March 9, 2013

So there I was at the side of the trail about mile fives into the 31.2 mile run with my hands on my knees, choking on an electrolyte capsule. I tried to inhale, and for one moment I couldn’t breathe. The only thing that went into my lungs was salt. Well, should this happen to you, you’ll find that the body rebels and somewhat forcefully and involuntarily tries to get everything out – as it should.

What may look to some like vomiting, is really more an expulsion of the contents of the lungs. Which in my case included a partial gelatinous capsule and some white foam caused by all the salt. The look was not unlike a mad dog frothing at the mouth.

And what flashed through my mind in that instant? Two things. The first was that I didn’t wish to keep Debbie waiting at the finish, so I had better get on with things and start moving again. The second was that runners going past me must be thinking that it’s a bit early in the race to be throwing up. A runner stopped to see that I was alright. I thanked him and explained that a capsule had gone down the wrong pipe. Of all the things that could go amiss during a run which one tries to anticipate and prepare for, this wasn’t even on the list.

Thankfully, the moment passed, as they all do. When I could breathe again, it was a glorious feeling. But for the rest of the day, every in-breath tasted of salt – and not like the fresh salt laden ocean spray that one delights in at the beach. Whenever I took a really deep breath, I felt as if the other half of the capsule was stuck somewhere, and I would start to gag.


Making a splash at Way Too Cool and looking slightly distressed.

Despite all that, it was a brilliant day and the course was gorgeous. The weather ideal. Ultra running is about carrying on in spite of things. So if misfortune strikes…well so what…the journey must continue.

Way Too Cool 50k starts on the 8.6 mile Olmstead Loop Trail which crosses two creeks. The American River Canyon Hikes guide explains that the trail was named for Dan Olmstead in 1993, who “was a local avid mountain biker and hiker.”

From Olmstead, it is a swift downhill to the Highway 49 crossing and the Quarry Road Trail which follows the middle fork of the American River for about six miles. Gold was pulled from the river here in the 1850s. Before then, the Paiute and Washoe tribes used these trails. Tucked away behind some rocks at just after one mile on the Quarry Trail is the gated entrance to what is left of Hawver Cave. From this cave in the early 1900s, Dr. J. Hawver recovered fossilized human remains dated at 10,000 years old along with the remains of a saber-toothed cat. So these are well traveled trails.

But the descendants of saber-tooth cats still call these woods home. After Quarry Trail, the run heads uphill to the Auburn Lake Trail which is where the Auburn Lake would have been had the Auburn Dam been built. I was running behind a gentleman who had a few years on me. He asked if I wished to pass, but I told him that I was just trying to keep up. Then we passed a bench alongside the trail to which he pointed. He asked if I knew the story. It was near this spot in 1994 that accomplished ultra runner Barbara Schoener was tragically killed by a cougar. The bench is a monument to her memory. I reflected on this for some time.

And then we came to goat hill. You’ve seen goats. And no doubt you’ve seen goats on hills. At least you could hear the cow bells ringing from the top announcing the next aid station. Hope amidst goats! I had to stop twice to catch my breath, and I’m sure a moan came from my mouth at one point.

“I’ve learned to love that sound,” came a voice from behind.

“What, the moaning or the cow bells?” was my response.

“The cow bells!” was his Pavlovian answer. Like Pavlov’s dogs, distance runners begin to salivate at the sound of cow bells.

But we also salivate at the thought of the special frog cupcakes awaiting us at the finish. My official time was 6:25, placing 581 out of 853 finishers.

Signature WTC Frog Cupcake
Immense thanks must again go to my adoring and supportive wife, who, although she doesn’t quite understand why someone would willingly run 50k or 50 miles, nevertheless encourages these endeavors. She could have slept in that morning, but drove me up to Cool. And more importantly, back to Sacramento later that day.

Next up is the American River 50 on April 6, where I plan to carefully swallow everything I put in my mouth.