Thursday, September 16, 2010

Superman Finds His Cape: An Rio Del Lago Finale

I was stunned into bewilderment and my tenuous momentum dissipated like match smoke in a hurricane. Trying to resurface, my mind began a series of silent questions in the hope that it could find some footing. “I have missed the extended cutoff by 15 minutes, 15 minutes, what is the cutoff? What are they telling me? Why are they just staring at me? Fifteen minutes PAST the cutoff?” No foothold was found and I stood there stupidly with my bottles in hand, arms hanging limply by my side. I slowly looked up the trail toward what had so recently been my direction of travel and then dubiously back the way I had come. My mind again retreated to a blissful state of emptiness, a chill shook my body and my feet silently lodged a complaint. Suddenly a large grey beard with broad shoulders sprung from a chair behind the aid table and thrust its face in mine and hissed, “Get out of here, you can’t stop, don’t stop, you cannot stop…EVER.”

In my blunted emotional state my mind achieved a reasonable facsimile of panic and I spun on my heals and bolted from the aid station with the phrase reverberating in my head “you cannot stop…EVER.” As I turned the GeekGrl and RBR were walking toward me and I shouted out “I can’t stop, I need caffeine.” The GeekGrl ran to the car and met me just before I descended the hill atop which Hazel Bluff sits. She thrust two gels at me, both of which contained caffeine and neither of which I had ever tasted before.

Quite frankly I had in mind something more like a quad shot mochaccino with an orange twist, a double tall caramel dulce de leche or, for god’s sake, even a cold cup of burnt Folgers hobo blend but not another F @#%*ing gel! Alas, everyone was doing everything within their powers to keep my ass on the trail and moving forward so I took what I could get and plunged down Hazel Bluff toward the bridge over the American River.

Now I was running on a sidewalk spanning the American River and cars were driving by at irregular intervals. Street lamps lit my way and I moved through the suddenly urban night. My earlier sense of panic had cycled down to a vague anxiety and was now being reborn as determination and focus. “I can’t stop, I can’t stop, I can’t stop” became less the refrain of a frightened animal and more the mantra of a boxer beaten and bruised reentering the ring for one final round.

As you turn off the Bridge over the American River you soon enter a very large, riverside green space complete with shade-covered picnic tables, smooth double-wide “single track” trail and a leisurely looping bike path. It was one of those spaces created by landscape architects that is designed to offer the illusion of being in the wilds but falls well within the survival parameters of our more fleshy and clawless brethren. I found it ironic that I entered such a civilized space at civil twilight and was given a bit of a boost from my newfound affiliation with modernity.

I had about 22 and a half miles to go and with a new day dawning I was finally beginning to return to life. I started to accelerate my walking and to extend my running. I looked at my Garmin and my overall average pace though mile 78 as a whopping 18:58 minute mile. If maintained that would result in a finish time of 31 hours, 41 minutes and 59 seconds. The race had a 30 hour cutoff and I still didn’t know by what amount that time had been extended due to the earlier vandalism on the course. What I did know is that I was firmly within the realm of the walking dead and that I needed to escape.

I was beginning to see people on their return route from the turnaround at Mountain Lion Knoll, very, very few people. The vast majority of those who had at one point been behind me had dropped, all but one. The first person I saw was a man with a heavy Irish brogue that I had met briefly years ago when I was running the Olmstead Loop in Cool California. At that point he was chipper, motoring his way through his first 100 with a smile on his face and a bottle filled with ice. Now he was hobbling painfully and holding onto his pacer’s shoulder in order to keeping himself upright and moving forward. I mustered all my cheer and said, “You’re doing it!” and he just shook his head and hobbled on. I never say the Irishman again.

Next up was Roger. He continued his mincing jog at a dead steady 15 minute pace just like he had the previous 85 miles. He said nary a word as we crossed paths but broke into a broad smile and began to applaud me. I was reminded of what Roger had told me way back at mile 65. “As the night wears on people will get sick, they will continue to drop and our position in the race will get better and better.” I knew this to be a fact having myself dropped at mile 80 in Rocky Raccoon. I have also heard of people dropping as late as mile 90, even mile 93 of a 100 mile race. Now that I was into the new day I knew this would not be my fate. I would have to be pulled or someone would have to shoot me in the face. It was time to turn back the clock.

I picked up my pace further and jogged almost the entire four miles that were left to Mountain Lion Knoll. When I reached the turnaround the GeekGrl and RBR were standing there waiting for me and cheering. The aid station captain looked at his list of runners, looked at my bib number, did a double-take and said, “Well, it looks like Superman finally found his cape.”

The GeekGrl told me she had some caffeine for me that even had some herbal crap in it and I said, “Great, I love me some herbal crap” and with that she handed me a 20 oz Amp Energy drink and I slammed it down like it was a six ounce cup of water. I informed everyone that it was time for me to run and the aid station captain suggested that I drop my hydration pack and one bottle since it was only about three miles between aid station between here and then end of the race. I shed my gear and grabbed my iPod and headed out.

I have put a lot of time and effort into organizing my running playlist since the GeekGrl introduced me to running with music. Even though I rarely race with music I have taken to always carrying my iPod for just the perfect moment. As I left Mountain Knoll for the finish line 17 miles distant Collective Soul’s “Run” slowly began and I could feel myself entering a nice, relaxed running zone. Later the mood shifted to a more determined “Going the Distance” by Cake and I found myself nudging the pace upward. By the time I returned to Hazel Bluff I was ready for blood having just been hit with a dose of “Thunderstruck” and “Hard as a Rock” by AC/DC.

As I reached the top of the bluff there stood the GeekGrl, RBR and Johnny Tri. The aid station volunteer who had earlier told me that I was 15 minutes past the extended cutoff stood staring at me holding his list of runners limply at his side. As if he were

addressing a formerly dead messiah whom he had publically dismissed as a goner he said, “You’ve made up all the time…and gained. Nobody that we let through has done that.” I reminded him of our earlier discourse saying, “Well, you all told me not to stop…ever.”

The GeekGrl came up to me and said, “Are you ready to have JT pace you for a while?” and I said, “Hell yeah!” JT stood there with a huge smile and was ready to rock. The GeekGrl gave me a second Amp, I drank it down then told JT, “Let’s go to work”, we gave each other a high five, pointed ourselves in the direction of the finish line and bolted for the cliff face that was the trail dropping off Hazel Bluff.

At that moment the song “Low Rider” by War came thumping through my headphones. For reasons unknown to me the song Low Rider resonates deeply with me. In my high school year book I was third runner up for “Whitest White Boy of the Senior Class of 1985.” My best friend at the time, Hector Ledesma, used to call me the Campbell’s Soup Kid. Ok, I’m lying, I wasn’t third runner up but I did have a best friend named Hector who, for some reason, could not get enough of the word nalgas.

Anyway, fueled by Amp, by the new day, by the motivation of having JT pacing me and by Low Rider I started to run. I asked JT if there were any runners ahead and how far might they be and he said there were runners ahead but they were quite a way off. I didn’t say anything but my one thought was “Time to go hunting.” My run became faster and faster and I was somehow freed from the shackles of fatigue that had bound me for so long. I ran with abandon, I attacked the hills and went skidding around the turns. I was simultaneously trying to chase down as many people as I could find and trying to outrun JT.

Believe me when I say that I do not know where this strength comes from so late in a race. It comes no matter how badly I have suffered but it is not something I have planned for, it is not a strategy and I don’t secretly hold back until mile 90 and then take off. I do not know from whence it comes but come it does and when it is there I just go like crazy until it is gone.

My morning burst had me flying the entire 4.5 miles from Hazel Bluff to Negro Bar. When I hit Negro Bar the GeekGrl and RBR were still sitting in the car and didn’t have time to do anything but sit there and cheer me on. I filled my bottles and tore off down the trail whooping like an animal. There were several runners strung out through the Negro Bar aid station and beyond and I started picking them off one after another. My running lasted just a little while longer and then I hit yet another hill and ran out of steam. The day had begun to heat up again and I had to conserve what was left to finish the race.

As I walked along I attempted to reflect on my race but I couldn’t put together much in the way of coherent thought. At this point I was also becoming emotionally fried. I just needed someone to be with, someone to walk with me and keep me company because I was not in any shape to be alone. I was swinging from high to low and wanted only to make it to the next aid station, the last aid station. When I arrived the GeekGrl and RBR were there waiting and were aware I had slowed again. I called out to the GeekGrl and asked her to pace me the rest of the way to the finish just like she had at Leadville. She stood by my side and accompanied me to the end.

They say pain is just weakness leaving the body. I’m really not that big on who is “strong” and who is “weak” because we are all both. I enjoy having my weakness. I grapple with it and by knowing it in all its many faces I am able to witness my strength in opposition to it.

One final word. Thank you for reading. I’ve been dying to finish this report specifically because I wanted to thank you. Yes, part of my strength is because, at least in my mind, I know I have weird bloggy peeps who have an interest in me just as I know I have an interest in you.


  1. Best report I have read! really. that was something! I love the reflection and the comprehension of the struggle even while pretty out of it. can't wait to read the next one!

  2. Wow! Even though I knew how this story ended thanks to Misty and RBR, I was on the edge of my seat reading your account. Thank you for accurately depicting the highs and lows and highs of this sport we call ultrarunning.

    And now we know what your costume will be at JJ100.

  3. this was the best race report I have ever read.. amazing.

  4. Yahoooooooooo! Congratulations! You're giving me motivation to finish my RDL race report :) Hopefully this weekend... Great job, I loved all the suspense!

  5. I read RBR's post and had to read yours! Thanks for an inspirational read; I am in awe.

  6. Great report. The best part about it all is you finished the race. Congrats man.

  7. Seriously amazing...."Superman" is right!

    Fantastic race report - you are so inspiring...

  8. I have to say I ADORE that picture of you and JT at the end. I think it really captured that moment.

    Still in awe almost a week later. You rock.

  9. Way to rally to the finish!

  10. It's a little weird taking longer to read a report than run 100 miles, but this one was worth the effort! Just have to say that those who voluntarily drop after 90 miles, rather than "timing out" at an aid station are invariably those who were in the top two or three at the time. I know one who dropped at 96, rather than have his string of wins besmirched.

    I wish the music that filters into my head during long runs was the same as yours - "Loser," "Creep," "People Who Died," and "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?" have plagued me. Maybe headphones would help...

    Also, what'd you use for getting the mile splits?

  11. YAY for the large-grey-beard-with-broad-shoulders-guy!!!

  12. Thanks for reporting on your adventures - and congratulations!

  13. Look at the times at mile 90! Dropped down to a 9min mile!

    Awesome job out there. Talking to JT throughout the day, I was eager to see how you were doing.


  14. dude I feel like we just ran this thing again!!
    Ur splits at mile 89-92 are crazy!! U da AMP MAN!


  15. Anonymous10:34 AM

    Great report! Congratulations on the newfound speed you were gifted late in the race.