American River 50 Mile – AR50 by Steve Mackel

The American River 50 Mile Endurance race was my first 50 miler. When I was editing it I tried to make it shorter but to cut a few extra seconds just wasn’t worth it. Beside most of my marathon videos are about 9 minutes and this race was almost twice as long. If you are looking to do your first 50 or any 50 mile race this is a great one. I hope you enjoy it Below is my race report to go along with the video.

The race started right on time, 6 AM. It was still dark under a full moon. I wasn’t completely prepared for the start. I wanted to get everyone crossing the starting line. Almost 3 minutes into the start I wanted to get started but I was still in my sweats and hadn’t done my warm-up exercises. First rookie move: Not asking the timer if I could take a few minutes to get ready. Instead I crossed the starting line, pulled over to the left, struggled out of my sweats and went through my rituals. Right about then Kat was crossing the starting line. We ran the first 4 miles together.

Second rookie move: I didn’t have my Garmin ready to go at the start. It was dark and I just got a new 910XT. I started pressing buttons and ended up locking the keys. I wouldn’t display the right fields. I wanted to see my Heart Rate because I had intended to keep my HR under 120 bpm for the first 3 hours regardless of speed. Luckily my Garmin 310XT was in my support crew’s car. They had it waiting for me at the mile 8 aid station, so I switched. I will post my Garmin stats later.

The first 27 miles are pretty flat with only a few real hills but still a net gain overall. I felt great and my support crew had food waiting for me at every aid station through Beal’s Point. I ate as much as I could. We agreed to meet next at Rattlesnake Bar.

At Beal’s Point, mile 26.6, I was right on schedule. Third rookie mistake: Trying new food. I drank a can of Ensure for the calories. It really filled me up and I wasn’t thirsty so I stopped drinking pretty much until Granite Bay.

At Granite Bay I was handed a cup of ice and water. It didn’t go down easy and I was worried something was wrong, maybe a little dehydration. I only had two 6 oz water bottles in my belt for the next legs of the race. That would prove to be a big mistake.

Somewhere around mile 33 I didn’t feel good. At this point you are out in the sticks. A guy named Ryan told me I’d be ok and I had been in tough spots before, but I was glad he reminded me.

I think the terrain between Granite Bay and Horseshoe Bar are the most difficult miles on the course. I was in survival mode just focused on getting to Buzzard’s Cove. Carolyn, my new friend, said she was worried about being dehydrated too and was going to work through it by constantly sipping her electrolyte drink. A good strategy if I had liquid but my bottles were dry. Thankfully she let me have a gulp from her bottle and it was only half a mile to Buzzard’s Cove

When I got to Buzzard’s Cove aid station (serviced only by boat), I saw ice cream cones. They looked great but not for me. I drank 4 cups of GU Brew. I filled my two bottles and took a cup with me as I started to Horseshoe Bar. I was constantly sipping and eating my salted potatoes. I kept the wax paper cup in my pocket and was using it to take water from every little stream we ran over to pour some over my head and cool down. My bottles were dry with a half mile to the next aid station. I also was developing my first hot spot on my right forefoot.

Horseshoe Bar was nirvana. They poured cold water over my head, neck and back. They filled my bottles up and gave me more salted potatoes. I was carrying a small bar of Body Glide, so I applied it to both my feet. I knew my crew was waiting at Rattlesnake Bar I just had to keep moving then I could rest and reassess my situation. Granite Bay to Rattlesnake Bar were some of the toughest 10 miles I have run in my life. The salted potatoes were probably my lifesaver. The salt helped me rehydrate.

Rattlesnake Bar was a welcome sight with lots of cheering supporters. My crew was on the spot with everything I could want. I took 10 – 15 minutes putting more Body Glide on my feet, pouring ice water over my head, drinking cups of GU Brew and stocking up on salted potatoes. I took two Alleve and hit the trail again.

I took an extra water bottle with me this time. The trail was soft and beautiful. That’s when I met Anna. I heard her say she wanted to be at the bottom of the hill by 4:15 PM and I thought we had more than enough time to make that goal when I said, “That should be very doable.” She looked at me and said, “This must be your first AR50 because you don’t know what you are in for Cowboy.”

Thankfully I started to feel better and the views were spectacular. All I wanted to do was dunk my head in the river but it was always just a little bit too far away. Around Mile 42.5 there was a bridge crossing a tributary. I saw a path to the stream and dunked my head. I can’t completely explain how it happened but I was re-energized.

The volunteers at Dowdin’s Post, in the middle of nowhere, were so energetic it was contagious. Plus, they had lukewarm chicken noodle soup, just what the doctor ordered. I was back on track and feeling good. Now it was just getting the work done. On to Last Gasp.

What you don’t see on the course profile is the climb to Last Gasp aid station, “Stupid Steep”. I am sure some super humans run up it, but not us mortals. It can be a real morale de-flater. But, I was feeling stronger than I had in 8 hours. I could walk up that BAMF. And, just before Last Gasp, a few young guys, I called them water valets, were waiting to run your bottles to the top and have them waiting for you. Heavy metal was blasting from some speaker as we approached their aid station. They took great care of me. Only 2 miles to go.

A Maniac friend Lan and I started up the next hill, which wasnot as bad as what we had just conquered. She said we could still go sub 11 hours and qualify for Western States. I took the challenge and went into a meditation prayer state, running with short walk breaks when it got really steep. My support crew was about a half mile from the finish down the hill cheering me on. I was probably rude because I would not talk, I just kept my chant going. Before I knew it I was at the top of the hill. The race was in the bag.

The crowd was great at the finish line, cheering loudly for us. The finishing arch was such a beautiful site. I crossed with a fist pump and was handed my cool, new, green Patagonia finisher’s jacket. I can cross a 50 mile race off my bucket list.

My crew showed me to the car where they had my recovery Ensure waiting for me, along with melted ice in a cooler. I dunked my head once again and this time put my feet in. Then I would go over to the finishing area and cheer the other runners on while resting on the grass.

A little while later my friend Hector came in with his traditional heel kick across the finish line. My day was officially done. Then was time for a well deserved beer.

Train Focused, Steve Mackel – Certified ChiRunning┬« Instructor


5 Responses to “American River 50 Mile – AR50 by Steve Mackel”

  1. Rajeev on April 9th, 2012

    Hi Steve!
    It was great meeting you at AR50. Nice race report! I made it to the finish line in 10:21. I’m sure I’ll be bumping into you at other races. Good luck for the rest of the season!

  2. m.brewer on April 9th, 2012

    Great report. Congrats on your first 50 mile finish. You have a lot to proud of. I was running at that race as well and I share your feelings regarding Cardiac hill at the end. Great day overall.

  3. Heather Monahan on November 2nd, 2012

    Thank you for the amazing video and the detailed report on your run! Congratulations on such an amazing accomplishment! I am planning on doing the AR50 in 2013. I live in the area and I am training on the course. This will be my first ultra. Any advice?

  4. Daniel Ruxin on April 2nd, 2013

    Thank you Steve for this awesome video. I saw myself in it running behind you when you spoke with Matt and Judy. Now I can show my wife what the AR 50 is really like.

  5. Sarah T on April 4th, 2013

    Great video and I see so many people I know there! Great race report, too! ­čÖé