Back to Rio Del Lago: most of my excitement was coming from the fact it was my yearly 100-miler and my number six (Western States 2007, 2009 and 2010, and Rio Del Lago 2008, 2010). I discovered and ran this race, initially created by former Western States Race Director Norm Klein in 2000, the year our Western States race was cancelled because of wild fires in June 2008. In 2010, I ran it again as a second 100-miler that same year to maximize my count of points in the Pacific Association Grand Prix. This year, our Grand Prix had 3 100-milers again on the program: Western States, whose lottery I didn't make, Tahoe Rim Trail the same weekend as the World Masters Marathon and Rio Del Lago in September. I therefore had no other option than coming back to log many miles along the American River.
If you have followed my journey in ultra running since 2006, or on this blog since 2007, you will remember that most of my challenging races happened in this area, especially due to exercised-induced asthma. Since I'm taking Singulair on a daily basis though, I got that under control and even had a good American River 50 race this April. Finally some positive experience on the Pioneer Express Trail section between Sacramento and Auburn, at last! Yet, when I saw that the course of Rio Del Lago was changed in a way that we will run this section 4 times, I got really concerned as it still brings so many bad memories, including those of my pathetic walk to finish AR50 in 2008 and my first DNF (Did Not Finish) at the same race in 2009.
With more than 10 ultra races a year, there is a routine forming up with definitely less excitement than for my first events. Less excitement on one hand but also less anxiousness which is good. To the point that I don't specifically train for a particular race and usually prepare in a rush at the last minute, between other work or family-related priorities. For my first 100-miler, it was like a 6-month project including a 5-day family trip to Squaw Valley. For this 6th hundred, Agnès and I arrived at Beals Point 2 minutes before the start of the briefing on Friday evening and had planned to leave Beals Point by midnight to drive back home on race day this Saturday as Agnès was teaching on Sunday. Indeed, my goal was to run around 17-18 hours and be done by 10 pm. Let's see how this turned out...
Molly's Race Director briefing with contribution from the father/inventor of the Western States 100, Gordy Ainsleigh:
I had seen Lukas entering the Cool Firestation aid station as I was leaving it so knew he was just a few minutes behind. I didn't see him at No Hands Bridge and ran quite a lot in the last major climb of the day, the 4-miles return to Auburn Dam Overlook (mile 47). Agnès, Pierre-Yves and Sean were there. Pierre-Yves was going to pace my from Twin Rocks, for the last 35 miles, and Sean was going to pace Toshi, for his 1st 100-miler.
I had lost a lot of salt as everyone could see on my black shorts and blue top and my legs started cramping in several areas despite my taking of S!Caps regularly since the early morning.
Christian's 2010 RDL blog post in which he wrote with a lot of philosophy about quitting when there isn't fun left ("And I made my decision that from now on, I was only going to run what made me happy."). While some pain and suffering is part of ultra running, this remains a hobby and there is no reason to potentially kill yourself at it! Since there was no medical tracking at this race and I have now some relevant experience in gauging my body in such events, I waited for another 20 minutes while weighing pros and cons with Pierre-Yves and Agnès and we finally left the "crime scene" as I called it on FaceBook to rush to the closest In-n-Out to get some real food, real potato, real salt, real Coca Cola, some of the missing ingredients during this day on the trail. My weight was 128 pounds before the race and 121 pounds upon getting back home (after eating...), so I have at least one proof point to support my decision, it was safe to stop there before it could get worse.
See in my Picasa album a few pictures of the pre-race briefing, the start and a few other runners, although mostly Toshi and I (with all these aid stations Agnès spent more time driving around than on the side of the trail to take pictures... Not to mention the worries given to circumstances).
There are plenty of lessons to draw but, for the interest of time (I need to get back to work, and you too... ;-), I'd highlight three:
- Attempt - I entered this event taking the finish for granted and focusing more on a fast finish time. I need to keep in mind that any ultra race is first an attempt at accomplishing a challenge, not a done deal. For some it's an attempt at a PR, for others it's an attempt at covering a distance for the first time, or completing a series of 10 or more finishes, or just finishing within the time limit.
- Respect for the course - I knew the course and I knew I didn't like it, yet I acted if it was going to be fine and I didn't adjust my goals and logistic plans accordingly. I was not properly fueling, didn't get enough sleep during the week and, although not running as fast as last year, I was not paying all the respect to the course. There are many variables in an ultra race but the course is the most immutable one: except for a mud slide or a destroyed aid station requiring a last minute course change like at UTMB this year, the course is the most stable parameter and you have no excuse of pretending you didn't know.
- Flexibility - Since Gordy ran the first Western States in 1974, self-supported, ultra racing has come to maturity, even some popularity that some pioneers don't really like. With that, and especially living and running in North California, we are blessed with an amazing number of events involving thousands of dedicated volunteers and hundreds race directors. The support that we receive at aid stations is the key reason behind the expansion of this sport and the rise of the number of participants and finishers. Another thing which I take too often for granted is the consistency in how aid stations are set up and manned. I know that one thing which worries me about entering UTMB (Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc) is that the food is completely different there. At Rio Del Lago this year, there was differences from what I'm used to with other local races, but this shouldn't have altered my run. Another flexibility requirement is about adapting my pace to what my body can handle. This one is tough when you tend to push your limits on the speed side, that's one reason I'm so impressed with the regularity of most of the elite runners (although some of them do drop and crash too...).
As for the other runners, the results are not published yet and here are the only news I was able to collect from FaceBook so far: Lukas took first in 18:40 followed by Jimmy 19:29. Interestingly, they too went to the same In-n-Out right after their finish... Maybe we could get them as event sponsor next year for some food donations! ;-) Ray did finish albeit in 30 hours and before going to the hospital (where he was able to update his FB status, so he must be fine now). In the coming days, I'm sure we'll hear about other heroic stories from most of the 85 starters.
A special thank you to Agnès for squeezing this crewing exercise in our busy family plans, to Pierre-Yves for taking a whole Saturday off his own family schedule all that for only 12 slow miles of pacing (and for accepting that I DNFed...) and thanks to the many volunteers who tried hard to contain the runners' troubles with the heat with the means they were provided with.
Here is what I wanted to share about this crash before another busy week. Now, if you still have some time to read more on the web today, especially around failure, disappointment and perseverance, I recommend these picks from 3 elite ultra runners:
- Scott Jurek's thoughts on his 5 attempts at UTMB
- Andy Jones-Wilkins, a model of perseverance and positivism, writing about another model, blind climber Erik Weihenmayer, and the theme of "Developing the Disappointment Muscle"
- Hal Koerner's moving recount of his 39-hour quest to get the UTMB-finisher vest