Rio del Lago 100 Mile | California | September 10, 2011
The Heat and the Irony
By Gary Dudney
Well, it was hot, which was no surprise. Sitting in a shady spot the day before in a t-shirt and shorts at the race orientation at Beal’s Point (of American River 50 Mile fame), I was already sweating in the blistering heat without doing any running. Just crossing the parking lot to get back to my car seemed like an endurance event. The next day heading to the race at four in the morning, I stepped out of my air-conditioned hotel room into what should have been a comforting morning chill but was instead a warm envelope of sticky air. “Uh-oh,” I thought.
But Rio eased us into her heat slowly. We started in the dark with a little out and back on a bike path to kill a couple of awkward miles, and then we were off through the beguiling parklands next to Folsom Lake heading toward Auburn. As the light came up, the lakeshore became more rugged and picturesque as we passed Horseshoe Bar and then Rattlesnake Bar. Some thin but strategically placed clouds dampened the sun’s early morning fire giving us a pass up the switchbacks of Cardiac Hill and on into Auburn Dam Overlook, where the American River 50 Mile ends. At that point there still seemed hope.
Not so fast. Dropping down into the canyon towards No Hands Bridge of Western States fame, I could feel the angry heat taking hold until I was reduced to a walk to keep my core temperature from spurting up through my running cap. And so it persisted across No Hands and up K-2, a steep and broken road with several false summits. I managed to get to the top of K-2 only because I met Martin McAuley there and killed the time running down his native Scotland all in good fun, of course. (I owe you a Scotch for that, Martin.)
Then it was on to a largely exposed seven mile loop beyond the Cool Fire Station, where we encountered a massive layer of irony so thick you could cut it with a knife; that is, a place called “Cool” being just about the hottest spot on the planet or so it seemed. Then back to the canyon, across the bridge and back to Auburn Dam Overlook, all hot, all dusty, with grit that worked its way right through shoes and socks and sandpapered the bottom of our feet. Dropping back down Cardiac Hill, I ruminated on why people have to give these places such lethal sounding names. Why not give runners a break and go with something like Gall Bladder Hill, or if you want to stick to the circulatory system, how about Capillary Hill?
Next came a fifteen mile stretch to an aid station named Twin Rocks, an about face back to Cardiac Hill, and then the same stretch yet again before the final five miles to the finish. Runners tenderly began to refer to this part of the course as the “Meat Grinder.” Ironically (again with the irony), pleasure boats were lazily cruising up and down the blue waters below us, the people within enjoying their boat outings oblivious to our sometimes desperate struggle going on above them.
The night, as expected, stayed warmish until maybe three or four o’clock when it finally cooled off a bit, but my stomach had had enough and I basically puked my way through the Meat Grinder all the way to the finish line in record slow time. But I’m not complaining…
Rio del Lago is a fantastic hundred mile run. The scenery along the course is consistently awesome and of course you visit many of ultrarunning’s most famous locations: Auburn Dam Overlook, Cool, No Hands Bridge, Robie Point, Rattlesnake Bar, Horseshoe Bar, and of course the start/finish at Beal’s Point. All the great races that use these locations are there for a reason. Plus Desert Sky Adventures puts on a great race. The Meat Grinder aid stations that we visited over and over again met the runners with super-charged energy and plenty of eager volunteers. I actually enjoyed all the back and forth because it mixed up the runners of all abilities and gave me a chance to cheer for runners I normally never see.
Maybe the heat was there just to ensure that everyone knew they were running an ultra and not just getting a chance to play along the shores of Folsom Lake.