Friday, September 24, 2010

Rio Del Lago 100 Race Report - DNF

I have been struggling with the race report for my first 100-mile race attempt. I’ve started many reports, only to trash them. It’s difficult for me to write about failure. I’ve tried to not be disappointed, and "to see the glass as half full", but its been a struggle. But maybe the disappointment was supposed to happen. This disappointment makes me hungrier to train harder and take some sweet revenge on the course next year. The outpouring of support from everyone has been amazing. The daydreaming about 100-mile finishes and hanging out with fellow 100-mile runners was awesome. I owe everyone that supported me, including myself, a race report, to document my mistakes, my small victories, and the details of my adventure before my memories fade and all that’s left is this insatiable hunger for a 100-mile finish.

I brought my camera with me to take pictures and to take verbal logs to help me remember my thoughts and feelings at the time. It was my way of sharing the epic adventure with my family and friends. I was also wearing a GPS tracker that allowed my friends and family to track me throughout my race, by the minute. I wanted my first 100-mile attempt to be extra special. Like my first 50-mile attempt, I felt like the stars were in alignment and that divine intervention would deliver me to that elusive finish line. But sometimes we need to be reminded, through divine intervention, that the finish line goal isn't as important as the journey itself. What a tough lesson to learn!

The day before the race, I went to the mandatory race briefing, where I met a bunch of well known 100-mile racers, many of whom have very popular blogs, including Catra Corbett and Jean Pommier. The medical check also includes a weight check and a blood pressure check. My blood pressure was super high, and the kind doctor had to check it again before it reasonably came down (which was still very high, for me). Of course, he knew I was just over-excited and anxious about my first 100-mile race. My weight and blood pressure was written on my bib number so that any medical checks during the race would have a point of reference for comparison.

I was hoping to meet Gordy Ainsleigh at the race briefing, but he never showed up to the briefing. I had found out that he was racing 2 weeks before the race, and it made me feel very privileged to be racing with a legend. For those of you who do not know this legend, he was the first man to run the famous Western States 100-mile Endurance Run. He practically invented the 100-mile race back in 1974! His race report for that first 100-mile run is a must read for 100-mile dreamers. I did end up meeting Gordy at the lowest point in my race, but it will also be one of the most memorable moments in my life.

The evening before the race I had some spaghetti for some carbo-loading, and went to bed at 9pm at my brother-in-law’s house, only 15 minutes away from the starting line.
I woke up at 1:30 in the morning and lay in bed till 3am trying to sleep. At 3am, I decided to get up and get ready for my big day. I ate two slices of bread, and tried to pre-hydrate myself with water and chia seeds. My brother-in-law drove me to the starting area (a school gym), where I would pre-tape my feet with Elastikon tape (to prevent blisters) and some kinesio tape on my my calves (pre-cut) and my left ankle.

At 6am, we were sent off into the dark unknown, by race director Molly Sheridan, where my adventure began.
In the first hour I chatted with a few other runners and the time flew by very quickly. I ran with a local gal, named Monica Moore for quite some time. I ran behind her, because her stride seemed so effortless and in running behind her my own stride felt great. I knew that it would get hot later in the day, so my plan was to run more while the temperature was still cool. When it gets hot I planned to walk a lot more and go into survival mode till the evening, when I hoped to run more.

At 9am after 3 hours of slow running and the occasional uphill walking, I had an uncontrollable urge to run faster on the downhill sections. At the time, it was my moment of glory and fun. So for an hour, I ran the downhill sections strongly, and walked fast and hard when I wasn’t running. I passed a bunch of people during this hour of throwing all caution to the wind. In hindsight, it was probably a stupid move that wrecked more muscle strands than I could afford in such a long race. Still, it was fun!

At 10am, I hit the first big climb of the day. They call it Cardiac Hill. It only lasts 0.9 miles with lots of switchbacks, but after 19 miles, this hill was a handful. I went up it as slowly as I could. I even walked up backwards at times. It was already starting to get warm, but there was enough tree cover on this hill to make the warmth bearable. I made it to the top fine, but when I started to run, by calves cramped up a bit. So I walked for a while before I could run again.

At mile 26, the infamous hill named “K2” rose up like a monstrous fire breathing dragon. By now, it is HOT, at around 90 degrees. And because summer never really came to my hometown this year, I had no heat training. In fact, we installed air conditioning this year in our house, which made me even softer than your average Californian! This hill climbs 1000 feet in 1.25 miles, and there are no switchbacks to make the climb easier. It goes straight up, with a few “false summits”. Even on the Rio Del Lago website, this hill is compared to monster hills like Devil’s Thumb from Western States and the Leadville climb to Hope’s Pass. This hill was a monster’s MOTHER. I used to think I was a good hill climber. This hill kicked my ass. And the heat didn’t help either. I crawled up this hill at a blazing speed of 35 minutes a mile. Near the summit, my left quad was locking up due to some severe cramping. I had to lie down on the dirt in the shade of a bush to recover enough just to move forward again. I survived the hill, and my legs slowly came back to life. But every hill from that point on gave me trouble. Note to self: find the biggest, baddest hill near home and train hard on them with many repeats!

At mile 30, I got to see my wife and daughter again, which gave me some renewed strength. But it was still HOT, and I was getting very tired. The next 7 miles was all in the open with hardly any tree cover. The hills are gentle and rolling in this section, except for one big, but short hill (a third of a mile long), named Knickerbocker. At mile 31, I hit my first intense low of the day. I started to feel sick here, in the heat. It didn't feel fun anymore. I put on my ipod at this point, hoping for something to wake me up and get me to shake off the negative thoughts that were creeping into my mind. I took a GU and another electrolyte pill here, hoping that something would work. And then I thought about September 11th, 2001. And about how blessed I am to be able to try something this crazy. All those lost, innocent lives don't have the luxury of attempting such grand adventures. It was exactly what I needed to kick me out of my stupor and help me "keep on keeping on". At mile 36, I ran into a fellow runner who had been feeling nauseous for the past 3 hours. I gave him one of my ginger chews and walked with him for a while. Helping another runner who was doing worse than me helped lift my spirits. We're not alone out there. We were fighting the same fight and in helping each other, we also help ourselves.

It was at this time that I realized that I didn’t have enough electrolyte pills to last me to the Mile 67 Aid Station, where I had more pills in my drop bag.
I had originally planned on taking one pill per hour, but I had been taking the pills more frequently due to the cramping and the heat. The brother I shared a ginger chew with immediately shared some of his electrolyte pills with me. Talk about instant karma!

By this point, all of the major hills were done, but the heat was still brutal and I still had 63 miles to cover. The next 3 miles were very nicely shaded with a lot of gentle downhill sections. I was tired, but my legs were feeling better on the soft downhill portions I was actually able to shuffle during most of this section. By the time I got to mile 40, I was feeling a lot better (10.5 hours into the race). I also got to see my wife at the aid station at this point. I was at least an hour and a half ahead of the cutoff times and I was confident in my chances of actually finishing this race.

Only one mile and 15 minutes later, I hit some tough uphill portions that made my quads cry in agony. I thought I was done with the big hills! Where did these monsters come from? The hills in this section aren’t really that tough, but I was already very tired and my legs were starting to rebel. I started to feel sick after trying to eat some GU. I was having trouble walking uphill at this point. My quads were cramping up badly going uphill. By mile 42.7, I sat down on the side of the trail hoping that a short break would help my legs recover. I had trouble getting up, and even sitting was causing cramping. I yawned and even my jaw was cramping. My body was depleted of energy, and yet it was difficult to even consider eating some GU. The mere thought of GU made me nauseous. I tried to sip my Gatorade for energy. I must have sat down for around 45 minutes before I felt like continuing again. Note to self: Don't ever sit down anywhere except at an aid station, where volunteers can at least help you up and kick you out. And even then, avoid sitting down!

This was easily the darkest moment of my short ultra running life. It was during this moment that I met Gordy Ainsleigh for the first time. He came running along the trail, and saw me in my pit of despair. He told me that I was probably low on calories and needed to eat something. Boy was he right! If only I was at an aid station! I wanted to pull out my camera and take pictures of him like a tourist, but restrained myself. I didn't want to seem so uncool in front of a legend. I plan on meeting him again someday, better trained, and cooler than the pathetic looking person he ran into on the side of the trail.

It was just a slow and painful walk, when I finally started moving again to the next aid station, feeling defeated, disappointed, and beat up.
For a while there, I was afraid they’d have to send a rescue team to carry my broken body back to civilization. I set out to cover 100 miles, so 44 miles did feel like a spectacular failure. I sat at the aid station as the sun was going down, feeling miserable. As I waited for the volunteers to pack up, I must have yawned at least 50 times, with my jaws uncomfortably cramping each time. One of the volunteers gave me a ride to the school gym where we started and I called my wife to pick me up. The race director, Molly, gave me hug and told me, “We’ve all been there”. That meant a lot to me. At that point, I knew that I needed to come back next year, better trained and more prepared to slay this dragon. Thanks, Molly!

My wife showed up with a van with a bunch of my nieces and nephews that were planning on cheering me on at mile 55. They made signs, they had soup, and they were ready to cheer me on. Unfortunately I didn’t make it that far. Perhaps if I knew they were coming in advance, I would have found some unknown energy reserves to get there. When I got back to my in-laws house, I curled up in bed, in the fetal position and passed out. I woke up in the middle of the night with renewed energy, and wishing that I was still out there fighting with all the other warriors. I was disappointed in myself. I let everyone down.

Of the 94 starters, 52 people finished and 42 people sadly did not. Catra Corbett and Gordy Ainsleigh both did not make it to the finish line. Jean Pommier finished in third place, but needed an IV due to his unusually low blood pressure. I came out to the award ceremony to pick up my drop bags and thank the race directors for a great race, despite the tough conditions.

I've had a lot of time to think about what went wrong and have come to several reasons for my poor performance. The main reason I did not do well was because of a lack of training, both in mileage and in heat training. My legs were not strong enough to endure the abuse of the hills and the heat. I was also not adequately prepared in terms of fueling. GU makes me sick after 30 miles. I need a fuel that I can rely on for longer races that won't make me sick. I tried Perpetuem last week on a 20-miler, and think that will be the fuel of choice in my next Ultra. I don't believe in excuses. Excuses suggest that problems that arise are not our fault and often justify poor decision making and planning. We sign up for these races knowing about possible heat problems, physical problems, and mental problems. We need to own up to our mistakes, learn from them and allow them to make us stronger. Even when things go wrong, believe in yourself, hold your head up high, and move on.

And for all those people who believed in me, thank you. The outpouring of your support and encouragement makes me feel very blessed. And it makes me feel even more determined to get back on that "ultra-horse", to become stronger, for future adventures that I can share with you, hopefully with happier endings!