By Larry Carroll
It is time once again for the Fourmidable 50K, for mud-splashed legs, hunched-over uphill climbs, hugs of camaraderie and muscles stretched to their very limits.
Known far and wide as one of the most challenging 50K races out there, Fourmidable gets its name from the four most substantial climbs along its course. Fresh out of the gate, runners must descend down to the American River, then climb back via punishing Cardiac Hill. Around five miles in, the field runs across No Hands Bridge and climbs up Training Hill towards Knickerbocker Canyon – then descends to the river again. Now having successfully danced along with the river and traversed it, runners climb a series of switchbacks to the Knickerbocker Aid Station. It all finishes up by following the Western States trail towards the No Hands Aid Station, heading uphill once again to the finish line.
With less than a mile of road at any given point, the event offers over 6000 accumulative climbing feet over the course of its completion – so yeah, it’s a pretty decent workout. The 2019 installment (Fourmidable 50K 2019) featured intermittent rain, substantial mud puddles and a raw morning push-off, so don’t be surprised if the weather wants to once again complicate matters – following on the heels of rain season in California, the 2017 Fourmidable was even muddier.
In case you can’t tell from the description, the Fourmidable is … well, quite formidable. As such, it is a selection race for the U.S. Trail Team, and an official qualifying race for the coveted Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc in the French Alps.
This year’s Fourmidable will take place February 15 and 16 – appropriate, since it’s likely to break the hearts of more than a few competitors who can’t quite conquer it. Held in Auburn, California’s gorgeously intimidating Overlook Park, the event will be accompanied by a 35K, a half marathon and a 13K as well.
The 2020 race offers a unique cash incentive to those brave enough to strap on their running shoes. Both the male and female categories have set aside $100 for fifth place, $200 for fourth, $500 for third, $700 for second and a cool $1000 for their first place finishers.
To further sweeten the pot, anybody who breaks the current course record for either gender gets an extra $500 awarded to them. Currently, these records are held by Max King (3:32:36 in 2017) and Stephanie Howe Violett (4:10:16 in 2018). Since both of these records were set fairly recently, who knows? Perhaps the Fourmidable organizers could be shelling out some substantial coin come February.
As long as you finish the race, this much is certain: You’ll receive a cool finisher’s award to memorialize your run, and show off to your jealous friends. Depending on your age, you could also qualify for an age group award presented to the top finisher 19 years and under, 70 and older, and each decade in-between.
Last year’s Fourmidable was won by Tim Tollefson of Mammoth Lakes, CA. He came within 11 minutes of the course record, followed closely behind by Sam Sahli (Boulder, CO), Evan Williams (Seattle, WA), David Kilgore (New York, NY) and Ryan Ghelfi (Ashland, OR). On the women’s side, Daniella Moreno of Santa Barbara, CA finished just barely 2 minutes behind the record, followed by Rachel Drake (Portland, OR), Chessa Adsit-Morris (Santa Cruz, CA), Corey Conner (Longmont, CO) and Emily Richards (Reno, NV).
As difficult as Fourmidable can be, perhaps the best advice can be extratcted from Andrew Taylor, an athlete who blogged (FOURmidable Wet and Muddy Race Report) about his wet, physically-demanding 2017 Fourmidable experience. When you see a puddle, he says, just go for it:
“The run across No Hands Bridge featured a large puddle that was un-escapable. I charged right down the middle of it, soaking my feet for the first time of the day. As I hit the far end of the puddle, I jumped up in the air and came splashing down to cheers of the aid station workers and a few spectators. After all, it’s not fun to be out here, if you’re not having fun as well.”
The bottom line? Lace your sneakers uptight, find the right balance of pushing and pacing yourself, but don’t ever be too grown up to make a splash every now and then. After all, one of the great things about running is that it makes you feel so alive – so, live it up out there.