Sunday, September 28, 2008

Skin of my teeth survival in RDL

The RDL Villanelle
There is a story I have to tell
About a long race in Granite Bay.
It is the RDL Villanelle.

The Moon down the Heavens slowly fell;
The Sky brightened with the dawning day.
There is a story I have to tell.

Then came Heat and his armies from Hell.
His sweaty hordes fought on the Cool way.
It is the RDL Villanelle.

Dodged I did, bell after cutoff bell,
Fighting Fatigue: she had come to stay.
There is a story I have to tell.

Night pounced with spell after drowsy spell:
Fought her I did, keeping Sleep at bay.
It is the RDL Villanelle.

Nike smiled. Then came the final bell.
Ah! It had been an exacting fray.
There is a story I have to tell.
It is the RDL Villanelle.

Date : September 27-28, 2008
Race : Rio del Lago (RDL) 100M
Location: Granite Bay, CA
Time : 29:55:08

I have never run a race this close to cutoffs. Maybe the closest is the 2008 Tahoe Rim Trail 100M where I bailed out at 67 miles.

Friday, September 26
I attended Norm's pre-race briefing in the Cavitt Middle School (race HQ) after having my weight etc. taken by Norm himself. I also volunteered for a study on ultrarunners that was being conducted by UC Davis. The study involves comparing pre-race runner statistics (weight, body fat etc.) with the same post-race ones.

Norm likes to call up a few people and talk about them. I was one of the (un)lucky 6. Mark Tanaka, Georganna Quarles, Michael Kanning, Rena Schuman and another 1980s ultrarunner were the others called up besides me. He sang an Indian song for me.

It was off to dinner in Pasta Pomodoro with Karen Bonnett, Anu, Jean Pommier, Michael Kanning and his Dad and grandfather. The food was excellent as was the company.

Sleep came early that night.

Saturday, September 27
I woke up at 4:00 a.m. and feasted on a bagel with peanut butter and chocolate milk. A quick shave and shower later I was ready to leave. Anu dropped me off to the race start. Karen Bonnett was already there and she came out so that Anu could give the two of us a blessing.

(With Diane Vlach just before the start)

Norm soon lead us up the levee. I connected with Becky Johnson, Catra Corbett, Nancy Warren, Diane Vlach, Georganna Quarles among others. Norm counted down from 10 and we were off!

Karen and I spent the first few miles chatting with a few fellow runners. This is where a runner named Ralph, all 6'3" of him, joined up with us. I was leading the train that soon grew to include Nancy Warren and Georganna. We talked about a host of things. We spent a few minutes talking to Jose San Gabriel who was doing the 53.2 mile Sierra Nevada race.

We reached Twin Rocks, the first AS (mile 4.1), at 6:41. We were zooming along at 10 min/mile pace. The next section slowed us down somewhat owing to its rocky nature but we still made good time to Horseshoe Bar. We did not linger long here since Rattlesnake Bar, the first of the drop bag aid stations, was only 1.9 miles away.

I downed an Ensure there and replenished the gels in my fanny pack. Ralph, Karen and I were soon off. Nancy Warren had taken off right after Twin Rocks while Georganna left later.

It was starting to get hot now. The Power plant water only AS soon swam into view and the three of us topped off our bottles. The next section was a long one - 7.1 miles to Maidu. It included a climb, called Cardiac, that had knocked the wind out of my sails in 2006. That climb came up soon enough and it was as tough as I remembered it. Last year the temperatures had been 15 degrees cooler so that climb had not seemed hard.

The temperatures were climbing rapidly by now and the climb was made more difficult by the fact that there was no breeze on that covered trail. Ralph and I were together (he is a very, very strong climber). Karen, suffering a bit, was 30-40 yards behind us. Ralph and I caught up with and passed Marissa Licon and Christina Bronson. We soon came upon this young girl whose top and face were covered in salt and whose water bottle was bone dry.

I gave her a couple of my Succeed salt tablets and some water. A race volunteer was waiting at the top with cold bottles of water! Thank you whoever you are. The run along the canal to the Maidu AS was uneventful. We left that AS in a minute or so since the next drop bag station, Auburn Dam Overlook (mile 22.45), was only 1.5 miles away.

I met up with Anu here and she promptly refilled one of my bottles with my Perpetuem+Heed mixture and water in the other. Karen in the meantime was being tended to by her crew chief Diane Forest. We left around 11:30 a.m.

It was on the trip to No Hands that we were joined by Theresa, a Sierra Nevada (53.2 mile race) runner. By this time I was in full swing, cracking one dirty joke after another and the miles went by in a flash. No Hands is where Theresa parted company with us. It was about a mile or a mile and a half before No Hands that we saw Chikara Omine going back followed by Jean Pommier and then Mark Tanaka. Jon Olsen too passed us but he was looking spent.

K-2 was very long and hard. Midway up the climb we came to a false flat with a wonderful breeze. By now a runner named Jeff had joined us as had a friend of Karen's - John. We all sat for 5 minutes enjoying the breeze and letting our muscles recover. We started the climb again and soon passed Christina who had passed us while we were sitting.

Reaching the top was such a relief!

I met up with Anu in Cool. She is such a wonderfully calm and helpful person. She quietly took care of my needs. I drank a bottle of Ensure. The Olmstead loop was going to be brutal. I could tell. We left the AS at 2:05 p.m. with the intention of returning before 4:00 p.m. The temperature during that loop must have touched 95 degrees. There were just a few places along the loop where there was any semblance of a breeze. All three of us were glad when we were done with the loop.

The worst of the climbs and the heat were now behind us. The rise in spirits was palpable. It was in the Cool AS (mile 36 now) that I had the first solid food of the day - a delicious grilled cheese sandwich. Nothing could have tasted better right then! Jean Suyenaga was sitting in a chair looking like she was in bad shape. To my amazement, she got up and walked out to continue her fight. What a trooper!

Auburn Dam was reached at 6:15 p.m. and I was surprised to see Arul, Shishir and Deepa there. I had asked Anu to ask them to skip the Dam Overlook AS since I did not need anything. They showed up nonetheless and it was indeed heartening to see them.

Our trip back to No Hands was fast. I had my only bout of low blood sugar during that leg but that was soon remedied by a gel.

(With Becky Johnson-Sabin at mile 40)

Our train now consisted of Karen Ralph, Jeff, John and I. We kept each other company almost all the way back to Twin Rocks (mile 62.88). It was when we rolled into Rattlesnake Bar at 9:20 that I realized that there was a 10:00 p.m. cutoff there. I had been asking after Lisa Weiss all day. Her crew person was her husband Bob and he kept giving me her status. I prayed that she would make the cutoff. I met Diane Vlach here. She had dropped from the race.

I was even more surprised that Twin Rocks had a cutoff (of 12:15 a.m.). Anyway, Diane Forest offered me a beer and I had about half of it. Karen was had work done on a pretty bad heel blister so we spent a bit of time on that.

Horseshoe Bar was up the road and we skipped through, mentally getting ready for the hoary section between Horseshoe and Twin Rocks. Sure enough it was as bad as I remembered it. The rocks were covered with a film of dust making it hard to see their edges in the light of our headlamps. We all slipped on more than one occasion.

I was in a hurry to reach Twin Rocks since we could then power our way back to the school along the rollers between Twin Rocks and the school.

We reached Twin Rocks just before midnight (11:55 p.m. if I remember right). Jeff had fallen off the pace since he had had two bouts of throwing up. Dave, Karen's pacer and a guy with a great sense of humor, had offered to stay with him while we forged ahead. I later learned that Jeff dropped at Twin Rocks.

Karen was hungry and so she swallowed some food and we were soon out of there. It was about a mile after there that I stubbed my right toe very hard against the side of the road. The pain was excruciating and I screamed all manner of curses while trying to lessen the pain. The rolling section was where we first hooked up with Barbara Elia. I introduced her to the others. We played tag with her almost all the way to the turnaround (mile 83).

We passed Shannon Farar-Griefer here and she was in obvious pain. Her right hip flexor was hurting, making it almost impossible for her to run. Jorge Pacheco was pacing her. I stopped to give her some advice and words of encouragement before catching up with my team just before the final rise to the levee.

We had asked Diane to get us pizza in Cavitt. It tasted superb but I was to pay later for that treat! I decided not to change my shirt or shorts but to pick up a thin jacket, my arm warmers and gloves.

Arul was now to pace me while Karen had Brad a.k.a Beast as her bodyguard. Ralph was given one of Karen's other friends, Deanna a.k.a Turtle, while John had the services of yet another of Karen's buddies, Richard.

This was now a group of 8 people that wended its way down towards Hazel Bluff. We reached Folsom Dam soon enough. We passed Mark Tanaka going the other way.

Off it was now to get to the next cutoff - 4:40 a.m. at Hazel Bluff. Ralph, Arul and I were slightly ahead of the others and we duly reached Hazel Bluff around 4:25 a.m. We did not linger long. Dave Combs, an annual RDL fixture here, encouraged us to leave as soon as possible in order to make the 90 mile cutoff (8:35 a.m.).

We soon adopted the strategy of walking 2 minutes and running 2. Barb Elia remarked about how she liked it. My stomach had gone south on me by now. It was before the Willow Creek As (mile 80.79) that I stopped by the side of the road and dry retched. We left that AS and started the trip to Mt. Lion Knoll. By now I was starting to feel the need to go to the toilet and it had to be in a proper one since squatting was not an option given the state of my quads.

I was also fighting waves of sleep and the drowsiness was kept at bay by a couple of caffeine pills taken over 3 hours.

Ralph and I sped ahead once we got close to Mt. Lion Knoll. I quickly downed 2 cups of warm pumpkin soup (it actually did my stomach some good) and hurried into the neighboring Lake Natoma Inn to use their restroom. I left it at 6:36 a.m. and found Arul outside waiting for me. The others had left, figuring that I would catch up with them.

My right Achilles had been bothering me on and off the whole day but my left one was the one that experienced a very sharp twinge about half a mile on the trip back. I stopped, stretched and talked sweetly to my Achilles. I sent it breath and love. In 5 minutes the pain was a faint tightness and I started to run again.

Arul and I caught up with Karen and the others. That's when we found out that Ralph had taken off. He eventually finished in 29:07.

Poor Karen was in bad shape. She could not eat or drink and she had absolutely no energy left. We coaxed and cajoled her into drinking Coke and asked her to focus on the Hazel Bluff cutoff as her race goal. She slowly started to come back to life and by the time we reached the parking lot across the dam from where we could see Hazel Bluff, she was ready to take on the last 10 miles.

Since we reached right at 8:30 a.m. Dave Combs asked us to not even enter the AS but to continue on. That's exactly what we did. I was so impressed with Arul. He had made the 22 mile pacing look so effortless. We actually ran quite a bot of those 22 miles and he had no problems keeping up with us. A born athlete is what he is!

Arul had given way to Anu. She brightened up our day with her smile and her energy. Karen had been looking forward to running with Anu and it was 10 miles of fun.

We reached the climb up to the levee around 11:35 a.m. This is where all of us got lost. None of us, save John's sister, noticed the pink ribbon instructing us to go straight. I think I was to blame for this. I went off to the right just like in years past and they all followed me! Finally after a lot of scrambling around etc. we made our way back and found the correct course. I think we all lost 10 minutes or so there.

I took off with Anu in tow soon after and decided to stop just before the finish so that I could see the actual race time (my stopwatch had accidentally stopped many hours prior). I wanted to finish hand in hand with Karen who I knew was not far behind. Sure enough, she showed up a minute later and we crossed the finish line in 29:55:08. Diane Forest hugged me and asked me about John.

I decided to run back to inform him about the time he had left to finish - 3.5 minutes when I started running towards him. I soon saw him flying down the last section. He must have been doing 8 minute miles. He finished in 29:59 and change! So very impressive how he fought in those last few hundred yards.

I quickly showered and got into a Sierra Nevada T-short that Shishir bought for me right there. We went down the street to a Thai place and ate great food. On going back to the school we learned that the award ceremony had ended so we went back to the hotel, picked up our bags and started the journey back the the South Bay.

I am indebted to Shishir and Deepa who drove up with Arul on Saturday to crew through the night. All this despite having a 2.5-year old child!! Thank you both so much.

Arul is a rock. He is so very dependable. It was comforting just to have his calming presence by my side.

What can I say about Anu? She is a gem, a jewel. Rara avis is how I like to think of her.

Congratulations to Jean Pommier for his superb 2nd. place finish and to Mark Tanaka for a gutsy 4th. place one.

Gratitude to Norm and his amazing corps of volunteers for putting on a fantastic race.

Dave Combs - thank you for all that you do for the sport. You are a gift to the ultrarunning community.


George Ruiz said...

Rajeev your durability and determination is impressive. Congrats on another 100 mile finish, each one is a blessing.

Rajeev said...


Thank you very much. :) Each step I take is a blessing. The races are just icing on the cake!!

Have a great year.


Peter Lubbers said...

Hey Rajeev,
Way to beat the cut-offs! I like the way you "treated" your Achiles tendon--I use the same techniques and it really works!
Hope to see you again soon,

Rajeev Char said...

Congrats! Patel – another great report..
However I do have a complaint – you need to rectify your inconsistent policy towards various parts of your lower carried out sweet, without preconditions, diplomatic dialogue with your Achilles, but screamed and threatened your toe! You should know better, you don’t have to look very far to notice that such schizophrenic policy making has not really worked – it is better you go for change and fix this before your next race. :-)