Sierra Nevada Endurance Run 100K | California | September 26, 2009
One Runner’s Experience
By Gary Dudney
The first hint at how the 100K of the Sierra Nevada Endurance Runs (SNER) was going to unfold came as I climbed out of my car into what should have been the dark, misty, cold air of an early September morning at Cavitt School just off Folsom Lake near Sacramento, California. Instead, stars arched overhead in a clear sky, and I was perfectly warm after stripping down to running shorts and the thinnest of lightweight short-sleeved shirts. Uh-oh.
Thirty 100Kers lined up at the start joined by a crowd of runners doing the marathon or the double marathon distances. Who knew that only thirteen of the thirty would make it to the end of the 100K ?
Even under the best of conditions, the SNER 100K can be disorienting. The course leaves Cavitt School and quickly picks up the well known American River 50 Mile course along Folsom Lake and the North Fork of the American River. Early in the morning, visiting Twin Rocks, Horseshoe Bar, the Power Plant, and Rattlesnake Bar with fresh legs is a revelation compared to the struggle normally associated with these same places at AR50 after pounding the bike trail for 25 miles. The SNER takes a different route than AR50 up to Auburn Overlook, ascending Cardiac Hill, a steeper and trickier climb, and follows a strange asphalt flume along the edge of the ridge to the overlook. Leaving the overlook (You mean I’m not done?) for the trail down to No Hands Bridge of Western States fame (You mean I’m here and I haven’t run all night?) is another double whammy. It was like being in bizarro world where everything is backwards.
But the true nature of the day revealed itself at about eleven o’clock as I closed in on No Hands Bridge and the temperature soared in the sun-exposed canyon. Just as my iPod helpfully played Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of the Cole Porter classic “Too Darn Hot,” I felt my core boiling over. Only slowing to a walk kept it under control and then just barely. When I finally crawled onto the bridge, I ran into Western States legend Tim Twietmeyer, who told me the aid was on the far end of the bridge and encouraged me to “Go For it!” But I was beyond “going” for anything. In fact after sticking my head in a bucket of icy water at the aid station, I stood up too fast and nearly pitched into the dirt on my face. Blacking out momentarily wasn’t exactly the encouragement I needed to face the final 35 miles of the race.
Next came the K2 “training hill,” an endless succession of steep rocky slopes broken up by slightly less steep rocky slopes, followed by my arrival at Cool, a name that seemed like some cosmic joke. On that day Cool seemed like the hottest place on Earth. Every runner in sight was walking, trudging along under the merciless sun, trudging up and down the asphalt road of the out and back from the aid station, trudging back around the field next to the Cool fire station and back out onto the sun-baked meadow. A woman on horseback there asked me how long the race was. I told her and she laughed, “Well, you picked the hottest day of the year to run that far,” she said.
The heat persisted into the night as I finally returned to the long stretch from Horseshoe Bar to Twin Rocks. Going out, this section had seemed benign, mostly flat, pleasant. Now it seemed like an endless series of broken staircases separated by a few feet of trail. My flashlight began to fade. I’d committed a rookie mistake, not changing the batteries as I never dreamed I’d need the light for very long. Then my back up light began to fade…same mistake. So I stumbled along with just a small pool of dim light at my feet, searching desperately for flags until I missed one and went off course up a hill. I cursed my way back down and turned for home on a final stretch of wide, unmistakable road.
Reaching the finish was an unbelievable relief, that very sweet reward for struggling through to the end of a challenging ultra. The heat was going to be what it was. Nothing could be done about it. But as I collapsed onto a mat on the floor of the school gym, it occurred to me that next time I’d try bringing along some fresh batteries.