Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Deeper Darkness Falls: A Rio Del Lago Race Report Part 2

Gordy was running along at a shuffling gait bare chested with his thick mane of hair and grizzled grey beard looking very much like a lost left-over miner from the California gold strike of 1849. He was wearing some flimsy running shorts that probably came from K-mart, he carried an old-style flashlight that had a regular bulb and probably operated off C or D cell batteries. His flashlight illuminated the trail about as well as an unenthusiastic firefly but there he was putting one foot in front of the other no pretention, no fanfare just Gordy and the darkness; it was amazing.

As he passed us I said “Hey Gordy” and he said “Hi” and just kept on shuffling. I felt humiliated. At that particular moment though I was definitely tired and very sore I was actually feeling ok and all I was doing was taking a brief break to empty my shoes but in all those hours that is when I first saw Gordy. He hadn’t been at the start. Apparently he started about 40 minutes late. He probably woke up and realized that he needed an extra layer of cardboard on the bottom of his Chuck Taylors so was delayed a bit. I put my shoes on as quickly as I could and took off after him with the GeekGrl in my wake. For the first time in hours I was doing something that was a reasonable approximation of running. Within a few minutes I was running stride for stride right behind the Man. He heard me behind him and quietly stepped off the side of the trail to let me pass. I thanked him and he said “no problem” and that was that, I ran with and passed Gordy and it was everything I hoped it would be, he was just a regular guy out there still trying his best, still moving forward after all these years. The heroism of a life well lived has no equal in my book.
Shortly after passing Gordy a headlamp came running up the trail towards us. The runner was yelling “Twin Rocks aid station closes in 15 minutes hurry up!” He blew past us yelling out his warning and suddenly the night was alive with Zombie runners lurching through the dark forest, beams of light swinging wildly as we all did our best to survive yet another aid station closing.

The GeekGrl and I made it in time for me to grab a bit more nutrition and get out. I wasn’t about to stick around to see who all made it and who didn’t and since I was feeling better and I knew the GeekGrl had had a long day I decided to proceed to Cavitt School aid station and the 100K mark on my own.

The next four miles to Cavitt School were completely unremarkable and before I knew it I was running into the school gym and was herded over to the medical check. At weigh-in I was only down by about three pounds so on the whole I was doing good with my nutrition. I was still feeling ok and mostly wanted to just get out of that aid station and get back on the trail. Though nobody was saying anything about cutoff times I knew I was still dangerously close but I didn’t have any idea how close.

I got up out of the medical chair, grabbed my refilled bottles and some food and headed out the door. As soon as I stepped outside I asked the two people standing there which way I was supposed to go. One guy said “I don’t know” and the woman said, “I think you go over the way you came in and then just head out past the fence to the dike.” What the hell? I had just run 62 miles, it was the dead of night and I already knew I had to go back out the way I had come in. What I didn’t know was how to prevent myself from going all the way back EXACTLY the way I had come thus repeating the past 20+ hours of hell. I went back inside the gym and just shouted out to no one in particular, “How do I get out to the lower half of the run?” Just then another runner stood up and said, “Come on, I’ll show you the way.”

I later found out that the runner, Roger, was at that moment planning to drop from the race. He decided he had enough and was going to pack it in when I walked back into the gym lost as a goose. Roger had run Rio Del Lago several times in the past and knew the course like the back of his hand. He decided that he had renewed purpose, to aid a fellow runner in the completion of this monumental task. So Roger and I ambled forth into the night and he embarked on an exhaustive description of the Rio Del Lago 100-mile Endurance Run. As Roger and I departed Cavitt School we again confronted Gordy on the trail. He gave us a wry smile and said “Have a good run.”

Apparently Gordy dropped from the race five minutes later at Cavitt School. I’m sure Gordy will be back but I’m equally sure that he takes immense pleasure in seeing what he has wrought, seeing hundreds of people around the country plumbing the depths of the human spirit all engaged in something he was probably called an idiot for trying in the first place. It was one of the proudest times of my life to have run with Gordy who is not only a kindred spirit but is also the man who first gave full expression to that spirit.

The second half of the course, which really isn’t half the course, was supposed to be flat and mostly on a wide dirt road nest to a bike path. Well, just like the second half isn’t really half it isn’t really flat, or smooth or bike pathy for most of its length. Now, there certainly are wide, smooth sections, flat sections and sections of bike path and these are all wonderful places to run but these sections probably make up no more than 70% of the remaining 38 miles.

You may be thinking “What a big baby complaining about a measly 30%” and maybe you are right, maybe I was just being a big baby but that 30% was comprised of big rolling hills on narrow, rocky, winding, dusty, weed covered single track trail. To make matters worse while on that scraggly trail you could see the nice smooth bike path never more than 30 feet in the distance. The race developer had scrupulously avoided every stretch of easy running at all costs. My legs felt horrible, I was getting very tired and it was exquisitely difficult to stay on the single track and not just hop over and take an easy stroll along the neatly paved bike path.

I kept eyeing the bike path and thinking “Nobody is around and nobody would know if I just hopped on over there and used the bike path instead of this crappy trail. It would be so much easier and anyway, I was promised a flat, easy second half. I have been dreaming about bike path running for about the last 10 hours and that’s exactly what I should get!” But I knew someone who would know, who would never forget, who would confront me daily for the rest of my life for having taken the easy way out; I would know.

As I reluctantly reached this conclusion rather than being self-congratulatory and feeling pious I simply got angry at myself for being such a damn Boy Scout and dejectedly skulked through the night on my crappy trail with my dusty shoes and my beaten legs.

My anger didn’t last long though because I soon began to get really cold and started to shiver. In preparing for RDL I had set up three drop bags with the various things I would need at various points in the race and because the GeekGrl and I were flying in to Sacramento the only extra gear I packed was all in my drop bags. The plan was that if, by chance the GeekGrl and RBR missed me at an aid station I could still access the gear I needed, which I was able to do at the Auburn Dam Overlook. If I was met as planned then my gear would simply be there waiting. The thing I didn’t count on was being more than two hours behind schedule so that my gear ended up being stored at the wrong places at the wrong times. I not only needed a headlamp in a bag at Maidu to avert the walk in the darkness that I experienced between Power Plant and Rattlesnake Bar but I also needed to have my cold weather running gear ready for me at Negro Bar and not Hazel Bluff, which was another 4.5 miles down the trail.

The GeekGrl and RBR met me at Negro Bar and I announced that I was freezing cold and asked of there were any extra clothes lying around. Somehow there was an extra short-sleeve shirt and bandanna so I put those on but was of course still shivering. I was feeling pretty desperate because unlike hypothermia in the heat of the day I could not just slow down. If hypothermia was going to hit me at night then I needed to speed up, something that I was in no position to do at the moment. After considering a few options the GeekGrl offered me the sleeves to her windbreaker. She took off the jacket, unzipped the sleeves and helped wrestle me into them. Getting that thing onto my arms was like stuffing sausages into a straw but somehow we managed and I waddled off into the night with my shoulders and arms straining at the bright yellow fabric of my newly acquired garment.

Much to my amazement I started to warm up and then started to sweat. I began to sweat so much that I stripped off the jacket sleeves for fear that the sweat would once again cause me to cool down. I’m not sure what it is but there is something about covering my arms that heats me up no matter how cold I get.

Now that warmth had returned I was able to focus on new and different challenges and the one that reared its head was sleep deprivation. Because the aid stations were relatively close together and because I had been struggling so much the GeekGrl and RBR had been unable to get to some coffee to mix into my night running drink so I was severely caffeine deficit. Between Negro Bar and Hazel Bluff I was moving at nearly a 30 minute per mile pace. It took me just over two hours to travel four and a half miles. This was the first experience that I had with such feelings of exhaustion. At one point I just sat down on a rock to try and regroup and I ended up falling asleep and I snapped awake as I began to fall off the rock. The only way I was able to keep moving forward was simply because there was nowhere else to go. The GeekGrl and RBR were farther on down the trail and going back wouldn’t gain me anything or get me closer to finishing but at this point I wasn’t thinking about quitting, finishing, pain, trail conditions, nothing; I was completely and utterly consumed with a desire to sleep.

My preoccupation with sleep and emotional flatness all change a couple hundred yards outside of the Hazel Bluff Aid station. The runner I mentioned earlier who had two pacers and a scout suddenly passed me once again, her and her entourage. This brought me to life; this made me angry as hell. I wasn’t angry at her exactly or angry at her crew I was just angry as getting passed by someone who was technically cheating. You are only allowed one pacer at a time and any other crew can only crew you at the aid stations. I resented the fact that I had struggled so hard under so many trying conditions and this was about the third time this runner passed me with her huge array of support. I used my emotional energy to break into a run and I passed her and her gang. I then charged up the steep rocky hill top the Hazel Bluff aid station where I was greeted by the aid station volunteers with a special message.

Their message, you have missed the extended cutoff by 15 minutes. My heart sunk as I stood there in the cold dark and said, “So what are you telling me?”


  1. Yeesh... what a story! Great writing!

  2. even though I know you finished....YOU CAN'T LEAVE US IN SUSPENSE LIKE THAT!!

  3. OMG! I know the story and your cliff hanger got me.

    That and the fact that the memory of Negro Bar and Hazel Bluff may haunt me the rest of my days.

    You are amazing.

  4. Man! Reading your story fills me with gloom and despair.

    That is great writing.

    And the cliffhanger???

    Kepp it up!

  5. ohhh Snap!!! are you serious? You stopped there! haha! i think you're still sleep deprived.. haha..
    what a way to leave it hangin'