Saturday, 9 April 2011

Grand Canyon and American River 50 miler

RD and top four men at AR50.

Busy week with a few days at the Grand Canyon (nice excuse for some pretty photos) then straight to Sacramento for the prestigious American River 50 miler.

Sunrise at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

I wasn't scared, honest.


Posing at the GC.

Those are some sweet trails.

Very windy, but what a view.

Amy and I got home at midnight on Thursday from the GC then headed off to Sacramento the next day. Was great to run and hike around such a beautiful place and I've now definitely got the Rim2Rim2Rim on my radar.

Then we had a tiring night at a motel with a party in the next room for much of the time before the 6am start on a bike path. The race is basically in two halves, with a flat and road-style bike bath for most of the first 28 miles or so, then single track the rest of the way. So I ran off from the gun in the dark with Colorado-based fellow Brit Nick Clark for a few miles as Jady Palko and Jason Loutitt flew off into the distance.

Jady faded after a few miles but Jason was flying and went through the 26.5 mile time check in 2:41, ten minutes ahead of me in second then Dave Mackey another minute down. Dave had passed me around 22 miles but then dropped behind again for a few more miles of bike path. He passed me for good at about 28 miles as I had to nip into the bushes with my stomach feeling dodgy.

Apart from those first couple of miles at the start of the day as I chatted with Nick, I hadn't got into a groove at all and the pace on the bike paths had felt much harder than it should have. I wanted to race hard but it looks like the previous month of tough training for Comrades, plus the trip to the GC, had left me feeling a little tired.

So when I hit the single track, I was suffering and couldn't enjoy the fact that it was a great trail, with comfortable temperatures and great views, especially near the end of the race. Instead of jogging through and taking it all in, I was counting down the miles and couldn't wait to finish. That was compounded by a turn at 30 miles that had lost its marking so I spent a couple of minutes trying to work out where to go before a cyclist pointed me the right way. I was almost ready to drop out then but am very glad I stuck with it to avoid the DNF. From what I heard, all of the lead men lost various amounts of time here and it may have even affected the end result since Jason says he lost around seven minutes and he ended up in second with less than that deficit. But at least someone went back from the next aid station and marked it again so that everyone else would be fine.

The remaining 20 miles felt like a huge effort but I told myself that as long as I kept moving you never know what can happen in an ultra. Also, I expected Jason to struggle after such a fast first half. Instead, I kept moving along the riverside trail, up and down over the countless short, sharp rolling mini hills. The only notable event I had was a trip, tuck and roll a few miles from the end. Luckily it was just a scrape and I was straight up again without a limp.

Then the race became really interesting for the final three-mile climb. After going solo for almost the whole distance except the brief exchanges with Dave, I suddenly saw Nick "I live in the mountains and run uphill ten times before breakfast" Clark behind me. I hadn't seen him at any point behind me and knew I had 900 vertical feet to climb, while feeling pathetically slow on the uphills. Just what I'd hoped to avoid.

I held him off for about a minute and he was much faster up the steep first climbing mile. But I was still within sight and only 20-30 seconds behind as the climb eased out to a gentler angle. I wasn't going to give in without a fight, no matter how lame my legs were acting, so I started chasing and was able to close on him, even as he sped up and looked over his shoulder. For some reason I thought the hill ended about a mile from the end and that it'd be a flattish finish so I kept at it and Nick and I sped up briefly to a 5:20/mile pace with maybe a five second lead for Nick.

We saw Jason come into view and were closing on him, but couldn't tell if there'd be enough distance left. A sign showed us we were a mile from the end and we still kept up a fast pace, but then it got steeper again and I couldn't stick with Nick, even as we both slowed. So the last half mile was an interesting show for me to see whether Nick could catch Jason. I didn't have the legs or enough distance to pull them in so ended up in fourth in 6:00:29, within 30 seconds of those guys and less than five minutes behind Dave, who'd run a great race to take the lead from 38 miles.

My immediate reaction was disappointment, especially at losing a position so close to the end, but the time was still pretty respectable and it'll strengthen the legs for Comrades (where I'll have a proper taper).

The course was great and it had a quality field so I'll be back for more at future AR50s, although the day was packed with so many races to attract ultrarunners (the last day of the MdS, the Bull Run 50 and the USATF road 100k championships, to name a few).

Congrats to Ellie Greenwood and Kami Semick for their 1-2 at AR50, which was also a 7-8 overall. And to Devon Crosby-Helms for becoming the Women's US 100k champ. Oh, and to everyone else who ran an ultra today, while I'm at it - this race certainly reminded me that just finishing can be a bitch.

Full results here.


  1. Great post. Great to see so many Brits kicking it at the top end of the male and female race.

  2. Nick 'I run up hills 10x before breakfast' Clark.

    I like the nickname but I am not sure we are going to be able to make that stick.

    R2R2R is a classic. Mind blowing.

    Well done at AR.

  3. That last sentence made me laugh - I love it and it's oh-so-true!

  4. Nice race Ian.. Great things for you in the future ..but don't you dare go for the R2R2R record :)