It’s never what you think it will be. Life, I mean. The first three months of 2015 I could have never predicted in my wildest dreams. To think that I would sit by my daughter’s side in an ICU while she fought to recover from a pneumonia that some people just don’t recover from, is almost too much to process. But thankfully, she did get better and was able to leave the hospital after 10 long days. JB and I didn’t sleep, didn’t eat, didn’t run. We just focused everything on getting Eva better and at times, what our next minute or hour would look like. The present was all we had. There was no worrying about tomorrow. A lesson in family, health, priorities and love. All the love Eva received from friends, family, even strangers praying for her to get better. It reignited my belief in people and in a greater good. Thank you to all of you who sent us messages, prayers and good thoughts. It meant more than you know.
To leave that experience and still find running extremely important in my life said a lot. I knew I couldn’t race Gorge 100k and would have to let my Western States 100 dreams go for one more year. But I wanted to return to training, to racing, to setting forth my best example to my kids. We are fighters, we do what matters and we do things with fire in our hearts. And that’s how I found my way to this year’s American River 50.
There was a lunar blood eclipse the morning of the race. Apparently that wouldn’t happen again for 20 or more years. It was beautiful. It was also the day before Easter. And so it seemed appropriate that some suffering was about to happen. There was a lot of passion to run that morning despite everything. I was tired, sure. I hadn’t really trained in weeks and felt depleted after our experience. But this was running. It was 50 miles of me being Jen, the runner. It was a hat I could wear with a smile. I kept Eva in my mind and heart, but I ran because I could do it freely.
My dad decided to make the trip down with me as JB took the kids to begin our trip to Palm Desert for Easter. I would meet up with them the evening of the race. This meant I absolutely had to run a sub 8 hour 50 miler to catch my flight in time. I love those sorts of hard lines. I looked at the new course and it seemed about 10-20 minutes slower than the original AR50 course of the past 32 years. So I plotted that with my fitness, a 7:20 finish time would be about the right target. I also just planned on running my style- conservative in the first half and pushing hard on the second half. That was the extent of my planning.
My dad and I enjoyed a fun father daughter evening of chinese food and trips to REI to look at kayaks and found ourselves in bed by 9:30pm. 4:00am came fast and I awoke with a headache, but just ignored it as best I could. A cup of black coffee, and 2 small gluten free maple donuts spread over about an hour of eating seemed to be just enough to get me going. The morning was quite cool and breezy as about 850 runners gathered at the start. Two waves would go off that morning and I made my way to the first wave. I realized I forgot a headlamp and so I just stuck next to a guy with one for the first 25 minutes, hoping I wouldn’t trip on the new singletrack section. The first miles went by quite calmly. I noticed a few ponytails ahead of me but was quite content sticking to my plan of cruising a comfortable pace. I wanted to hit the marathon mark no faster than 3:20. I am not a fast marathoner and so I wanted to avoid the feeling of running past my pay grade early on. I really don’t love pavement running, especially post partum. It really is so taxing for me to run and so I just put my head down and tried to chat with the other runners and get to the singletrack after mile 26. My stomach felt out of sorts around mile 15 and I hung on until mile 20 where I found a porta potty and spent about 3-4 minutes getting things sorted. Right after that, a runner in front of me was about to get mauled by a dog on the bike path and so he and I chased the dog off and kept on running past course markings, finding ourselves lost for a few minutes.
Luckily, we retraced our steps quite quickly and only cost ourselves maybe 3-4 minutes of figuring out the misstep. After that, I came into mile 25 aid station at 3:20 and saw my dad. He had fresh bottles of Tailwind and some salted caramel GU’s for me. He told me the two ladies ahead of me were about 3-4 minutes up. I thought that was just fine with me especially given the eventful few miles before.
I saw my dad again at mile 29 and that would be the last aid station until mile 38. The plan was for me to take 2 bottles from him, but my stomach was feeling super nauseous and I wasn’t taking in as much fluid as I wanted to. So I just took 1 bottle and figured that would be enough. He told me F1 and F2 were 3 minutes up. It was time to start putting the pedal down a little bit.
We got into some super fun rolling singletrack that overlooked the beautiful American River. The temps started to climb some and the water looked so inviting. Then I started craving coke slushees. That’s when I knew my stomach was back! So stoked to be climbing out of that hole, yet I realized I was easily going to run out of water. At mile 33, I passed F2 who was walking up a climb. I gave her some encouragement and kept on going. At mile 36, I saw F1 up ahead, Amy Phillips (she’s an awesome and dominating NorCal runner. You rock girl) and just slowly made my way up the trail and realized I was out of water. We both entered mile 38 aid station at about the same time. I was craving the orange slices and coke and had plenty to get things back together. I took off down the trail and just felt a little flat there. I made my way to mile 40 at Rattlesnake Bar where my dad was waiting for me. I was F1 at that point but not by much. Amy entered the aid station where she was picking up her pacer. I took a minute getting coke and more oranges and went back up the climb. Always at this point in an ultra, your legs hurt. They really don’t hurt much more to run faster, so I did . This was the perfect time to enjoy the rolling trail and finally get to some climbing at the end. I found myself at mile 47 before I knew it and the nice aid station volunteers gave me the best dang icy coke in my water bottle that I’ve ever had. It was exactly what I needed to keep up a good pace up the nearly 1000 foot climb to the finish. I loved every step of that climb. It was the part of the course that I felt was more my strength. I had no idea if F2 was hot on my heels, but I ran with purpose and thoughts of my daughter were leading me forward. I crossed the line in 7:23 (5 minutes off the course record) and Scott Warr announced I was the ladies winner, running EvaStrong! So very very true. That sweet girl and her suffering in the hospital was so great, it makes running an ultra seem so easy.
What a sweet day with my Dad and with my family on my mind. I stuck to my plan and stayed patient which is what I have lacked so many times in races. On a good day and with specific training for that course, I am sure low 7’s is possible for me, but I was super happy to have a decent run this year. My garmin also clocked about 5400 feet of climbing- more than I expected, but not really hilly to say the least.
Many thanks to my dad for his fun loving crewing, my coach Jason Koop for his constant support and guidance, my Physical Therapist Todd Eekhoff, my sponsors, Hoka One One, Lululemon, Drymax and Vespa for not only the best in class products, but the kindest and most supportive people running great companies.
Kit: Hoka One One Cliftons, Drymax trail Lite sock, Ultimate Direction Tony pack with one bottle, Vespa x 2, Tailwind 2 scoops in 20 oz bottle x 6, 1 Salted Caramel gel every hour, 1 S Cap every hour after hour 3. (For those mama’s that asked me- no I didn’t pump on this race- it was right at the borderline time frame I felt I could make it. Dehydration does take a toll on supply- and even for a day afterwards I had to really hydrate for a normal supply to return).
Now what? I feel like my schedule is evolving all the time. I’m deciding on a May race now, but will certainly focus on solid training for AC100 on August 1st. But as a family, we are on the road to recovery- Asher is turning 7 months soon and Eva is going back to school. I still don’t think I have fully processed our health crisis, but I only know how to move forward and so that’s what I will do.