September 24, 2007

Running The Rio Del Lago 100 Mile

The Rio Del Lago 100 Mile began at 6:00 A.M. on Saturday, and when the hour struck, race director Norm Klein said "go" and sent 98 of us on a really, really, really long run. It would end in a hard-fought finish for most but only after what would be for some one of the most monumental struggles of our lives. I was one of the 98 determined to pit raw determination and stamina against hills, sleep deprivation, blisters, queasy stomachs, mental low points, and the unforgiving length of a run equivalent to the distance from San Francisco to San Jose and back.

(Off we go!)

Although seemingly bursting with the bottled-up energy of not having run for three days, I ran the first few miles very slowly, having learned the hard way several times about starting out too fast. The first few miles were in the dark, but the light from other people's headlamps allowed those of us who forgot ours to see the non-technical trail. The sun came up soon enough behind a layer of clouds and illumined Folsom Lake, of which we were running along the west edge. It was perfect running weather; overcast, and in the 60's, and would stay this way for most of the run. I ran and talked with various other runners in the early miles, some of which were doing the Sierra Nevada Double Marathon held in conjunction with RDL, and came into the first couple aid stations feeling great. My Dad, who was my crew for the entire day and night of the race, was at Rattlesnake Bar, the aid station at mile 12. I told him that I was feeling really good, like a shaken up soda with the cap just barely opened, and I was letting all the energy be released slowly instead of all at once by sprinting down the trail. I picked up an iPod and proceeded to run down the beautiful, rolling single-track trail listening to U2, the David Crowder Band, and some other stuff.

Things were going really well at that point, and I ran the 9 mile section from Rattlesnake Bar to Maidu aid station easily. Apparently that stretch is normally really hard, since temperatures in the foothills can soar in September, but it was not a problem for this run. The stretch also involved the 1,500 foot "Cardiac hill", but it was a nice trail and not really a problem so early in the race. It had begun to sprinkle at that point, but the rain wouldn't last more than an hour and was actually conducive to running well.

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(Coming in to Maidu aid with Charles Lundell-complete photo album at Flickr)

I mowed down a stack of Pringles and left Maidu feeling great, and caught up to ultra running legend Gordie Ainsleigh at Auburn Dam Overlook, mile 22.7. One could write a book about the man, but, long story short, Gordie is the father of the modern trail ultramarathon. Back in 1974, he decided to run the Western States Trail Ride, a 100 mile horse race, on foot when his horse went lame. This feat led to the inception of the famous Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run and the birth of the ultramarathon as a sport.

The course had left Folsom Lake and now followed the American River upstream. The stretch from Auburn Dam Overlook to No Hands Bridge (26.7) was a steep downhill. I was still feeling pretty good, certainly better than I had ever felt after running a marathon. Scott Dunlap was also there, which was surprising because I thought he would be going for the win in the Sierra Nevada Double Marathon. Apparently he had been directed the wrong way and added 7 miles, which cost him the lead and probably the win. He took it well, though, and would finish out the race. Peter Lubbers would end up winning in 8:54.



(One marathon down at No Hands Bridge)

After No Hands Bridge was the second of the three major climbs of the race, K2. It was quite steep, but I power walked it and got to the top feeling okay. At Cool Fire Station, mile 30, I met with my pacer for the race, Buddy Pohl. Buddy and I had met at the Helen Klein 50 Mile last year and he had agreed to pace me for RDL this year. We would end up running together from mile 30 to 67. An experienced ultrarunner, Buddy's presence would prove to be invaluable for me in finishing the race.

We ran together, talking and sharing ultra stories. That and the beautiful scenery helped the miles go by fast; it was like our equivalent of friends going on an all-day hike together. Some people wonder if one ever gets bored from running for such a long time. I was anything but bored; I was having a blast and we would probably agree that there wasn't anything else we'd rather be doing. The thought of pizza crossed my mind on the 6-mile Cool loop (the name "Cool" is a small town in the foothills) and Buddy suggested that we ask my Dad to get some for when we met at the next aid station. We did this at Cool Fire Station, mile 36 and now on our way back on the 67 mile out and back. Dad was awesome and produced pizza at No Hands Bridge (40.3). We took some heat for this though; one of the aid station volunteers called me "spoiled". Fortunately, aid station volunteers are some of the coolest people in the world and he still filled my water bottle for me.

The stretch from mile 40 to 44 was the first rough stretch of the race. I was having, um, internal problems and felt like I had a pocket of air in my stomach. It took more than an hour to cover the four miles from No Hands to Auburn Dam Overlook, which was frustrating because my legs weren't all that sore and it was taking longer than it should have. At this point, I remembered Tom Rosebrock, whose name I had written on my arm. We never met, but, as Norm told the story at the pre-race briefing, Tom was probably the youngest person ever to finish a 100 mile race, which he did in 2003 at age 16. He was mentored by Norm and his wife Helen, who trained with him and did some of the toughest ultras out there. He eventually attempted RDL and had a terrible day. Apparently it was hot and he was struggling at just 25 miles. He was doing awful at mile 35. But he persisted, refusing to give up. He got to Cavitt at mile 67. He was behind the cutoffs but they let him keep going. Finally he got to mile 97, where he proceeded to run the last 3 miles in 24 minutes, and finish the race.
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(Tom Rosebrock)

Tom died less than a year later in a motorcycle accident, but his spirit lives on. I reminded myself at that point, when things were getting tough, I would remember Tom. If he could push through the pain like that day in 2003, I sure as hell could drag my sorry butt across the finish line eventually. Thank you Tom, for being such an inspiration. I wish I could have known you, but R.I.P., man. Run in peace.

Finally we got to the Dam Overlook, which had an outhouse where I worked on the problem. I emerged feeling mostly better, and when we left to go to Maidu and down Cardiac hill, I was revived. We passed halfway somewhere between Maidu (45.8) and Rattlesnake Bar (55.1). My legs were feeling way better than they ever had at 50 miles, and my mental levels were very high. Buddy and I continued to pass and be passed by the awesome Linda McFadden. An accomplished ultrarunner, Linda was upbeat and talked with us as we meandered through the golden grass of the single track trail. Buddy told me later that he had met her several years ago but only found out from someone else after many years that she had run Badwater, one of the toughest ultras in the world. What wonderful humility! Linda, of course, dusted us eventually and finished in 25:56.

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We arrived at Rattlesnake Bar (55.1). There was a dog there who looked quite a bit like the dog who beat me at the Quicksilver 50K last May, but I never found out if they were the same "ultradogs". The next rough section was after this aid station. My legs were feeling pretty swollen and my stride was stiff. It was difficult mentally because I was tired and still had 45 miles to go. Buddy noticed my stride had become a shuffle and recommended I take ibuprofen. He explained that products like Asprin were purely painkillers but didn't address the problem, while ibuprofen was an anti-inflammatory product. I took one, and its effect was incredible. Since at that point my problem had been more of swelling and inflammation than muscle damage, ibuprofen helped immensely. I came into Twin Rocks (62.9) feeling capable of sprinting down the trail. At that point, my grandpa (Opa) had arrived and joined Dad for my crew. Dad didn't seem sure how Buddy had revived me, but thanked him for it. I was quite thankful as well. It was now dark and, feeling great, we pounded out 10 minute miles until we got to Cavitt Junior High, the start/finish which was also mile 67. Buddy would leave here, having covered 37 miles with me. Thank you so much, Buddy; I think having you there saved my race. I owe you big time.

I headed off into the night to complete the final 33 miles. I wondered if I would see the leaders in their final miles, but didn't see anyone for quite a while. I would find out later that Jon Olson won in an are-you-joking-me time of 15:31, breaking his own course record by 59 minutes and winning the third year in a row. Mark Tanaka hadn't been too far behind, but apparently he had gotten lost toward the end, though he still managed to take second in 18:22. Coming out of Cavitt, I passed Chihping Fu coming out of Cavitt, and we encouraged each other to keep it up. I would see Chihping later in the run and he looked awful. RDL was to be his fifth 100 miler in two months, and he was not having a good race. I doubted he would make it. But the man was tough as nails, and he did in just over 29 hours. Passing 68 miles, my previous farthest run was motivating, but I declined rapidly and was reduced to a walk at Negro Bar (72.8). I took another ibuprofen and Opa began to run with me. It helped some, but not as much as before. My problem now was becoming less and less of swelling and more and more of tissue damage, i.e. soreness. I ran out of Negro Bar with Opa and we ran all the way to Willow Creek (80.8), where I was forced to walk. I was at that point unable to run faster than I could walk. I had told myself before the race that if I made it to mile 80 running, I could walk to the finish if I had to. I was also way ahead of the 30 hour cutoff and didn't have to worry about getting pulled. But things were getting pretty darn tough.

The next few hours were the hardest I have ever been through on any run in my entire life. It took a really long time to get to Mountain Lion Knoll, the turnaround. When we finally did, I collapsed into a lawn chair and tried to stretch out. I stayed for about 5 minutes until getting out of the chair and heading back to Willow Creek (86.5). Dad took over for Opa as pacer there, and it took over an hour to walk that 2.8 mile stretch. I was staggering when we finally got there, my legs in huge amounts of pain. I decided that I was going to give myself a half-hour at Willow Creek to attempt to recuperate; otherwise I was toast. I still had the drive to go on, but for the first time I was seriously questioning if we could finish the race. I ate and massaged and stretched my legs for about 10 minutes before, feeling a little better, getting my sorry butt out of the chair and going on.

I got to Hazel Bluff (89.9) feeling slightly better, and even managed to run again. I knew at that point I was going to make it to the end, and this propelled me on. I didn't know how long it would take, but that didn't matter; the important thing was just to get the job done. I ran with Dad until Negro Bar, with 5.8 miles to go, where I had to walk again. Opa and I walked the 2.7 miles to Folsom Dam Park, the last aid station. It was physically extremely demanding but mentally not so bad because we were so close to the end. Finally, with just 3.1 miles, I ran. I ran with the greatest feeling of joy because we were going to make it. There was no pain in the last mile, but the most wonderful feeling of accomplishment. After months and months of intense training, thousands of miles out on the trail, and the greatest struggle of my life at a 100 mile run, after 27 hours, 47 minutes, and 44 seconds, I sprinted across the finish line, the happiest 15 year old in the world.

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The greatest of thanks goes out to so many people. Thank you to all who donated to the American Cancer Society; we are coming closer every day to finding the cure for cancer. We have raised a total of $4,170. We are still accepting donations and you can do so here. Thank you to my Dad who crewed for me at RDL, came to every single aid station, stayed up all day and night, and covered 11 miles with me. Thanks to Opa, who helped me through the tough parts as well. He covered about 18 miles at age 67; he's a pretty awesome grandpa if you ask me. Thanks to Buddy Pohl, for coming out and running with me and saving my race. Thanks to the ultraholics for all your encouragement. And congratulations; I think each one of the ultraholics there finished the race. Thanks to Gordy Ainsliegh who started all this nonsense; thanks to race director Norm Klein for letting me participate in the race; and thanks to all the volunteers at the race for providing your support and being so awesome. Thanks to U2 and the David Crowder Band for producing so many great songs which helped me get through the rough parts of the run; thanks to the late Tom Rosebrock for being so inspiring. I wish I'd met you Tom, and I hope there are some great trails up in heaven. Thanks to my Aunt Jill and Uncle Andres, who never ceased to lend the greatest support in organizing the second Ultra For A Cure; thanks to the Los Altos Town Crier and the Palo Alto Daily News who helped bring attention to the Ultra For A Cure cause. Thanks to Clif Bar who sponsored me and helped promote Ultra For A Cure with an entry on their blog and provided a huge amount of their products. And lastly, thanks to God who guided me every step of the way.

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"Going for a run always clears my head, but running 100 miles distills my soul." -Keith Knipling

13 comments:

Scott Dunlap said...

You are a ROCK STAR! Way to tackle the adversity and complete your first (of what I suspect will be many) 100-milers. You really looked great out there!

Enjoy your recovery. Eat lots more pizza. ;-)

SD

Gretchen said...

Wonderful Michael! I am so impressed with your focus, determination and maturity at such a young age. As a highschool english teacher I also have to give you props on your blogging. Do your teachers know you're doing this?? Seriously, tell them, they will be impressed! I especially like the simile of the shaken up soda bottle just slightly opened. Such a perfect description of the trained and tapered runner, with all that bottled up energy, trying to release it over the course of an ultra rather than explode all at once and have nothing left.
Anyway great jub on your first 100. I'm sure you too will go on to inspire many, keep it up!

aunt jill said...

Amazing! You finished the 100 mile run, and before your 16th birthday as you had hoped. This really sets the bar high for subsequent birthdays:-) I can't wait to see what you will tackle next!

anil said...

Congrats Michael I am so happy to know that you finished the race, and also running for a great cause ! you are a Noble citizen and are going to be inspiration for lot of folks.

Keep up the good work and have great recovery.

On the Track with Michael Hayden said...

Michael,
Way to overcome the lows and highs! I am looking to run against you sometime.

Enjoy your recovery Champ.

in Christ
-Michael

hao said...

hi michael,

this is hao. i met you at the willow creek station when you were on the way back to hazel bluff. i was the guy with the bad blister problem that had to drop out there. :( great finish. i am very very impressed with your determination to work through the rough patches during the race. great accomplishment. hope to see you in another race sometime soon.

cheers!

hao

Alan said...

Michael:

You have to realize, you have such potential, such talent and such natural ability. At 15, you are pushing guys who have be in endurance sports longer than you have been alive. Not only am I humbled by your achievements, I am in awe of the fact that you have have grabbed ahold of your talents and focused it on helping other people. I lost my mom to cancer and to personally witness you suffer to raise money to fight this cruel disease gives me hope in the next generation. Thank you for what you have done - and thank you for allowing me to share in your experiences.

Alan

Michael Kanning said...

Scott, Gretchen, Aunt Jill, Anil, Michael, Hao, Alan; thank you all so much! You guys are the best. Anil and Alan, congrats on pushing through the pain to finish; Hao, I remember you at that aid station, and I know you gave it every last effort you had. Be proud of that and I'm sure you'll get your finish next time. Gretchen, I look forward to meeting you sometime out on the trails. Wish you were my English teacher! :) Scott, you showed great character out there when they sent you the wrong way; Aunt Jill, thanks for the never ending support; and Michael Hayden! The stud who kicked my butt at Quicksilver! Sign up early for Miwok because I'll be there and you can do it again. I hope to see you at RDL too next year, so you can shatter the age group course record. I can't stand having it because it implies that I'm fast or something, which is so comically far from the truth. :) Anyways, thanks to all of you for your support. Keep on charging!

-Michael

Jeff Johnston said...

Michael,

I was in the gymnasium when you came flying in. Do you realize that the place was completely insane? You finished strong and are a total inspiration. If you were hurting out on mile 80 you sure didn't look it. I thought you were just saving the best for last. Keep it up.

Jeff Johnston

Anonymous said...

Hey Michael: I don't know you, never heard of you, but stumbled upon your blog through the Clif Bar site where I was doing some research. All I can say is WOW, I'm impressed. What an incredible accomplishment at such a young age. I thought a marathon was hard work...you did almost four marathons - what an inspiration. And to give God the thanks - good for you for recognizing where that strength came from.
Sincerely, a fellow pilgrim who loves to run in Grand Rapids, MICH

Peter Lubbers said...

Hi Michael,
You are an inspiration to us all! Congratulations again on finishing what you set out to do.
What's next for you?
Take care,
Pete

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Michael,
When I was 15, I think I was probably up to no good, so congratulations on finishing your first 100 miler, much less setting the age group record. Your report was also VERY well written. (Joe Swenson wants me to submit mine to Ultrarunning, but yours might be better suited, so consider it.) Keep up the great work, see you on the trails!

Desiree said...

I was friends with Tom Rosebrock in high school, and met him in middle school. I came across your blog because I was looking him up, just to remember. He was one of those guys who was so influential, with his friends, his peers, everyone in general. You couldn't help but like him, love him, so it doesn't surprise me that he would inspire someone who never even met him. Thanks for your story.

Desiree