The Rio Del Lago 100 Mile Run

“Whatever it is that you are looking for… it lies at that finish line tomorrow.”  I don’t remember if that is exactly how Jimmy stated it or not, but that is what I heard, as he addressed us at the pre race meeting on Friday night.  Jimmy is the coach of the Coyotes, an ultramarathon team local to the Southern California area.   Jimmy had placed 2nd last year, and he, his beautiful wife Kate, and a few others from his team had come out to support the race.

I always have something I am ‘looking for’ when I run 100 mile race.   Getting my revenge on the Rio Del Lago course after what happened to me at the Angeles Crest 100 could be a very good metaphor for other things going on in my life as well.  Letting go of the old, making room for the new.  Sometimes life has even better plans for you than you’d hoped or dreamed for yourself.  I was about to reconfirm that in just less than 48 hours.

Alexa, Monya and I began our road trip up to Northern California early Friday morning.  A mix of Pea Soup Andersen’s, dirty Mad Libs and some simple girl bonding time was a great way to spend our pregame day.  When we arrived, we checked into the hotel, attended the meeting, had dinner and it was early to bed for us.  We would rise at 3:30am to begin our journey.

By 4:30am we were checked in at the start line, and by 5am, we were off!  I looked around and realized that statistically, less than half this group would make it to the finish line within the cut off at 3pm on Sunday.  I was not as nervous about this race as I had been about 100s before because even though the finishers rate was low, I had 34 hours in which to complete the course.  That seemed more than generous.  So I believed that my only real concern that day was to keep my mind in the right spot, and not give up, no matter what obstacles I faced.

Monya’s genuine excitement for being a part of the race with me really kept me calm and focused.  I sometimes joke about her being like the little pig in the Geiko commercial, with her head out the window, pinwheel in hand, shouting ‘Wee Wee Wee!’  She’s a perfect adventure partner, and loves new experiences like this one.  She was also someone that I didn’t want to see me fail.  That in and of itself made her the perfect crew member/pacer.

The first time I saw her at mile 23, I felt great, but jokingly as I ran in I yelled ‘Quick!  Get the tourniquet and syringe!’  Her husband Dave, an EOD in the Navy had packed us a medical supply bag that was A LITTLE bit of an overkill in a sanctioned event, that we had laughed about about on our ride up.  Dave had even given instructions about how to use the tourniquet and the proper way to handle the time stamp of when it went on – marked in blood on the person’s forehead, of course.  I was able to see Monya for the next two aid stations, but after that, I wouldn’t see her again until mile 50, where I picked up my first pacer Steve.  When we said goodbye at mile 30, I warned her that as good as I looked then, that was all about to change.

Out from mile 30, I hit my first big speed bump for the day.  This course is notorious for vandals pulling down/moving course markings, and the way that the course is set up, there is really no way to learn it prior to race day.  Let me preface this by saying that I did not get lost, I did however find a more efficient route between point A and point B.  Unfortunately, that cut my race short by about 3 miles.  The race director was at the next aid station and when we realized what happened, at first she told me that it wasn’t necessary for me to add the mileage back to have an official finish,  but I told her I wouldn’t feel right about that.  Since it was an out and back course, our way of resolving this was for me to do the section that I missed twice when I went back through.

As a result, Steve (my first leg pacer) and Monya were sent scrambling to move the cars and be in place for me at the mile 50 aid station almost an hour ahead of schedule.  I was able to text them to let them know what happened and as I did, an encouraging text also came through from my coach.  I had been a little thrown off my game after getting mildly lost already a few times that morning (again, due to vandals), and it definitely put me in better spirits.  On an out and back loop we were able to see a few other runners in different places in the pack, and I saw Alexa, who I was now in front of due to the mishap.  I told her what happened and she told me she was having a really bad race and wanted to stop.  When I reached mile 50 I alerted Monya, told her to do her best to sit her down and talk her through it, but not to take it personally if Alexa still made the decision to drop.  Coming off of Badwater, Alexa had run into some fatigue and hadn’t necessarily felt like the athlete she was before.  Maybe not completing the full 100 would be the best option for her.

Steve and I took off together out of the mile 50 aid station.  I was still able to run and his attitude towards having to cover the extra mileage calmed my spirits about it as well.  He also had a GPS watch which meant that we could track it exactly.  It made what could have been a very demoralizing and frustrating experience, simply part of the adventure.  As the sun began to fade, so did I and my run turned to a walk, which would be my mode of transportation throughout most of the night.  Steve is a very gifted ultrarunner, having completed the AC100 in the top 10, but he was extremely patient with me.  He wanted to help me out at this race because several of the Arrogant Bastards had helped him out at AC.  We laughed and told stories, and he kept me in good spirits, which is really the best thing that any pacer can do when the sun goes down.

It was starting to get very cold outside and because the morning had not been that way, I didn’t plan accordingly.  Steve had some extra clothes he lent me when we made it to mile 70, where Alexa finally decided to drop.   Monya was there and emotional breakdown #1 took place.  Man, and I had been doing so well!   Some soup, Coke, and encouraging words from both Monya and Kate (Jimmy’s wife) did the trick and I was out of the chair and back on the trails quickly.

The next section was tough for me… slightly rocky and downhill.  A bad combo late in the game.  My feet were really starting to hurt from the rocky sections I had covered early in the day.  Steve took the lead and I did my best to keep up with him on the downhills.  A few hallucinations began to occur and he would simply go along with them when they did.  I even got confused a few times because I thought I was running the AC100 instead of Rio.

Dropping into the next aid station, Mile 74, it was Monya’s turn to switch off.  I was slowing down considerably and simply in survival mode as we went through the night.  I promised her as soon as the sun came up, I would begin to run again, which I did, although it was less of a run and more of what I like to refer to as an ‘ultrarunner shuffle.’  My vision wasn’t very clear as that dawn light cast strange shadows and a very runnable but mildly rocky section became a torture fest for my loosening toenails and blistered feet as I tripped over rocks.  I made a joke to Monya saying I knew she was new to this whole pacer thing, but that it was her job to move all the rocks, so she smiled, jumped ahead and started kicking all the rocks to the side which made me laugh.  Typically I get really tired right before the sun comes up, but my sleepiness hit with the daylight this time.  I remember sitting down in the middle of the trail at one point and Monya looking down at me, not entirely sure what to do with me.  I told her to time me for one minute as I shut my eyes and she did.  It was glorious!

I felt like I was moving faster than I was, but at this stage in the game, it was taking me so long to negotiate the rocky sections with my raw and painful feet that I was only averaging 2 miles an hour.  That would not get me to the finish line in under 34 hours, I knew, and Monya used some tough love to point that out as well.  I remember her telling me that I needed to figure out whatever it was that motivated me and just do this.  Interesting where my mind went with that… I thought about my military friends, their time overseas, how royally screwed up my own feet were from simply doing a mud run in the boots that they wear daily, and that not only are they covering some pretty major distances in those, they are doing it was a 70lb+ pack on their back.  What I was doing was recreational, what they do is life or death.  What did I have to complain about?  I told Monya to let me chase her and not to wait for me, so she did.  I watched where she stepped, took a deep breath and started to push to stay with her the best I could, alternating between a walk and a shuffle run.

At mile 77 we had 5 hours and 30 minutes to complete the course, which sounds incredibly generous, but I knew at least 5 of those miles were what they all too appropriately called the ‘meat grinder,’ – all rocky, hard inclines up and down.  Monya became very firm with me as to what needed to be done and I did everything I could to follow her instructions.  Eric was texting her too as I went, giving me orders to keep a 20 minute mile and asking Monya for mile by mile updates.  “Tell him to watch football like a normal human being on a Sunday afternoon!”  I snapped, somewhat jokingly.  But the truth was, it encouraged me to know he was that invested in my success.

At the next aid station, I saw my friend Rajeev, who told me to fill my water bottles with Coke and just ride the caffeine wave in.  My stomach handled Coke well in these races and after being off caffeine for a few weeks prior to this, my body was receptive.  Between miles 90 and 95 I had a real low, before my Coke set in.  Looking at my watch and judging by my pace, I didn’t see how I could possibly make it to the finish line in under 34 hours.  I had a moment of absolution where in my mind, I had given up.  I started thinking about how I would tell people that I didn’t make the cut off at mile 95.  Eric wouldn’t be mad at me, but I knew no matter how I explained it away, he would know what really happened.   If I had DNFed before mile 50, chances are something physical was keeping me from completing the race.  But if it happened at 95 – more than likely I was physically capable, but something mental broke down.  I couldn’t let that happen.  Just as I was thinking this, Monya turned to me and said, “You know, this is going to hurt no matter what.  Wouldn’t you rather it hurt, having completed what you came here to do?”  I picked up the pace.   I was ready to fight.

We came into mile 96.2 at 1:15pm and the cut off for the finish line was 3pm.  The race is technically 101 miles so I had 4.8 miles to complete.  On paper, that sounds so easy, but at this point in the game, it was going to be a tough challenge.  I got in and out of the aid station, loaded up with caffeine as quickly as humanly possibly.  My vision became spotty and blurry.  No!  Not now… I shook my head to the side a few times and refused to accept it and it normalized again.  I started running as fast as I could, chanting to myself  ‘Buckle, Buckle, Buckle!’  We neared the American River and on the ground was a bright red pinwheel!  Monya lit up and grabbed it.  “It’s a sign!’  She smiled.  “Wee Wee Wee!”

We saw a woman with a Western States 100 shirt on that we assumed was possibly a volunteer or crew member.

“How far?”  I asked.

“Maybe 30 minutes?”  She said.

I looked at my watch.  We had 45 left.  We rounded a corner and off in the distance, maybe 2 miles out was Beal’s Point – the finish line!

I dug deeper than I ever have in my life and ran as fast as I possibly could, which in that moment was still probably only about a 14 minute mile.  My legs and feet were screaming at me but I couldn’t afford to stop.  Almost exactly 30 minutes later, we rounded the corner and there it was!  I began to cry.  Alexa was at the finish line cheering for us as we passed through with only about 15 minutes to spare.  I looked at Monya and she was crying too.  A moment I will never forget…

I come out of every 100 mile race learning things I like and don’t like about myself.  Most of those things aren’t for a blog.  They are just for me to know.  RDL was not the exception, as I think I learned more out there than I have in any other event I’ve completed.  It was an amazing experience, my hardest 100 mile finish to date, and I will be forever grateful for what Steve and Monya did for me out there.  Time to rest, relax and ask myself the age old question… ‘What’s next??’

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Steve Crane October 8, 2012 at 5:55 pm

Congrats Summer! I loved watching you meet the challenge. So impressed with how positive you stayed during the entire race – especially with the difficulty involved following the trail markings. A real joy to be a part of. Did you ever catch the stay-puff MM man?

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