The 2017 American River 50, a Story of Two Generations
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In the last 15 miles of the 2017 American River 50 in Auburn, California, Scott Trummer was struggling. He was hot, tired and basically “miserable.”
“By mile 42, I was ready to be done,” he says.
When he finally crossed the finish line in first place, in 6 hours 3 minutes, it was the longest he’d been on his feet by two hours and nearly 20 miles.
Trummer, 25, is among the class of young, speedy, former-collegiate track athletes who have begun moving into the trail ultra world in increasing numbers. He’s only been racing ultras for a year, but has podiumed at all but one of the seven races he’s entered.
He knew he was racing in a stacked field, which included elite runner Tim Tollefson and U.S.100-mile record holder (and eventual second-place finisher) Zach Bitter, but he wasn’t surprised when, 15 minutes later, 52-year-old Rich Hanna cruised across the finish line in 3rd place.
“I had not met Rich prior to AR50, but I knew who he was and thought that he would likely be in the top group of men,” says Trummer. “I wasn’t too surprised to see him on the podium.”
Indeed, Hanna’s ultra resume—which spans back to the first ever Way Too Cool 50K in 1993—is mostly dominated with ones and twos, a trend that has hardly slowed down since he turned 50.
The two runners offer a unique perspective on what older and younger generations of ultrarunners have in common—and what has changed in the years that separate them.
Scott Trummer: from the soccer field to the trails
Trummer grew up playing soccer, and switched to cross country in college. Due to injury and school transfer, he only raced one season of cross country and one season of track, but continued entering road races “off the couch” whenever it struck his fancy. At his first race, a half-marathon in the spring of 2014, he ran 1:23.
“I signed up the Wednesday before, and got sick that day,” he says. “It was miserable.”
After graduating, in the fall of 2014, he through-hiked the John Muir Trail, which spurred him to start running again in earnest.
“I enjoyed moving quickly on the trail,” he says. “And I saw some other people running.”
He started with road 5K and 10K races, moving quickly up to the marathon distance. In December 2015, he ran the California International Marathon in 2:42, followed by a win that spring at the Ohlone 50K in Fremont, California—his first trail race—and a 1:07:22 performance at the San Francisco Half Marathon.
He went on to place fourth at the 2016 U.S. 50K Trail Championships at the Tamalpa Headlands 50K—a “disappointing” result—followed by wins at the Woodside Ramble 35K and Pacifica Foothills Trail Run 30K and, most recently, a third-place finish at the Way Too Cool 50K in March.
American River was a relatively last-minute decision. “I consider myself a shorter-distance guy,” he says. “I didn’t know if I wanted to run 50 miles.” But, still hungry for a win at a major trail ultra, he decided to go for it.
After an uncomfortable last few miles—”I resigned myself to just walking and eating ice cubes because I was so hot, tired and miserable”—he is still not sure he wants to tackle another 50-miler in the near future.
“Ultimately, I’d like to race Western States,” he says. “But at my state, I don’t want to cram so much mileage in so early. I want to develop speed first. Maybe in a few years.”
Rich Hanna, and the key to longevity in the sport
Hanna, on the other hand, has been a runner as long as he’s been old enough to run—maybe even before that. He ran his first marathon in 1977 at the age of 13, in 3:01.
“If I had to do it again, I would wait longer,” he says. “That was before people knew that it was bad for young kids to run long distances. I don’t think it hurt me in the long term, but I do think it affected my leg speed in high school. I probably could have run faster in track and cross country if I wasn’t running such long distances.”
Nonetheless, those early successes on the roads fueled a lifelong passion for running. He raced at a regionally elite level through his mid-20s, earning a marathon PR of 2:17.
He ran his first ultra, the inaugural Way Too Cool 50K, in 1993 as a training run for the Big Sur Marathon.
“My friend told me before the race, ‘Remember, trail running is different than road running, don’t expect to win.'”
He has since won that race two more times, in 1994 and 2000, and placed second in 2012. He’s also won the Jed Smith 100K and Jed Smith 30K (three times) and occupied, at one time or another, all three podium spots at the American River 50. In 1995, and again in 1996, he won the 100K National Championships; in 2000, at the age of 37, he finished second at the 100K World Championships, and, three years ago, at the age of 49, set the 50K road record for the 45-49 age group.
Though he’s never raced professionally, Hanna has found a way to make a living through running: he owns Capitol Road Race, a chip-timing company that times several northern California ultras, including Western States.
This line of work has afforded him a front row seat to watch the sport balloon in both size and speed.
“Back then, ultrarunning was just guys who weren’t super fast on the roads,” he says. “There weren’t too many 2:17 guys.” Nowadays, the sport is filled with road and track talent—Sage Canaday, David Laney, Jim Walmsley, Hayden Hawkes, Magdalena Boulet (and now Trummer) to name a few.
“From an old guy like me—I’m super impressed,” says Hanna. “You show up at any given race, and there’s not just one or two, but a dozen or more guys who could win. It motivates me.”
He is not just impressed by the elite runners’ talent, but also their humility. “Ultrarunning is in good hands with these young guys,” he says, noting athletes like Rob Krar, who he watched run to his first Western States win three years ago, and then use his post-race interview to congratulate all the other runners.
Yet Hanna, who races only on occasion and usually on a whim, says he worries about the frequency with which these elite athletes put out such stout performances.
“They train so hard,” he says. “I hope they can continue to [run ultras] as long as I have. You have to be careful and not go too hard too often.”
Hanna was at the Placer High School track last summer when Jim Walmsley had his historic run—in fact he was standing next to Walmsley’s father in the bleachers.
On the spot, he offered to pace the superstar at the 2017 race. Said a friend standing nearby, in response to Walmsley senior’s skeptical look, “This guy looks old, but he can keep up with your son.”
Says Trummer, “There are plenty of ‘older’ runners out there who can compete with anyone, regardless of age. Rich is one of them. I hope to be running half as well as him when I’m his age.”