My Next Ultra Challenge — American River 50 Miler

Photo credit: Keith Facchino

Photo credit: Keith Facchino

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”

I have been thinking quite a bit about that quote, attributed to Fred Devito, as I plan my racing calendar for 2017. Sure, it’s a little early, but I want to continue to challenge myself and build on my first two ultras, the Buckeye Trail 50K and the North Face 50K in Wisconsin, which I finished in 2016.

Completing my first two ultras was a goal this year. For 2017, my major goal will be to finish my first 50-miler — the American River 50 in California.

My next ultra challenge — American River 50 miler

Why 50 Miles?

A very reasoned person might ask, “Why a 50-miler?”

It’s a logical question, after all. Fifty miles is roughly double a marathon, and my first several marathons were tremendous challenges. During all of my 16 marathons and ultras to date, I faced a myriad of challenges – the course, the weather, my mind and more.

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”

To me, that’s what running is all about. It’s about conquering a new distance — hell, 50 miles is a distance that most people don’t want to drive, much less travel on their own power. It’s about setting a new goal that years — months? — ago seemed unattainable. It’s about the changes one undergoes through all the hard work, the early morning runs, the passing on desserts and everything else up to and including the difficult stages of the race.

Oh, did I mention the end of this particular race? Much of the last 3-5 miles are a steady uphill climb. The race’s total elevation climb is 3,100 feet, about one-third of it in the final few miles.

So, why the American River 50?

photo credit: Keith Facchino

photo credit: Keith Facchino

As I researched various 50-milers, I wanted to make sure that my first one would offer an enticing combination. It would have to be challenging, of course, but I also wanted it to be scenic, fun and well organized. The American River 50 looks ready to deliver.

“Ultimately, race director Julie Fingar and NorCalUltras do a great job with this event. Every aid station was well-stocked with great food and the volunteers were enthusiastic, helpful and encouraging. I look forward to running in this area with these great people again soon.” — Philip Krooswyk, 2016 finisher

“The course, notably the second half of it, is quite beautiful, with lots of technical, rolling hills and views of the American River. I can’t thank the aid staff enough for introducing me to the concept of chicken broth in a cup – a seriously amazing revelation.” — Ed Gutman, 2016 finisher

Those quotes are from the race reviews I have read about this race. They have certainly helped me arrive at this decision. Here are the top six reasons why I am planning on the American River to be my first 50-miler:

1. It’s the second largest 50-miler in the United States with roughly 800 runners participating in recent years. For my first 50-miler, I definitely wanted a race that has a strong following and would be supportive of my efforts.

2. The race website promises “music, motivational quote signs, superb aid stations and encouraging volunteers will inspire you all the way to Auburn.” It sounds like all the benefits of a road marathon with the beauty of the trail. Sign me up.

3. The scenery sounds absolutely amazing. Runners will start at a ravine marina in the Sierra-Nevada Foothills, pass by lakes, oak woodlands, meadows, over creeks and bridges across some of the most spectacular trails out west.

4. The course is a mix of surfaces. Some roads, some bike paths, some trails and some paths used by gold prospectors generations ago.

5. According to the website, after finishing the last uphill, runners will be greeted with the “Party at Mile 49,” complete with “cheering enthusiasts, an inflatable frog and ice cold Cokes.”

6. All the finishers receive a Patagonia jacket. If I were to honestly rank these reasons, I would readily admit that the jacket is closer to the top than the bottom.

Special Discount for MTA Readers . . .

Get $20 off the American River 50-miler or 25-miler race with promo code MTA20. I’d love to see you there!

What’s next?

In setting such a goal, I knew that I needed to set myself up to succeed with another 50K leading up to the 50-miler. I will also need to work in some serious hill work to be ready for the final climb at American River. Working with my coach, Angie Spencer, we came up with the following races as part of the training plan:

  • In mid-January, a winter night trail marathon. This will help keep me in marathon shape during the winter months and will provide me with a good, long trail run as I build back toward my next 50K …
  • Which will be three weeks before American River. The Bel Monte 50K offers challenging ascents and descents and is timed perfectly with the 50-miler.

As I write this, my 2016 race season is drawing to a close. There will be time to reflect on this year’s accomplishments, take a brief mental break and — of course — enjoy a dessert or two.

Soon enough, however, my focus will turn back to what I want to accomplish as a runner in 2017. And when I pound the trails and pavement over the next five months, my thoughts will hit on a number of things (in no particular order): the lure of the American River 50, my past ultra accomplishments, inspirational runners, family and friends, food, etc. And, of course, I will be repeating mantras, including one that will likely ultimately define this journey.

5 Responses to My Next Ultra Challenge — American River 50 Miler

  1. Heather Panagopoulos December 15, 2016 at 10:38 pm #

    AR50 will also be my first 59 miler! My goal is to not get swept! Best of luck. Hope to see you on the trails.

    • Heather Panagopoulos December 15, 2016 at 10:39 pm #

      Typo!! 50 miler. Oops

  2. Henry December 18, 2016 at 7:44 pm #

    Thanks, Heather! Good luck to you and hope to see you there!

  3. David Atkinson January 8, 2017 at 6:11 pm #

    AR50 will be my first 50 miler as well. Way Too Cool was my first 50K in 2016 and I’ll be running that again in 2017 prior to AR50. Good luck on your race!

    • Henry Howard January 8, 2017 at 6:21 pm #

      Thanks, David! Way Too Cool sounds like an epic race. I’d love to do that some time.

      Best of luck in both that race and the AR50. Hope to see you there!


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