The Battle of Cardiac Hill

My weekend plan was simple:  four fast, solid and consistent miles on Saturday followed by 10 tough trail miles on Sunday.  I will warn you now, this is a long post.  Get your coffee.

It was all of 16 degrees out when I got to the parking lot on Saturday.  Sixteen.  That is COLD.  But I like cold and within half a mile I was down to running in a tank top and my winter running pants.  This seemed to perplex several dog walkers and a multitude of heavily bundled runners.  Heck, it even surprised me.  It was COLD!  But the run was pretty.  Oh so pretty!

Oh so pretty!

I ran hard, had a great calorie burn and more importantly was pretty consistent.  I went about the rest of my day and was super productive.  By late afternoon, I was in Meniere’s hell.  I am tired of the spinning and vomiting.  Seriously, not cool Meniere’s.  Not cool.

Sunday I was up at 3 am to drop the boys off at the airport for Kansas City.  I came home, slunk back into bed and willed the world to stop spinning.  Somewhere around 10 am I started to feel better which is good because I needed to leave by 11 to meet up with my running buddy.  I made the 90 minute drive to Rattlesnake Bar in Auburn.

This is roughly the last 10 miles of the AR50.  It is a total elevation gain of 1,600 feet of which 1,000 of that is in a one mile stretch known as Cardiac Hill around mile 7.  In my youth, I had many run-ins with Cardiac Hill and its cousin the Cardiac Hill Bypass (which is only marginally easier).  I knew it was ugly.  Look at any elevation profile for the AR50 and you will see how ugly this thing is.  I had a simple strategy:  get up the hill by any means necessary.  I’ll be honest, I did hope to scale it and somehow maintain a 16 minute pace.  I didn’t do that.  Not even close.

My goal was to complete the run right around 2:15 minutes, which is about a 14:30 pace.  Hills and I have a love hate relationship and this particular run has one monster of a hill at mile 7.  I figured that if I could stay between 12:30 to 13:30 for most of it I could tackle that hill by any means necessary and still come in around that goal.

Trailhead closed? I don't think so!

The Warm Up:  We started at Rattlesnake Bar but the park is actually closed this time of year so you park outside the gates.  We used the .7 miles to our designated starting point as a warm up.  I didn’t bother to track it.  I was too busy going over the details of route coverage and the emergency plan if we got separated.  After stretching, the adventure began…

Mile 1:    It started out immediately with and quick, steep ascent to get the blood pumping then wound through the park toward the American River.  I passed a few people out for a nice walk with the family and conversed a bit with Steven.  It was a nice comfortable mile.

Go this way!

Mile 2 & 3:  I love trees.  The trail is narrow and sometimes deep (it reminded me of areas of Scotland!), but winds through dense trees and foliage.  It was gorgeous and I was cruising.  I paused here to wait for Steven.  It was beautiful.

Mile 4:  I hate hills.  Okay, this wasn’t a huge elevation gain but it was really the start of 5 miles of steady ascent.  This was an interesting mile. There was Mormon’s Ravine with this fantastic warning:

Sure, I'll run over this bridge. No problem!

And then it opened up into the most dense field of star thistles I have ever seen with a random apple tree just chilling next to a old oak tree.  Weird.

Random Apple Tree

And then the trail descended into a dark and very expensive forest:

Mile 5:  This was a little rocky for me.  The trail went up, the trail went down.  I walked a couple short steep hills and struggled to keep my pace steady.

See that? I am running up a hill and giving a thumbs up. Hill are my bitch, yo!

I stopped for a picture because, well, I needed a moment to munch on delicious sport beans.

See those red cheeks? That’s from running.

This reminded me of Scotland, except that the trail was going downhill.

Mile 6:  I was actually cruising very comfortable at 12:15 for the first half mile or so and then I hit a big steep beast of a hill.  I slowed down but I still pushed through it.  While I was going up I passed a backpacker who told me I was hard core.  He told Steven that I was insane.  Awesome!

See, I started at the American River.  This is important people.  Take note of how close I am because in a few minutes I am going to be VERY VERY FAR AWAY.

Mile 7:  I like to call this mile Hell on Earth.  See, after jogging up that rather steep hill in mile 6 the trail has a level spot about 20’ long where you are given two happy options:

Option 1

Option 2

Any guesses which route yours truly took?  I’ll give you a hint:  I burned twice as many calories on this mile than I did on any other mile despite the fact that my pace was twice as slow as any other mile.  That’s right:  I went up Cardiac Hill.  Sure, I’ve been on the bypass and even heard tell that local races use the bypass.  But the word bypass just wasn’t going over well with me so up I went.

A couple notes here.  First, I stopped and waited for Steven.  I hadn’t seen him for 2.5 miles and wanted to check in before I started the ascent.  Ten minutes later, no Steven but I got a message via a hiker that all was well and he would see me at the top.   Since I had cell signal, I sent him a text letting him know all was well and I was making the ascent.

And here is where I think I promptly lost my mind.

This mile was not easy.  It was miserable.  Frankly, it was the most miserable mile of my life.  It was also the most rewarding mile of my life.  I will admit I went completely bi-polar up there.  The trail goes up.  And up.

Does this look normal to you? Because I assure you this was one of the easier sections.

And it has sections where I had to climb or skitter.

Seriously. People RUN this.

I ran a little, walked a little, climbed a little and cursed a lot.

Remember how close I was to the river? Can you pick out the tiny, barely visibly squiggly gray thingy down below? That's where I was. This is where I am.

And I threw my hands in the air and screamed “Woohoo!” during LMFAO’s “Shots.”  And I cried a little during Katy Perry’s “Firework” because well, I am a firework.  Clearly.

This isn’t a trail people. This is a pointy rock garden we call a trail.

I ran into an older gentleman walking down the hill with a 5 lb weight in each hand.  He walks the hill a few times a week.  He thought I was crazy because I was running up it.  Seriously?  You thought I was running?  I love you old man!  LOVE YOU!  And thank you for thinking that what I did to get up that hill was running because it sure as hell didn’t feel like it.  And BTW, I am not the crazy one.  Walking that hill with 10 lbs of extra weight?  THAT is crazy.  But I love you anyway.

And then it was over.  I was at the top.  And I will admit, I felt pretty bad ass.  Sure, I was painfully slow (no one likes to see 30 anything as their current pace) but I did it.

Mile 8:  The trail opened up wide and suddenly became rather level and easy.  I ran with a small herd of deer.  They were eating.  I was running, they ran with me for a minute then turned around and took off.  It was pretty amazing.

Despite all these trail markers, things to a little hairy.  Sure, the sign points left but you could actually take three different trails on your left.  I had heard about this and knew to take the Maidu Drive 148 route across the street.  By the way, it was weird running across a street after being out on the trail for so long.  WEIRD.

I kept running.  I felt great.  Remember that 30 minute pace when I got to the top of the hill?  I turned it around to an average of 22:48.

I was going strong until I came to another intersection where the arrow pointed across the road and this time there was no trail.  I saw a drainage ditch a little ways down the road with what looked to be an opening.  I trotted down to it and found a tiny marker that said “trail.”  It was that or run on the road.  I set my location on the Garmin and decided to run a quarter mile where I should find the next big trail marker.  If it wasn’t there, I would come back here.

Mile 9:  Right on schedule, I found the marker and I kept going.  And suddenly the sun was going down fast.  And my phone rang.  Weird.  It was Steven.  Not weird.  He had made a wrong turn at Maidu Drive.  He was on the road almost to Sacramento Street and wondered if I could just come and pick him up.  Sure, Steven.  As soon as I find the car.

I could see the lights of Auburn Overlook above me but the trail I was on was DARK even though it was technically dusk.  Damned trees.  I ran the last .3 mile slow and steady, giving Steven directions on the phone and trying not to trip and fall.  The trail cut back toward the trailhead.

I found this sign.  It made me very happy.  I started at Rattlesnake Bar.  I finished at the Auburn Staging Area.  Sure, I’ve run this distance before but this was a tough 9.8.

I found the car, found Steven and we went to Denny’s where I proceeded to eat all of this:

Pumpkin Pie Pancakes, Bread Pudding French Toast, Hasbrowns and Eggs accompanied by hot chocolate with extra whipped cream.  Oh, and then I ate a mini peanut butter cupcake from Starbucks.  I was hungry.  VERY hungry.  The waitress was very scared.  Steven asked if I was going to lick the plate.  I thought about it.

And then we walked another mile and a half to stretch out while Steven told me about the hikers and the old man who told him how his friend was crazy.  He was pretty proud of that.  I am pretty proud that those guys thought was I was doing was running.  Seriously!

I finished the run in 2:28:13 and paced 15:38 thanks to my stellar performance on Cardiac Hill.  But here is the deal:  I did it.  And here is what it looked like in all its ugly glory:

I loved this run.  It was tough in some parts, but overall it was absolutely gorgeous and other than my venture up Cardiac Hill it felt great.  I can’t wait to do it again. In fact, Cardiac Hill and I are going to have a few more discussions because I am going to kill that hill some day.

And for those wondering how I feel today?  I feel incredible.  Not even the slightest twinge of soreness or stiffness, and let me tell you I was convinced my calves would be screaming in protest today.  Nope.  In fact, I am looking forward to a nice slow 4 miles tonight.

Thank you to my wonderful running partner Steven.  He often gets drug along on these hair brained adventures and never complains.   I mean, every now and then he accuses me of trying to kill him but that’s normal, right?  And thank you also to Garmin for your wonderful 410.  It is so wonderful and I love it.  Oh!  And I heart Thorlo socks.  10 miles for trail running and no blisters?  AMAZING!

Happy running, y’all!