September 10-11, 2011
I had known Mark Vishnevsky for some time through both AREC and Team Runner High, but we had never been particularly close… but in the past year or so, we had the ultramarathoning in common. He had gone up to the Bay Area and run the Headlands 50M in under 9 hours (I ran it a year later in 13 hours.). We kept having conversations about him running his first 100 mile race, and narrowing down what would and wouldn’t work for him. 50K seemed like a good distance for him, and we had a pretty good time doing the Skyline 50K one month prior, but… I wasn’t sure about what would be best, 100-mile-wise.
I think there is a certain mentality (could be read as “insanity) in doing 100-milers. You have to gird yourself up to being out WAAAY longer than you are used to being out there. I don’t think it changes for a faster or slower runner. Whether you average 15 minute miles on a 50K or 9 minutes a mile, 100 miles will still be a long, tough slog.
I think I went about it in the right away, going so far as to pick a race that was considered to be “easy,” but also finding a race where I would not get bored (mine had loops, albeit 20-mile loops – familiar, but not too repetitive). The surface was also not too technical, meaning that I would not have to over-concentrate at night.
Mark mentioned to me that he had an interest in running the Rio del Lago 100K. I felt like that would be a good jumping off point, vis-a-vis getting acclimatized to running 100 miles sometime in the future. I was interested in doing the 100K as well, both because it had a generous time limit (18 hours), but because it was some of the same trails I had done at American River 50 miler.
Normally, when I do a race in the Sacramento area, I will stay with friends in Davis… but because the race started and ended in Folsom (about 40 miles away), I would be with Mark (and not on my own) and that I would definitely finish at some ridiculous hour; it would not be practical to stay with a friend and inconvenience them so much.
We decided that we would stay at the host hotel (about 5 miles from the race start). At the same time, I got an offer from my friend, Doug, who had previously offered me his hotel points to utilize a room at one of my races. He offered a free room at a nice hotel in Sacramento (but unfortunately 25 miles from the start). It was a dilemma… until Doug offered to cover the costs of the room at the host hotel (which had really reasonable prices – we could afford it, sure, but I could not pass up this incredibly generous offer).
A week or so before the race, Mark decided to upgrade to run the 100 miler…. I wasn’t sure if he should do this, but if it seems right, then you should do it. The plus of this situation is that our finishing times would probably be closer to one another, rather than Mark waiting for me 6 hours plus after he finished.
On Friday, September 9th, Mark, his girlfriend Michelle, and I drove up to Sacramento. Mark and I took turns driving (since Michelle would probably have the lion’s share of driving on the way back). We left a little later than we wanted, as Michelle was doing a personal training session that ran a little long… but we still arrived in time for the mandatory directions and packet pick-up.
I recognized a few folks there, including Donn Ozaki (I had been holding his drop bag from the Santa Barbara Blue Canyon Trail Race several months prior.), and Gordy Ainsleigh (who famously did the first Western States, when he raced horses (he was on foot against the horses)). The instructions were not particularly helpful… just a lot of lecturing about following the course, and not cutting it short, etc.
We had some dinner, and then made sure we made an early night of it (early start and a long day).
On Saturday, we got to the start around 5:00am and began getting our stuff together. I have a couple of drop bags… though for the most part, I usually don’t use much of the stuff, since races usually have everything I need. The one thing I had in my bags was “Hornet Juice,” a product that Mark said was similar to Vespa (something some ultra folks take which allows them to maintain an even keel without inputting a lot of sugar). Even though I don’t try new products for the first time at a race, I am doing that here. If it doesn’t do what it should do, I can still ingress the usual crap.
There are 3 races today and all start at different times. The 100-miler starts at 5:15am, the 100K (inaugural) starts at 5:30am, and the 50K starts at 7:00am. I will get to see Mark set out and then set out myself. There is a small out-and-back at the beginning, but not enough that we will see each other on the course. We have some tentative plans to maybe meet up on the course (either on his way back or for Michelle and me to meet up when Mark is in between spots where she can give him support), but essentially, I will call Michelle when I finish, and we will either go assist Mark together or she will drop me back at the hotel (or something).
It is pitch black when I set off and the out-and-back is down a hill and I pretty quickly lose touch with the other runners in the 100K. There are a dozen runners in the 100K, 50 in the 100 miler, and 30 in the 50K.
Once I get through the out-and-back, the course becomes familiar to me, because it is mostly the same course from Mile 26 to 31 on American River. Most of this, however, is in the dark, whereas at American River, I am hitting this section around noon… not dawn. I joke to myself that I just need to remember the course in reverse… because going forward, it is a little confusing… and it will probably be dark when I finish.
The first aid station is Granite Bay, and it takes me a little over an hour, so I made pretty good time (about 11:15/mile). I am hoping to get a little further before the heat of the day hits, because I generally don’t do that well in extreme heat.
Next, I am heading to Horseshoe Bar. Most of this section is shaded and has a lot of “stairs.” All of these stairs are comprised of stones, tightly wound roots, and layer of roots (in other words, some are like actual stairs, and some are ascending or descending sections of short drop-offs). This section is quite difficult because of the uneven paths and I slow to a more ‘walk’ pace (14:45/mile).
Next stop is Rattlesnake Bar (14.6 miles) which is at about the same pace as the last section, and more of the same. My half marathon split is around 4-1/2 hours! (Tough trails, though.)
The next section is some of my favorite parts. It’s less technical, more fire road-like, and takes me by Power Plant (hydroelectric), Avery Pond (a pond area ABOVE the river – my FAVORITE section), and to the base of Cardiac Hill. This is just before where the course diverges from the AR course. The hill to the end of AR50 is steep but not as steep as Cardiac Hill. I am maintaining a similar pace to the last few sections (15:48/mile).
Now… up Cardiac Hill. It’s slippery in sections, and SUPER STEEP! I am really hoping that I am not having to traverse this downhill in the dark (especially if I want to make the time cutoffs). I am, for the most part, still totally by myself.
When I get to the top of the hill, I spot something very cool. A flume. (Wish I had a photograph.) When I say a flume, I hope that you picture an amusement park log ride. Basically, it’s a cement stream with downhill flowing water. The trail path travels alongside it. It’s about 2 feet lower than the path and about 3 feet wide. So… it’s not as big as an amusement park log ride, but you get the general idea. It gives me something to concentrate on, because it isn’t just staring at a river you’re following; it twists and turns (some hairpins). It’s almost completely flat, as well, so it makes for a good recovery from Cardiac Hill.
When the flume disappears under a paved road (or the actual circumstance, APPEARS from under the road (because I am following the flume uphill at this point)), there is an unmanned aid station. I covered this 1.5 mile section (to Mile 22.2) at a 26:00/mile pace.
Now I have 1-1/2 miles to the Auburn Dam Overlook (near the AR50 race end). Some of it parallels more of the flume, and some is roads, and some is trails. I do about 17 minute miles… but the temperature at this point is in the 90s, seeing as it is nearly noon.
The next section is totally unfamiliar to me, because it is past the end of the AR50 course. For the most part, I am on a wide fire-road, and it is paralleling the American River, though I can mostly NOT see the river. I saw some skinny dippers in the river, but too far away for me to gawk too much. In the far distance, I can see my ultimate goal – No Hands Bridge.
I am actually somewhat familiar with this location, only because you can spot it from Highway 49 en route to the Way Too Cool course. It looks like an “Aqueduct” Bridge and has railings. (I guess I should learn the origin of the name – probably interesting.) At the far end of the bridge is the aid station (Mile 28.2). My marathon split is around 6:44. I take a bit of a longer rest here as I am hot, and there is another big hill looming.
This next section is referred to as “K2.” I am told that there are 7 false tops on this hill and that it climbs over 1000 feet in 0.9 miles. It doesn’t help that there is not much shade and now the temperature is over 100 degrees.
I try and take this section slowly, but I am not doing very well. I make it through probably 4 or 5 of the false tops, but struggle in the last section. Some runners who are (yes) actually behind me, give me a better idea of when the false tops end. I fade behind them, but it is actually pretty alarming how much trouble I have with this hill. I will climb to some shaded section and then I will sit and try to cool myself down. The 0.9 mile section took me approximately 37 minutes. The other 3 miles took me 20 minutes each. The next aid station (and the turnaround at 31.4 miles) is at the Cool Fire Station (the start of the Way Too Cool 50K, my first ultra). My 50K split is 8:33… one of my worst times. I am still on track to finish under the 18 hour time limit, but pushing it.
The course isn’t a true turnaround, because I am not going back down K2 (that might take as long!), but I am following some of the same course as the Way Too Cool course. The one plus at this point is that at Cool is where the 100M runners do an additional 9 mile loop around the area (called the Olmstead loop). I encounter a number of runners who are 9 miles ahead of me, but our pace is pretty similar. The 100 mile course gets within about 5 miles of the end, and then they do 2 loops back to Cardiac Hill on the roots and stone staircase section… but for now, it is nice to see some other people.
One gal that I run with for some time is Cheryl Yanek, who tells me she is the RD for the Burning Man 50K (sort of a joke, but they do do a 50K AT Burning Man). She is really struggling, and says repeatedly that she is going to drop at Cardiac because she knows she cannot finish. I am assuaging her fears, and at least I get her to agree to continue on, so I will have a little company. (She is cute, but a little too Progressive and set in her ways for me – especially at 32.)
This 3.4 mile section connects back to No Hands Bridge. I accelerate to 15:44/mile pace! My feet hurt quite a bit, and I KNOW I am getting blisters. =(
Now we follow the fire road back to the Auburn Dam Overlook. When I get there, I ask about Mark’s whereabouts (to get an idea where I might encounter him). He is 3 hours ahead of me. I feel pretty good, but am concerned how bad it will feel going down Cardiac Hill and also how long I will have before Cherie gives up (or accelerates past me).
Just out of Auburn Dam Overlook, Cherie says that she wants to get to Cardiac soon, so she can drop and takes off. I yell after her that when I get there, we should rediscuss the situation. I don’t know that she hears me.
When I get to Maidu, the unmanned station (which is out of water), I have done the last 5.5 miles in about 18:00/mile pace… but now I am to the flume section. Even though I enjoy the flume section, I really want to jump in and let the water take me to the summit of Cardiac Hill. It would be refreshing and also get me there more rapidly.
Going DOWN Cardiac Hill is a struggle. The steepness of the downhill is really hard on my knees, and I can only walk a certain way on my feet to prevent the blisters from getting worse. At the bottom, I covered this section at 23:00/mile pace. Yuck. Cherie’s at the aid station, trying to decide. I told her, unequivocally, that she should continue, because she is doing OK, and she would regret not following through if she had the opportunity. She acquieses. (She ends up being the last 100 mile finisher!)
Between the base of Cardiac and Rattlesnake Bar, I really have to go the bathrooom. I know this will sound unusual, but I try and avoid urinating during an ultra. I try to keep my balance of fluids and electrolytes just at the perfect point. Part of the reason I don’t like to urinate is that I will lose my protection from chafing because I will be slightly wet afterwards and it will spread slightly… and then the chafing begins. So, just past Power Plant, I accede to my needs… and then begin to chafe slightly.
I get to Horseshoe Bar (2.5 miles past Rattlesnake, 9 miles past Cardiac) around 8pm… and it is starting to get dark out. I have my flashlight, but it is not the brightest. That usually works pretty well for me, but on the root staircases, it is quite treacherous. As I am making my way through this section, another runner comes through and suggests that I avail myself of her extra flashlight. While I didn’t really want to carry a light in addition to my water bottles, the extra light helps out quite a bit. I am grateful for the use of the light, especially in this section.
I get to Granite Bay in 17 hours, 27 minutes (26:00/mile in the last section, net 18:20/mile). There is ZERO chance I can finish the last 4.9 miles in 33 minutes (even if I was ONLY running 4.9 miles). No one gives me any grief, but I am ready to point out that the aid stations don’t need to close because the 100 milers will still be out there for an additional 13 hours. I am pretty surprised at this point that I have not seen Mark (because I have encountered nearly all the continuing 100 milers in the dark, rooty section). At Granite Bay, they tell me that he dropped down to the 100K and is done with the race. (See, you should have picked an “easier” race!)
From Granite Bay back to the Start/Finish, it is the section that I had said at the beginning that I needed to remember backwards. Too bad that was 3/4 of a day ago and everything looks different from the opposite direction. Also, too bad that locals decided that they should take it upon themselves to remove the markers. Look, if you want us out of your area, removing the markers isn’t going to hasten the process! I do a lot of backtracking, because I do know that I have to find my way to the Folsom Lake Dam area, and if I can find the Dam road, I will know I am at the right location. It is very frustrating, because I am tired, chafed in the ‘groinal’ area, it’s still hot (over 100 degrees despite being dark out), and my feet are blistered and hurt. I did eventually find the Dam Road.
Once I get to this road, you can see where the finish line is. I am walking like John Wayne after getting off a horse. I am also stopping anywhere I can legimately sit to take the pressure off my feet and thighs. About 3 miles out, I get passed by a 100 mile runner, Jimmy Dean Freeman (2nd overall). It’s nice to see someone, though.
I finally finish a little before 1:00am, with a time of 19:23:09, in 11th place (plus the 24 people who dropped to the 100K distance). I was almost 2 hours over the time limit, but I still got my finisher’s belt buckle.
What I am really craving at this point, is real food. Attached to my race number the entire time was my coupon for a post-race meal. Unbeknownst to me, this coupon was only good for the snack bar, which had closed at 9pm. They could, however, offer me a PB&J sandwich (yuck, that’s what I’ve been eating ALL day along with rotten fruit, pretzels and peanuts). So, I didn’t get anything to eat after the race.
The next bit was that I needed to get back to the hotel. I called Michelle, and they had JUST gone to bed (so were asleep but not totally asleep) and she rallied long enough to drive out and pick me up. I totally crashed out when I got back.
In the morning, Mark and I both needed to utilize the elevator to get down to the car for the drive back… neither of us could walk very well. Michelle did the majority of the drive back, since both of us were useless.
The post-race annoyance for this event was that the results were not posted for over a month… a CHIP-TIMED race. The excuse was that the webmaster was out of town running his own race – like we care – we paid for the race, so post our results in a timely manner. This inefficiency, coupled with the high cost of the race and the relatively low value for the entry fee, convinced Mark and Michelle to start their own timing company and put on low-cost races, where the results would be posted immediately and accurately. (The timing company that did this race, Desert Sky Adventures, is no longer affiliated with this event, and they only do a 100M event now.)
Despite having a tough time and a cruddy experience, I LOVE the belt buckle and wear it on top of my belt 95% of the time. I would go back and run in this area again, but maybe not this race (certainly not the 100 miler).