Sunday, April 27, 2008

Zane Grey 50 Race Report

(Coming into Geronimo Aid at 8 miles Photo credit: JP Pullaro)
First off, the Highline Trail is 51 miles; and that last mile counts.

As long as I've been aware of ultramarathons, Zane Grey has been a race that I've wanted to do. While I feel that its self-proclamation of being the hardest 50 miler in the country isn't quite accurate (San Juan's climbing and altitude trumps the rocks of ZG, I think) it is probably the 2nd hardest and it has an infamous and historic point-to-point course that has attracted a lot of the country's top ultrarunning talent over the years. So, with a classic course and plenty of previous time standards to test myself against, I was lured in.

About 10 days before the race, Kyle and I went down to Pine, AZ (the starting point) to check out some of the course. After doing an out and back 25 miler from the starting line my emotions ranged from, on the way out: "My God, this is some kind of sick joke to hold a race on this pathetic, sorry excuse for a trail" to, on the way back: "I don't know, this is actually kind of fun..." With that introduction, though, I'd decided I'd seen enough.

Zane Grey was under new directorship this year. Perry Edinger stepped in to keep the race alive, and--much to my appreciation--decided to do what he could to invite and accommodate some top runners to this year's race. As a result, I was looking forward to running with some of the East Coast's finest--Bradley Mongold and Eric Grossman--along with former race winner Josh Brimhall. As it turned out, though, Grossman wouldn't be able to make it out because of a re-aggravated hamstring injury.

After much debate, I decided to not wear a headlamp for the race and was glad I didn't. Even with a 5am start, Arizona doesn't follow daylight savings time, so the sky was already lightening when Perry sent us on our way. I took the lead from the first step with Josh, Bradley, and James Bonnett right on my heels. Strangely, there didn't seem to be any flagging at all the first 17 miles of the course, so in the first few miles I relied on Josh's prior course knowledge--and my small preview--to keep us on the right path.

After a mile or so, Josh took over the lead, but then I was on point as we began the first substantial climb of the course. I remembered it being steep the week before, but race adrenaline made it seem not so bad. However, I definitely think I was a bit too aggressive for such an early point in the race. On the entire run over to the Geronimo aid station at mile 8 I felt awkward and uncomfortable, even though I was leading and setting the pace. The extra bulky shoes (Brooks ST Racers) I was wearing to protect my bruised foot just plain sucked. The extra midsole height provided padding and protection but it also drastically reduced my proprioceptive feedback, responsiveness in my footstrike, and ankle stability. Plus, they were a half-size too big. So it goes.

Not only did the shoes feel awkward, but I just felt like I was kind of forcing the pace, which is not the way I like to run so early in such a long race. I had a (very) small gap on Josh and irrationally I kind of wanted to maintain it. I cruised the nice piney section downhill into Geronimo, splashed across the creek (almost running into a photographer because my head was down negotiating the water), skipped the aid (split of 1:10), and started up the switchbacks leading out of the valley. As I was winding up the hill I expected to see Josh and Bradley right behind me but I'd somehow already opened a minute or so gap on them. That would be the last time I would seen any other runner the whole race (which made for a pretty lonely day).

On the next section over to Washington Park (17 miles) I just focused on running smoothly, comfortably, and efficiently. I was trying to make up for what I thought had been a little bit too quick of a first hour of running. The trail in this section actually wasn't too bad for a while. And then came a completely washed out gulley followed by a bunch of burn and downfalls where I completely lost the trail and was literally running around in circles in frustration trying to get back on track. Eventually I picked it back up, though, and cruised to the Washington Park aid in 2:34.

I'd taken my fourth gel right before the station, refilled my bottles and took my first salt cap as I was heading out. It wasn't hot at all yet (the day would top out at only 80 degrees or so), but I was sweating pretty good and wanted to stay on top of my electrolytes. It was during this section that I also saw at least two dozen elk (very cool) and the first of two rattlesnakes that I spontaneously jumped over because it was laid all the way across the trail (not so cool).

The next 7 mile section over to the remote Hell's Gate aid station went surprisingly quickly (I think it's probably a touch short). I just kept doing my thing: enjoying the technical challenge of the rocks and running as quickly and efficiently as possible on the smooth sections of trail (yes, there were some smoother sections out there). I filled my bottles again at Hell's Gate (3:37) in anticipation of the long 9 mile stretch over to Tonto Creek and kept on my way.

I think it was this section of the course that had a fair amount of downhill long grass-concealing-rocks surface that proved to be some of the most frustrating terrain of the whole day. Other than that, I don't remember much except for the unrelenting up and down nature of the trail and the fact that I was pretty happy to get to Tonto Creek (33 miles in 5:06) because after that I could mentally start feeling like I was in the home stretch. It definitely also began to get a bit hot in this section. I stopped to dunk my head at most creek crossings to conserve the water in my bottles.

Coming into Tonto Creek my legs still felt pretty good.  I consistently had to remind myself to take it easy on the uphills and not waste extra energy trying to run too fast over the extremely technical terrain.  Additionally, any time the trail would smooth out a bit my legs would take off and turn over by themselves.  At the station itself I was sure to prepare for the long next stretch by drinking a full bottle of water and filling both my bottles before taking off again.

All of that pretty much ended after the 33 mile aid station.  Pretty soon after the aid there were a couple of uphills that were such an incredible jumble of sandstone blocks that all I could do was laugh out loud as I picked my way up the hill.  Even before I got to the biggest climb on the course at approximately the 35-36 mile point my legs were done.  I had stopped trying to push it on the smooth sections and was mostly in "let's just get it done" mode.

Going up the ~1000' climb was actually nice at first because the trail was now completely back in the forest and out of the burn section, but it was also extremely frustrating for me because the trail was in much much better condition but I no longer had the reserves to really push the pace and take advantage of the improved footing.  And then I actually had to walk the steeper sections of the climb.  I know that walking is often an efficient mode of racing in mountain ultra events, but I hate to do it.  I like running.  I don't like walking.  

But there really wasn't much else I could do at this point.  I still ran the less steep sections of the ascent, but I was seriously losing momentum.  In an attempt to get my energy back I took 3 gels within 45 minutes, an extra salt cap, and drank as much as possible.  This all seemed to help and once the climb started descending things improved a bit.

I'd remembered someone saying at the pre-race briefing the night before that there would be some type of "emergency" aid at the 30, 37, and 40 mile marks, so I focused all of my energy on just getting to that supposed 40 mile mark.  I ran everything up until I reached those folks at 6:17 where I filled one of my water bottles because I was almost out.  From there it was just more of the same all the way to the Christopher Creek aid although I do remember there being a bunch of downfall trees in this section.  Multiple, fully-branched trees would cover the course at times and I would waste time and energy bushwhacking around them and trying not to lose the always-sketchy path.

Finally, I saw the vehicles down at the 44 mile aid and that instantly put a little extra pep into my legs on the downhill leading into the station, which I reached in 7:00.  I took a minute to refill both bottles at the station, grab a couple extra gels, hear that I had an hour lead, and then took off down the homestretch of trail.

I was relieved to hear that I had such a big lead, but that really did nothing to motivate me to try and push for a sub-8hr finish.  I'd had Dave Mackey's 7:51:04 course record in mind when I left Tonto Creek, but the big climb and my subsequent rough spot of the day took most of my motivation away.  Along with the fact that someone at the final aid told me it was actually 7 miles to the finish and not 6.  Ugh.

Either way, I still thought I had a chance at a sub-8hr/2nd fastest time during this last stretch but it was incredibly difficult to motivate.  Essentially, I wussed out and just settled into a survival ultra shuffle that I usually only break out during 100 mile races.  I ran into Karsten Solheim with his chainsaw still clearing the last few miles of the course and almost immediately after that tripped for the first time all day but caught myself from face-planting by landing a water-bottled hand on a huge boulder and thereby emptying the bottle all over the trail.

Unfortunately, the last major climb adjacent to the creek bed really took some of the wind out of my sails and I was relegated to walk a couple more steep stretches as I downed another gel.  I was really kind of out of it.  Any time that I tried to motivate myself with the thought of a sub-8hr finish I could never come up with any other response than, "Man, I just really don't freakin' care."  This is (obviously) pretty typical in the late stages of a long and arduous ultra, but it's disappointing to me because the one time I've had competition in the late stages of an ultra (Red Hot Moab 50K back in February) I was psyched to see how my body was able to respond surprisingly effectively even though I'd felt pretty cashed and complacent at that point, too.  This is definitely a point on which either having a pacer or having some competition breathing down my neck would clearly make a big difference.

So.  After what seemed like forever (and many miles of comparatively beautifully smooth trail) I finally heard cars on the highway and knew I would live to run another day.  However, the night before Karsten had said that you still have 1 to 1.5 miles left when you can hear the highway so I just continued jogging along until all of a sudden, barely 50 yards away was the finish line banner.  I immediately, instinctively kicked it into a respectable running pace and finished in 8:02:33.

Boy, I was done.  I immediately plopped down in a chair in the shade, happy that was over with.  This was a marked contrast to AR where I finished with tons of energy and had no problem at all getting in a 10 minute cooldown.  Here, I just wanted to stop moving NOW.  After a couple bottles of water, though, I felt a lot better and, of course, was able to start being (only a tiny bit) disappointed about not breaking 8 hours.  

All in all, though, I was pretty psyched on my race.  I'm now pretty confident in my technical skills as I rarely felt outmatched by the course's footing.  I would've felt even more surefooted and comfortable in my New Balance 790s instead of the boats I was forced to wear.

Unfortunately, most of my competitors had less-than-stellar route-finding days.  Josh dropped after getting off course for 20 or so minutes and 2nd place John Anderson (9:30ish overall time) and 3rd place Bradley Mongold (another 10-20 minutes back) both got off course for 15-20 minutes together much earlier on in the race.  Josh--who was 2nd last year, and won the year before--said the course was by far in the worst condition he'd ever seen it and that there were way way more downed trees than in years past.  I thought that was funny because I felt like some of the worst downed tree sections came after the 33 mile aid station where he dropped out.  Either way, I'm happy with my race but would enjoy an opportunity to run the course under 2004 conditions (the year Dave and Nikki set the course records).  

I can't say that I'll be back, but I definitely enjoyed running the race and was especially grateful for the aid station volunteers' wonderful assistance all day and race director Perry Edinger's gracious hospitality all weekend.

Finally, if anyone has any decent pictures from the race, I'd love to have a couple for posterity. 

Week Log: April 21-27

Mon-AM: 16 miles (2:10) Observatory Mesa in Flagstaff w/ Kyle and Ian
Bruised my foot wearing some old 152s on the rocks...still tired, too.

Tue-AM: 23 miles (3:03) Pipeline to Mt Elden Trail then down Elden Road
Wore brand new 790s, but the foot was still very very tender.
PM: 5 miles (:40) Walmart out and back through NAU campus
Nice and easy; wore the 152s

Wed-AM: 17 miles (2:15) Fisher Pt. out and back
Foot still had some soreness and I was still sluggish. Haven't had a good run all week.

Thu-AM: 8 miles (1:05) FUTS out and back towards Ft. Tuthill
Still feeling tired...hmmm...

Fri-AM: 8 miles (1:05) Rio de Flag out and back
Wore some more padded shoes and I'll probably race in them...the foot is just not ready otherwise.

Sat-AM: 52 miles (8:10) Zane Grey 50 in 8:02:33
Had a very solid 35 miles and then paid a little for the quick early pace, plus it was hard to stay motivated running all by myself all day. Very very complacent the last hour.

Sun-AM: 16 miles (2:10) Phoenix Mts Park
Tired, but not horrible. Climbed a couple of the small mountains in the park. Good heat training at 90+ degrees.

Total: 145 miles (20:38)

This was kind of a rough week. My foot didn't throw off the volume of my running--I did a typical half-taper--but my legs just didn't feel right all week. Once I get back to Colorado I'm going to make sure to start taking some iron pills. I was happy enough with the Zane race, especially considering that I was probably still tired from the Double Crossing the weekend before. I'm excited to take a few days easy and then really get down to some good, solid training.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Week Log: April 14-20

Mon-AM: 18 miles (2:30) Oldham-Brookbank-Schultz Pass Rd in Flagstaff w/ Kyle
Wore FFs, but it was a bit too rocky for that.
PM: 5.5 miles (:43) Rio de Flag out and back w/ Kyle

Tue-AM: 25 miles (4:02) Zane Grey Course out and back w/ Kyle
Ran the first ~12 miles of the ZG course. Almost stepped on a big rattlesnake.

Wed-AM: 21.5 miles (3:01) Schultz Pass Rd to Weatherford Trail in Flag
Felt pretty terrible. Just tired. Almost got to 10K' on W'ford trail.
PM: 5 miles (:40) Downtown Flagstaff
Felt better after a 2hr nap.

Thu-AM: 12 miles (1:40) Buffalo Park-Upper Oldham to the top of Mt. Elden
Feeling a bit better, still a little tired.

Fri-AM: 31 miles (5:10) Hermit's Rest-Tonto-South Kaibab in GC w/ Scott
Awesome awesome run, and I felt great on the climb out.

Sat-AM: 46 miles (7:31) Grand Canyon Double Crossing (South/North Kaibab-Bright Angel) in 7:24
Started with a big group and ended up having a wonderful day in the canyon. Bonked really hard on the climb back up Bright Angel because I was stupid and didn't bring enough gels (only ate 7). I can see now why the R2R2R is so alluring.

Sun-AM: 14 miles (1:52) Fisher Point in Flagstaff w/ Scott, Ian, Kyle
Tired--happy to be done.
PM: 9 miles (1:11) Rio de Flag to AZ trail in the FFs
Feeling nice and chipper.

Total: 187 miles (28:20)

A very very solid week of running. It was great exploring the non-corridor trails in the Grand Canyon these last couple of weekends and then to cap it off with a fun double crossing. I look forward to doing more in the future. I think it's time to taper a bit for Zane Grey now.

Week Log: April 7-13

Mon-AM: 18 miles (2:22) Garden+Mesas in FFs
PM: 5 miles (:47) North Loop w/ Jocelyn in FFs

Tue-AM: 23 miles (3:02) Buckhorn+Duck Pond
PM: ER visit in the middle of the night because of the Staph infection in my big toe

Wed-AM: 24 miles (3:06) 666-Kinneo-Buckhorn
PM: 5 miles (:41) North Loop w/ Jocelyn

Thu-AM: 25 miles (3:00) Buckhorn+666 add on+Duck Pond
Hit my head hard on a tree branch and had a big headache the rest of the day.

Fri-AM: 32 miles (5:02) Bright Angel-Clear Creek out and back w/ Scott and Kyle in the Grand Canyon
Great run except for the huge headache I still had from knocking myself out yesterday.

Sat-AM: 38 miles (6:00) Grandview-Horseshoe Mesa-Tonto-South Kaibab w/ Scott and Kyle
Excellent fantastic run.

Sun-AM: 15 miles (2:00) Grand Canyon Rim trail out and back w/ Scott and Kyle
Tired and sluggish.

Total: 185 miles (26:00)

It seems I recovered pretty quickly from AR in the first half of the week and then the second half of the week was awesome running in the unparalleled environment of the Grand Canyon. The Tonto Trail is way better than I expected.

Week Log: March 31-April 6

Mon-AM: 16 miles (2:05) Garden+Mesas in the FFs
PM: 8 miles (1:07) Shooks easy w/ Jocelyn in the FFs

Tue-AM: 27 miles (3:22) Buckhorn+North Loop in the FFs

Wed-AM: 16 miles (2:06) South out and back + duck pond in the FFs

Thu-AM: 7 miles (1:00) Sout out and back w/ Jocelyn

Fri-AM: 8 miles (1:02) Monument Loops in the FFs

Sat-AM: 52 miles (5:58)--American River 50 in 5:42:37

Sun-AM: 6 miles (1:00) Bear Creek w/ Jocelyn. Slow.

Total: 140 miles (17:40)

Sunday, April 6, 2008

American River 50 mile

The months leading up to AR were a bit tumultuous. I hadn't had a serious race since Leadville last August, and my training since August hasn't exactly been consistent. However, after lots of help from the great people over at Champion Health and the magic healing powers of the Gila Wilderness sunshine and streamwater my shin started cooperating five weeks ago, which left me with a perfect amount of time for a solid block of training leading up to AR. A four-week sequence of 131, 201, 182, 184 (which included some of the best speed sessions of my life) followed by a mellow half-week taper and I was ready to go realize some goals in Sacramento.

What were those goals? I was basically running this race with the express purpose of gaining automatic entry into the Western States 100 this June. Way Too Cool was Way Too Early and Way Too Short for me, while I feel that Miwok is too long and too close to Western to run hard. Plus, it filled very quickly this year.

In addition to "place" goals, I had some time goals for the race. Initially, sub-6 hours seemed like a nice, round benchmark for which to shoot, but that didn't seem ambitious enough. At the least, I liked the fact that sub-7 minute pace (5:50) at AR was also the qualifying criteria necessary for me to be thrown into the USATF 100K World Championships selection pool. Next, running faster than Carl Andersen (5:44:something) always seems like a good thing, and finally, there was Tom Johnson's highly-esteemed 5:33:21 course record from way back in 1994 to keep in the back of my mind.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to do any sort of course reconnaissance other than what meager photos and descriptions that the Internets had to offer---there was only one set of splits to be found (2005--when Phil Kochik won in a respectable 6:06). As a result, I went into the race only really knowing that A) The first 20-30ish miles or so were essentially on a perfectly flat, paved asphalt bike path and the next 17 miles were on rolling singletrack along the American River, B) the final 3 miles contained the only real climbing of the race (ascending 1000' feet to the canyon rim) and C) almost everyone cautioned against going out too fast in the first half of the race so as to not let the trails eat oneself alive.

Not much to go on. But, what can you do?

Of course, several other folks had the same idea as me, i.e. that AR is a great race for one to go and take a shot at qualifying for Western States! With lottery spots becoming more and more scarce each year at Western, AR was bound to be hyper-competitive this year (for the men, at least), and it certainly lived up to this expectation. This was by far the deepest ultra I've had the pleasure of participating in.

The main contenders (as I saw it going into the race) on the men's side were going to be (in no particular order): Lon Freeman (Miwok CR), Oz Pearlman (5:31 at Chicago Lakefront), Erik Skaden (I could go on and on, but he's won AR twice), Jorge Pacheco (ditto), and Todd Braje (2:2something marathoner and Way Too Cool champ a month ago). As it turned out, the only one I really mistakenly didn't take into account was Jeremy Redding (beat Dave Mackey at the Headlands 50K a few years ago). Also, Billy Barnett was a key (and welcome) player for more than half of the race.

I roomed the night before the race with Jenn Shelton and Billy and had a characteristically restless few hours of sleep before the alarm went off at 4am Saturday morning. Alas, a little sleeplessness was nothing compared to all the congestion and hacking that Jenn was dealing with the day before (and, day of) the race.

The race start was dark and cool so I opted for a black Colorado Running Company singlet, black shorts, Moeben bamboo fiber sleeves, and some sweet carved-up black and yellow New Balance 790 trail flats (sub-7 oz.). I also started the race with 4 gels and a full water bottle. Even though I wasn't anticipating draining the water bottle for at least an hour or so, I wanted to try and hold off having to stop and get water for as long as possible---I knew the bike path pace was going to be fast and furious and it's never fun trying to make up even a few seconds' gap at those speeds.

With 600 runners and chip timing, the start felt like a road race. Immediately, some jokester shot off the front followed closely by Lon Freeman and a fellow in compression shorts and t-shirt who I later learned was Oz. I hung back a short distance in a quickly-forming chase pack that consisted of myself, Billy, and eventually a bunch of other dudes. By time we'd looped back to the start (~3 miles) we'd caught Lon and Oz and a very enjoyable group of dudes coalesced as we hit the first aid at Watt Ave (5.9 miles) in 35ish minutes. The low-6min pace felt quick but doable so I was content to just go with the flow and trade turns at the front with the likes of Jeremy, Todd, Lon, Michael Buchanan and Billy. By this time, Jorge and James Bonnet had caught up with us and largely just hung on to the back of the group.

It was also about this point that we gradually let Oz go off the front and put a small gap on the main group. I was comfortable and all the right people seemed to be present, so I just tucked in and focused on running the tangents on the incessantly winding bike path.

We cruised through the 9.4 mile William Pond aid station in 56ish minutes. The weather was pretty humid but still nice and cool. I was having some slight stomach issues, which is typical for me, but other than that was completely content with the way things were going. Shortly after the aid station Erik Skaden suddenly came zooming up from behind with his incredibly powerful stride and bellowed, "Is this a race, fellas? We racing today?" With that, the pace immediately kicked down a few notches to the 6:20ish range (we'd been doing maybe 6:30s) as it seemed Erik was intent upon eating into Oz's lead.

Eventually, however, this slight disturbance mellowed out and for the most part everything settled into a comfortablish rhythm. I hit the 15.6 mile aid station in ~1:39 (I think) where there were a lot of people cheering, and then the next 3 miles were where the race finally started thinning out to some extent---thinning out the pretenders from the contenders. I timed some more miles through this section in the mid 6:20s range and when I noticed the pack begin to thin out stretched my legs to drop Jorge and James and close the small gap that had opened between myself and Erik and Jeremy. I was pleased to find that my legs felt just as good at the quicker pace (they were getting tired of the flat pavement), but also noted that Oz's lead was probably the largest it had been so far, about a full minute or so.

Suddenly, finally, the trail inclined up for a decent-ish hill as it climbed up and over the Nimbus Dam at 19 miles. On this short incline, with zero increase in effort, I caught right up to Erik and Jeremy (who had gapped me again), took off my singlet and sleeves as we curly-qued under the highway (and Todd caught up to us), and then was delighted to feel tons of pep and spring in my legs as I filed onto the short, single-track, switch-backed climb up to the Nimbus aid station.

Jeremy and Erik stopped at the station (19 miles, ~1:59-2:00) to fuel up while I scampered after Todd through a chain-link fence and then whooped and hollered down the rocky descent on the other side, passing Todd and reveling in the trail instead of the freakin' bike path. I was feeling so good that I very nearly made up the entire gap on Oz in that (very) short section of trail, but once it flattened out Billy and Todd caught up to me, Oz took off again, and we enjoyed cruising the next little gravel road section over to another section of single-track.
I had taken my first gel at 1hr, another at 1:45, and then another one on this section at ~2:15. I also took my first S-cap just after the 2hr mark because I wanted to be sure to stay on top of my electrolytes as I was sweating so much in the humid air. I kept up this nutrition strategy for the rest of the race: a gel every 30 minutes and an S-cap every hour.

The next section of single-track up and over to Negro Bar (23.5) was a huge confidence boost for me. I could feel a slight lag in pace and since no one seemed to want to take the initiative (Billy and Todd were running with me at that point) and took the lead on the single-track and led us at a comfortable clip up onto the bluffs above the American River where I actually caught Oz on a short downhill section and assumed the lead in the race for the first time.

The short Nimbus climb combined with this short section of trail was the absolute turning point in the race for me. Whereas immediately before Nimbus the bike path pace had felt comfortably strained, when I hopped on the trails I felt completely in my element and was shocked at how quickly I caught Oz and how timid he was being on dirt. The whole time on the bike path I had been looking around, trying to assess how everyone was feeling, how smooth they looked, who was running easiest, etc. (incidentally, Billy looked the most relaxed and smoothest on that section while Erik ran with the most confidence, I thought), but on the trails I just knew I had it and that--barring any major catastrophe--I was going to win the race.

At face value, that might seem somewhat presumptuous and cocky, but that's just the kind of stuff that goes through my head in a race. Back on the bike path on the way up to Beal's (27.4) Oz had opened up his usual gap again but I found myself taking the initiative more and more in the chase group that now only consisted of myself, Jeremy, Todd, and Billy. We cruised through Folsom prison and then up to Beal's in 2:55-56. At this point, I thought that Todd was the strongest threat but on the big curve around the point I could still see Erik lurking a few dozen seconds back and I had no idea what had happened to Lon. Jorge and James were way off the back at this point.

After Beal's the route heads out towards the shores of Folsom lake and contours around on a wide gravel path that I ran with Billy, Jeremy, and Todd. On this varied terrain I was by far feeling the most comfortable I had all day. I was mostly just trying to feel Jeremy and Todd out and see when a good time would be to make a break. I never really try to force a break or surge in a race, rather, if the pace lags and I'm feeling good I just let it happen naturally---there's really no way to tell when it's going to come; I just instinctually felt that I would be more comfortable and on the trails than the other guys.

Somewhere in this section before the Granite Bay aid station (31.5) the route turned into true single track again. By default, I took the point here again, started to feel the groove of the trail, and that ended up being the decisive break in the race for me. I wouldn't see Todd and Jeremy again until the finish line. I hit 31.5 in 3:26 and then just concentrated on cruising to catch Oz. Someone at the station had said he had a 60 second lead, but I was confident that with the winding, sometimes technical nature of the trail he'd come into sight soon.
The Buzzard's Cove aid (34.5) caught me off guard, but I hit it in 3:48 and kept on trying to run the trail as efficiently as possible while still running as quickly as I could. Shortly after Buzzard's Cove I caught sight of Oz around a bend and within a few seconds I'd passed him and almost immediately lost sight of him behind me. It was shortly thereafter that I had to make a quick pit-stop (luckily, it seems I avoided the poison oak).

From then on it was a focused crank to just try and run the best time I could. I hit the Horseshoe Bar aid (38 miles) in 4:14 and was psyched on the volunteer there who filled my bottle with ice water. My god, that hit the spot. I was sure to listen for any cheers/cowbells as I ran away from the station and didn't hear any until I was another 3 1/2-4 minutes down the trail---a fairly comfortable gap.

The trail over to Rattlesnake Bar (39.9) seemed longer than it should have, but I arrived in 4:33 and then a short while later was surprised when I came upon another aid station that I assumed was the 43.2 mile Manhattan Bar (but I guarantee I didn't run 3.3 miles in 17 minutes...but the 36 minutes that it took me to go the alleged 5.2 miles from Horseshoe to Manhattan seems plausible). The rest of the way on the trail I just focused on drinking water, maintaining a high cadence (my tired hamstrings have a tendency to make me feel like I'm plodding) and making sure not to make any stupid mistakes.
Soon enough (5:16) I was at the end of the single track and was instead grunting up the steep road leading to the top of the canyon. It leveled off after a short bit and I hit 3 miles to go in 5:20. I grunted up the steep stretch right before Last Gasp (47.6, 5:24), refilled the water bottle and then just did my best to crank out the last couple of miles pretending I was on High Drive cranking up Mt. Buckhorn back in Colorado Springs. For the most part, that worked and I hit the 2 and 1 mile to go signs in 5:28 and 5:35.
It was at this point that I realized I could get under Carl Andersen's time of 5:44 and the rest of the climb to the finish was pretty uneventful; I crossed the line in 5:42:37.

I don't know if it was finishing on an uphill or what, but immediately afterwards I felt the best I have at the end of an ultra. I took my shoes off and did a quick barefoot 1 mile cooldown and then enjoyed the rest of the afternoon chatting, drinking sodas, and lolling around in the California sun. American River was a perfect introduction to the rich Northern Californian ultra running community that I've heard so much about.