I didn’t run a 100 miles.
I could never do that.
I ran one mile a 100 times.
The idea of running a 100 mile race was born when I was little. The day when my father told his kids as a bedtime story the tale of a pioneer, Gordy Ainsleigh. He was the first person to run a 100 miles. At the time, he participated in the 24-hour Western States Trail Ride, which was a horse race. When his horse went lame prior to the race, Ainsleigh decided he would run the mountain trail from the Squaw Valley Ski Resort to Auburn, California, rather than look for another horse to ride. Ainsleigh completed the equestrian race by running in 23 hours and 42 minutes. This was the beginning of the modern sport of ultra-distance trail running. My father had become a trail runner sometime after his divorce and retold this story as one of his favorites.
Although I started running when I was 14 yrs old the idea of distance was impressive and scary to me and running was more of coping skill than a passion. Running, as expressed by many runners, has a spiritual aspect to it that makes it very healing. By connecting you to nature and the core of the human spirit through pain and effort but above all to a higher power by hope. It could be described as an exercise of self-sacrifice. The long periods of time alone forces you too to confront your demons, resolve unfinished issues or simply process build up emotions. It wasn’t until moving to Sacramento and I realized that we were so close to so many beautiful trails, including Auburn, in all directions that I became so passionate about trail running. Becoming an ultrarunner was a very gradual process for me. Just as my father did I took into trail running right after my divorce.
Rio del Lago was my second attempt to see if I could complete a 100 miles. I failed miserably last year by falling off the boat in training for Headlands 100. So I committed myself to stay put this year and started training in February. After some research I decided to developed a 47 week long training plan that cater a bit more to my female constitution rather than follow standard male training plan that caused me to feel like I was slacking and backsliding constantly. The training build up gradually with back to back weekend training sessions until reaching 30 miles then switch to every other weekend back to back training runs by time rather distance and switch a third time to back to back run every 3 weeks with runs of 40 miles or more. All while keeping steady weeks of two short runs and a mid week long run. It was a challenging training program but was long enough that it had build in non-running weekends to take into consideration the exhaustion typically experience by female monthly cycles. Another decision that I made was not to sign up to any mid training races to not place extra stress on me. I really wanted the training to be as smooth and relax as possible and to be able to focus in building mental strength. As the race week was approaching I was really looking forward to just stop training and to be able to focus weekends in something else other than training.
The mental preparation for the race started two weeks prior to the race in tapering time and I had to make a conscious effort in handling the pre-race jitters keeping myself busy while mentally remaining focus. Package pick up and the race briefing one day prior to the race was a perfect opportunity for me to finally ground myself in the experience. After picking up my bib I decided to take a stroll barefoot around the lake. Burying my toes in the sand with each step in complete silence brought such a joy to my heart, then the lullaby sang by the wind invited me to join. It called me to the edge of the lake. Where the reflexion of a calm sky spoke to me about immeasurable love, about existence and the eternity of that second, reflexion of the Holy light. With that gaze I remained until the race started.
When race day arrived and after practicing for a week waking up at 2:30am getting to the starting line was easy. The joy of finally making it was reflected in my eyes. I found a corner in which to nest myself for some seconds until the horn was blown. Although it was dark still I could not avoid looking at the lake in the distance reflecting about all those runs I have done around the edge of the water at some point, about the sandy golden ground under my feet and about the calmness of the water.
I looked in the direction of the lake while running all the way to Cavitt until I could look no more. It was then when I finally notice the procession of souls. Little halos of light multiplied in the dark trail giving enough light that I didn't have the need to turn my headlamp on. Enough joy ran on the trail that cause me have a deep smile. In that contentment I remained until sunrise. Advancing like a determined relentless army everyone kept on track while I focused on the degrees of light change in the rocks and roots on the trail. When enough light had trickle down to earth I was then able to appreciate the trees, each on in uniqueness, it is something that never gets old in my eyes and one of the things that I enjoy the most about trail running.
Moving through the North Fork of the American River trails you get plenty of opportunity to comulgate with the trees, guardians of the trails. Passing Granite beach towards Horseshoe trail there is a group of giant rocks that causes the trail to slither. I call those the gateway. On training runs that point is when I know my senses have to be in full alert for wildlife and safety. But in race day the gateway caused me to smile because I knew with the safety of the group I could submerge then in just enjoying the views and the surroundings. Which is exactly what I did until sunset. I don’t remember much of the first 50 miles other than a feeling of inebriated happiness. Even Cardiac Hill or K2 didn’t seem to erase the smile of my face.
Things started to get tricky and the real race didn’t started until then for me. I reached the Cool Fire Station at 4:17pm and after talking to a fellow runner, Adrian Torres, he encouraged me to get a massage, to get refreshed. The problem was that I had miscalculated sunset time using summer days and made the mistake of leaving the headlamp and flashlight at the Rattlesnake Aid Station which I unrealistically projected to reach around 8:30pm and was still 3 stations and 18 miles away. With the unavoidable fact that I would be running in the dark I hoped for the best and decided to take get a nurturing massage anyway to have enough time to mentally prepare for the hard time ahead.
As the sunset took place my anxiety increased, running in the dark seem really scary and I hope not having to go to the moderate technical section of the trail before the overlook in the dark but it seem unavoidable. I planned to reach some runners and just stick with them to use their light to guide me. Unfortunately I only found a couple of runners like me running in the dark. Words of solace was all we could give each other. As the darkness increased so did the fear in my heart. I had to ran then with a high stride to avoid tumbling down with unseen rocks and with my hands extended out like a blind person for several miles until I passed No Hands Bridge which is when a found a couple running and upon seen my predicament lend me a headlamp under the condition to use it in the low light setting and returning it at the next aid station. I had my cell phone with me with little battery life left so I had just enough time to call my crew man, Steve Miyama and we agreed to come and meet in the Auburn Overlook Aid Station at mile 54. I guess running in the dark must have eroded my mental focus because the 5 or so miles to get to the Rattlesnake Station felt like the longest miles in the race. Maybe it was just my body starting to feel tired or mental fatigue but I could not wait to meet my pacer, A.Robles in that station.
My pacer stayed with me until Beal’s Point and the comfort of having him pacing me distracted me from the physical pain. When I did stop to check on my blisters I notice my pacers had open bleeding blisters in both feet. That took my attention off myself and I focus then in staying strong to avoid major discomfort for him. The last stretch by Cavitt is when I started questioning my sanity and the what was I thinking thought became ever present. I joked with my pacer to keep the thought at bay but it lurked in the back of my head getting louder as exhaustion set it. While running over the levee in flat terrain I notice that the tibial stress syndrome that I had successfully ignore so far on both legs was intensifying. Shin splints, common name for this ailment is a very accurate way to describe it. The muscles in my tibias felt like if they were detaching from the bone with each step, a nagging pain that got so intense over the miles that I could only compare it to the feeling you get when your hip is opening up during labor. The pain forced me to take plenty of walk breaks. As I realized the pain had intensified I hear on the distance my son, who was going to be my pacer for the last part of the race, blowing the conch shell horn, quiquizoani, I had recently gotten as a tribute to my grandmother who use to have them around her house when I was little. Listening to it brought back instantly many childhood memories. I saw myself at the Huentitan Canyon with my relatives as a child and remember how tired me and my cousins felt climbing up the treacherous 2 miles back up the canyon and how we all looked at each others tired faces unwilling to quit because it was not even an option, if the other kids could do it so could you. That thought inspired me to run until the end of the race. However my willingness was bigger that my physical energy so I had to stop soon and I kept on entertaining the thought of just quitting the race when reaching Beals point. But each time my son blow the horn it gave me new hope, which is exactly what I needed.
We reached Beal’s point at 2:15am I change pacer then. My son was in charge of staying with me for the last 22 miles. Being in the comfort of the finishing line knowing you still have to go out and back was a bit of a cruel joke from the race organizers. It felt a bit demoralizing. I was thinking just that when I decided to lay down in the bench right at the Aid station. I looked around and saw the giant movie screen and the finishing station with all that food. I verbally expressed my desire to just quit plenty of times after that point. My body was talking to me saying the pain and suffering was pointless. Thankfully my crew pulled me through it and walked me to the bathroom to gear up better to run until sunrise. At that point I was running in a skirt and short sleeves and I was very cold. While changing I notice that my tibias were swollen as well as my right ankle which I twisted while falling in the dark miles with no headlamp. I kept that to myself and put on compression calf sleeves and long sock to aid with support. I thank my pacer and asked him to pray privately with me before taking off again. There was no way I could possibly finish the race so God had to finish it for me.
My son, who is 14, does cross country in school. He started running with me when he was very little which I am really proud of. But I really had not notice how strong of a runner he is or how much he knows about running. He was a very firm, determined pacer. My mind could not focus at all at that point other than the fact that I wanted to rest. Running strategy had gotten off the window a while ago if I ever had any other that to finish. My son promptly focus on telling me when it was time to run down hill or in flats and when it was time to power walk in uphills. He reminded me too when it was time to take electrolytes and eat. Getting out of the Beal’s Point Aid station was hard. But once we were out went out into a slow but consistent pace. By the time we reach the 11 mile return I was completely convince that I did not have enough time to make it back before the 30 hrs cutoff time so I continue to expressed to my son that I was ready to quit. At some point I heard in his voice that he started to come to term with the idea of not finishing but then he went on delivering a small speech on how he had learn so much from me and running and he convince me to not give up on my dream of completing 100 miles. He made me tear up and gave me enough motivation to see me through the end of the race.
On the last stretch of the 11 miles the sun had already come out. I was too tired to greet the sun and pray but the gradual sunlight illuminating all was really welcomed since I did not had to rely on the headlamp I was able to move confidently and keep up a good pace all the way to the Granite Horse Assembly Aid Station from there getting to Cavitt seemed an easy stretch. I continued to had tibia pain but was able to ignore it for a bit. Crossing the levee was mentally taxing. There is a point when you are able to see the finishing line right across from you but the trail has a curved shape and it makes it look closer than it actually is. You feel like you are moving steadily but it takes you longer that expected. I could by that point only run/walk and found along the trail refreshed runners how were completing their weekend run. I could not avoid feeling overwhelm when those runners started to cheer me up with words of encouragement. I started crying then, because I am a crier and always do but mostly because I had an array of mixed emotions in my chest. The pain was constant and sharp, I was grateful for the cheers, I felt confuse about whether or not the effort of training and doing the race was worth the experience.
While training for RDL I had main the idea in mind that if I was strong enough to finish a 100 miler I was then strong enough to confront any issues I may have in life and overcome them. But I was so not feeling strong at that point. That realization made me feel pity for myself. What a foolish way to trick myself into training for a 100 mile race. My constant excuse during training months was I will deal with that after the race and the race was about to be over and I did not feel any stronger to deal with anything.
I looked at my son then and his expression of confusion brought me back to the present. I could see he did not really know how to handle a crying mother who is about to finish a 100 miler race. I found that amusing and funny because I became aware that I was simply exhausted and that the perception of reality that my brain had then was really off. I wiped my tears just in time to cross the last section of the levee.
I saw then the volunteers before doing the last turn just feet away before the finishing line. I could not believe I had done it! I had completed 100 miles. Pulling myself from a semi-suspended mental state was hard then. My son and me were greeted at the finishing line by my father, my sole inspiration to become a long distance trail runner. My father had never been present in any of my races before and instant happiness filled my heart when I looked straight into his eyes. Like a little girl who says to her Dad -Look Daddy what I can do, I smile at him and hugged him satisfied. I was surprised at my strenght. Even more after the painful 4 recovery days in took to feel better. Having a bit of a runner’s blue was an expected part of the experience after the race.
What I did not expect was the changes that experience over the following weeks after the race. I cannot say it made me a better person but, it made me a bit more confident and capable. I became a bit more assertive and confident even though I am still an introvert and keep to myself I don’t second guess myself anymore like before or future trips either because now I trust in God and know all things happen at its given time.
R. Gabriela Fredrickson