had a guy behind me follow me. When I heard the road I knew we had made a mistake. Both of the guys were in doubt and swore up and down that there were no ribbons. A hiker told us that yes we did miss a turn and we had to run back. The guys were in doubt. I was angry and told them, yes we missed a turn and just bolted ahead of them running my heart out to find the course again. I was probably a good 10 minutes ahead of Pigeon and when I finally found the course and saw the stream I was supposed to cross earlier (and about 100 ribbons mind you) I called out to her. She turned and looked so perplexed. “What are you doing behind me?”
The moment I realized I had made a wrong turn and basically ran a mile or so out of my way, I deflated. Every ounce of energy that I had, just let out like one big giant sigh. I was done. I was tired of fighting the demon in my head which was not allowing me to enjoy my day. I was tired of my stomach not settling itself no matter what I tried. Now I had to come to terms with the fact that I had run off course and added a mile to my day. Mentally I was done. I let Pigeon get in front and I just followed her legs up the trail. I was tired. I was beat. This was not the day I wanted and truly, I had no one to blame but myself 100%.
Pigeon carried me for a bit. I just needed to check out. We laughed about the fact that I got lost after Coach Nikon’s pre-race speech and I laughed that there really were about 100 ribbons indicating the turn that I had somehow missed. I couldn’t dwell on stuff. I had to let go. I was finally starting to let go of that demon, that pressure that I had put on myself from the start.
The next aid was at mile 16.9, more than halfway through the race. We saw Captain Kirk and Wonder Woman at this aid-station. Always great to see their smiling faces. Captain Kirk laughed that I had gotten lost. He knew the guy who had led me astray.
After the aid-station, the next one would be 6.9 miles away. The largest stretch between aid-stations of the race. Finally feeling like I had freed myself a bit from the pressure I had put myself under and from trying to control the things I could not control, I let go and tried to enjoy what was left of my race.
Little did I know, that Vans would be my superhero. He knows these trails very well from mountain biking and he knew just where to go to find me.
I was running behind Pigeon when I heard her yell, “Hey!” I looked up and saw two smiling faces that just melted my heart and gave me a boost.
My girls were having quite the adventure on the trails all day and were always happy to come give me a hug when they saw me.
Pigeon even said they were giving her a boost too. Post race, I heard from quite a few runners that my two smiling angels actually gave a lot of runners a boost. I love my trail cheerleaders!
Vans was awesome as well. I told him I was not feeling 100% but that I was doing okay. I told him it wasn’t the day I had planned but it was still a great day.
One thing to note, besides being beautiful single track trails they were also poison oak infested trails! It was everywhere. I used to not be able to pick out poison oak, but these leaves were SO red that it was impossible not to see it.
Pigeon and I continued on. We’d play leap frog with a couple of runners. I was still feeling deflated and content to take up the caboose. My right knee was starting to bug me. We still had a long way to go too.
At point as I was running behind Pigeon I saw some movement on the trail in front of her. TURKEYS! Three of them to be precise. Pigeon started running, clapping and yelling “gobble gobble gobble” and she scared those turkeys right off the trail for me. Thank goodness I wasn’t in the lead at this point as I might have complete freaked out. Thanks Pigeon!!
I was trying to fuel the best I could despite the alien in my tummy starting to wake up again. It was always there but it was starting to get antsy again and I was trying to ignore it.
For fuel I had brought a ton of options with me. I had two baggies with salted potatoes. I had my favorite Picky Bars broken in to pieces. I had salted plantain chips and I had ProBar Bolts just in case. I also had (somewhere in my pack) chocolate covered espresso beans which I never even touched.
These next few miles were rollers again and Pigeon was pushing the pace a bit. I didn’t mind. It felt good to mentally check out and let someone else dictate what I had to do. Again, I heard her yell “Hey there!”
More hugs, hellos and another boost of energy for my heart and brain. These smiling faces brought so much happiness to me it made me realize that I needed to let go of what I had battled so much on the first half the race.
I knew that Pigeon and I were approaching Spanish House which is a section that I have run many times. I wasn’t quite sure where the next aid-station was, and without my garmin I had no idea where we were mileage wise.
I was starting to feel the burn though. The eagerness to be done. To be at the finish line and not out on the trails. I don’t have that feeling often, but I had it a few times during this last stretch.
Finally we were approaching Fitch Ct. aid-station (mile 24). I heard “Hey Pam!!!” and I looked up and saw Seth from The Ranch Athletics waiting for me with a smile and a hug. Another stellar aid-station. I saw Patrick who I used to workout with all the time. Everyone was eager to help me and asked me what I needed. I admit, I was some what out of it here though. I was trying to ascertain what I wanted to do. Up until this point, I had not touched one item at any aid-station. I ate what I brought with me. Here, I looked at the table. I was done with my food. Then, I saw them. Off on the corner of the table, in a bowl were PayDay bars. PayDay bars is what I used to fuel during my first ever 50 miler. I am not a candy bar person but there is something about those PayDay bars that just spoke to me and so I grabbed a couple.
Pigeon and I left eating and hiking at the same time. There was not a lot of space at that aid-station and it seemed a lot of runners had stopped there. Feeling a bit claustrophobic, I told Pigeon I needed to move. She was fine with that.
I turned to her and said, “So we only have one more aid-station to go right?” And she said, “No we have two more.” My head said no way. I told her I wasn’t too sure about that but she was adamant that we had two more aid-stations. Hmmm, okay.
My right knee was screaming at me so somewhere in here I took two advil. It seems I end having to do this more and more near the end of races to ward off the knee pain from getting worse. Except this time, it made my right knee pain completely disappear but caused some screaming intense pain in my left knee and lower back. I guess for 24 miles I had been compensating for my right knee which only aggravated my left? Who knows, but it was a slow pain that just kept getting worse and worse as the miles wore on.
Finally, we approached the marina and Browns Ravine. I knew that there had to be an aid-station here. Some how, I had a spark of energy and was ahead of Pigeon again only I didn’t realize it. As I entered the aid-station, I heard “Good job runner!” Runner? Singular? It made me turn around to see where the heck Pigeon was. I really thought she was right behind me.
I arrived at the aid-station and Annabella we there with a HUGE smile on her face! I asked her, “Is this the last aid-station?” She said, “Yup! Only 3.47 to the finish and you are done!” WHAT??!! Seriously!?
At this point, Pigeon came running in and was grabbing some coke and some pretzels. I said, “Hey this is it!” and she goes, “Yeah only 3.47 to the next aid-station,” and I said, “NO! 3.47 to the FINISH!” Again, she didn’t believe me, it took the volunteers AND the fact that there was a sign taped to the table that said, “3.47 to FINISH” for her to finally get it. Boy, did we laugh about that one. Pigeon laughed hard and apologized profusely. It was funny.
We were now on the section that is basically the start of the American River 50 Mile race. This section I know like the back of my hand but funny enough, I have never ever been on this section with tired legs. This is only a few miles from my house so when I run it, I haven’t run far. Running on this section with 24 miles already on your legs makes it feel like a completely different trail. Tiny little rollers that I normally run up seemed like mountains to me. Yet we knew the finish was near. We could smell it.
Finally we could see the levee that we’d have to run over and we could HEAR the finish line. We could hear Coach Nikon’s voice over the loud speaker. We were almost there.
As we were coming down off the trail and onto the levee, Pigeon yells from behind me, “Is that TiggerT?” And sure enough, sitting perched on the levee like a shining light was TiggerT! What a sight for sore eyes. She smiled and congratulated us. Pigeon and I guilted her into walking the mile to the finish to come hang out with us.
The levee we had to run was probably the longest mile of my life. You could see the finish. You could see runners before you finishing but yet the distance on the levee didn’t seem to change. No matter how many steps we took, it didn’t seem to get any closer!
Finally, I was off the levee. We had to climb a couple of rollers but I saw that finish line. I saw my girls waiting and all of a sudden I was over come with joy, exhaustion and a desire to just get it done. Pigeon wasn’t far behind me.
I started to run harder. Pigeon and I have a history of sprint finishes at all of our races that we finish together. It is all in good fun. I was slightly concerned my girls were going to jump out onto the trail and run with me, which is fine (sometimes) but I really just wanted to run and be done.
Coach Nikon was on the microphone. I could hear him laughing and announcing that I was coming in and that my running partner wasn’t too far behind me. Would there be a race to the finish?
I knew Pigeon was behind me but I also knew I had a few steps ahead of her. Still, I wasn’t sure if she’d try and pull a sneak attack on me.
I crossed the first mat not realizing there was a second mat that I had to cross. Coach Nikon started yelling something and I had a feeling that Pigeon was trying to catch up and pass.
I finished one full second ahead of her. She was trying to pull a finish shoot sneak attack but when you have Coach Nikon calling the play by play over the loud speaker, that’s a little hard to do.
We did it! We were done!! What a long day full of so many lessons for me. I was happy to be done and happy to have so many awesome faces at the finish.
The minute I finished my lower back pretty much seized up. Whatever had been going on with it held off until I had crossed the finish line (thankfully).
Now that we were done, it was time to try and remove the poison oak that was covering our bodies, change and relax.
So many good things happened during this race too. The volunteers were spectacular. The course was amazing. It is such a runnable course that it is deceiving because you spend very little time hiking the way you would do if you were running in Auburn. Here, you can run so you find yourself running a lot more miles than you hike which in the end, really adds a lot to your tired legs.
Missouri made an awesome for Pigeon and I. She had it at Skunk Hollow but we didn’t get a photo of it until after the race.
Vans was the best. His support and efforts to get himself and the girls all over the course was truly the lift I needed to get out of my head and back into the fact that I run to have fun. I run to enjoy the day, the trails and my friends. Thank you Vans for being the best trail husband ever. I love you.
Pigeon was pillar of support out there. She constantly was telling me how strong I looked and how smart I was running despite the fact that I didn’t feel smart or strong some of the time. She ran a great race herself. She executed it exactly the way I think she wanted. She ran steady the whole time. She struggled I think with the fact that her legs ran more miles than she is really used to running (compared to hiking massive climbs in Auburn and Tahoe) but she handled it well and had juice in the tank when she needed it. Her spirits were up too. If she had down moments, I hardly knew about them (unless she had them when I was off having my crazy moments ahead haha).
Many thanks to all my awesome trail friends and to Missouri, TiggerT and Coach Nikon. It was a great inaugural race and I know that many other runners were super happy with the course, the race and the volunteers. Like I said, Coach Nikon’s events are well organized and always a blast.
Now I rest. I plan to take a couple of days to figure out what is going with my back. I am not sore other than the low back pain today. I feel well. My quads are not sore, my legs feel like they could go for a run but my back is stiff and tight. I plan to take a couple of days off maybe to rest and stretch. Next weekend is the Way Too Cool 50k race and I plan to be out there supporting Stonegate through her first 50k finish.
And of course, in typical Trailmomma fashion, I have other things up my sleeve so stay tuned for more. Oh and if you made it through this entire blog post, you need a medal! Wow, talk about a long winded report! I also have not proof read this (duh, it’s way too long haha) so please excuse the typos .. eventually I will fix them.