After missing a cutoff at Wasatch, I received this text from Coach Peter, “…You have two choices right now-take a break OR take your fitness and take on one more in October. That fire is still burning…” With that text, I was off and running, literally, with my focus on the Rio del Lago 100. I tried a new game plan, and went down to Folsom sans family the night before the race. The rest of the crew would head down, Joad’s-like the next day, including three kids, my parents, my hubby, my mother-in-law, and an RV.
The race starts off from Beals Point on a flat to gradual downhill along a bike path. There was plenty of room to run alongside the bike path on a dirt trail, as asphalt is deplorable. I was checking my watch every few minutes, trying to slow it down, but quickly received an angry text around mile ten, from my pacer, Brandon Dey, “For God’s sake, woman, you’re running with Jenelle Potvin, slow down!” I backed off, and tried to make new friends to chat with at a more reasonable pace. I quickly fell into line with a couple of awesome Alpenglow peeps, and saw Jeff every few miles for the majority of the rest of the race. It was so fun seeing and running with so many local folks from our area! I also was startled by a buck leaping through the woods, and convinced a hearty couple of guys to join me in singing Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues,’ as we passed the prison.
We were back at Beals in no time, most runners coming in a good hour ahead of their crew, including mine. I called my oldest son, Logan, who was shotgun on the RV, and told him to skip this aid station and head straight to Granite Beach. From Beals to Granite, the course winds its way through rolling hills, mostly on single track. I hooked up with a lady named Lauren and she shared with me her attempt to complete the Tahoe 200. It’s funny how when running 100 miles, you find the nerve to talk about those ‘crazy folks’ that run 200 miles! Haha! It was wonderful to see my family at Granite. The kids were riding bikes in the parking lot and rode along next to me for a bit, and my dad hollered, “Go!” I followed instruction, and sped through the aid station, even though both Hillary and the Donald were in full cutout form and both polite in their cardboardness.
Before I knew it, we had reached Rattlesnake Bar, past our first 50k! I naively thought at the time, well, this is gonna be easier than I thought. This stop was really special. My friend Sharon Fong, had made me an ice bandanna, and it was just getting to be uncomfortably hot. My Dad strong-armed anyone else that tried to help, and proudly filled it and tied it around my neck. This is significant as my dad had a massive stroke two years ago, and has aphasia, and also is very weak on his dominate side. We all had tears in our eyes when he managed to tie the knot on my bandanna. I had tried to run Wasatch in his honor, so Rio was going to happen for him. Our three-year-old, Graci, asked if she could have all the snacks in my drop bags, and who has the heart to say no to that? She discovered she really likes Salt & Vinegar chips on that day.
From Rattlesnake Bar, you get to run in some pretty beautiful terrain. There are waterfalls, a raging river, and scenery galore.
I started to get excited as I got closer and closer to my first pacer, Tessa Waldron. She had worked the Ski Swap all day, and was rushing to make my unanticipated quicker pace to mile 44.5. As I climbed up towards Overlook, my hubby and son, Logan, were coming down the hill to walk me into this station. It is a long couple of miles up a road to get to Overlook, and their faces were a much needed mo
rale boost. This was the first time my fifteen year old has seen me in a long race, and I felt pride and love for this awesome kid willing to help his mom reach a dream. As I reached Overlook, there was Tessa, fully-tutued and ready to roll. We headed out, and were smack dab in some beautiful countryside. We did some unapproved waterfall selfies, sang some, and played leap-frog with a runner and his pacer. Stuff started to get real, soon after that.
We went through the No Hands Bridge aid station quickly, and headed up the mountain. There was a lot more climbing than I realized in this part. This was the ‘meat’ of the race. Tessa and I found ourselves slipping and sliding in wet, muddy, trails, with lots of fancy footwork required. We reached the A.L.T. Aid Station, and when I said my number, everyone working started yelling, “The unicorn is here!” My drop bag had a hideous rendition of a unicorn, and so we had to do some prancing and unicorn noises to appease the crowd. They were very appreciative, and rewarded us with grilled cheese sandwiches, which were delish.
From here, people started to drop like flies. Brandon had warned not to let others’ negativity pull us down, but like some of the clowns I dated in high school, it was so hard not to try to ‘fix’ those that we came across. One guy was hollering, “My whole body is shutting down!” and screaming at his pacer at the Highway 49 aid station, but Tessa quickly stepped in, and encouraged me to get moving. I offered him some gummy bears, but he was nonplussed. I had focused so hard on getting past 68 miles, my longest distance to date, and had been hammering Tessa for miles with the equivalent of ‘Are we there yet?’ It was so gratifying to reach 68 miles! We sailed through (a stretch) No Hands Bridge, and headed back towards Overlook.
I was greeted in Overlook by my husband, with a kiss and an Orange Sunkist, my fav, and the soft drink of the Gods, and a unicorn pacer! What more could a girl ask for? He was dressed from head to toe in unicorn regalia. He would later regret the Ladies medium unicorn tights, as his nether regions experienced chaffing like no other. He had a tail, a mane, unicorn socks, shirt, and the infamous tights. It was fantastic. We headed out and I enjoyed a few miles of downhill as we headed back towards Rattlesnake Bar. In this section, my tummy really started to give me trouble. I had removed my music from my hydration pack, and regretted it. Brandon texted my husband and he agreed to bring my ipod to Rattlesnake. As we pulled in, I got the chance to meet Jill Anderson, who I cyber stalk on occasion, because she is an awesome woman and athlete. I pulled one of those, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re awesome, what a bad-ass you are, Badwater, blah, blah…’ Brandon had run ahead to see if any ladies had any ideas on the hideous downtown chaffing I was experiencing. Jill, of course, offered me her shorts! This is the stuff I love about ultras. Here’s this bad-ass lady, volunteering in the middle of the night, willing to give me her own shorts. I asked her what else could help me get through the tough time I was experiencing, and she said music helps her when she gets to a low.
With that, I was ready to roll. We hit the trail, I hit play, and Tina Turner brought me back to life. There is something to be said about certain music when your head starts to take a turn. I played a couple of hours of Pearl Jam, Metallica, and Pepper, and I was back in it. I was experiencing terrible pain in the top of both feet and the Rock Garden really hurt. I kept thinking ‘Relentless Forward Motion,’ but was having to go to the bathroom every few minutes. It seems, I’d overhydrated, and under-salted, and was paying the price. We were several miles between aid stations, and out of salt. Brandon found one salt tab, and I took that and tried to keep moving.
At this point, Brandon would hang back, and then surge in front of me, saying ‘Who you doing this for?’ every time he did that, he’d pinned another picture of my family to the back of his unicorn mane, so I’d see it when he ran by. It was so incredible and gave me such a boost. What a thoughtful thing to do for someone’s first 100!
Somewhere around Horseshoe Bar, we began to realize I wasn’t going to make the 30 hour cutoff. I asked Brandon, “So, what happens if we don’t make the cutoff?” He said, “Well, it’s like a DQ.” I experienced so many emotions through this part of the race. I was resolved to finish nonetheless, but incredibly disappointed that we’d come so close. With the time change that morning, we were all so confused about what time it really was, and how close we were to the finish. I tried not to cry, when I pictured all my family had done to get me there, and how I’d let them all down. I decided, no matter what, I’d finish. Brandon got a little emotional and apologized for ‘letting me down.’ It was the darkest time of the race. He went ahead to try to figure out where we were exactly, and I called my mom to let her know. She cried with me, and was checking out of their hotel, and said she’d be at the finish, it didn’t matter when, but dammit, I wanted that buckle!
My buddy, Jeff went by, and said looks like we’re gonna make it! Brandon and I were confused, and I didn’t want to get my hopes up. I went through Granite Beach, and just then it started to rain. My husband and son, Logan, came out of the fog on bikes just then, pulling Graci in the trailer. I was so happy to see them, but unable to really talk at this point. We rounded a corner, and this man with a walky talky was walking towards us up the trail. He yelled, “Looks like you’re our last buckle.” I was shocked, and then he said, “If you run the downhill, and powerwalk the up, you’ll make it.” I was so stoked, I just put my head down and picked up the pace. Brandon later told me my last four miles were 13 minute miles, whereas the 4 prior to that were 22 a piece!
I decided I was going to run the rest, right then and there. I didn’t walk the uphill, partly because I was afraid I’d never get going again. As I rounded the last climb, and hit the levy, there was my Dad, at the end of the race, waving wildly. I thought about all he’d lost in the last couple years, and how hard he’d fought to get it all back. I could barely see from the tears, and hearing him yell, “Go! Go!” I ran across the finish line to my whole family. I got to pose with my Dad showing off his Western States buckle, next to my Rio one. There are a handful of moments in my life that really stand out, like the birth of my children, and getting to marry my husband, and this is right up there with the truly special ones. As an ordinary woman, who often gets told ‘you don’t look like a runner,’ it feels good to know what we are really capable of. For me, this finish represents all the ladies (sorry, guys) who’ve struggled with their weight, or obsessed about silly appearance stuff that really doesn’t matter. When it comes down to it, we all can do such incredible things. I feel proud that all three of my kids got to see their mom achieve a goal I’ve had ever since the first time I sat on top of a mountain, waiting for my daddy to come through. Go out there and get it, Girl.