Salmon Falls 50k Race Recap

salmon falls 50k race recap

Salmon Falls 50k is a race I’d never even heard of this time last year. Then several other runners (one a fellow race volunteer at a race, and another runner I was talking to at Skyline to the Sea last fall) each mentioned it as one of their favorite races.

They both said it was well run, well organized, and the course was well marked.

After I kept hearing about this race, I looked it up.

The 2020 edition was on Leap Day!

I don’t know why I fell in love with the idea of running a Leap Day race as much as I did, but I did.

I was in.

Pre-Race Thoughts

This has been an odd training cycle.

If you’ve been following along with my training recaps, you’ll know that for the past few months, I’ve been a coach and pacer for my running club’s marathon training program. Since my training plan required more miles than the club was running, many of my long runs were two-parters. I’d run with the club then I’d head back out for additional solo miles.

During what should have been my peak training week, I had a funky hamstring niggle that lead me to rest, not run. A week was more rest than I probably needed, but I was trying to be responsible.

I don’t feel like I should be ready for the Salmon Falls 50k.

I don’t feel like I’ve done enough trail running this training cycle. This is the most runs I’ve missed (ever) in a training cycle.

… And yet, I feel ready.

Maybe it’s that I’ve gotten more used to ultras. They aren’t as scary or imposing as they once were.

Maybe it’s because this is (by all accounts) a small, low-key race so there’s less pressure (not that race pressure ever really gets to me, but I always prefer low-key).

And, Lord help me, after my 50 mile race last year, I’ve even found myself thinking ‘its only a 50k.’

Race Goals

  • To finish. This usually isn’t in doubt (and it realistically isn’t this time either), but who knows if my twingy hamstring will rebel mid-race.
  • Feel strong on the uphills. While I haven’t been running a lot of trails in training, I have been doing hilly road runs. This is the flattest (relatively speaking) ultra I’ve done, but I want to stick with the approach that has worked for me in my last few races. When I hit a hill, I’ll run (at least) 10 seconds past the point at which my default mode would be to walk.
  • To earn my cheeseburger. I’ve been craving a burger lately, but I’ve held off and decided to make it my reward.

Friday Thoughts

As I write this, I’m in Granite Bay (near Folsom) and I’ll admit I’m in a foul mood.

A major accident on the interstate turned what is usually an hour(ish) drive to Folsom into a nearly 4 hour slog. A semi traveling west jumped the barrier and hit a semi heading east head-on. The semi and a few other vehicles were ‘split into several pieces’ according to reports.

It was not a great way to start the day.

The high temps today have been near 80.

I knew a winter ultra in NorCal could mean rain (February being our rainy season), but throughout training and race prep, the possibility of a heat wave never occurred to me.

I have the right gear for a heat wave, but my body isn’t ready for it if the temps are like this tomorrow. Some weather forecasts are saying mid 70s. Some are saying 60, and some are saying rain. Not a lot of help there.

I also have my usual carbo-load crappy feeling. All the extra carbs before race day leave me feeling bloated, fat and grumpy.

I haven’t had nearly enough water today. Once it became clear I was going to be stuck in my car for a very long time due to the accident, I put away my water bottle. Bathroom breaks were not going to be an option.

Packet pick up went fine, but it was in a very small store so it was very loud and very cramped.

The parking lot was worse than a Trader Joe’s parking lot – super small and packed with others jockeying for a parking spot. None of that would have bothered me under normal circumstances, but I was already in a bit of a mood by then.

Taking My Own Advice

Now it’s time for me to take my own advice – put pre-race stresses out of my head, be in the moment, and focus on the task at hand- last minute and pre-race prep.

This is the first time I’ve been back to this area since I did the American River 50 mile race last year. Salmon Falls ends in the exact spot that race started. I spent the afternoon heading to the spots I vaguely remember running through at AR50.

A few little walks by Folsom Lake, and memories of how amazing that race was for me, calmed me down and helped to start set my mind right.

I’m still not in a great place (I blame the carbs), but I’m moving in the right direction.

salmon falls 50k race recap

Salmon Falls 50k Race Day

salmon falls 50k race recap
Heaters at the start – brilliant!

Race Morning

The Salmon Falls 50k (I now know) has many repeat runners.

Many locals use this race as a training run/race for longer ultras later in the season. During the ride to the start (the course is point-to-point, we parked at the finish and were bused to the start), a few runners were talking about last year’s start – when it was 26 degrees.

This year?

It was cool at the start (upper 40? low 50?), but so much more comfortable than 26. The race had something I’ve never seen before at a race start – patio heaters!

Love!

While it was chilly at the start, that didn’t last long.

It warmed up (and got downright hot) quick.

The high temp on the course according to my Garmin was 82 (urgh). After a few hours, clouds moved in, making it a little more reasonable.

The Course

Salmon Falls is a point-to-point course, starting in Lotus (who knew Lotus, California was a place?) and running along Folsom Lake to the Folsom Point Recreation area. salmon falls 50k race recap

The course climbs just over 3000 feet, most of the climbing is in the first 13 miles.

The rest of the course was rolling hills.

There were 400ish runners and the course gets narrow and hilly within a mile or so of the start. There wasn’t enough time for us to spread out before the course narrowed to single-track trails.

The first few miles were slow going while we bottlenecked.

Most runners were pretty chill about it.

I don’t love crowds on my trail runs, but the pace was a reasonably brisk walking pace on the first uphills (and heaven knows I wasn’t in a hurry).

So I settled in and tried not to get too frustrated being stuck in a pack.

A few dudes (and they were nearly all dudes) weren’t so OK with it.

They got antsy and passed the crowd, (although I’m not sure where they thought they were going – it was a constant stream of people ahead of us). Most were doing the proper trail runner thing and were passing on the left.

One dude thought he’d be super smart and passed us (single-file) runners and the guys passing us the left by running up the little berm and passing on the right.

He promptly wiped out and almost took the girl ahead of me out. He lost much of the fuel in his pack in his fall.

That, my friends, is instant karma.

My Run

I knew the worst of the elevation gain was in the first 13 miles. Miles 10-13(ish) were also the hottest part of the day.

As both the hills and the temperatures kept climbing, I was sooooo not feeling it.

It never got near the ‘I can’t do it and I have to drop’ stage, but I was pretty consistently thinking ‘I’m going to hate every step of these 8 hours.’ Feeling like crap at mile 8 of a 31 mile race isn’t a good sign.

It got better after mile 13.

The rolling hills were hillier than I’d expected based on the elevation charts, but it was much better than it was. That’s also when the clouds started moving in, so that helped temper the temps a bit.

Salmon Falls 50k Race Recap
A course map on the back of the bib number. What a great idea!

I feel like I finally got into the groove of it between the aid stations at mile 13 and 17 – those miles ticked by fairly quickly and easily.

The miles between the aid stations at mile 17 and 24, however, were the longest 7 miles ever.

I physically felt fine, but all of my running didn’t seem to be moving me between the mile markers at all.

Was I running in place or something?

Was there a worm-hole that kept spitting me back out at mile 20?

The Terrain

What I hadn’t anticipated for this race was the terrain – it was much more technical than I expected.

Especially in the first 13 miles, the ground was super rocky. I had to watch my footfalls carefully so I didn’t trip or twist an ankle.

I’ve never seen (or heard) that many people fall in a single race before.

There is a noise that shoes make when they hit a rock (and is a sure sign a fall is about to happen). I heard that noise a lot. I also saw many dirty shins and forearms (the telltale aftermath of a fall).

One guy near the end of the race was talking on the phone.

At first I thought this was ridiculous (seriously dude, you are running an ultra, maybe put the phone down?), but then I heard his conversation – “You fell and probably broke your arm. You ran another 5 miles before you dropped. There is nothing to feel bad about.”

Yikes.

As I was (trying) to fall asleep Saturday night, I kept hearing the sound of shoes hitting rocks in the back corners of my brain and I’d jolt awake.

I am haunted by that sound.

In the end, I know I could have run faster than I did (more on this in a second), but I was being overly cautious.

I’d heard so many people fall, and I knew as the day wore on my brain would get a little fuzzier. I didn’t trust myself to not shuffle my feet too much and stumble.

I stumbled twice, but caught myself before I actually fell.

The Runners

With around 400 runners, this was a bigger event than I expected, but it still felt like a small run.

Salmon Falls had that rare balance – it had a small race vibe and lots of local runners who clearly knew each other.

However, it didn’t feel as cliquey as some smaller races do.

While I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t feel like an unwelcome interloper.

My Random Aid Station Confession

I was a little bothered to learn that I have become a potato chip snob.

I don’t eat potato chips very often- pretty much only at races and as a side dish at restaurants that don’t have french fries.

Most of the races I run have the chips you get at Costco (Kettle Brand Pink Himalayan Sea Salt chips). I love these chips and eat them at every aid station.

This race had Lays. They felt so wimpy and insubstantial as I ate them. They were barely worthy of my consumption.

Good grief.

I don’t have a particularly sophisticated palete, I never thought I’d have such strong potato chip feelings.

In The End

I finished in 7:32.

This was slower than I’d expected given the elevation profile of this course, but I hadn’t taken into consideration the heat wave or the rocky terrain.

The time reflected my fear of tripping (especially as the day wore on) more than it reflected my physical ability.

This was the best race I could have expected given my odd training cycle. My hamstring never really bothered me and when I did feel a niggle, I’m pretty sure it was just my over-active imagination.

Did I Meet My Goals?

I’d give myself a B-.

Goal 1: I finished! No issue there.

Goal 2: I felt moderately strong on the uphills. I wasn’t at my best, but I’m OK with my performance. Many of the longest hills were near the start of the race when congestion forced us to a walk. Any number of times, powering uphill wasn’t even an option.

Goal 3: I think I earned my cheeseburger, although I’m sure I would have thought that regardless.

Doing anything for 7 1/2 hours deserves a cheeseburger.

Would I Do This Race Again

I would for sure run this course again and I was happy with the race organizers and the course marking.

However, the potential conditions for this race would give me pause.

It was super hot this year. In past years (based on the reports of those who’ve done it before) it was rainy (or super sloppy from past rain) or really cold.

There aren’t many good weather options for a February trail run in Northern California, but I’d likely chance it.

What’s Next?

Now I get to see my running club marathon training crew through the rest of their training.

My next race is only a few weeks away as I’m pacing the Oakland Marathon (the 4:40 group).

After that? I have no idea.

Gear

  • Top: Mountain Hardwear
  • Bra: Title 9 Frog Bra
  • Skirt: RYPWear
  • Socks: Injinji Mid-crew
  • Shoes: Asics Trail Sensor
  • Hydration Pack: UltrAspire Alpha. I keep saying (and thinking) each race will likely be the last big outing for my Alpha, but it keeps chugging along (I also can’t find an alternative pack I like)
  • Arm Warmers: Lululemon Swifty
  • Calf Sleeves (a/k/a poison oak exposure minimizers): Zensah pineapples (good thing I wore them too – there was soooo much poison oak!)
  • Fuel: My race fueling was actually pretty good! The longer the race, the more likely I am to fuel on a strict schedule regardless of how I’m feeling. I GUed nearly every hour (with Roctane lemonade, toasted marshmallow, jet blackberry), and had a GU Chew block about every 30 minutes (watermelon and blueberry & pomegranate)

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