The inaugural Robinson Flat 50k, held Saturday, September 8th, was also my inaugural attempt at a true “Ultra” distance race….and to say that I underestimated the challenge that the event would provide is a HUGE understatement! The combination of my “newbie” status, along with the race being a first time event with little information on the course, made the likelihood pretty high that I was in for a ton of unexpected challenges on the day. As it turned out, I NEVER could have imagined the difficulties I would have to overcome during 32 miles on some of the most beautiful, and challenging, trails I have ever run!
Leading up to race day, I had slowly realized that my long list of injuries and ailments (knee arthritis, hamstring tear and tendonosis, plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis) had dramatically improved…especially surprising given that I had just put in my first 200-mile month in as long as I can remember! In fact, as Carrie Hyatt (my studly training partner!) and I made our way to the start line, I couldn’t help but get excited about how good my legs actually felt! This (irrational?) exuberance would probably end up being the key cause of the events that would later make this race-day the most challenging I have ever faced!
When the race started, I couldn’t help but run with a smile on my face…I had waited a LONG time for this experience and I was so happy to be doing this! “The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.” The fact that my second mile had a 7-handle on the split and this would be the longest distance I had ever raced, should have clued me in to EASE UP ROOKIE! But I felt so good and the course was so beautiful that I kept on rollin! When Carrie later commented that “maybe I did go out a little aggressively”, I said that I just felt so good, to which she answered with the now obvious reply, “of course you did…we just started running!”. DUH!
As I rolled through the first Aid Station at Mile 8, I was feeling really good and only had two 50k runners in front of me. This is where the course jumped onto the WS100 trail and we would spend the rest of our day navigating this beautiful portion of the legendary ultra course. This next stretch heading to the halfway point at Duncan Canyon offered mostly technical single-track with some fantastic scenery! I was fortunate enough to team up with a super-friendly (like everyone out here!) couple who were racing the 35k as training for the Berlin Marathon (really?!?). They were strong climbers, so I found myself just working to stay with them…I of course now realize that this tactic early in the race was another ROOKIE MISTAKE!
As I bombed down the technical, rocky descent into the halfway point aid-station at Duncan I felt my first twinges of muscle cramps in my calves and groin…little did I know this would be a prelude to some serious problems ahead! Working the aid station was Western States and ultra-running legend, Tim Tweitmeyer…so who better to ask for quick advice on my newly cramping body. So, with Tim’s advice, I doubled-up on my electrolyte intake (Edurolytes), reloaded my bottles, ate everything salty I could grab and got on my way. The one thing Tim couldn’t tell me to do was go back to the first 15 miles and re-run them EASIER!
The next 7 miles back to the Robinson Flat start/finish area were without a doubt the longest miles of my life (that is, until later when I would crawl through the final 7 miles of the race!)…“Only by going too far, can you find out how far you can possibly go”. This stretch was all climbing and descending and the twinges I felt earlier were now full blown, locked muscle, brutally painful, CRAMPS FROM HELL! Several times heading back to Robinson Flat my legs would completely stop with cramps locking from my groin to my inner-knee, turning my adductor muscles into piano wire! Every time I tried to stretch it out in one leg, my other leg would cramp…I truly didn’t know what to do–I couldn’t even walk! The only thing I could think to do was drink everything I had and pop every electrolyte that I had and then wait for it to kick in. Slowly I was able to walk, then eventually run with baby-steps…every time I tried to lift my knees too much or get a bit more aggressive on a descent or climb the cramps would come back and shut me down immediately! Everything else felt great, but I couldn’t run–SO FRUSTRATING!
As I struggled through 4 miles (in 1:14!) of battling with my horribly cramping legs, my morale was rock-bottom and I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I would have to stop at the 35k finish and call it a day. As I SLOWLY rolled into the start/finish aid station, which also served as the 35k finish, I heard someone ask if I was continuing on…before I could even decide what my answer was, Connor Curley, who was working the aid station, said “of course he is!”. I just smiled and knew that after years of waiting for this moment, I couldn’t go out like that! “We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret”. I then realized that I was 10 miles of cramping, walking, and shuffling away from my first ever ultra-marathon finish…Time to Dig Deep!
Robinson Flat 50k – Garmin Profile. (Notice the mile splits of the 1st half vs. the 2nd half!)
As I finally rolled into the finish, a long 7 hours and 19 minutes after I sped out of the start, I still managed a smile and it felt so good to know my struggles on this day were over! A great guy from the old Rocklin Running & Racing days, Theo Wirth, immediately handed me a cold beer, Carrie gave me a congratulatory hug and “welcome to the club” cheers came from everyone around. It was truly amazing how such lows could turn to such highs in such a relatively short period of time! On the drive home, Carrie reminded me of the most important fact of the day…as brutally tough as my problems were on the day, none of my issues were structural! Every challenge I encountered can be corrected. That’s why I truly think I am BACK FOR GOOD and can’t wait for my next 50k attempt in 4 weeks–at RIO DEL LAGO!
“For those who said “you can do it”, thanks for the support. For those who said “No way”, thanks for the motivation!”