American River 50 Combines Roads, Trail for Spectacular Ultra Race

Gloria Takagishi has a long list of running accomplishments — Boston Marathon, Western States, etc. — but will always remember and treasure her first ultra marathon, the American River 50 in California.

Now 70, Takagishi has started the race every single year. In fact, she finished AR50 each of the first 30 years of its existence.

On April 1 of this year, Takagishi will again line up at the starting line in Folsom for the race that is close to her heart.

American River 50 combines roads, trails for spectacular ultra race

I will also be at that starting line this year. You can join Takagishi and me for the 50-mile or 25-mile distances. Use discount code MTA15 for $15 off your entry into this beautiful, well-organized race.

We also have something else in common: neither Takagishi nor I ran in high school or college. She started her fitness program after visiting with the police chief in Sacramento, who mentioned a requirement for officers to stay in shape with the Dr. Kenneth Cooper method to retain fitness.

“I bought the book and decided to try the running program,” Takagishi said. “I am a process person so I followed the program outlined step by step until I was at the point of running two miles at an 8-minute pace four times a week for fitness. My husband would ride his bike with me during my training sessions.” 

Her path to running longer distances started with encouragement from the running community. Fellow runners saw Takagishi on her runs and asked her to join them on their 5-mile runs.

“I finally decided to join them after much reassurance that I could do five miles if I slowed down,” she recalled. “They invited me to join them at 5K and 10K races. I soon met a runner who was training for a half marathon and was encouraged to join in the training. The half marathon led to a 20-mile race and then my first marathon – Avenue of the Giants.”

As Takagishi became hooked on longer distances, the running community stepped in with some more prodding.

“After two marathons, the same runner was encouraged by Sally Edwards
(Western States winner, triathlete, etc.) to run AR50 – a race which was her idea for an ultra and she was the race director,” Takagishi says, admitting that she and her friend had minimal trail experience. “We improvised water bottles and were not trained for trail conditions in the afternoon heat. I completed the race but my training partner did not.”

No one (almost) gets in Western States the first time

Takagishi checked off more marathons and the American River 50 the next several years. Then the running community encouraged her to put her name in for Western States because “no one gets in the first time they enter, so you might as well start and you may get selected in a few years.”

Takagishi’s name was drawn the first year.

“So I had to find training partners and learn the course — I had not been on most of it,” she said. “I finished WS and over the years had three Western States bronze buckles and two Vermont 100 finishes. I have completed over 45 50-mile races, over 40 50K races including 24 Way Too Cool finishes. I have over 40 marathons including New York, Boston, Disney World and many in California.”

How does a 70-year-old keep churning out these long-distance accomplishments?   

“I have been very fortunate to be pretty much injury free during my running career,” she says. “I did fracture my ankle in November one year but was able to recover, rehab and run Way Too Cool in March and AR50 in April. Over the years I have used a training plan for each race and then cut back after the event.”

The uniqueness of the American River 50

The American River 50 went from Auburn to Sacramento for its first two years. For the next 32 years the course went from Sacramento to Auburn, but now starts in Folsom.

“The change was to take the race off of the American River Parkway,” Takagishi said. “The start of the race was moved to Folsom and when the course gets to Nimbus the next part is the same. A couple of miles was added out of Granite Bay to make up for the distance that was missing in the move of the start to Folsom. There are a few miles of trails at the start of the race before going to pavement.”

The AR50 is a challenging course for runners.

“The race is a combination of road racing and trails which makes it unique — over 20 miles of pavement followed by trails,” Takagishi said. “My theory is that you need pavement training since trail training does not matter if you cannot complete the pavement section in fairly good shape. If you are in good shape coming off the pavement, the trails will be scenic and enjoyable.”

Her training plan consists of the Napa Marathon (pavement) in March followed by Way Too Cool (trails) the end of the same week. “This would be my big training week and then I feel I am ready for AR.”

Not only is the pavement-to-trails a challenge but a steep climb welcomes runners to the last section of the race.

“I have always thought that once you get to the steep climb up from the river you have three miles left and there in nothing to stop you from attaining your goal,” Takagishi says. “You have completed 47 miles. Take one step at a time, continue to move forward and focus on your goal. The end is in sight and for ultra runners three miles is a short run.”

Her advice for flatlanders like me preparing for the end of AR50: “You can use a treadmill with elevation climbs, find any small hill and do repeats, exercises for hill climbing muscles, etc. Also some mental training and a positive attitude that ‘you can do it.’”

Participants can prepare their training plans to account for those challenges yet there is one they cannot control. “The weather for the race has ranged from heat — 80 degrees — to rain the entire day to cold and hail/thunderstorms. Have a positive attitude and enjoy the day,” she advises.

Lastly, Takagishi credits race director Julie Fingar, the NorCal staff and the volunteers who “put on a fantastic race. You will find most of what you need at aid stations but if you need some special item, I advise you carry it or have your crew make it available. Enjoy the day and keep going forward toward Auburn.”

Speed drill

Name: Gloria Takagishi

Hometown: Sacramento, Calif.

Number of years running: 39

How many miles a week do you typically run: 30

Point of pride: Consistency in races and completion of 30 straight AR 50s, 24
Way Too Cool 50Ks and five 100-mile races.

Favorite race distance: 50 miles

Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Do not listen to music; prefer to enjoy the scenery or natural beauty.

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