Last Sunday, we joined about 125 other runners and walkers to run the Salmon Run 10K. This event was the third race (not including the kids run last week) in the 2007 Gold Country Grand Prix series, organized by the Sierra Trailblazers running club. It was not exactly the Mother's Day activity that my wife had in mind, but we promised to make it up to her after the event :).
Of all the Gold Country Grand Prix races, this is by far the toughest one. For starters, it is actually 11K (6.75 miles). Right from the start, you head down steeply, descending a thousand feet over about two miles.
Once you get to the bottom, you cross a small bridge, which marks the start of the infamous "Salmon Ladder," which makes even the fastest runners slow down to a crawl, similar to the salmon swimming upstream. After that, there is a pretty flat two-mile section of flume trail, where the worst part is dodging oncoming foot traffic. You finish the run by climbing back out of the canyon on the gravel road that you came down on for about a mile and a half. All in all, not your average 10K.
The 10K happens to also be the only event here, so Grand Prix runners, in their relentless quest for more Grand Prix points, have no choice but to run the whole thing. Last year, quite a few people got injured here, mostly on the descent. The gravel road has lots of loose rock on it, so it is easy to roll an ankle.
Last year, I had one of my proudest moments as a father right on this course. My sons both wanted to run the event, because it was part of the GP series and we had no idea about the course. They had been running the 5Ks in the series and that was already quite something for them. As the race director described the course (longer and much tougher than expected), my heart sank. I was not sure if the boys would be able to run this.
I told them to take it easy and to walk lot if needed and then we all took off. After I finished, I was pretty much convinced that they would be sitting on the side of the road somewhere. I had a quick drink and ran back down as soon as I could. The one problem was that cars could not access the trail, so there was no way to simply drive up to them in case of a DNF.
After running down for a while, I met my dad and started explaining to him what to do when he reached the finish since I was going to be a while, getting the boys. As we were talking and wondering how long it would take them, guess who comes around the corner? Sean and Rocky, smiling and running. When Rocky got closer, I noticed he was full of blood. He had taken a nasty fall at mile 2 and had a cut on his knee as well as his hands. Sean had picked him up and slowed down to run all the way to the finish with him. I was amazed!
This year, I heard that some improvements had been made to the course, so I decided to run the course the weekend before, while some of my ultra friends were out running Miwok 100K. I used this training session also to experiment with fueling strategies for the upcoming TRT100 (now just about two months away), using two water bottles, a small Camelbak, Hammer Heed, Succeed caps, and a few different gels.
I decided to run three loops on the course in a relaxed pace. By the third loop, I was intimately familiar with the course. The main improvement was a brand-new bridge that replaced the creek crossing. Other than that, the course had not improved much.
On Sunday, the boys and I got up early to prepare breakfast for mom, after which we left to head to race HQ at the Sierra Friends Center in Nevada City. This was going to be an exciting race with all of the contenders in one group (most other GP races have a 5K as well as a 10K track).
A minivan transported us to the start a few miles down the road. My race plan was simple: Build up a lead by flying down the hill, power walk the fish ladder, catch my breath and run the flat part evenly and then maintain a steady pace on the final grueling uphill.
Chris Badolato, last year's overall winner of the GP series who had also won every race he entered last year, was in the lineup, as well as most of the other 30-39 AG competitors. Right after the start Chris took the lead and I decided to stay with him from the start. We bombed down the hill and the first miles literally flew by (mile 1: 5:15, mile 2 5:30).
I grabbed a quick cup of water at the aid station before the bridge and swallowed a half package of Hammer gel as well. At first Chris and I ran a little bit of the salmon ladder, but then we both started power walking. Mile 3 passed in 10:02 and I passed my wife, Vicky, and her friend here (they had started the 10K walk 30 minutes earlier).
Knowing the course and breaking it down mentally definitely gave an edge. on the flat flume trail, Chris made a slight wrong turn and ended up in front of an old outhouse and he had to jump back down onto the trail. This suddenly put me in the lead, at least for the remainder of the flume trail, until mile 5.
We ran the flat part in a very even 7:05 and 7:05, still recovering from the monstrous salmon ladder, and then we started heading back up the hill to the finish. Since it was actually 11K, there was a good one and a half mile of steep gravel road left. I looked back a few times at some of the switchbacks, but there was nobody in sight behind us.
Rocky's finish kick, 1:33:37 good for first place in the 1-12 age division
Sean, just eight seconds behind, takes second place in the 1-12 age group.