My Report from the 2021 FOURmidable 35k
Single Track Running
Sunday, April 18th, 2021
4:04:11 (10th Overall, 3rd Age Group 30-39)
My favorite part of the FOURmidable 35k is that I know these trails well. Knowing the course lets me know when to push and dial it back to save energy. I love the long descents and scenic views of the American River throughout the entire course.
I would also add that the staff and volunteers of this race were amazing, even in a pandemic year! Everyone cheered runners on, helped where they could, and provided great energy throughout the day.
I would have said that the final climb was my least favorite part of the race in years past. However, knowing the course and becoming stronger physically and mentally made the final climb seem much easier and shorter this year. There really is not a bad section of the FOURmidable 35k if you come into it with decent training and experience running up and downhill.
This race is normally run in mid-February. However, the pandemic pushed in back to mid-April. With Canyons 100k already on the schedule for the next weekend, I debated whether or not to run FOURmidable 35k as well. Reviewing my training plan for the Western States 100 made me realize that I had already planned on the same weekly mileage. So, I decided to stick to it and make it extra challenging for myself!
The goal for the race was to maintain a conservative and sustainable effort the entire day, remain positive and do nothing stupid. To accomplish the goal for this race included:
- Running quickly but controlled on all the downhills.
- Remaining extremely calm and comfortable on all the climbs.
- Staying on top of my hydration and calorie consumption (approximately 150 calories/hour and 30-40 fluid ounces of water/hour), and
- Working on identifying any potential issues and finding positive solutions quickly.
My running of the FOURmidable 35k went exactly as planned because I stayed in the present and focused the entire day.
Suppose you are not experienced with hiking up long climbs, running technical trails, and running downhill for a long distance. Then, I would make sure to practice all three in advance of running any of the FOURmidable race distances. Most of the running trail is not overly technical. But, when it is technical, it is either uphill or downhill, which adds to the challenge. Be prepared for climbs that are 1-3 miles in length and of significant grade (sections of 20-30% include).
I wouldn’t do anything differently the next time I do FOURmidable 35k. Again, this race is normally run in mid-February, and it ended up backed up against Canyons. If the race is held on its normal date in the future, I will push harder from start to finish and aim for a podium finish.
- Opening Descent – from the start to No Hands Bridge is almost all downhill. Unless you are trying for a podium finish, stay in control of your running pace.
- K2 Climb – almost 1000-feet of vertical gain in a mile over rocky terrain. Several false summits make you think you are done, but you’re not!
- Knickerbocker Loop – be ready for a very long and mostly gradual descent. The climb back up to the top is not as bad as the other climbs on the course.
- Omstead Section – this section of the course is exposed but mostly flat. Find a running pace you can maintain for 5-6 miles and get through it.
- Final Climb – after No Hands Bridge, you climb back up toward the Overlook, then you turn away from it and make another long descent. You’ll get some running in here but save some energy for the final climb into the finish.
I think this course has amazing scenery from start to finish. For much of the race, you will be treated with views of the American River. Depending on the time of year and snow/rainfall amounts, you will have a few waterfalls and stream crossings that add to the scenery. The Omstead section around Cool, CA, is mostly out in the open with tall grasses that move like waves in the wind. If you are looking for a scenic course, FOURmidable definitely delivers on that.
FOURmidable 35k is absolutely a tough course. You have three major climbs and several long descents that can take all your energy away from you. The race has about 3800 feet of vertical gain over the course of 21.75 miles. If you like running up and down, then this is a great race! If you have more challenging races on the horizon, this is also an excellent race to help you prepare.
100% well-organized event, even in a pandemic year. The staff and volunteers truly care about each runner’s experience, and it shows from the start of the day all the way to the very last finisher.
Most of the competition gravitates toward the 50k race distance, but the FOURmidable 35k can still have a competitive field. In 2020, I ran the race in 3:43:14, which was good enough for sixth overall. In 2021, I ran the race in 4:04:11, which only landed me in 10th place overall. So I think it partly depends on the year for the competition in this race.
If you’re doing the FOURmidable 35k, then you probably don’t have to worry about registering early as it does not sell out. The 50k race distance, however, does sell out almost every year.
I think most runners doing this race are coming from within 2-3 hours of Auburn, CA, and show up between 5:30-7:30 AM for an 8:00 AM start. If you’re coming in the day before from farther away, there are hotels in Auburn, CA, which will put you within a 5-15 minute drive to the start line on race day.
Crewing is not really necessary for this race because the aid stations are well managed and close together (see below). However, if you want to have your own support, there is easy access at No Hands Bridge (mile 4 and 17).
Aid stations were a bit modified for the 2021 race due to the pandemic. We only had one aid station on course at miles 8 and 12.5. The supplies at this aid station were still your normal snack-type food and GU Energy products (gels and drink). In a normal year, you would also have an aid station at No Hands Bridge (mile 4 and 17), making it a lot easier to plan out your race needs.
Well, again, this was not a typical year for this race! When the race happens in February, the weather can be a lot more unpredictable, with rain, snow, snow, cold, and heat all possible. However, being mid-April 2021, the course warmed up quickly. When I crossed the finish line around 12:00 PM, it was close to 80 degrees and clear skies. If you’re reading this and planning for a February running of FOURmidable 35k, be prepared for any weather and mud!
With excellent aid stations on the course and it being a 35k distance, there really isn’t anything special you need for this race. A good pair of trail shoes, some hydration pack/handhelds, and your own nutrition supplies (if not GU). It is a cupless race, so if you want anything to drink besides filling your bottles at the aid stations, prepare to have a cup.
Family and friends can see you off at the Overlook start. They can also see you at No Hands Bridge (mile 4 and 17). Unofficially, spectators can go over to Cool, CA (mile 14ish) to see runners as well. If you go over to Cool, be careful where you park and any required permits.
The swag for the 2021 race was a hooded jacket and wooden cut finisher medal. The finisher medal is really unique and cool, but honestly, I’ve liked the other swag from this race in years past more. The jacket is off-brand, and the logo looks like it will probably start to peel off after several washes. It’s a nice jacket for standing around the start of a race or throwing in a drop bag at the finish, but nothing special. I think the pandemic has made it tough for all races this year, though, to plan and have the same quality of everything that we have become accustomed to, so not blaming them for this year if it is a step back on the swag. Also, I give the race organizers a lot of credit for varying the swag from year to year. I’ve accumulated a shirt, hat, backpack, and now a jacket over several runnings of this event.
Overall I would give this race 5 out of 5 stars.
I am scheduled to run the Canyons 100k Endurance Run on Saturday, April 24th, just one week after the FOURmidable 35k!
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Photos of Andrew Taylor running were taken by and credited to Facchino Photography.