Friday, October 3, 2008

Rio Del Lago 100 mile Race Recap

Better do this now rather than never.

Tactically, this was (once again) not a very sound race for me. I did a better job of heading out under control despite the 54 miler starting at the same time, but I was much too slow in the last 33 miles where the terrain was much faster and I could have made up much more time if I'd been up the week before to complete that training run. Also, my lighting near the city glow is just fine, but Granite Bay and Folsom are no where near the city, and even worse, there was almost no moon that night, so on the way out for the night loop, I was held back by having to rely on other runner's lights to see my way. I'm definitely going to get the standard million lumens headlamps that other runners were using. Some good parts to the race though was my use of accelerade and protein preventing most GI problems, maintaining muscles fairly well, and never falling behind in hydration.

Miles 0-21
Got lost for the 1st of three times by fallowing a lead pack of overambitious runners. We saw a yellow caution tape directing us to the left on the ground and followed it. Unfortunately for us, there was another adventure triathlon going on that day. After 3 miles we ended up at the finish line for that race, and looked for some other runners. I elected to head towards the shore since we were supposed to be to the left of the main body. Unfortunately there was just a lot of sand and water, and when we went the opposite way, we eventually hit the trail. On the way through the adventure race's staging area, I complimented them on how well their course was marked, but I don't know if they picked up on the sarcasm. We estimated that we were about 10 minutes behind where we should be, but I tried to focus on not worrying about it. At mile 11.9 where I was supposed to meet my crew to get my water bottles (i only had a cambelback), I found out I'd beat them there (they were taking advantage of the complimentary hotel breakfast), and decided to press over the 9 mile stretch with my 1.5 liter cambelback rather than wait for an unknown amount of time. About 6 miles into it though, I'd exhausted my cambelback. I still had a cold at this point, and it was contributing to a diurretic state that basically made it hard to absorb any water. So, my throat would get dry, I'd drink, I'd pee, and repeat until I ran out. I linked up with two other runners and figured heading up cardiac hill, they'd be charitable if anything went really wrong. It was only a 20 minute climb, and I needed a bit of water from them, but nothing major. When I got to maidu at 21.24, I loaded up a bit and pressed on to the Auburn Dam Overlook station 1.5 mile further.

Mile 22-26
It was actually a very nice 1.5 mile stretch along a small canal that was very tempting to get in. I soaked my sleeves in it and almost fell in. After the Auburn Dam aid station, I took my time trying to deal with the rising heat. Walking also allowed my IT Bands to flare up for the first of many times. The course was now on the famous Western States trail, and I felt a little excited, but tried to maintain a low exertion level to be ready for K-2. I came across the No Hands Bridge (which now has railings) and met up with my crew again. I was starting to fade significantly with the heat, but put some ice in my cap, bottles, and cambelback to cope with it a little better. From here on out, I couldn't put down liquids too well that weren't ice cold.

Miles 26-30
K-2 was a bit more than I bargained for. I walked up the entire hill without stopping, but at this point with no air movement, and temps in the low 90's the it was becoming tough just to walk the steep incline. In comparison to a ski run at a decent mountain, I'd say it was on the single-double black diamond level in steepness. It was also 1000 foot gain, in 1.25 miles and later would turn out to be a nice investment in pain. Coming into the aid station at the Cool Firehouse it was like walking into an emergency room. Runners were stretched out with the 1000 yard gaze as ice slowly melted from their caps while sweating profusely as well. I refilled my liquids and tried to have some protein and salt to help me stay hydrated over the next stretch. I knew that my accelerade was giving me a small steady supply of protein, but I felt I'd need a small addition every hour or so. I tried some mystery meat from a sandwich and nearly puked. I had two bites and felt proud of myself and got ready to continue onward. I felt good for the relatively fresh state I was in, but the next part over the Olmstead loop nullified that advantage. In the end, a good 60% of the dropped runners would come out from this loop.

Miles 30-37
The hills around Cool, CA might as well have been on fire. High 90's, no wind, golden fields that radiated heat, and sparse shade in some parts. I left the aid station and jogged past a few other walkers, but eventually conceded to the heat. My strategy over the gentle rolling hills was to run from shaded area to shaded area when I could, and try to run down all the hills. My IT bands tightening only made it tougher, but one advantage to the heat was that it kept them manageable and loose. I was beginning to deplete almost all my fluids (some 80 oz) as I hit Knickerbocker Hill. It was a short 1/3 mile descent and climb, but at the time I couldn't remember any info about it and began to curse loudly as I couldn't figure out how long the climb would be in my weakened state. Luckily right as I came out of it, there was a small aid station with tons of ice, and I loaded up for the 1.5 mile return to the fire station. As I pulled in, a ambulance, a few horses, and a chopper were being scrambled to rescue a heat casualty.

Miles 37-46
The investment in K-2 paid of greatly as I came back down on the other side of it. My feet were delighted to encounter a shaded, consistent, and SOFT rolling downhill section of almost 4 miles. I ran nearly the whole way down at a considerable clip which was the first time I had done so since earlier that morning before Cardiac Hill. Back at the No Hands Bridge Aid station, I happily loaded up and began the pretzel diet as I climbed back up to Folsom Dam. I met up with a ultra-ultrarunner, a woman from Canada named Lori. She was pale and initially looked like any other fit person you might meet on the street, but she was tough as nails. She did close to 40-50 ultras a year and had recently done several more than me. In the end she finished 6 minutes ahead of me. We talked about the course, and as we were climbing, met up with another runner who was a friend of a friend of my dad's. We were supposed to meet to talk about the course earlier, but a chance "are you Dominic?" turned out to be enough to locate me. He had run 22 hours the year before, but that was in a drizzling rain with low temperatures. This year he ended up getting sick and running 26+. I came into Maidu alone and switched from my Salomon Trail Runner SW's to my Brooks Andrenaline ASR. My Mom asked me "do you think you can make it another 64 miles?" and it didn't dawn on me until I left the aid station, that that was a terrible thing to say to a runner. 1) I subconsciously was wondering if I was worse off that I thought I was, 2) It dampened my faith that my body would respond and come back later in the race, and 3) It made me start to think that I'd given enough effort.

Mile 46-55
I almost paid for the shoe change coming down Cardiac in the Brooks. They were basically hybrid road-trail shoes that I had bought a little big to account for foot swelling. My IT bands were at the worse coming down the relatively steep switchbacks, and the tread and fit of the shoes made it impossible to run down the hill, so I walked and winced and waddled in pain. Afterwards, I tried to will my legs on through the rolling hits to Rattlesnake Bar, but the main IT stretch I had just wasn't doing much, so I ended up walking more than I ran. I passed a woman retching and realized there wasn't a worse sound in the world than that, and pressed on wishing her luck after offering her help. I passed mile 50 at about 11:51 and felt proud to be in decent shape, but still have set a PR. When I met my family at Rattlesnake, my dad had come out and I felt an awesome feeling of love to see them all cheering so hard for me. When I read Lone Survivor the biggest thing for me was seeing how his family pulled for him so hard when we was going through the toughest event of his life thus far. Though my experience wasn't on the same level, when I left the aid station, I jogged as best as I could despite my extremely tight IT Bands to show them something they could be proud of. I almost wanted to cry a little bit for the pride they had in me, but I had a lot of miles still ahead of me.

Miles 55-66
Darkness set in, and my adrenaline started to flow as I began to realize how dark the forest was, how far I had to go, and how easily I could get lost without the glow sticks until mile 66. I began to pick up the pace and got lost. I began cursing louder and louder until I came down to the shore of the lake, but once I saw a pair of headlights above me, I called out to ask if they saw pink ribbons, and they did, so I sprinted back up to run with them. I eventually pulled ahead, but still was running very cautiously when I met up with another Canadian runner named Barry. He was a walk then sprint type of ultra runner, but had a great headlamp. I mainly studied his foot strike pattern for any bumps, but occasionally he would pull away in rocky sections, and I'd have to beg him to wait a second for me and my dim headlamp to catch up. We finally pulled into Twin Rocks at 2100. My parents realizing how dim my light went to find extra batteries for a maglight they had and gave me a second headlamp. After leaving twin rocks, I began to worry I was lost after only a quarter mile. I met up with Catra, a well tattooed ultra-ultra runner who was also a Cross-Fit instructor. She knew the course well and had bright lights too. She was a plank owner of the HURT 100 in HI, and had run just about every other major ultra devoting most of her time and money to trail running, climbing, and hiking expeditions. We walked and talked most of the way back to Cavitt School, but I didn't complain as long as we didn't get lost. She was another true ultra girl that had no problem peeing trailside just a few yards from me.. I really gotta admit, as weird as it sounds, it wasn't weird at all. Peeing in stalls later after the run seemed weird.

Mile 66-84
Cavitt Middle School was a bustling center of medics and aid station workers. I asked about what could be done about my IT Band, but the only advice I got was on other stretching techniques. As much as most runners complain about them and say it's completely impossible to deal with, the ultra medics thought there was nothing wrong with running 100 miles with IT Band problems. They admitted it would be painful, but claimed that it was just a tight band that could do no real damage if it was ran on. So I took a couple of Motrin and that was that. I thought about quitting at Cavitt School because it was the finish line, was 2030, and I honestly thought I'd hobble through the last 33 miles only to start missing cut off times and being DQ-ed. However my dad made a valid point, that at 3mph, I could still make the cut off time. I pressed on and found glow stick after glow stick with great relief. I had a Maglite mini and the course was starting to run alongside a highway with lights more. However, I met my last partner for the day, another ultra woman from Modesto name Linda. She did her fair share of ultra herself and knew parts of the course from the AR 50. She was very easy going and had a pretty good attitude about most everything. We came into Negro Bar together, and left together keeping a decent walk-run cycle going. I went #2 for the first time that day, and quickly caught up to her coming down from the cliff above Negro Bar. I began to realize that her middle name was consistency. I might have to walk for longer, and then run a quick pace for awhile, but she stuck to her jog-walk routine pretty much through almost any part. We stayed together through Hazel Bluff and kept each other company coming into Willow Creek which was very flat. These were hours that used to be especially tough to run at night during my training runs. When I'd come back from a 12-3 run, I'd almost immediately knock out once I came home. However Linda and I kept talking and I didn't really need any caffeine. My longer stride though eventually caused me to have to walk more, and then run faster more until we split up at the turn around point at Mountain Lion Knoll. Seeing my Mom and little sister there was great. I got my Accelerade and some Capzisan heat cream, and told them to get some rest waiting for me at Hazel Bluff since it had taken me so long coming out.

Mile 84-94
On the way back though, something caught fire in me, and I began to realize that I was doing worse when I was walking and running because my IT Band would just tighten up and then take a lot of effort to loosen up. SO, I went for it. First passing Linda, I said I thought I'd give it a shot to run the flatter section fast, but I thought I'd see her passing me again. However as I went from Mountain Lion Knoll to Willow Creek, I got faster and barely had to walk at all. From Willow Creek to Hazel Bluff, I ran sub 8-minute mile pace nearly the whole way (which felt like a million MPH). The medic-pacer who had seen me in terrible shape earlier was really at a loss for words after witnessing my sudden speed. I didn't look back though, and came into Hazel Bluff early waking my Mom and Sister much earlier than expected. I looked happier and my mom could sense I was in my hunter mode as I had just picked off 3-4 other runners. I told her I was going to go for sub 26, and she concurred in her sleepy state. I went almost into a Jedi heightened sensory mode coming from Hazel Bluff to Negro Bar. This part was nearly completely pitch black encased in dense foliage from all angles, but I didn't stop attacking the trail except for a coupld refueling breaks. I missed much fewer stumps than I should of even when my maglight went out early in the gap. I just had a 6th sense for the trail and as scared and worried as I was of going clear off the trail or falling flat on my face over a rock, I kept attacking. I climbed over the ridge to Negro Bar and started to taper off my attack. I had gone from almost 3 hours on the way out to 2:25 on the way back over 11 miles. I know 3 hours is pretty slow, and 2:25 isn't much faster, but keep in mind this is technical dark trail after 66 long miles during the day. So 35 minutes faster is 3:30 faster per mile, and that's pretty significant at that point. I checked the other times, and only the top 10 were faster over that part, yet I finished 30th... so it was kinda bad pacing, but I finally was certain about the course coming back over it a second time, and I was happy to get through it.

Mile 94-101
Once again, the rookie mistakes came back to haunt me. Leaving Negro Bar, I notice a weak looking runner that seemed to be a bit younger looking. I manged to run a decent amount down a paved road, but took a wrong turn coming back over the ridge. He managed to catch up a bit, and caught me resting at the Folsom Dam aid station. I knew I only had 5k left, but for some reason I thought I had to give my body a chance to rest from the surge. The aid workers were incredibly nice and supportive older goats (unlike Mt. Disappointment). I said I wanted the last three miles in under an hour to get my sub 26, and they actually warned that I take it easy! However when I got up, I was locked up worse than ever. I hobbled towards my counterpart getting ready to take off, but I couldn't catch up before he was long down the trail. I ran up over onto the dam, and knew if I could see him I could catch him, but he was long gone. I decided to enjoy my final mile and ran with my dad for a the last 1/3 of a mile. He joked later that it was only a fair race once I had run 100 miles and he was fresh, but it felt amazing for him to be there with me, leading and goading me into the finish. Once I crossed the line, I threw off all my gear and sleeves and felt almost surreal. As I went through the medical checks I still didn't realize that the race was over. I knew I was done, but I thought there must be another checkpoint or task left. It wasn't until I was in the shower at the hotel watching the brown water swirl into the drain that I realized what I had done. I sat down for a bit under the hot water and almost fell asleep. I got out and began to fall asleep eating breakfast. I got under the covers and forgot to turn the AC on. When I woke up to go to the awards ceremony, I realized I was drenched in sweat, but still perfectly comfortable. The ceremony was short and sweet. One guy got an award for staying with an injured runner and missing out on finishing his race. Ultra runners are a different breed, and for the most part they're great people. The races are sometimes on the level of serious survival tests, but most runners will keep in view the bigger picture and do the right thing when other runner's need help. They'll also punnish each other brutally with race tactics by leaders that sometimes horrifically punish chasers, but then again, it is a race. In the end, the competition really is between an individual runner and the course. The place (and even the time) you finish in really means nothing compared how you feel on the inside. I know I could've done better, but I'm still very happy to have answered my the challenges (some attributed to my own mistakes) honorably and courageously. In the end, that was really what this race was all about for me. I didn't take any short cuts (and even denied aid from my crew inbetween official aid stations) and when the pain arrived by the ton, I answered with character.

Personally, this is what I got from the race:

I.) Humility: The other runners that beat me were some of the last people one would pick out in a line-up. Men and women in their 40's and 50's with average frames and builds turned out to tough-as-nails mountain goats. Also, despite their awesome physical prowess, they were some of the most humble people I have met. Meanwhile, out of ten 30 and under runners, only three finished. The course itself also taught me humility: my goal of 20 hours was not achieved, but I learned to accept it early on. As the race went on, I learned that the best mindset was one of calculated pacing to achieve the most efficient cycles of lactic acid build-up and drainage, fueling, hydration, and hill negotiation. I had to swallow all my pride just so I could have a chance of finishing.

II,) Discipline: The course was two out and back loops. I finished the first loop of 66 miles at 2230, where I met my support crew (family) back at the race headquarters. I had ran all day through some major hills and high heat and knew my legs were worse off than they had ever been in my life. Despite the medical personell's best efforts to loosen up my IT bands, nothing seemed to work. However, they told me that despite the pain, I still had a chance of finishing because I had 11 hours to hobble 33 miles before the 30 hour cut-off. 99.9% Of me wanted to go back to the hotel with them to sleep for a week, and try again when I was in better shape. However, quitting wasn't an option. Until a piece of bone was sticking out or I was unconscious, I'd already decided to push on.

III.) Character: Words cannot do justice to how long 100 miles is. Repeatedly experiencing deeper and deeper levels of physical and mental exhaustion built up more and more doubt that I could not finish. It came down to having the faith that my body could still endure more. Maybe not enough to finish, but just enough to keep going to make it to one more aid station. This dug a deeper well of character for me than anything I have ever done. Reading and writing and speaking on character are one thing, but there is nothing quite like extreme physical suffering to completely convey the depth of the concept. The mind doesn't want to be bombarded with pain from nerve receptors, and doubt is a natural responce to escape pain. However, more often than not it can take much more that what it deemed "possible". This conscious decisions to continue and reject comfort is what creates character.

Right now I'm looking forward to possibly the world of hurt 50k, but it is 100 bucks.. I may need to take more time to heal so I can start competing better and winning races. I understand the tactics much better now, and want to put together some high quality races rather than just quantity.


Anonymous said...

This was a great entry. I applaud you for trucking through with your IT giving you trouble. It's very cool that your family came out to support you, and yes, endurance runners are a different breed. I look forward to my first 100-miler. Thanks for the report. See you at the store!

Here We Go Again... said...

Congratulations! Have you tried using The Stick for your IT issues? It's helped me. Start at your hip and work the whole side of your leg even down below the knee. It should also be part of your aid station kit for when you need it. A foam roller is also something you should use. It hurts like crazy but eventually loosens everything up.

Dominic Grossman said...

I use the stick and foam rollers but find that stretching does it the best for me because of the way my quads and hamstrings are arranged. I also realized that in that race, the whole IT band problem started from running on the side of the road, not taking the time to get on the trails more(too much road), and an insufficient core. Lessons learned= better future races.