Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Rio Del Lago 100 Mile -- 23:01:20

I had a good run! I successfully completed this 100.5 mile race in 23 hours 1 minute 20 seconds. I enjoyed seeing lots of friends from my running club and I especially enjoyed running and hiking 13 miles with my 16 year old daughter and 17 miles with my friend Mor. This was my 6th attempted and 4th completed 100 miler. I didn't fall apart and I stayed reasonably strong throughout. I set a personal record for this distance, by about 17 minutes. I didn't fall, get lost, or get injured, and I had fairly consistent energy levels, and I didn't get too dehydrated in the heat of the day.

I wanted to run this race in order to stay qualified for Western States Endurance Run, and to try to get better at this distance, and because I liked what I saw as a pacer from the previous two years. I had run the last 55 miles two years ago and about 25 miles last year. This race had great support and some pretty scenery and a good "vibe" from the other runners and aid station volunteers. Plus, this race was only about a 2.5 hour drive from my home, which makes the logistics easier and cheaper.

Of my three previous completed 100 milers (Headlands 100, Mountain Lakes 100, TRT 100), I significantly slowed down in the last 25 miles due to soreness. I hoped to get in longer training runs this time and to be sure to stay well-hydrated and to take it easy early on.

Leading up to the race, I was still regaining my fitness from injuries from the previous year, but I was basically healthy and running well. I completed the following key long runs leading up to Rio Del Lago:

  • 10/16 -- 20 miles
  • 10/7 -- 31 miles
  • 9/30 -- 35 miles
  • 9/23 -- 35 miles
  • 9/20 -- 20 miles
  • 9/13 -- 29 miles
  • 9/6 -- 29 miles

However, my total mileage was quite a bit lower than in previous years, with my top week being just 66 miles, 6 weeks before the race. I had trouble being motivated to run any more. On three days a week, I commute to San Francisco, which makes for long days, and I want to spend the remainder of those days with family or sleeping!

The Plan
I wanted to be quick and efficient at aid stations and to rely as little as possible on drop bags or crew. So, I had just one drop bag that I would visit at Overlook #1 (mile 44.5), where I would pick up my good headlamp and a 3rd 20oz water bottle for the longest leg (10.5 miles between No Hands Bridge #1 and Auburn Lake Trails). I would meet my daughter at No Hands Bridge #2 (mile 70.5) and she would run 13 miles with me. I would then meet my friend Mor who would drag me the final 17 miles to the finish. My wonderful wife would be a driver and supporter.

After some research and some predictive spreadsheet work, I thought I could finish somewhere between 23 and 24 hours. I made a plan for 22.5 hours, just in case, so that my pacers could be sure to be waiting for me.

Day Before
As to not have two cars in the Folsom area, I carpooled with my friend Suki from my running club. Speaking of which, shockingly, in our little running club of about 70 active members, we had six members in this race! A bunch of other club members were either pacers or crew or volunteering at aid stations. The runners were: Paula, Alan, Rebekah, Suki, Norm, and myself. For Paula and Suki, this was their first hundred miler. Suki was super-prepared while I took more of a minimalist approach:

Suki's stuff (left) vs my stuff

Suki and I got our bibs and had a late lunch at around 2pm. (I had snacked on the drive, finishing off a can of Pringles. Mmm.)

We checked into our rooms at Natoma Lake Inn, which is a great location, with lots of runners coming and going. We saw Alan, Rebekah, and Paula! Our eating schedules didn't quite match up, so Suki and I ate a bit later (pasta with marinara sauce).

I often have a hard time sleeping the night before a race, but for a hundred miler, it's really useful to get a good night's sleep because for almost everyone, we'll be running for around 24 hours, and being sleepy on the trails is miserable and leads to making more mistakes. I took half a melatonin and then Rebekah gave me two Benadryl (diphenhydramine) capsules.

I realized that I had somehow lost my daughter's pacer bib. (I had to pick it up and sign the waiver for her, since she's a minor.) I left a message for my wife about this, and tried not to worry about it.

Fortunately, I had a great night's sleep except at 1am, my stupid phone woke me up with a stupid Google Calendar alert, unhelpfully letting me know that one of my nephews' birthdays (hi, Owen!) was 10 days from now. I had forgotten to silence everything except for alarms. I used the restroom and promptly fell asleep again, waking up with my alarm at 3am.

The Race!
I felt pretty full after eating a bagel with peanut butter, so I didn't try to stuff myself, even though this is a couple hundred calories fewer than I would typically eat. I think I might have been full from dinner and the late lunch the day before. That's OK. I did my usual skin care protection and got to the lobby. They had two carafes of coffee and one of them was decaf! Sweet! (I'm sensitive to caffeine.)

By 3:45am, I was in the lobby, waiting a bit for Suki. I saw my friend George from the Coastside Running Club! He was crewing for Norm. What a guy! I saw Norm and some other friends and acquaintances. A guy I was talking with (from Seattle) thought I must be a local since I knew so many people there. No, it's just my crazy running club from Half Moon Bay!

We did the short drive to Beals Point. Excitement was in the air with lots of strong-looking runners walking around.
There was supposed to be a briefing that started at 4:30am, but by the time the real meat of the briefing was beginning, I wanted to use the restroom one last time, so I missed the briefing, got through a 10 minute line at the restroom, took off my warm clothes, dropped off my finish-line drop-bag and lined up towards the back of the starting chute just a few minutes before 5am.

Soon, we were off! Woo hoo!

Early in the morning, on the gentle paved bicycle path, I just tried to take it easy. I even walked some of the gentle uphills, taking a cue from others. I was chatting with one woman who walked the gentlest of uphills and after she said she was "pushing 60" and was "hoping for a 26 and a half hour finish", I thought maybe I should be running a little bit faster. So, on the next gentle incline when she began to walk, I wished her luck and continued running.

The Willow Creek (mile 6.5) aid station came and went. At some point, maybe after 10 or 12 miles, I felt a bit of chafing in my shorts. I also had to pee, so I took the opportunity to apply some Nut Butter anti-chafing cream. I'm so glad I carried this small stick of critical skin protection cream, in a small pocket in my running vest. No chafing down there!

At the Negro Bar (mile 14) aid station, I caught up briefly with club member Alan. I would have loved to chat, but I was quick through the aid station and on my way. I was averaging around 10 minutes a mile which feels really slow, but I was feeling good and at ease. Patience is the key at this point in the race, for me. Sometimes I felt transitory pains in one ankle. Weird. But I figured I'm just warming up.
photo credit: Suki

The sun was rising. It was a beautiful morning, but I didn't want the cool temperatures to end! I stowed away my very lightweight headlamp in my pack, and I wouldn't retrieve it again until nighttime.
photo credit: Suki
I chatted with Jeff from San Ramon. He wanted to finish in 22:30 which sounded great to me! We ran a bunch of miles together. As much as I enjoyed his company, I didn't want to wait for him at aid stations (or anywhere else, basically). I was on a mission! Arriving back to Beals Point (mile 18.5), I felt the growing urge for a longer bathroom stop. Oh well, no big deal. The first set of public restrooms was locked, but the second set (where I had gone right before the race) was open. Business quickly taken care of, I ran into Alan again! Hey Alan! Goodbye, Alan! I didn't wait and was quickly through the aid station. I was in 147th place, out of 252 at this point.

The trails to Granite Beach (mile 23) and Horseshoe Bar (mile 32.5) are a lot more hilly and rocky, and the day was getting warmer. I was keeping up an easy effort, but moving more slowly. All's well.  I was in 116th place.

Somewhere around here, there was a three-way trail junction that was clearly marked for the direction we were going, but had just some chalk on the ground to indicate the left turn for the return. I knew we had to go back on this trail, many hours later, at night. I made a mental note to not miss this intersection on the way back. I commented about this to the runner behind me, but she had ear buds in and didn't hear me.

Rattlesnake Bar #1 (mile 35.5) comes. The temperatures are climbing towards the projected high of about 80F. I was quick, in-and-out of the aid station. Maybe a little too quick, because I forgot to ask for ice for my bandanna.

Shortly after exiting, I saw a big tall older shirtless man with leathered skin and a huge white beard running towards me. "Is that Gordy Ainsleigh?!" I called out. "Not the same Gordy that I used to be" I think he said. We high-fived as we ran by each other. Gordy basically started Western States 100 as a foot race in 1974 by being the only runner when everyone else was on horse. He's a living legend!
photo credit: Suki
Coming to Cardiac #1 (mile 41), I was getting a lot warmer. I got my bandanna out and tied it around my neck, to help me be sure to remember to get ice. I was comfortable, though. I think all the running in the San Mateo, Foster City, Belmont area had helped me adapt to the heat. I was occasionally feeling some hot spots on my feet. I ran out of water for about 10 minutes. I recognized this course from American River 50 Mile and I knew I was getting close to the aid station. "Ron!" some guy shouts. "Loren!" I called back. Cool! He was in my running club but was also in the Quicksilver running club, and was volunteering here. Another volunteer behind a table and wearing aviator glasses, calls me by name and offers to help. This was probably Jill Cole, but I wasn't sure. I handed her my bandanna that was sewn together to form a triangle with two openings on either side, and she quickly stuffed lots of ice in. Thank you, Jill! Fueled up and cooled down, I was on my way up this very steep hill.

Coming into Overlook #1 (mile 44.5), I ran some of the steep road and passed a couple more runners. I felt some hot spots on my toes, and I was looking forward to patching up my feet. Overlook is a major aid station where pacers are first allowed to join their runners. It's quite a circus with tons of people and support. Dan Rhodes! My friend from the Coastside Running Club who had moved to Bend, OR, was there! He said he was pacing someone. I said that I wished I could run with him, and he said I should join them. That'd be fun, but I was on a mission, on my own schedule. I needed my drop bag.

I walked over to where they were laid out, and they were in rows, sorted by our bib #. I'm looking for #187. I get to the area where it should be. Hmm. It's not there. I looked over at a dozen bags before and after. I search the whole row. I'm starting to mildly panic, because I have two critical items in there -- another 20oz water bottle for the longest leg of the race that was coming up, and my good headlamp, to help me run the rougher trails at night. "Can anyone please help me find my bag?", I called out randomly to some crew people and spectators sitting around. Two people quickly started to help me. (Thank you!) She found my bag in a different row. Whew! I plopped down on the grass, with my legs spread out before me, and I felt twinges of cramps. Oh oh. I made a mental note to get more salt and water in me. Sunscreen. Lip balm. Anti-chafing cream on my toes. There were the beginnings of blisters. Oh oh. Got my headlamp and water bottle and arm sleeves. Just as I was leaving, there was Alan! Cool! We greeted each other briefly, but I was on my way out. I wouldn't see him again for the remainder of the race. Onward! I'm in 103rd place.

I was almost half-way done! In just 5.5 miles I would be at the halfway point. Then it would be just 20 miles to Claire! After 13 miles with her, I'd have a final 17 miles with Mor. I have a long ways to go, but I'm feeling pretty good and am getting this done. Jeff caught up to me at some point and it was good to run with him again.

No Hands Bridge #1 (mile 48.5). It was time to fuel up for the longest leg of 10.5 miles. With all three 20oz bottles filled, and plenty of food, I was on my way. I remembered that this next section is a big clockwise loop. I walked straight past a trailhead and past some porta-potties and then a guy carrying a bunch of ice said "You're going the wrong way!" Oops. I had't gone far, thankfully, but yeah, sure enough, I was supposed to take that trailhead. It was the exit and 22 miles later, I would re-enter this aid station from that same trailhead.

We had a big uphill hike, then a descent, then we crossed Hwy 49, with the protection of the police and volunteers. Thank you! I was running well and feeling good. I caught up to Jeff and we started chatting again. He then said he needed to charge his cellphone (?! or did I mis-hear?). He pulled aside and I continued on. I wouldn't see him again for the rest of the race.

I occasionally passed struggling runners. With the heat, it's common to have stomach problems and cramps. Also, injuries are fairly common. The miles trickled by, and I was drinking a lot. Worryingly, I was getting through my water quite a bit faster than I was getting through the miles. I had been eating an energy gel every 30 minutes plus taking a salt pill (S-Cap) every 2 hours, in addition to about 100 calories of solid food at each aid station and lots of Tailwind sports drink. At some point, all three bottles were dry. I might have 2.5 miles to the next aid station. I slowly caught up to another runner. I asked her if she had any idea how far it was to the next aid station. (Although my GPS watch tracks distance, it gets farther and farther off the official distance over time, and I hadn't carefully kept track of the drift.) She wasn't really sure, either, although she had run these trails many times she said. She had run out of water, too. We chatted about training techniques and she had a fascinating theory involving lots of cross-fit types of exercise plus track workouts. If that worked, that would save so much time! She claimed that this kept her healthy and led to faster times, too. (Jennifer Hemmen was the runner; maybe I can get more info about this from her some day.)

We passed a little sign on the side of the trail that said "Barb's Place". Jennifer said that this was a memorial to Barbara who had been running on this trail alone early in the morning, and had stopped to change a tampon, and was killed by a mountain lion. Wow. Intense. I looked this up. The attack happened in 1994; Barbara Schoener was 40 years old and that was the first direct killing of a person in California by a mountain lion in the 20th century.

Finally, finally, we rolled into the Auburn Lake Trails aid station (mile 59). This was familiar ground, where I had volunteered many times with my running club, for the Western States Endurance Run. Someone asked me if I had a drop bag. "Nope!" I quickly went through my routine -- I had my trash in my hand before I even arrived, and got rid of that. I got one bottle filled with water and one with sports drink. I grabbed some boiled potatoes, dipped them in salt, thanked the volunteers and I was on my way. I said goodbye to Jennifer and she shouted out something like "I'll catch you soon!"

In this next section, I felt really good. At some point, all the annoying pains with blisters disappeared, I had no soreness, and I just cruised along. I was passing a lot of runners. I felt so good, that I had to keep reminding myself that I had a long ways to go, and to not get carried away. And then shockingly, I heard some runners catching up to me. They weren't on my heels yet, but I sped up a bit. And then more. The sunlight was fading, but I was rock hopping. "Wait, this is crazy," I thought to myself. They were still catching up. "Would you like to pass?" I called out? "Yes, please", she answered. I pulled aside and the two of them raced past. "No way is that sustainable," I thought to myself. I felt a bit dejected at being passed for the first time in many hours, but I tried to stay focused.

I caught up to another pair of runners and I recognized Dan! "Is that Dan Rhodes?!" I called out. I would have liked to run with them for a while, but I was still moving quite a bit faster and I passed them on an uphill.

Twilight was upon us. I had been running for about 13 hours. I tried to pull my headlamp out of my pack while running, but it was in too deep. I quickly stopped and then was on my way again.

Finally, the smooth running ended abruptly. The course made a hard right turn straight up the side of the mountain. Wow. It was a tough hike. Almost immediately, I saw the guy who had raced past me earlier, doubled-over, as if he had puked. I felt bad for him; he had pushed too hard for some reason, like maybe to impress his pacer. "What is up with this trail?" I commented. "Yeah, it's a bitch" the pacer said. I continued hiking up the steep hill.

The trail got much rockier and much harder to run on. I started counting the seconds that I could run consecutively. "1, 2, 3, 4, 5". Step over some rocks. "1, 2, 3 ... 10, 11". Stop and walk up a big step. And on and on. Sometimes I could count up to 120 and then I stopped counting. This was really draining. I once solidly kicked a rock with my left foot, and all the force seemed to go into my big toe. I didn't fall, but my big toe throbbed and the toe nail hurt. That did some damage. I had to walk a bit to regain my breath and cadence. Onward.

I got to the Hwy 49 aid station (mile 67.5). Every aid station has been awesome. Thank you so much, volunteers! Just 3 miles to Claire! I was about on track for a 22:30 finish, although I knew that 23 hours was more realistic, because of the nighttime running plus likely worsening condition of my legs and feet. I was happy and feeling pretty good overall. Sometimes my little toe on my right foot hurt with a blister and I had other hot spots on my toes, but I decided I could make it to the finish without addressing these problems.

Finally, I descended on the same trail that I had hiked up hours ago and I entered No Hands Bridge #2 (mile 70.5). Mor!!! They had made it! Jennifer! Claire!!! Claire was bundled up in a jacket and gloves, while I was still in short sleeves and shorts. I quickly got refueled, grabbed a bite to eat, and we were on our way! (This was a no-crew aid station, so they couldn't give me anything, but pacers were allowed to meet their runners here.) I was in 60th place.

Claire and I started to catch up on the day as we crossed No Hands Bridge for the last time. The running was pretty easy and we cruised along. The stars were out on this clear night and we just enjoyed the scene and some nighttime running. We ran side-by-side on the fire roads and I ran in front on the single-track trail. By her standards, we were running slow, like 11 minutes a mile on the easy parts and hiking the steeper uphills. She had never run more than 9 miles at once, but we figured that with my slow pace, that she would be fine with 13 miles. Her mom would meet us at the next aid station to check in on us. Claire quickly warmed up and tied her jacket around her waist and took off her gloves.

My watch died.

As an aside, here's a mini-review of the Garmin Fenix 3 HR. It works well except for three major problems or shortcomings:
  • On a full charge, with the default settings, the battery lasted just over 16 hours. I need more! To be fair, this is exactly what is advertised for the normal setting. There's apparently a setting for trading off GPS sampling rate for battery life, but I don't really want to sacrifice accuracy. In forests, the GPS is already off by too much.
  • The wrist-based heart-rate detector is 100% useless for me. I've tried both wrists, on the inside and outside. When I can get any reading at all, it's impossibly low or impossibly high.
  • Getting gpx files into the watch, so that you can follow a course, is difficult or impossible. I guess Garmin wants a closed data ecosystem, and they don't want you to use data that came from other sources, like Google Maps or Strava. It's not easy, but I once got a 30 mile course copied over to the watch. I could not get a 100 mile Strava course copied over. (It would always fail, with the first 6MB copying over and then my computer reporting "0 bytes remaining", and just freeze there.)
Back to the race... 4 miles go by quickly and we arrived at Overlook #2 (mile 74.5). Jennifer handed me a delicious cold Starbucks mocha drink. Mmm.... I gave her my now useless watch and stuffed my mouth with something while Jennifer took a picture.

We're soon on our way. I was in 52nd place.

We cruised along well. I was running this faster than I had with my friends in previous years. At some point, I kicked a rock and stumbled and Claire instinctively put out an arm to help me. I wasn't going to fall, but that was sweet of her. We passed some more runners, some of who were really struggling. I've been there before. We wished them well. (The ones who were struggling had pacers and they were safe.)

Claire said that I seemed very coherent and that I was running well. That was nice to hear. I had been worried that I might be in really bad shape and that it would be kind of frightening for a 16 year old to see her dad like that.

At some point, I urinated again. It had been many hours and the urine was a somewhat dark yellow, but at least the volume was OK. I took another ibuprofen at some point, to try to stave off the soreness. In the cooler air, I prolonged the time between salt pills to be more like 3 hours.

This stretch seemed really long, until I consulted my laminated pace chart and realized that this leg was 5.5 miles, and not 4 miles like I had mis-remembered. A runner and his pacer roared past us. "Good job!" We finally cruised into Rattlesnake Bar #2 (mile 83.5). I gulped down some more delicious cold Starbucks cold drink (vanilla latte), gave Claire a hug goodbye, thanked my wife, refueled, and Mor and I began the steep hike up out of the aid station. I was in 46th place.

We immediately passed the runner who had passed me minutes ago, laying on the ground. Mor asked if he was OK and he said he was stretching his IT band out. His pacer was standing over him. I wouldn't see them again.

The trails got much tougher and rockier. This section is known as The Meatgrinder. I didn't think so much of it so many hours previously, but now, it was hard (and maybe more uphill?). It always felt like we were going uphill! I didn't feel like talking much. Mor stayed in front and I just mentally hunkered down and tried to keep moving and eating and drinking.

We got to Horseshoe Bar (mile 86.5). The next leg is the last long leg, of 9.5 miles. I filled all 3 water bottles and got out of there quickly.

This part was hard. I was breathing lots of dust being kicked up by Mor ahead of me. But he was scouting out the trail and alternating between shouting encouragement and compliments. I was very grateful you were there, Mor! Thank you! So, I breathed in through my nose, which I imagined filtered out some of the dust. I never coughed or developed breathing problems.

We occasionally passed other runners. When I was trudging up a hill, I would catch a glimpse of a headlamp behind me and I thought someone was going to pass, and I said so to Mor, but they never quite caught me.

At every intersection, I was on the lookout for that unmarked left turn. We crossed an intersection and Mor continued straight, but I caught a glimpse of a flag to the left. I turned left and called out to Mor. That was a close call. This was probably the same intersection that I had recognized as a problem spot so many hours earlier in the day.

The terrain flattened out and I saw signs of civilization. We were getting close to the last aid station. We greatly sped up, which was a bit premature, since we still had at least 5 miles remaining. We cruised into Granite Bay #2 (mile 96). Their decorations were awesome and they were super-cheerful and helpful at this early hour of around 2:40am. With only 4.5 miles remaining, Mor offered to fill my bottles and I asked that each be half-way filled, one with water and one with sports drink. I grabbed a bite to eat and then was on my way. I think we passed a runner at the aid station. Mor handed me the bottles. They were both completely full. I poured off a bunch of water into some bushes as we started running again.

We occasionally heard cheering and the announcer at the finish line!

We ran too quickly on the easy terrain. I misremembered what this part of the course was like. We soon hit some big hills and I was back to hiking. I was really really ready to finish this thing. A runner up ahead was slowly walking along. I asked Mor that we pass him together, so as to not ask him to step aside twice. We ran past him and wished him luck. "We're almost there. Good job."

We got to the top of this huge long retaining wall! It was flat and the finish line was in sight, probably less than a half mile away! We poured on the speed. Faster and faster. Sprinted across the field to the finish line! Wow!!! 23 hours 1 minutes 20 seconds! I got my beautiful silver belt buckle and a finisher's medal. Thank you, race organizers and volunteers! I was in 41st place.

I felt unsettled and quickly got the chills and started shivering. Mor handed me a cheese quesadilla, but I didn't feel like eating it. I would normally have preferred to wait and see friends finish, but I really wanted to get out of there and lay down. We needed a ride. I didn't want to wake Jennifer and Claire up at the hotel, so we scheduled an Uber but then a crew member for someone offered us a ride. Thank you!

Jennifer took a quick photo of my feet before I took a shower and went to sleep:

What went well
  • I didn't get injured, or fall, or go significantly off course. (I started going the wrong way at No Hands Bridge the first time, but a volunteer turned me around.)
  • I had a good night's sleep the night before, with some help from half a melatonin and two Benadryl (diphenhydramine).
  • I paced myself well and I never fell into a deep slump. I think it helped that I took the first 18 miles so easy.
  • Although I got tired after about 20 hours, I never became deeply sleepy.
  • I ran 13 miles with my daughter! That was so cool. I was reasonably coherent and we had a good time from miles 70.5 to 83.5.
  • My good friend Mor led the way for the final 17 miles, and I finished with a sprint to the finish!
  • My equipment and clothes did well enough on the whole. Carrying a small stick of anti-chafing cream was great.
  • My hydration went pretty well and I did OK with the heat.
Things to improve
  • My toes didn't quite agree with my shoes, and I got a few nasty blisters. I want to try the Injini toe socks again and maybe a different brand of shoes for the longest runs.
  • I wish I had a good headlamp that could last for about 10 hours. My Petzl lasted about 7 hours.
  • I wish my Garmin Fenix 3 HR watch had lasted longer. It only lasted to about 16 hours, to mile 71. I was in a good rhythm, but it still would have been comforting to know more accurately how far I was from the next aid station, for example.
  • I forgot to bring gaiters (to cover the top of my shoes around my ankles) but I didn't seem to need them. I got two small pebbles in my shoes, but then I didn't feel them any more. Not having gaiters made getting my shoes off and on easier and faster that one time. Hmm. Still, it's probably overall better to wear them.
Other data
  • Official results. It appears there were 354 starters, 251 official finishers, 1 unofficial finisher (my friend Paula!) who missed the final cut-off, and 102 runners who dropped somewhere along the course. I finished in 41st place (39th male).
  • My Garmin results, which go until mile 71 when my watch died.
  • Took 4 ibuprofens, spread evenly over the 2nd half.
  • I lost track of how many S-Cap salt pills I took, but it was probably around 10.
  • I lost my notes, but I weighed about 168 lbs before the race, and 167 when I got back home.
I liked the swag. There was a short-sleeve tech t-shirt, too.

Thank you
I want to thank my wife for being so supportive. I'm super grateful to my daughter for actually wanting to run with me. I'm grateful to Mor for helping me again, in one of these crazy ultramarathons. I'm grateful to all of the volunteers and to race management for putting on such a superb event. Thank you, all!